Monday, December 14, 2009

The Sins Of Our Fathers.

I have been in a funk lately. For the last couple weeks it seems like nothing I do has had any meaning or validity to it. It has felt like I left my life at the bus stop or the mall around Thanksgiving and never made the effort to go back and find it but instead have just tried to get by without; like my livelihood has been that favorite pair of jeans that are dirty but I've just been too lazy to wash them so I just stick with wearing the ones that are a size too small. Something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I hadn't stolen anything, looked at porn or betrayed anyone lately, so why did I feel like crap? I was reading my Bible, but the words seemed distant, I was spending time in prayer, but my praises and requests seemed too ephemeral, like they were getting lost somewhere between me and God. I felt lonely, even though I was constantly surrounded by people; good people. What was this thing, this feeling that was keeping me down, keeping me stuck in second gear? I asked God to show me, but all I could think about was my Dad.

His birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and although I have made a couple of efforts to see him, I just couldn't track him down. He can be a hard man to find at times. He doesn't own a cell phone, has never been on a computer, and I would be surprised if he knew what the Internet was. He is 54 and lives with some friends in a mobile home in the small mountain town I grew up in. He works as a roofer, has worn the same ratty Giant's hat for the last 20 years and I can't picture him without a beer in his hand. He is a good, kind-hearted man who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He is also the definition of the word pagan. Now, most of us when we hear the word "pagan" conjure up images of men in black robes with goats and pentagrams tattooed on their arms dancing around a fire in the woods. While that maybe one description of the term, it's certainly not what the people of Jesus' time thought of. The word pagan in its greek roots refers to people who live in rural areas and work with the land for survival and tend to worship things like trees, animals and other objects in the natural order. A professor I once had defined a pagan as "the guy who lives on the farm." Now my father would never be described as a religious man, but my mother once told me that the one conversation she had with him on the subject had my father telling her that he believed in the Sun, that we were grown in the ground and the Sun grows us and we should worship the Sun because that is were life comes from(I could make a really cheesy christian joke right now about worshipping "the Son" and totally over-spiritualize this, but I'll save that for my friend Andy). That my friends is paganism. I never really thought he was serious about this until I started thinking about his life and the way it plays out. You see, my father is a man completely devoid of any purpose, goals or aspirations, and has been since as far back as I can remember. Now he is not lazy or irresponsible in the traditional sense; he works hard at a blue-collar construction job and has since before I was born, but he is extremely lazy and irresponsible in the sense of having his life go somewhere. Nothing drives him. Nothing stirs him. Nothing tugs at his inner being and pulls him to achieve or excel. If I could link these two things together, his paganistic beliefs and his complete lack of purpose, I would have to say that because he sees life as just part of the natural order, no different than a tree or a waterfall or a badger, then that is what leads him to be totally bankrupt of drive and desire. I wondered what it must be like for my dad, floating through life aimlessly, moving from job to job, bar to bar, never quite having a destination but driving anyway. Then it hit me, this is how I have felt for the last 3 weeks.

You see, we all inherit things from our parents; things like eye color, metabolism and heart disease. But we also inherit spiritual qualities. we carry around a generational sin, an iniquity that can be traced down the very roots of our family tree. for some of us it's anger, for some it's alcoholism, for me it's laziness and futility. My father passed down to me and my brothers(although both of them have taken two wildly different paths with it) a sense that nothing we do matters, and it's too hard to do anyway, so why bother? It has permeated nearly every area of my life and has been something I have fought for 10 years, with mixed results. To be completely honest, It is a daily battle for me to get up early, shower, brush my teeth, eat right, exercise, do my homework, and take care of myself, and these last couple weeks have been a massive failure on most of those fronts. It has been a sin I have needed to repent of, and this is my confession. God has been showing me that I am not my father, I do not have to live his life and It would be sin of the highest order to deny the new life He has given me for my dad's life that I was sure to repeat without God's mercy and intervention. It will be 10 years that I have been walking(or stumbling) with Jesus this week and I have been dwelling on the state of my life had it had not been for the irresistible call of of the Gospel on that cold Thursday night a decade ago. The problem is that I have been living like that never happened. I have been living like God hasn't call me out of darkness and into light, beckoning me toward the godward life of making much of Jesus. It is so easy for us to revert to some old version of ourselves because we know where that self will go and what they will do, but to live in the moment, as one chasing after Jesus is the most dangerous thing one can experience. That is what we were made for, not some meaningless cycle of eat, sleep, work, repeat, die. It is so hard for me to live purposefully, proclaiming the name of Jesus, but it is the only reason I am alive. It is the only reason you are alive. For those that know me, I invite you into my life. Help keep me accountable to the life God has called me to. I only seeing it getting harder, but God has not given me my fathers life. He has given me my own and does not expect to live his mistakes, follies or regrets. I hope this has been a blessing to you, and that God will show you that you have been given no one else's life but your own, and even though we carry around the burden of our parents sin, "The Spirit has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death"(Romans 8:2), and we no longer need to follow their mistakes, but learn by the grace of God that he is true when he says "Look, I am making all things new!"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An exercise in futility.

I don't know if you live in the suburbs, or if you have a grasp of what life is like here in the bedroom communities of America; but let me give you one little insight into the culture I happen to live in. This morning I volunteered with some guys from church for a festival of sorts called "Woofstock." Last year, all the volunteers bailed out at the last minute and so my church stepped in a provided some hands in order to pull the event off. They asked us back this year, which we considered a privilege to help out in any way we can. We want to be good for the city, and sometimes that means setting up booths for doggy day care spas.

Woofstock, in short it was a gathering of dog lovers to make much of their dogs by treating them like people and buying them a bunch of crap they don't need. Apart from all the commentary I could make on the ridiculousness of this experience(which could very well go on forever), I want to focus shortly on one thing. In the suburbs, people will go to great lengths, and spend exuberant amounts of money to please their dogs and impress their neighbors, but would never even think of doing half the work it took to pull of an event like Woofstock for displaced people groups in Africa or sex trade victims in Asia. This is one more reason why we need Jesus so much, and why apart from the good news of the Cross, we are just selfish idolators who rob God of his glory by giving it to other things. This event had professional dog etiquette trainers, custom made oak dog kennels, and gourmet dog biscuit companies. Anything and everything you could think of to get for your canine friend was advertised and demonstrated for your consumer pleasure. Here's the problem: While I happen to love dogs and have owned and treasured many of my own, a dog is not a worthy thing to devote this kind of time, talent and treasure on. In the global and eternal scale of things, Woofstock was(apart from a chance to point our community to Jesus) an exercise in futility. It did not ease suffering in the world, it did not change things on a eternal level, and most people are going to forget about it tomorrow. I don't want to devote my life to such useless commodities and activities. I want to say at the end of my life that it wasn't about music, writing, people, relationships, money, style or experience. I weep for those who stand before Jesus and try to explain why they spent $500 on a custom dog kennel when somewhere in the world, a child dies every 5 seconds from starvation. Even in the suburban facade of mellow, pleasant perfection, things are more dire than we think, people are more broken than we can possibly imagine and devotion ends up in the most impotent of places. That is why I'm so thankful for Jesus, because He loved the rich, religious and resilient Pharisees with a deep and unrelenting passion. And although they for the most part did not repent, there IS hope for us in Suburbia, who have the same problems. Maybe we can repent of our apathy, consumerism and counterfeit righteousness and turn to trust in the Savior who died for our fake piety, so we could take on his genuine holiness. Maybe we can focus our lives away from worthless things and on to a hurting, dying world that is bleeding out and doesn't even know it. Maybe Woofstock will turn into Save-an-orphans-lifestock(not as catchy, i know). Maybe suburban life can be known for generosity and love and mercy. Maybe.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Authenticity is not cool.

Amid our culture of pluralism and ambiguity there always needs to be a constant and deliberate defining of terms. Some so-called "buzz words" are thrown aimlessly around like drunken punches in a bar fight, hoping to strike a gut reaction from some poor innocent bystander. We all know these words. For some they sting deep in our literary senses, knowing the cheapening and overuse of beautiful words like "organic,' "communal," "authentic," and "missional" will somehow lead to the unfortunate and early death of these because all the meaning will have been stripped away.

But what if these words weren't cool anymore? What if we took them at face value, and instead of dressing them up in equivocation and placing them in our smooth, confident sentences for all to admire without ever asking what in the world we are really talking about, we would begin to flesh out what these verbally aesthetic appellations actually mean?

This became clear for me a couple nights ago while I was at my local free trade hipster coffee shop. Prior to this, I had dinner with some friends who have been trying to live life together intentionally, being open and honest and loving one another, not matter how its makes them look, and was super encouraged by the example set forth in this group's lives. So, after dinner I headed over to grab a cup of coffee and read. Now, I am consistently not cool enough to hang out at this particular establishment. I even wore my V-neck and skinny jeans, and still felt a bit out of place. If this was five years ago I might be able to hang, but now that I am in my mid-twenties, with responsibilities and a few extra pounds it just won't work. As I sit reading, enjoying my two and half dollar cup of french press, my ears perk and I tune into a conversation being had by two 18 year old scenesters with hebrew tattoos, wearing "To Write Love On Her Arms" shirts and brand new TOMS. One girl started talking about a local college ministry she attends(which most people at this coffee shop, including the owners also attend), trying to convince the other to come check it out, saying that is real and authentic, and maybe they might fit in there. Now, I have been to this event a few times, and while it a great place to meet people, hear a great worship band, and be moved by an attention-grabbing, entertaining speaker; I don't know if "authentic" is the best word to describe it. So, I pondered this girls choice of words for some time, wondering why authentic and real was the phrase she landed on. Then I came to a realization. Authenticity is a really cool word, but actually being authentic is not.

Now, we live in a day where the prototypical example of this new generation of Christian community includes nothing more than proximity and affinity. Community for us simply means that you are in close proximity to other Christians and/or share common interests and perspectives. The only problem with that is the Bible. We see in the Book of Acts that those who believed in and followed Jesus "had all things in common" and "suffered together for the sake of the Gospel." We do not create community. Jesus is the only one that can create community; because Jesus' idea of community is "all nations, tribes, languages and peoples" coming together to worship the King and bring hope to the world around them. Only then will we truly begin to understand words like authenticity. You see, being authentic is not cool, because it's messy. Being authentic means you have to be vulnerable, imperfect, laid bare for all to see and hopeless with out a Savior. I experienced this at dinner before my little epiphany. these people were not "cool" in the way the people at the coffee shop were. There were young married couples with kids and regular old God-glorifying jobs, overworked singles sacrificing dreams for the sake of the Gospel, and starving college students with emotional baggage and souls heavy with life. These people cannot afford to be cool. All they can do is enter into community, receive mercy, and in turn go out into the world to give mercy to as many as God would allow them to. So, my admonition to you is to stop trying to be cool, because you are missing out on so much life; ugly, messy, fumblingly beautiful life, to drop the persona and pick up reality, because cool has a momentary shelf-life, but authenticity will never grow old.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Pursuit Of And Escape From Community.

So, in the last six months I have transitioned from working for and being a member at a very large church(of which I had been a part of since I got saved) to being a part of a new church plant with is about 1/100th of the size of my former church home. And I have learned a great amount of things about my self and about gospel community in the process, But thing that totally stuck out to me today was this; in my experience, Christians and not-yet-Christians seem to be drawn to different churches for different reasons. Now this is a VERY general statement, and i'm going to be painting this thought for you in very broad strokes, so just realize, this doesn't apply to everybody.

Since the transition to my new church home, It has been much easier for me to invite not-yet-Christians to our corporate gatherings and much harder to invite already-Christians to come. Now, coming from a big church with lots of programs and do-hickeys and laser beams and guitar solos I found it quite simple to get my Christians friends to come but arduously difficult to get my non-Jesus loving friends to check it out, and now I seem to have the opposite happening now.

A couple of days ago I had an eye-opening conversation with a friend who has a passing knowledge of Christianity but would never consider themselves a church-goer. She explained to me in great angst and detail how she felt like going to a large church gathering felt like going to an event or concert instead of engaging in a community of believing peoples. I was struck by her candor and precision in nailing what exactly what she (and I imagine many others) felt was lacking in Churchianity. Now, this in no means is a blast on megachurches. I thank God for the many large congregations in my area because bigger churches generally mean more people meeting Jesus which is always a good thing. The problem is see is this: It seems to me that many christians go to bigger churches so they can escape from being known and not-yet-christians seem to like smaller churches so that they can known. You see, it is much easier to go to a program or event than it is to part of a family. Families are messy, but events are smooth and enjoyable. If we were completely honest (and I know that church is not the place for that), we would admit that even though we try to look good and perform well at church (cuz' thats what you do at church, right?), we are just a broken as the people on "the outside." But if good, church-goin' folk found out who we REALLY ARE, well, what would we do then?? I think the answer comes in "heathen" form. Not-yet-believers want to be known, they deeply desire for the community that we as Jesus' church are supposed to have! They have been so beat up bedraggled and bushwhacked that they just want a place that will met them where they are and love them, not try and fix their life, not try and make them more presentable in church, but just love them with the love of the Father. Can we all agree that its hard to step into unfamiliarity, especially when it comes to church? Then shouldn't we make it as easy as possible to invite people into community?

Now back to the Christians for a moment. Why are we so afraid of Community? Why do we hide away in our massive church buildings and play as if church were an interview to get into heaven? Can't we really believe in a big God and a big Cross and grace enough for everybody's shortcomings? even the most religious and most heathen of us? It seems to me that those outside of church would gladly enter into our fellowship, and honesty, and accountable relationships. Are we just taking up room in church so we look good and check off being "holy" for the week? If so, than I have met plenty of non-believers that would love to take their place, to have what they have. Let's thank Jesus for making community and ask Him how to best use it for his glory and our joy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hard Lesson From The Christian Front.

I got away this week. No phone, no facebook, no iPod, no people. Just Me, a Bible and the silence. I wont go into details because if I did I wouldn't ever finish this note, but i will let you in on one conversation I had with the Lord Jesus.

I see in my self a need to be justified by others and to receive recognition for what I do, and It is really nothing more than a sense of needing to be loved.. It is a blot on my soul that I was most afraid people would find out about. In one sense, it is entirely human, because we are made to feel a need for Justification, and Jesus has accomplished this for us on the Cross. But what I could not seem to get away from is the fact that all that I do, from words, actions and even thoughts seems to get put through this process of "are they going to realize what I have done for them?" or " If I do this, will they love me?" There is an angst that penetrates every fiber of my being that comes from this and I wrestled very deeply with this part of my life in my time away. I cried out to the Lord as David did "My eyes long for your promise;I ask, "When will you comfort me?" I asked him to show me what to do in order that I might understand why I sow and do not reap, why I pour out onto others and do not receive back. Other than being totally selfish and in deep, deep sin because of it, the Lord remained silent for a bit, until he showed me a reel of His earthly life, and how He endlessly poured into to others, healed others, taught others, and cried with others, but had no comforter except the Father, no companion except the Holy Spirit. I saw this and I wept. I wept, because I was trying to be like Jesus, but did not have the framework to understand the cost of what it means to emulate him. The hard lesson I learned is that sometimes you get nothing for your effort, you will reap nothing from your sowing. It does not matter how much you love someone, serve them, pray for them or seek to help them; the plain fact is is that Christian is someone who does not seek any gain. Whether emotional, spiritual, physical or financial; it it not in the heart of Jesus to seek after those things. It hurt deeply to see this and to realize the fact sometimes God ordains people in your life that your job is to pour into them and they will not give as much as a thank you, but that doe not mean that your work was in vain, but that it was not for you to see.

So, I am ok with this now. And I realize the good that God is accomplishing, but still have this inkling to want a return on my investment, and then I realize it is not my investment but His. I am just a steward of His, and should expect nothing but a "well done good and faithful servant" at the end.