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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wearing our colors well

I was born in Akron, Ohio, home of the All-American Soap Box Derby and Lebron James. My dad was born and raised there, and being a product of his environment, grew up a fan of The Ohio State University. He loved the Buckeyes. He passed that on to his son.

When I was three, we moved to that state up north, or the place known as Michigan. From the age of three until I graduated from high school, Michigan was my home. I grew up wearing scarlet in a blue world. I liked basketball, but in this rivalry, football is king. Every year was the annual countdown to the third weekend in November when the colors would collide; the Scarlet and Grey against the Maize and Blue.  Can I get an O-H-I-O?

Growing up in Michigan and as a fan of Ohio State wasn’t always easy — because to some, I was wearing the wrong colors. You could say I was a fish out of water. In my high school, I only recall one other Buckeye fan. I remember the day I went to my locker to get dressed for gym class to find my “Property of Ohio State Athletics” T-shirt ripped to shreds. So I did what any loyal Buckeye fan would do — I took the shirt home and had my mom sew it. It looked ratty, unable to make out most of the words anymore, but the colors looked great. Ever found yourself in a situation where you were made to feel like you were wearing the wrong colors?

Just like I was made to feel growing up a Buckeye fan in Wolverine country, there are times we as people of faith can feel the same. This can cause us to question what we believe. Questions aren’t evil.  Doubt isn’t sin. Asking questions like: Is what I believe true?  Can I trust that the things that I believe will sustain me, and hold up over time?  What are the essentials to our faith? These are all good questions, ones we don’t need to be afraid to ask. We don’t need to be afraid of them, or think God is threatened by them. It’s like Mark Mittelberg shared with us earlier this semester, I want to be passionate about my search for the truth.

So if you’ll let me say it this way, I want to wear the colors well. I never shied away, growing up in Michigan, from wearing scarlet and grey. Neither do I want to shy away from remaining true to what is central to who we are as followers of Jesus. I want to be open to the new things God is saying to us all; I want to be attentive to the leading of his voice in all our lives; I want to live well with you, the community of which I am a part.

So, we’re back to the original conversation — we want to be discerning, wise, and gracious in the conversation. In this process, I need you to help me, and you need others coming alongside you to help you. t isn’t a decision made in a vacuum, but one that needs to be made in community with others that share our team colors. 

I’m praying we continue to journey well together.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Evil doesn't care

There are some classic scenes in the movie The Dark Knight.  It has become one of my favorite movies — sorry for those who aren’t fans of Batman. In this movie, things unravel as various characters, both good and bad, try to figure out who Joker is and what makes him tick.  His personal story comes to light in the scene when he talks about his father murdering his mother in front of him, and you get a sense of how his life has unraveled since.  Even other hardened criminals think he is beyond nuts.  It’s portrayed in scenes like the one where he burns a pile of money, simply saying to his then-partner, “It’s not about money, it’s about sending a message.”

Late in the movie, his character is fully revealed as he’s hanging by his feet, upside down, talking with Batman when he says, “See, madness as you know, is like gravity.  All it needs is a little push.”

The movie is chilling, and a picture of evil done for its own sake.  Evil doesn’t need a reason, because it’s well, evil.  The Joker portrays that all too well, even to the demise of Heath Ledger, who some say couldn’t pull himself out of the dark character he portrayed.  It should serve as a warning to us all, that the evil that is present among us, that Scripture tells us to resist, is no respecter of person.  Depravity doesn’t care who you are, it simply seeks to destroy. Remember this line when the Joker says, “Whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you stranger”?  You can’t hear that without getting a sense of the nature of evil, and its allure. 

Like I said last week, and shared with you in chapel this week, evil isn’t something we should mess with.  It is addicting, destructive, and has no concern for the person.  Evil doesn’t care who we are.
It’s why we battle against it — no apology for the war imagery. It’s why we don’t want others to be objectified by it.  It’s why we need to put any and everything in place to protect ourselves from it.  It is tempting; feeds on our natural desire; bends them in a direction that we were not created to go; ultimately seeking to break us — all of us.

If this language is too strong for some, I need to again remind us all that evil isn’t something we should mess with.  We need to call evil what it is.

This next week, we move into a time known as Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday.  It provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our sin, and realize that the decisions we make matter.  My prayer for us all as we move toward Easter together is that we resist the evil among us, repent of the ways we participate in it, and recognize Christ’s provision is our way out.  If you’ll let me say it again, Jesus has made the provision for heaven to break into the present, so the evil among us can be resisted, and overcome.  

I’m praying for you today!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Resisting the evil among us

As a child, I remember waiting for Friday night where I would plop myself in front of our 25-inch black and white television to watch Batman.  Every week there would be another episode where the heroes, Batman and Robin, battled with the forces of evil in Gotham City.  They were given names like The Riddler, Joker, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and what 14-year-old boy could forget Catwoman?  They all had their own way of trying to take control of Gotham City, defeating Batman, so they could rule its citizens.  It included phrases coming out of Robin’s mouth like, “Holy popsicles,” or “Holy cat litter,” and always ended with a classic fight scene filled with WHAM!, KAPOW!, SOCK!, and KAZAMM!  Of course, Batman and Robin always won, until the next week when the battle would be fought all over again.

Have you ever felt that way, on a continual cycle, battling one thing after another, thinking you’ve finally won, only to have it come back around again, like The Joker?  The truth be told, we are all in a constant struggle to resist the evil that is among us.  So how can we resist? 

I wish there was a simple formula, but the sheer fact is, and I usually shy away from images of warfare, that Scripture is clear that we are in a battle for our own soul.  It becomes more and more apparent to me the older I get that the enemy isn’t giving up on his chase for us.  Evil is persistent, seeking to devour us like a roaring lion; but the good news is that God continues to come as well. We need to acknowledge that there is both good and evil that is present.
So, as I reflect on revival, and the things that might have happened in your life this past week, my prayer is pretty simple — that God enable us to resist the evil that is among us. Never underestimate its attraction and lure. How, you ask? Again, like I’ve already said, it’s not easy. I want to offer three tangible ways:

1. Find a group of people who you know desire the things God desires, and seek them with you; don’t do this alone.  Get in a small group where you are being held accountable for what you are thinking and doing, declaring as a group your utter dependence on God.

2. Second, get connected to a church, an intergenerational gathering of people, and seek an adult mentor to come alongside you in your spiritual journey.  We all need people who are mature to speak into our lives.  The church gets kicked a lot these day, and it isn’t perfect because it’s made up of people like you and me, but the church is the most tangible expression of Jesus in our world.  If you’re serious, find a church.

3. Realize that ultimately our redemption is gift, a gift that we are to share in humility with others, enabling them see the hope that comes in a restored relationship to Jesus Christ.  

I’m praying for you today!