White Station Wagons and Tractor-Trailer Trucks (or Trippin’ with Jesus)

As I drove to work this morning I passed by a little boy going to work with his mother.  He was sitting next to her in the front seat as they cruised down the interstate toward their destination.  He was staring in wonder at the other cars on the highway, especially the tractor-trailer trucks.  He was simply in awe.
This little boy wasn’t satisfied with just watching, he wanted to encounter the trucks, so he was making motions directed at the drivers of such trucks.  I’m sure you’re familiar with these motions. I did them when I was little.  Most of us did.  Let’s repeat the motions.  Take your right arm and form a right angle at the elbow with your hand facing the sky.  You must have the correct hand posture in this motion; nothing less than a fist would do.  To begin the motion, maintaining the angle at the elbow, pump your fist up and down violently and repeatedly.
Apparently this motion summons a sound.
The sound of the horn.
The sound of the horn is a coveted sound when you are five years old.  Especially the sound of a large motor vehicle.
I sat watching this young boy repeatedly, and without success, pump his fist at the large trucks that passed his mother’s car.  He was pouring affection and energy out on these large motor-driven contraptions, entranced to somehow provoke a response.
He forgot something.  Maybe he didn’t realize it.  Maybe he did, but he just didn’t care:
The car he was driving in had a horn.
Yes, three feet away from where this five year-old boy sat was a button that was controlled by his mother that fired their very own horn.  All he has need to do is ask, and there would sound the horn.
Forget they were driving a small, white station wagon[i].  Forget that tractor-tailor trucks are second only to Jesus when you’re five.  Forget all that.  His mother controlled a horn, and for some reason, that wasn’t enough.  His affection was being poured out on those who were oblivious to him.
I feel a little bit like the boy.
We all make a journey in life.  And we’re all making it in some version of our own small, white station wagon.  I find myself way too captivated by what appears to me to be large tractor-tailor trucks making the journey around me.  And all too often, I find myself pouring out my affection on them.
Really, affection is quite a commodity isn’t it?  A highly coveted commodity by God, himself.  Jesus longs to be the central object of our affection.
And yet, I realize that my affection is often spent in manipulative ways.  I spend it in other places somehow hoping that if I pump my fist long enough and hard enough, that those other trucks might blow their horn back at me.
My affection has become a commodity spent to get something in return.
That’s pretty sick.
A favorite writer of mine once said that love is not economic[ii].  You don’t spend affection expecting to get something in return.  That’s manipulation.
Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment in all of scripture was[iii].  There were a lot to choose from.  Some say He had command of thousands of different scriptural commands to pull up at that point.
Jesus simply responded with “Love the Lord with all your heart”.  He tacked on a second one “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Then Jesus concluded his answer with two different responses “all the law and the prophets hinge on these two commandments” and “do this and you will live”.
Now, we are obviously called to love our neighbor.  No doubt about that.  But, what does Jesus begin this answer with? “Love the Lord”.  Loving God is primary command of the God of the Bible.
To live we have to love who is inside the car first.
Jesus highlights a significant truth in His answer: that how we distribute our affection affects every facet of life.  When God is not the primary recipient of our affection, then we are not really alive. When are not making Jesus our central affection, every other relationship becomes infected.
Let’s not forget that we are journeying with the Lord in our car.  To begin to live, to really live and not just breathe, we need to start looking at Him and letting Him be the central object of our affection.
Too often I feel like my affection has been spilled out of the window towards what appears to be a tractor-trailer truck journeying somewhere near me.  Too often Jesus has exactly what I’m hoping to get from them.
I think God wants to take a road trip with us.
The best road trips I took in college were incredible, not because of where we went, but because of who was in the car.  During those road trips, my friends and I loved each other through the journey.  We laughed, slept, and ate in the car and it was beautiful.
It was life.
And life begins when we realize that our car has horn, that all that we’ve longed for and needed can be found three feet away in the other seat.
That’s real life.

Heaven Is A Lot Like Sex and Chocolates

When everything around me sucks I like to think about Jesus.  When I’m not so consumed with the things around me that are sucking, I normally like to think about Starbucks or video games or some new album I purchased or something I have to do or somewhere I want to be.  Some times things suck, and some times the sucking is relegated for another moment.  When life sucks, well … it sucks.  I should know, I am a connoisseur of things that suck (I stole that term from a friend, but I like it so I’m making it mine).
I have been reading a bit of the brilliance left in the wake of C.S. Lewis.  Lewis is brilliant.  Brilliant enough to write a book that made it to the top 100 books of all time, as listed by TIME magazine.  Brilliant enough that that book was a children’s book.  Lewis has been talking to me about heaven.  Did I tell you he’s pretty smart? Well he is.
I think we need to think about heaven more during Christmas time.  It’s amazing that this portion of the year dedicated to celebrating Jesus distracts us from anticipating our reunion with him.
This morning I logged on to my favorite “stuff” website to see that the little guy on the homepage had a “photoshopped” santa hat on.  I regret to inform you that holiday shopping season is upon us.
On my morning drive to work I go past a Best Buy Electronic Store.  Tonight atmidnight the stores are selling the PlayStation 3 for almost 500.00 or more.  There were about fifty people camped outside to get one.  In the rain.  It was such a brilliant display of materialism.
I want a PS3, but back to my conversation with Lewis this morning.
Lewis was talking about chocolates this morning.  It was funny actually.  A bit perverted too.  He was really talking about sex and chocolates (I just realized I can’t spell chocolates very well, it brings up the spell check every time).  Lewis was English.  I guess they talk about sex and chocolates more than we do in the “colonies”.
Lewis said that if you told a child that greatest thrill in life was sex, he would ask you “Do you get to eat chocolates with that?”  Then Lewis said if you said “No, you don’t even think of chocolates when you’re having sex” then the child would walk away thinking that “sex cannot possibly be the greatest thrill in life if it doesn’t involve chocolates.” (reference a)
Did I tell you that Lewis was brilliant?  He still is, even though that seems incredibly perverted.
We only know what we know.  We approach everything with some sort of background knowledge.  See, if I was talking to you about the Cathedral of St. Kilian you may have an appreciation for my words and the imagery that I could convey as we talk, but you most likely would not have stood atop the mountain in that ancient church that overlooks Wurzburg, Germany.  I was blessed to go there, twice, and I can tell you that those moments cannot be expressed completely through language.  They were beautiful and sacred and meaningful.
When God talks to us about the life that he wants us to live that, too, is something that is so foreign to us that we walk away with appreciation, but often with sincere questions that say “life without that cannot possibly be the best life for me to live”.
When God mentions heaven, eternity in the presence of God and His Son, we like to think of it in Hollywood language, because we understand mansions and gold and diamonds and crowns.  Yes, we understand more stuff.  Heaven for most believers can be consummated with this: “We win and we get the most stuff”.  I don’t think we get more stuff in the end.
Lewis said something the other day is thought was pretty cool.  He was talking about heaven and the lives that we lead on earth.  We all use our life as a template for what it will be like in heaven, just a lot better.  Lewis said he thinks when stand in the full glory of the eternal presence of God that somehow this life and this earth most likely will seem like some form of hell.  I think he’s right. (reference b)
Some times we get small glimpses into exactly how broken our lives are and how whole and complete God is.  I think Lewis sees that, even if he can be a bit perverted.
In a book of the bible called Romans (in Chapter 8), the writer, a guy named Paul, talks about how much this world sucked after sin entered it and how there is a longing within us to return to wholeness of our created intentions.  (reference c)
I guess it’s on those days when everything sucks relentlessly that we are reminded that this world is not enough.
This holiday season you will have a few moments that suck.  Count on it.
Perhaps you will get that lime green sweatshirt with “St. Paul Minnesota” written on the front that you’ve always wanted from your grandmother.  It might be worse. You might get a fruitcake (I think I’m the only person alive who thinks fruitcake is good gift material).  Or it could be a real tragedy.  Some of the people you love will spend their first Christmas without their father, their mother, or someone they care deeply about.
When those moments come, realize that you are eating chocolate.  That you live in a world and lead a life that, no matter how hard we struggle, is a faint glimmer of the world and life that we are destined to in Christ as His follower.
One day we will see clearly.  One day we will be revealed.  Until then, we eat chocolates.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Reference A – C.S. Lewis “The Great Divorce” Preface.
Reference B – C.S. Lewis “Miracles”
Reference C – Romans 8:19-23

Bad Chairs. Hurting Butts.

My chair has no padding in it. Literally, I’m sitting on cardboard. Seriously. I think we bought this chair a year ago. Who knows. I like it. Its a good chair. It doesnt have armrests so I can play guitar without banging the guitar up. But it has no padding, which is a necessity for a chair, in my opinion. You know what I mean, a good chair has good padding. It’s supposed to. You sit in it, and it’s: “ahh, I sank for minutes”.

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Not Alone

I dont know how all this happens.  Influence is a funny thing.
Several weeks ago I met a guy at a meeting.  He has a cool name.  Oakley.  I wish I was named something cool like that.  Oakley has glasses.  Not just glasses, but cool, fashionable glasses.  He has curly hair too.  He glasses and hair would make nice for some kind of caricature.  Big head, Big glasses, Curly hair.  Thats him.
Oakley is the student ministries pastor at Northside (Northside is Andy Stanlys Northpoint in Columbia, one of the citys largest churches).  He just happened to be at the meeting that I was at.  He wasnt invited.  He just showed.  He can pull that kind of stuff off, I cant.  Some how, he noticed me there.  He called me the next day.  Someone gave him my number.  My cell, at that.  I hate it when people give out my cell number.
So, Oakley wanted to meet me.  I went to see him today.  We sat in his office, went through his youth building, and ate some Greek food at a little caf down the road.  It was nice.  But, what shocked me, I guess more than anything, was that Oakley wanted ME there.  He actually wanted to talk to me.  He was concerned with what I thought, about everything.
And whats really weird is what happened with Oakley, is what has happened a lot since Ive been here.
Over the last several months, my network has grown.  Quite frankly, Im really amazed that these guys even spend time with me.  I mean, I have like 20 kids in my youth group.  Oakley has like two hundred or something.  Everyones ministry has more kids than mine.  I mean, Im nothing as far as a significant minister.
I took an attitude when we got here that has taught me something about people: it was that I valued other Youth Pastors.  I mean, not as ministry partners, but as friends, as people to walk a similar journey with.  In a very basic form, I love them because we face similar struggles, challenges, and joys.
And you know what they love me back.  I mean they want me in their lives.  By invention last night we attended a surprise party with one of my other friends thats a Youth Pastor in our city.  Next Monday were having dinner with another Youth Pastor and his family.  And here is what Ive seen and learned when you love someone they normally give you a place of influence in their lives.
Let me just say this I didnt and do not want influence in all these guys lives.  I never sought that.  And honestly, its a little bit much for me to take on.  But, you know what, I see in them a desire that may be a tad bit repressed: a desire to be loved and appreciated.  And I do that.
So here is where it meets you.  You have people in your life.  People who are walking similar journeys.  People that share the same challenges, frustrations, and joys that you do.  Love them and walk the path together.  Let the beauty of your life give you a platform of influence in theirs.  And then use that platform to communicate the truth of Jesus.

Risk. Reward.

Tonight we watched the new show that is built off of the American Idol principle for inventors: aptly called American Inventor.  Theres one distinct difference, the people on this show have sold out to what they believe in.  A corrections officer and former soldier names Jerry Westley invented something called the Mobile X Gym, a set of bars and weights that are stored in a back-pack type container and are portable.
Tonight the show was dwindled down twice.  I think from 48 to 24 to 12.  James made it to the 24 and gave his pitch to the judges.  He has invested over 100,000 dollars over a 10 year period in his investment.  He started the pitch with this quote, which is not his: Its better to chaise a dream and experience failure than to have a dream and never know its possibility.  Im chasing a dream.  This dream is a lot bigger than where I am now and who I am now.
About two weeks about I met a man named Erwin McManus.  Erwin is a writer, speaker, and pastor (if you ask him, hes a cultural architect I love that term).  His message is what challenged Amanda and myself to reach for this.  I actually got to spend about 20 minutes with him, asking him questions and getting to know who he was.  The one thing that I walked away was hes 50.  Yep, that was the most significant thing.  Hes had about four years of significant influence.  Than means his influence started when he was 46 or so.  Thats twenty years away from me.  I have time.  I will need to continue to take initiative, create influence, and take risks, but in the end I am consumed with the fact that God has a profound calling on my life.  I will not be satisfied with anything less.
Tonight, the show showed that Jerry Westley made it to the round of 12 on American Inventor.  He received a check for 50,000.00, which half-way recoups the financial losses that he took in development of his product.  In that moment, he found out that there is no reward without risk.
In all moments that we face in life, there is a similar choice to make: to risk and reach for something great or to settle for what the moment is giving us.  For all believers this is decision that must be made constantly.  There is risk.  There is reward.

The Technical Pursuit of God (or 'why I like accidents')

Some people are technical.  They read manuals and learn from text books.  They hook up a home theater the right way the first time, because they looked at the diagram.  They think through things, and make lists of pros and cons.  They know procedures, the nine-steps to whatever, if you will.  Some people do that.  I dont.
I hate manuals.  I hook up first and ask questions later.
I have noticed a trend.  A dangerous one, I’m convinced.  A trend of the technical and the spiritual again combining forces.  It’s very dark-force-Star-Wars-ish.  I say again on purpose.  Again because the combination has reared its head in places and times before now, like the Pharisees during Jesus’ day.  We suppose we have killed the beast, but he keeps popping up in previously uncharted water.
I think equations are good for a lot of things.  I use the percent equation often. You know the one x over a hundred cross multiplied by whatever fraction and you have a percentage.  Thats very useful.  Especially if you play sports, which I dont but fantasize often about, so the equation comes in handy trying to figure out what my stats could have been.  “I could have shot 83 percent from the field tonight,” I might say.  Or theres the occasional “My pass percentage completion of 96 percent makes Peyton Manning look like a” (Ill end it there for decencys sake).  Of course these arent true.  Its just nice to apply the percent equation to life.
I dont think there are equations with our relationship with God.  Oh, I mean we try to come up with them, dont we?  A little sin + Jesus’ sacrifice + a repentant heart = forgiveness.  Simple.  Right?
I have a problem with equations like that.  Not so much because it takes something that is SO vastly significant and demotes it to a sequence of operations.  And its not so much that it over simplifies things.
My problem with equations and this technical pursuit of God is that it lacks beauty.
Have you ever looked at the cover of a manual?  I have.  I dont read them often, but I’ve noticed the covers.  They’re kind of boring.  Normally, the cover isnt even in color.  Its more of a: “Heres the necessary information, now you do your thing with it”.
Since when has the pursuit of God had anything to do with information?
The pursuit of God centers on beauty.  And beauty is not found in an equation.
Our little forgiveness equation doesnt show the deep enfolded texture of a heart that has broke to accept its futility and embraced the love that Christ showered down on the cross.
You dont see his eyes in that equation do you?
I think most of the really great strides in our pursuit of God happen on accident.
Those moments where truth shoots up out of no where and somehow you see greatness that wasnt there.  Those moments when you feel inspired to dance, and you know you cant dance, but you do it anyway and look like a total idiot who is apparently caged in by a distinct lack of talent but who is totally free on the inside.  Those moments when a strangers eye becomes more than a strangers eye and you realize that for an instant you looked into the soul of someone else and you deeply cared about them.
Those accidents.  That beauty.
Forever theorists have said that there is no equation for beauty.  It is an irrational, internal judgment that defies rules and restraints.
That sounds similar to something the bible calls faith.
Faith is beautiful.
Faith is beautiful because it doesnt make any sense.  There are no equations for faith either.
A guy named Kierkegaard wrote a long time ago about faith.  He looked at the fact that it doesnt make sense, and that he couldnt come up with an equation for faith so he somewhat coined the leap of faith approach to life.
The imagery of a leap of faith scares the poop out of me.  I get the picture of jumping into a well.  A bottomless well.  A well that is filled with rocks.  Its gonna hurt.
Kierkegaard is considered a heretic.  Mostly because smart Christian preachers want people to buy into the forgiveness equation, and not blindly jump.
Kierkegaard is a heretic.  Mostly because faith isnt about where youre jumping. Its who youre jumping to.
The beauty of the redemption story compels me to live centrally inside the message of Jesus.
In the end, its beauty, not equations that sustain that journey.
So, wherever you are, the beauty of redemption is all around.  Enjoy that beauty. Let it surprise you, and on accident, one day, you’ll notice that you are being compelled to something much greater than yourself.  Something so beautiful, that it has consumed your life.  In a way, its taken your life and offered you a new one. Which, really, is the most beautiful thing of all.

A Christmas Reflection (from the Christmas of 2005)

Stuff seems really important today. Like breath to lungs, we think. Months, or weeks, sometimes years, from now stuff becomes irrelevant. I’m not just talking about Starbucks or the new Rolling Stones CD; get bigger. Stuff is bad stuff, sometimes. I mean: bosses that don’t understand or care to understand, jobs you hate, towns you want to move away from, fights with your friends, fathers who aren’t speaking to you. Stuff will one day seem meaningless.

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Wading in the Mud

There is a funny looking bush that grows in the red clay forests of Georgia and Alabama. Literally, it looks like overnight someone to a pine tree and buried it, leaving only a small stem poking out of the ground.  I feel like this furry little bush a lot.  A small spectacle amidst a towering chorus of achievement.  A bit out of place.  Or small.  See, though its appearance is of a shrubbery, its merely a small tree.  A small “long-needle” pine tree to be exact.

God teaches us a lot about personal growth in this tree.  For its formative years, the tree injects its efforts into growing downward in a series of what are called tap roots. There is no growth apparent to the onlooker.  Really, it looks like a nice feather duster.  Something to for young boys to yank up and beat each other with.  I think roots are important to God.  I think this awkward little bush shows a way.

I think there are two directions that roots grow.  It’s true in trees; in trees, roots grow along the relief of the ground or down deep into the soil.  For us, I think our roots grow either into God or into ourselves.  I suppose this is not “stop the press” material, but today it became important to me.
I saw, in a brief moment, that there is a lot of hurt inflicted in this broken world. I’m in line with the murderers and thieves, because I, too, at times have led a life that bent in such a way that those who were wrapped up in me were hurt because of my declination.  The root of it, in the end, was selfishness.

I think there is no end viler than selfishness and nothing more difficult to balance within the will than the self.  Really, no man really cheats on his wife because he desires another woman.  A man enters an adulterous affair because he values himself more than his wife.  In the end, a woman laundering money a work doesn’t do so because she is desperately poor, but, instead, because she finds herself to be worthy of the money than the institution that earned it.

As a believer, I think there is nothing more difficult to balance upon the will of God than the self.  Practically, when you read this you may wonder “What in the WORLD is this guy talking about?” Well, this comes more from practical experience than direct teaching.  In the book of Acts, which I think is the definitive discourse (narratively speaking) on human interaction with the will of God, you find a very excited guy named Paul.  At times it appears that Paul is in direct control of where he is going (examples: Mars Hill, Ephesus) and then there are times that the Holy Spirit is directly involved in his decisions on where to go (forbiddance to go into Asia).

Here’s the practical problem: We, as believers, want to follow Jesus with all of our hearts (hearing his voice and responding).  And we, as believers and seekers of God, have dreams that resonate in our souls (chasing the desires of our heart that we believe Jesus placed there).  Sometimes, it’s very muddy where following Jesus and following dreams intersect.  Anyone who tells you different is a liar.

For example – suppose a young woman has a dream of becoming a singer.  This is a dream she feels very passionately that the Lord placed in her heart. However, she is working as a teacher and has a real chance to touch the lives of the kids in her class.  Baring direct communication from God, she is left with a muddy choice.  Where does the desire to fulfill the personal (or selfish) desires fit in?

I suppose I’m wading in the mud between the places that God and my will are coming together in my life.

In 1955, the late AW Tozer wrote a series of articles that were published as a volume under the title “The Root of the Righteous”. In his, he says of righteousness “many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right”.

I love the biblical concept of righteousness.  Literally, the Greek term means to be right in the eyes of God.  Westerners, like us, interpret “right” with behavioral specifics.  The term correctly applied does not mean that.  The term literally refers to being the right person.  The concept is the same as a coach that has trained a quarterback for a specific purpose.  They have practiced many hours together and put much work into developing the player.  The coach, sitting on the sideline, watches to athlete execute perfectly in a game and recognizes that he is the “right” quarterback.  Basically, being righteous means being the person that God created you to be.

Being righteous is all about roots.  If we, like that awkward little shrubbery, spend time developing roots that sink deep into the truth of God’s revelation to man, personally through the revelation of his Son, then we are indeed developing roots of righteousness.

However, if we are constantly thinking of ourselves, our image, our benefit, where we fit in, what we get out of it, then we are growing roots of selfishness.  The only way to face the mud of the intersection of our will and God’s will is with a bridge of righteousness.

Seeking God’s face about who we are and who we were created to be is important.  It’s paramount, actually.  Nothing in life is more important.  Once that concept has been fully developed, then, and only then, can one safely wade in the mud.

I Love The 80’s (a reflection)

My wife and I were perusing the items on the eBay site last night when I thought it might be nice to recover some nostalgia from my elementary school days. Yes. I have found two items that have escaped mainstream media attention as far as being meaningful to the 80s. These items were of GREAT importance to me, personally, though.

Here you go. First item:

The above picture features something that we must call nothing but what the tag so boisterously screams: “JAMS”. These were the shorts that I fell in love with in the 80s. You were not cool unless you had a pair of JAMS for every day of the week. I didn’t grow up in such an affluent family to afford the “original” jams. My mother, the wonder woman of all, would take me to a fabric store and allow me to choose a couple patterns of bright material. She would then take the material and craft a very good facsimile of the “original” jams. I did, later on, come to own my own stock of “original” JAMS. I remember one pair with fondness: they hung mid-calf (much like a good pair of capri pants). The pattern screamed intellectual giant: red and white checkerboard. Yes. You could have played tournament style board games on my pants.

Ok. Now to the second item. Real class awaits:

The said item above is a classic. Largely undiscovered. I remember it vividly though. The “coke” rugby shirt. Nothing like it. I mean, the look on the models face above speaks for itself. True happiness trapped inside cotton and nylon.

Now… A Reflection:

I remember now, and I guess part of the experience of growing up is that you learn such lessons, how badly these items seemed to be important to me. I wanted them like I wanted air to breathe. My parents, who didn’t at the time have a lot of money, ended up sacrificing to get me them (or make copies of them). Now, they just look like silly reminders of a time gone by.

You know, I rode the bus to school as a kid. I don’t suppose I’ve really talked about this as an adult, but the bus rides were traumatic. My family chose to spend money where they should, to buy a house and cars rather than nice clothes for their kids, so I ended up being dressed a little different than other kids. I remember very vividly being made fun of by kids over the two items listed above. I remember how I felt like nothing because I didn’t have them, that fragile 10-year-old ego crumbling under the weight of peer leveled scrutiny. I remember that. It hurt. It doesn’t hurt anymore.

I suppose it took me a long time to learn the lessons that God was offering me then. It would have been easier to learn them then, but I didn’t. I resented. I ran. I hid, at times. I suppose the biggest lesson is love who you are and believe in who you are.

God made you. You are enough. It’s pretty simple.

God loves you. We should love that which God loves. We should love ourselves.

It’s pretty simple.

It took me a LONG time, but I started getting it. I don’t know if I really have it now or maybe I’ve just started the journey.

I do know this – if I’m glad I’m not traveling on this journey (or just in an airplane) right now wearing a nice pair of “original” JAMS and a “coke” shirt.

Hopefully, God will continue to show me things that are as fleeting in importance like iPods, Rainbow Sandles, and even MySpace? — who knows?

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