Thursday, May 31, 2012

Disagree Respectfully

It may be the talk show culture, or perhaps the media version of fairness in reporting, or the silly season that we are entering in presidential politics, but it is more than just a short term phenomena. It has even shown up in a couple of academic book reviews I have come across, normally places where ideas are discussed on their own merits. I am talking about the practice of trashing someone simply because of disagreement with their opinion. What is it that drags us back to our Junior High years where we would disagree with someone simply because we didn't like him or like what he was doing or how he looked? Or worse, where we would discover something about him to dislike because we didn't agree with him?

Then we wonder why our attempts at communication fail so often!

When I was trained to argue, the most important element was to thoroughly grasp the opponent's position – from the inside, as it were. We worked as hard as we could to understand the idea so that, if called on, we could argue its merits as strongly as we could our own. I loved playing devil's advocate! It taught me to separate ideas from the people who held them - a very important skill if you love people but can't understand why they do what they do or think what they think. I learned to respect people while disagreeing with what they thought.

The other side of this forced me to examine my own ideas with the same objective rigor. This is a bit more difficult. What I think, is right, because I think it! It came as quite a shock to me to discover that some of the things I thought, were wrong. Or at least didn't have any basis in fact. I quickly learned that it was far better for me to discover that on my own than have it pointed out in the middle of a debate!

Why does this matter? It matters on all kinds of levels publicly. But the most important level on which it matters is that of evangelism. If you can't see the person behind the ideas, you will never be able to communicate the gospel of Christ to them. And let us be very clear. Jesus died for people. Even people who are wrong about some things. Like me. And you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Help Has Arrived!

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day on which we celebrate the coming of God the Holy Spirit to help us live our ordinary lives in such a way as to be a demonstration of the glorious life in the Kingdom which has come and is coming.
The Holy Spirit does not help us like the Cavalry in the old westerns, riding over the hill top at the last moment to the sound of bugles blaring, to save the day. He can do that kind of thing, but seeks rather to help us in the trenches of our ordinary lives, enabling us to live the super-natural life of the then and there, right here and now. His preferred mode of operation seems to be subtle and instructive, but no less the dynamic for being so. Here are just a few of the things He does for those who are being filled with Him.
He reminds us of what Jesus said, helps us understand what He meant, teaches us how to see what He did actualized in our own lives - and then empowers that new kind of life in our mortal bodies.
He is an internal plumbline of Truth, enabling real time discernment in the moment of competing truth claims. And what is more, He applies the same standard to our actions, allowing us to move towards integrity in all we say and do. Then He empowers our ongoing choice of life over death.
When our lives compellingly demonstrate the new reality of Life from above available in Jesus, the Holy Spirit speaks into the minds and hearts of those stuck in the old reality - convicting them of their participation in the old, convincing them of the truth of Jesus, and reinforcing the fact that judgment is certain. When they make that choice, He reinforces the new reality in such a way as to act as a kind of promissory note.
He gives us supernatural voice to our prayers - both those that we can articulate and those that are too deep even for us to wrap our heads and hearts around. And in our praying, we join our voices in chorus with His as He intercedes with the Father on our behalf.
He has been called the "shy member of the Trinity" for His desire to point primarily to Jesus. But let us honor God the Holy Spirit today. What a gracious gift He is to us!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dragons in the Cracks

One of my favorite cartoon characters a few years ago was a little boy named Pasquale, brought to life by cartoonist Pat Brady in the strip Rose Is Rose. One of the on-going battles Pasquale faces is with the dreaded Drain Monster. The Drain Monster lives in the bathtub drain (although he has been known to surface under the bed on occasion) and has a particular preference for little boy’s toes. Thus, he must be outsmarted – at which Pasquale is an expert. He is regularly aided in his battles by his ever-present guardian angel. Pasquale’s fear is that of every little boy confronted by a dark hole with no bottom – that he will be sucked down it into oblivion. Or if not oblivion, some other place that he doesn’t want to go. It has not yet occurred to him that he is too big to be sucked anywhere close to oblivion. He is much like the rest of us – just because fear is irrational does not make it any less real.

It occurs to me that many of my temptations and fears fall into the category of the Drain Monster – irrational, but real. I forget how big I am in Christ – and that I have help in the battles needing to be fought. And when I forget, I get distracted and terrified, and then sidelined by that terror. That is the nature of our enemy – he is a terrorist of the first magnitude. His expertise is in the push and pull of paranoia, hoping against hope that we won’t notice what is real. The illusion of his power is so great that we forget what is true – about us, about Jesus, about the victory of the cross. He is the master of the shell game – until we notice that he has nothing under any of the shells!

It is important to notice the cracks – the drain holes – that occur in our lives. Those are the places of temptation and fear. Often just noticing them will help. Cracks occur in the spaces between busy-ness. They occur at the end of a long-season of commitment. They splinter off of a job well done. They show up in great weariness. They fracture off of a fragmented life. And they each are home to their own dragons, seeking to terrorize and tempt us. So, we must arm ourselves - we must be on guard against the fears and temptations; we must put on integrity from the inside out; we must keep in close relationship with Jesus; we must stand in the full reality of our life in Christ; we must make skillful use of the Word of God in our battles with the dragons. And we must pray. And we must not forget how big we are in Christ – and that we have help in time of need!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lessons My Mom Taught Me

It has been almost twenty-five years since my mom died. The lessons of life she taught me have lingered. Some of them took a while to sink in, slow learner that I am. I suspect that there are more than a few still left. Mother’s Day is a good time to remember with honor - so here are a couple of things she taught me by her life.
Laughter lightens any load. Mom had a wonderful sense of humor and a contagious laugh. She couldn’t tell a joke to save her life. About half way through she would start to laugh at her own joke and that would be the end of it. When she and her sisters got together, it was a special kind of crazy. I learned early that, if we could get her laughing - not too difficult - we could short-circuit her anger at whatever we had done. A good lesson to know! Her sense of humor carried her through some tough times.
Sing in your own choir. While she could laugh, my mom could not sing. But that didn’t stop her from trying. She had a reedy, high pitched voice that left a distinctive mark on any worship service. Her view was that God had given her the voice she had - now it was her job to use it to worship Him. If He didn’t like it, He could change it. Nobody else’s opinion mattered much.
Everyone is a friend. She had a wonderfully out-going personality that made friends almost immediately. As a kid, I remember being embarrassed with the way she just assumed that people would like her and want to talk with her. Of course, with that attitude, it was true more often than not!
Not much is a big deal. Life was an adventure with her. That meant some occasional missteps. But she would quickly recover, and, with a characteristic laugh at her own foibles, move on to the next great thing.
Nothing is forever. She taught me this one by dying too soon for my liking. It didn’t hit me at first, but it has lodged increasingly deeper over the years. You don’t know how much time you are going to have - so make the most of it. Keep short accounts. Honor those who have given you life - even when they and you don’t understand. And above all, love. That is forever.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pressing In

How difficult
     at the edge
     to know the
          depth . . .

And how hard
     to press in.

Past the surface
     likes and dislikes
     to what lies just
     below - a whole
     new layer of
          likes and dislikes.

And how hard
     to press in.

Past the inner layers
of partial knowing
of satisfied knowing
     that is not knowing.

The knowing of an other
     the journey towards
          demands the
          pressing in
               of the
          persistent heart.

The knowing of the Other
     the journey towards
     intimacy with Him
          demands a
          pressing in
               with all of heart
               soul, mind, strength.

Only then will
     He be found . . . known

Only all
     can carry the
     weight of His
          pressing in.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Everything New?

It must have been frustrating for Jesus, having raised from the dead, to come back to the same old disciples. After all they had seen and heard, the glimpses we get of them in the days following the resurrection are none to encouraging. Just before Jesus authorized them to extend His kingdom throughout all the world, Matthew lets us know that some of them were doubtful. Doubtful! Here they were, looking fully at Jesus whom only days before they had watched die and who now appeared more alive than they did - and some were doubtful!
John tells us that the first instinct for at least a few of them in the days following the resurrection was to go back to home and start fishing again. He makes it clear that it was not recreational fishing - not hobby fishing - not drop a line in the lake and wait fishing. This was deliberate, commercial, drag the nets the way we used to, fishing. Of course, it was not too successful until Jesus appeared on the lake shore and advised them to try the other side of the boat - as if twenty feet more or less would make any difference.
Luke gives us the most baffling portrait. In the opening moments of the book of Acts he records the disciples’ concerns as being exactly the same as they were in the days leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. It is as if they are thinking to themselves, “Well, I don’t know what that foolishness in Jerusalem was all about, but I’m glad he got it out of his system so that we can get back to the real business at hand.” Jesus might have been excused had he allowed himself at least one exasperated sigh - before moving to ascension. Do you get the feeling that he was glad to be heading home?
It is easy to pick on the disciples until we see them peering back at us from the mirror - for here we are, a couple of weeks out from the wonder of Easter, and discover that our concerns, our attitudes, our behaviors, are pretty much what they were before Life triumphed over Death! Apparently we need help getting our heads, hearts, and lives around the new reality to the extent that it effects the way we actually live in the world. Learning to live new is very hard work. I suppose that is why Jesus promised us help. And so . . . on to Pentecost!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Journey's End?

Probably one of the hardest things about teaching, for me at least, is saying good bye at the end of a two or three or four year conversation. In a couple of days folders promising diplomas will be placed in eager hands and the end of a journey will be formally recognized with the beginning of the next.

Each student with a story – rich, profound, deep – part of a much larger story in which their’s has its greatest meaning. Stories that are woven with wonder – deep pain, triumphant joys, long intervals when nothing seemed to be happening erupting in the grace at work under the surface the whole time. Many of them weaving in and out of other stories – friends, professors, staff members, room mates… What a wild tapestry of grace!

And each one with a name – called out by the registrar to the cheers of family and friends, some of whom are standing on their feet in sheer amazement and gratitude that this day has finally arrived. What a difference four years can make! Timid, tentative freshmen have become seasoned, confident seniors. And what is more, they have become more fully themselves, shaped by thinking hard and working hard and playing hard with others on a similar journey.

There is about them a bit of melancholy mixed with the celebration. What will become of friendships promised to last forever, but already straining under the pull of different directions? And what of the new friend just met in the last months who seems more likely to last than those who got them through college? And what of leaving the safety of the “bubble” – of having to get a job – of having to pay the bills – of having to really leave home. Or, not. And unsure of which might be hardest.

And what of the Jesus who has, it seems, grown too? The Sunday School Jesus was laid to rest, replaced by a wild-eyed warrior making life shaping demands, striding on through his-story and inviting His friends to join Him in saving the world – His way. By serving it to death.

And to think. This isn’t harvest. Not yet. Still much work to be done, much life to be lived, much glory to be given.This is the beginning. This is to commence.