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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Thoughts on coming back after having been away

I thought it would be easier, somehow

coming back here

like coming home

to rest, to be familiar again.

But somehow is not today,

not now.

Because this isn’t as much home

as it was.

The slow, relentless current

pushes on, carries us downstream

into the muddiness of now, and

the clarity of yesterday

remains upstream, just beyond the bend.

To be lost in the familiar

and away while yet at home

jostles my insides.

Like spinning in circles

in an empty field

stumbling, lurching across

crinkly grass while

the see-saw world rises up

to baffle me again.

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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Experience Wanted?

What counts more- a lifetime full of great experiences or a lifetime of steady faithfulness?  Think about that for a moment.  What’s your gut reaction?  I’m guessing that, like me, you’d be more inclined toward the abundance of great moments.  Let me illustrate.

A few years ago, my wife gave me a great surprise birthday present- the chance to skydive!  This is a gift you give someone that thinks jumping out of a perfectly good airplane seems like a lot of fun- and I, fortunately, am one of those people.  So, after harnessing up, we (the pilot, my parachute-wearing partner Storm- yes, that’s right, Storm- I’m not making this up) ascended to 12,000 feet and the side door was opened.  Storm instructed me to kneel next to the open door, which seemed like the only appropriate posture at that moment.  As I looked down on 12,000 feet of empty air, heart pounding with adrenaline and fear, I distinctly remember thinking, “Am I ready to die?  Cause if that parachute doesn’t open, I’ve got about 2 minutes left on this planet.  Am I really ready to die?”  I talked to Jesus: “I know you died for my sins, I trust you with my life, I love you!”  And I thought- very rapidly- about my life.  How fortunate I’ve been.  An amazing wife and kids.  Lots of joy, laughter, and memories.  Getting to travel to many places in the world, leading trips that served and (hopefully) blessed others in the name of Jesus.  So much to be thankful for- I’ve had a full life.  So many- here it is- experiences.   And then we jumped.

 

Everything went well- clearly, or someone else would be writing this post.  And I get to add that one to the accumulation of moments I’ve been privileged to live.  But it brings me back to the original question- what counts more- the stockpiling of experiences or the trail worn smooth with the footsteps of faithfulness?
I’ve been reading a book called The Trouble with Paris by Mark Sayers.  In it, he describes our current reality: an “experience economy”, where what counts most isn’t your job title or bank balance, but the uniqueness and abundance of your experiences.  It’s not about what you’ve accomplished, but what you did last weekend, last summer, or last night.  Life is measured in moments that can be shared (Facebook), tweeted, or captured (and tagged) by your iPhone.   This isn’t just a way we market vacation spots, it’s how we sell cars, clothes, even soda. The current tagline for Coke?  “Open happiness.”  It’s not a beverage, it’s an experience of joy.

 

So what’s wrong with that?  Are experiences bad?  Shouldn’t we live life to the fullest?  Or am I advocating instead that we trudge along with our heads down and noses to the grindstone?  No.  Not at all.

 

But there is a danger in chasing experiences.  Like a drug, we’ll find ourselves needing more, newer, and different—if that’s what we’re going after.  And they’ll fail to satisfy, so we’ll keep looking for something more, which our culture is happy to churn out for our continued consumption.

 

Contrast that with a life of faithful devotion.  Serving God.  Serving your spouse.  Your family.  Your neighbors- locally and beyond.  Following Jesus, step by step, day after day, month after month, year after year.  It’s not sexy.  Hard to capture in a post or a tweet or status update.  Can you imagine- “Seeking to follow God today.  Plan to do the same thing tomorrow.  And the next day….”  Who’s gonna follow or friend that person?  Apparently, Jesus does.  He’s told us that He’ll be doing His own evaluating of our lives when we stand before Him one day.  And He uses 2 words to describe the kind of life He’s most pleased with.  Good and Faithful.  Good- not our own goodness, but the kind that He gives to us.  And the other word?  Faithful.  Steady, plodding, consistent.  One foot in front of the other.  Following Him day after day.

 

Make no mistake- a life of faithful obedience will have no shortage of amazing experiences.  Read the book of Acts- plenty of excitement there.  But those folks weren’t chasing experiences, they were following Jesus.  Most of them didn’t get their names mentioned or stories written- at least for our benefit.  But they did join the ranks of the crowd in Hebrews 11-12- a “cloud of witnesses” marked by- there it is- faithful obedience.  And they got to hear Jesus say those remarkable words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I hope that I’ll get to hear them, too.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

10 Benefits of Pain and Suffering

First, let me be clear.  Pain is not a good thing, and let’s not ever call evil good.  I grow weary of trite cliches
like, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Really?  Sometimes it just sucks the life out of you little by little until your worn down and have nothing left.  How’s that for stronger?  Or, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”  Sure, if you have plenty of sugar and water around- and you actually like lemonade.  Or, you could acknowledge reality- that this is really a lemon and it really tastes sour right now.  Putting a happy face on a genuine hardship can really be insulting to those in the depths of hurt that we will inevitably experience.

But with that said, what amazes me about God is that He is big enough and gracious enough to bring good things- even the best things- out of pain and suffering.  As I’ve been working through the book of 1 Peter, here are 10 that I’ve found- you can likely add plenty more.

Suffering well (for or because of Christ, with His strength and perspective):

  • Allows us to share in Christ’s suffering- 1 Peter 4:13, Philippians 3:911
  • Refines us – 1 Peter 4:12, Psalm 66:10
  • Purifies us- 1 Peter 1:6-7
  • Clarifies who we belong to – 1 Peter 4:17
  • Grows our faith- 1 Peter 4:12
  • Lets us experience God’s power- 1 Peter 4:14
  • Bonds us/connects us with brothers & sisters in Christ 1 Peter 4:17
  • Increases our future joy-  1 Peter 4:13
  • Brings glory to God- 1 Peter 4:16
  • Allows us to demonstrate Christ-like love and forgiveness 1 Peter 4:19
Plenty more that could be said, but there’s a start.  I’m not saying that we should intentionally look to suffer- that’s weird and masochistic. In fact, Peter urges: “seek to live quiet and peaceful lives”.  But when the hard things come- and they will- there is much good that can result.  If we suffer well.  So let’s not waste it when it happens to us.
 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Where does pain and suffering come from?


It seems ironic (and honestly, illogical)  to me that the reality of pain and suffering is often laid at God’s feet as an argument against His very existence. The argument is: if God is real and God is good, then bad things shouldn’t happen.  So, since there is evil and pain and suffering in the world, then either a) God is not real or b) God is not good or c) God is not powerful enough to do something about it.  But these assertions miss some important truths:  God did not author evil, nor did He open the door that let suffering and pain into our world.  We did that.  We continue to do that.  But God gets blamed for either starting or not stopping all of it.  And to prevent all evil and pain in the world would have required that no one could have made a choice that resulted in pain or hurt- to themselves or another.  No choice = no true freedom.  No choice to choose wrong = no choice to choose love or kindness either.

I don’t pretend that this is a simple problem, and it is certainly one that we need to continue to wrestle through. But we can also become over-simplistic in our thinking, or simply choose not to think much about this important topic at all.  As Ajith Fernando has said, those of us in the West tend to have an under-developed theology of suffering.  I won’t be correcting that with a simple blog post, but let me prompt our thinking a bit.  Where does suffering come from?  I see seven different sources. (Am I missing anything?)

  1. Because we live in a fallen/broken world (natural disasters, disease, aging/death, accidents, etc)
  2. Satanic Opposition/Oppression (Satan has been given ability to cause harm- see the book of Job)
  3. Other People’s Sin (Crime, violence, abuse, gossip, all forms of ugliness we do to one another)
  4. My Own Sin (Ex- cheating and getting caught, hurting someone else and the consequences)
  5. My “Stupidity” (EX- I didn’t study and got a bad grade, I didn’t pay my bills on time)
  6. Opposition/Persecution because of my faith in Christ

There’s one more, and it’s a big one.  God did cause suffering in one significant situation.  Isaiah 53:10 reads, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer”.  “Him” is Jesus- the one God crushed and brought pain to unlike any other before or since. And the “why” immediately follows:

“the Lord makes his life an offering for sin”.  God brought suffering on Himself- in order to free us from sin. He does not stand idly by, indifferent to our pain and self-created havoc.  He enters in. Comes near.  Takes the weight.  For us.

Where does suffering come from? Lots of places- many directions.  But let’s be clear and careful about how easily we point fingers in God’s direction.  And let’s be ever so grateful that He didn’t spare Himself- for our sake.

 

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Uncategorized