Thursday, July 30, 2009

That I Would Be Good

It's amazing how music can stir our souls, isn't it? Music can refresh and energize us; it can calm and relax us. Music is tied to memories (which I think is the main reason that I continue to listen to and enjoy Abba and Stryper), and it can help us connect to God when our hearts are hard.

Music often reminds me of the Gospel and of the love of God. One of the most surprising songs that does this is That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morrisette. It's a song that both lyrically and musically expresses the longing to be accepted, to be OK, even if everything that we think is wrong with us never really gets fixed. I think it's the cry of every heart apart from Christ, a cry that gets expressed in lots of different ways depending on the person. I think that it is funny that I hear the Gospel in this song, because it doesn't have a redemptive end where everything gets fixed and solved. The longing to be good seems like wishful thinking, something that would be nice if it could ever happen.

But for the person who is rooted and grounded in the forgiveness of God and the acceptance that is given through Christ's life in us, this song really is a signpost that points to the goodness of God. As the song reveals our brokenness, all the ways that we have tried to make life work and failed, the Spirit speaks into those places and reminds us that in Christ, we are good. In Christ, we are accepted just as we are. In Christ we are loved and we have access to the only life that will satisfy our souls.

It's been almost 10 years now since I first heard this song, and yet it still points me to the One who is good and who gives His goodness freely to us, no strings attached.

That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette

That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

That I would be fine even even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing

That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy

That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be goodWhether with or without you

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Only Victory

This summer has been very hard for me and my family to say the least. I could list all the reasons, but suffice it to say, it's been a season of struggle, and as a result, I have been wrestling to rest in Christ. I have recently realized that I've been believing two lies: 1) I don't do enough for people (my work never really solves problems and there is always someone that I don't help or someone I could help more) 2) I am a failure (when it comes to GUPY, when it comes to my work as outreach pastor, when it comes to being a dad, I always fall short of the mark that I have for myself). As you can imagine, living under this standard is not much fun, but I realize that the tired-er I get, the less likely I am to consistently connect with Jesus, living the abiding message that I preach.

So the other night I was sitting on my porch praying and listening to music, and I began to listen to a CD that I had downloaded but never taken time to play. And the song "My Only Victory" began to play, and as I heard it, I began to weep. It revealed so clearly how I had subtly shifted my hope from Jesus to: my ability to make a difference, my ability to live a holy life, and my own failings (and my ability to make things right). And it reminded me of the freedom that comes from trusting Christ. Life is not all about me or about my talents or ability to get things done. I cannot live for the applause of the poor or of the congregation, and I cannot hope to erase the lies of failure. Christ alone is good. Christ alone is who I serve. Christ alone enables me to love, to live a holy life, and to turn from sin. He is truly my only victory.

My Only Victory by Justin McRoberts

Should all the poor know my name
And all my gentle mercies every heart proclaim
Should by my own tow hands all the world be changed
The truth will yet remain:

My only victory is Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection.

Should my heart be pure and true
And my mind be bound to wisdom through and through
Should ever my spirit, Lord, cry out to you
This one things still is true:

My only victory is Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection.
I place my hope alone in Jesus and the coming of His Kingdom.

Should I fail in every deed
Should I confuse the things I've wanted with my needs
Should I return the curses of my enemies
The truth will ever be:

My only victory is Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection.
I place my hope alone in Jesus and the coming of His Kingdom.

The joy of Catch

I recently had a chance to play catch with one of our kids from tutoring - you know, the game where you throw a ball back and forth.... and back.... and forth. And as I was telling my friend Suzanne about it, she said, "I never really understood that game. Just throwing the ball."

I had never thought much about it, but as I explained to her what Catch really is, it helped me understand why two gloves and a baseball can be an awesome thing.

When I was a little boy, playing catch with my dad was my most favorite things to do. I could have spent hours in the backyard tossing the baseball with him, and I would wait eagerly in the evenings for him to come from work, gloves at the ready. For one thing, Catch was one-on-one time with my dad, just me and him. We didn't have to talk a lot - there was something great about just being together, outside, watching the evening fade. Catch involved a back and forth exchange - it's no fun playing by yourself. As I grew older, Catch allowed me to test my strength, to see how measured up, so I would try to throw harder and harder, making his glove pop louder and louder, seeing if I could make his hand sting through the leather. Eventually I tried my hand at pitching, seeing how accurate I could be in hitting his mitt (usually ending up with my dad making many trips down the hill in our backyard to recover my wild throws).

If we ever got bored with simple back and forth, there were always variations. Grounders and Pop Fly's became favorites, and I learned to not be afraid as the ball skipped randomly over the grass and sometimes popped up at my face, and I learned to shield my eyes from the sun and use two hands to secure the ball when it landed in my glove. In the winter, we would put a ball in the pocket of our gloves, having rubbed neatsfoot oil all over it, and the wrap it with raw-hide to get it ready for spring.

Playing catch with my young friend the other day was me passing on a gift that my dad had given to me, a gift of time and attention. I could tell Darrius was thrilled to have 20-30 minutes of my time, just me and him. He was excited to learn to throw harder and more accurately with just a couple pointers, and he grinned ear to ear as he showed his mom how he could pitch. When I first suggested Catch to him, he said he'd rather just get a bat and hit. But I think now he sees the simple joy of trowing a ball back and forth.... back and forth..... back.... and... forth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nine Years – amazing!

On July 8th, Diane and I celebrated nine years of marriage (albeit in different cities, as I was out of town with the Glenwood Camp). Over a belated anniversary dinner this weekend, we thought about how far we had come, how far the Lord has brought us, and it is simply amazing to see what God has done.

Some couples have hard first years of marriage and they realize that in the midst of those first years. Some don’t have hard times much at all. I think our first years were very hard, but we didn’t know any different – we just thought it was normal. But looking at where we are now, I can clearly see a mighty work of God, and I am so thankful for how good marriage can be when you work at it and when you have the grace of God at work.

Broken of much independence, I have come to trust and depend on Diane as my friend and partner in life. Broken of the illusions that we had about our ability to love one another well on our own, we have each grown in depending on Christ to be our love and our hope. Broken of fears of being known, we are growing in intimacy and communication.

I could not have imagined that marriage could have gotten so much better and that we would still have so much opportunity to grow.

And how about my smokin’ hot wife? Prettier than that hot July day that I married her, and growing more beautiful to me every year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fruit will come, hang in there!

Six weeks ago I preached on John 15, the parable of the vine and the branches (click here to listen/download). For my sermon I used a live tomato plant and an artificial Christmas tree, and I urged us to abide in Christ, in His life, and that if we did, fruit would come.

And then I took my tomato plant home and I waited and watched... and waited.... and watched.... as it bore flower after flower, but no fruit. I watered it. It was planted in good soil. But no fruit. Finally, in desperation, I went ahead and hung it upside down from our front porch, because I had planted it in a bucket for that very reason. More weeks went by, and still no fruit – flowers yes, but no tomatoes.

But this week ….. fruit! Small, barely able to be called tomatoes, but still, fruit! And I think that there is more to come.

Some of you may be struggling to see Spirit fruit in your life. You’ve been doing your best to rest in Christ, to trust Him as your life, but there’s nothing to show for it. Hang in there. Remain in Christ, and fruit will come.

You may feel like you have been doing everything in your power to remain, but life is just getting more and more away from you, that your world has been turned upside down. Hang in there, and remember - it took turning upside down for my tomato plant to bear fruit, too.

Remain in Christ, and you will bear fruit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Psalms to the rescue!

In response to recent blog posts and prayer letters, many of my friends have written to encourage me, and I know that many have been praying or me. Interestingly, most of them have included encouragement from the Psalms, urging me to reorient my heart and my mind to the truth of God.

Psalm 27 has been prayed for me, that I would see the face of God in the land of the living and that the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear. Psalms 137 and 138 have been given to me, urging me to look for how the Israelites moved from the despair of Babylon to becoming bold and stouthearted. I have been given Psalm 46, that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Is it because my friends know that I love the Psalms? Maybe. But even more, the Psalms continue to offer real responses to real life, while always pointing us back to the truth of God. Reorientation, turning to a correct alignment and focus.

Hebrews 12:2 urges us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. A friend recently preached on that passage, and over and over he exhorted his listeners to look to God, not to our problems. When we focus on our lives, our issues, our sin, our fears, we lose balance and perspective. But to fix our eyes on Jesus, reoriented to the truth of who God is, brings correct understanding.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hedging my bets

In thinking through my consistent  struggle with fear, I have discovered a nagging seed of doubt that consistently grows and bears the fruit of fear. It’s an age-old question, one that many have struggled with – basically, why do bad things happen to good people? I know that being a Christian does not exempt me from suffering or pain, though my life has been relatively free of both. I know that people who are deeply committed to Jesus fall dead of heart attacks, die in car wrecks, have homes knocked down by tornados. And so this knowledge often trumps what I read in God’s Word.

For example, Psalm 91 is full of assurances of the Lord’s presence. The Lord is described as a fortress and a refuge, a God that we can trust in all things, the God who will save us from things that will ensnare us. It says that we will not fear the terror of night or the arrow that flies by day, and that no harm will befall you. When I read that Psalm, I am emboldened. I have the courage to do things that I normally would shrink back from.

But then I remember the bad things that have happened to good people and I feel like it’s silly to trust the Bible at face value. So I read the Bible and in my heart of hearts, I believe, but in my flesh, I hedge my bets, not willing to entrust all of my life to God. At the root of this is my desire to be in control. If I can worry about what might happen, if I can foresee it and then prevent it, then even if God didn’t come through, I would still be OK. For me, fear and worry give the illusion of being in control, which is safer than walking by faith.

My prayer is that I would stop hedging my bets, acknowledging God’s love and His control over all things, and that His word would lead me to greater faith, an anchor in the midst of my ups and downs.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tired of fear

We all have a default in our flesh, a mode of reacting that we turn to when life gets out of control. For me, that mode has been fear. I remember crying and crying in fear of any number of ailments when I was younger, from gum disease to my knee locking up. I feared dogs from a young age. I remember a period of weeks when I imagined that a boy from the next neighborhood over was patrolling our neighborhood on his dirtbike, looking to beat me up, and cringed in fear in my house. When we first moved to Glenwood, I was afraid to walk the dogs, and as we have had children, my anger in the morning when they wake up early is generated by my fear of being tired. I don’t know where that seed got planted and how its roots got so deep, but it seems as though fear is, if not a constant companion, a very familiar visitor.

I think that I indulge it because thinking about what I am afraid of, and what could happen to me, gives an illusion that I am in control. If I can imagine every unseen danger or possibility, I won’t be surprised (goes the thinking).

But it wears me out. I think of the hours and hours that I have spent walking in fear, worrying about things that never came to pass, and I know that I’ve wasted a lot of time. And I can see that I have passed this default of fear to my children, a negative inheritance for their soul. And I don’t know how to beat it.

Yesterday some dealers down the street rode by on a moped and yelled something at me as I set up the yard for a cookout. When my friend and I drove by their house a few minutes later, they yelled again. And now I don’t want to walk my neighborhood. I don’t want to go to the community garden because I am afraid. Did they yell at me because they saw a police officer stop and talk with me on Thursday? Did they know that he was telling me about their activities, giving me a heads up and asking me to let him know if I knew anything? Were they now looking at me as a threat, a snitch? And so home doesn’t feel safe, even though I don’t know what they said, but I have filled in the blank for them.

I’m tired of fear, and I just don’t know how to move forward and be free from it.