It Cuts Like A Knife :: Thoughts on love and friendship

Last night was not my favorite. (If you don’t know, we have seven week old twins…enough said.) I struggled to get out of bed this morning, motivated solely by the little beeping sound of my coffee maker reminding me that there are still wonderful things in life to be enjoyed, even when you’re exhausted and feel like death. I pour a cup, sit down and decide to digitally reach out into the world by checking my twitter feed. Only to be struck upside the head by this tweet from Dr. John Piper,

 

“If you must choose between loving someone and acting so that they feel loved, always choose to love them.”

I was leveled. At once I recalled the faces of countless friends that I sat across a coffee shop table from, biting my tongue when I should have spoken up. I remembered the passive and indirect ways I tried to bring up things that I knew were destructive in their lives but I was to afraid to come right out and say. I even remembered the self-righteousness I felt when my predictions proved to be true and things went exactly as I knew they would, when I should have been feeling broken for my softness and passivity in not warning them.

If I loved them I would have told them the truth, no matter how much it hurt. Instead, I was like a surgeon who refused to remove a life-threatening tumor because he was afraid to cut the skin. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, it will take time to heal. Yes, it is absolutely necessary and it is my responsibility to them.

So, do I love you enough to tick you off?

If I’m not willing to confront the things in your life that I know are destructive than I just prove that I love myself more than I love you. I care more about being liked by you that I do about your well-being. That’s not love, that’s cowardice.

We tend to define love by how we make a person feel. If I say something that makes them feel good about themselves and their lives than I am being loving but if my words hurt their feelings or make them uncomfortable than I’m being hateful. This is simply too surface of an understanding to be love. Love acts on what is best for the person not on what will make them feel warm and fuzzy.

Am I loving my 3-year old daughter by letting her keep playing with a machete because I don’t want to hurt her feelings by taking it away?

Now, there are those out there that find truth-telling and confrontation easy. We usually know them as “jerks.” They drop truth-bombs on people and walk away without regard for the fallout. They’re willing to cut, but not willing to stick around for the healing process (which is usually long and arduous). Paul told the church in Corinth that they could have all kinds of spiritual merit badges, prophetic powers and even possess all of the knowledge in the world…but if they don’t have love than they’re like a clanging cymbal. Which is another way of saying you’re annoying and obnoxious. What you say may be true, but when your words sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. This is not love either.

The apostle John wrote in one of his letters “God is love.” This doesn’t mean God is a fluffy teddy bear. What it means is if you want to know what love looks like, if you want to know how love acts…look at God. Look at what He does.

One way that God loves is certainly by telling us the truth. The bible is brutally honest about the human condition. It’s not passive and it doesn’t pull punches. The gospel is most offensive message that you can bring to someone (if you are actually speaking the gospel). It cuts deeply against our pride. It tells us that we are rebels, anarchists, liars, thieves, murders, idolaters and God-belittling fools. It tells us that we are hopelessly lost and destined for judgement. It cuts us…deeply. It provokes us. It pulls our defenses up.

But God’s love doesn’t stop there. He loves us in the midst of our brokenness. He loves us even while we shake our fist in His face, refusing to believe the diagnosis. God loves us by sacrificing himself and carrying our punishment and shame. He loves us by walking with us through restoration and healing. He loves us by listening to us and being patient with us.

This is what love looks like. Truth combined with patience, compassion and sacrifice. I need friends love me like that and I need to be that friend.

Jesus once told his disciples “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

We are commanded to love each other sacrificially, as we have been loved. I may be willing to lay down my life for my friend…but am I willing to lay down their opinion of me? Am I willing to sacrifice being liked? Respected? Where do I draw the line on what I am willing to sacrifice for their good. That is as far as my love for them goes and no further.

Are you sitting quietly on sideline watching someone you care about make a tragic decision that everyone knows is stupid but no one is willing to tell them?

Are you watching a friend engaging in behaviors that you know will destroy their career, their marriage, their ministry?

Love that’s not honest is not love at all.

Love them enough to hurt them.

Love is not afraid to cut the skin if it knows it will save the life.

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Fast Feet :: Lessons In Humiliation

I am a runner. At least that’s what I tell myself (and others, when I think it may impress them). I’m pretty inconsistent and probably shouldn’t claim the hobby, but I do really enjoy it. A few years ago I ran in a 5k over by the local hospital. My friend Bryan was trying to get me back into running after a pretty long “break” (aka – the birth of our first child). I was not in the shape I used to be, but it was only a 5k so I didn’t think much of it.

When we got there we noticed everyone had numbers written on the back of their legs with a Sharpie. I figured it was about organization or something but when we got to registration I realized it was actually your age. I thought it was kind of weird but was quickly distracted by a guy in front of us with a “67” written on his leg! He was walking very slowly around the starting area, ironically wearing a shirt that said “Fast Feet”. I know your not supposed to laugh at people, but come on…that’s funny!

I started out the race (as I have in most of the races I’ve competed in) at a pace that is much, much, faster than I’ve ever dreamed of running before. It could be my introversion that just wants to get away from the crowd or maybe I just have that unrealistic of a perspective on my own limitations. Whatever the reason, I found myself near the front of the pack for the first mile or so, and feeling quite proud of myself. It was at that point my body began to quickly and aggressively remind my brain that I’m not a super-hero or a cheetah, by going into complete rebellion. I imagine the communication looked something like this:

  • Body – “Hey brain… BRAIN! What’s goin’ on up there? We can’t move this fast.”
  • Brain – “But look how far we’ve come already. It’s only 3.1 miles. How much farther could it be? We can do this! Think positive!”
  • Body – “You’re a moron, Brain! I’m pretty sure we lost a lung back there at the mile marker. Good thing we’re at a hospital! If you don’t stop, we’ll make you stop!”
  • Brain – “What are you gonna do? I control you.”
  • Body – “Oh yeah… BAM! Side cramp. What do you say now, Genius?”
  • Brain – “Jerk! I can still fight through this…”
  • Body – “Numb Feet! Knee Pain!”
  • Brain  – “AHHHHH!!!!”

Anyway, that’s about the point when I realized that we had been moving downhill for the entire first half of the race and now had to go back up. Needless to say, it was pretty crushing.

So, there I was, steadily creeping up the hill at an embarrassingly slow pace. People passing me on all sides. My pride was being demolished. Then I start to notice the numbers…those cursed numbers! 38, 45, 52… And that’s when I realized what the numbers were for. They were there to demoralize and humiliate you for thinking you were better than people older than you! Well, that’s what they did for me anyways.

And then.. what’s that? Is that…a 67?!?! Wait… No! Absolutely not! I am not getting passed by FAST FEET!

But I was. Fast Feet had passed me on the steep part of the hill. I was actually living out the tortoise and the hare. It was humiliation like never before.

“No! I’m not gonna lose to Fast Feet!” I pulled up whatever I had left and finished the race at a reasonable time, passed Fast Feet and some of the others and saved what little self-confidence I had left.

I was feeling good, well except that I felt like I was about to die. That’s when I noticed Fast Feet over by the side of the road casually talking to his friends. He wasn’t even winded!!! He actually looked like he had a good time. He didn’t care that I had passed him. He wasn’t competing with me or anyone else for that matter. He had set a goal and achieved it and was enjoying the moment. I, on the other hand, was about to throw up on my friends and go into cardiac arrest.

I learned something about motivation that day. There is positive and negative motivation. Negative motivation is driven by fear and insecurity. It thrives on our innate desire to not come in last. It drives you to do stupid things. Unsustainable things. Things that you will pay for down the road.

Then there is positive motivation. Positive motivation is goal-oriented and not others-oriented. It pushes you to improve yourself and finish well and isn’t distracted by how it measures up to others, because it doesn’t gauge value by comparison. It’s not driven by fear, rather a passion for achieving whatever goal has been set.

Positive motivation leads to contentment and has many celebrations along the way. Negative motivation is never satisfied and even when it succeeds at something…it’s too distracted by what’s next to take the time and enjoy the moment.

I’ve found this to be true in every area of my life. If I’m being driven by positive, goal-oriented motivation I am far more optimistic and productive. But when I find myself driven primarily by my desire to beat so-and-so or not get left behind by (fill in the blank). I may start out strong but find myself losing ground very fast.

Nothing worth investing your life in can be accomplished through negative motivation. You’ve got to find something bigger.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • What drives you?
  • Are you leaning on negative motivation in any area of you life?
  • How could you turn that into positive motivation?
  • What attainable goals could you set for yourself?
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“Fear” the Lord?

Here’s a link to the message I just preached yesterday on “The Fear of the Lord.” It’s the first message in our series on the book of Proverbs. Several of you have asked me for the notes, so I figured I’d share them here on the blog.

(There is a brief synopsis of the journey that our family went through a month ago at the end of the message.)

PROVERBS | FEAR (link to message)

Notes:

Scripture References (all verses are in ESV unless otherwise notated):

INTRO

Proverbs are:

  • Truisms, not promises
  • Principles, not methods

THE FEAR OF THE LORD and KNOWLEDGE:

Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:29 – Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,

Proverbs 2:5 – then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 9:10 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

1) GOD IS BEYOND OUR COMPREHENSION

  • Psalm 145:3 – Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
  • Isa. 40:12-14; 25-26
  • Romans 11:33 – Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

2) GOD HAS AUTHORITY AND CONTROL OVER HIS CREATION (SOVEREIGN)

  • Ps 47:2 – For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
  • Heb 1:3 “…he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
  • Rev. 4:11 – Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created
  • Job 12:23 – He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away.
  • Ephesians 1:11 –  “..him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
  • Acts 4:27-28 – “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
  • Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
  • Job 14:5 – Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
  • Psalm 139:16 – Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
  • Acts 17:24-27 – “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. ”
  • Proverbs 16:9 – The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

3) GOD IS A JUST JUDGE

  • Ps. 9: 7-8 – But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,  and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.
  • Acts 17:31 – “because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
  • Job 40:2; 7-8 – “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”[…] “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
  • Deut. 32:4 – The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
  • 2 Chronicles 19:7 – Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”
  • Jer. 5:22-29 – Do you not fear me? declares the Lord, Do you not tremble before me? […] But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God […]They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
  • Habakkuk 3:2 – O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.
  • Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Heb 10:31 – It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
  • Luke 12:4-5 –  “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

FEAR (IN A GOOD WAY?)

  • Proverbs 14:26-27 – In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
  • Proverbs 19:23 – The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied
  • Proverbs 28:14 (KJV) – Happy is the man that feareth always.”
  • Psalm 130:3-4 – If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

CONCLUSION

  • 2 Cor 5:21 – He made Him, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Romans 5:8 – but God shows his love for us in that (M)while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Summary Statement:

The Fear of God is a reverence and an awe of all that God is, all that we deserve and all that He has done for us in Christ.

Quotes used:

“God created us in His image and we felt inclined to return the favor…” – Pastor Mark Driscoll

“We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope.” – Tim Keller

_______

If you live in or around Clermont, FL, come join us for the rest of the series at The Church At South Lake

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Top 5 Most Popular Posts

Picture taken by Arlena Lee

My hands have been a bit full lately, so I haven’t had time to write anything this week. Instead I decided to compile the top 5 most popular posts from the last year and half or so since I started the blog. That way, if you have just recently started following, you can catch up on some oldies. And for those of you who are regular readers, you can reminisce as you remember how these mind-blowing and deeply insightful, yet equally entertaining, posts changed your life forever 😉

Enjoy!

  1. Getting To Know Myself :: Confessions Of An Introvert
  2. Preschool Graduations :: Thoughts on God’s Joy In Us
  3. Blurry
  4. Castles Made Of Sand :: When Parenting Meets Life Planning
  5. Parental Advisory :: This Book Contains Explicit And Violent Scenes
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72 Hours That Changed Everything :: Thank Yous To Those Who Stood With Us

Some of you have asked about whether I was going to write about the events of this past week. And while I definitely will at some point, I’m just not able to do so in much detail yet. To take myself back into those moments and to reflect on the thoughts and emotions running through my mind and heart is just too overwhelming at this point. The sheer elevation change from a point of such extreme joy, with the birth of our healthy twin boys, to the lowest point of desperation I have ever felt in my life in just a few short hours was a shock to my system that I am not prepared to re-enter into, at least not yet. Those 72 hours felt like a bungee jump, at least what I imagine a bungee jump to feel like since the thought of actually doing that makes me pee in my pants a little bit. It felt much like a free fall that stopped just short of the concrete, swinging me back upwards, only to drop me again and again and again.

I can honestly say that I am a very different person than I was on Tuesday, when we went into the hospital. Some of that is due to the circumstances, but even more than that, I have been changed by some of you, the people who were with us through all of this. So, here are a few thank yous that I just had to make public before too much time had passed…

Thank you Facebook friends that immediately began to pray and spread the word about what was happening. So many of you shared and re-posted the prayer requests and updates so quickly that within an hour of hearing the news of Erin’s complications, I received notifications of hundreds of people praying. Those hundreds would literally turn into thousands over the next several days. People from all over this community, people from so many different phases of our lives, high school friends, college friends, bible study groups, churches all over the country (and some in other countries) that began to pray for our family. You pounded upon the doors of heaven for us and you changed things. Thank you!

Thank you to our family. To my parents, who were with me waiting, crying and praying during the surgery and rejoicing with me afterwards. To Erin’s parents, who left Georgia immediately, driving through the night, to show up at her bedside by 4am. Most of you probably don’t know that Erin’s father lost his wife when she was around Erin’s age, leaving him with four kids at home. The similarities were shocking and, I’m sure, quite terrifying for him. And in spite of all of that He remained the picture of strength and confidence, as a Father should when his daughter is scared. Also, Erin’s brothers and sisters came driving and flying in from as far as Virginia to stand with us through this. I watched as Erin and her siblings told stories and laughed and even cried together over those next two days. It was amazing. You changed things. Thank you!

Thank you to our church family. I have never known a community as caring and compassionate as The Church At South Lake. You exemplified the love of Christ to us in a more tangible way than I could have ever imagined. Within minutes – and I mean minutes! – of receiving the news that Erin was having major complications there were already people beginning to gather in the hospital waiting room praying for her. It blew me away. They stayed late into the night and fought with us through this entire ordeal. They visited and prayed and carried our burdens along side of us as the body of Christ is meant to do. We love you. You changed things. Thank you!

Thank you to my pastor, Brian Hammond, who showed up at the hospital almost immediately with his wife Tandy and waited with me to hear if Erin was going to live. He prayed with me. He cried with me. He stayed with me late into the night and even into the next morning. He even showed up again before he went into work the next day. He is a dear friend and a man who I hold in the highest regard. You’re presence changed things… I know it changed me. Thank you, Brian!

Thank you to the South Lake Hospital nursing staff who cared for us before the delivery, during the surgery and afterwards. You showed amazing compassion. You cared for our boys as if they were your own and it allowed me to be by my wife’s side as much as possible. You were flexible with us and apparently even broke a few rules and procedures for us. 😉 You changed things. Thank you!

Thank you to all of the Doctor’s at The Women’s Centre For Excellence. Each and every one of you played a significant role in these events:

Dr. Lewis and Dr. Lewis (I know right… how awesome that we had two Dr. Lewis’ delivering our twins… is that the right plural form – Lewis’, maybe Lewi…anyway), you pulled off an amazing delivery, even flipping the second baby in utero so we could avoid a C-section. Erin doesn’t remember so much about it, since she was freaking out about her epidural not working, but I remember everything. You were both amazing! You changed things. Thank you!

Dr. McLaughlin, you set our minds at ease and began the procedure to remove the balloon, which thankfully was the final procedure in this whole drama. You changed things. Thank you!

Dr. Texier, you rushed into the OR late into the evening, when you were not on call and didn’t have to, and you assisted in the emergency surgery that saved Erin’s life. You changed things. Thank you!

Dr. McLean… I can hardly find the words that communicate what to say here. You were the exact person that I would have chosen to be in that room. You delivered both of our first two children and you have been a part of our life for over six years. God designed you with an intellect and boldness that make you a great doctor and an amazing surgeon. I believe that it is in God’s hands to give and to take away life, but I also believe that God chose you to be the doctor in that room Wednesday night. You were the one who had to be there. The one who was talented enough to identify a potential disaster and take action, the one who was calm and collected enough, in the midst of all of that chaos and insanity, to remember an article you had read about a relatively new procedure, the one who was brave enough to try something you had never done before in order to save the life of a mother of four, the one who was passionate enough to stay up all night pouring over lab results to make sure you didn’t miss anything and that you knew what you were going to be up against in the morning. And I’ll never forget how you came to sit down with me and break the devastating news of Erin’s condition. You were a perfect balance of compassion, realism and confidence. I’ll never forget that night and I’ll never forget what you have done for our family. Thank you for all of the work that you have put in to be the doctor you are today. At no point in this entire ordeal did I ever feel like just another patient file. You changed things. Thank you!

Thank you, Erin, for being the most amazing woman I have ever known. You are more beautiful to me now than when we first met. The more we walk through life together, the more I fall in love with you. I can’t imagine how I would move forward without you by my side. I am a better man because of you. God has used you to shape me in more ways than I could ever recount. And, let’s be honest, our kids would be on the fast track to delinquency if I was a single dad. Thank you for fighting to live. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for all of the days we have spent together and for all of the many that still lie ahead. You changed things. Thank you!

And most of all I would like to thank my God who loved me enough to watch His own Son bleed and die on my behalf. He walked with me through fire that night. I felt His hand on me when I was certain I was alone. He shined light into the darkest period of my life. I can honestly say that, although I was scared and uncertain about what the future would look like, I was confident that He held me, and Erin, in His hands and that there was nothing that would come upon us that He would not sustain us through. He is my Rock, my Shield and my Defender. He is Faithful and True and He is, and always will be, the friend that sticks closer than a brother. You have most certainly changed things. Thank you, Father!

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Lunchroom Economics :: Thoughts on self-worth by association

Cafeteria Scene from the movie "Mean Girls"

I consider myself to be rather independent thinking. Not totally swept up in what’s popular. Not desperately looking for others approval. I consider myself to be beyond that. And I have proven myself wrong almost every day of my life…

I still have vivid memories of all the school cafeterias I ever ate in as a child, particularly middle and high school. It was kind of like the stock exchange of the self-worth economy. Social orders and classes being laid out along such clear and distinct lines. It always made the first day of school so stressful. Filled with questions like, “Do any of my cool friends have this lunch period or am I gonna have to sit with my awkward friends from band?” I can still remember where my group sat and where certain other groups sat. I remember times when I left one group to join another that was “higher” on the social ladder, even though I enjoyed the company of my other friends better. I remember doing and saying things that I knew were cruel or petty in order to maintain or advance my standing in the social stratosphere. I remember hurting others. I remember being hurt.

I don’t think we realized what we were doing back then. We were trading self-worth like currency. We were social capitalists. We held in our hands the hearts and souls of real people and we elevated and crushed them in whatever ways we needed to, just to move up one more rung on the ladder. Every single one of us terrified of being rejected and alone.

Like I said earlier, I consider myself to be beyond that stuff now. I think all adults feel that way, mostly because we’ve found more subtle and respectable ways to do the exact same thing. We still distance ourselves from some people and pursue others. We still move in and out of social circles, leaving hurt feelings and good friendships behind. We still act differently around “cool” people because, for some reason, we really, really want them to like us. We still do all of the same exchanges that we did in the lunchroom. The major difference is that we don’t have to sit in the same room and risk crossing glances with those we’ve hurt.

And while we’re busy buying and selling self-worth and consuming our thoughts with how to advance our own social standing, we forget that God came to earth and pulled up a chair at the reject table.

In the first century world, who you chose to share meals with was a direct indicator of your social standing and even your spiritual devotion. And Jesus regularly sat down at the table with prostitutes, tax-collectors (who at the time were just government-sanctioned extortionists) and the lowest of the low. And what goes even farther than that is that they liked him. He didn’t relate to them in some condescending, self-righteous way that showed that he was so awesome that he would even share a meal with wretched human beings like them. He generally valued them…their company…their presence. And by doing so he flipped the entire social order upside down.

And no matter how far I “consider” myself to have come, I still find myself light years from having that kind of heart. From feeling so secure that I don’t have to gain self-worth by comparison to, or association with, others. From being able to value other people because they are made in the image of God and not because of what they can do for me. I still have so much selfishness and pride in me. It can be really discouraging to realize that you still have so far to go. Sometimes I begin to feel completely defeated by all the junk that still resides in the depth of my heart, but then… Jesus pulls up a chair and eats with me too.

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Losing My Grip :: Thoughts on the Illusion of Control

For the past week or so, I’ve begun each day with an acute awareness that this could be the last morning I wake up before the twins are born. This could be the last cup of coffee I drink before I hold my two newborn sons in my arms. This could be the last full night of sleep…well, for a long, long, long time.

There is something very unsettling about not knowing the timing of such a massive life change. It makes it impossibly hard to plan things at work because I don’t know if I will actually be around when this stuff happens. I have a whole list of things that I need to get done around the house but don’t really know when, or if, I will ever be able to do them. I find myself getting really frustrated by the whole thing. I can feel all kinds of anxiety building up in me, but, if I’m honest, I don’t think it’s all about the task stuff I want to get done. I think it has more to do with how this whole situation is making me brutally aware that I’m not ultimately in the driver’s seat of my life.

The truth is, I spend just about every waking moment of my life pretending that I am in control. That what happens next is up to me. That where I end up tomorrow or ten years from now is a direct result of the choices I make between now and then.

I’m not alone in this. Our culture breeds this type of independence. We are motivated by it, we’re even comforted by it. And really, the only thing that’s wrong with it is that it is absolutely and entirely untrue.

I actually have very little control over the path that lies before me. Sure, I can do certain things that better prepare me for certain possibilities in the future, like going to college, learning an instrument, saving money, etc… And those are all good things to do, but none of them have the power to determine my future. Every one of us is just one phone call or diagnosis away from a completely different life. In fact, the things that likely impact us the most; i.e., birth, death, sickness and the relationships that we have, are also the most unpredictable variables in our lives. With all of our planning, we still have, quite-honestly, know idea what tomorrow will bring.

As I’ve recently discovered, in spite of all the modern methods of birth control, I still don’t have ultimate control over the number of kids that I’m going to have. And with all of the parenting techniques available in the bookstore and on the internet, I still can’t control the type of personality those kids will have, the decisions they will make when I’m not standing over their shoulder or the path their life will take them on in the future. And with all of the medical advancements we have seen, we still have very little control over some very life-threatening illnesses. And then you have other people’s behavior, that you clearly can’t control, which could at any moment drop all sorts of chaos on your 5-year goals. It’s enough to drive you over the edge if you think about all of the things that are far, far, far outside of our control. So we usually cope by ignoring those things and focusing all of our attention on all of the small things in our lives that we can control. All the while, hoping we don’t get side-wiped by something that flushes our plans down the toilet.

Don’t take this the wrong way. This isn’t a cop out. I think that we are all called to take responsibility and to be cultivators of our families, the world around us and in particular the kingdom of God, and this requires wise planning and strategy. There is nothing wrong with all of that. I guess I’m just being reminded that I run too easily to my own plans for comfort. Somehow believing that my ability to be joyful and content is directly related to my ability to control my circumstances. You would think I would be past this by now. That, with all of the things I say and write about trusting in God and his goodness alone, I would actually be able to do so without second-guessing Him. But, even though God has proven himself to be faithful and trustworthy, time and time again, I still find myself retreating to self-sufficiency and maintaining a death grip on the illusion of control.

What’s been helping me to loosen my grip lately has been the simple practice of reflecting. Just thinking back on the many things in my life that shaped me in major ways that were not ultimately my choice. With my limited scope and chronically selfish decision-making, I never would have chosen all of the twists and turns that my path has taken over the years and never would have ended up where I am today. I would have missed out on countless joys. And countless sorrows as well, to be sure. Sorrows that ultimately proved to be catalysts for growth and development, and even, in some cases, my protection.

If I was ultimately in control of my life I don’t know where I would be, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be here…where I sit today…surrounded by a loving community of friends…with two kids and an amazing wife…imminently expecting the birth of twin boys.

Thank God I’m not in control.

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Juxtaposition :: Thoughts on using hymns in modern worship…

Contrast is very trendy right now. Particularly the contrast between the very old and the very new. I’m sure you’ve seen those design magazines that have a picture of an old, rustic, paint-chipped door behind a brand new, super-sleek, modern chair. Or a 1920’s typewriter sitting on top of table from Ikea. There is something about this contrast that’s appealing to us. At first I thought it might be the irony that made it attractive but now I’m starting to think it’s more significant than that.

You can see this same type of contrast in churches these days. And I’m not talking about 50-year-old pastors in skinny jeans, although you can see that too…unfortunately. I’m more referring to the resurgence of old hymns being sung in non-traditional and predominantly younger churches. Some are even embracing traditional liturgical worship practices (albeit these typically look significantly different from their liturgical predecessors). As a worship leader in my own church, I love to incorporate hymns and readings into our worship and it’s not simply because it’s becoming trendy to do so. We’re not trying to play some awkward middle ground between the people who like old music and those who like new music. We sing both old and new songs in our worship gatherings because it’s immensely helpful to our proper understanding of worship, of God Himself and of His church.

Church music has always been divisive, simply because music itself is divisive. People generally settle into a style that they enjoy and they don’t particularly feel a need to expand their taste to include a wider variety. And church is basically the only setting where people from various generations and music tastes are forced to come together and enter into one unified musical experience…enter division. Often this has resulted in a terrible compromise with music styles (traditional or contemporary) that no one likes and we all simply endure because it’s supposed to be good for us…like brussel sprouts.

There are many churches now, as there always have been, that believe you should only sing songs that are old. They are very resistant to new songs and as if God had stopped inspiring people to write new songs long ago. By doing this they send a subtle, yet dangerous message that God used to be very active and awe-inspiring, but now He is nowhere to be found. On the flip side of this argument are churches who only use new music and have thrown out several centuries worth of great songs like a 500-year-old baby with the bath water. They are sending an equally damaging message that God is fresh and new and we are the first ones that have ever experienced him. Which makes Christianity seem shaky and experimental. Both positions are historically and practically naïve.

Most people use the word “hymn” to speak of pretty much any song that was published into a songbook prior to 1960.  And most misunderstand hymns to be one genre of music, believing that all hymns were written in one style and it’s the only style that had ever been used in church until the 60’s and 70’s came and the hippies jacked it up. This simply isn’t true. The typical hymnal contains songs written anywhere from the 13th century (i.e. “All Creatures Of Our God & King”) through to the 1950’s (some even go more modern that) and covers a massive array of musical styles, most of which were progressive in their own time. Some were even quite controversial because they were so different from the established norm. Many hymn writers pushed musical and even lyrical boundaries well beyond what most people in the church were comfortable with.

Take the Doxology for example. This song was actually the last stanza of a hymn called “Awake My Soul, and With The Sun” written by Thomas Ken in 1674. At the time, most churches believed that it was blasphemous to sing any songs in worship that were not directly from the scripture itself, primarily the Psalms. Ken wrote this hymn and many others to be used privately by the boys he instructed at Winchester College in their dorm rooms…alone. How ironic that the most popular song for corporate worship, probably in the entire history of the church, was so controversial it was never meant to be sung in public.

Isaac Watts, who wrote his first book of “Hymns and Spiritual Songs” when he was about 20, was viewed as a religious non-conformist because of the ways in which his theology was a little out of step with the Church of England at the time. Watt’s introduced “original songs of the Christian experience” into Protestant worship. That is, poetic lyrics that are based on the Bible and Christian experience but not direct quotations. Watts published some 750 hymns, many of which are still in use today. He was an innovator and a reformer in his time.

Charles Wesley, brother to John Wesley, is said to have written around 7,500 hymns, many of which were never published. After his conversion in 1738, he was barred from preaching in London churches because his style made church officials uncomfortable. He and his brother John became itinerant preachers and began a controversial movement that became known as Methodism. The movement was passionately evangelical, bringing preaching and hymn singing outside of the church to the people who weren’t going inside.  Charles wrote songs in the language of the people of his day so that they could understand, using musical styles that were familiar to them.

These are just a few stories to make the point that many of the writers of these songs were progressive, and even controversial, in their time. They wrote differently, in both style and in lyric from what was the previously accepted norm. The truth is, most of us grew up hearing all of these songs performed by an out-of-tune upright piano, an awkwardly small choir and a passionate, yet not-so-competent music leader. And because they all sounded the same, we thought that they were the same. It’s like looking at a book of old photographs and assuming that everyone back then must have been two-dimensional and small because that’s the way they look in the pictures.

Those songbooks are musical history books. They represent generation upon generation of saints over the centuries, expressing their worship through songs that were, in some way, indicative of the culture of their time.

And this is not limited to musical style. The lyrical content was influenced by culture as well. Some songs were written in response to doctrinal controversy that existed at that time, as a way of reinforcing, or challenging accepted doctrines of the church. There are times where the culture leaned towards deep intellect and the songs followed suit. There are others where they sought a more emotional experience and the songs likewise moved towards the language of intimacy and closeness. These songs serve as windows into our past.

Music has always been a culturally influenced vehicle. That is not new. Cultural relevance was not invented by Willow Creek, Saddleback, or (insert name of contemporary, mega-church that blew up in the 80’s). Culture is something that always influences us, in positive and in negative ways. For a long time, the  “modern” worship movement (which seemed to be convinced that they were the first generation to discover true worship) was marked by extreme passion, yet most of the songs were rather nominal in their substance. Which is a reflection of the shallow, yet emotionally over-driven nature of our culture.

We all tend to feel like we’ve arrived at some type of complete understanding of what church worship should be. But in reality, we are all simply living out a small section on the vast timeline of church history. We have a certain limited perspective that will shape our methods, practices and even our songs.

This is why I feel it is so important that we bring the ancient into our modern worship gatherings. It gives us a bigger perspective than that of our own culture. It reminds us that we are only a part of a rich and long heritage. It allows those from outside of our culture and time to be our instructors, so we don’t fall into the arrogance of believing we are the first generation of believers to “get it.”

We are not the first to tread this ground and we will not be the last. These songs are breadcrumbs left by those who have gone before. Men and women who reached the end of their lives still convinced of these truths and confident of their hope in Christ, many who passed on from this life with these very songs on their lips.

There is something overwhelmingly comforting about that to me. I think that’s why we like to see the old and the new together. There is something grounding about the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. It reminds me that the kingdom of God is bigger than me and my tiny, little speck on the timeline of history. I need to be reminded of that sometimes.

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Blurry

A few months ago we received a note home from Gavin’s school that they had done an eye exam with all of the students and suggesting that we follow-up up with an eye doctor. Neither Erin or I have ever needed glasses or had any real problems with vision, and honestly the thought had never crossed our minds that our kids would be any different. Gavin didn’t complain about not being able to see clearly or given us any reason to be suspicious, so we figured that maybe he was goofing around during the exam or something. Erin scheduled the appointment and took him to a Pediatric Opthamologist to get checked out. They covered his left eye and asked him to read the letters on the chart. He couldn’t. Not even close. Erin actually thought he was joking or something, but when they covered the other eye he read almost the entire chart without hesitation.

He was diagnosed with a condition known as Ambliopia, which is apparently not an eye problem. It’s actually more of a brain development issue that can be corrected quite a bit through wearing glasses and sporting an eye patch for a couple hours a day.

We were a little worried at first about how Gavin would react to the glasses and the eye patch thing. But honestly he hasn’t minded so much. After he put on his glasses for the first time I asked him if things looked any different. He smiled and said… “Yeah. You look older.”

What really blew my mind about this whole thing was that Gavin didn’t realize there was a problem. He didn’t realize that what he was seeing was blurry. He had always seen things that way and had no reference point to tell him that it wasn’t normal.

I can relate. And so can you.

There is so much that we feel like we understand and see clearly but our perspective is always distorted. Our life experiences, our relationships, the culture around us, books we read, shows we watch, etc…. all have a role in shaping how we view things. And if you believe the Bible, which I do, then it tells us that ever since the Fall we have been tainted by sin, which, among other things, causes us to always see things through very selfish & paranoid lenses. Obsessing over the question, “How does this affect me?” We feel that we must think self-centeredly because we are convinced no one else is thinking of us.

It would seem that none of us have ever seen clearly. I mean, in a truly objective way. Well, maybe one of us. But He was God.

That’s one of the things that most impresses me about Jesus when I read the stories about him in the Gospels. He seemed to have a view that pierced through all of the cultural baggage of his day and saw straight through to the reality of things. His teachings are simultaneously simple and profound. Able to be explained to a child and yet still in many ways beyond the intellectual reach of the greatest scholars. There’s a confidence in Jesus’ words. A certainty of the things of which He spoke.

I guess we will never know that level of complete clarity in our own experience on this side of eternity. Although you would think that from the way we talk about each other. We all seem to have crystal clear vision with what is wrong with other people. We wonder “How can they not see this?” Yet, we remain mostly ignorant of the distortions in our own vision. Our own blindspots. The plank in our own eye, as Jesus put it.

This becomes especially evident during election season.

It’s humbling to admit that your sight is blurry. That what you see is not exactly the way things are. It’s humbling but it’s necessary. If you don’t, you end up being everybody’s judge (in your own eyes anyway). Even presiding over God Himself. Deciding what you will or won’t accept is true about Him, even from His own book.

It’s been a few months now and Gavin has gotten used to seeing things through his glasses. When he doesn’t have them on he can tell that things aren’t quite right with the way he sees. I feel the same way after reading about Jesus.

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To Blog Or Not To Blog…

Last week was my first blog post since early November.  Some of you have noticed and asked me about it… thanks Mom. Anyway, I wish I had some great explanation for why I stopped writing. Something like… confused Panthers mistook my computer for a small woodland creature and ripped it to shreds… or a band of OCCUPY protestors destroyed my laptop because they saw it as a symbol of the systemic greed and corruption of major industrial corporations… or maybe my computer just crashed (no… it’s an Apple, no one will ever believe that… I should probably just go with the Panthers). Anyway, instead of coming up with some clever excuse, I’ll just tell you the truth. There’s no good reason at all.

I began this blog last October with the goal of writing one post each week for an entire year. I accomplished that. HOORAY!!! And then I pretty much stopped writing. I guess that’s the problem with setting goals that have finish lines. Whether you fail or succeed, they don’t necessarily change you. Without some sort of new goal you just end up back where you started.  It’s the same way that diets and exercise plans don’t make you a healthy person. They’re just tools that you can use to live a healthier lifestyle that only work as long as you continue them.

No matter how often you do something or how much easier it has become since you first started, the actual day-to-day (or in my case week-to week) continuation will always take discipline. You can’t short-cut it. There’s no detour around it. It is the only way forward. Things that are worth doing never become automatic. Unfortunately, that only seems to happen with annoying things like biting your finger nails.

I never decided to stop writing, it just always seemed to be pushed aside by some more pressing task or responsibility. And without the pressure of the once-a-week goal in my mind I just never got around to it. Every week it just seemed that there was something else that needed my time and attention.

Well, I’ve realized something… There is ALWAYS going to be something else that needs my time and attention. And that’s true for you too. I have never met anyone, ever, who believed that they had too much time on their hands. Everyone feels like they need more time and less responsibilities. Even people that do nothing for hours feel like they just don’t have enough time to get all of their nothing done. We all feel like we are stretched to our limits. But the truth is, you make time for things that are most important to you and if you exercise a little discipline you’ll probably find that you do have the time, you just didn’t realize it.

So, the question really isn’t – Do I have time to continue this blog? Because that’s really up to me. I guess the real question I need to answer is… Is it worth it to continue this blog?

Trying to answer this question has brought me back to the old-school practice of making a simple Pros/Cons list:

Pros:

  • It has helped me to learn to think more creatively.
  • It has helped me to view life differently, more observantly (is that a word).
  • It has helped me become a better storyteller and, I think, a better communicator.
  • It helped me to become more open.
  • And probably most importantly, others have told me about how it has helped them in thinking through their own faith and life.

Cons:

  • Hard to schedule the time
  • Often last minute… I’d end up trying to force creativity and writing just to put something up there. I hate those posts.
  • My own tendency to determine my self-worth by whether or not a lot of people read the last post I put up (has less to do with the blog and more to do with my idolatry of approval)

[I could list more pros and cons, but this is kindof last minute and I just need to put something up there. So… 🙂 ]

By the end of the process I decided that I should keep the blog alive, which was probably already evident by the sheer fact that you are reading this on there right now. But I’m still trying to decide how I will continue it.

Should I set another short-term goal – once-a-week for the year?

Or should I set a different goal?

Should I have more strategy in how I approach it?

Should it be more focused around a particular subject?

Should I use it to market products like smoothies and toaster ovens in hopes of getting kick-back benefits like coupons or discounts?

Hmmm…. All things to consider.

Blog readers – If you have any opinions or advice, please share.

Fellow bloggers  –  What’s your process? How and when do you write? I would love to hear about it.

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