Friday, October 26, 2007

Crying Over Vegetables

This past week I was watching a children’s movie with my kids and started blubbing all over myself. That is a really embarrassing thing to admit, especially since my two daughters were not crying, but there you go… I cried during an animated movie, and to be more specific, it was the new Veggie Tales movie, The Wizard of Ha’s. I didn’t mean to start crying all over the place, but that Jr. Asparagus crawled right down inside my heart and broke it in two. I felt the breakdown coming, and part of me wanted to switch the TV over to Sports Center real quick so I could hold it together, but another part of me wanted to hang in there and have a really good cry…

You see, the new Veggie Tales movie is a re-telling of Jesus’ parable in Luke 15 about a dad who had two sons and how one of them ran away, hating his dad and the life he had at home. The son went out looking for life on his terms and wound up wasting everything and ending up empty and alone. He wanted to go home again, but knew that after all he had done, he could never be considered a son. Finally, he decided to go home to his father and apply for a job. Jesus said that, “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.”

In the Veggie version, Darby McGill is a young asparagus who lives with his dad on their dental floss farm. All he wants to do in the world is go to this new amusement park called “The Land of Ha’s” which is marketed as the funnest place on earth. He wants to ride roller coasters and eat cotton candy, but more than anything he wants to play on one of those blow-up bouncing castles where you jump around and knock your heads together… His dad tells him they can’t afford it because they have the floss harvest coming up and they don’t have the money, so Darby gets mad and sings a song about how he just wants to get away from the lousy farm and go somewhere where he has no boss and can do whatever he wants to do.

Well, a tornado sweeps Darby and his pet pig ‘Tutu’ off to “Munchie Land” where he has to follow Yellow McToad to the Wizard of Ha’s. Along the way he meets some very predictable friends and they make it to the amusement park where they have a blast and spend all of Darby’s money. When everything is gone, Darby winds up in a dungeon-like garbage dump wishing he could go home. That’s when he remembers his dad’s farm hands and decides to go back and ask his dad for a job.

While he was on his way home, he was practicing his speech: “Dad… no, Mr. McGill… no, Farmer McGill…” And his dad saw him, ran to meet him and swept him up in this huge hug saying, “My son, my son!” (That’s the part where my tears started busting out!) His dad said, “Get some cake! Get some ice cream! Get one of those bouncing castles! My son is home!” …Oh man, I was a mess and my two daughters were looking at me like I was some kind of alien life-form. Norah traced the tears going down my face and then slammed me with the biggest two-year-old hug you’ve ever seen.

Yesterday, Anna wanted to watch the movie again and as we started it she looked at me and said, “Dad, are you going to cry again?” And I said, “Yeah, probably.” Anna said, “You like that hugging part don’t you Dad?” And I got to tell her why I loved that hugging part so much… why I cried about a cartoon… because that story is my story. It’s that old, same story about people who want to do whatever they want to do and a Father who always takes them back… it was the Gospel told to me by vegetables and it was Good News indeed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Anna all dressed up for the Young Life hoe down!

Happy Re-birthday!

Yesterday I was hanging out with my boy Devon at the coffee shop when I got a text message on my phone from a friend which said, “Do you know what today is?” I read the message and thought to myself, “October 18… Thursday… hmm.” I texted back, “No.” A minute later my phone buzzed again and his message read, “Three years ago today I accepted Christ.”

Three years ago one of my best friends in the whole world got married. He was one of my first friends in Oak Ridge when I moved here in third grade and we have been really close ever since. As far back as I can remember, we’ve never had so much as a cross word, let alone a fight, but when I told him that I wouldn’t be able to be in his wedding or even go to it because I was going to be spending that weekend at a Young Life camp, we didn’t talk for six months. It was a really hard time for me because I obviously wanted to be there for him on his big day, but I felt called to Young Life and I was committed to going to camp with my guys.

The only thing that could have made me feel worse was the fact that Windy Gap was a total bust. Our kids were crazy the whole weekend and it didn’t feel as if I had gotten anywhere spiritually with the guys in my cabin. I came home down in the dumps because not only had I missed the wedding and possibly lost my friend, but it felt like it was all for nothing. I was hanging out on Monday sulking when I got a phone call from this kid… He said, “I need to talk. Can you meet me somewhere?”

We met up and he told me about how all of his friend’s lives were changing and how they loved God and loved to read His word, but he just didn’t get it. He told me that he wanted to understand that passion his friends had… he had even tried to read the Bible and pray, but he just didn’t feel anything. I asked him, “Is it possible that you’ve just never really trusted in Christ for yourself? Maybe you don’t feel anything because you’ve never really believed in Him.” He looked at me and said, “What do I do?”

What followed next was without question the coolest thing that I get to do in my work with high school kids. We spent the next forty-five minutes talking about what people were supposed to be, what has happened to us and what God has done about it in the person of Jesus. We talked about his life and his questions and then we came to it… the moment where he looked at me and said, “I want that. I want to pray right now.”

In Young Life, they have a thing called the “Say So” at camp where everyone who has given their lives to Christ stands up on the last day in front of everyone at camp and “says so.” It comes from Psalm 107 which says, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…” I think text messages count too.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Crystal Springs Reservoir (right outside of San Francisco)

Crystal Springs

Last weekend, we traveled to California to visit some of Christy’s family and celebrate her grandfather’s 80th birthday. It was a wonderful trip and such a great chance to be together with so many loving family members that we don’t get to see very often. For me it was really exciting, because I had never been to California and we were flying in to San Francisco… My mind was buzzing with expectation, excitement and tons of pre-conceived notions about what California would be like. I figured we would hop off the plane right onto the Golden Gate Bridge, drive around on really steep streets through thick crowds of famous and fashionable people talking on iPhones to Steve Jobs and the Google guys while stylishly wolfing down Rice-a-Roni and chasing it with all sorts of exotic kinds of coffee.

That’s not exactly what my first impression of California was like. I thought it would be all glitz, money, art and style I wasn’t cool enough to understand, but what I saw was something totally different. I piled our kids into a rental car with Christy’s papa and we rode down Interstate 280 toward Los Altos where they live, and as we left San Francisco behind, I saw a beautiful landscape totally untouched by human hands. 300 yards off the interstate there was a lake sitting still, clean and peaceful under the outrageously blue California sky. Bordering this tranquil water on the other side were rolling, forested hills as old and wild as the foothills of the Smokey’s I was used to back home. It looked like a scene out of the movie Open Range. As we drove past, the water and the hills stood there (they were definitely standing) quiet and strong. The scene was so unscathed by human influence that I thought Lewis and Clark would have seen the very same scene had they stood where I was.

Papa informed me that I was looking at something called the Crystal Springs Reservoir. He told me that San Francisco never gets the water it needs from rain, so they pipe in water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosimite and dam it up in a rift valley caused by the San Andreas fault. He told me that while there are walking trails around the reservoir, there is no development allowed, no dumping, no fishing, no camping and basically no human intervention of any kind allowed in the entire valley. This ensures a fresh and clean water source for San Francisco and its neighbors, but its effects don’t stop there. As a result of this area’s extremely strict protection, many important endangered species are surviving, not to mention the fact that the whole place is excessively and breathtakingly beautiful. That reservoir changed my whole perception of California!

As I looked out over the clean and protected water, certain verses started jumping into the forefront of my mind… verses like Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Tom says that it could be translated “for from it come the issues of life.” In other words, protect it, set it apart, and take care of your heart because the stuff that matters for life is in there… I also thought of James 1:27 which says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I also thought about Psalm 92:12-14 which says, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…”

I looked at the still water and rolling hills and thought, “I want to guard and protect my heart! I want to keep myself unstained by this world! I want to stay planted in the house of God!” I know I can’t really do all that on my own… I need Jesus to keep me clean and protected, and I know that trusting in Him, that’s what I’ll be… and then not only will I have what I need on the inside when the drought comes, but I’ll have that extra something that Crystal Springs had… an arresting beauty of life that changes perceptions… Crystal Springs changed the way I think about California… maybe, trusting in Jesus more, I can change the way people think about Christians.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

If You Really Knew Me

A few weeks ago we played this game at Young Life leadership called, “If You Really Knew Me, You’d Know…” where everyone sits in a big circle and then goes around the room sharing weird, random, and sometimes embarrassing personal facts about their lives… it’s a get to know you kinda thing where you find out that there are guys who crochet and girls who burp louder than any human should. It’s a time for people come clean about having every episode of Family Matters memorized, while others (like myself) admit to being completely obsessed with Harry Potter.

That game is a ton of fun and always good for a laugh, but while you definitely learn some crazy stuff about people, it’s not how you really get to know someone. To get to know a person… and I mean really know them, you have to spend time with them, talk to them, enter into their world and live your life alongside theirs. To really know someone, you have to share experiences, laugh together, cry together and just be together. There are tons of people in my life who I know and consider to be friends, but there are maybe only a few that I would say I really and truly know deeply, and those are not people I just randomly hang out with. Those people are the ones I’ve lived life with… the ones where I have sometimes had a hard time telling where my experiences end and theirs begin...

In Philippians 3, Paul makes an incredible statement… he says, “I want to know Christ.” When I first read that statement, it seemed a little weird… it’s like, “Well, Paul, you do know Him! He appeared to you! You have seen Him and spoken with Him… why would you say, “I want to know Christ?! If you don’t know Him, who does?” And I think that’s the key… Paul is not just talking about knowing Jesus… not even just believing in Him. He is referring to something bigger and deeper than having Jesus as an acquaintance. He’s talking about really knowing Him, almost like saying, “I want to be one of His best friends!”

Whenever I come across that verse, I can feel a deep emphasis on the word ‘know,’ almost as if Paul is shouting through the page and across the centuries that he really, really wants to know Jesus… not just know Him, but deeply and intimately know Him. And after he says that, he qualifies the statement with what he believes it takes to really know Jesus well. Because Jesus is a person after all, and you don’t really know Him just because you know random facts about Him… I mean, picture the Lord sitting in a circle in the living room saying, “If you really knew me, you’d know… Uh, let’s see… ah yes, you’d know that I can walk on water and read your mind… right this second.”

Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” What does it take to really know Jesus? Well, as I said, He’s a person, so you have to spend time with Him… live life with Him… share experiences… feel His hurt. Live your life with Jesus, learning what it means live a new life empowered by the resurrection. Live your life with Jesus learning what it means to suffer and have people mistreat you, talk about you and push you out of their lives because they don’t want God’s love. Live your life with Jesus, laying it down in sacrificial love every day… I don’t know about you, but I want a life like that… a life where I do more than just believe in Jesus… a life where I live alongside Him so that we share experiences and so that I might really know Him.

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