Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wisdom of Children

I learn a lot from my kids. Sam is three, so his influence is primarily that of reminding me about how blissful it is to know that you are valued, loved, and provided for. I often forget that I am a child of the most capable Father. Well, it's not that I forget it. Maybe it's more that I do not act like I am. Of course, Sam has little conscious thought about being provided for. He simply is. Yet the providence and freedom give him the luxury of bliss. How do I respond to the luxury and freedom of forgiveness, grace, and providence? Quite differently than Sam does, I can tell you that.

Then there is Zoe, our resident theologian at five. Night time is often the time of discovery and revelation. Of course part of that is because she is stalling going to bed and daddy is a sucker for conversations about God. Earlier this week she was wrestling with the concept of the divinity of Christ and the mystery of the virgin birth. "Daddy, is Jesus...Jesus is God, right?" Hmm...how to make this make sense for her. No clue. "Yes, Zoe. He is." "Oh-ho! Wow! But, but how can God be born on Christmas?" Cue Jeopardy theme in Zach's head. "Well, Zoe, that's one you'll probably be trying to figure out for a long time." Ugh! Horrible answer. Keep trying. "See, Zoe, God was always with us, but He wanted us to know it. So, he decided to become a person." Hmm, did that connect? "If...if Jesus is God, He must have been there when everything was made." Take that, Arius! Even a 5 yr old who's never read the Gospel of John gets it. "He sure was, Zoe." Her response, "That's pretty cool."

On another night we were saying our prayers. We have a formula, being good Presbyterians and all... decently and in order you know. We say things we are thankful for, things we are sorry for, and folks we want God to please bless. The other night I confessed not doing something because I was afraid to do it. She placed her little hands gently on my cheeks and looked at me with loving eyes and said, "Daddy, don't be afraid. God is always with you. That's what you tell me" What a love! So good when the teaching comes back and holds me accountable.

Then there was today. We were getting some exercise, running around the neighborhood. We took water breaks here and there. Toward the end there was a slight drizzle of rain (it rained hard only hours before). At first she said, "Looks like God is canceling our walk!" God had 'kicked her out of the pool' with thunder the day before. Then she said,"Hey, maybe God heard us talking about water and said, 'You want some water to cool you off? I'll give you some water!" Then she decided we needed to skip. I maintain that many of the world's problems could be solved by a skip break. Anyway, as we skipped along she began to sing and proclaim loudly, "God is so wonderful! God is really great!" How I wanted to scream it with her! Yet I was silent for fear that neighbors might think I were a religious nut case. I'll have to work that out in fear and trembling before my God. But for now, I'm really proud of my five year old theologian. She is my hero, and a constant reminder of the goodness of God's grace, the wideness of God's mercy, and the reality of being held and called beloved by the One who is the very fabric of being.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heavy Cross

The iTunes single of the week is Heavy Cross by The Gossip, a "post punk indy" band going mainstream. The band's bio makes no mention of any Christian connection or intention, and you have to register to see commentaries or reviews of the music. The only actual reference to Christianity is the image of an ornate, upside down cross on the album art for the song. I'm not a fan of that. The cross is not something to take lightly or use sarcasticly. That being said, let me tell you what I do like about this band and this song from a first glance.

The first thing you will notice is that their lead singer is not a normal hottie with a body who wants you to want her. She is, shall we say, a plus size woman with tatoos and very little fear. The next thing I want you to notice is the meaning behind the words.

It's a cruel cruel world, to face on your own,
A heavy cross, to carry along,
The lights are on, but everyone's gone,
And it's cruel

It's a funny way, to make ends meet,
when the lights are out on every street,
It feels alright, but never complete,
without joy,

I checked you, if it's already been done, undo it,
It takes two, it's up to me and you, to prove it,

Life is tough. Sometimes we feel alone. Sometimes we get frustrated and wish everyone would leave us alone. Most of the time we feel like we can handle things ourselves, or at least that's the way we want to do things. You see it a lot of other songs out there. A google search for 'lyrics, my way' gives you songs from Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Limp Bizkit, and Usher, all with the same general idea. I am in it for me, because I am the only one I can trust. Isn't there something more to it than that, though? Aren't we crying out in a different way in every generation and saying the same thing... I matter! I need to know that I matter to someone, to something. I need to know there is a point to things when I have homework that I don't care about, when my parents sooooo don't understand, when summer days are getting too long and I'm so bored that I think I might just go break some stuff to have something to do (I onced chopped down a perfectly good tree for just that reason).

That's why I love this song! It says, "Hey the world is too much to bear on your own. Maybe you've made mistakes. Maybe things have been done to you. Undo it. I checked you. You are OK by me. We are in this together. It takes two, and that's me and you." You know who else says this? God. You know, the one created all that is. The one who not only designed your lungs but is offering you air to breath right now. Yeah, that guy. Jesus said, "Come to me all who work hard under heavy burdens. Because the work I give you is easy by comparison, and the weight is lite."

That doesn't mean that being a Christian is easy and that all we have to do is accept each other. It means that first we have to turn to God to be "undone". Jennifer Knapp has a great song about that called "Undo Me." She sings about the need for confession to God and to others as a first step in "undoing" things in our lives. The song Heavy Cross takes it from there, though. If we've really been honest with God... if we've really accepted God's love for us..... once we have come clean with the things that hold us back we can't help but see others in a new way. The new standard is not the waistline of the singer but the truth in her words. The need to be somebody is not based on telling other people what they or not or whose way things should go. Instead our sense of identity and meaning is directly connected lifting others up and helping them "undo" the things that only God can undo for them.

The cross is heavy if you try to carry it alone. But we are not alone, and the cross has been carried for us. Jesus did say that those who follow him need to pick up their own cross. But once you lay down all the other junk that we all carry though this life you'll find the cross to be a lot easier to carry. Especially since you never have to carry it alone.

Take care, have fun, and be the person your best friend thinks you are.

Peace,
Rev. Zach

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hair Gel

So I was getting ready for work this morning and I slapped some gel in my hair. Yes, I wear "product." In fact, a few of you have made fun of me for how much I wear when my hair gets a little longer than normal. Anyway, I have this funny brain that says that all of life is sacred. That's an idea that has been passed down for centuries from John Calvin. All of life? Everything? Mosquitoes? Sand gnats (not baseball)? Yes, everything. Here's how Ole Johny Boy put it:
God has destined all things for our good and salvation, but at the same time, to feel God's power and grace in ourselves and in the great benefits God has confered upon us, and so bestir ourselves to trust, invoke, praise, and love God
Say Wha? Scripture says it this way in Romans 8:28-
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
OK. Still trying to figure out how Sand gnats and poison ivy fit in? What about the big stuff like parents divorcing, a friend who decides not be a friend, or these wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Here's the deal. Everything is under God's care and direction, but God has chosen to let us have a say in things as well. Because we are limited by the things we can experience, our choices are going to reflect our needs and wants more than God's. So God has given us some things that are not in our control to remind us of our need for God. God also allows us to be effected by the choices we make, and the choices other people make. At the end of the day we are in a position of need, and only God can fill it. That's a good thing. That's THE good thing that everything is working toward.

So how does hair gel fit in to all of this? I have some thoughts on that, but I'd love to hear what you think. Is it a way to remember that God can help us stay in place or can put us in a place that is more orderly? Is it a statement of our individuality? Whatever it is, this question remains. How do you order your life? Do you do what ever feels right for the moment? Do you take time to think about who you are and where you are heading? Do you have a sense of meaning and purpose?

God can give you that. In fact only God can give you that, and I am praying for you that God will. Post a comment, email me, or send me a carrier pigeon if you want to talk about it.

God loves you, and so do I.

Peace,
Rev. Zach

Monday, July 06, 2009

Freedom

"For freedom, Christ has set us free." What the heck does that mean? For such a truth filled book, the Bible can sometimes read like Dr. Sues. Consider this one from Romans 7:15.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
It doesn't make sense to us. We are people who make their own decisions and live freely. We are are Americans. We are citizens of The World Super Power. We do not do the things we hate. We do the things we choose to do. Right?

Except...except when we don't. I don't mean that we are walking around like zombies doing things we don't want to do without knowing it. What I do mean to say is that we often get caught up in things we do not mean to. Who has not been to a web site that they were not supposed to? Who has not been in an argument with parents over cleaning their room or doing something they want instead of something they have been asked to do?

That's life. Life is full of choices. We make our choices and we deal with the outcomes for good or for bad. Then we make more choices. But here's the kicker. How much control do we really have? God has given us many gifts and made us only "a little less than angels" with dominion over the earth. The problem is that we tend to see the world from our own individual perspective, and instead of thinking about ruling the world as a thing God trusts all of us to do together we become like a million kings and queens fighting over territory. Even if the only territory we can rule is through our iphones and wiiis.

To understand Christian freedom we have to look at what follows both of the passages above. In Romans 7:20 Paul says, "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." Sin is like the virus in Resident Evil. It kills people and then re-animates their flesh. It makes them into zombies. That's what we are like when we think our decisions only effect ourselves.

In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." That is what it means to be free! We are set free from our own desires. We are set free from worrying about what others think when we take time to help someone who doesn't even seem to help themselves. We are set free from needing the coolest phone or the newest game system. There is nothing wrong with wanting these things, by the way. The problem is not the wanting but the way we let our wants influence our decisions.

Because of Jesus, we can be free to see past our own wants and into the needs of others. Not only that, but our biggest want becomes the needs of others! It's like this, if sin is the virus that keeps us stuck in behaviors that limit us, then faith in Christ is the anti virus that sets us free to choose another way. So do what you do today because God loves you, and because you want to share with others. If you can let that be the thing that motivates all of your decisions, you will truly be free!

Take care, have fun, and be the person your best friend thinks you are.

Rev Zach