Friday, December 28, 2007
It's been several months since my last posting, so coming back feels a bit like returning to a familiar cabin or vacation getaway; everything stills feels homey, but I've got some cleaning to do!
So, while I shake the dust off the Convergence blog and ramp up for the new year, let me take this opportunity to invite you back for a visit at the first of January. I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about.
In Him We Live,
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Findlay saw one of the worst floods in it's history last week. I'm not sure that pictures can really describe the situation, but I've selected a few that will give you a small overview.
From Main St. (yup, the thing that's almost buried is a van) to Fort Findlay (a park just 4 blocks from our house), much of the town was under water. It really got me thinking, but I'll write more about that later.
These shots were sent to me by my friends Rusty and Lisa, and are credited to: Pat Gibson, Jim and Mike Gould, Drew Glaser and Bob Powell.
Talk to you soon,
Friday, August 17, 2007
I really don’t have to explain suffering, do I? As soon as I said that word you probably filled in the blanks with your own story of pain, custom fit just for your life. Pain doesn’t care how old we are, or how much money we make, or what kind of car we drive- it sinks its teeth into all of us.
It’s in the sound of the doctor’s voice, saying those words we never wanted to hear.
It’s watching as your Mom and Dad’s marriage falls apart.
It’s in the helplessness of seeing a child slipping away.
It’s hearing the words “I don’t love you anymore.”
These things stack up inside us, and they can make us skeptical to the 2000 year old words of Paul in Romans 8:18 when he says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
That’s a pretty big statement. If it wasn't in the Bible, it might sound like a bunch of hooey.
Actually, depending on what you're going through right now, it might sound like a bunch of hooey anyway.
At any rate, it makes me think about something that happened a while back.
I eat breakfast every Wednesday with a couple of guys. We usually talk about a book that we’re all reading, but a couple of weeks ago, we just talked about Rose. This wasn’t too hard- Mark had
3 entire albums full of their latest pictures of her.
The photos were from a trip that Mark and his wife Kim had recently taken to Haiti, to spend some more time with their little girl. They knew they wouldn’t be able to take Rose home- but that wasn’t really the point.
Mark and Kim love Rose. She isn’t some abstract concept, like “the orphans of Haiti,” or a name on a support card. She is their daughter. She just doesn’t live with them yet.
Adopting a child from Haiti is a long, expensive process and you have to jump through a lot of hoops. Every day that Mark and Kim spend without Rose is painful. But they continue to hope, and that hope is based in a quiet, confident expectation that it WILL happen. Nothing that Mark and Kim endure today will compare with the day when the adoption is complete and they get to take Rose home.
Do you think that God is any different? Is it any wonder that Paul can say that nothing we endure today is worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us? The hope that he is saying we can have is that same confident expectation that Mark and Kim have about Rose’s adoption. It will happen.
“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” -Romans 8:23-25
I think that dealing with suffering is infinitely harder when you question if you really matter, and if there’s anything to believe in; to hope for.
The Creator, God of the universe answers both of those questions. He tells us, “You can believe in Me. I didn’t have a beginning, I won’t have an end, and I don’t change. I will be solid for you to hang on to, and I will never leave you, or forsake you."
But He’s also saying, “I believe in you!” “You matter to Me, and I want you as my daughter; as my son.”
If we accept that adoption, then we HAVE to accept the truth that God wants us!
Nothing we endure today will compare with the day when our adoption is complete.
And that's not hooey.
In Him We Live,
p.s.- Thanks Mark, for letting me tell your amazing story.
Thanks for your patience- the big project is done for my MA. It wasn't exactly a thesis; perhaps we could refer to it as "son of thesis," or something like that. It was a lot of work, but I'm very glad to have done it. (I got an A-, by the way.) I'm also at the official "halfway" point as far as credits go toward the degree, which sort of feels like a bit of a milestone, too.
Anyway, a more lengthy entry is on the way soon, but before I posted that one, I just wanted to say a quick "howdy" to everybody and tell you again how grateful I am to be a part of this community. Talk to you soon!
In Him We Live,
Monday, June 18, 2007
Well, I am closing in on the final weeks of my first year of school. It still amazes me that God has provided a way (through this new concentrated program of study) for me to get half of the degree completed by mid-August of this year.
However, in an effort to squeeze one more thing in, I agreed to do my big master's project in one of these classes, and it is just a few weeks from its due date. It is definitely affecting the amount of writing I'd like to do here, so I'm going to spend the next couple of weeks finishing up this project and then get back to the blog.
Thanks again to everyone who has become a part of this online community. I'll "see" you again here in July!
In Him We Live,
Thursday, May 31, 2007
I hope you don't mind, but I've really got to get something out in the open, and this seems like just the place to do it. Okay, here it is:
I am still a huge fan of Rock and Pop music from the late 70's and early 80's .
Yup. I admit it. Van Halen, The Clash, Billy Squier, The Go Go's, Foreigner, Scorpions, Rush, The Police, Styx, old U2, and- even early Rick Springfield (oh, the humanity!). You name it, I probably like it. (And yes, I agree- that's most likely the first time Rush and The Go Go's were used in the same sentence.)
In 1980, the band Styx released "Paradise Theatre", arguably their last really great album. On it was a catchy little song called "Too Much Time on My Hands". (Come on children of the 80's, do you remember?) It was sort of a tongue-in-cheek song about the ups and downs of having no real purpose. Behind the synthesizer-bass, Tommy Shaw sang about a guy who's outlook changes from depression to optimism- all because he found a place where people would listen to him.
I would have to agree that our perspective on life can change just because we have a place to go where we feel like we fit and people know us (cue the music from "Cheers"). But by the end of the song, the guy admits that the people around him are there primarily because he's buying them drinks. Sooner or later he knows he'll be right back where he started (The last line in the final verse is, "Is it any wonder I'm null and void?") Still, while everybody is with him, he feels like he belongs. And even if he has to buy it and it's temporary, he wants that feeling.
What we're talking about here is community, and when it is built (intentionally or instinctively) on love, acceptance and grace, it is a very beautiful thing. I'm not sure there is really any way to accurately quantify the effects of true community. And when that atmosphere of grace, love and acceptance is Christ-centered (the original and purest example) and the group is open, there are no limits to what God can do in someone's life, or how the community can grow. Of course, this kind of openness and acceptance takes some effort. Sometimes people really don't know how to go about it. And sometimes people just don't want to work that hard. But we all still want that feeling of belonging.
Because of this, people will sometimes attempt to build a form of community around other things. There are several examples, but for the sake of space here, I'd like to mention just one: The common enemy. This can effectively bring a group of people together, even when they can't seem to agree on or be organized around anything else. Don't believe me? Just read our history. After enduring a decade of the Great Depression, a common enemy unified and organized a large enough majority of the U.S. population in World War II that a byproduct was the healing of our nation's economy. If that's too far back to seem relevant to you, just think about how many flags you saw flying and how many people you saw hugging each other during the weeks that followed the attack on the World Trade Center.
This is not a commentary on any particular war, or even on war in general. This moment in history however, does illustrate a point I want to make. Today as I drove my kids to school, I didn't see as many flags out front as I did a couple of years ago, and I didn't notice many people spontaneously hugging each other. Do people not care any more? Of course they do. But national pride must be rooted in the nation, not in an act of terrorism. My point is simply this: A "common enemy" is only a temporary reminder of the value of our community; it is not a sustainable purpose for it.
Here's the problem as I see it: A group that finds community in a common enemy will be united only as long as they have an enemy. It's conditional community. And this is true for ANY community- a country, an activist group, a union, a fraternity, a church.
There are certainly times when we are called to make a stand as believers. But if you find yourself in such a situation, I would like to suggest that you ask yourself a simple question: "Does this group find its purpose in what it is for, or what it is against?" If the answer is "against", please be careful in how you proceed (no matter how positive the "against" is painted). When you decide to join a group that has defined itself by standing against an enemy, you may discover that you need to find new enemies in order to continue to have purpose. Eventually, finding new enemies may quietly become the purpose
"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. " -2Timothy 2:23
I can remember a week of church camp that illustrates this point perfectly.
I was working as a lifeguard and groundskeeper (for those of you who know me, try not to fixate on the lifeguard part- I don't want you to pass out from laughter). The camp dean had decided that he didn't want to overwork his volunteers, so he gave each adult only one job to do. This worked out to about an hour and a half to two hours each day for most of his staff. For most, the remaining hours were spent under the large picnic shelter, drinking tea and talking. For the first day or so the adults seemed glad to have the time off. But by Wednesday, they began to "notice" things.
It began when one of the ladies was certain that she had discovered fleas in the playground sand and called the group together to discuss whether this might pose a potential health risk to the campers. A closer inspection by the camp staff revealed the bugs to be gnats, which are annoying, but harmless. This however, prompted some of the adults to question whether the camp staff (a common enemy) might be telling the truth about the bugs. By the time the insects were confirmed to be gnats, we had a full-scale problem on our hands.
On my way into the shop while cutting the grass one afternoon, I crossed paths with one of the guys. He was carrying a power drill and a long extension chord and headed for the girls dorm (no, it wasn't a horror movie). He informed me that the "group" had discovered that the ceramic soap dishes mounted to each shower stall did not drain properly, and the standing water might pose any number of threats to the campers. He was going over to drill holes in each of the soap dishes. I have to confess- I think I just stared at him for a minute, in stunned disbelief. Then, as seriously as I could muster, I asked him if he had considered what might happen if he drilled a hole through the finish on each soap dish, allowing the water to soak into the ceramic on the inside. "Instead of drilling out each soap dish and causing them to disintegrate," I asked, "perhaps we could just send someone through to wipe them dry each day?" I got to take the drill back to the shop.
But as I was coming out, another small group of men emerged from the trail leading to the creek, carrying the chainsaw. "We went down to clear a couple of trees that were an eyesore across the creek, but we dropped the (running) chainsaw in, so we weren't able to finish the job." I quietly accepted the dead chainsaw and walked back to the shop, humming an old 80's rock song by the group Styx (Cue synthesizer bass) -perhaps you know the one I'm thinking of...
In Him We Live,
p.s. - To not include a section of scripture that I think perfectly outlines what real community looks like would be sort of ironic, considering what I just wrote about. But it also just seemed better to let it have a separate space- like a mini "part 2" of what is above. It doesn't need any explanation, so I will let it speak for itself:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." -Acts 2:42-47
Friday, May 18, 2007
It's been this way for almost a decade now. Both of my girls love to draw and paint pictures, and they're great artists. I know what you're thinking: "Okay Dad, everybody thinks their child is a great artist." It's true, parents tend to be a little subjective in this area. But seriously, these two really aren't bad. I look forward to what they will bring home from art class or up from the basement playroom where we keep the file cabinet full of crayons, markers and water colors.
I especially love the stuff they make just for me. I have cards, notes and lots of pictures on everything from construction paper to Popsicle sticks to rocks, and quite a few randomly-shaped pieces of paper retrieved lovingly for them from the discard pile at the office by a certain wonderful church secretary. Sometimes I'll open a book that I haven't looked through for awhile and find one of those small pieces of paper marking a place with a picture of a stick version of me smiling and holding hands with a smiling little stick person. I love those because I know they were drawn to send me a message, and I like what it says.
Actually, some of those simple pictures mean much more to me than the increasingly difficult projects they do at school. Don't get me wrong- those projects are beautiful and I am both proud of their achievement and impressed with their developing talent. But when that talent is mixed with their heart- even if it's just a couple of stick people smiling and holding hands- then, I am captivated.
I have heard more than one person say, "I don't know what to say when I pray," or "I'm sure God has better things to do than listen to me." As far as I'm concerned, statements like these just don't make sense when I think about those pictures. Complex prayers are fine, but they aren't necessary to capture God's attention any more than the complex art projects are for my daughters to capture mine. And you may think God has better things to do than listen to you, but then again, you're not God, are you?
"In him (Christ) and through faith in him (Christ again) we may approach God with freedom and confidence." -Ephesians 3:12 (New International Version)
Did you catch that? If you have faith in Jesus, you can come into the very presence of God and be confident that He is glad you are there. (For more on this, see Ephesians 1:5-6)
In a way, our prayers are like those pictures. If our hearts are attached to them, it doesn't matter whether it is a complex "project" designed to go into great detail or a simple message, like a couple of stick figures. Especially if that message is saying "I Love You."
In Him We Live,
Friday, May 4, 2007
One of the first classes I took last fall was called "Research and Writing for Graduate Studies." It is an online class that is required for all students, but doesn't result in any actual credit toward graduation.
It's a class about how to write papers, use the library, and do research.
Yes, it was every bit as fun as it sounds. (I didn't think you could find a hundred different test questions to ask about using the library, but sure enough...)
One of our more practical assignments was to share two or three web sites that we consider valuable for ministry. After a number of people had posted http://www.biblegateway.com/ as a favorite, I knew I wanted to check it out. It is a great web site that allows you to access several different translations of the Bible anywhere you can log onto the web. I'm finding it very helpful while I'm writing papers, lessons, and this blog. It's actually been so helpful that I wanted to see if there were other study helps out there. One of the sites I found is http://www.htmlbible.com/, which provides several really cool resources, like a translation of the Bible in English sitting side-by-side or "parallel" with a translation in ancient Greek. There's also a dictionary for the ancient Greek words so you can look up what they literally mean and see how the English translation compares.
The only drawback for me is that the only English translation provided on that site is the King James Version.
For as long as I've been regularly reading the Bible, I've been using a newer translation, like the NIV or the New Living Translation. I've just always felt that the modern language used in the contemporary versions make them more culturally relevant today. Because of this, I haven't used that site too much.
Or, maybe it's just because I'm stubborn.
At any rate, during my last course something happened that gave me a new appreciation for the old language.
We were talking about redemption and the professor was using Exodus chapter 13:12-13 as an example from the Old Testament:
12 you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord's. (which means they must be sacrificed.) 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. (This is from the ESV, which is what I think he was using.)
This practice was to be a reminder of the final plague while they were in slavery, of the passover, and ultimately of God's deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt and Pharaoh.
The lesson was interesting enough, but as he read, I remembered hearing Rich Mullins talk about this same verse; about how one of his professors had made a point of using the King James Version when he taught about it, and how funny it was. Later, I got online and confirmed my suspicions. Here's how it reads:
12That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD's.
13And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.
Hmmm... An ass is redeemed by a lamb. I'm starting to think that those King James translators might be more relevant than I originally suspected...
It seems like there's an application to be made somewhere.
Perhaps I'm just too stubborn to see it.
In Him We Live,
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Every once in awhile, somebody will ask me, "So, what are you studying at school right now?" This is a dangerous question to ask me, because I am really enjoying graduate school. As a matter of fact, I just finished a paper in a class called "The Doctrine of Grace" in which I was asked to write about some of the insights I gained while taking the course. Among the things that really impacted me was a point the professor made about God's nature throughout time and how His grace relates to that.
This week I thought I'd share the last part of that paper, in an effort to let you see a bit of what I'm studying right now, and let you take a look at this idea about grace. I realize there's a chance that you may finish reading this and think to yourself, "I guess you had to be there." But, I've never let that stop me before, so here we go!
(Don't worry, it's not a tough read- I'm just not that academic!)
Another area in which I have gained a greater understanding is the matter of certain aspects of God’s nature, such as His love and grace, appearing to be in conflict with other aspects,
such as His holiness and justice. It is not unusual to hear people speak of God in the Old Testament as being “judgmental” and characterized by His holiness, or even His wrath. By contrast, God’s nature in the New Testament is most often characterized in His love and grace.
It can be pointed out easily enough that frankly, this is a gross over-generalization. The antagonist however, will sometimes escalate the point by insinuating that this is inconsistent and may go so far as to say that they could not possibly be the same God. Thus, both must be nothing more than the invention of humanity, adapted through time to better fit Man’s image and his desires.
It is of course, true that humans have often misrepresented God and deliberately misinterpreted His Word in an effort to justify their beliefs and actions. It is a much more serious accusation however, to postulate that primary characteristics of God are in conflict when one compares His behavior in the Old Testament (or covenant) with that of the New Testament (or covenant). If this thesis were true, and carried out to its logical end, it would bring only grim options for the Christian. Either one of these conflicting accounts of God is a lie, or God Himself is a fabrication.
Although I think that I have in the past rendered adequate, and theologically accurate responses to these questions, I have never personally been satisfied with any answer I have given on this subject. It is absolutely reasonable to me that characteristics like holiness and love could both exist in God’s nature. But explaining this in any succinct fashion has always proven to be difficult.
Here again, I think I have found some clarity. The illustration in class that compared a stretched rubber band with these opposing characteristics really helped me visualize the concept. This idea clearly demonstrates how traits like justice and holiness can co-exist with mercy and love, exerting equal tension in the nature of God, who is the embodiment of perfection.
If they exert equal tension, it is reasonable that His holiness would always respond to sin with wrath, while His love would always respond with grace. It is also reasonable to assume then, that He has responded in both of these ways throughout all of time. So there would be evidence of both grace and wrath in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament, regardless of any covenant status.
God’s mercy and love are expressed in the New Testament in memorable passages such as 1 John 4:7-8 which states, “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” We also see it in John 3:16 when Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is important to note that this scripture clearly indicates that God extended love and mercy before the New Covenant was established, since these words were spoken by Christ before His death and resurrection.
It is also critical to see areas in the New Testament where God’s holiness and wrath were shown. The death of Ananias and his wife Sapphira as recorded in Acts 5:1-10 is a vivid example. But the greatest proof that God’s holy nature is constantly in tension with His love is found in the cross. Nothing in all of creation was worthy enough to provide the sacrifice needed to pay for Mankind’s sins that stood as an affront to God’s holiness. Justice was required, and Jesus provided the perfect propitiatory sacrifice.
As we move to the Old Testament, providing evidence of God’s holiness, judgment, and wrath is largely unnecessary, as these elements of his nature are often emphasized (and overemphasized) here. Perhaps people are so transfixed by these stories of judgment because they are literally some of the most spectacular and dramatic displays in the Bible: a raging flood; fire from heaven; a river turning to blood; swarms of insects; the death of every first-born male.
But there is more than wrath and judgment in the Old Testament; there is justification and love. The section of class and in the commentary that covered Romans chapter four was a significant part of this course for me, as it pointed to this fact. Paul states plainly In Romans 4:2 that “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God.” He is explaining that Abraham was not justified by his works, but instead “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” as Genesis 15:6 tells us. This is evidence that Abraham was, in fact, justified by his faith. And this evidence leads to an even more crucial observation. If Abraham was justified by his faith, it means that God’s grace was in place even in the Old Testament.
The proposition that “everyone who has ever been saved has been saved by grace” was perhaps the greatest insight I gained in this course. God’s nature has never changed, and from the fall of Man, His method for saving us has been the same.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and
this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by
works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which
God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
Thanks for reading!
In Him We Live,
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
It's Spring break time here. I for one greatly appreciate the fact that our school system schedules the time off late enough that northern Ohio actually begins to show signs of the new season. The weather is getting warmer, flowers are beginning to come up, lawns are turning green and the sun is actually shining again! Today we had temperatures in the low 70's and my daughters spent most of the day on a picnic with their Grandma. Their timing was perfect, because not long after they got back home, it started to rain.
I had spent part of the afternoon holed up in our basement family room reading a book for one of my classes, so I was surprised at how quickly it had gotten cloudy. But I guess I didn't have any reason to be shocked; weather is pretty unpredictable this time of the year. It really isn't unusual to have sunshine and blue skies turn into clouds and rain.
Maybe that's why the darkness that is described at the time of Jesus' death sometimes seems to get overlooked or trivialized in our minds- as if it was just God's version of "dramatic lighting." Now don't misunderstand me; I know the darkness is just a part of the overall story of Christ's death. But it's a part that has significance.
All the gospel writers that talk about it say that the darkness "came over the whole land." We're not talking about a gloomy day or isolated cloud cover; they are literally saying that it got dark everywhere. As if it were night.
At about noon.
And it stayed that dark for three hours.
When God alters something about creation itself to make a point, it's more than a detail.
Don't believe me? Talk to Noah.
It's pretty interesting to note other places in Scripture that talk about the sun giving way to sudden darkness are usually referring to a time of God's judgement (Joel 2:10, 30-31 or Amos 8:9). Jesus is carrying the weight of every sin that has already been committed and every one that ever will be in the future. The penalty He is choosing to pay will cost nothing less than His perfect life as a sacrifice. When you stop and think about it, it makes sense. God chose to darken the sun to parallel the immense darkness that was being heaped on His Son.
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -2Cor. 5:21
Take a moment and imagine that scene. The wind is blowing on the hilltop. The crowd is shouting insults at Jesus. The soldiers are gambling for His clothes. The religious leaders are smug as they talk to the crowd and each other.
It's amazing to me, but none of the authors record any sudden reactions from the crowd. It's as if they simply refuse to recognize it. What do you think was happening? Were they standing around uneasily, trying to pass this amazing event off as a change in the weather? How could they not realize that this darkness was a result of their actions; their sin; their darkness?
I suppose it's what keeps you and I from realizing the same thing, or at least from remembering it.
I am not suggesting that you should live in guilt, as if God hasn't forgiven you- if you are in Christ, your debt is paid. Period. But it is easy to begin to take something valuable for granted if we forget how much it cost.
This week as you celebrate Christ's resurrection, remember the darkness and the cost- and let that remind you of your rescue, and of grace!
In Him We Live,
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I do remember that it happened while our group was watching a cartoon filmstrip about life in a far-away country that a missionary worked in. (Ah, the filmstrip- complete with that little "ding" to let you know it was time to change the picture... sorry, back to the story.) I remember this part because the boy in the filmstrip had to get away from a huge snake just to get to school. Or to the village. Hmmm... I'm not sure where he was going, but there was a huge snake, and that got my attention. But after the great snake escape, I confess that I kind of lost interest.
You see, I was a bit distracted. I had been keeping my eye on someone else that night. Okay, actually all week. She was positioned just a few rows in front of where my friend Kevin and I sat. At this point I should probably mention that she was our group's teacher, and taunting her was the only mission I was really interested in. I was looking for the right moment and knew this was it. So, I leaned over to my friend and said what I had been thinking for the past ten minutes. My words barely had time to escape my lips when Kevin let out a laugh that pretty much eclipsed the sound of the actual presentation, which by this time had gotten very serious, even without the snake.
The filmstrip stopped. The lights came on. "Is there something you boys would like to share with everyone?" I considered my options. Kevin was still laughing and I have always liked making people laugh. Add to this that at one point (believe it or not) I had a tiny problem with authority, and you have a dangerous combination. Reason told me that I should stay quiet, but Kevin was literally shaking next to me. I tried to hold the laughter in and my mouth shut, but made one of those "raspberry" sounds as the air burst through my pursed lips. That was, as you might expect, the wrong thing to have done. She walked in a startlingly deliberate line toward the two of us and "guided" us out into the hallway.
Although our disruptions had so far been smaller, we had already been given multiple warnings during the evening. And the week. I began to get nervous. I could tell that we had finally crossed a line. What would happen if she decided to bring in Kevin's dad, who was working in another part of the building? Even worse, what if they contacted my dad and he had to drive across town to come pick up his delinquent son? Now I was beyond nervous.
As she spoke to us her words were stern, but never cutting. She didn't hesitate to discipline us, and yet I never doubted the tenderness behind her serious tone. Despite my lack of respect and manners, I could tell that somehow, she genuinely cared about me.
When the discipline was over, we returned to class. And from that day forward, I changed my behavior and learned to do the right thing...
And then the sky turned purple and pigs started to fly.
I'd like to tell you that my behavior changed more than temporarily. And I'd like to tell you that the temporary change was motivated by more than fear of punishment. I'd like to, but I can't- because there are too many other stories that happened just like this one. Most of the time I did far more to deserve justice than love. I will never forget the joke that I made that evening at her expense and her response, because it perfectly represents the kind of revolutionary love that can only come from Jesus.
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -Romans 5:6-8
To be sure, this verse explains that there is nothing we could ever do to on our own to earn (or keep) salvation. If our only hope for salvation is to obey a law system, we are as good as lost, since no one can obey law perfectly. In other words, without His grace, we are powerless.
But another keyword to notice in this verse is "ungodly". Since we were powerless, God had to make the first move. A commentary I am reading right now about the book of Romans describes "ungodly" as being in "opposition to God and his law". When God demonstrated the extent of His love for us, we were in a state that was the opposite of Him! In other words, we weren't very lovable, and Jesus died for us anyway.
Certainly no one can show love to the extent that God has shown it to us through Christ. But we should listen carefully to John's words when he says, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love each other" (1 John 4:11). Despite the risks and difficulty, we must show love to others even when that love is not returned. This is tough to think about, but if we say we love God, we can't just love people who are "safe" or "easy".
Is there someone in your life (or maybe a whole group) that you just don't think you can love? Ask God to allow you to see them the same way that He does, and then to respond based on what He shows you.
I know that's not very comfortable. At least it doesn't involve escaping a big snake or watching a filmstrip.
In Him We Live (and Love),
p.s.- Thank you again Mrs. C. for loving this trouble maker. That love continues to amaze me.
Friday, March 16, 2007
I've also been asked if there is a way to send an automatic notification when this blog gets updated. That might be possible, but I'm still not sure exactly how. If you are savvy with that type of thing and know of a way, I'd appreciate a few pointers. Talk to you soon!
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Earlier this week, my oldest daughter was memorizing part of the United States Declaration of Independence. When she came to me to practice, she had memorized the following lines: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Since I am currently writing about the topic "Revolution", I thought I should file this away- you just never know when part of the Declaration of Independence will come in handy.
Around mid-week, I travelled to Ashland, Ohio to attend a funeral. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, some funerals are just extraordinary events, where God somehow allows both great sorrow and great joy to exist side by side. This was certainly one of those times.
Throughout the whole service, people read letters about her, thanking her for her faith, but one in particular summed it up. I can't hope to remember it verbatim, but here is the basic message: "You lived a life of faith, and that faith was passed to your son. He lives a life of faith and passed it on to your grandson. Your grandson lives a life of faith, and passed it on to me. And so because of you, I know Christ." Wow. What a legacy. It was even more amazing when I stopped and thought about how many of her children and grandchildren had chosen this life of faith.
Finally, just as I was beginning to compose this entry, I found, quite by accident, another blog called "Convergence". It's just the word- no extra numbers or anything- just "Convergence".
I found it interesting for two reasons. First, it is also written by a guy named Jeff. (Maybe that's just interesting to me...) Second, and perhaps the reason the first one captured my attention, is that this guy's blog is almost an exact opposite of the one you are currently reading. It's entirely black, and I'm not just talking about the layout color. It was heartbreaking to read; his posts begin as the entries of a "typical" 20-something guy entrenched in college life- and become increasingly more hopeless as time goes on. For instance, one of his latest entries is simply this sentence: "i lie everyday." Another says, "i wish someone would read my blog an maybe feel the same way as me. then i wouldn't feel alone." He said he's fighting anxiety and that "life kinda sux when i feel this way."
And then it happened. The different events began to bump up against each other in my head. Little by little all of those individual fragments started to mix, and before long they were swirling together and forming a kind of mosaic. From my vantage point, here's how all the dots connected to form that picture.
Christianity is perhaps the most revolutionary idea/movement/life choice/commitment in the history of History. I mean, no other world religion wraps its whole central moment around the necessity of the perfect Creator dying (freely, out of love no less) for all the wrongdoings of those whom He created. This same God, who rises from the dead, now offers the opportunity for those He created to be adopted as sons and daughters, simply as a gift- you can not earn it. Jesus himself makes this clear when He says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10)." Later in that same chapter He says "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:27,28)."
So, here it is: God is offering everyone the chance to be a part of the ultimate revolution. His gift is eternal life. So far, this is great. As a matter of fact, it sounds kind of American- a revolution that bring freedom and life (I knew the Declaration of Independence would come in handy). Now all we need are our other rights, like liberty and the pursuit of happin...
Maybe this isn't exactly like our Declaration of Independence after all. Come to think of it, it's really more a declaration of dependence. Since we didn't (and can't) earn salvation, it's not exactly a right, is it? It's more like an incredible privilege. So, our most reasonable response to God seems to be a life of service, lived out of gratitude. The church then, is a group of people whose lives have been impacted by the revolution and who are together, growing in Christ and serving out of gratitude, right?
Well, not exactly. In fact George Barna, a believer whose research group holds vast statistical data on the church says that one of his greatest frustrations "has been the disconnection between what our research consistently shows about churched Christians and what the Bible calls us to be. Granted, we are sinful creatures and will never achieve perfection on this planet; only when we are reunited with God in heaven will we experience a fully restored state. However, if the local church is comprised of people who have been transformed by the grace of God through their redemption in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, then their lives should be noticeably and compellingly different from the norm." He goes on to give four pages of stats that demonstrate that largely, we aren't different at all.
"Revolution" can also be defined as "One complete orbit or cycle." In other words, it's going in circles. If you have made the choice to follow Christ, you are a part of the revolution. The world is filled with people like our friend Jeff from the other Convergence blog. They are all around us; in the next cubicle; across the street; maybe even down the hall in their bedroom listening to music. You can take a chance and live a life that serves God with gratitude and leaves a legacy of faith, or you can be comfy and go in circles.
So, how will your life define that word?
In Him We Live,
Thursday, March 1, 2007
I wanted to post a quick note just to let you know that a "real" entry is coming soon, but is still a couple of days away.
Our family had a visitor from Houston on Tuesday evening and I was with him at a funeral in another part of Ohio on Wednesday. Perhaps I'll share more on that later. For now I'll just say that some funerals are truly special events, when God somehow allows the paradox of great sorrow and overwhelming joy to exist side by side. This was one of those events, and I feel grateful to have been there.
I returned from the funeral early Wednesday evening and polished off a paper I have been writing for my current class. As a result, I haven't found a big enough block of time just to sit down and write out what is on my heart this week. No excuses, though- just catching you up on my week. I am heading to Cincinnati right now and will be home again around 1:00 Friday morning. After a little sleep, I'll get to work on the new entry.
I truly hope that you have experienced God in a real way this week- I know that honest community with Him is something He very much desires from us. Since we are created in His image, it explains why we too have a deep inner need to be in community with each other. With that in mind, if you have a story you'd like to share, or just want to catch us up on what is going on in your world, please feel free to post a comment. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the comments so far, and look forward to seeing this community develop even more. I'll talk to you soon!
In Him We Live,
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Our popular culture is fond of this word. It is often used to make something sound edgy and appealing. With this in mind, it's almost ironic when you stop and think about how well the definition fits what following Christ is all about.
If that's the case though, why does it sometimes seem that being a Christian is anything but revolutionary? I don't want to speak for you, but my history shows that I will at times settle for something that I know deep down inside just doesn't measure up to the revolutionary life that God has for us. I only realize that I'm settling when I actually have an experience that shakes me out of my comfy place.
Here's an example of what I mean.
This past Friday night, the girls and I got dressed up and headed to their school for the annual Father/Daughter dance. It's a great time, complete with cookies, punch, a complimentary photo to commemorate the evening and of course, music and dancing. Well, sort of dancing. I mean, imagine the scene with a bunch of K- 5th grade girls revved up on cookies and punch running around while a school sound system plays favorites like "YMCA" and the Hokey-Pokey. The average dad alternates between dancing awkwardly with his daughter and standing by himself and watching while his daughter (or daughters) leaves him to dance with her friends. I understood my role perfectly, so I took turns dancing and standing, dancing and standing.
It was during one of my turns to stand that I noticed my friend Bud (also taking a turn standing) on the other side of the gym. He was there with his granddaughter, who is in the first grade. As I made my way over to chat with him, I saw her run up and grab his shirt, yell something with a big smile on her face, and then disappear again into the crowd. Bud and I stood there for awhile and caught up on life in general, while we waited for one of the girls to approach and signal that they were again ready to dance with us.
It was great to see him and chat, but the really amazing thing is that he had a reason to be there at all. I remember the Tuesday night when he called me at a worship team practice and asked if we could pray. When Bud's granddaughter was born, she was so premature that she weighed less than a pound and a half. Her prospects were dim, at best. As I shared the news, the priority of the team was clear. We knew that we were together that night to pray for her; the rehearsal was simply the occasion that had gathered us for our real purpose.
By the time the youth minister and I got to the hospital in Toledo, the family had been told that she had experienced some complications that would greatly hinder her sight, hearing and capacity to learn. I could tell the seriousness of the situation by the way the hospital staff treated us. As soon as we mentioned that we were ministers, they practically led us by the hand to where she was.
As I entered the intensive care unit, I was beyond words. Here was a tiny baby, barely the size of my hand, attached to enough equipment to fill a garage. Places like that seem devoid of hope. But the reality is, hope is found in someone much bigger than the machines that were monitoring her little life. We spent most of the night alternating between praying and waiting with them. I'm not always the most discerning person, but this was another night when I understood my role perfectly. So I took turns praying and waiting, praying and waiting.
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." -1 John 5:14
You may feel trapped by your circumstances; ready to give up and accept what seems to be inevitable because there is nowhere to turn. But the truth is, God hears us. That's not just blind hope. It is truth. I am not going to pretend that we will always understand His timing or decisions- that really isn't my point. What I know is that we never utter a word to Him that falls on a deaf ear. God hears us.
Don't miss this, because it's part of the revolution. Take a chance and embrace the "drastic and far-reaching change in behavior" that comes from really believing that the God of the universe honestly listens to you- and desires to hear from you! It may radically affect how you look at your circumstances, how you communicate with your Creator- maybe even how you look at your whole relationship with Him. God does hear us. And, He responds- sometimes in ways that are far beyond amazing.
During that whole first year, as we prayed and waited, God heard and responded. Although her road hasn't always been smooth, Bud's granddaughter has absolutely defied many of the doctors' predictions about her.
Well, he has a date for next year's dance.
In Him We Live,
Friday, February 16, 2007
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I smiled as she shared the news with me. I mean, you almost have to smile at that kind of excitement. But as an adult (who has grown up with it), snow is not all that amazing. Actually, it can really be a drag. I will admit, the first snow of the year is still great. Everything changes and you are happy that the barren landscape has a new look. It's really a treat if it happens in the evening and you can watch it fall outside, while you enjoy the fireplace inside! But soon it's not new anymore. Then the snow represents driveways that will need to be shoveled and cars that will need their windows scraped and interesting commutes to work with lots of people that have seemingly forgotten how to drive overnight. Actually, I think there's more to it than that. As an adult it's not the snow that gets to you; it's what the snow represents- Winter.
Instead of snow men, you anticipate the sting of the icy wind on your face and the relentless gray sky that seems to want to invade the core of who you are. It's not even always about the time of the year. Winter is more than a landscape, or a weather pattern. It is a season of the soul. A time when, regardless of the temperature, you feel a chill deep within yourself. Like a tree that has lost all the grandeur of its leaves, you begin to feel barren and exposed. People who trust Christ are no more immune than anyone else, (although we sometimes have a harder time admitting it).
Tough times can bring the cold.
Sometimes it comes quickly with a call or a message.
"You've missed three payments in a row and we must advise you that..."
"Please see me in my office at the end to the day."
"I just don't love you anymore."
Sometimes it's a hundred things that would seem small if they were by themselves. But stacked together, they carry the weight of a truck. Regardless of the circumstances, Winter has come and you must endure it.
Without a doubt, Winter is hard and I would never pretend that it isn't. Now please hang in there, because what I'm about to say may at first appear to be either cliche' or overly simplistic. When I really stop and think about these darker, lonely seasons though, and what is required to emerge on the other side, I have to go back to my daughter and her comments about the snow. I suppose the real insight comes less from her comments and more from what fuels them in the first place.
Matthew 18: 1-4 says, "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'"
The verses before and after this story are teachings about walking in faith and avoiding sin, and the child is an example of innocence and purity. As adults, I think we typically view children from the perspective of what we can teach them, and typically this is correct. But in this case, Jesus told his disciples to look at a child as the example. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the one who seeks to live a life of faith and humility and sets an example of innocence and purity.
I can learn a lot from my daughter's perspective on the snow. What I have "grown" to see as an obstacle, she sees as an opportunity. One of the most important elements of riding out a Winter of the soul is faith. Not the "adult" version of faith that has learned to spout holy-sounding phrases on cue and then proceed to rely on itself anyway. I'm talking about the cold-braving, snowman-making faith of a child that could honestly say "I don't understand this, but maybe with Your help we can make something." The kind of faith that would even admit "I don't like this, but I trust that You wont let me get so cold that I won't ever thaw out again."
If you're still exploring who God is and Winter is blowing, I hope you will dig deep into this. If you'll take a chance and read the stories about Jesus in any of the gospel books in the New Testament like Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, I think you'll see that Jesus shows Himself to be someone that you can trust; someone who can restore the innocence and purity of a child in you.
If you already know Him and you're feeling barren, remember His promise to never leave you or forsake you, because He means it. Don't be afraid to tell him how you really feel- He can take it. Ask Him to renew that child-like faith in you again- trust me, He can do it.
And then decide which mug you are going to drink your hot chocolate from.
In Him We Live,
Monday, February 5, 2007
Regardless of my... well... less-than-fan status for Chicago as a team however, I've got to say that watching Lovie Smith sincerely congratulate Tony Dungy after the game was an awesome thing to see.
Without a doubt these men will be remembered as the first two African-American coaches to lead their teams to a Super Bowl. But I think their faith is far more memorable. They set a great example of camaraderie among believers and each modeled what a life yielded to Christ can look like. Both Smith and Dungy allowed others to see the influence of Christ in their leadership styles, while demonstrating that this influence isn't a hindrance to building a strong team. Through it all they showed a genuine appreciation for each other that never seemed at all forced. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that much of this happened on live television in a situation that would make it tough for anyone to hide their true nature. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, "Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is..."
If you read my first entry, you might be wondering at this point if I've forgotten my promise to share my second reason for choosing to call this blog "Convergence." Believe it or not, it's all connected- at least it is in my head.
The second definition listed above for the word simply says, "a meeting place." You may have noticed that the link to this site is "convergence244." Numbers are often included in links like this one simply because the word has already been used by someone, and the numbers allow an original address. I imagine "convergence" is probably being used somewhere else, but I actually included the numbers to remind myself (and whoever else might be interested) of a characteristic of the early church that is described in Acts 2:44. This is what it says: "All the believers were together and had everything in common."
Take a moment and picture that. This was the beginning of the Church, and one of their main focuses was true community. Just two verses later, in Acts 2:46-47 Luke writes, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." The Greek word for "church" is ecclesia, or "assembly". It is the very nature of the Church to be a community; a gathering.
The early Church met in a variety of places, from the temple courts to each other's homes. The place was not important in itself; it only provided the people with a common destination and an opportunity to gather as they lived out the characteristics that defined them as Jesus' disciples and as a community. Today just as it was then, the locations where the Church meets are nothing more than points of convergence, or meeting places.
Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith did a great job of demonstrating this idea. They faced each other in an intense competition and were able to use that unlikely meeting place as an opportunity to be the Church. As they met at the games end, their embrace showed respect, admiration, and a true sense of community.
This blog is just an opportunity; a meeting place. It is incidental. But perhaps, what happens here will be a tool for encouragement, or challenge, or conviction. And if you choose to join me on this adventure, perhaps together we will find a true sense of community here, as a part of Christ's Church.
In Him We Live,
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
When I was growing up, I loved to go on bike rides. I think it was a basic hunger for adventure that motivated me more than anything else. At the age of twelve, there was nothing that compared to the feeling of riding just a little further than I'd been before and finding something new; a little bit of woods that I'd never explored; a bridge that crossed into a neighborhood where I hadn't ridden; a trail that I hadn't taken- yet.
I could never have described it then, but as I look back on all the incredible adventures, I think those feelings were stirred because I was at a point of convergence (see above definition). For a moment, there was more in front of me than new woods, or a new bridge, or even a new neighborhood. For just a moment, everything I knew was colliding with all that was unknown to me. I wanted to see more of this place and know more about it, but what I didn't know made me hesitate. As these two realities met, they generated those feelings that exist together in the paradox of choice that walks us all through life.
Can you feel it? Adventure and Excitement long to move ahead, but Fear is pleading with them to reconsider. Safety is tugging at the sleeve of Risk, reminding it of all the unseen dangers that may be waiting just out of sight. Doubt whispers in one ear, "You probably can't" and "It's probably not worth it," while Hope whispers in the other "What if you can" and "What if it is?
As we grow up, these "convergence" moments continue to happen, but begin to carry greater weight. Worthwhile journeys and epic adventures are rarely easy and often include some real pain. If we look at our lives as journeys, I think it's reasonable to expect that challenge (and yes, pain too) will be a part of what we experience. Not because of fate, or destiny, or random cosmic chance, but rather because God created us and understands what needs to happen in each of us to help our lives become the epic adventures that He envisions.
James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be complete, not lacking anything." (NIV) Because He loves us beyond what we can imagine, He won't give up on us. It's just not in His nature. "...if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV)
I don't know about you, but there are quite a few things coming together in my life right now that are either reminding me of God's faithfulness or testing my faith to develop perseverance. "Convergence" is a word that perfectly describes where I am finding myself these days, and serves to remind me that the collisions in our lives are often the very tools that God is using to develop in us the potential that He sees.
In Him We Live,
p.s. - Yup, I know I only gave one reason. Stop by next week for the other one!