Thursday, July 30, 2009
A Moment of Love
Sometimes Anna asks me these really dark ‘what if’ questions like, “Dad, what if I walked out of the front door and got swept away by a giant storm to a far, far, far away country and you never saw me ever again? Would you be sad?” My reply to these types of queries usually goes something like this, “First of all, no more Wizard of Oz for you. And yes! Of course I would be sad! I would be devastated!” Anna frequently dreams up scenarios in which she gets lost and can’t find her way home, or is taken away from us and forced to live with some other family or simply dies in very dramatic (and often cinematic) ways. The thing is that these scenarios all end with the same question: “Will you be sad? Will you miss me?” I think there is a place inside all of us that wants to know if we are loved and whether or not we would be missed when we go.
I read something pretty disturbing this morning in 2 Chronicles 21. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah had just died and passed the keys of the kingdom to his eldest son, Jehoram. Now, when you’re reading about Old Testament kings, it can be pretty easy to get lost… I mean, there were the kings of Judah and then there were the kings of Israel, the southern and northern kingdoms respectively; and which ones were good and which ones were bad? And who became good from being bad, and which ones became not so awesome in the end after being fairly awesome in the beginning? It’s a big, confusing mess, which is basically true of everyone’s family tree. For now, all you need to know is that Jehoshaphat was one of the awesome ones. He was a great king who loved and walked with God his whole life, but his son Jehoram was not.
As soon as Jehoram got the keys to the oval office, he murdered all his brothers to preempt any possibility of threat. He had married a daughter of Ahab (possibly the worst dude ever) and had a life that was summed up in this statement, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” At one point Elijah sent him a letter of rebuke (which is never what you want to find in your mailbox) that basically said, “You are not like your dad. You have caused God’s people to sin. You murdered your own brothers who were better men than you and now you will get a horrible and slowly-acting disease of the bowels and die in pain.” This is how 2 Chronicles 21 ends, “Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He passed away to no one’s regret and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”
He passed away to no one’s regret… whoa! I don’t want to be that guy! I want there to be some tears at my funeral! I want folks to miss me! I was thinking about this and trying to figure out how to guarantee a different end than Jehoram and thought of Paul’s words at the very beginning of Ephesians 5 where he says, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…” It struck me that living a whole life of love feels like a pretty tall order. How can you live a whole life filled with love for everyone and at all times? I don’t really know that any of us can… but what if we change the scope a bit? I mean, ‘life’ is too big a chunk to swallow in one. Even days are not really bite-sized. My goal is to live a moment of love, and then the next one, and then the next one. Hopefully, I’ll string enough moments together that I can say I’ve lived a day of love and then hopefully (and by His strength) I can string some days together and live a life of love. You don’t want a dry funeral. You want folks to miss you. That starts here, in this moment. Make it a moment of love.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
It Only Makes Sense
I feel like I watched the kingdom happening yesterday. I feel like I was privileged enough to catch glimpses of what it’s going to be like when Jesus comes back and we all go to be with Him. I watched a bunch of white kids from Tennessee praising God alongside ex-cons and former gang members from inner city Chicago. I saw high school and college kids face and conquer their fears… they were frightened to sit down, talk to and love on someone they had never met, but they totally did it! I watched my friends lay their lives down all day long, serving and working for their brothers and sisters in Christ out of their love for Jesus. I saw men and women of God, and they’re barely old enough to vote. They were more selfless, loving and brave than even they themselves ever thought possible and it was amazing.
Tom and I brought thirteen high school and college kids from Oak Ridge Tennessee to Chicago to serve alongside the superstars of Mission:USA and help them reach out to ex-offenders and former gang members in their weekly meeting known as “The Bridge.” For weeks before we made the long drive from our cozy and quiet, rolling Tennessee hills to the speed and noise of the city we have been preparing for this. We read and memorized Paul’s words in Romans 12 and talked about how we were made for sacrificial service. In verse 1 Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” We talked about how that word translated ‘spiritual’ really means ‘reasonable’ or literally, ‘logical.’ In view of the mercy God had on you when you didn’t deserve it by Jesus laying down His life as a sacrifice, it’s only logical that you lay down your life. It only makes sense…
From the time our kids woke up on Tuesday until deep into the night, they laid down their lives. They went through training in order to better understand the hearts and minds of the folks at The Bridge and how much we’re like them. They worked hard in the hot sun to renovate an up and coming halfway house and the courtyard of a local church. They greeted, worshiped with, served food to and then cleaned up after the folks at The Bridge. They didn’t get to eat any food themselves until way later and they never complained. They simply offered their bodies as living sacrifices, serving, loving and listening to brothers and sisters they had never met and being the family of God.
They were kind and humble, seeing themselves in the folks at The Bridge and even saying as one of our girls did about a man she met there, “He showed me that what I believe is real and powerful. I want to be like him when I grow up.” One of our guys said, “It was incredible, knowing that we busted it from 9AM to 11PM and I didn’t think about myself once.” One girl said, “I did what my heart and hands were made for.” That’s it! Right there! We were made for this and in view of the mercy He’s had on us, it’s only logical for us to lay our lives down and the thing we find is that when we do this, it’s the thing our hearts wanted the most to do and to be; and even though it might come as a bit of a surprise, we find that it only makes sense.
To learn more about The Bridge and Mission:USA, check out their website by clicking here.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Well, football practice is starting up again around here, which always fills me with a wide variety of memories… some of them awesome and some of them not so awesome. The one that hit me today was definitely the latter. I was a sophomore wide receiver on the Junior Varsity team, which meant that every single afternoon of my fall semester was spent catching passes from the time school got out until the sun went down. That’s it… that’s all we did. We ran routes and caught passes all the time. Now, this probably wasn’t so bad if you were a star receiver who caught eight or nine passes a game with one or two touchdowns sprinkled in there, but for me it was absolute torture. It was nothing but mindless tedium for me because everyone from my position coach to the quarterbacks to my fellow receivers and even the parents watching practice knew that I would never, ever, ever be thrown a pass in a real game… ever.
You see, in our very first game I was playing flanker when our quarterback Chanson Hall jogged to the huddle on a third and six and called my play… a pro-left 73, which meant that I was going to run an 'out' and the ball was coming my way! Chanson made eye contact with me and winked as he called the play twice and my heart started racing as we broke the huddle and lined up. I heard the cadence, the snap and I started my route, which by the way was a perfect, textbook 'out' pattern. Chanson rolled out, threw the ball, I put out my hands, felt the ball hit them as I turned my head to run and then… I dropped it. I dropped the only pass I’ve ever been thrown. I knew in that moment I would never get another pass as long as I lived, and I was right! Everyday I went to practice and worked hard, hoping for another chance, wishing there was a mulligan… a do over… a chance to show my coaches that if they gave me the situation again I would not mess it up, and I would not drop the ball again, but that chance never came.
I was thinking about Peter today and how much he probably wanted to redo the worst moment of his life! He had told Jesus earlier that night that He would never fall away no matter what… that he would even die for Jesus, but he was wrong. Later on when Jesus was arrested and put on trial, Peter had been so afraid of winding up in the kind of trouble Jesus was in that he denied knowing Him three times! The worst of it was that two of the denials had been to a servant girl… had he really been so scared of a teenage girl?! After his last denial he met Jesus’ eyes as a rooster crowed and then he ran out of the courtyard weeping bitterly. I can just imagine what he was thinking… “Oh Lord, let me have another go! I’m so sorry! Rewind this night and let me face that girl one more time and I’ll stand up for Jesus, I just know I will!
Today I was reading the story of that denial again and noticed something kind of cool. Mark tells us that the girl who questioned Peter by the courtyard fire was the servant girl of the high priest… she worked in the high priest’s house. I wonder, was she around a month and a half later when Peter was back in front of the high priest? Was she attending the high priest on the day when he had arrested Peter for preaching that Jesus was risen from the dead? Was she there when Peter said in Acts 5, “We must obey God rather than men!”? Was she standing there when her master, the high priest had Peter flogged for preaching about Jesus? And could it be possible that she saw a very different Peter that day who left that place “…rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”? I don’t know, but could it be that Peter got another chance to say what he should have said to a young girl who needed a Better Master to serve? Praise be to the Lord of second chances who continually gives us another day to stand up for Him!
Thursday, July 09, 2009
When I was a sophomore in college I can remember studying James Joyce in British Literature 202 and being so frustrated! If you’ve never read Joyce, he did this thing called “stream of consciousness,” where he simply let his mind spill out onto the page without editing the punctuation, setting any kind of scene or telling the reader who is speaking when or to whom. It is very confusing and is supposed to be this mish-mashed jumble of thoughts as if you could really take in information the way the brain experiences it in real-time. It defies sense and isn’t linear in any way. I remember we were supposed to read the first chapter of one of his books and discuss the meaning in class and no one had a clue what it was about! Our professor tried to shepherd us through the ridiculous, chaotic, nonsense of Joyce’s mind but understanding eluded us completely. Finally he told us that the chapter was about a young boy who still has problems keeping his sheets dry… are you kidding me?! Since that day I have hated stream of consciousness and avoided all writers who use it like the bubonic plague, but today I accidentally wrote some…
You see, last night as it was getting late Christy asked, “So, how’s your day looking for tomorrow?” I thought for a minute and then began to recite a list of responsibilities and goals that was unbearably long… from the wedding talk I needed to get ready to the campaigners lesson that was yet to be written to Sunday night’s Bible Study lesson, the staff meeting, my weekly meditation, music for the week, details for the Chicago trip and on and on and on… After a while I simply stopped listing stuff I needed to work on and decided that I needed to get on to bed. When I woke up this morning that selfsame gigantic list of stuff on my “to do” list hit me in the face along with other concerns: people I know who are struggling or sick or recovering or who might be having a rough day… whew! It was like waking up with a car on top of your back and wondering, can I even get out from under this?!
When I got up to church and turned to the Scriptures, I wound up reading Psalm 5 which says, “In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.”
Whoa! It was exactly what I needed! I found a fresh page in my journal and just started writing… there was no rhyme or reason and hardly any punctuation. I simply wrote and wrote everything I wanted God to do that day. I would switch back and forth from prayers for one of my kids, to one of our missionaries, over to our money, the t-shirt order I needed to finish on time and then back to my own energy and joy for the day. It was a mad rush of thoughts spilling out of my head and heart at the break-neck speed of desperation. And the great thing was that at the end of it I had this totally ridiculous and nonsensical, James Joycian stream of conciousness rubbish that no one in their right mind could possibly make any sense of, and yet I knew that God heard every word, every random subject change and every cry for mercy and power. He heard my voice and I was able to look at that page and simply wait in expectation to see what He would do.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
The peerless Rocky Mountains...
There were stretches of the hike that were almost flat and the walking was pleasant. Campers all around us were talking, laughing and even singing; but those stretches didn’t last long. Soon we were climbing again and the noise of conversation would die away as we all pushed ourselves; putting one foot in front of the last, keeping our balance on small, shifting rocks and searching for oxygen in the desperately thin air. It was not an easy day, but all you had to do in order to feel encouraged was to simply lift your head off the trail and look around… We were hiking above the tree line in the Rocky Mountains! We were taking in the landscape that Lewis and Clark witnessed and journaled about! Snow capped peaks surrounded us in every direction, and it was the middle of June! As we neared the end, the trail became more and more steep. It was covered in rocks that were hard to negotiate, like a final test to punish the hiker before the great reward of the summit… and then, we were there.
One of the coolest things about going to Young Life Camp at Frontier Ranch in Colorado is what they call “High Country Day” where the entire camp (well over 500 folks) hikes together to a 13,000 ft. peak known as Mt. Chrysolite. When we began the hike, I knew it would be a challenge, but I also knew it wouldn’t be that bad of one because I was in really good shape. I had been running everyday back home and felt confident that I would manage the mountain without too much strain, and had I been on my own, I’m sure that would have been true; however, I was not on my own. There were a couple of high school guys from our group that were not in any shape to be climbing a mountain in Colorado. It didn’t take long for them to start lagging behind and when I noticed them drifting farther and farther back in the line, I realized what my day was going to be about. I realized with a jolt why I was in good shape and why I had done all that running back home… it was about this moment and these two guys. Whatever it took, I was going to get Josh and Marcus up that mountain.
In no time at all my pleasant trot up the side of Chrysolite changed dramatically into a serious physical challenge as I loaded Marcus’ backpack on top of my own, wrapped Josh’s sweatshirt around my already laden waist and grabbed those pretty large guys in turn, inviting them to lean on me and walk. All of a sudden I was using my bag of encouragement tricks on myself internally… “Just one step at a time, Lee, and then the next. Come on, you can do this.” Josh was heavy and he was discouraged. I just tried to keep him talking and tried to make him laugh. I gave him everything I had that day and I’m not ashamed to say that I barely made it to the top. I asked him if he’d ever seen anything like these mountains and he said, “I’ve never really been out of Oak Ridge before.” When we made it to the top and you could see the continental divide and the most majestic peaks in all directions for miles and miles, my tears froze onto my face as I told Josh, “Open your eyes brother, and look…
That day I thought about all the stuff Jesus said about serving people, about laying down your life instead of holding onto it and I remembered John 15 where He said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” I know I didn’t die for Josh or anything, but I gave my whole self away that day, and I remember this one moment when we were close to the top… my legs were burning, my back was creaking, my lungs were empty and my heart was full! I had the hardest time holding back the tears that kept wanting to jump on out there! We weren’t even to the top yet, but it wasn’t the mountains that made me burst with joy… I was giving my life away for someone else and in the midst of extreme pain and exhaustion, I was happy; outrageously filled and totally, totally happy. You really should try it sometime…
Some kid pics: