Lunch with dad

My brother wrote a blog recently that inspired me to think about an experience I remember with my dad. It was the summer when we were moving to Maryland. My dad needed help getting boxes from his office to the car. So he enlisted the aid of my friend Chad and myself. Chad was a great guy who was unusually strong for his age and I was a wimpy little runt. So really, dad was enlisting the help of Chad. Nevertheless, as we headed up to his office we acted very official and asked important mover questions like, “when is lunch?”, “how many boxes?”, and “is there a cart we can use?” My dad was very patient and answered every question with the utmost professionalism, playing along with our need to feel as though we had been hired. I think we may have carried about ten boxes total from 9am to noon, when dad took us to a Chinese place around the corner.
Dad loved food. All food. Not so much for the food itself, but for the experience of eating it. (Peanut butter covered Twinkies were one of his favorites. Sometimes, mom would leave the house on dad’s day off and he would tell me to watch the window. When she was out of sight I would hear, “is she gone?” Then enthusiastically I would run to the kitchen and he would hand me a peanut butter covered Twinkie! It was great!) When we arrived at the small Chinese hole in the wall, Chad looked at me and said, “you sure this is the place?” I said, “just come on, it’s gonna be good.” (it was probably the worst Chinese food I have ever eaten.) We sat down and saw a roach scamper across the floor. Dad said cheerfully, “this is a great place to eat!” We sat and ate and talked about life for a good hour and a half before dad stood up and said, “alright, back to work.” It has been years since I sat in that pitiful little Chinese restaurant and I am only learning what it meant to dad in the last few years.
Clearly, dad, a 6 foot 1 huge man with two bigger stronger older sons, did not need the help of his 14 year old, 125 pound, soccer playing boy and his best friend to help him move boxes. No, like the food, dad was in it for the experience. He would do things with us just for the experience of it being with us. He taught me to use an axe under the guise of helping him with the sticks in the yard. He taught me how to draw under the guise of asking me to draw him things in the house. He taught me to swim under the guise of racing! It was always about the joy of experience. So now, I try the same with my daughter. She’s only 20 months old, but I look forward to every experience I can with her.

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Lazarus

The account of Lazarus’ death exhibits a wonderful revelation of the character of our God. You know the story, Jesus is with his disciples and Mary and Martha send word that Lazarus is ill, “come quickly.” Jesus responds, “don’t worry, this doesn’t lead to death.” But you know the story, Lazarus dies! What is peculiar is the way Jesus phrased it. “This illness does not LEAD to death.” The Greek reads: “This weakness/sickness is not toward death.” However, Lazarus dies! Verse 14, Jesus clearly validates this, “Lazarus has died…” So we enter the paradox. What could Jesus mean saying something so obviously contrary to what he has already said? Can Jesus’ words exist in paradox? Or is their something wrong with the way we see time as having a beginning and an end? So I’ll leave you with the question to ponder. How can Jesus say, “this sickness does not lead to death.” And then follow that with “Lazarus has died!?” (Just a note, he still dies, even though he is resurrected, he still dies.)
Then Jesus states, Lazarus is sick for the glory of God! How remarkably strange it is that Jesus is claiming that Lazarus is sick for the sake of Jesus’ glory. Clearly the rest of the story must explain this. And so, the resurrection explains this mighty statement.
Then, Jesus, because he loves Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, delays for two days. It sounds weird when you stop there doesn’t it? Because Jesus loves them, he waits until Lazarus is dead? (There goes the prosperity gospel out the window! If this story is applied the way prosperity gospel preachers apply Abraham’s blessing, Jesus wants you to die in your sickness!) Because Jesus loves them, they will suffer great emotional strain! Because Jesus loves them, they will experience death. Because He loves them, one of them will die. Because He loves them…. Because he loves them… Could it be that sometimes we encounter the greatest struggles in life, because He loves?
Jesus then says, “let’s go to Judea again.” The disciples are naturally concerned, considering, the people in Judea just one chapter before tried to stone him. Yet, Jesus persists, we are going because Lazarus is dead! So here I want to rest for a moment. Jesus first waits two days, because he loves this family. Then he goes to be with them, to feel this trial the way they do. He goes to stand with them in their trials. He weeps with Mary and reasons with Martha. Our God engages us at our very core. He walks through the trials that are so difficult for us. When I say “He walks through the trials,” I don’t mean He walks by our side or that he carries us through them (though many times He does). What I mean is that he falls with us and feels the pain we feel. He takes our trials upon Himself. He carries our hurts and mourns with us. He lets us reason, answering our intellectual questions with clear and definite answers. Our God is personal and gracious. When we live here in this desert land, waiting for the promised hope of Glory to return, we have a God who lives with us, leading us through the desert, teaching us to be more like Him, and dwelling amongst us. He bleeds with us, weeps with us, and finally breaths hope into us. Our God cares enough to listen, walk with us, and live with us. What a great God!

The Pharisee

Every year, in our Church’s Passion Play, I play a Pharisee. Mostly because I haven’t got a lot of time to memorize lines and I guess I’m naturally pious and religious looking. There is one thing about the Pharisees that strikes me… they think they’re right. It’s an awful position to be in when one thinks that he is right. It is a position that must at some point be dethroned. In some manner we all must be Pharisees at some point, standing before God asserting that we are right in the face of His perfection.
Anyhow, every year I am drawn back to the three parables in Luke 15. They are perhaps the most well known parables in Christianity: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son. Take note, the Pharisees are the ones who inspire this system of parables in verse 2. They see Jesus hanging out with people who are wrong and say, “we are right!” Jesus then, the crowd captivated, launches into this famous series of stories. The first and second are easy enough to understand: God rejoices over a repentant sinner more than we rejoice over our possessions (and that’s a lot of rejoicing! I mean, for real, how many of us are geeking out over an iPad or the latest iPhone? Or if you’re me, the new ancient text your mother in law found at some thrift store… I know, I have no right to laugh at all you techno guys. Anyway, what were we talking, oh yeah… ) The third is a bit different.
We’ve always taken the prodigal son to be about just that, the prodigal son… and indeed, in some ways it is. However, the story actually climaxes with the older brother. He stands outside the feast pouting and the father comes out to him. He heard of his brother’s return while he was working in the field and is not pleased that his father has decided to throw the biggest party the city has seen for this no good lousy brother of his! You can imagine his posture, right!? He is near tears from anger, like you were when you were a child and your mom has just shattered your world by telling you that you must give the toy back to your sister who took it from you in the first place! He has that look, you know, watery eyes, confused anger, attempting to maintain respect and composure for someone you feel so much contempt for. Hands shaking as he paces on the porch, lining out what he is going to say to his father for this impertinent behavior. As the father comes out, the confrontation ensues.
Verse 28 presents the confrontation in a very different light. From the perspective of the older son, it is a battle for justice, the integrity of the family name is at stake, equity between brothers must be instated! But from the father’s perspective, the older son is missing out on the joy of the father. So, the father entreats, or pleads, with his eldest boy to join the feast. But the eldest son is right! So he will stand for justice and he gives his answer in verses 29-30! The reality is that his answer is incredibly selfish. We can imagine how that feels. You know, its like when we say something that sounded so right in our head and comes out sounding so absolutely wrong. At that point we are stuck with a choice, do we hold fiercely to our selfishness, shaking in anger, attempting desperately to hold back the flood of tears? After all we were right in our heads just a moment ago! Or do we silently hang our head in shame, let the tears come, and ask forgiveness?
The father’s answer is profound. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” You can almost imagine Jesus looking past the captivated crowds to see the eyes of the Pharisees in that line. Their eyes watery at the apparent rejection of their father through Jesus, their fists clinched in anger at his forgiveness of the sinners, their knees week and stomach in knots at this confrontation. He catches their eyes with his own and says, “Son…,” He goes one to explain that they are invited to the feast and should rejoice with the father!
The catch is whether or not the older son goes in… we don’t know. Does he insist that he is right, or does he submit to the father and go in? What about you?