Wounded Lions, Part 1

 

 

Wounded lions don’t hunt;                             they scout.image

Life is a story.  Every story has an author.  If you, like me, have attempted to write your own story, you may have found yourself frustrated and confused at the lack of direction in the narrative. Here’s the message: you are not the Author.  I am not the Author.
God is.
God writes a very simple story and it consists of three words: I LOVE YOU.
As simple as that story is, how often do we attempt to rewrite it?  God writes in ink.  God uses periods.  The story has already been written.  So why do we insist on changing it?  Let’s start at the beginning.

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As we begin to understand our story, we often misinterpret the setting.  We are not the center of our universe.  We are placed in the center of God’s love.  God’s very simple message comes again and again: I LOVE YOU.
Immediately other characters enter our story: family, friends, culture, education, loved ones.  We open ourselves to this story, but as we continue to gain our legs, we take on wounds as well.  Allow me to use an example from my own life to illustrate.

I have always thought I was okay.  I have allowed others to believe that I am okay.  I am not.  The reason I am not okay is because I have tried to play the role of author.  I have tried to change what God has already written.
God has said to me: I LOVE YOU. I have chosen to disagree.
No One Loves Me: Divorce, like many of life’s crippling wounds, has made me think that this is the story.  If the relationship that promises for better or worse becomes broken, then who really loves you?
I Love Me:  At my best I have had good moments.  At my best I have succeeded. I have accomplished in spite of my wounds.  In these moments, I have taken pride in what I have done.  I have loved me for all that I have done.  It doesn’t last.
Jesus Loves Me:  Telling this story seems innocent.  It seems healthy.  It seems okay.  But why could I tell others that story?  I told that story because I had always heard it.  I heard the Word in the womb.  I attended church more times in my first five years than most people will in a lifetime.  But when head and heart don’t agree, the message is shallow.
I LOVE YOU, God writes in periods. There are no qualifiers.  There is no “but” looming ominously behind those words.  God does not pause to take a breath.  God’s words are complete.  I am the one putting a comma at the end.  I am the one confused by unconditional love.

So what does all this mean?  It means that I started in the center of God’s love. That does not change.  But as others come into the story, they sometimes leave wounds.  Family can leave wounds.  Our work or educational experience can leave wounds.  Our friends can leave wounds.  Even church can leave wounds.  And wounded lions don’t hunt, they scout.
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The big, wide open space of God’s love is suddenly smaller.  I close myself off because it seems safer to keep out those who hurt me.  But now, to mask my wounds, I cover up.  Instead of being the son wearing the coat of many colors, I am the son wearing many coats.  It is heavy.  It is tiring.  It is the wrong story. The message of the story has not changed, but I have to decide when to stop writing my own story.
In Part 2, we will look more at what it means to “scout.”
Which story are you writing?

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Finding God In: Basketball Banners

The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers are a bad basketball team. Well, they are not as bad as they once were. In fact, their team has several very talented and recognizable players now. Historically, however, they have failed to produce consistent success and have not produced a championship for the organization. Their lack of success would not be as magnified, perhaps, if they did not operate in the same city as the historically dominant Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are known for their championships. They have embraced the allure of the celebrity and fame that comes with success in a city such as LA. The Clippers? Not so much.
To add to the kick-’em-while-they’re-down difficulties, the Clippers have shared the same arena as the Lakers for the past 14 seasons. The league schedules games in order to allow both teams to use the Staples Center as their home court. But no one really thinks it’s the Clippers’ home court, do they? Sure, there are diehard fans of the Clippers much like there are fans of the lovable losers in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. But when holding up one team’s dominance in contrast to one team’s failure – in the same arena – it’s pretty much like saying the playground belongs to the 8th grade bully. No one truly believes that the playground belongs to the 2nd graders.
Something changed this year in Los Angeles. The Clippers hired a coach who has had success, both as a player and as a coach. As a coach, Glenn “Doc” Rivers helped lead the Boston Celtics to a championship. The Celtics’ organization knows a lot about success. They exhibited one of the most dominant runs ever in a professional sport by once winning eight championships in a row and eleven in thirteen years. Having a championship mindset, Doc Rivers looked at the Clippers and saw some hope. But the culture needed to change.
So Doc looked at the arena and realized something wasn’t right. When the Clippers played their home games, rows of championship banners hung in the rafters. None of them belonged to the Clippers, of course; they were all stories of the Lakers’ success. Doc pushed for the banners to be covered with large banners of current Clippers players. The not-so-subtle message was, “We’re taking this arena back.” The move created a bit of a stir for sports talk show hosts. The Lakers players didn’t like the move, even though the banners still hang for their home games. The players for the Clippers loved it.
What they had not noticed over the years was that, in many ways, they were being told who was in charge. And it wasn’t them. In the same way, there are many ways in which the enemy tells you, in not so subtle ways, that you are not in charge. The enemy of your soul has won some battles, has claimed some victories, and has left some scars in his wake. Even if you have claimed the salvation available to you through Jesus Christ, the enemy likes to float his banners over your work and say, “Remember this?”
“Remember the time when you…?”
“Look at that – you were such a failure.”
And you go on, pretending to ignore the taunts.
Too often we stop at the cross. Yes, the cross covers our sins. The shed blood of Jesus paid a price for our life that we could never pay. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He did not believe it was enough to give you a “home arena” with someone else’s victories being celebrated. No, Jesus rose from the grave and stepped forth in life to give you the victory in life and in death. Jesus wants you to start celebrating the victories that you have with him, and I bet you think that’s a great idea.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~ Galatians 5:1
You have been reminded long enough about your failures and the enemy’s triumphs. When you claim that your life belongs to Christ, you have the freedom to start operating in his victories. Cover up those old wounds with new life. Stop allowing the old banners to be all that you are when it clearly is not. Put up a new banner and allow Christ to rule in your life.

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Finding God In: Playoff Baseball

Outside of the fan bases in Boston and St. Louis, you may not realize that baseball is still being played. Yes, even in the month when the sun sets at dinner time and the occasional snow showers fly, teams are still fighting for the title of World Series champions. In the four-week quest for the title of champion, individual plays and players are placed in the spotlight like no other time of year.

Just last night, in the first game of the World Series, two such events came under scrutiny. In the first inning of the game, the umpire called a player out even though the ball had clearly been dropped. All of the umpires had to converge in order to correct the call before the excitable fans in Boston corrected them. After the game, several people who watched the game drew attention to the possibility of a foreign substance in the glove of the pitcher for Boston – a clear violation. Everything receives extra attention and it becomes time to be known as a hero or a scapegoat.

Just over two weeks ago there was a critical moment for a player named Juan Uribe. If you follow baseball as I do, you already know that name. But short of the die-hard fans, Uribe is relatively unknown. He’s made a fine career for himself by playing his role on several teams, but his career is altogether average by professional baseball standards. He’s never been the best player on his team and he’s never been asked to shoulder the weight of any team’s success. In the two seasons prior to this one, you could have fairly asserted that his career was coming to a close. He had enough experience to be valuable, but his production barely merited a place on the team.

His professional approach remained a credit to Uribe and helped to justify his position on the team. Playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Uribe took on a role of mentor to those who needed it and his production began to increase as well. However, there were several players in the lineup who drew much more attention, and rightly so. Thus it came as no surprise that Uribe, in a critical position of a playoff game, was asked to bunt. For those of you who are less familiar with baseball, Uribe was asked to sacrifice himself. He did not need to get a hit, he just needed to knock the ball a few feet in front of him to advance another runner. If he could do that much, someone else would pick up the critical piece of hitting the ball in order to bring the base runner home to score.

There was only one problem: Uribe was failing. Twice he bunted the ball into foul territory. If he continued this approach and fouled off the baseball again, he would be out and the base runner would not advance. He had four chances to make it work, but none of them had gone according to plan. Now what? Well, the smart play would be to allow Uribe the freedom to swing. The team could not risk the chance of Uribe recording an out attempting to bunt. He would have to swing.

He did.

Uribe sent the ball soaring into the outfield, over the fence not to be caught – a home run! Instead of sacrificing himself, Uribe had given his team the lead. The lead held up and the Los Angeles Dodgers advanced to the next round of the playoffs. Uribe was a hero in spite of his failed attempts, in spite of his past mistakes, and in spite of his previous anonymity.

As Christ followers, we are often content to bunt. We cloak ourselves in the mantle of humility and say, “Someone else will do it.” It’s not that we are not called to humility, but far too often we have simply relabeled our doubts as “humility.” We, like the pre-restored Peter, are caught up in our past failures and mistakes. Even as we, like Peter, have a conversation with the risen Christ, we wonder why he challenges our love for him.

Maybe it’s because he has bigger plans for us. The risen Christ told Peter that he would be the rock upon which Christ would build his church. Think about that. Jesus decided to take Peter, the Jesus-denying apostle, and make him the foundation for the church. Bear in mind that there had been no “church” before this. Jesus took off the bunt sign and was letting Peter swing.

2,000 years later, all over the world, the Church remains. I would like to encourage you to stop looking at your past failures. I would like to ask you to stop expecting someone else to do it. I would like to ask you to believe, even if it seems unlikely, that Christ has big plans for you in his Kingdom. The reason he may ask you about your love for him is not just to hear where you stand, but so that he can remind you where he stands.

He loves you, and he wants you to dare to be used.

Swing away.

http://espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2013/story/_/id/9789359/juan-uribe-home-run-propels-los-angeles-dodgers-nlcs 

Finding God in the NBA Finals: “Go and Make __________”

We like numbers. That should come as no surprise given that we are created in the image of God; God who reveals identity as 3-in-1. God who seems to have an affinity for 3, 7, 12, 40, and infinity. Numbers are everywhere in our lives: prices, heights, weights, finances, and sports. I like sports. In sports, we use numbers to measure a person. We use numbers to measure a person against another person: LeBron James has one championship ring, Kobe Bryant has five, Michael Jordan has six, Bill Russell has 11 – in 13 seasons! We use numbers to identify a person. I can still tell you that Lou Whitaker wore number 1 for the Detroit Tigers, Alan Trammell wore 3, Sparky Anderson wore 11, Lance Parrish wore 13, Chet Lemon wore 34, Darrell Evans wore 41, Dan Petry wore 46. We like numbers.
And I will go out on a limb (not very far) and say that people who talk about sports today will talk about LeBron James’ numbers so far in the NBA Finals. Because he is playing so great or so poorly? No, not for that reason. Because nearly a dozen times after the game last night, when hounded by reporters asking questions, James said, “I have to do more.” I’m not quite sure what James meant by that, and he certainly doesn’t have to explain himself to me nor anyone else. But could he be talking about his numbers? His points in the game, his rebounds, his assists, his blocks. Perhaps. Perhaps he feels inclined to increase his numbers.
Granted, James was answering questions from gossip-hungry reporters whom, I believe, were just waiting for James to slip and say that his teammates are not doing enough. James is smart enough to know that and smart enough to not take the bait. But when we look at the series overall, it is fair to say that the teammates – the “role players” – will determine the winner of the championship. Last night there were relatively unknown players scoring more points than the “superstars.” Basketball is played five-on-five, not one-on-one nor two-on-two. And those who analyze sports, particularly basketball, often look to see if the most gifted players can make their teammates “better.”
How are we doing with that? “We” as in “Christ-followers.” Are we helping to make others around us “better”? What do I mean by that? Well, I’m glad you asked. Earlier this week a colleague shared an insightful piece about the doomed focus of missional work. The church has often made great effort to do missions work. Why? Well, partly because of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28, and partly, I believe, because we like numbers.
We like to declare that we support missionaries in (___) countries. We like to measure our “growth” by the number of baptisms or the number of people who profess their faith. And although it is good to celebrate the growth of the Body, we must be very careful not to stay hung up on our numbers. We cannot focus there because what Matthew 28 tells us to do cannot truly be measured – not by us, anyway. You see, Matthew 28 does not tell us to “Go and make converts.” That can be measured. No, the command was to “Go and make disciples.” Well how do we do that? I’m glad you asked.
We pour into their lives. We empty ourselves. That is contrary to everything that we see around us. LeBron James, like us, has a desire to be “the best.” He has the gifts, talent, and work ethic to be the best. But how successful will he be – in a team sport – if he focuses only on improving himself? I am not here to bash LeBron James because we all do that. We all strive, in our brokenness, to be the best. Even our church numbers fall prey to that trap. We now have a term “megachurches” which qualify as such by a particular number. Clearly, those who attend a megachurch are “the best,” right?
Ok, ok, you got me – Jesus was surrounded by crowds. Sometimes 4,000 or 5,000 and more. You’re right. Clearly Jesus wants megachurches. Wrong. Every time that Jesus was surrounded by crowds, you will notice that he stops and speaks into the lives of those closest to him – the disciples. The Gospels are not written by reporters, instead they hold the account of Jesus as given by those closest to him. Jesus made disciples. Well what about the numbers at Pentecost?; there were thousands converted then! Yes – by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the work of men or women. LeBron James wants to do more. Chances are you do too. Somehow, in some way, you want to be noticed and or measured. But you were called to do something immeasurable: make disciples. The “numbers” that may tempt you have nothing to do with you anyway. But, in obedience and love, you can give your life to the same work Jesus did in his ministry years and “make disciples.” What does that mean? Simply this: be so committed in your love for God that you must share it with others by teaching them and loving them as you walk through this life together. We do not know what that other person may do for the Lord; they may (seem to) have a bigger impact than us. And when you can reach the point that you are not only “okay with” that, but long for that, you will be ready to make disciples for the Kingdom of God.

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Finding God in Monday: Grace Poured Out

Sometimes it takes very little for me to question God’s plan to use me. Like a Monday morning, for example. That’s a good enough reason to question why God would place me in ministry roles. I woke up exhausted and uncomfortable. The humidity of last night helped me not at all. I grumble as I think about the work that needs to be done today. I still haven’t established a regular Sabbath – I just find them when I can – and today is not it. I set up a meeting for this morning and there is Bible study tonight.
So I stumble out of my room when I hear that the dog and the pup have broken out of the kitchen (not my fault). I think about the fact that I need to return my car so that the repair shop can find out why it is doing the exact same thing as before the last repair two weeks ago (not my fault). That will mean a walk home. It’s cloudy. It’s humid. You do the math. As I start to get ready, the bathroom door nearly falls apart. It’s long overdue for replacement. Maybe I should do something about that. Make that a zillion and one on the list. The bathroom sink is a mess (not my fault). Then I see that the pup left some unappreciated presents in the dining room. Grumble…grumble. Did I mention it’s Monday? I’m almost ready to leave to drop off the car when the nachos I had last night (during my attempt to personally retreat where all I did was clean up my email) kick in. Really? Right now? And who is calling me before 8am? Why? It cannot be that important, can it?
We are all called to be ministers, but sometimes I ask God why that has to be all the time. Why can’t part-time ministry mean part-time? Because there are no part-time people. I studied Criminal Justice because people fascinate me. Now I’m surrounded by them. But God did not choose me because of my adequacy, he chose me because he had prepared me, blessed me, and I had the audacity to be obedient at one point in time. Well, two, actually. So here I am: an inadequate, grumbling, minister of grace on a Monday morning. Awesome.
As I drove the car to the shop, I took a way that allowed me to see that my friend and neighbor who hosts tonight’s Bible study is missing his dog. I saw the sign on a post and it reminded me that other people have things to face as well. Dogs missing. No work. Health struggles. Family problems. The list of possibilities is endless – and so is God’s grace. I sensed God telling me this: “As soon as I stop being good, you feel free to start complaining.” God IS good. If I remember that, I will understand that circumstances are only that – circumstances – tools used in God’s hands for good.
I drop off the car and am greeted with a smile. It’s a different experience for me – here in the city – to know by name and greet the people who provide a service to me. They provide a service to me. That just struck me. In my need, they are willing and able to help. That is a blessing. I began my walk home. On my walks, I have recently begun to pray for specific people and ask God to bless them. Very short, stream-of-conciousness type prayers. Today I felt compelled to pray for my enemies. I don’t know why. I began to call them to mind, names of past wounds that still have scars. Then came the moment of truth where I could not quite bring myself to ask God to bless them. As I wrestled with it, I finally gave a “Sure, go ahead” to their blessings. Pretty pathetic, right?
Then God asked me why I wanted to have him release blessings on them.
I hadn’t thought about that. I was praying with a very selfish motive. If they were blessed, they would (in my mind) be transformed for good, would never hurt anyone, and maybe they would find me and beg for mercy. That was my picture of how it should go. It began to rain. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t hear it, but I felt it. The lightest rain possible began to fall and I thought about the verse which tells us that God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Then it hit me a little clearer: in order to truly love someone, I must first understand just how undeserving I am. I did not deserve love. I do not deserve grace. But God pours it out at his discretion. Who am I to withhold? That thought didn’t change the fact that it is Monday, nor did it clear my calendar, but it did give me perspective.
Half-way home and it began to rain a little harder. Now I could see it, and hear it. I crossed the street to take advantage of the trees on the other side. Then I was reminded of the lines of the song in church yesterday – “tower of refuge and strength.” The bottom line is, today as any day, I am undeserving. I am inadequate in my own strength. Yet God chooses to use me and pours out grace so that I’m a fitting vessel at times. I have grandiose visions of how God might use me sometimes, but how can he use me in grand ways if I can’t manage a Monday morning? Two blocks away from home and the clouds let loose for about 30 seconds. Pieces start to fall into place. Grace doesn’t come in packages we can control; it comes in a form that washes over us and that we are powerless to stop. I waved to my neighbor. He gets it. He was sitting on his porch, drinking morning coffee, and just taking it all in. That’s all God has ever asked of us when he pours out grace: take it all in.

P.S. It’s a little difficult to show in pictures that it rained on a bald man, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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Finding God In: Broken Hoses

I do not rest well, but I am learning. At some point in my life I will learn the lesson that there is nowhere else that I can be but exactly where I am. The point was made most clearly when I traveled to Nicaragua in 2009 and had a layover overnight in Atlanta. Everything was out of my hands. All that I could do was receive the warm hospitality that was offered and just be where I was. Yet, much like Geometry, this is a lesson that needs repeating.
The other day I had a fairly light agenda. I had no work obligations, so I was going to run a few errands before picking up my sons from school. My plan was then to take them to see the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson, come home, make pizza, and relax. God had a different design.
After filling up the car with gas, I had noticed a particular scent. Being that it was at a gas station, I just shrugged it off as a “gas station smell.” At the next stop light, I picked it up again. “Hope that’s not me,” I thought. I made a stop to pick up razors and toothpaste (two of the more vital needs in a home), and I noticed the scent again. By now I was pretty sure it was me, and that wasn’t a great feeling. As I pulled into my next stop, the steam rolling out of the hood left me no doubt – it was definitely me. I opened the hood and gazed at a change of plans, for the steam was prominent and the leak was flowing. Awesome.
At this point I was forced to change plans. I called my sons mother and she was able to do the school pick-up. I called the repair shop, but they were unable to fit me in until the next day. With the equivalent of a tail between my legs, I headed home with my eye on the temperature gauge. Every stop light became more irritating because it was a delay and a threat to the overall well-being of my car. “Please just let me get home,” I prayed more than a few times. And that is what happened.
With nothing to do but wait for my sons, I sat on the couch with a long list of unvoiced complaints. I had already struggled with the adjustment to Michigan after a week in Honduras. It had been raining every day. The sun had not come out – at all – and I was physically feeling pretty rotten.
God picked up the conversation from there with the equivalent of, “You got something to say? Well, let me have it.” Feeling as though I had been given permission, I whined like an Israelite sick of manna every day. “Why can’t I do this?…Why not that?…Why can’t I talk to?…Why did this have to happen?” At the end of my rant, God responded with, “That’s it?” And it became very clear to me that my complaint boiled down to this: “I’m sick of being given what I need, why can’t I get what I want?” Hopefully God shows mercy to me and doesn’t promise me quail until it comes out of my nose as he did for the Israelites.
You see, God had all of it worked out. He always does. I just didn’t especially like it. But, with hindsight, I began to see. Once again, the breakdown had come at a time when I could rest. My sons were picked up from school. There was no pressing need for the evening, nor on the next day. And church is only a mile away, so I can easily walk there and back. But what really convicted me in my complaint was when I began to share with someone about Edith, the woman who runs an orphanage in Honduras.
Edith stepped into her calling with nothing. She could not work because she was the only one who could care for the children. When she had an apartment full of ten children, the mayor kicked her out and gave her an abandoned high school. No running water, no consistent food nor income, just faith and love. And God has provided for her every step of the way. She now has some help and more people are aware of her ministry. And, not far down the road, a beautiful, brand-new building is being constructed for her. God is rewarding her faithfulness and obedience. As I shared about her, the insignificance of my complaints was driven home. Did I really have room to complain? Of course not.
In fact, my daily list of gratitude, my “10,000 Reasons,” has grown shorter once again as I am surrounded by all that I have. My list was long and easy to come by when I did not have my “wants,” because then it became so clear that God was giving me what I needed – and more. No, surrounding myself with comforts is not the answer. Having what I want is definitely not the answer. I must trust God to supply all of my needs.
I was recently asked to pray for someone who was feeling physically awful. Not only was he feeling awful, but he had a rather significant obligation to meet. So I prayed for him. Not more than ten minutes after I finished, I realized that I had never prayed for his physical healing. I had simply asked God to give him what he needed. God did, in fact, give him physical healing, but not in the manner we might have hoped. This brother became more sick, threw it all up, and then felt better.
We sometimes think that the blessing that we need is to experience the removal of those things that ail us, bother us, and become a thorn in our flesh. But God knows better. Shall we accept good from him, and not the bad? Of course not, because a sovereign God sees far beyond our human eye.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to share at my sons’ school about my Honduras experience. I was given two dates to choose from – last Friday or today. For no particular reason, I chose today. That’s not entirely true, I felt prompted to choose today. At the very time that I would have been at the school on Friday, I was instead looking at an engine full of steam. And, Lord willing, that same engine will be repaired shortly and I will be able to drive to my sons’ school to share. We think that certain details are insignificant, that God does not care, but clearly, God cares even about broken hoses.
One final thought: this experience was yet another reminder to me of the life of words. Time and time again I have been given real-life challenges of words I have spoken as truth or encouragement. I recently said of someone recovering from hip surgery, “God has a way of making us be still.” Less than 48 hours later, I was living my words. We should not take our words lightly because God clearly does not treat them lightly. When I have shared words of truth or encouragement, they have all been coming back to me to live out. It’s as if God tells me, “If you are going to say that, you are going to live that so that you can know that to be true.” So my words coming away from this, what I know to be true: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

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