Walking with a Giant

I’m working on a post about lies people believe about pastors…  but feeling the crunch I thought I’d share this one I wrote a while ago.

He was frail and hunched over his cane as he walked.  His steps were small and deliberate, the toil of years in each motion.  He griped the pew at his side for support and I reached to support his arm as we walked to the stage.  Every step seemed to be a struggle, as if he had carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, as some great colossus who had raised the staff in the wilderness providing pathways, water, bread, and victories.  I walked by his side privileged that I was permitted to walk next to him and aid him in the baring of his cup.

When we reached the front, his legs were weary and his eyes near pleading.  “I’m going to need to sit down” he said, almost in an embarrassed tone.  The long walk from the back to the front of the sanctuary was hard on his frail frame.  Quickly I arranged a bench for him to sit on, and he waited his turn to scale the mountain and intercede for those being ordained.

The chairman of deacons and I helped the elderly prophet climb up to the pulpit stage.  At the top, I placed a stool behind him and whispered, “there is a bench if you would like to sit, we’ll move it in front of each man while you pray for them.”  As if he could not hear me he reached his hand out and laid it on the back of the first candidate’s head.  He pulled the man close and prayed with tears pleading for God’s spirit to rest on the man.  Then he would repeat the action for the wife.  Six men in all, he prayed for each in this manner.  I could not hear all that he said, but as he left each man, they seemed acutely aware that some great work had just transpired in front of them.  All six men wept.

The prophet finished his blessing and began the trudge back down the stage heading back to his seat.  As we walked back, I began to realize why this man was so frail.  He had been holding the staff of God in the air for years while the battle raged below.  The evidence of a power beyond the hand of man was upon him and the Spirit of the LORD full in him.

Someone said to me afterwards, “that was a good deed you did helping [the elderly pastor] up there.”  My only response, “no mam, that was a good deed he did, letting me walk with him.”

I can’t help but wonder if Joshua felt this way about Moses toward the end.  Did Joshua stand beside him as he climbed themountainofGodto see into the promised land?  Was he privileged to hold the arm of an ancient warrior of God?  Did he realize the gravity of Spirit that lived in the man he stood next too?  If he did, he had one of the most sobering experiences any man has ever had.

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Paper Tigers

I’m at seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Havard Campus in Houston. I spend my day off each week working to study the various languages, and histories, and theologies, and missiologies, and all the other logies you can imagine (hahaha I just said I go to school to study logies). It’s a fun but exhausting experience each week. (I am blessed to be at the Havard Campus, they have FANTASTIC faculty who work there and brilliant pastors who attend there. What follows is in no way a critique of the school. Good? Good.)

As a young seminary student (I’m 30, so I’m no longer the youngest, but still young even though I am often the veteran minister in my class.) I have great conversations about the “church world.” Gregory Boyd, John Piper, Shane Claiborne, N. T. Wright, Mark Driscole, Rob Bell, Voddie Baucham, T.D. Jakes, and the like are constantly set up as examples to build up or tare down.

Now, there is an ease to attacking a celebrity pastor. You don’t have to get to know them, you don’t have to listen to them, and you certainly don’t have to read their books first. You can just assume that they are what you have made them to be in your eyes, or the eyes of the other person from whom you stole your rant. My favorite one to hear people talk about here is the good brother Claiborne. People who claim to have known him will say things like, “that guy talks about living like Jesus, but he is really just self righteous. He is incredibly arrogant!” or “Yeah, I know Shane Claiborne, he’s a nice guy, but he gets a lot wrong.” It’s a bit ridiculous to say things like that, isn’t it? Aren’t you being self-righteous in making the statement? Beside the fact that he is not in the vicinity to defend himself. (The good brother Claiborne is one of the founding members of “the new monasticism, the simple way community in Philadelphia. You can find out more here: www.thesimpleway.org.)

So, I wanted to take a moment to talk about paper tigers…

To be fare, the concept of “paper tiger” is something I learned from my brother while eating lunch. He confessed to setting up one such theologian as his own paper tiger and then proceeded to tear the poor little tiger to pieces. (For the record, while someone may do this occasionally, it does not necessitate them as wrong, it just weakens their argument.)  In further fairness, I set up a lot of paper tigers myself.  I’m trying to do less of that.

To define a paper tiger: A paper tiger is someone who is in a seemingly exalted position who is well known, unable to defend themselves against you (often because of your obscurity), and who your listeners often don’t know personally.

So, if you want to make a paper tiger you need a few things.  One: a theologian/celebrity pastor who is well known but not personally known by your hearers.  Two: a point of view that makes this theologian/celebrity pastor seem frightening and maybe like a three headed monster.  Three: a few quipy cynical remarks that alleviate tension.  Finally: You’ll need a seemingly solid argument, presented against a loose explanation of the scary paper tiger! Throw in there exclamatory statements like, “Really!?” and “That’s just goofy!” for emphasis and humor. It’s also helpful if you can rip quotations out of context to prove your point. (The more ambiguous the quote, the smarter you’ll sound.)

All in all, paper tigers are horrible ways to prove a point. While they make you look and sound smarter than everyone else, one day you’ll have what happened to my good friend at school who shall remain nameless.

STORY TIME:

My friend had masterfully set up his paper tiger in perfect rhetorical style. He spoke with such majestic ambiguity that everyone was trembling in fear of this particular theologian, each one of us trying to imagine how we could defeat the tiger.  My friend made a mistake when he climaxed his argument by using a quote out of context.  I noticed a young man pull out his cell phone and walk away from the conversation for a moment. A few minutes later he came back he quietly ushered my triumphant friend, who was in the midst of receiving the accolades due a man for killing a tiger, off to the side and handed him the phone.  Honestly, how could he have known that one of the guys he was ranting to knew this pastor/theologian personally and would subsequently pull out his cell phone to verify the rant.  Never mind the likelihood that this young defender of the tiger would, in the kindest manner possible, offer to let the young ranter have an opportunity to talk to the real tiger on the phone!?  I watched my friend squirm and respectfully apologize for not understanding.  All in all, it was about 20 minutes of awkward, “uh… well… yes sir… no I didn’t mean it like that… Oh, I hadn’t understood it that way… etc…”

Moral of the story, don’t set up paper tigers, it’s just not smart.  Someday the real tiger might bite you.

A Man must die for his Wife

Warning: If this offends you, I am sorry. I mean no offense, only inspiration. Further, this is particularly aimed at men.

A man I was close to who was struggling in his marriage explained that he feared for his life. I was unfazed by the statement and insisted that he try to reconcile with his wife, no matter the danger he felt. In a moment of frustration he looked at me and said, “What do you want me to do, John!? Die!?”

Now understand, this was one of those Holy Spirit moments when a surge of power comes from your toes as you respond with surprising softness, “yes.” Immediately I thought of Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word.” The wife is called to submit (Paul’s words not mine, get mad at the Bible, not the reader.) The Husband is called to die!

Now pause here. Some men would have no problem taking a bullet, fighting off actual home invaders, or jumping out of a plan to save their wives. They just don’t want to do the dishes, get up early and take care of the baby, mow the lawn, fix the sink… they just want to watch the game, play the game, or have some “me time”… These men don’t know what it means to die. These men may not even know Jesus.

The death Paul is talking about is the same one Jesus went through. It is a self denial, the same as Jesus, who lived a perfect life, denied Himself EVERY SINNFUL PLEASURE, denied himself other non-sinful pleasures, healed the lame, loved the unlovable, forgave the broken, stood-up against the self righteous, fought off demons, starved Himself for the sake of knowing God, broke Himself for the homeless and destitute, denied Himself sleep and rest for the sake of prayer, and forgave the very people who nailed Him to a cross. This is the model of death Paul is talking about… and you wanna complain about dishes, or mowing the lawn, or not having enough time to play your games, or not having “me time?” Really?

Jesus gives us more insight in Luke 9:23, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me!” If you want to obey the Lord, you must die! And not just die at the end of your life, but all through it.

Now I recognize that I come from an unusual line of men who do not settle for less than self-sacrificing love. My father was a medical doctor who would wake at the crack of dawn, perform surgical procedures and work until 6pm, come home, eat with the family and spend the evening investing in his wife and children until late and then do it all over again. My brother would love to have time to sit and write the next great paradigm shift book, but he is too busy being an AWESOME FATHER to be selfish. My grandfather work so insanely hard for his family that someone saw him painting a garage and said, “that guy should sell diesel engines and educate people!” So I realize that my examples are extreme in today’s world of half-hearted men. But I have seen what it takes to die and I have seen the joy that accompanies such a death and the fruit of the labor and it is greater than any selfish pleasure I could ever desire! For, “what you sow does not come to life, unless it dies!” (1 Cor. 15:36b) Just because you don’t have the example I do, does not mean you don’t have the Savior I do, and HE is our example! To pursue His example is the greatest joy!

The second objection comes, “what if I am afraid for my life!?” Now now… no snide remarks about Jesus’ fear on the rock at Gethsemane or the countless other examples of martyrs for the faith and how little manning up and doing the dishes compares to all of that. Instead, let us take a different tact: you want Peace in life, in your home, or in your marriage. Let’s listen to the voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the subject of peace:
“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

You want peace? You must risk death. Only absolute surrender to the call of God can possibly lead to peace. How this risk looks in your specific situation may be different than mine, but it cannot include a pursuit of your own safety and selfish desires.

Men of God, it is time to stop being boys… We must cease the pursuit of our own happiness and pursue holiness. It is time we man up and die for our wives and live like Jesus… You don’t get to rest when you get home! You are Jesus to your family, so carry your cross and live it like you’re supposed to. You can rest when you’re dead (that statement actually has incredibly interesting implications when considered in the context of this blog). I want to be able to say what Paul does in 2 Corinthians 4:11! I want to be the father who fatherless children can look to! I want to be the man of GOD my world needs, not the pathetic coward this world deserves. I want to be what Jesus has called me to be!

Side note to young women: don’t marry a boy of games… wait for a man of God.

The Modern Moses

Throughout history there men who echo the voices of the prophets…  Men who call for freedom, men who proclaim the Word of the Lord, and men who stand for truth even when it is not acceptable to do so.  This is my favorite speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He gave it on the night before his death.

It’s three parts and it’s about an hour long…

Enjoy the voice of the prophet.

 

 

The River vs. The Deep

Did you know, in the book of Revelation, there is no sea?  A quick observer would object… “Nuh Unh!  The Crystal Sea John!  The Crystal Sea!”  However, if you’ll look in 4:6 you’ll see that John is using metaphor: “ and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”  The first statement is using the metaphor to describe the transparent glass floor, then the second is a simile describing the metaphor.  So, I restate my first claim.  There is no “sea” in Revelation. 

Why?  Why is there no sea?  I think the answer can be found in an examination of the river.  In Genesis we are told that a river flowed out ofEdento water the garden and then divided into 4 rivers.  These rivers are examples of God’s intended direction to expand the garden and take God’s life to the world.  (I’d love to explain that more, but that must be four or five posts… maybe sometime.)  These rivers flowed out of the Garden into the great unknown.  Flash forward a bit and you have Balaam’s oracle comparingIsraeland their relationship to God to a garden and its river.  This theme gets carried through in the Psalms when God is the refreshing spring, when He is the river with which we are refreshed, when He is the still water by which we rest.  The river is refreshing, it is comforting, it is a place of resting and restoration.  The river is a place of joy.

In direct contrast to the river is the “deep.”  In the Bible, only God knows the deep.  It is a terrifying place for the Hebrews.  The deep is where the leviathan lives, where Jonah is cast, where sin is condemned, where death is certain, and where nothing is known.   There is an odd juxtaposition: God is the Lord over the deep.  The deep… the very thing that terrifies us.  And at the same time, God is the river. 

In Ezekiel God speaks of how He swallows up the enemies of God in the deep.  Then he leads Ezekiel to a vision of the temple in which the altar has a trickle of water coming from it.  The water grows into a great river with fruitful trees on both sides.  Ezekiel ends up swimming in God’s river.  This great river then flows into the sea (the deep).  Flash forward, Jesus sits by a well with a woman who is not a Jew and His response is that He is the living water.  Then again just 3 chapters later Jesus says whoever believes will have rivers of living water flow from within him.  In light of the consideration between the deep and the river, Jesus is stating that the unknown will be overcome by the life of Christ in our soul. 

Finally, there is no sea in Revelation!  At the end of Revelation we see that the river of life has overcome the deep.  The sea has been defeated and there is no longer anything that is unknown!  The river remains at the end of the book with the tree of life growing on each side!  Its amazing. 

So think about this.  All that is terrifying, all that is unknown, all that is wicked, all that is evil will be overcome by the river of life.  How great it will be when we know as we are fully known.

Brief thoughts about the story of the Zax

I was watching Dr. Suess with my daughter…  the story of the Zax and found it to be a fascinating moral to the story…  if you’re not familiar: there is a north going Zax and a South going Zax who meet at an impasse.  The two refuse to move, in perfect rhyme of course.  They stand in the same place insisting that they cannot adapt to this troublesome situation.  Stubborn as can be they stand in one place and refuse to move.  They stand unchanged and undaunted, as the world around them goes on.  Dr. Suess even illustrates a highway and a small town growing up around them.  It’s a brilliant illustration.

You see, the expected moral is that you should accommodate people to continue on your path.  The South going Zax could simply move to one side and allow the North going Zax to pass by, but that’s not what Dr. Suess is getting at.  The story shows that the world keeps going with or without you.

I think this is particularly valuable when talking about community and conflict.  Often, in Church world, there are conflicts between members of the community.  When these conflicts arise, we are faced with three options.  1- Deal with the difficult stuff and resolve the conflict, thereby allowing each party to continue to proceed together in united movement.  2- Avoid the conflict altogether and let bitterness and frustration rise up while insisting on your own way, insuring that no one will move!  3- Change communities, take your problems to another one.

However, even these solutions do not match the moral of Dr. Suess’ “the Zax.”  The point is not that there is a right answer in conflict…  the point is that your conflicts do not matter to the world around you.  The world will go on.

I’m reminded of my Dad’s famous answer to my brother and I when we were worried about something we needed to get done: “Relax, no one’s going to die on the table.”  If we were worried about a test he would say this…  if we were worried about a friendship we would say this.  If we were worried about a game, he would say this.  You see, dad was a doctor and patients could die on the table for him.  But for most of our conflicts and concerns, “no one’s going to die on the table.”   It’s a way of saying, these things really aren’t that important.  So…  If you’re in a conflict right now…  whether someone has ignored you, gossiped about you, you gossiped about them, their mad at you, you failed a test, you failed an interview, whatever…  just remember, the world is going to keep going…  this isn’t that important and no one’s going to die on the table.

Sometimes I’m Overcome

Sometimes I am overcome by the mercy of God.  Other times, I am a moron. 

A few days ago I was tired when I came home to my AWESOME family.  My hyper-active two year old wanted to play outside and my wife looked like she could use some house time, so I took Julia outside (she’s not really hyper-active and I always feel like the hero when I get to do these kinds of things). 

She bounced and giggled.  My feet hurt.  She told me to swing her, then scolded me for swinging her too high.  “No, Daddy!  I don’t like higher!”  I had a slight head ache.  She pushed her little puppy down the slide and then tried to make me go down it.  (The physical properties of her plastic play slide cannot withstand the 215 pounds of Daddy.)  I was annoyed.  She then wanted to see the horses…  so we walked down and watched our neighbor practicing roping with his horses.  She wanted to see the bull and the donkey, so we walked the other direction to see the donkey.  I wasn’t wearing shoes that were good for walking… my feet hurt more.  I was tired, remember?  So when she wanted to go swing again, I told her, “Daddy’s tired, let’s go inside and get some tea.”  She threw a minor fit, but acquiesced quite quickly to the change in plan.  As I walked her into the house I was feeling tired and a little frustrated that I had not sat down to breathe, so I began to complain to God in my head. 

“Lord, I’m so tired!  Can’t you just calm her down for a few moments and make her play by herself!?  And why is her nap between 1 and 4!?  While I’m at work!?  And I know I’m going to have to cook dinner tonight!?  And my wife is tired!?  Why did You wake me up last night!?  I know it was You!  You woke me up and said nothing!” 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone on the street… when I saw him a pain hit my chest and I realized, I was being a moron.  I don’t know if he was real, or if God just let me imagine him.  The strained and haggard look on his face rocked me at my core.  I watched as the man was struggling to move his wheel chair down the street.  He clearly had one bad hand and was carrying some groceries home from the local grocery store. 

It suddenly occurred to me: I can walk.  All this time, I’d been able to walk and pick up my daughter.  We played in a yard that I own, on a swing that I was able to hang between two trees that are mine.  We played on a slide that I own, in the back yard of my house… that I own.  I’d led her about 50 yards down the street to watch the horses and then back 70 yards to see the big long horn bull and donkey!  Who else lives next door to a veritable free zoo!?  (Seriously, occasionally there are peacocks, raccoons, armadillos, and other odd creatures around our house. And we live two blocks from a grocery store and ten minutes from the mall!) 

When God woke me up the night before, I had not tried to listen.  I did not take out my Bible, I did not pray, didn’t even ask Him to help me go back to sleep.  In frustration I rolled over muttering something about needing more sleep.  In my selfish state, I had missed out on all the joy that was lavished on me.

I think this describes me more often then not.  I am a man who God lavishes mercy on and most of the time I don’t even notice.  We should always be overcome by His mercy.

I remember a story a missionary told me once.  He said he had been robbed while in an African country and they had taken his shoes.  The ground was mostly dirt and rock roads and shoes were a necessary commodity for him.  He began to complain to God about the shoes.  He didn’t realize he was complaining out loud when he passed a beggar who yelled, “at least you still have feet!”  He spun around in anger ready to berate this arrogant buffoon who would dare to speak to him this way!  Then he saw the beggar… he had no feet.  Holding his cup up, he said, “at least you have your feet.”  My missionary friend put some money in the cup and walked on… ashamed. 

I walked inside and my wife had prepared dinner.  I still have my feet.

I John 4:7-12