Recently, though, I am feeling that God may be taking me in a new direction. I am reading one of my wonderful Puritan books, entitled "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment," by Jeremiah Burroughs. In this book, he teaches how we can have a more godly perspective on what God has given us in our lives, and how we can use that to find joy in times of sorrow or pain.
God is using a remarkable confluence of events to prepare me to learn some new things;
-Reading "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment" is teaching me more about contentment, humility, and patience.
-Contemplating my mom's life has shown me her humility, her love, and her commitment.
-Dealing with her death is teaching me contentment.
-Preparing to teach the Beatitudes and the book of James is showing me more about what it means to be "poor in spirit."
-Meeting some people with amazing humility and being impressed just to spend time with them.
-Preparing for Seminary
-Being impressed by my dad's humble use of his money and influence.
I think I'm about to come to a time where God is going to try to show me what it means to be more content with the many gifts he has given, and to use that perspective to be more humble and joyful in my life. I can only pray that I will be open to His teaching. I'm a bit nervous, because I've so easily rejected Him time and time again. Keep praying for me!
Speaking of which, thank you so much to all my dear friends who have been praying for my family and I. It has been quite an experience to see God answering your prayers, and quite wonderful for me to feel the love and support you have offered. Many times in the quiet of the night, a person worries that their life has no impact, that their friends don't really care. You have shown me that when I have those fears, they are completely unfounded. I love you dearly.
How do you measure one person’s life?
How do you measure one person’s life? As my family has watched my mom deteriorate over the last few months, each of us has been forced to consider her life and to come to grips with what she means to us. We have to ask ourselves who this person was, and we have to define and clarify why she was important.
Well, was it because she was successful in the world’s eyes? There’s certainly a case to be made there. She was a simple girl from Canada, without any major achievements in academics, athletics, or music.
However, after catching my dad’s eye and becoming his wife, she became half of a very important marriage (and let’s be honest… she was the by far the more attractive and conversational half). This marriage would move up the corporate ladder, would attend inaugurations and important business trips. Together they would become a key part of their church community, bringing all kinds of support and leadership. This marriage would parent four kids, each of whom would distinguish themselves in various ways. Together they would go on mission trips, support missionaries, and become involved in Michigan Theological Seminary. By sometimes supporting my dad in his pursuits and sometimes dragging him along behind in hers, my mom had what anyone would deem a successful life.
The thing is, she would never have seen it that way. Her humility was too great. Yes, my dad was successful in business… but he hesitated to tell her when he got bonuses or raises, knowing that she would complain that he made too much money.
Yes, she went to all sorts of places for missions… but she would prefer taking on the dirtiest and hardest jobs when she did so, caring more about seeing people served well than she did about being proud just for having gone.
Yes, she had four pretty decent kids… but she challenged us constantly, never content with having “just” good kids. She made it a priority to stretch us in every way possible; if you were smart, she wanted you to learn compassion. If you won, she wanted you to learn grace. If you lost, she wanted you to learn character. If you got out of line, she wanted you to learn about the loving hand of discipline, helping you get back IN line.
You see, my mom hated the idea of seeing oneself as successful. Something much deeper and stronger drove her, and it would be dishonoring if we only remembered her as a successful person.
So, then, how do you measure one person’s life? Do you measure it by their general goodness, by their acts of service?
Again, my mom can make a great case for this. Her list of acts of service would be a mile long. Consider these things:
If you know what is meant by terms like Air Force One and The Beast, you know my mom was a servant. She spent countless hours driving my siblings and I in those stupid vans of hers to a multitude of friends houses, church events, and sporting events. Just imagine trying to juggle four schedules that include gymnastics, tennis, basketball, soccer, band, ultimate Frisbee, youth group, Awana, school projects, plays, birthday parties, movies, and so much more. THEN try to imagine throwing in kids who forget their lunchboxes, picking up 10-12 high school kids to be thrown in the van for youth group each week, driving to camp and back every summer, teaching kids to drive, running errands to the church, shopping for the family, finding Christmas gifts every year, and visiting friends and family. That gives you a small taste of how my mom served others with her van.
If you have ever seen her at the front of the room, you know she is a servant. She didn’t like being an up-front type of leader, and yet she put the Awana program at Lake Pointe together, acting for years as its “commander” (an apt term if I ever heard one). She also put lots of effort into mission trips, leading kids from all sorts of locations in singing songs about Jesus, hoping desperately that the lessons would sink in and that the kids would come to know God. She wasn’t a great speaker, but nobody who has heard her lectures can deny that she had a force of personality that would make itself heard, even if words and their technical meanings were more of an obstacle than an ally.
If you have ever seen her cry for others, you know my mom is a servant. Her love for people was so deep that it would bring her to tears on a consistent basis. She loved everyone. She loved her family, even when that involved heartache. She loved every high school kid she ever met, even when they would turn away from God and pursue their own path. She loved families, patiently teaching parents how to be better parents, while simultaneously gaining a reputation as one of the top “baby stealers” Lake Pointe ever had.
But the thing is, I don’t think my mom would want to be defined by her good works either. While they were an important part of who she was, she didn’t do those things because they made her feel good, or because she was trying to “put a little love in the world” or anything like that. No, my mom’s motivation went much deeper.
How do you measure one person’s life? At the end of the day, my mom could only and would only measure herself by her faithfulness to God’s calling. She and I fought quite a bit, and when we reached a point of high frustration she would always say, “Before the Lord, I can only make this choice.”
She wanted to honor God with every part of her life. Everything about how she interacted with people and loved them and served them was designed to reflect Him. She loved her family, but we all knew that if God had called her to be a missionary, she would have gone. Nothing was more important to her than what her Savior wanted.
My mom’s life was a terrific success. She radiated God’s presence, even in the times when she hurt our feelings, crushed our ambitions or challenged us when we thought we were doing the right thing. She taught us all to love others more, to examine ourselves more carefully, and to desire God above all else. She showed us that just living out our comfortable lives doesn’t make sense if we say that we believe in a God who has redeemed us. She showed us that no matter how hard WE think we have worked to love God in our lives, there is always more.
We love our mom. She was a mother, a friend, a prophet, and a martyr. Her love and sincerity were intense and unrelenting. We love her not because she helped us relax, but because she would never let us relax. As so many have said to us, her life made a deep impression, and we could never be who we are if it weren’t for her.
I want to close by sharing the words of an old hymn that reminded me of my mom.
Have Thine Own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou are the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and Make me, after thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine Own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master today!
Whiter than snow, Lord wash me just now,
As in thy presence, humbly I bow.
Have Thine Own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me I pray!
Power, all power surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!
Have Thine Own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see,
Christ only, always, living in me.
My dad woke me up and asked me to get my sister. I did so, while he went and woke my brothers. The five of us sat together and watched my mother's life slip away.
The tears were hard, but subdued. We certainly couldn't complain of having no warning. We cried for a while. Eventually my dad had to go and call someone to take the body away.
After that, we spent a few minutes “wandering,” just dealing with our hurt. We then prayed together.
Now we’re just trying to think about the next step. It’s amazing how much the loss of one person can change your outlook on things, even when it’s someone you interact with only every other week or so.
I love my mom. Today is going to be a hard day.
How do you answer a question like that?
I was sitting on the sink in my parents' giant bathroom. I knew it would be a hard conversation, but I had planned on finding sneaky ways of keeping it smooth and pleasant. For instance, I wanted to ask her if she had any advice for the future, or to find out what being a parent is like. I wanted to ask what kind of person she wanted me to be, or to laugh about how many people have been offering forms of comfort that are less than theraputic. I wanted it to be nice because I still have a hard time being emotional in front of most people.
That stuff wasn't on her agenda, though. She wanted to know if I can handle representing my siblings, or if I had preferences on being a pallbearer or not. Oh Mom, how can I possibly think about that now?
She started to describe some of the things she and my dad had already worked out, like having one viewing day rather than two and not being creamated. I lasted for all of 10 seconds with that kind of talk, and "strained" into tears (the term "burst" never felt right for that particular action with me). Of course, being a mom, she had to come and hug and comfort me. How do you like that for backwards?
As I sat there, patting her bony back and avoiding her swollen stomach, I struggled to understand the sheer ugliness of the whole ordeal. I feel horrible about it, but there have been a dozen times I've wished that she'd been hit by a car rather than this. Has anyone ever deserved it less than her?
Of course, I don't know that I would have been forced to confront what my mom means to me if it hadn't been this way. Rather than avoid the guilt and frustration and anger that characterized my understanding of her before, I've been forced to deal with them head-on. I've had to cry through hating myself for the things I've said to her, had to forgive the things she said to me, and had to come to terms with the fact that our relationship isn't the gem it should have been if I was a better person.
This journey is a needed one. Without it, I'm just a kid who managed to get away from home. With it, I'm taking one more step toward being the man she would have wanted to see. God has given an opportunity far purer than one of "saying goodbye" or "a painless death." Instead, he's given the gift of cleansing to a relationship that needed it so desperately.
So with clogged throat and leaking eyes, I will lift up the name of the God who loves my mom more than I ever have or could. I will wait for the time when thoughts of my mom are full of reverent joy rather than immediate sadness. I'll cry out in pain knowing that it's a piece of the "life to the fullest" that Christ has offered. I will wait. And I know my God will answer.
For instance, I had a great time over Thanksgiving break, but it was hard to see my mom deteriorating. I guess I never realized how amazingly active cancer can be. Two years ago, my mom turned yellow while she was traveling in Israel. Since then, her life has been a constant state of attempting recovery, in what ultimately looks as though it will be a losing battle. I guess I thought of it more like a tired quietness, like a person whose heart is just too weary to keep beating. Instead, it is more of an angry little beast, scurrying around her body and finding new ways to drive her mad. It's hard to watch.
On the other hand, I love seeing what God is doing here in Lansing. I love our little church. Our theology is terrible and people have a hard time seeing large themes in their treasured traditions and we don't have elders and we allow women speakers and we can't get a prayer group started to save our lives, but I love it.
I love that people who were born before the atom bomb care about whether or not I have a job. I love that people are curious about my relationship with my wife. I love that they let me preach even though they know I'm going to say hard things. I love that they listen to things they don't want to hear. I love that they love us.
I also enjoy my job. It's exciting work, things that would have had me geeked out of my mind three short years ago. Of course, at that time I was an aspiring politician just starting to date my second girlfriend and hoping to graduate. Now, though, I get to deal with trends and projections, use statistical charts and make gut calls. It's a load of good experience for me.
And, of course, I love being married. You really haven't lived until you wander around in the morning with bleary eyes, messy hair, and bad breath, and get a good-morning kiss anyways. More importantly, I love that when I cry Samantha cries with me. I love that when I'm tired she gives me hugs, and even when I'm procrastinating on my chores she feeds me and cares about my day.
Most of all, though, I love seeing how badly I need God. Whether it's my nervous sermons, my complex job duties, or loving my somewhat emotional wife, I desperately need His guidance. As I learn to need it more and more, I learn to love more deeply the amazing things He has done for me, and I learn to praise the kind of God that can glorify Himself by doing that.
So, it's mixed emotions. Sometimes it feels like trying to appreciate a beautiful car with a big dent in the side. In the end, though, I know that what God is doing is right, and I can only be amazed at what He's given.
Before that, though, I should share a conversation I had with a friend the other day. We were discussing the way that you express yourself to people… sometimes it can be so frustrating, because you feel like you've misrepresented yourself or have been misunderstood. When that happens, people know you wrongly, and most don't want to be known wrongly.
The conclusion we came to is that, rather than be completely vulnerable –which is hard to do without being a self-centered burden- and rather than lie to people –which gives the wrong impression and makes relationships hard- a person should try to express their VALUES as clearly as possible when they relate to others. If you can clearly communicate what you care about, the value you place on things, and the way you approach life, people will have a framework for knowing you. When you do things wrong, they'll know that it isn't who you really try to be… because they trust your values. When you display unusual passion about something, they'll know you care because it's in line with your values. When someone lies about you, your friends will know it is untrue, because they trust your values. Your life will be an expression of what you love.
Keep that in mind.
The metaphor I wanted to share comes from an episode of, "The West Wing." In it, two presidential candidates have very similar schedules, and you get to see how similar they are as people, even though they're from different parties. Both are giving speeches in the state of Iowa regarding a gasoline additive made from corn products. Both believe that the policy is a bad one. Both spend the entire day arguing with their advisors, who want them to say that the policy is good to get more votes. In both cases, when the speech is about to start, the teleprompter has a speech saying it is a good policy.
In one case, the candidate looks at the teleprompter, hesitates, and then gives the speech, going against his own convictions. He feels terrible the rest of the night.
In the other case, the candidate looks at the teleprompter, hesitates, and then gives a speech detailing why he disagrees with the policy, standing on his convictions. He is likely to lose the state and possibly the election… but he stuck to his guns.
I've been having a hard time thinking about the future lately. On the one hand, I could just stay in the business world, making money, having a family, helping lead the church, and being a good citizen. Nobody would blame me, and some people think it's the best thing for me and for my family.
On the other, I believe God has called me to be a pastor. Getting through seminary and then going into a very uncertain and low-paying profession is a tough prospect. I worry about what impact it could have on my family, or how many people I would need help from to get through. It's a far less certain thing.
At the end, though, it comes down to a question of love and values. What do I value? What do I love?
I want to protect my wife and any kids we may have. I want to provide for them, love them, and nurture them. I even want to give them the most that I can come up with… if I had to choose between two jobs of equal value, I would take the one that pays better so I could give my family more every time. I want my life to show that I care.
The thing is, I love God more. It's hard to say, especially when no one person has impacted my life so fully or so wonderfully as my wife. She's given me everything, and it's hard for me to say that she's the second most important thing to me. It's the case, though. I love God, and I MUST pursue Him and the path He has set out for me. My values and my love dictate nothing less.
So as I face the fearsome choices that hold faithfulness to conviction in the one hand and safety in the other, I find that I must completely throw my trust at God's feet, praying and trusting desperately that he will love and protect my family in a way that I cannot. I have to believe that love for them MEANS love for God, rather than giving in to the temptation that says love for them is love for safety and economic success.
I want my life to express my values… I want it to show what I really care about. God requires a path whose only certainty is faithfulness to Him… it's in His grace and love that I must place the fate and direction of everything else.
That may be true, but there's a lot more to it. At its center, sin is about a complete break in a perfectly ordered, perfectly happy relationship. It's like if you lived in a place where EVERYTHING was just right, and you were always happy, and things always went the way they were supposed to… but you didn't just want happiness, you wanted to be in CHARGE, and so you chose a life of sadness and pain and want and loneliness because you thought you could do even better.
You turn away from God… why? Has he failed you? Oh sure, sometimes it feels that way. But has living for yourself ever made you complete? Has doing the right thing ever made you into a worse person?
One very sad thing about sin is that we tend to rate it, as if the measure of righteousness is the least number of "bad" sins. As long as our sins are just "small" ones, we tell ourselves, we're doing pretty well.
God is clear, though, that that isn't the case. Sin's insidiousness isn't in tempting us to do the really "big" things, and so mess ourselves up. Sin's insidiousness is bound up in the fact that even the smallest sin completely destroys that relationship with God. It hurts the relationship we have with Him, even after we've become Christians and had our sins forgiven.
I gave my friend (ok, it was Dave Cheng) this example;
For instance, let us consider two pastors working together at the same church. One is sincerely pursuing God, trying to love him, and trying to be a good leader. However, one night he starts chatting with a woman who stops by, and that night they commit adultery. The church finds out. What happens? Today, his career would be ruined, he can't get work anywhere else, and he is always looked down on by his friends and family.Meanwhile, the other pastor gets deep into pornography, but never gets caught. He serves as the leader of the church for years, with nobody ever suspecting what goes on behind closed doors. He never changes his behavior.Which is worse? Under our current system of "thinking it vs. doing it," the adultery is worse. However, I would argue that biblically, the second is significantly worse. Want proof? Think about the first two examples... now think of them as King David and King Saul. The one has a heinous one-time sin, the other has small things that systematically show that he is ignoring God, and lets the small stuff separate him from pursuing God with his life and kingship.
God is clear… He prefers broken sinners who pursue Him with their lives to the outwardly good who ignore Him inwardly.
This concept has been important in my own life. As I seek to follow God, it teaches me two things;
First, my sin is worse than I think. I need God's grace just as much as anyone else, because I choose my own glory over His just as much as anyone else. I need to be broken and humble, because I have NO reason to think I'm better off than anyone else.
Second, my goal cannot be avoiding "big" sins all the time… because my hidden sins will be there just as much, just as evil. Instead, I need to focus on knowing and loving God more and more… I need to make him my "heart's orientation," because that is the ONLY strategy that will help clear away the sin in my life. Only He can change me, and He will only do that if my life's gaze is fixed on Him.
I want people to see God in me. I hope, someday, that my life will show them a tiny piece of what He is like. That won't happen, though, by avoiding adultery and murder. Plenty of people in all sorts of religions can do that. Instead, my life needs to show that fullness and joy and completeness comes only from the correct order… God is who He Is, and I must worship him. Only then will he be glorified correctly.
Of course, I can't say I WANT to be working… I've never been a big fan of trying to make money all the time. However, that's what God wants me to do for now, and I couldn't be doing it at a better place. The people at work are really nice, and the work they have me doing is quite interesting.
More interesting than that, though, my class has started. It's been overwhelming at times, because I have so much less time than I used to for study and contemplation. Even so, I'm excited by the people who have been coming, and by the chance to work through the meaning of the gospel message. One neat experience I had this week was a good conversation with one of the students about how important it is to teach the gospel repeatedly in church, because Christians need to be reminded of their foundation and non-Christians need to hear the good news. When I got home, I started reading a book called "The Deliberate Church." This book was co-written by my Washington DC pastor, Mark Dever, and a good friend of mine, Paul Alexander. The book talks about how important it is to –you guessed it- teach the gospel repeatedly in your church, to reinforce its foundations and to spread the good news.
So overall, I'm doing well. I will confess to being often confused, though. I’m beginning to learn why people tend to mellow out as they get older… there are just so many emotions involved in the things you do, and it's hard to respond by doing anything other than just taking it.
For instance, in a normal day, I might have a great day at work, get in an argument with my wife, spend some thoughtful time preparing for my class, and forget to do my devotions. How do you categorize a day like that? I feel happy, mad, contemplative, and guilty all in the space of a few hours. Another day, I might be bored at work, have a wonderful evening and prayer time with my wife, remember my devotions, be frustrated with people who are acting immaturely, and be disappointed by things that happen in the news. How is that day better or worse than the one before?
Sometimes, I just despair of knowing how to share myself with people. For instance, though I was glad to have a job, I was embarrassed by how big a deal people made of it. In fact, Pastor Chris generously asked me to share my story in front of the congregation, and I turned him down (by the way, I can't IMAGINE what a weird experience it is to be on a leadership team with me… never a dull moment, I suppose).
So far, though, I'm thankful to say that it hasn't affected my passion for the church. I really believe that God is starting to do some wonderful things in UBC, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to be a part of them.
Ok, so you knew you wouldn't get away without hearing my latest theological/philosophical/life musings. I've been struck lately by the importance of experience as an agent of growth. In a million different little ways this past month or so, I've seen that God in His sovereignty brings an amazing array of experiences into our paths. Whether it's dealing with the impatient waitress, or struggling through an important but boring book, or knowing how to treat a friend to show them love, God is continually molding us through everyday things.
Think back on your day today. Can you think of ANYTHING that caused impatience or anger, hurt or frustration? Can you remember any instance that forced you to think in a new way or learn a new skill? Did you face any tough choices today? Did you have any opportunities to put someone else's interest ahead of your own?
In his power, God placed those things in your life. He placed them there so that you would continually be growing in strength and faith and knowledge. How did you respond?
The more I force myself to look for these things in my life, the more impressed I am with my own weakness. Today, for instance, my wife was trying to show me love, and I responded with frustration and sarcasm. God gave me a chance to see that the most important person in the world to me thinks about me all the time, and I screwed it up. Not impressive.
The exercise is good for me, though, because each day it's helping me become more and more aware of how God is leading me and changing me and causing me to grow. It also helps me respond better when I can see what he's trying to build.
Look for God's invisible guiding hand in your life. See what he's building, and be amazed and impressed by the love he shows in continually caring for you. Whether you're being forced to deal with too many friends or not enough, business or loneliness, the struggles of hardship or the laziness of ease, the annoying friend or the cruel enemy… God is in these things. His love becomes apparent the more we can look down the road and see what he is trying to create in us.
The week is beginning once again. Let's face it knowing that God IS going to give us hard circumstances, but that those are things we can learn from and be developed by.
I've found two answers. The first is one is dependence. The weakness that is so evident in my life has caused me to become more and more dependent on what God brings to me. Rather than demanding a particular life, I have been growing in my ability to accept what God puts in front of me. That doesn't mean that I don't fight for things, like having UBC switch its service times around. Instead, it means that I'm working on being less dissatisfied with results... "results-based thinking" is, in the spiritual context, wildly seperate from God's desire for our lives.
The second is faithfulness. In my bible reading, the passage I came upon just MINUTES before I wrote this blog was 1 Corinthians 4. Paul is chastising the Corinthian church for the way that they will claim to be followers of a certain Bible teacher, and then arrogantly think that following that particular teacher makes them wiser and more spiritual than others. However, Paul says;
"One should think about us this way--as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God."
See, my weakness is real. Completely, 100% real. I really am that weak, really am that afraid, and really am that disgusted by myself. But as Paul points out, God's judgement of me won't be all that interested in those things. Instead, God wants to know whether I was faithful. It doesn't make a difference whether I was smart or dumb, forgetful or on the ball, bold as a lion or scared of my shadow. What matters is whether I sought to do what my God asked of me, and whether I communicated His Truth as clearly and as accurately as possible.
It's like giving a book report on The Adventures of Huck Finn rather than giving a speech on the future of foreign policy... the latter is something you'll always feel inadequate to do, but the former is something that can be done because it asks you to lean on someone ELSE's abilities -namely, Twain's- rather than on your own. As a Christian, God doesn't ask me to be adequate to a monstrous task... he asks me to be faithful to the truths he has already spelled out for me in His Word!
The many changes I face in my life scare me. At the same time, I'm slowly learning a greater amount of confidence as I turn away from whatever existence my weak self can scratch out, and to turn to a life that depends on the only One who is truly worthy of being trusted and depended on.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6
At least one time almost every day, I wish I was someone else. It's not just that I wish I was in someone else's circumstances, or even just that I had a different personality. It's that I wish I was in different circumstances, had a different personality, and even made different choices than I do now. Other people take majors that get better jobs. Other people are content with a faith that isn't constantly burning at the edge of their minds, a faith that doesn't consume their thoughts and interest and actions. Other people don't neglect the details that matter.
I'm not like that. Over and over, I embarrass myself or hurt people or miss out on things because I have trouble focusing. I am not very good at showing love to my wife. I am overly critical. Bills get set aside while I try to understand the correct interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. Sleep is postponed while I spend time talking with a person to help them understand a theological concept. House chores are forgotten while I delve into commentaries on Romans.
On some level, I appreciate these tendencies about myself, because I prepare well for times when theological questions need to be answered. On another level, I am embarrassed at the person I am. I feel like people laugh at me behind my back in disbelief at how irresponsible I am. I feel like my wife is constantly annoyed with me, and I'm uncomfortable every time my friends see the stupid things I do because of my strange value system. I feel like I'm losing touch in my relationships because people think I'm a failure.
It's tough, too, because it creates paranoia. I have a hard time in conducting relationships with some of my close friends because I am always worried that they think badly of me, and that they are just being polite. I want to be someone that makes them feel safe, but instead I feel that I make them feel they need to be patronizing.
My need for God becomes more apparent to me every day. Why was I put here? What can I possibly do with such oddities? Couldn't I honor You without being an absent-minded, irresponsible, forgetful, loud-mouthed, overly-opinionated, hard-bargaining jerk? Why did you burden Samantha with me? Why do you make my friends put up with me? What good can I possibly do here?
I know, of course, that these feelings are more powerful and more negative than the truth. Things are probably much more nuanced than this. The simple fact, though, is that I have been really struggling of late with being embarrassed about myself. Seeing yourself with God's eyes is really hard when you are always afraid of what other people are seeing.
Most people I know are uncomfortable with "creepy" things. They wouldn't want to go into a haunted house, they get nervous when eerie music is playing, and they lose control of their imaginations every time we drive down a dark road with lots of trees. Scaring them is considered utterly taboo.
I, on the other hand, rarely have that problem. As a kid, I became fearful the same as anyone else. Over time, though, I forced myself to deal with the emotions and not let them affect me. As I came to trust more and more in God's inevitable sovereignty, I became less and less nervous of things like monsters, the dark, the unknown, or even real things like demons. I had become, I thought, unafraid.
Recently, I've become more willing to admit that this is not actually true. I AM afraid. Constantly. My fear drives many of my actions, my passions, and my values. It often hurts my relationship with God.
These days, my greatest fear is that Samantha will stop loving me. She has a powerful personality, and she can be very confusing for my very simple and very male mind. I often find myself walking around the house, scared that my actions, nonverbal communication, or personality traits will betray something about me that she will hate. I feel like an house elf, having extreme affection toward but also extreme fear of a certain person. My fear is strong enough to make me doubt her love.
I am also afraid that my friends will discover how worthless I am. I love teaching, but I worry that they will someday realize that they never really needed me, that the things I do aren't that significant. Actually, that part is true, but I fear that when the realize it they will forget me, or make me less important in their minds than I used to be.
My fear shows itself in funny ways. For one thing, I cannot have people cleaning my room for me. For some reason, I get extremely nervous when someone even shuffles through my things, and it works its way up to panic if they start to reorganize. Even now that I'm married, I have a hard time controlling my fear-driven anger or annoyance toward Samantha if I'm missing something that I know she cleaned up.
Another telltale sign of my fear is when I argue with criticism. Someone will tell me something they don't like or struggle with about me, and even if it's 75% right I find that I MUST argue about that other 25%. I'm so scared people will mischaracterize me in their minds, that I will argue constantly until I like the picture of myself that I see through their eyes.
The biggest way my fear manifests itself is when I feel I am being disrespected. I am so afraid of being looked down on that I will go to great lengths to make CERTAIN that I am spoken to with the grace and gravity I feel I deserve. Nothing makes me dislike a person more than when they treat me as if I don't matter and don't deserve to be treated as at least an equal.
Why do I have all this fear? Much of it can be attributed, I think, to discontent with God's creation… I don't like what He created, and my self-hatred makes me afraid that others will hate me too.
More than that, though, I fear that I am a flea on the back of a dog. No matter how much I push and pull, sweat and strain… it makes no difference, and my life will mean as much to others and to God's Kingdom as a flea does in determining how a dog lives its life. I'm afraid that I don't count, and so I get weird whenever anything that might confirm that comes up.
Fear of the Lord is healthy, but fear for ones' own significance is also a form of self-centeredness. I know it's wrong. With God's help, I'm learning to fight it… because if God is for us, who can be against us? And if none stand against us, what reason have we to fear? I need to be reminded of that more than anyone I know. Pray, dear reader, that I will hear my own words and internalize them.
When I was a kid, I was smart. Now, I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill, get good grades and understand trains kind of smart. Rather, I was the sort of kid who has an unnatural ability to communicate and think like a much older person. For instance, I was reading and comprehending at a post-high school level when I was in sixth grade. I could out-debate most of my teachers, and could do logic problems long before anyone else had thought them through. I did extremely well on standardized tests, and could defeat any of my friends at Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit.
All this led me to the conclusion that I was special, and that I didn't have to put hard work into things until they came to pass (as opposed to putting lots of work in ahead of time to make myself more professionally attractive). I never bothered to PROVE that I was smart, because I was supremely confident in the fact that it was there. I soon found that this does not mean all I thought it did.
Recently, I have faced the fact that being a philosopher with bad grades is not something a company wants. I am a general failure in the one area that EVERY job requires… being detail-oriented. I did not do well in school. I have a different value system from the average business or political personality. Perhaps most dangerous of all, I am more committed to things that are professionally unimportant than I am to things that are professionally important. I allow my love of books and late night discussions and sports and theology to keep me from a highly disciplined schedule, from extra effort on work projects, or on stuffing and improving my resume.
What I need is to be more disciplined, to be more balanced, and to have more specific direction. For those things, I find that I am completely inept. In years of trying, I can only see a long string of failures. My multiple attempts to structure and organize and improve my lifestyle have flopped. My drives in different career directions (pilot, politician, FEMA agent, lobbyist, etc.) have served to do nothing more than highlight what a thoroughly average worker I am. Nothing about my childhood intelligence or trivial knowledge or debate skill helps.
I am professionally unimpressive, and after applying to nearly 30 different jobs, I know the truth: If I were a manager, I wouldn't hire Ben Bartlett either.
I need God to come through for me. On the one hand, I've completely committed my own development to Him. Everything about my spare time and personal interest has been in His direction. He has called, and I believe He will honor my response.
At the same time, I need him to come through because I need to be rescued. I cannot continue to go through life failing and being saved by people who love me. I need God to change me, to create in me a spirit of discipline in my many areas of weakness. The time to challenge the storm may come, but for now I still need to learn to handle a stiff breeze. I do believe God rescues, but I'm still learning to trust His desire to rescue me, and still learning to trust ONLY His desire to rescue me. That I am professionally unimpressive is a fact. When I am finally changed, and when God's glory is shown in me, it will be apparent; it is only because He rescues that I succeed.
One of the hard realizations I have come to of late is that I am an extremely weak person. Of course, I instantly rejected this thought when it came to me. Have you seen me pull out great plays in clutch situations? Have you seen me stick to my guns in an argument or debate? Have you heard the conviction in my voice as I challenge the storm? Aren't those things strong?
As I consoled myself with all the things I'm good at, I came to realize that those are also things that don't cause much of a struggle for me. For instance, public speaking is something I've been doing since I was young. I don’t get stage fright, and anyone who knows me knows that talking about ideas has never been a problem. Sports also come naturally, and coming through in big situations isn't as big a deal when you are generally better than other players (such as in Ultimate Frisbee).
In short, the perception of strength in myself isn't really because I AM strong… it's because my natural talents seem strong by comparison. When a heavyweight boxer fights against the local mailman, of course he seems strong; but how does he do against other heavyweights?
The more I examine myself, the more I come to realize how hard it is for me to persevere in areas that I dislike or am not naturally gifted in. I find it very hard to keep track of lots of details, or to understand the interactions involved in making something "look good". I struggle to keep in touch with people or to be consistent in doing chores or odd jobs. Perhaps worst of all, I often allow myself to fail, and then follow it up by convincing myself that I never really cared in the first place.
A person is strong when they triumph over something that is naturally hard; FOR THEM. Their perseverance is the measure of their strength, not their abilities as measured next to someone of fewer natural skills or talents. When I look at myself, I see very little of that.
This has begun to change my perspective on my role in life. For a long time, I thought God made me strong so that I could bear hard things for Him. I thought that being put in tough situations would be my specialty, since I'm so "strong" when they come along. Now that I'm in a somewhat stormy situation, I find that the opposite is true; I'm actually a wimp. I've had a hard time coping and struggling through circumstance.
There is a silver lining, though. My desire and commitment to being a pastor has not waned in the least during this time. Further, I have seen God actually strengthen my ability to understand and interpret what he is saying. More and more I am learning what Christ meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth." The strength I need to be who I'm supposed to be isn't there, unfortunately. It just isn't. Only God can fix this. I'm seeing, though, all the great things he COULD do with this. What will he do? I need to wait and see.
Today I realized a couple of things that are hard for me:
1) I do not do things that are "originally" strong.
2) I am professionally unimpressive.
3) I am constantly afraid.
4) I am embarrassed to be me.
I plan on writing more about these individually soon. There's a lot to them, and it's disheartening to do it all at once. I'm really scared about this period of meditation; I am quite sure I don't like the things I am finding out and trying to admit to myself. Still, I trust it is for the best in the end.
Right now, I'm reading, "Glorious Freedom" by Richard Sibbes, which is a study on 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, especially the phrase, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Among many other things, one area he discusses is that of the conscience. How should our consciences be affected by our faith?
Sibbes suggests that the conscience is a changeable thing. Through circumstances, discipline, or neglect, the conscience is conformed to a particular worldview. Anything that breaks with that worldview, then, causes our conscience to kick in, whereas things within the scope of the worldview don't bother us at all. Make sense?
An example would be a program Samantha and I saw recently called, "Wife Swap". We usually wouldn't watch such a thing, but decided to try it just once. One wife was conservative, disciplined, clean, and a hard worker, but also harsh, condescending, critical, and boring. The other wife was liberal, poetic, fun, and easygoing, but also messy, whiney, lazy, and unreasonable. After the families had gone through the experience, BOTH wives thought the other had mishandled their family, BOTH thought the other had wronged their own family, and BOTH thought the other was wildly wrong! Why is this the case? Because each had created their own set of values, and both conformed closely to those values; and found it impossible to identify with someone who didn't share those values.
Back to Sibbes. What is the value of knowing that our consciences are changeable? Just this: If we desire to be godly and Christ-like, we must continually be disciplining ourselves to have the same conscience that God himself has! Think about it: God clearly tells us in the Bible what things HE thinks are wrong, and what things he thinks are right. Shouldn't we be trying to give ourselves the same set of values? Instead of saying, "I don't think a loving God would do this" or "I don't believe God would make me do that", we should be teaching ourselves to agree with God's conscience, forcing our own conscience to conform to His.
Sure, we may not want to tell a friend that they are choosing a wrong lifestyle because we don't want to offend them... but if God consistently speaks against that kind of lifestyle, shouldn't we teach ourselves to agree and to speak the truth to that friend? If God consistently honors those who make themselves last in terms of importance, shouldn't it bother our conscience when we take the highest honors for ourselves? This one has been a real struggle for me lately; Samantha is much better than I at taking the dirtiest or most annoying job, and it's easy for me to let her do it. I need to a) teach my conscience to see that as wrong and b) do more of the work myself to help her out.
Some of us struggle with over-hyped consciences. We think EVERYTHING is wrong, and lose sight of glorifying God in the pursuit of legalistic perfection. Others struggle with underdevelopment. We are unaffected by our own sin, and dishonor God's name and the title, "Christian". Still others struggle with misplaced values. The conscience reacts to issues that are entirely different than God's (Such as someone who thinks "saving the trees" is more important than sharing the gospel). Whatever the case, we must all learn to look more honestly at our own consciences and value systems, and use the Bible to mold and shape them into consciences that match God's. Only then will we have the right framework for pursuing Christ-likeness.
P.s. In honor of my recent marriage, I am abandoning the title of Monk. In its place, I shall be pursuing the deep study, thoughtful meditation, uncompromising preaching, and God-glorifying life of the Puritans. Enjoy!
Well, hopefully you've all heard the big news... I'm married! It was a terrific day. Feel free to e-mail me if you're interested in the details, but suffice to say that Samantha and I enjoyed it, but more importantly felt that it did a good job of showing our desire to honor God in all things. Our hope is that it is a witness to our friends and family of the centrality of God in our lives. Hopefully I'll figure out how to do some pictures on this darn thing!
Summer is a rather blah time, isn’t it? Even working seems listless when it’s hot out. My friend Paul advised that when I have lots of free time, I should be careful to structure it to make sure that I’m being productive. I follow that, but it doesn’t fix the feeling of being bored.
Today I’m going to the rehearsal of the third wedding that I’m in this summer. After this, only two more to go (including mine)! Goodness, what a whacky time.
Also, I picked out my tux. My Asian friends ought to be impressed: It’s got 5 buttons (semi-asian style) and the vest is black and silver. I went easy on my guys. ;-)
Ok, so that’s all for my boring update. More to come later. Hang in there with your reading and devos!
So, you can imagine my frustration when my pastor decided to do a book study on prayer; a frustration that only increased when I read the book and it contained almost nothing from Scripture.
I mean, the Bible is full of beautiful, worshipful prayers. Christ himself told us how we should pray. The prayers are God-centered, confessional, and worshipful. They give God the glory throughout. What do I need from a book that contains little things like, “Prayer is a dialogue between two persons who love each other”? Where is the worship? Where is the sense of holiness?
Struggling with my frustration, I turned to my ever-patient fiancé. I just could not see why we would waste valuable time on talking about conversational prayer when there is a church full of people who still have much to learn about God’s character and the theology of the life He calls us to. Why more talking about techniques?
Wisely, Samantha heard me out, and acknowledged the value of my points. But then she made the best point she could… I trust Pastor Chris completely. Shouldn’t I hear him out?
So I went. She was right, of course. Pastor Chris has been there for us for years. When I was in college, he and Priscilla brought me snacks during finals week. When I became a member, he met with me and welcomed me in. He asked me to teach the high school class, never once questioning my curriculum or my theology. He spends long periods of time answering my wordy and curious e-mails. He listened as I confessed some of my deepest struggles, and loved and trusted me anyway. He and Priscilla counseled Samantha and I, bringing greater calm and clarity and trust to our relationship. He made me a deacon. He is making a special effort out of his busy summer schedule to officiate our wedding. How could I not trust this man? How could I allow myself to doubt his teaching and direction?
That’s not the whole story, of course. I still need to be able to question. We have theological differences, and differing areas of emphasis. It’s ok that I bring something different to the table than he does, and that I let him know when there is a need for caution or greater consideration in a particular area.
But that does not mean that I have the right to angrily question his decisions before I see where they go.
And, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the study.
I still have questions and uncertainties. I still don’t think it’s the best idea in the world. However, Pastor Chris has a passion for corporate prayer, and desires for UBC to learn that same passion. He looks at books and sees potential for insights rather than the strength of theological underpinnings.
As a group, we talked about what it means to come into God’s presence… and of course, I had experienced exactly the same things as others had. It was a strong confirmation; there really is something to this idea of intense conversational prayer. It was humbling to have so many strong complaints and then to enjoy myself so thoroughly anyways. My complaints had not been invalidated or forgotten, but they had certainly lessened in importance.
I don’t know exactly where UBC will go in the future, and I’m still going to do my best to bring stronger structure and theology to it. I do know this, though: Pastor Chris is a guy that deserves my trust and respect. If I desire to submit to God in my life, I need to also learn to submit to those he has placed in authority over me, even when they do things differently than I would have. How can I ask a family or a church to follow me if I refuse to be a follower myself?
Well, the Renaissance Man is, “someone who becomes skilled, sometimes to greatness, in several areas. The Renaissance Man is someone who is constantly learning and mastering new skills. It's this quality that allowed fellows such as Leonardo Da Vinci to become skilled at both scientific and artistic endeavors.”
That fits Dave well. Let’s consider: He dresses well (a little deficient in the formal wear, but he’s young enough that it doesn’t matter). He’s a genius with computers. He is a good cook. He likes household activities. He has a terrific singing voice. He plays several instruments. He is a passionate and thoughtful worship leader. He has a servant’s heart. He works well with young people. He is God-centered and biblically focused in his theology. He is willing to teach, even though it’s not his favorite. He writes songs. He knows all the good websites. He uses coupons. He is one of the most perfect specimens of Christian humility I have ever met. He is a clear writer. He speaks multiple languages. He blends perfect smoothies. He is a top-notch fantasy football manager.
Perhaps MOST important, he is a good and caring friend, a (soon to be) husband to a terrific girl, and a faithful follower of Christ (in ascending order of importance, of course).
BUT I BEAT HIM 6-0 AT TENNIS YESTERDAY! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Ok, that’s neither here nor there. My point is this. It’s easy for me to be jealous of Dave, especially when I fear that I will always be a failure as a husband or father in comparison to him. But you know what? That fear of mine is terrible theology. God created us each in highly unique ways, and we need to be aware of that and USE it for His glory. For instance:
Some serve in studying and expressing biblical theology.
Some serve by helping the church’s finances.
Some serve through loving relationships and hospitality.
Some serve by loving and teaching children.
Some serve by doing websites and music videos.
Some serve through encouragement and friendships.
Some serve through meeting physical needs like health or hunger.
This is the beauty of Ephesians 4. We ALL can contribute to the Body, we all are DESIGNED to contribute to the Body, we are all COMMANDED to contribute to the Body, and therefore we MUST all contribute to the Body. It is our JOB to worship God by serving in the church and contributing to the Body, and my envy or self-detriment does not help accomplish that goal.
Dave may be the Renaissance Man, but you and I have just as much opportunity as he or anyone else does to become who God has called them to be. If I love God, I will serve Him with what He gave me… because that is why He gave it to me in the first place.
And now I can’t find a job.
I always assumed jobs would be fairly plentiful for me. I’m fairly sharp, I know politics, I have relevant work experience. And yet… it’s not happening. And now I’m two months away from marrying the girl of my dreams and I’m not drawing a paycheck.
It’s really scary. It’s easy for me not to be scared when I’m by myself. I don’t mind half-starving, or not having furniture, or working long hours including travel and weekends, or smelling bad. I could do anything it took, and there would be no need to worry because “God” (and the fact that I look good on a resume and am convincing in interviews) would take care of everything.
But then this girl came along, and now I need to actually provide in the literal sense of the word. I need God to give me a job that is in the Lansing area, has sensible hours and schedule, pays decently, and will last for a decent length of time. I need to pay for an apartment, to pay for decent groceries, to start saving for kids and loan payments and the like… it’s a lot to take in at once.
It’s especially frustrating because this is exactly what I’ve always wanted. Family is important to me, and I’d MUCH rather be in this situation with Samantha than by myself in Washington D.C. Still… I’m really struggling not to worry.
I wish that God would look back over the many times that I did things that everyone else said was silly, but I believed He wanted me to do it. I wish he would look back and be impressed, and give me rest. I wish things were easy. Usually I don’t care about easy, because it’s just me and I LIKE taking the hard way. But suddenly, I’m made to realize that was an illusion… being alone IS the easy way for me. It’s being together with someone that’s hard. And it’s what God wants for me.
So, here we go. Once again I’m fighting back the worries that scurry around in your stomach and clog up your throat. Once again I’m ignoring the fact that this is not the best way to do things. Once again… once again I’m actually believing, rather than saying I believe, that God is real and that He’s going to take care of me and that His providential hand is a tangible thing.
I really miss the times when it was ok to be weak. And I really miss the people who are used to seeing you that way. There aren’t many left, and I’m scared all over again.
"Not act on the words of a Master?
Come, Uncle, come! Can you see all
the worlds that were and those that are
to be? Alas, and nor can I!
My heart and mind tell me to trust
His words. The victory is ours
if we can trust. However, if
you have a better plan? For if
you have, well, we must hear it now."
A serious silence filled the lofts -
they saw the shadowed face with awe
as Uther in his son announced:
"So then, prepare our soldiery,
my lords, for war, for victory!"
To make or become angry.
Used in the imperative as a signal of angry dismissal.
This is the new definition of pissed off.
1. When, for some mysterious reason, the program that runs your company's phone system suddenly (like, say, in March) makes it so that A) your phone does not display the fact that you have messages from the month of March and B) your phone doesn't put calls into your voice mail after March.
2. When the above situation makes it so that you do not recieve a call from a legislator's office.
3. When the above phone call is to tell you that you have an interview with the legislator for a job.
4. When your current job is due to end in a month and a half, and the interview you missed was the job you most wanted.
Yep... under the new definition, I am DEFINITELY pissed off.
This is a tough area for me, and I know it always will be. I tend to want instant gratification… I want to see people changing their lives and being inspired and (if I’m honest) being impressed. The problem is, I start to take very godly desires (wanting to see people turn away from their selves and to God) and turn them into selfish ones. I think that’s why God always “fixes” things so that people aren’t really affected by my lessons until much later… at that point, it’s clear that God is working in them and reminding them of things for His purposes, not because I’m a clear speaker.
I’m preaching at UBC two weeks from yesterday, and I think that’s why He’s reminding me of all this. I need to be more patient, trusting that whatever work God lays out for me will be for good, no matter what the immediate results are. I just have to keep being faithful to that.
I acknowledge that Christians don’t have a corner on the morality market. I also acknowledge that not believing in God doesn’t necessarily give you a feeling of freedom from obligation or things you “must” do. However, I would argue that that feeling is primarily a result of religious belief. Our entire structure of law, obligation, morality, and responsibility is built on precepts that were born of religious principles. For instance, why do we have welfare? What reason is there for helping the poor?
Well, for one thing, we tend to have “sympathy pains” for them when we are made aware of their need. This is why commercials for international aid organizations always say, “Don’t just turn off the TV”, because they know they need to play to your sympathies. Humans naturally dislike pain, even sympathy pain, so they respond in one of two ways. Either they try to ignore the pain or they try to dispel it. Ignoring is turning off the TV or, even better, being able to desensitize and overcome feelings of guilt and sympathy. Dispelling, on the other hand, is doing things to help those who have the pain.
The principle of dealing with the pain of others by helping to dispel it is inherently religious. It assumes the dignity and worth of all people, and places a value on giving, sacrifice, and compassion. Today’s atheism, for the most part, is still infused with those types of principles, causing many atheists to have a morality that makes no sense given their worldview.
Nietzsche was great for this. He pointed out that our entire governmental and societal structure is built on religious assumptions. If we are to truly show our commitment to a scientific world devoid of the supernatural, he argued, we must reshape our entire understanding of right and wrong to fit our new understanding of the order of the universe. Rather than look to the heavens for help and guidance, we must embrace and celebrate our mortality and the futility of our existence, and through that embracing reach higher states of evolution than were ever thought possible (this race being the overmen, or supermen).
Again, this shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the value or worth of my atheist or agnostic friends. Their love and compassion is very real, as is the quality of their character. Most of my friends in high school were non-religious, and it certainly wasn’t because I had some masochistic desire to spend time with people who wouldn’t care about me. In reality, I spent time with them because they were extremely loving and accepting towards me and my many quirks.
The reason I pointed this topic out in the first place is actually to express a certain sort of jealousy. I WISH I could choose my own morality, my own purpose, my own direction. It must be nice. I wish I could forge the kind of existence and relationships that would alter the way the world thinks. I wish I could avoid identification with a particular group and create my own way of thinking.
But I can’t. I am completely convinced of God as Truth and the Bible as His Word. There can be no turning back.
On a lighter note, Dave and I finally removed the stupid tree from the back yard! Chopping wood is awesome. It makes you feel quite manly, even when your hands are ringing and arms are shaking (actually, that just adds to the experience).
The job hunt is still a failure so far. I feel like such an idiot, though I suppose that's probably good for me.
The Tigers won on opening day! They're headed for the playoffs this year, I can feel it.
Have a great day! Also, I've noticed a COMPLETE lack of new nickname suggestions, which says to me that I either have a shy readership, or else I don't HAVE a readership... with the latter being the more likely. Oh well. Have a nice day anyhow.
It may sound funny, coming from me, but He really can be confusing. We all know the criticisms. Why does He let bad things happen? Why does he save some and not others? Why does understanding His message for us take so much work?
For me, the hardest part is seeing unity in God’s creation. I can understand that the discord in the world is our own fault; sin is a powerful thing. However, I struggle with knowing why God’s MESSAGE can seem so inconsistent.
When I was in high school, I had a hard time seeing why God allowed ignorance. If He wants to save everyone, why does He put people in situations where knowing Him is so hard? I knew many kids from abusive or dysfunctional families, or from places where the only good thing in life is having more stuff. Their minds were never challenged, and had stagnated by the time they hit high school. Where was God in all this?
Later I struggled with “contradictions” in the Bible. It wasn’t that I thought the Bible contradicted itself; in fact, I found that the so-called contradictions are very explainable to those who care. What I didn’t understand though, was why God would ALLOW things that seemed to be contradictions. If God knows every heart and can guide every pen, why were there copying errors? Why did the authors word things in a way that seemed contradictory? Why couldn’t I spend time explaining God’s love instead of defending his word?
I eventually worked my way through these struggles. Learning of predestination, God’s passion for His own glory, and the historical context of Scripture did a lot to set aside my uncertainties.
Recently, though, it’s been hitting me again.
My latest struggle has been with denominational separations.
See, there are a LOT of denominations. Plymouth Brethren, American Baptist, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of God, Evangelical Free, Reformed, Wesleyan, Anglican, Quaker, Pentecostal… the list goes on and on. Each denomination has its own take on church life, organization, and doctrine.
To be frank, that’s just fine with me. I’ve been listening to “leadership interviews” online recently, where some of today’s top theologians talk about issues facing the church, and they’re remarkably unified. As I listen, I am quickly able to see that many of the differences we see in the church are due either to A) Honest desires to worship and glorify God in different ways, which is fine, or B) An incorrect understanding of God and His Word, which is a problem that needs to be named and challenged.
However, there is another category that drives me nuts. If God is completely unified in purpose, direction, and control, why can those of good faith disagree so much? Why the split between dispensational and covenantal? Why the disagreements on the role of women in the church? Why can teachings of earlier Christians be so out of touch with today’s (such as Jonathan Edwards teaching that the Catholic Church is the AntiChrist and that the world would end in the year 2000)?
I’m not certain of my answer just yet. I have some different kinds of studies I want to do, in hopes that they will shed light on the subject. What is my hypothesis, though?
At this point, my atheist friends will helpfully inform me that the Bible was just made up anyways, so of course it can’t express a unified message because there was no unifying force behind it.
Some days I almost wish for that sort of a world. In the constantly changing, never-dull world of the atheist, life is just something that happens, and we may as well derive our own unique sense of purpose in the world from what we are (randomly) given. In a world like that, everything is simpler. I choose my morality, choose my direction, and choose my version of happiness. When things with Samantha get hard, I can just leave. If my political career doesn’t pan out, I can join the military. It’s like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books. You look at what is, and then make decisions about your response. It’s infinitely simple because the options are limitless.
Unfortunately, that’s not for me. A purposeless, random, uncertain world is inherently self-destructive… and frankly, is basically impossible. Only a God beyond all rules stands the test of possibility.
So, then, I’m forced to accept that my sovereign God allows dissension. My hypothesis is that he is doing this because it accomplishes His purposes. If debate restructures our thinking and sharpens our study, so much the better. If some in one place need one teaching to see God and those in another need something different, so be it.
What, then, is true? What does God really intend? What does the future really hold and what is the most loving way to get there?
And the big question: Is this a debate that should be conducted in the publicity of the square… or the privacy of the heart and community? Hmm… we may be on to something here.
Surpassing all these in sheer cuteness, though, is the way she thinks in pictures. If I say to Samantha, “Ok, option A involves this much money, this much time, and this much effort, and option B involves this much of those same things, which would you rather do?” then it won’t mean anything, and she’ll want to know what I think (this creates loooong waiting periods whenever a menu is presented). If she gets a picture in her head, though, of what doing something would look and feel like, she’s sold.
Preparing for our honeymoon is a good example. Samantha had expressed two possibilities. In Ben language, the possibilities were a beach-type place (Caribbean) or a city (Shanghai). So, I figured we could visit Seattle and kill two birds with one stone.
Consider her reaction to my idea: “oh. That could be fun. I'm not really excited about that, though.”
Now consider what she said when she was expressing her Caribbean idea: “I can just see us relaaaxing (she puts a lot of emotion into her word pronunciation, too) in the suuun, with a gentle breeze blowing, looking at the bluuue water. ::sigh:: it would be so beautiful…” She moves her hands back and forth gently, as if the exotic scene is inches from her face.
The thing is, she wasn’t looking for just a beach and just a fun city. She had a PICTURE in her mind… a picture of, on one hand, a beautiful breezy day on a sandy island, looking out at bright blue water and surrounded by palm trees. In another, she was imagining a return to her family’s homeland of China, speaking in Chinese and shopping for authentic Asian foods and goods. Her desire for both of these ideas (pictorial visions, as I think of them) was based on the beauty of the vision, not on the technicality of “beach” and “city”. As you can imagine, Seattle is NOT on our list of possible honeymoon destinations anymore.
Samantha’s ideas have a depth and quality to them… they accept no substitutes. A beach in, say, the Caribbean is different than a beach in the US, though I could probably never appreciate it. The city life of Shanghai has far more vibrancy and significance to her than a trip to the Starbucks capitol of the world. Her ideas are special because they are deep and complete… the experience is good because all the nuances and details are good, too.
Her appreciation for completely good ideas (rather than just good ideas) is an encouragement for me in studying.
Yes, I did actually just say that.
See, if I want to seek real quality in my knowledge (especially of spiritual things), I need to have depth. I need my knowledge and ideas to be strong not just because they are good ideas (let’s have our honeymoon at a beach), but because they are backed by depth (gentle breeze, bright bluuue water, palm trees). When I discuss Calvinism, it needs to be supported by knowledge of Arminianism. When we talk about Habakkuk in class, it would be flat without a knowledge of Babylonian-Israeli history. If I want to praise God for his love and mercy, I had better also be able to praise him for suffering and discipline and wrath.
I think we all have that calling. While there’s no reason for everyone to be like me (the world has plenty of geeks already, thank you), there IS reason for Christians to seek completeness and depth. Don’t just experience God; learn about him. Don’t just have Christian friends your age; play with little kids and talk to old people at church. Don’t just accept what you’re taught; ask questions and work through a concept completely.
There’s a rumor going around that I’m smart. While I can agree that God has given me the gift of gab (also known as silver tongue syndrome), I don’t think I’m any smarter than anyone else. What I do have is a love of knowing things on a deeper level. It’s a love that helps me greatly in teaching… answering questions becomes a matter of sharing something I’ve questioned as well, rather than having a particular skill.
That’s just one area, though. For instance, I’m terrible at knowing people’s feelings or reactions to a certain idea. Poor Samantha has to put up with my callousness all the time. She, on the other hand, is much more acquainted with the range of feelings people go through when something happens. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Samantha already knew without even thinking about it how my sister would be feeling about it, and what my family would expect. I, on the other hand, barely had a reaction. I’ve kept such tight discipline on my emotions for so long that I’d forgotten how to allow myself to react strongly to something. Trust me, Samantha is opening THAT particular can of worms back up.
What I’m trying to say here is this; don’t just DO your life. Don’t just go to classes, study for tests, and find fun things to do with friends. Be deep. Cry with people who hurt. Question God with the toughest things you can throw at him. Struggle, fight, question, mourn. Be a deep and complete person. Why? Because you want to glorify God with your life… and God is easier to see in a warm sun, gentle breeze, and bluuue water than he is on a dinky beach in Seattle.
Now, I should point out, these were not your normal protesters. On most Wednesdays (though not for about a month now), a group of 7 or 8 people comes out to the Capitol building (across the street from me) to protest the Iraq war. It tends to be a little odd… it’s not like Michigan’s government started the darn thing, you know? But no, this week a group of about 20 gathered around a peculiar object.
It was only about 3 and a half feet tall, and made of stone. It was blocky and unattractive, and didn’t seem to be serving any purpose. It sat on the bed of a flatbed trailer, and a set of steps allowed people to come up and look at it. The object became even stranger (in my mind) when you found out that it was brought in from Alabama and was the subject of a federal court case.
By now it is dawning on all my news junkie readers… the object was the controversial sculpture of the Ten Commandments that had been set up in the entrance of an Alabama court, and came to be a symbol of the debate surrounding the relationship between church and state in the US.
For a long time, that relationship was a major focus of my life. I devoted years of my high school career to the topic. I fought to show my classmates and teachers that my two great loves –politics and governance- were not only compatible, but mutually beneficial. I was certain that brilliant and convincing arguments would show the world that what we REALLY needed to move towards a happier life is leaders whose personal lives are governed by the unalterable standards set forth in the bible. It culminated in my senior year, when I did multiple reports on Constantine, an emperor who used Christianity as a force for strengthening and organizing the flagging Roman Empire. This was my vision for the country and for my life… to bring religion and governance together in such a way that lives would be changed, existence would be simpler, and all would be well with the world.
My life was all about Church vs. State.
In college, though, all that changed. I came to see how my pride was too great a motivation; I wanted to fight for church and state to be closer not because I wanted them to be closer, or because I wanted to honor God, but because I wanted to lead the fight. I wanted to be the one at the front lines, articulating arguments that I knew would fall on deaf ears and wildly different worldviews. It was like the question of what a general should do in peacetime; I wanted a fight so I could lead the fight, not because the fight needed to happen.
I sauntered past the Ten Commandments and continued my walk.
One of the beautiful things about walking in almost any city is the opportunity to see the same thing from multiple perspectives. When I went on a mission trip to Alaska we all got to see Mt. McKinley… but we all saw it from the exact same perspective that MOST people see it, because the distances are so great. In a city, everyone can see the same building or view from different places and perspectives. As I walked through Lansing, I stopped for a moment and admired an interesting view.
The corner I stood on was the corner of the capitol building’s property. I stood at a 45 degree angle to the cross-street, looking at the capitol building. To my left and across the street was a city block that had several sophisticated, box-like buildings. These contained the Lansing City Hall, the police station, the offices of the state representatives, the MHA, the department of civil rights, Comerica Bank, a few law firms, and the inevitable coffee shop. To my right stood a couple blocks of beautiful old church buildings; Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, you name it. The architecture was old and creative, and gave you that sad-but-lovely feeling you get when you hear a beautiful song or watch the sun set at the end of a long day.
In the center of my vision stood the majestic capitol building, with a few people and a lectern-sized sculpture on a flatbed dotting the front lawn.
I had to ask myself: Is this where we meet? Is our destiny to show up in small numbers, protesting a world that isn’t interested in our life of absolutes? What should embarrass me more; leaders who don’t care enough to listen or Christians who don’t listen enough to let people know they care?
In my last post, I talked about the importance of being content in the place God has brought you too. That’s still true. However, I can see more and more that we are still called to be God-centered in the way we live our lives. We cannot become complacent. We are to honor Him above all… above ALL.
Do church and state meet in the middle to duke it out? No. The problem with declaring church vs. state is that we give equal honor and credibility to both. We act as though they are two evenly matched fighters (often with a slight edge for state) trying to knock each other out. We put government on the same level as God.
That can’t be for me. Some people can spend their lives walking the line between governance and public service, keeping a right perspective on public service as having a higher purpose of service to the people God has created, and so being glorifying to him. I know a man who is a policeman; his work can unquestionably be for God’s greater glory.
If I persist in looking for fights, though, I will be failing my purpose here on earth. Should we be content with where God brings us? Yes, but that doesn’t mean we should flag or become lazy in pursuing His glory. My life should always be striving to know him and honor him more; if that means that I need to give up politics, so be it.
See, my life is still about Church vs. State. This time, though, it’s about which I will honor. Will I glorify governance or service? Compromises or absolutes? Bottom lines or mercy and compassion?
I don’t know what details my life will contain, but I hope they will show that Church beats State every time. I hope they show that God’s glory was of first importance in my life. I hope they show that I served my King, rather than made myself a king through public service. I hope my life commitment displays the glory of a sovereign God.
What will you commit to?
What will your life display?
( BONUS! If you'll notice, my blogspot ends every post by saying, "The monk published this discourse at...
The thing is, monks are SINGLE! And I'm getting married this summer!
So, faithful reader, if you made it this far... please comment on what you think my new nickname should be... or at the least, what my blogspot should call me. ;-) )
As we played, I had a depressing thought. Scrabble can be a lot like life. You have tons of possibilities… letters/talents of all kinds, opportunities, different things that will help you on your way. The problem, though, is that as things unfold, you have to make exceptions. Maybe things could work out perfectly… but then someone blocks you. Perhaps this terrific situation will happen and protect your lead… but then you find that the spelling is not quite right. Maybe you’ll get one great word and jump back into the lead… but then you draw four one-point vowels, and find that you’re doomed to failure (I’m well acquainted with these feelings, as Samantha usually wins. She once got 62 points on the word “sexy.” For those of you who don’t know, that’s absolutely insane.)
Lately I’ve been struggling with fears that my life will turn out that way. Instead of being able to do great and exciting things, I fear that I could end up just getting by for the rest of my life. Rather than being passionate about what I do, it’s very possible that I could lose my fire and just do the best I can with what I’m given, never fighting for more.
So often I see adults weighed down by life, frustrated and unhappy. I don’t want to end up like that. How do I avoid it?
More and more I see that the frustration people feel doesn’t come so much from their position in life… it comes from their feelings ABOUT their position in life. The happy ones are not the ones who reach the highest… they are the ones who are most content with the position they have reached. Rather than seeing themselves as a failure, they see themselves as a part of something good. On the flip side, those who think they are better than their position in life would suggest have a hard time liking themselves. They feel that they have either A) been cheated or B) failed. From that point on, they lose any sense of self-worth, and lose with it the ability to fight on.
This is a personal struggle for me because I tend to think too highly of myself. It still surprises me when I am turned down for a job, or when someone suggests that I cannot do what I feel I am supposed to do. On one hand, I need this training because it is important for me to become more humble than I am currently. On the other… is there hope?
Of course there is. God has a plan for each of us, and we fulfill a place in His Master Scheme. My job is not to have great accomplishments or to do amazing things that the world will praise me for. My job is to do what He asks of me so that the world will praise HIM for it.
I must confess, I really want to be a pastor. I mean, I REALLY want to be a pastor. I love God’s word and what it represents, I love the people it was sent for, and above all I love the God who gave it to us. I love studying what he says to us, knowing it, feeling connected to Him. I love sharing it with others. I love it when someone (be it myself or someone else) who is crying in the night finally hears the sweet words that help them out, finally receives the encouragement they’ve been so in need of. I love the idea of serving and leading a group of people to a deeper knowledge of our Redeemer.
As Samantha has been pointing out to me, though, that dream and desire is nothing if it is not of God. I am to be a Piece of His Puzzle, a carrier of His message, and servant in His house. My job in life is not to accomplish great things for God… it is to accomplish the things God asks me to accomplish. It is not for me to say where I will be 5 years from now… that choice is God’s.
That is scary for me sometimes, but I have to remember the examples I see around me. The people who do what God asks of them are happy and fulfilled. They go about their daily lives with joy and energy, and the qualities and strengths that God has given them are fully displayed. They are content, because they fit the puzzle. I can fight God, or I can accept his plan whatever it may be. The latter is the better choice, because those who do are fulfilled, while those who do not are unhappy. God’s will for us glorifies Him AND makes us happy… is he a great planner or what?
I’ve been reading a wonderful book of late called, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” and I think this quote is pertinent:
“A man could walk only the path he saw at his own feet or that which was pointed out to him by a lawful superior. After that he was in the hands of God… And their compass was more generous, their hold more reassuring, than the hands of any man.”
Of course, finding His will is still a struggle. Even so, knowing that His plan is present and His plan will work is enough to foster trust. I need that trust, because I cannot see the entire Scrabble board of life yet. God can, though, and I need to trust that when he is done, a 62 point word will be a piece of cake.
Marxists are people whose insides are torn up day after day because they want to rule the world and no one will even publish their letter to the editor.
The Old Explorer
A young reporter went to a retirement home to interview an aged but legendary explorer. The reporter asked the old man to tell him the most frightening experience he had ever had.
The old explorer said, "Once I was hunting Bengal tigers in the jungles of India. I was on a narrow path and my faithful native gunbearer was behind me. Suddenly the largest tiger I have ever seen leaped onto the path in front of us. I turned to get my weapon only to find the native had fled. The tiger leapt toward me with a mighty ROARRRR! I soiled myself."
The reporter said, "Under those circumstances anyone would have done the same."
The old explorer said, "No, not then - just now when I went ''''ROARRRR!''''"
Each year, the Washington Post's "Style Invitational" asks readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the 2001 winners:
Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
A prisoner in jail receives a letter from his wife: "Dear Husband, I have decided to plant some lettuce in the back garden. When is the best time to plant them?"
The prisoner, knowing that the prison guards read all mail, replied in a letter: "Dear Wife, whatever you do, do not touch the back garden. That is where I hid all the money."
A week or so later, he received another letter from his wife: "Dear Husband, You wouldn't believe what happened, some men came with shovels to the house, and dug up all the back garden."
The prisoner wrote another letter back: "Dear wife, now is the best time to plant the lettuce."
Ha! In the midst of all the frustration and worries of life and career choices, friendships, family, whatever else... I win!
Why, you ask? Because I'm marrying Samantha, of course!
Ok, so this is pretty sappy, I know. But I really am excited. Think about it. Wouldn't you be? You wait your whole life to find out if you can be that special to someone, to find out if you have what it takes. You dream about what they'll be like... and then one day, you realize someone even better than that cares about you too.
Samantha is the yin to my yang (or is it the other way around?), the sweet jam to my sticky peanut butter, the offensive line to my quarterback, the smile when I frown, the infastructure to my society (ok, so that impresses only me, but hey, it's my blog). She's a warm spot in front of the fire, a strong shoulder to lean against, a big hug when you're lonely, and (most importantly) a person who will bring you closer to God whether you want to know Him better or not. Heh, metaphors are fun.
She's adorable, and you know what? I win, cause she's mine (and I'm hers, for all you PC junkies out there).
Now, I'm not saying other people CAN'T win. Dave and Lindsay, Stevo and Jan, Brian and Sara, etc... these people all won, as well.
So did Aunt Ellen and Big Bob, two of my favorite single people in the world.
"Winning", really, isn't so much about getting the great girl, though I did do that. Winning is about becoming who God wants you to be. What's MOST exciting about Samantha, besides her heart-stealing smile, is that she represents a milestone in my life of choosing to follow God. Only a few times in my life have I been absolutely, 100% certain about God's will for a non-moral question in my life. High School choice, tennis vs. Bible study, college choice, fellowship choice, ending a relationship... these are the few times I've known without a doubt. Samantha is the most recent (and biggest) of these decisions.
A lot of times, we're afraid of seeking God's will, because we think he'll give us something we don't want, or that we'll be unhappy if we lose control. However, time and time again I've found that regardless of the material impact of our choices, choosing God's way always is the happier decision.
Follow God. You, too, can win.