Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Detours Are By Design

This morning the sermon was on Matthew 2 and the wise men that came from the East years after his birth following a star to see Jesus. I've heard this story hundreds of time, but learned several new things this morning. One was the name given to them - the Magi - denotes those who study stars among other things and it survives in todays words "magic" and "magician" - I never knew that! Also, something I had known but not considered was that these men came a great distance by foot to see Jesus and worship him - over 1,000 miles. That's why they didn't come right at Jesus' birth, but likely 1-2 years later.

As we read the scripture, I noticed something else. The star originally leads them to Jerusalem. Then they let Herod know why they are there; and ask around to find out where Jesus is and the scribes let them know the prophets foretold Bethlehem. They head out to Bethlehem and THEN the star reappears - Behold! - and leads them the rest of the way. As I noticed this, I started to think - why didn't star lead them to Bethlehem right away? Wasn't that the point of their journey, to find Jesus? So why the "detour" to Jerusalem first? Was the star mistaken at first and then remembered once the scribes shared the prophecy of old with the wise men? If I were one of the wise men, these were questions I would have been asking...

It was good to remember the reason for the visit to Jerusalem - that this was not a mistake, but rather part of God's Sovereign plan. Maybe it was to include Herod and his wicked ways in the story, or highlight how the Scribes knew where Jesus was to be born, but weren't looking for him despite the wise men's insights. We don't know. But we do know this is how God intended it and that the star was not lost.

I found this comforting this morning, because I often struggle with whether I have missed God's "Plan A" for my life. My soul aches with past regrets of missed opportunities, while I look at the life (read-mostly career) I have and feel that I've settled. But as this story reminds us and many more passages call out, the detours are by design. He had written every day of our life in His book before we were born. Perhaps now I'm in Jerusalem, asking around to involve other necessary characters - and the star will reappear soon. And it's good to remember that God's more interested in my growth in Him wherever I am in my journey than in the fulfillment of my ambitions and dreams. The Magi prove instructive in this regard as well, motivated by worship of the King. May I worship and grow in Love of God as I walk on my designed journey every day.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Gospel

I listened to an excellent sermon this morning that was preached at my church last weekend. We were out of town so I was catching up on what I missed. In it the guest preacher, Julius Kim continues in our current series, The Upside Down Kingdom, explaining how what Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount is only possible by believing in who He is and His Gospel. I wanted to recount a few points here because, if you're like me, it's always good to be reminded of the Gospel.

He focused on the popular and often misunderstood text of Matthew 5:38-48 - featuring such hallmarks of Christian thinking like "Turn the Other Cheek" and "Love your Enemies." He explained how those listening at that time would hear this teaching much differently that our modern American ears do. When they heard about a slap on the right cheek, they pictured a back-handed slap from an enemy, the height of dishonor. And going an extra mile referred to the most hated Roman law by the Jews in which any Roman could order them to carry a burden a mile on a whim. The cloak reference also carried much more weight than a shirt for covering - including familial and inheritance implications.

So what does all this mean? That Jesus is saying a lot more than "Grin and bear it" like I was often taught growing up. It's radical what He's saying - double what's expected of you, don't react like the world, love and pray for those who hate you, give up your inheritance for your enemies and don't defend yourself. Be perfect. Yes, He's getting at breaking the cycle of the world's way - but it's more than that. If we really understand what He's saying, it's impossible. (Dwight is right, but in a different way...) We cannot truly love our enemies from the heart, praying for them, walking that extra mile and giving them our cloak unless...

Unless, we understand and believe that that's what Jesus has done for us. That changes us. Julius brought it back beautifully in the sermon to the Gospel, jumping ahead to Matthew 27 showing how Jesus turned the other cheek as the soldiers beat His innocent flesh. He gave up His cloak and shirt as they stripped Him bear, casting lots for His clothes. He walked an extra mile carrying the cross, and finally prayed for His enemies while they nailed Him to that same Cross. This is the Gospel, and it's worth remembering today.

Jesus calls us to a higher, impossible standard of unconditional love and forgiveness in a world of hate and retribution. He calls us to perfect love. But how do we attain that? By understanding how he perfectly loved us, His enemies, and now indwells us empowering us to love in the same way. To read the Sermon on the Mount and interpret it as "Man up - grab your bootstraps, and do this!" is to believe a flawed American gospel which relies on self rather than Christ. But the True Gospel is good news - that we can't do it, He did it all, and we can trust Him to do the impossible through us.

Those that truly get this ancient sermon understand that Christ in the only one that fulfills the new law, too. Seeing how perfectly He has loved us and abiding in this Truth transforms us and empowers us to love in the same impossible way.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tale as Old as Time...

Dear Internet,

It's been a little while, but I felt inspired to write tonight because I went with my bride to see the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. We had grandparent babysitters, a 9-year-anniversary of our first date to celebrate, so it was the perfect night to go. I was not disappointed. I grew up with the animated Disney films, and although The Lion King was my favorite, I remember really enjoying the story of two unlikely lovers. Why did I like this remake?

The Script - They kept the main story in tact, but enhanced it with some emotional backstory, pithy one-liners, and a few new characters. It's rare when this many changes are made and it still works - but it did in this case.

The Design - from the set, to the costumes, to the entire mis-en-scene it all contributes to a breathtaking spectacle. The Beast's castle was awesome - and so was Belle's village. I did find the Be Our Guest scene a bit too overwhelming with too much color. It struck me how much they sought to capture the beauty of the animated film even though it was live-action. With the color, and the vibrant scenery, and flowers, the hair and make-up even -- all the details were in place to give the feel and flare of the original animated feature. This helped the believability of the computer-animated parts--which is quite a few since many of the characters are entirely CGI; as opposed to the distraction they were in the little bit of The Jungle Book that I could stand to watch. The entire effect made me wonder quite a few times "How did they even film this?" It was movie magic - and it worked.

New songs - I'm a sucker for a good musical, being a singer and actor myself - but the only thing I enjoy more than a musical I know, is one I know with new songs that fit right in with the original. The movie had only a few new songs - but they were great new melodies that drove the plot and shared crucial character points. The one that I enjoyed most was a simple melody that Belle's father sings, "How Does a Moment Last Forever." It has great lyrics and rifts on the theme of the original story of the timelessness of true love.

Lastly, the Casting I thought was spot on. Josh Gad was awesome and perfect for that role. Emma Watson looked the part and acted it excellently. Even the bit parts were well-played. I appreciate the diversity of the cast as well. I didn't know Audra McDonald was in it until she arrived on screen - so it was treat to hear her voice.

That's all - aside from some over-the-topness in Be Our Guest (which the original was too come to think of it) I really enjoyed it and recommend it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

An Imitation Game

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." Eph 5:1

I am a father now. This happened a little over a year ago when my daughter, Elise arrived in this world. This event (and the days since) certainly changed my life, more than I could expect or prepare for. The days leading up her birth I was acting like I normally do leading into a major life-change (I'm not a big fan of them) - with a low level of anxiety as I frantically tried to learn as much as I could to prepare. But once she arrived, and we got a few days at home under our belts, I was pleasantly surprised with how natural fatherhood came to me. I know, I know - I've got the easy role in this as my wife has juggled work, caring for her and most of the feeding times. But this is still a major life change -- but like most I've feared, it has brought much more good than bad - and wasn't nearly worth the level of worry I had.

For those of you that are parents, and specifically fathers, you know that the second half of the first year is a lot more fun than the first half. The first 6 months you really are just serving your wife as she does the bulk of the care. The child is a "blob of need" as a friend of mine has described infants - and the father can't meet most of those needs. But once you hit 6 months the child is smiling more, responding, babbling back and just generally more interactive as the days go on. Our daughter started clapping around 8 months, and started crawling the next week. All of this activity as I mentioned just equates to more fun for the father. You can contribute and interact more and ultimately start to bond much more with your child.

Lately something Elise has been doing that's been especially enjoyable is imitating me. Whether it's babbling or even saying certain words, flicking her tongue back and forth, moving her hands like me or making spitting noises with her lips after me, she seems to be constantly imitating me. When she does, it brings me a lot of joy just to see her copy me and be so pleased with herself that she is.

As I thought about this imitation game we play, the above verse came to mind where Paul admonishes us to be imitators of God. God as our Father receives this same type of joy in just seeing us seek to be like Him. But until I looked it up a few minutes ago and read the second half of the verse, I didn't realize what a perfect depiction it is of this. Because my daughter knows she is loved by me, and feels safe she wants to please me and be like me; so she imitates me. As we grow deeper in our awareness of God's love and care for us, and we get to know His ways more we seek to please Him by imitating Him. The life and faith lessons in parenthood really are bountiful.

Now, may I live a life before my daughter that is worth imitating!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Living as a Christian in the age of Trump

Well, here we are. Whether we like it or not, last Friday Donald John Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. This despite losing the popular vote, and saying everything and more to reveal his insecurity, lack of character and leadership qualification, or that he has the moral fortitude to bind the wounds of a deeply divided country. I don't think he has taken the high road ever in his life...

I was a #NeverTrump-er ... Can you tell? Why? Beyond him not being conservative, or having no voting record to reveal his true views, or his immoral treatment of women, it mainly came down to character. I love this country too much to see it become the embarrassment of the world, which I was afraid would happen if we handed the keys over to a 70-year-old child like Trump.

But the people have spoken, so now what? How should we now live? Especially as followers of Christ?

First off, we must be conscious of those closest to us.
As I've wrestled with this reality over the last few weeks, I've noticed a concerning trend. Friends and neighbors, even family have seemed distant after I've expressed my concerns about Trump on social media. There seems to be a belief that being anti-Trump means you were pro-Hillary, who was for Planned Parenthood, against religious freedom, and would've put a crazy liberal on the Supreme Court. But objectively I wish we could all agree that Trump wasn't the easiest candidate to get behind, especially for conservative Republicans. I never could stomach it, and I live in a traditionally Red state so didn't felt it mattered as much. So I voted 3rd party. Rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I didn't want and get it.

But other conservatives who I love and trust were more concerned about the known commodity (or calamity) that is the Clintons and decided to roll the dice with Trump. I need to respect that and be okay with it. After all, he is President so I should wish him well; the alternative is to desire ill for our country.

In this realm of relationships and politics I've been wondering a few things though:
Does getting engrained in politics make me more loving?
Does watching the news make me more loving?
Is winning a political argument on social media a good way to express God's love?

I really don't see how any of this makes me more Christlike. If anything it pushes people away, makes you label them and vice versa so there's no room for conversation. I don't think we should total abdicate any responsibility to be politically involved. We just need to do it in a balanced way and guard it from consuming our conversations and relationships.*

Next is obvious, but as a Christian we should pray for this President and his administration. I am reading Ezra now - and a theme in the first chapter is that God moves in the hearts of leaders and his people to do what He desires. That has given me great hope these last few days as I've heard all the crazy things Trump is saying and doing. I know that God still moves in the hearts of those in power, that "He guides it wherever He pleases" like a stream of water in His hand as Proverbs 21:1 tells us. I am praying to that end for President Trump.

Lastly, we - as Piper wrote - should focus first on God's kingdom, the lost in this country and around the world rather than get discouraged by Trump's dysfunction. We cannot win lost souls if we are distracted by civilian affairs.

So how are you processing all of this? Agree with where I've landed? I'm definitely still processing it all - so am open to your comments to learn more. Leave one here for me.

One last thing. I am really concerned about the misinformation Trump and his team are disseminating. Last weekend KellyAnne Conway uttered the phrase "alternative facts" to explain why Trump believes more people attended his inauguration than numbers and pictures (read: REALITY) show. Leaders seeking to make people question the reality they see is stuff right out of Orwell's 1984. As believers in absolute Truth, we must advocate for the importance of it in all realms - and fight against leaders deceiving the masses. How? May God help us all.

*For many, their political involvement doesn't go beyond voting - and they abdicate their Christian responsibility of daily love and action because they voted for someone who will do it instead. This is another post - but I am not saying we shouldn't be politically involved. I know certain policies have real impact and our Christian beliefs call us to act for justice however we can. I'm merely pointing out that too often our political action is at the expense of relationships.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Life in Moments

The last several months as I've watched my daughter grow and change in her short 10 months of life, I've been reminded of this truth. Life happens in moments - through small, incremental, indecipherable changes. Our fast-paced, always-in-a-hurry, efficiency-as-king world tries to tell us otherwise; but this is, I believe, an eternal truth. Change happens slowly. It's the way the world works.

As I drove to work this fall - perhaps my favorite season in Atlanta - I took special intention to notice a few particular trees along the way. I observed how their leaves changed from day to day, from bright beautiful oranges and yellows one day to drab browns and rusty reds a few days later. Each day I tried to observe how they had changed from the day before. Each day it was slight, but I could definitely tell - and more so than if I had just driven past not taking notice. Change in our lives is often so slight, we miss it unless we stop and observe it.

I've seen this especially this year in watching my daughter grow. As I watch her play now, pulling up some and saying a few words, giggling and pouting when she doesn't get her way - it's hard for me to remember what she looked like just a few short months ago, unable to crawl or sit up. Then I look back at pictures of her and can't believe the change. How did it happen? I see her every day... but I didn't notice all the changes. Her eyelashes getting longer; her hair growing in very thick on the sides after being nearly entirely rubbed off through her sleeping patterns; her growing proficiency with her hands as she plays with toys and books...

Actually I guess I have noticed a lot of the changes... because I've tried to stop and observe.

Our world around us presses in and seeks to deceive us about this truth. "You should be further along"... "Speed up your maturity - you should be leading others by now"... "It shouldn't take this long to get it" These phrases and more echo in our heads, trying to prod us along no matter the realm - career, spiritual walk, our marriage.  But these things take awhile, and the fact that they do - that life is a process - is part of the beauty of it.

I took an intro to screenwriting class this summer through continuing ed at a local university. One thing the professor highlighted was that people watch movies because they like to observe a character undergoing a major transformation, or making a huge decision. Why? Because we long for that immediate change in our own lives. But watching these stories we think it can happen in a quicker way for us - but that's deception. Sure it works in a 1.5 hr long film.* But if we seek that for ourselves we get trapped in the deceit of high expectations - of ourselves, and those around us demanding microwaved change when our Maker is playing the long game.

I feel I've spent a lot of my life resisting this truth and asking why this is the way things are. My pride and desire to be in control want to speed things up so I can get some glory. But resisting this truth is futile. There are plenty of reasons why slow and steady wins this race. It breeds patience in us, causes us to be humble, and makes us generally more pleasant people to be around - unhurried and savoring the rich things life is made of.

This next year I want to embrace this truth more fully - slow down and savor rather than strive for speedy change. Sure daily discipline and slowing down may not be as flashy, but it's the way our Father designed this world. What's that saying... How do you eat an elephant?

*Truth be told, even with characters in movies there are only one or two major changes or decisions- while the rest of the story is made up of small, indecipherable changes as well. The point of a scene is for one or two characters to undergo some slight change.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writing is a lot like fishing.

Writing is a lot like fishing.
You’re doing something, but it doesn’t always seem worthwhile.
It can feel like you’re just passing the time. It takes a lot of set up, a lot of gear, and a lot of training, but no matter how much you invest there’s no guarantee that you’ll catch anything – no guarantee that you’ll feed your family through your efforts.

Ideas, like fish are illusive.
Who knows where they come from?
Sometimes you get lucky and you haul in a whole boatful. Sometimes you’re teased with a bunch of bites but none take the bait. But when they do bite you must focus and be dedicated to set the hook and reel it in… we’ve all had the experience of The One that Got Away.

Yes, writing like fishing can seem fruitless; either can seem pointless many mornings when you wake up before dawn to get everything ready. But you got to keep casting, keep throwing the line in, keep looking for the hot spot in the water because you’ll never know when the Big One will take a bite. Then all those outings yielding empty nets and lost bait will seem worth it. Both exercises have tremendous payoffs…