Friday, April 5, 2013

Questions that shape our lives

When my daughter was a child, she never ran out of questions. She could wear us out asking us about anything. At times, it became exhausting to the point where Terry would ask her to quit talking so she could give her brain a rest.

Questions are an important part of life. I don’t think we should ever stop asking questions, or force those around us to stop asking them, except for some momentary times of solitude, so we can gather ourselves and prepare for the next barrage. Questions asked when seeking honest answers help us all become better people. 

We’ve been asking ourselves a very specific question this semester, that like I said in chapel this week, shapes our lives by the way we answer it, one way or another. That question for us to think about, is the one that Jesus asked his disciples: Who do you say that I am?

But there are also a series of questions that, when asked more generally, can help us stay where we need to be on the road we are traveling. I asked you to think about eight questions this week as chapel came to a close, and how they help you process your decision of whether you would drink or not.

After chapel, I received a text, and the person sending the text said that those questions apply to much more than just social drinking, and I agree. I realize that we went through them rather quickly, so I wanted to give them to you so you can refer to them from time to time, as you continue to live in the way of Jesus. They are worded a little differently here than they were in chapel, thanks to the text I received, making them more general, applying to all of life.

My prayer for you is that you hear the voice of the spirit as you read these questions again. 

1.     Have I involved Christ in this decision?
2.     Is this decision made under the influence of the flesh, or the Spirit?
3.     For me, or my brother, can this decision lead to an addiction with the potential to enslave me or them?
4.     Will my decision harm someone else spiritually?
5.     If I do this, am I going against my conscience?
6.     If I do this, will it harm what others think about me?
7.     Would I want others to imitate me by the way I live?
8.     How would my life be enhanced if I do this, or compromised if I don’t?

Text for the week:  1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The day Jesus turned left

I hate to admit this, but my wife and I are Squatchers. We have a date every Sunday night to watch the next episode of Finding Bigfoot. I’m not really sure why we watch. It’s kind of like a car wreck; you have to stop and look ­— so we do. But every week I have pretty much the same reaction to what I have just seen — Is that it? Is that all there is?

Ever found yourself asking that question — Is this all there is? It’s a question those following Jesus would have asked, so we are in good company. The stories throughout Holy Week are laced with disappointment and misunderstanding. From Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem to his death, it’s one disappointment after another, deepening the misunderstanding of who Jesus was, and why He came. It all started that Sunday with the palms. Here’s what I mean:

When Jesus rode down the hill from the Mount of Olives, He was mobbed. Masses of His followers had Him surrounded, throwing their coats on the ground, waving palm branches, and celebrating the arrival of their King. He was coming in just like the prophets had predicted, and it would be just a short ride to the city where He would take His rightful place on the throne. They were ready to follow Him right up to the steps of the palace. Finally, Roman rule, and corrupt oppression of counterfeit kings would end, and Jesus would be on the throne. Then something strange happened; He turned left.

I’m not really certain whether it was a left or right turn when He came to that fork in the road, but He certainly turned the wrong way. See, the road He was on was the royal road, the road of the kings. It would have been the road that David danced on coming home from another victorious battle. It was the road of victory, conquest, and led up to the palace. It’s no wonder He had created the frenzied response from those watching what was taking place. But when Jesus came to that fork in the road, he turned off the road to the palace. It explains why the crowds that surrounded Him all of a sudden just disappeared. They were pressing in around Him, singing and shouting one minute, and the next minute, they were gone. Where did they go and why did they leave? What happened? It was because He turned left. When He turned left, He moved toward the temple instead of the palace, and they were left with a question — Is this it? And as quickly as they had come, they were gone.

What’s going on? Is this a set-up? I think Jesus was making another statement about His mission. He was fulfilling what He had first taught in Luke 4, about setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, declaring that this is what the year of the Lord looks like. He wasn’t reclaiming the throne for Israel; He was attempting to reclaim his people. He didn’t choose the road of the King; He chose the road of a servant. He didn’t choose the road of victory, but the road of suffering. Why? So He would know. So He would know what we feel. So He would know what it means to hurt. So He would know what it means to feel pain. So He would know what it means to feel rejected. So He would know what it means to _________, (you fill in the blank). He turned left, so He would know.

As we move through Holy week, let’s remember that the best news we could get is that the One who rode on that donkey; who attempted to clean up the temple; who reshaped the meaning of the Passover meal; who sweat drops of blood; was beaten beyond recognition; and died on a cross; did it all so He would know what it was like to be you and me. So He would know what we face. Don’t jump to the empty tomb quite yet. Living this part of the story allows Jesus to be fully human, coming all the way to where we are, fulfilling another part of prophecy that says He would be a man of suffering, acquainted with grief.

So when you walk through the Passion again this week, remember that when Jesus took a wrong way, He was looking right at us. He did it for us, so we would know that He knows. That’s what happened the day that Jesus turned left.

Text for the week: Luke 19:28-40

Friday, March 15, 2013

A time to mourn

I remember when I was first trying to process the death of my father.  There was so much about what had happened that didn’t make any sense.  I had no theological categories to put this in, at least ones that brought any comfort.  In moments of unexplainable pain, words and answers can become very cheap.  What was I supposed to do with this?

This is one way some of my questions were answered for me. 

I saw this wall, with pegs on it. This is what I heard:  These pegs represent places to put questions we have about the things that happen to us in this life.  When things come along that we don’t understand,, we hang that on a peg.  Oh trust me, the questions won’t go away.  They still linger, but it no longer haunts.  I believe that God is infinitely larger than us and any problem we may face, so in a tangible way, we are acknowledging our total dependence and trust in Him by hanging our questions on a peg.  I’ve come to learn that life is never just about answers, because sometimes there are none.  It’s about trusting the One we take our questions to.  It’s about believing we are loved, and learning to trust in the One who love us.

There have been times in my life when I get an answer, and I can go up to one of those pegs and pull one off.  There are some that have been hanging up there for a very long time, and some, if I can be honest with you, I know I’ll never get taken down.  So, there they hang.  And I’m learning to be okay with that, as I continue to learn to trust. 

So, I just put another thing on a peg, this time that “thing” is Miley.  I don’t have an answer, just tears.  I can’t make it go away, but we can hug.  This makes absolutely no sense at all.  But in the middle of the pain, here is what I’m praying:  that the God who is ever present, the one who is close to us today — as close as those notes were in chapel yesterday — that we sense He is walking through this with us, not separate from us; sharing our pain, not removed from it; bringing us comfort, as One who knows what it means to need it.  Because:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance!

For us, it’s time to mourn.  But one day, we will dance!

Text for the week:  Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4

Friday, March 1, 2013

Walking well

Not sure whether you’ve noticed or not, but at the beginning of every fall semester it starts all over again for a new group of freshmen; it’s most likely not what you’re thinking.  Outside my office, to the west of Ludwig Center, the lawn fills up with new ROTC cadets learning how to “walk” properly.  They are being taught by returning officers, or those who a year or two before were in the same process.  The cadets learn how to step, march, turn, and from what I can tell one of the most difficult foot maneuvers they learn, is the about face.  They pop a heel in the air, stick the toe in the turf, spin, rotate, and end up facing the opposite direction.  It’s way easier for me to describe than it would ever be for me to attempt.  Sure, they lose their footing at first, but they keep at it. I’m not really certain how they do it without falling on their faces — actually, some do. At times it’s humorous to watch, but the rite of passage for the cadets has gained my respect. 

I’m not sure where the ability to walk or march properly falls in order of importance for those serving in the armed services, but it must be pretty significant for as much time as they work on it. They spend hours upon hours practicing how to walk and turn properly. There is precision to their steps. There is intentionality to their pace. They don’t all get it at first. They lose their footing, stumble, lose their balance, but eventually they get it.  And I’m sure all you would have to do is ask any of our ROTC cadets or officers here, and they’d tell you there is only one right way to do it. 

I don’t think it’s any different for us who are people of faith. The time in which we live says there are many ways for us to get to the same place. The reality is there is only one right way to do it — the Jesus way. It’s not about what I think is right, or what you think is okay. It’s not what Dr. Vassel described when talking about Paul’s experience in Athens. (Some responded in saying “That might work well for you Paul, but not for us.”)  That mindset isn’t just out there somewhere, but it has crept into the church, making it difficult at times for us to land anywhere with certainty. When you lose your foothold, it becomes difficult to walk. The more difficult it becomes to walk, the more difficult it is to get to your desired destination. The older I get, the more I realize that this life is about learning to walk well.

My prayer for us this semester is that we listen for the ways God is calling us to walk. Not sure about you, but I don’t want to make excuses for what I do, but in my walking, I want it to be said of me that I walked well. And I want it to be done with certainty, just like those cadets outside my office window.  Stumbling, losing our footing and balance at times is all part of the process of learning to walk.  There is much grace for us in the process, and for that we are grateful.  But the good news is like the cadets, we don’t do it alone either.  We have the privilege to learn from those who are ahead of us in the journey.  Just like those cadets are taught to walk from those who have already learned, we too can learn to walk well as we follow in the footsteps of those who are ahead of us. In following those who are ahead of us, we learn from them how we walk in the way of Jesus.
Text for the week:  Hebrews 12:1-2

Friday, February 22, 2013

Love is a choice

I remember the first time I saw her.  She was a sophomore at Reed City High School.  She had blonde hair, blue eyes — a cheerleader — and man was she cute! Over time we became good friends, but I always wished for more. My senior year (her junior), we had a date; notice I said a date, meaning singular in case you’re not tracking. It wasn’t anything special and apparently not very meaningful either. It was our first and last. We remained “friends” — the one thing no guy likes to be with the girl of his dreams. I learned a hard lesson: love is a choice.

I remember the first time I saw her. She was a freshman, and I was a sophomore.  It was the second day of the semester, and she came bounding into the cafeteria, long hair bouncing back and forth, big smile on her face, amazing blue eyes, and she too was a cheerleader. (See a theme?) She didn’t know who I was from Adam, but I knew who she was.  At that point in my life, this “love is a choice” thing had burned me several times, so I decided to move a little slower this time, waiting almost two months to move. After I finally got up the nerve to ask her out, we had our first date — watching the movie, The Apple Dumpling Gang in Ludwig Center, no joke. Nothing special about this one either; as a matter of fact, she wondered if I talked. Didn’t make the best first impression, but she decided I was worth a second try, then a third, and — long story short, here we are 31 years later. I still love that now red-headed, blue-eyed beauty, and the best thing is, she loves me!  I learned a lesson from her: love is a choice.

Man, I can’t explain to you how good it feels to have love reciprocated. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be accepted for who you are. I can’t tell you how it feels to know that even when you blow it big time, forgiveness is always the first choice. I get so much comfort and peace from knowing that I’m loved. I learned all that from my blonde, now red-headed, blue-eyed beauty.

I believe the desire to love and be loved is something that is embedded in our DNA. It’s a part of the way we are created in God’s image. It doesn’t just shape our dating or marriage relationships. It shapes every relationship — married, single, parent and child.  It’s one of the things we often mess up, and are amazed when we find that it can be restored. We will all find, if we haven’t already, that in all our relationships, love is a choice.

I think some of the labels we throw on God just aren’t fair, let alone true. Too often we think God spends his time just thinking up rules to frustrate us, when in reality, the boundaries he has set are to protect us and provide for us. Protect us from hurting ourselves, and provide the best life we can experience in this broken and fractured world.

At times, we struggle wondering whether God loves us or not, but that is something we never need to doubt. The opposite is actually true. His love for us will never leave us. He will never fail us, because He has chosen us. Did you hear that? He chose us; He chose you! Just like I learned from my dating experiences and friendships — whether we choose to reciprocate love is up to us.

Not sure how your view of God has been shaped, but you need to know today, that He has made the choice to love you, regardless. You don’t need to clean yourself up for Him to love you anymore than He already does. He cannot love you more than He already does, and will not love you less.  All you need to do is choose to accept His love, and love Him back. I think you know that love is a choice, and this choice is yours to make.  

Text for the week:  John 15:16-17