Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Belief

"Not everyone’s gonna believe, but that’s OK. They’ll get there when they get there."  10-year-old Anna Beam, when facing skepticism about her miraculous cure (Miracles from Heaven, 2016).






There is much time and money spent on positioning for our belief.  This is politics.  And some types of marketing. And almost all cable news.  At worst, it's propaganda.  At best, just groups of people drawing very tight circles around their perceptions.  We all believe something even beyond that of public policy or personal consumption, we believe something about life's biggest questions, about meaning.  As Tim Keller notes about faith, even non-belief is belief in something.  We commit our lives somewhere, to a certain set of beliefs.






"I want to believe." The poster hangs in Fox Mulder's office in the TV Show the X-Files, depicting his insatiable quest for truth.






I recently co-taught a Sunday school class with my wife.  We read an except from Heaven is for Real, the account of one child's sneak peek into the afterlife.  We asked the kids what they thought about account.  One young man raised his hand and said, "Here is a fun fact, that book is totally made up.  His Dad made him say it."  Not the start to class we were expecting.    We redirected the conversation from the authority of the book to what they thought heaven might be like.  They excitedly talked over each other for the next 15 minutes.  The kids painted a fantastic image of what heaven might be, a glimpse:




- angels
- gardens and grass
- raindbows and trees
- people from history
- throne for Jesus
- extinct animals
- waterfalls and wildlife
- big churches and the disciples
- colors
- music and flowers
- acceptance
- light all the time
- no fear or sickness
- large temple insidea  golden kingdom






One young man schrunched his forehead, widened his eyes, and responded as if he'd given deep thought to the question many times before.  "There would be a long table. There is food and drink.  The table just keeps getting bigger as more people come.  Anyone can come.  The food never runs out.  No one feels like they shouldn't be there."  And we're left speechless, kids teaching us extraordinary faith.






In this age of internet paranoia and fear-based revoluations, the innocent hope of children is refreshing, like waterfalls and wildlife.  In Matthew 18, it's recorded that Jesus said unless we embrace the humility and faith of children, we'd never see the kingdom of heaven.  I think pure belief  children bring was refreshing for him too, like rainbows and trees.






"Ya gotta believe."  The rallying cry of the '73 Mets prompting a late summer tear back into contention. 






When I'm approach the tee box, I'm hoping the ball doesn't careen off a tree or another player, imagining that it might.  I don't believe that I'll hit it 300 yards down the middle of the fairway.  And most times, I don't.  The worst part of my golf game and, at times my life, is my unbelief.






A child's imagination constantly reshapes what is into what could be, like having a table that only grows with provision in a world of hungry people.   Jesus often made a point to recognize the faith of others.  Notable faith almost always preceeded miracles.  I wonder if that's why Anna Beam was healed.  Or the Mets climbed back into contention. 




Author Donald Miller said "One of the things that gives me hope is that even with all the tragedy that happens in the world, the Bible says that when we get to heaven there will be a wedding and there will be [celebration] and there will be dancing."  This, I believe.


 



Sunday, December 25, 2016

I Believe That We Will Win

This Christmas morning is peacefully surreal alongside a strong sense that something's about to burst.  Like a sunrise, Light about to consume all the shadowy dim.  I'm Christmas-morning excited to watch my family wake with wonder.  I'm filled with life-worry.   I'm wide awake, teeming with anticipation about what's just-around-the-corner in the next season of this gift of a life.  I'm tired and can't sleep.  I'm deeply present in our home, comfortable.  I'm distracted, pushing back the could-haves and should-dos, shushing them quiet.

Everything accelerates just before it slows.  Like Christmas and the New Year.  It's frantic, giddy, full with lists and lights and then it's quickly quiet.  Like January mugs the magic of December.  And we box up the glittery happy, for another season.

Can we hold onto this just a bit longer?  The friends for dinner even when it's inconvenient, the small significant talks with the kids before bed even when it's past time, the waiting hopefully expectant?  We intend to keep it - the happy - the candles and the Silent Nights.  Yet the blistering ice rain still blows in, winter feels like forever, we can't believe summer is almost gone, and where has the time gone?  They'll be setting up for Christmas soon, we say.

My kids make fun of me for my ignorance of their music.  I didn't know about Ju-Ju or his Beat.  However, they do listen to some lyrics with deep truth.  This, from the artist, KB,

Hold the torch up high in the thick dark
The dream works no matter how bad the pics are
Cause I see how bad the globe is
But they don't know how bad our hope is
They don't know how bad we want this
It ain't where we at boy it's where we're going!

Tell the paraplegic that he gon' dance
Tell breast cancer that she won't win
Tell racism that he gon' end
What he doesn't heal now... he gon' then
Let's go!

I believe that we will win...

I do believe that we will win because I've found a Hope deeper than my troubles, like grace waves that wash away the trampled sandscape of life - a smooth canvas for another year, unwritten.

Author Ann Voskamp writes, "The world will be still tonight.  There will be lingering.  Longing.  We will long for this wonder to all go on.  One Christmas candle will flame in the quiet.  This cannot fade - none of this can ever fade.  'For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given (Isaiah 9:6).  God is with us.  God stays with us.  The Christmas candle burns hot, give its Light, gives its Light - and the world lights up, and Christmas goes on forever now." 

And this is how it's kept, how we're kept, all believing that we will win.  Our Hope greater than our fears. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hope in the Policitcal Storm

This piece will run immediately following the election.  I wonder what everyone will do with their revolt, their angst when there is no opposing candidate to target?  What hate will be left to tweet, what positions left to loudly defend?  A pastor friend says the disease of the American middle class is this anger churning just below the surface, eating our souls, and inviting us to numb it away.  This election peeled away the layers exposing that anger, letting the seething discontentment with our comfortable lives ooze. In turn, we blame the open wounds on our neighbor, placing fault anywhere but at our own feet.

Recently, there was a panel discussion on the epidemic of opiate abuse in our county.  Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick asked a question beyond the symptoms, getting to the heart of the matter.  "Why in the history of mankind, the freest and richest society in the world has a large part of its population trying to anesthetize itself to the point they can no longer breathe?"  Perhaps it's this rage against all that's wrong, once provoking us to stand for something that's right.  Now all but snuffed out, there is only a dull trance of disillusionment that remains.  And we try to buy or drink or busy our way from remembering.  We rally and hope a political superhero will lead us to enlightenment.  We conform to the comfortable.

Muhammed Ali rebuked conformity.  The boxing elite stripped him of his titles, the world spewed hate at his values, and he spoke unwaveringly, "I don't have to be what you want me to be.  I'm free to be what I want."  When our hope is built on foundations stronger than political platforms, we are indeed free to be what we want.  Or better, free to whom we've been created to become.

Vin Scully, iconic baseball broadcaster, gave a commencement address that was profoundly simple.  "The world will try very hard to clutter your lives and minds,' Scully told [the students], but the way forward was to simplify and clarify.  'Leave some pauses and some gaps so that you can do something spontaneously rather than just being led by the arm.  Don't let the winds blow your dreams away... or steal your faith in God."  (Sports Illustrated, May, 2016).  Our political season is indeed very noisy.  I pray the winds of rhetoric don't blow away our remnants of hope, faith, and trust. 

I'm disappointed when I have to filter the political ads my children watch on TV because of the content.  I'm saddened that my wife and I have to explain to them the complexities of having to cast a vote for something bigger than just a single candidate, because we find it difficult to support either person given their childish antics.  Yet, we don't want our kids to rage against the machine.

We recently named a new pastor at our church.  His acceptance speech was modest.  He said he was humbled.  He said he was excited to serve alongside this church family.  He said we'd disagree at times, but that we'd learn to navigate through our differences in a loving way.  He said he'd try, imperfectly, to be as faithful to us and to God as God has been to him.   

Perhaps this is our way forward, post-election.  May we be humble.  May we be excited to serve alongside one another.  May we approach disagreements with grace.  And may we try, imperfectly, to be faithful to ourselves, to God, and to our country - as He has been to us.  



 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Waterpark Vocations

I recently went to a waterpark with my family.  It was a great time of laughs, "Dad-watch-this" moments, overpriced hot dogs, and lines that were long but allowed conversation with the kids, so I don't lament.  Throughout the day I notice the music played throughout the park consisted of a 90's playlist.  My kids never heard of many of the songs and told me to stop singing along; I was embarrassing them in front of these strangers they'd never see again.  The music sent me back to my twenties.  I felt relaxed.  I was selfishly free during that season of my life and didn't think much about vocation.  I also didn't carry around the anxiety produced from over-analyzing meaning and purpose that I can drag with me as an adult either.



Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said "What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know... The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do... to find the idea for which I can live and die."  The tension between what we are and what we could be has existed for centuries. Although today we seem to place the ultimate priority on calling.  Identifying and fulfilling one's purpose is a good thing.  Although I wonder if the more we elevate this, the more angst-producing pressure we put on ourselves and others.  I recently heard on the radio that a hyper-focus on calling creates an ideal for the next generation that's quickly disillusioned upon their entry into the real world.  The radio host said that while he believes he's doing what God's equipped him to do, he still only really loves his job some days, is neutral about it most days, and sometimes simply tolerates the work.  His point was that work is often less idealized calling and more mundane, the latter of where God often shows up and we miss Him while frantically looking for the former. 



I wanted to bottle up and keep the feeling at the waterpark.  Everyone had smiles.  I thought that must be a great place to work, everyone all happy and helpful.  I worked at places like this before.  It still seemed like work.



I am constantly looking for meaning in my days.  Am I doing what God's called me to do?  Have I overlooked a God-inspired vision for the sake of comfort?  Am I making the most of my minutes?  I know that I've always wanted to be a Dad and God's blessed me with this.  Andy Stanley said that sometimes our legacy isn't the careers or organizations we build, but in the children we raise.  This gives me hope.  (Semi-spoiler alert for When Breath Becomes Air)... Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi faced death and wrote this to his newly born daughter, "When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied.  In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing." 



Paul's words resonate with me.  I love being a Dad and it feels like I'm fulfilling some kind of Divine purpose.  Perhaps the lesson is that our universal calling is to find God's purpose in all of the relationships He's placed before us.  Maybe we need to look at our interactions with our spouse, children, in-laws, colleagues, rivals, and friends with an eternal lens - to stop searching for grand meaning for our lives and invest in the now, to be deeply interested in the face across the table.  That may just be an enormous thing. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Leading Well

A young military leader was in training with his crew.  Each person in the crew was given a single ration of food for each day.  Each person was to take a turn on patrol.  The young leader approached a crew member who was eating his ration of food for the day and instructed him that it was now his turn for patrol. "I can't right now," he said.  "I'm eating."  The young leader smacked the food ration out of his hands, knocking the precious food to the ground, ruined.  The crew member was furious, but now clearly understood the expectations of his responsibility to patrol and the consequences if he did not. 

True leadership consists of providing clarity on what is expected from the team and then holding everyone accountable to that standard.  This directly relates to both building and developing a team.  Author and speaker John Maxwell writes, “If you keep and reward uncommitted or unproductive people, eventually your team will be comprised of uncommitted and unproductive people.  What gets rewarded is what gets done.” 
 
In Matthew's account of Jesus' life, he tells of a time when Jesus entered the temple courts, furious that a place set aside to honor God was being turned into a place where greed had taken root.  Jesus flipped the tables of the money changers and drove out the "den of thieves."  Jesus was angry that boundaries had been crossed.  Everyone that witnessed this display was clear on what Jesus' expectations were, what was acceptable and what was not in this holy place.  Remarkably, He drove out the business owners building their kingdoms with profit shaded grey and made room for the least and lonely, welcoming those who could bring nothing of their own merit for God.

These principles are generally well received in the business world - be sure your team knows what to do and then make sure they do it.   This feels gritty and controllable.   Implemented appropriately, this is important, however it's void if offered without compassion and self-sacrifice.

When the crew member finished his patrol tired and hungry, he found a full ration of food waiting for him.  Later, he discovered it was provided by the young leader who had disciplined him earlier. The young leader ensured clear expectations and demanded accountability, while practicing compassion and self-sacrifice.  Trust sprouted roots binding this crew for the future.  

The Book of Matthew tells of another story where Jesus was predicting His death.  His dear friend, Peter, said that He would never let this happen.  Jesus responded, “Peter, get out of my way...You have no idea how God works.  ...Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self."  (The Message).  Jesus later told Peter that it was on him that the church would be built, giving him mission and identity.  Further, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice of His life to lay a foundation for the full redemption story to take place. 

Mission clarity, individual and team expectations, accountability, compassion, and self-sacrifice are not mutually exclusive in leadership.  It's often perceived that leaders are either firm or compassionate, authoritative or collaborative, unwavering or empathetic.  For the best leaders, these aren't either/or, but rather both/and propositions.   

Sunday, May 15, 2016

True Heroes

Like many kids, my bedroom walls were adorned with posters of my heroes.  Iron Mike Tyson, Dwight Gooden, and Magic Johnson were my American idols.  Sadly, each self-destructed in their prime.  Magic's unfaithfulness produced consequences forcing him out of basketball.  After winning the World Series, Dwight Gooden found himself in a crack house and missing the celebratory parade.  Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion of the world only to find himself in prison a few years later.  Eventually, I came to realize that the attributes I idolized in these all-stars weren't those that make true heroes.  I wasn't looking deep enough, I was simply admiring performance. 

I've told these stories to my sons.  I've told real stories of true heroism, often not found on Sportscenter's Top Ten.  We've talked about courage, faith, hope, and what matters most in a person.

This political season has afforded much conversation about why people choose to vote for a particular candidate.  We've talked a lot about issues and positions.  However, a local State Representative summed it up best when he recently visited the school my children attend.  My son came home and explained that this representative was talking to his class and said that he couldn't support a particular candidate because he simply didn't see any evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in their life.  I realized that, yes, it can be that simple.

In his letter to the ancient church, the Apostle Paul wrote that "when we live God’s way.. He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely" (Galatians 5, The Message).  Most commonly, these "fruits" are referred to as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  What if these were the platforms from which we voted?  What if these were the measures of success?  What if we chose to take the Bible seriously?

The tragic stories of my childhood heroes each later found redemption to some degree.  Today each tells a story where every forceful grab for happiness resulted in emptiness and ultimately they found the greatest joy in something bigger than themselves.  Attributes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control aren't typically associated with those that breed success in the boardroom or on the playing field.   It's perceived these traits just aren't enough to emerge from the pack and stand out  - to get ahead.  I wonder if we are really are ok with that?  Do we want our heroes, all-stars, and Presidents to downplay the fruits of the Spirits in their lives?  Or worse, to be void of them? 

 I pray that my wife and I will parent in ways that our sons will find heroes whose stories are rich with evidence of the fruits of the Spirit, of life that's truly life.  I know many people whose stories illustrate such a life.  And they aren't on the cover of a magazine or the nightly news.  They are loving and serving the lease of these.  They are showing up when the cameras aren't there, their heroism not recognized in headlines but significant in eternity's landscape.    



Saturday, March 12, 2016

Running Naked

"Be still and know that I am God."  I woke with these words on my mind.  I hurried out of bed to get a run in before the day began.  The early morning air was cold and fierce, like a lion. 

"Be still and know."  The words popped again in my mind.  The quote is an account of God announcing His sovereignty to His people centuries ago.  Was this God speaking to me?  Or, was my subconscious just replaying old quotes like TV jingles or old records; a deep memory mix tape?

"Beginning workout."  My phone announced the start of the run.  I affixed my ear buds and pressed play.  Nothing.  I tried podcasts and playlists.  Nothing.  My heart raced as panic peeked into my mind.  How would I get through my long run without any motivation or distraction?  I  pulled my ear buds from my ears and put them in my pocket.  I felt naked.

The morning was bright and brisk, the colors of creation sharp.  The rising sun sparked the frost on the field, all glimmering and amazing.  Stars strewn about. 

Maybe the "Be still" business and the audio not working were Divine intervention, God wanting me to be present for something of supernatural significance.  I ran on.

I heard a woodpecker in the distance.  I was envious.  The woodpecker rises with the sun, the rhythms of creation the only schedule he follows.  He does his work, the wood-pecking, as he is uniquely created to do.  There is no thought of trying to sing like a canary or do the business of another bird.  There's no comparing or regrets for the woodpecker.  Just living and being, content in the work of the day.  It seemed wonderfully simple and free.

Pit-pat-pit-pat-pit-pat.  I notice my pace.  I wondered what I'd been missing on these runs, all the music drowning out reality.  That's not always a bad thing, until it is.

A car drove by and I smelled cigarette smoke trailing from a window.  When I was a kid, I once smashed a pack of cigarettes that someone had left by a tree with a stick until the pack was destroyed.  I thought people who smoked were bad and that I was stamping out evil.  The world fit into neat categories back then.  It seemed so na├»ve now to think about my childhood judgment of the forgetful smoker.  Though masked in the complexities of adulthood, sadly, I still judge.  Often smashing the smokes of those I deem wrong - or not like me.

As I ran, my mind traveled down stressful paths of things to be done.  The sounds of reality snapped me back to the road I was running - God reminding me that He's the pace-setter.  I felt a peaceful stillness.  I thought of my friend diagnosed with cancer.  He's been forced still, yet he deeply knows that God is good all the time and that all the time God is good.  I want to share his heart, his faith, his hopeful outlook on these days.  I pray God heals him.

I notice my fists are clenched as I run.  I loosen them.  Minutes later their clenched again.   It's said clenched-fist running saps valuable energy you'll need during your race.  I live life like this sometimes, clenching my fists to hold things tightly, fearing scarcity, bearing down.  This illusory control drains valuable energy I desperately need other places.  I vow to hold life more loosely, to run through life openhanded, letting God set the pace.

The Message paraphrases Psalm 46:10 this way, "“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”  One glorious morning, I did.