Archive for the ‘Anthropology’ Category
Happy Father’s Day! Today was a big day for our family. I’ve been given the great privilege of serving on staff at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as Director of Student Ministries, a position my father held back when I was growing up. The desk in the office is literally the same desk at which he sat! We’re pretty excited to be a part of our family legacy in such a meaningful way, and to be a part of Coral Ridge at such a time as this. More on all that later. For now, as a reminder, I wanted to share a message I preached last Father’s Day, 2011. It’s a little different than the typical Father’s Day message… I hope you enjoy!
We got guinea pigs. [sigh]
Jacob has been doing great in school and as a reward, I (caved, and) agreed to guinea pigs for him and Morgan. Spike and Cutie. Don’t get me wrong here–I love giving gifts to our kids. But guinea pigs? I think the reason behind my reticence comes from my memories of having hamsters as a child. Messy, smelly, unintelligent… I was thinking about those ridiculous rodents the other day as I watched Jake and Morgan joyfully play with their new pets.
We had a labyrinth of tubes and stations for our hamsters. I would watch them endlessly wander around, hit dead ends, turn around, wander until another dead end, turn around, over and over again. Not sure why they couldn’t seem to figure out the map in their tiny heads. Why couldn’t they learn that this tube led to nowhere? Why would they continue to be directed simply by whether the path was open or closed? Why couldn’t I see the massive metaphor for life playing out in such an obvious way in front of me?
How many conversations have you had with people who tell a story in which they’re seeking God’s will? As many as I have, I’m sure. We’ve all heard these stories and we’ve all been a part of them. It seems the prevailing philosophy about God’s will for so many people is that He opens doors and closes doors. That following His will for our lives is a matter of turning around when we encounter a closed door and then walking through the open ones. I wonder if God looks at us with the same perplexed curiosity that configured my 10 year old face as I watched my hamsters. I wonder if God scratches His celestial head in wonder at our scurrying and wandering and head bumping. I have to believe that deciphering and obeying God’s will goes far beyond just finding a path of least resistance. It has to be more subtle and complex than that. It has to be more beautiful. It is.
If you’re seeking God’s will right now, consider this: God has actually ALREADY REVEALED HIS WILL. Perhaps not the details, but don’t get bogged down in the details. Not knowing the details is not the same as not knowing His will. The details make our faith. They make the journey fun and meaningful and fulfilling and beautiful. But they don’t define His will. He’s revealed His will. Holy Scripture is fully sufficient for guiding our decisions. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says it all:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Did you see that? “…that the man of God may be complete…” Complete: artios in the Greek. This is the only occurrence of that word in the New Testament. It means fresh, perfect. Robertson says it means “specially adapted.” Scripture is the definitive source for us to become specially adapted to the journey God has designed for us. In other words, He’s given us to always be in His Word so that we may always be in His will.
In the last 10 years of my life, our biggest decisions haven’t been between one open door and one closed door. They’ve all been a matter of carefully considering, through the lens of Scripture, numerous and simultaneous open doors. Closed doors don’t even get our attention anymore. As followers of Jesus, we have to get beyond the simple if we want to find the deeper meaning in our walk, the deeper intimacy in our relationship.
Here’s a partial list of the questions we ask when we’re facing big decisions. I hope you can begin to ask them as well and discover a deeper joy in finding God’s will:
- Where do our loyalties lie? To the work? To a brand or organization? Or to the Father?
- Can we continue to be totally obedient if we do this, or would it require compromise?
- Does this decision honor our primary calling of Christ-centered marriage and parenthood?
- Where’s the Biblical narrative that speaks into this crossroad? What does it say? What mistakes were made?
- Ultimately, does this work towards or against advancing the Kingdom?
We’ve found out that while we still might not have clear answers for every question, God finds pleasure in our process. He deepens our faith through it. We take big risks, and then we find out that God’s plan was already in place. Bottom line, God is not trying to conceal His will from us. He’s not interested in tricking us. He inspires us to obedience through His Word. He’s in control, and that makes it impossible to make the wrong decision for those who seek Him the right way–through Scripture (and, of course, through the wise counsel of those who know Scripture well.)
Stop wandering and wondering like my hamsters. Be courageous in His Word and His will. God has written you into an amazing story, and He waits with the bated breath of a doting Father for you to journey into the next chapter.
The stories of our lives as Christians fall into one of two main plot templates: The Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.
Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and I can’t save myself. I see now that you died to pay for my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. I want you to be in control from this moment forward.
Before things get a little rough here, let me just say that I know a lot of believers who began their journey with this prayer. I’ve used it over the years in times when God has allowed me a front row seat to a person’s decision to follow Christ. I have no doubt in my mind that, when prayed with sincerity, God uses this prayer for His glory. That said, when I say that this is one of the two plot templates for the story of a Christian’s life, I’m referring to it less as a temporal communique, announcing one’s intentions at the moment of surrender, and more as a theological framework for understanding God, His Word, His Gospel, humanity and the relationship between all of these.
As a normative form for basic theology, the Sinner’s Prayer isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete. It’s a thin plot. And so goes the stories of so many Christians. A few years ago, we conducted an informal study through relationships we had with some fellow pastors. We asked them to casually ask a handful of committed people in their churches to just verbalize the Gospel. Every pastor inevitably came back to us with great distress, admitting that even those they thought would surely respond with ease faltered and sputtered, sometimes merely stitching together fragments of Sunday School answers. Why has this become our reality in the church, that far too many fail to firmly grasp the core of their professed belief?
Lack. Of. Depth. In our ever-increasing busyness we choose to forego the slow, laborious path to depth and wisdom, and instead hitch ourselves to the rocket ship of knowledge and ideas. We’re no longer sleuths–detectives meticulously examining God’s Word. Rather, we’ve become browsers, satisfied when we find one or two sound bites from a gifted preacher. We might have enough to impress in a conversation over coffee but that’s it. If ‘I’m a sinner and I want you to save me, Lord’ is all we ever narrate with our lives, then how can we expect to participate in the complex, mysterious and deep story that is the Gospel?
If you want to truly live out the Gospel, then the Gospel has to live in you. I know these people. Their lives are following a different plot line. The Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus teaches us profoundly deep truths in this startlingly simple prayer. I encourage you to do a thorough study on it. For our purposes here, though, I just want to highlight the context, order and completeness of the Lord’s Prayer as a plot for our stories.
First, the context. Jesus explodes our present tendencies towards hyper individualism. Notice the pronouns are all plural–our and us, not my and me. God is community, the Father, Son and Spirit. The Body is also community; we are family under our Heavenly Father. In our family, we are only as strong as our weakest member. Jesus reminds us of our dependency on God and each other. It’s not enough to be mindful of your own well-being. (Note the pronouns in the Sinner’s Prayer–I, my).
Second, the order. We find six requests in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three are focused on God and the last three are focused on our need for God. People whose lives tell this story never misplace God as first and highest. But those who live out the Sinner’s Prayer struggle to see God bigger than a solution to a problem.
Third, the completeness. The Gospel as narrative is often summarized by four words: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We use this as the framework within which we discover its deeper truth and beauty. In the Sinner’s Prayer, we can identify only Fall and Redemption–an incomplete Gospel. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells the whole story:
- Creation: “Our Father…”
- Fall: “…forgive us our debts…”
- Redemption: “…deliver us from evil.”
- Restoration: “Your kingdom come…”
It’s all there. As it should be in our lives. My question for you is this: Are you living out the Sinner’s Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer? Each one shapes the way we see God and hence ourselves. The path to meaning and purpose in this life follow’s Jesus’ words. He wasn’t just giving us a prayer to say, He was revealing the thick plot of a life worth living.
Here’s a story I’ve never told outside my family and close friends. (I’m breaking my 500 word rule on this one… sorry)
I was a lacrosse player in college. In my last year, our team made it to the NCAA National Championship Game. It was played in Byrd Stadium at University of Maryland in front of 25,000 fans and live TV. That day, I experienced both the highest moment and the lowest moment of my entire athletic career, in the span of about 7 minutes.
We were trailing by a goal or two for most of the game against the tough reigning national champs. As time dwindled down,we were still behind a goal, despite several extremely close shots by our team. We just couldn’t get the tying goal.
With about a minute to go, the fans are on their feet, the roar is absolutely deafening, and one of my teammates gets the ball at midfield. I push my defender off and pop out for the pass. Once I have it, I turn and run half speed down the sideline and back behind the goal (the goal sits 15 yards in from the end line, for those unfamiliar). I check the clock on the scoreboard. As my eyes quickly scan back to the field, something catches my attention in the stands. I know… how on earth could I be looking into the stands with barely any time left?! I can’t explain it, but I actually see my older brother (my personal lacrosse hero) standing there in the sea of screaming fans. Not cheering, just standing. He was looking right into me.
I come around from behind the goal, give a big stutter-step, and blow past my defender like he was standing still. I beeline for the goal but the window is closing as other defenders are sprinting towards me. I launch my body through the air, across the front of the goal, and shoot back-handed, behind my back. Just after I shoot, a defender obliterates me in midair, sending me into a helicopter spin. I land in a heap. Total silence. Then… an explosion of cheering. I’d scored the tying goal with seconds to spare. I slowly got up, trying to figure out why I couldn’t breathe. Numbness turned to searing pain from the defender’s hit. Pain turned to euphoria when I finally processed that the game wasn’t over yet. We were going to sudden death overtime.
The crowd was going absolutely crazy. Our team was going absolutely crazy. We can win this!! A faceoff started the first overtime period. A brutal battle for the ball at midfield ended with our opponent in possession and running for glory. In what can only be explained as a complete screw-up, the player lobbed the ball towards our goal. No problem. Our goalie will catch it and blast it out to our offense. The ball sailed towards our goalie and he lined up to catch it. It takes a bounce a few feet in front of him. A fateful, catastrophic, horrible bounce off a divet in the grass. The ball ricochets off the chunk of mud, up and over our goalie’s shoulder… and into the goal. Game over. We lose. It was the last game I ever played.
In the weeks and months and years after that game I’ve learned a lot. You see, I’ve discovered that I love being a loser. Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. Being a loser is a good thing. Let me explain. I believe the value of losing is much much higher than winning. And just so you don’t think I’m the sad guy trying to console himself, I should tell you I’ve also experienced some tremendous victories–I’ve been on the winning side of championship games as well. But as I think back over my life, winning has left me with great memories and little else. Losing, on the other hand, has had massive formative influence. But while I love being a loser, I still HATE losing. I can’t stand it. I loathe that gut wrenching feeling of knowing there’s nothing you can do, when it’s no longer in your control.
Control, I’ve learned, is a vapor. I can’t tell you how many times in my life when I’ve felt like I’ve lost control, either through my own choices or just as a result of circumstances. It is a familiar feeling that chides me to give up; to quit. But these days, because of losing, I have no sense of panic when I lose my sense of control. ‘Quit’ just isn’t in my vocabulary anymore. In fact, I think this is exactly Jesus’ point, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Today, my family and I are shouldering some tremendous challenges. I won’t go into the details, but I can tell you that I feel like a pinball, chaotically bouncing around with absolutely no control over what happens next, and rolling dangerously close to the drain. In the midst of this challenging season, Christ brings me back to His promises: He is faithful to those who trust Him. And He knows how the story plays out because He wrote it.
We will feel like we’re losing sometimes. But losers win because Christ has already won.
photo credit: http://blog.faboverfifty.com
One day I was sitting on the patio of a hotel in La Fonda, Mexico, about two hours south of San Diego. My friends and I were looking out over the ocean when we saw an old ultralight aircraft buzzing by. It was basically a hang glider with an air boat fan loosely attached to the back. Since our hotel sat on a cliff about a hundred feet above the ocean, we had a front row seat to the show. When he landed on the hard sand beach below, he got out and started to wave at us to come down to him. One of the guys with us–we’ll call him Daniel–looked around and said, “I’m going!” And just like that, Daniel scurried down the cliff and out to meet the pilot.
We watched as they probably exchanged short phrases in Spanish, and then Daniel looked up and waved at us. His visible smile was cause for concern. Daniel quickly climbed in the back and they started to taxi down the beach! We started screaming, “Daniel!! What are you doing?! Don’t do it!!” We were too far away and the motor was too loud.
The ultralight strained under the extra weight but made it off the ground as we stood there, totally dumbfounded at Daniel’s decision making skills. They banked left over the ocean, continued to climb, floated back over land… and over the high hills behind us. And then they were gone.
We looked at each other in utter shock. After a long, long silence, one of my friends looked up at the empty sky in Daniel’s direction and said, “Guys… I don’t think he’s coming back.” My mind raced. My emotions began to overtake me. “What are we going to tell his family?” 5 minutes grew to 10. Then to 20. Then to 30. We were all feeling sick (no, it wasn’t the water.) Our doubt was threatening to destroy our hope. But we collectively, if silently, resolved to believe Daniel would be returned to us safely. We waited to see…
Belief, faith, hope. We cultivate these things many different ways. But what about doubt? Does it play a role? I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but I actually think doubt is critical to the faith-forming process. We tend to run from situations that cause doubt because doubt is resistance. Often times we’re convinced we can grow deeper, stronger, more mature in our faith in the absence of resistance. It doesn’t work that way. Think about these examples: working out, passing a test, surgery, relationships… In every case, real growth requires resistance–an opposing force acting against muscle, mind, body, sensibilities.
The opposing force in the formation of faith and belief is doubt. We shouldn’t hide from doubt, we should welcome it into our spiritual journey.
So here’s my question. If doubt is the necessary opposing force, how do we let it work in our lives in a way that strengthens and deepens our faith?
By the way… yes. Daniel made it back safely.