Friday, June 29, 2007

Birthday Parties

Anna already knows what she wants her next birthday party to be like. After we left Madyson Mishler’s fourth birthday party Anna said, “I want my birthday party to be at Cedar Hill too. And I want mac & cheese and peas and corn and ice cream.” Anna absolutely loves parties. I think it’s because she loves to be happy. She loves to laugh and she loves to go crazy. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, duh. Who doesn’t love to be happy?” Well trust me, they’re out there. There are people who don’t want to be happy. And I bet they hate birthday parties.

I think birthday parties are cool because they are basically a celebration of existence. When you celebrate someone’s birthday, you’re not recognizing some grand accomplishment or congratulating them on a job well done, you’re just there to say, “Hey, you were born… you exist, and that makes me happy! In fact, it makes me want to celebrate! Not only that, but I’m so pumped about the fact that you exist, that I’m going to buy you some stuff! So let’s party!”

This week when I read Jesus’ story about the guy with two sons in Luke 15, it made me think about birthday parties. You see, when the younger son who had run away came back home, his Father threw him a party. It was a ‘You were dead but now you’re alive’ party. It was a ‘Yay! You exist’ party. It was kind of a re-birthday party. Jesus told this story to show us His heart for us… a heart that’s full of grace. He told it to show us that there is a life of joy available to all who come home to Him. There is a party where you’re the guest of honor and it’s not for anything you did… it’s just about Him loving you. For this son who had run away, it was all his friends and family gathering around to say, “You’re here, and that makes us happy!”

Well, not all his friends and family… Jesus said that his older brother wasn’t there. (This is the brother who had obediently stayed home with the Father the whole time) When he came near the house that night, he saw the catering truck and heard the band playing. He smelled steaks and heard laughter… it was a party! But did he go in? No. Jesus said he refused to go in. In fact, not only would he not go into the party, he made other people leave the good time they were having to talk to him outside. Why? Why was he so angry? Why wasn’t he happy? Why didn’t he join the party?

Well, he said that he wanted a party, but when it comes down to it, he didn’t really. This brother didn’t want a ‘Yay! You exist!’ party. He wanted a victory lap… a winner’s circle… an Olympic podium with him on the top wearing a laurel wreath and a gold medal. He said, “I’ve slaved for you all these years and you throw a party for him!? He spent your money on prostitutes! I never did that! I’ve been here with you, the slave driver… remember?”

“My son,’ the Father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” When I read those words it made me realize that the unhappiest times of my life have been the times when I thought I deserved something, earned something or accomplished something. How could I be ‘always with Him’ and yet be so angry and unhappy? When I have something to prove, I’ve got something to be sad about. But when I give all that up and just exist… when I give up trying to measure up and outdo and just believe that He loves me and is glad that I’m here, I start hearing the music and smelling the grill… when I say, “Okay, I give up trying to win…” He says, “Happy birthday! Let’s party!”

Friday, June 22, 2007

Anna... playing hard at the park
The Fence

When I was growing up, I never joined a gang, owned a gun, sold drugs or looted stores. I never really got in any fights and I never threw a party at my parent’s house when they were gone. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I was some sort of perfect little angel… I rebelled just like most teenagers do and I did it for the same reason that most teenagers do… I was trying to find out where my dad’s love stopped.

I don’t think that was my conscious thought when I was in the middle of my rebellion, but looking back, it is exactly what I was doing. My dad was a collegiate athlete who has been a coach now for thirty years. He is a jock. He is a neat freak and extremely responsible. When something has to be done within his area of responsibility, he does it five minutes ago. When I was in high school, Dad was a deacon in the church and sang in the choir. He only listened to the oldies station all day long. He has always been straight-laced and put together.

So… my rebellion? I got into rock music… heavy, fast, screeching rock music. I plastered the walls of my room with Nirvana posters (posters with Kurt Cobain wearing eye-liner). I blasted that music in the house all day long. I grew my hair out long and wore pants that were so baggy that I looked more like Bozo the clown than the skaters I hung out with. Then I asked for a bass guitar for Christmas… and I wasn’t going to be playing Motown on it. I got the bass and started a band that was so loud, unmusical and offensive it is a wonder we weren’t arrested. We practiced in my garage every week for hours on end. Now, this may not sound too drastic to you, but I knew how far I was pushing him. Why did I do it? Well, when it comes down to it, I really did love all that music and I wanted long hair because John Lennon looked so cool with it; but down deep I was running as hard and fast as I could to find the end of my dad’s love and acceptance.

I was looking for the fence… where would it end? When would he snap and reject me? You know, the answer to that question reminds me of the third story Jesus told in Luke 15 about lost things. He said that a man had two sons and that the younger one wanted to break away and live his life his own way. He took his inheritance prematurely (his dad was still alive) and ran off. He did whatever he wanted to do until the money ran out. He ended up sitting in a pig sty jealous of the pigs, starving to death. He remembered his dad and decided to go home thinking, “There’s no way I can ever be his son again, but maybe I could work for him and at least I would eat.” So he stood up and started to walk home. Jesus said, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

I never found the fence of Dad’s love and acceptance. My parents were at every show my band ever played… they even paid for our first few recordings! He never once told me to cut my hair, only to keep it out of my face. He paid for the ridiculous jeans and never once took down the posters he must have hated so much. Through all of it I never once went to bed without my dad kissing me and telling me he loved me. I may not sound like all that much of a delinquent to you, but I pushed him so hard and all I ever got was love and acceptance.

Before the son in Jesus’ story ever got close to home, he was bombarded with hugs and kisses. His dad screamed at the top of his lungs, “My son is home!” Then he threw him a party. That’s what the love of God is like for us… no matter how hard we’ve run or how far we’ve pushed Him, He never stops loving us. We’ll never find the fence.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Found It!

Last week Christy was in the kitchen when she heard Anna shout from the bathroom, “Mom, I’ve got your wedding rings!” She tore through the house towards Anna in a flash… she had taken her rings off to put some lotion on and Anna picked them up off of the sink. When she rounded the corner, she saw a tiny glint of metal fly toward her from Anna’s hand. It was the engagement ring. It hit Christy and fell to the ground. After picking it up, she looked at Anna and said, “Honey, where’s the other ring?” “I don’t know,” Anna replied, “I threw it.” “Where did you throw it?” “I don’t know.”

When Christy called me to tell me the news, I knew instantly that it was time to come home. We didn’t know where to look and we were about to be late for this thing, so I just grabbed the kids and got them out of the house so Christy could look for her wedding band in peace. When I first got home I had tried to comfort her by saying that the ring was just a ‘thing’ and that even if it was gone, it didn’t mean anything about our marriage or any of that stuff, but all my consolation was immaterial. Of course the loss of a ring wouldn’t nullify our marriage… that wasn’t the point! The ring meant something to her… it wasn’t foundational, it was sentimental. It was important to her heart.

The second story Jesus told in Luke 15 is about a woman who lost a coin. It was one of ten silver coins she had, but it wasn’t just money she had lost… scholars tell us that in their culture, these ten drachma coins together represented a woman’s dowry, or the gift of the bride’s family to the bridegroom. It was kind of like their wedding ring. Losing one of these ten coins wasn’t like losing ten bucks or even a hundred dollar bill, it was like losing the wedding band. It wasn’t about value, it was about sentiment… feelings. Jesus said, “Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?”

Christy found her wedding band in just a few minutes, but couches were moved, cushions were tossed and surfaces upturned until that magical moment of discovery. She would have torn the house apart to look for it because it meant so much to her. The engagement ring by itself was not enough. The two had to be together. That’s the way Jesus feels about people. He won’t rest until He has the hearts of everyone who will be His. We don’t always feel such urgency when it comes to reaching out… especially when it involves people we don’t like, people we don’t get and people who get on our nerves. Truth be told, we often think this whole family of God would be better if they weren’t in it, but He’s lighting lamps and sweeping corners in the middle of the night… not resting until He finds them.

Why? Because nine coins isn’t enough… all ten have to be there in order for it to be complete. And its not about the money… it’s not about what value we might represent to Him. It’s all about His heart for us and everyone else (even the folks that we don’t think belong). He just loves us. He loves us as well as the people we don’t love and His heart is not satisfied until we’re all found and together.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Norah looks like she wants something... she probably got it.

Aren’t You Like This?

Yesterday I read a story that I’ve read about a kabillion times, but it hit me in a new way. It was a story Jesus told about a guy who had a hundred sheep and lost one. Actually, it didn’t even really start out as a story… it started out as a question and then sort of morphed into a story later on.

Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Now, I’m not a shepherd, but as I read Jesus’ question, I found myself thinking, “Sure. If I had sheep and lost one, I think I’d leave the others and go after it.” Then Jesus started turning the question into a story as He said, “And when he finds it, he joyfully put it on his shoulders and goes home.” When I read that, I started to think, “Yeah… that’s me. I’d do that too…” But then I remembered Banjo and Samson.

My dad used to have this dog named Banjo and he brought him to our apartment once when he stayed with us and Banjo ran away. We chased that dog around a golf course for two hours until he finally let us catch him. When I picked him up, I didn’t “joyfully put him on my shoulders.” In fact, I was mad! I grabbed him, squeezed him and harshly told him, “Don’t you ever do that again.” The same thing happened with our dog Samson once. It didn’t take anywhere near two hours to get him back, but when I got him back, I went off on him for running away like he had any idea what I was talking about.

In Luke 15, tax collectors and “sinners” were gathering around to hear Jesus while the Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering about Him. It struck me that when it comes to the outrageous love of God, some people gather to it while others mutter about it. Jesus was saying to them, “If your love was put into this situation, wouldn’t you do this? Wouldn’t you drop everything and go after this one?” And I would answer, “Yeah, I think so.” Then Jesus raised the ante by saying, “And then, you’d joyfully put him on your shoulders, right? Aren’t you like that?” And I would have to honestly say, “No… I’m not.” But He didn’t stop there… He went on and took it to an extreme level by saying, “And then, you’d call all your friends and throw a party, right? Isn’t your love like this?” And I’d have to say, “No. It’s not. I think that is ridiculous.” When I found Samson that day, I didn’t fire up the grill, turn on the music and call all my friends. I yelled at a little dog and shamefully brought him back in the house… what a creep.

What started out as a question became a story because Jesus knew what our true answer would be. I think Jesus told this story to say, “I know you’re not like this, but I am. I know your love is not like this, but mine is. It’s outlandish, absurd and over the top. It risks, chases, sings and throws parties.” That’s the love of God and it may not be the love I have, but it’s the love I need.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Class of 2007!

We Really Live

Graduation is always a hard time for folks in youth ministry… it’s a hard time because the people that you have prayed for, poured into and focused so much of your time and heart on are moving on. At the same time, graduation can be a really cool time for us youth folks. Cool, because we’ve watched these little kids become men and women in the Lord and now we get to send them out into the rest of their lives to walk with Him without us. For me, this graduation year has been especially hard and especially cool. This year’s seniors are some of my dearest friends and some of the strongest and most devoted brothers and sisters in Christ I have. The Apostle Paul once wrote, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Paul wrote those words to the church in Thessalonica. He talked about how much he wanted to come see them but was prevented, so when he couldn’t stand it any longer, he sent Timothy to them to find out how they were… He said he was afraid that the Enemy would have gotten in there and messed everything up so that all of Paul’s work among them would have been for nothing, but then Timothy came back and gave this awesome report about their faith and love… It was all Paul needed. In the midst of his persecution, trials and struggles, finding out that those Thessalonians were still walking it was all the encouragement Paul needed. In fact, he said, “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.”

That’s the way I feel about the class of ’07. There have been so many times when the knocks and trials of ministry have just about flooded my heart so that I’m ready to give up when all of a sudden I hear about the faith and love of one my seniors and I am encouraged… Like the time some of them got their cars vandalized in the church parking lot during Bible study by their peers for being Christians… and they didn’t do anything about it… Like the way so many of them have walked in holiness with boyfriends and girlfriends all the way through high school… like the way they’ll do whatever it takes to come to Bible Study… even run for miles on foot when their cars are taken away… like the way so many of them get up every Sunday on their own to worship the Lord (from age 16) while their parents sleep the morning away.

These are just a few examples of the faith of my friends, but they are the things that keep me going. In between games of “Speed Uno” and “Silent Football;” while paper airplanes and bottle caps flew at my face and after far too many rounds of “Stay True,” these guys changed my life. Just like Paul, when I hear about them standing firm in the Lord, I really live.

Cluster Map