Friday, March 30, 2012

The greatest of these...

Can I be honest with you today?  I’ve never struggled with same-sex attraction.  Like Tim said Wednesday in chapel, I too thought girls in second grade had cooties, and didn’t want to have anything to do with them. But when puberty kicked in, my attraction was always for the girls.

That being said, let me be confessional as well, because I haven’t always treated the gay community as I should have.  I’ve made off color comments at their expense.  I’ve used language to describe a gay person that was inappropriate.  I’m glad things like Twitter and Facebook weren’t around when I was growing up because of some of the comments I might have posted. 

I grew up in an era when the church honestly didn’t know how to respond to the issue of homosexuality, so at times, we didn’t respond well.  I’m not apologizing for the church.  I am apologizing for the part I played in hurting people not like me.  I am also saying that the church isn’t perfect, and doesn’t always respond well to the situations it faces, just like me. 

I’m grateful that isn’t the end of the story.  There is hope in this journey we’re all on.  It begins with the fact that I can be more like Jesus today than I was “back then.”  And as I become more like Jesus, so does the church, because I am the church.                                                                                                                                           

And so are you.  We are the church.  Hearing and responding properly is something we all want to do — and do well, because the way we live matters.  So, we need to keep listening to each other.  We need to keep talking to each other.  We need to keep asking the Spirit of the One who created us to help us know what to do, so we can respond like Jesus would.  We also need the same Spirit to give us the courage to be loving, truthful, and charitable.  It is who Jesus was.  I want it to be who I am, too. So…

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-4, 8-13

I’m in, how about you?

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's time

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah!  Father of all mercy!  God of all healing counsel!  He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”  2 Cor. 1:3-4 (The Message)                                                                                                                                           
This was the message we heard from Nicole this week.  She bravely shared with us how living through a past full of abuse enables her to share her story, “break the silence,” and come alongside others who are suffering.   Like Rachel Scott’s story, it’s a story of redemption.  It’s a story of not giving up.  It’s a story of believing that God does what He says He does.  It’s a story where we realize that regardless of what has happened in our past, God can and will redeem it, giving us a hope and a future.

I want to go someplace beyond the personal pain we carry at times, and speak to the men who may be reading this.  Nicole sent us all a not-so-subtle message concerning the role we play in the lives of the women we see every day.  The fact is, they see how we look at them, hear how we talk about them, and can sense what we expect from them.  Ladies, please know that I’m not saying you are helpless in how you respond — not at all.  What I am saying is this: In the day in which we live, we need men to be godly in the way they look at and treat women.

I don’t think we can get away from this, so I don’t want us to.  I want to say that one of the ways that we bring redemption and healing to our world is for the men of our world to stop objectifying women — to honor them as Christ honors the church.  To put it plainly, treat them like you would want another guy to treat your sister.  Lead them spiritually by honoring them for who they are, not what we can take from them.  It’s not a new message to men, but one that bears repeating, and one we heard from our sister in Christ this week.

It was the men she surrounded herself with during college that “redeemed” the idea that all guys weren’t creeps — that there are some good men out there that still treat women with dignity, honor and respect.  You don’t see that watching Jersey Shore or Three and a Half Men.   The fact that the Situation is now in rehab and a recovering alcoholic, and Charlie Sheen (who was living with two prostitutes) is now doing a Fiat commercial, making fun of his “house arrest,” should tell you that somewhere in the fabric of our society, we have gone astray.  I think it starts with us, guys.

My prayer for us is for the way we look at women to be redeemed, so we can all be whole again.  It’s God’s desire for us; may it be ours as well.  I say it’s time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Redeem this?

As Darrell Scott shared with us the tragic story of his daughter Rachel’s untimely death, I couldn’t help but think, “What a waste!”  I’m the father of two daughters, and was wondering how he is able to relive her story over and over again, without it tearing him to pieces.  I also wondered what might have been for Rachel. What would Rachel look like today?  If she married, who would be her husband?  How many kids would they have?  How much of an impact could she have had in her high school if her life hadn’t been taken that early April afternoon?

It was in the middle of these thoughts, that I caught myself.  I caught myself thinking about God in ways that, frankly, I really don’t believe.  I caught myself in the midst of asking these questions, realizing that there were some unanswerable questions with this tragedy, like all tragedies.  But I also realized that in the midst of something so terrible, God was, and is still at work.

Do I think God willed the death of Rachel Joy Scott?  No, I don’t.  Do I think that God needed another flower in his heavenly garden, so he called Rachel on that day so heaven would be more beautiful?  Please.  Do I think he helped Dylan and Eric choose their victims that day, ordaining the death of those 12 students and teacher?  No.  Do I believe that this event surprised God?  No, I don’t believe that either. 

Here is what I do believe.  I believe that God was present in Columbine High School on April 20, giving Rachel and others the courage to face whatever came their way on that day.  I believe that God wept with the parents, family, and friends of the victims.  He longs for the day when “all things will be made new,” and when there will be “no more tears, pain, sorrow, or death.”   I believe that God redeemed, yes, even that!  And I believe that the same God who was present with them, is present with us.

But why do these things happen?  That’s a question way older than any of us, but I like what C.S. Lewis said while struggling with a similar question:  “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality.  He knew it already.  It was I who didn’t.”

These tests that come are to reveal to us who we are, not who God is.  Lewis goes on to say:  “He always knew that my temple was a house of cards.  His only way to making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”  In that, we come to understand that “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose,” making us who He wants to be because of, or even in spite of them.  This is the way we live. 

Eugene Peterson says it this way in his paraphrase of James 1:2-4:  “Consider it sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.  Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”  

So, what is being revealed about who you are?  How are you responding to what you are being shown?  To coin a phrase from this semester, “How’s your practice?”  My prayer for us now, as it has been this whole semester, is that we continue to practice well, so with God’s help, we can live well. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Grow up

I talked about this a little last week, but growing up isn’t easy.  Maybe I’m the only one, but I used to grow tired of having people say things to me like, “Oh, grow up would you?” and then go on to say, “You’re not old enough to do that yet.”  So, which is it?

When Gordon Dalbey was here, he also reminded me of a couple phrases that I heard growing up — “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” and “Big boys don’t cry.” So will you make me cry, or should I stop on my own?  Just asking!

Some of this falls on us as well.  We either want what we can’t have, or we are longing to do things that “older” people can do.  I hated being sent to my room so the “big” people could have their time.  I remember sneaking out of my bedroom, sitting at the top of the stairs so I could hear what was so important.  I was never impressed.  Growing up isn’t easy.

Growing up as a child and teenager has some similarities to my faith journey.  What I’ve come to discover is that some growth we have no control over.

I would have loved to have been another six inches taller or another 30 pounds heavier in high school.  My high school coaches would have appreciated that as well.  But I had very little, if any, control over how tall I was going to be, or the bulk of my frame.  The sports I could participate in were limited by my 6 foot, 130 pound frame (yep, you read right).  I wouldn’t be the tight end for our high school football team.  Neither would I be the dominant center on our basketball team.  Don’t think I need to explain either.  
Along with that, there were some choices I could make, like managing the football team instead of being the next Charlie Sanders (gotta be an old Lions fan, sorry).  Or doing radio broadcasts for our basketball team when I wasn’t tall enough, er, good enough to play.  Some things we can control, while others, we can’t.
There is much we can do for our own faith development.  What we do, we do with diligence, on purpose, and with intention.  The rest is God’s work.  Forming practices that tend to this work God is doing in us is more like a dance than a math equation.  We live between the tension of grace on the one hand and law on the other, at times dancing back and forth between the two.  This “dance” is ours.  It’s our coming to the realization that we have a role to play in our faith development, that what we do matters, and what God does, we can’t.

So, like Eugene Peterson has been reminding us for a couple of weeks now in his paraphrase of Matthew 5:48:  “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up.  You’re kingdom subjects.  Now act like it.  Live out your God-created identity.”  I’ve said this before; let’s practice well, so with God’s help, we can live well.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Living well

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus gives us all a compelling call to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  It’s one of those verses that we usually skip over, feeling like we can’t begin to tackle its meaning and depth.  It’s unapproachable.  So, is it something we’re responsible to, or not?

I remember when my daughter was learning to walk. As she was preparing to launch, she practiced around our sectional couch for days, if not weeks. On one particular day she decided to go solo. Being the good parents that we are, we helped her by placing her in the middle of the room.  No props, nothing to hang on to, just her — her legs, a thick diaper, and the floor waiting to welcome her bottom when she fell.  And fell she did.

I remember how I reacted, like any father would have. I picked her up, yelled at her, and told her that no child of mine was going to fall when learning to walk!  If she wasn’t ready to walk, I told her to stay on all fours, crawling around until she could walk properly! You know that isn’t true.  The truth is, we had a party as she took that first step.  Once she fell, we were quick to pick her up, offering our hands to help her regain her balance, before launching out on another attempt.  It wasn’t long before one step led to two, then five and six, until we wished she was crawling again. 

Too often, we think of our faith journey like the first reaction portrayed above.  We see God expecting us to have this all figured out, going from crawl to Olympic sprinter, impressing Him with our prowess when it comes to our faith.  We read verses like Matthew 5:48, and this just validates our understanding of what it means to be in this relationship with God, when in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

But in Matthew 5:48, Jesus isn’t using the word “perfect” the way we typically understand it.  He uses the word “perfect” to mean “as you were designed to be.” In other words, “live as who you are supposed to be, just as God is as He is”.  So, just as my daughter was created to walk, so we are designed to live as God created us to live.  But that takes practice.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse gives us this perspective.  His Message translation of this verse says; “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up.  You’re kingdom subjects.  Now act like it.  Live out your God-created identity.”

Grow up. That’s easier said than done. Not sure how well that’s gone for you, but I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  My daughter fell more than she walked at first, but she never stopped getting up.  With every new step, we celebrated.  We walked, and she would too.                             

In this journey we are on, practice shapes the position of our heart.  I think we know that none of us will live with a sinless perfection — we heard our revival speaker say that a couple weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean we live bound by its curse. In this journey, none of us will ever fully understand what it means to live like Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t shaped by His Spirit. It’s a direction that has intention and purpose. We move toward Jesus, so we can be more like Him today than we were yesterday.
So with God’s help, let’s practice well, so we can live well.