Sunday, April 30, 2006

Recycled Pottery

Today in church one of our pastors, Will Dungee, preached on the potter passage in Jeremiah 18. He talked about how we are created by God to be vessels shaped by His hand, and he had some pots thad had been thrown ("made") by a church member. As Will talked he "accidentally" let one fall and break, and then segwayed into how many of us are broken, and that we think the thing to do with broken pots is just to throw away the pieces, since they aren't good for anything. Well, I knew that God didn't do that, but I wondered, "What does God do with these broken pots? Is there a verse about gluing back together?"

As I wondered, a video came on the screen, and the potter from our church showed how broken pots were recycled into usable clay. They are put into a big tub of water, and over time the water re-softens the shards until they become maleable clay, which can then be thrown again. And the pieces made from the recycled clay are really beautiful because they have different colors and patterns from the different clays in them. Who knew?!

Then they showed Psalm 40:2 - "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire", and looking at the tub of recycled clay, it was a muddy, miry mess. From that comes good, beautiful works fashioned by the potter.

Will laid out broken pieces of pottery on the stage, and then placed finished pots and bowls, made from recycled pottery, behind the broken pieces and opened the altar for people to pray.

Diane and I have been going through a real breaking time in our marriage, and as I prayed there before those pieces of pottery, the Lord encouraged me that though we are broken now, He was going to soften us in the love and power of His Holy Spirit, and reform us together into a new vessel, more united and more beautiful because from our brokenness the Lord will create unity. Amazing grace - what a good God we have.

A Dangerous CD

Back in the day I fell in love with a college band from Texas named Caedmon's Call after hearing them play an outdoor concert (at Duke of all places). I especially appreciated the lead guitarist, Derek Webb, and his songs on their CD's were always my favorite.

He has since left the band and has released 3 CD's, the latest of which is an amazing thing to listen to. "Mockingbird" is a challenge to the Church to be doers of justice and lovers of mercy, and challenges the fusing of the Christianity and politics.

Listening to this CD makes me very uncomfortable, and I happen to agree with much of what Derek says, so I can imagine how it might sit with someone on the other side of the fence. At a recent concert on a college campus, a full three rows of students walked out after he sang these lines from "A King and a Kingdom."

there are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

It's safe to say that you won't here his music on K-Love (Christian radio), and I think that it is a shame. The Christian subculture, from music to books, has become so homogenous in what is presented to us as good, there is little room made for a message like Derek's that might challenge the status quo. But why should we fear ideas and theology, especially from a fellow Brother in Christ, simply because it challenges our own belief system? Below are some more lyrics, but first a quote from Derek in the recent issue of Relevant magazine.

That said, Webb doesn’t believe that getting involved in social justice issues is an absolute requirement of faith. “I’ve heard too many of my brothers and sisters who also have a heart for Africa say, ‘ God is going to judge us based on how we respond to the emergency in Africa.’ But I believe that’s an outright lie. God has already judged and punished Jesus for the fact that we don’t love people well. That’s very good news, but it also calls us to be about the Lord’s business, which right now I believe is in Africa."

A New Law
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

My Enemies Are Men Like Me
how can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love
my enemies are men like me
i will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well
my enemies are men like me

(vs. 2)
peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication
it’s like telling someone murder is wrong
and then showing them by way of execution

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hackin' Away at Dennys 2

As I have thought more about the Ricky Manning situation, I’ve wondered why I reacted so strongly. Pro athletes cause trouble all the time, and I don’t usually get too worked up about it.

But this one seems more personal. This is not a “shots in the dark outside a club” incident. This is something that could happen to me or a friend of mine. I could be the guy at Denny’s working on my laptop. I could be the geek getting picked on.

Also inside me is the thought, “It’s not right for people to get bullied.” And so the incident plays into my desire to be safe and into the fears that maybe I never truly am, and it taps into my desire that life be fair and people be treated nice.

Things that make you go “Hmm.”

All I needed to say in prayer I learned in pre-school

This year at pre-school, Eliza has learned the classic blessing passed down from snack table to snack table throughout the ages – “God is Great.” Since she is always eager to pray that one at supper time, it has become our staple family prayer, and I have been struck at how deep and accurate a prayer it is.

“God is great.” There is none like Him, and there is nothing He cannot do. His power is immeasurable.

“God is good.” His character is love. He delights in His children and His creation. He sends rain to the fields of the wicked and the upright alike. We owe all to Him and He lavishes good things on us.

“Let us thank Him for our food.” We are about to eat a meal together. He gave us the money to buy it. He made the food grow. We will be full at the end of this time. It is only right to give thanks.

“Amen.” You can say that again.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hackin' Away At Denny's

Is there nowhere safe to go anymore? I mean, you would figure that a Denny’s restaurant on a Saturday night would be as innocuous a location as you could find to have a quiet spot to work on your laptop. That’s what one guy in LA thought until he was beaten unconscious by a group of men, including former Panthers defensive back Ricky Manning, Jr.

I am sure that there may be more to the story, but the early report is that the group was making fun of the guy, calling him a geek and a nerd. When he complained to the manager, he was beaten for having the audacity to want to enjoy his late-night Grand Slam and coffee in peace.

The next morning he probably woke up in the hospital.
The next morning Ricky Manning, Jr hosted a conference call about his new $21 million dollar deal with the Bears.

Here’s one thing Manning had to say about the incident.
"I was pretty down this morning because of the situation," Manning said. "But when I found out I was a Chicago Bear, it kind of brought a little light to the day. ... I can't let something like this let me have a bad start to my football career in Chicago."

Here’s one thing the victim had to say about the incident.
“I was pretty down this morning because of the situation,” Joe Victim said. “But when I found out that they had boxed up the rest of my Denny’s meal for me and that I could drink it through a straw now, it kind of brought a little light to the day…. I can’t let something like getting beaten by an NFL player and his friends let me have a bad start to my otherwise swell week.” *note: not an actual quote from the victim

I am sure that another version of the story will come out, like the computer nerd said something to the group. Whatever he said, I don’t think it could have been worth being beaten unconscious by several assailants (Manning has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon because he had accomplices and he used excessive bodily force).

And perhaps it was simply that he had the audacity to challenge an elite athlete by complaining to a manager, and pride wouldn’t allow Manning to let him get away with that. I’ll be interested to see what comes of this as the story unfolds.

Bring It On

My good friend Alex had a post yesterday about the very serious trials of being a sleep-deprived parent asking, begging, God for a good night’s sleep, and that prayer going unanswered. In fact, it seems sometimes, that the little one sleeps less in respinse to those prayers!

If I were God, I would answer that prayer because I would be a fix-er God. Whenever one of my children got in a scrape, I would make it go away, snap!

But God is not a fix-er God. He is a redeeming, refining God who desires life for us more we desire it for ourselves.

And so after a very late night where Diane and I had a very intense and heated discussion, all we would like would be to have a day where the girls are compliant and quiet. Yet already before 8:30, Eliza has tried to clean her room with baby powder and tried to fill the ice cube tray with water while sitting on the rug by the sink, and Psalter has been screaming for about ½ of the time she has been awake. I get to go to work, and I just feel so bad and just want God to give my wife a break (in part because I love her and in part because I feel bad that I get to go to work and she has to stay and deal with the girls).

But God is not a fix-er. He is a redeeming, refining God who desires life for us more than we desire it for ourselves.

So He says, “No,” for now, and calls me to give Him my guilt and my fear of Diane resenting me for working, and He calls Diane to trust Him in the midst of frustration and fear that this day will be more than she can handle.

And so we depend on mercy and grace, mercy to cover sin and grace to empower us to embrace life in hard places.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Things Aint Always What They Seem

Taking kids home from tutoring, I saw a family out in their backyard. Several little girls playing, looked like mom and dad were there. A nice scene.

Coming back past this house 10 minutes later, I saw the “dad” leave the yard and walk out to a car that pulled up. He handed something white into the car, received something back, and the pretty picture got smashed.

Where have you gone, Norman Rockwell?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Stuff-ed Part Three

As I have continued to think about my thirst for “stuff”, I am realizing that I am a consume-er on many levels, and eating is one of them. I eat my meals with lightning speed, especially if it is something that I like. I used to say that I ate fast because of my young kids. Now I am seeing that I am trying to consume my food and enjoy it as quickly as possible, and on some level I am trying to fill a part of myself that is deeper than my tummy. I’ve noticed that I have been stopping more for drinks or candy bars when am out, and they never measure up to my hopes of how refreshing or good-tasting that they will be. I’ve noticed that I eat out of habit in the evenings, or even just eat as many good little things as strike my fancy.

I think that what it all boils down to is that there is nothing apart from Christ that will bring me life. There is nothing apart from Christ that will bring me joy. And as long as I seek to fill that need for life and joy with stuff or food or TV or work, I will come up empty. I believe that as I grow in knowing Christ as life, I will more enjoy the things that I eat or buy or do, because I am not counting on them to be more than they can ever be.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Stuff-ed Part One

Tonight I bought a pair of expensive sunglasses on ebay. I didn’t need them because a friend had given me a pair the other week that were the same brand. But the pair he gave me kind of made my head hurt because they were a little tight, so I decided to try a different style of the same kind.

And now I grieve my preoccupation with stuff, and my inability to find a balance of grace when I mess up, and a loving obedience that leads to simplicity.

I think that I have talked a lot about living simply in recent years, but I am pretty sure that I don’t. I think that material simplicity involves giving up things that you would like to have, and could also afford, so that other might have what they need. At this point, the main way that Diane and I limit what we have is that we try and give away a lot up front. This reduces what we have left over to spend on “wants”, and yet I still manage to find a way to make my “wants” a reality. And I am reluctant to give up my rights to have what I want, provided I can afford it.

I’ve always been accustomed to having nice stuff, which is part of what draws me to it. But tonight as I prayed, I realized that I continue to fall for a lie that says if I buy this or that, I will feel good (or at least feel better), and I rarely do. There are some frivolous purchases that are good ones and they feel right. But most of the time I think that I am just enjoying the moment of buying something (and does it get any more fun than on ebay, swooping in at the last second to “win” an item?).

Stuff-ed - Part Two

Simplicity is relative, I guess. Compared to some friends and family, Diane and I have very little. Compared to others, we have so much. But comparisons really aren’t the way to measure this, I don’t think. The Lord is concerned with the heart, and mine is way too affected by the love of “things.” I want the heart of our friend Chelsea who, in talking about moving onto the mission field, told Diane with excitement, “We only get to bring TWO BAGS EACH!” I want the heart of our friends Michael and Casey, who moved into a two-bedroom apartment with no TV(despite having 2 kids and another on the way), and downsized to one car in order to prepare for life on the mission field and to be able to be more generous with their resources.

I want the heart of the Macedonian churches, written about in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. 6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I want the heart of Paul who writes in Philippians 4:11-13, “11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

I want the heart of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mind, Heart and Soul

This Easter weekend, Diane and I had two very different worship experiences within 12 hours or so of each other. On Saturday night we attended an Episcopal service called “The Easter Vigil.” Our host graciously got us ready for the liturgy and what to expect, and the service was amazing. Not in a “I got goose-bumps and felt the presence of Jesus in my heart" amazing. But rather, I felt that I loved the Lord with my mind and with an appreciation of tradition observed by Christians since at least the third century. In a gloomy, dim sanctuary, we heard the story of salvation told through the Old Testament scriptures, moving from Genesis to Isaiah and having the Psalms interspersed as our guide along the way. After an infant baptism ceremony, the lights came up and we celebrated the new life that we have in Christ by taking communion and even being sprinkled with baptismal water by the priest as a reminder of our own baptism. The Word of God was powerful, as were the rich creeds that we listened to and spoke.

On Easter we attended my mom’s church, a non-denominational community church that was buzzing with excitement. A full praise band led us in musical worship, and the pastor taught us about having passion in our lives, and used power point to illustrate his sermon. Loving the Lord with all of you heart was certainly lifted up and experienced.

And I thought, I'd love to have both in worship. I'd love to have the liturgy of the Episcopal tradition as well as the more emotional connection that I appreciate in the evangelical tradition. Not to say that either is void of emotion or tradition, but certainly each is stronger in areas than the other. Diane and I just really were blessed by each experience of worship and met God in different ways at each one.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

When the door closed and all is quiet....

... your two-year-old may be covering her little sister in baby powder.

Saying "bye" to Urban Guy

I’ve been really bogged down lately with wondering where God was leading us as a family here in Glenwood. Should we buy another house to use for students to live in year round? Why would we do that when I can barely get any students to apply for GUPY this summer? Should we just wait and then move later? Would we have to move if our neighborhood improved too much? Do we stay in this house on Silver or buy another one and use this for a GUPY house?

Questions, questions, and I have put so much pressure on myself to find answers. In many ways I have been putting my identity in being Urban Guy. But the problem is that if Urban Guy is who I am, then I will make ministry and life decisions to uphold that identity, which leads me to serve in law, not in love.

Today I had a couple of simple, but profound, revelations. First is that I feel the most peace in my spirit when I think about staying here t 828 Silver, working on our house, and just loving our neighbors. And that is OK. I don’t have to have a grand vision for super ministry schemes. I don't have to have the road ahead mapped out. I don't have to work so hard to maintain my Urban Guy identity, and I don’t have to live as though my worth and identity lie in my work with the poor. Living in the future has been exhausting to me and has robbed the joy of the present from me.

Second is that I remembered, again, that my truest worth is in my sonship. I am a new creation in Christ, a beloved son of the Father, and I don't have to strive for significance or worth by being Urban Guy. I am Marshall (Chosen), dearly loved. Urban Guy will never be who I am, and that is freedom.

Plans with a hope and a future

In Jeremiah 29, God calls the Israelite exiles to build houses and settle down in Babylon, planting gardens and raising kids, seeking the peace and prosperity of the city. As I shared that message with a local church in our neighborhood this morning, encouraging them to continue as owners and not live as renters, I realized that I was worrying so much about the future that I myself was not living as an owner in my heart.

But God says in Jeremiah 29:11 that He knows the plans He has for the exiles in Babylon, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans with a hope and a future. He speaks those words to a people who are being sorely tempted to live with the future in mind.

So, like the Israelites, my call is to settle in and love life here until God reveals the next step, knowing that His heart towards me is good and kind. That sure beats trying to figure it out myself.