Wednesday, July 28, 2010

reboot now

Stupid flesh. Like a 16-year-old cheerleader, failure tackles me and my day is flat on the ground. Sure, if I take the time to review, I can see the slow degrees by which this need-to-vomit-at-my-own-mediocrity state was achieved. It didn't happen in an instant, although there was an inflection point where my acceleration undoubtedly changed sign. I could probably even pinpoint the that happened. I might even be tempted to think, "If I just hadn't crossed that line." Youth ministers scared the hell out of me as a young person because they had me convinced that there was some line of sexual temptation past which there was "no return" and I would become a lycan-like creature fueled by unstoppable lust. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't set (very conservative) boundaries past which you know you'll probably fail. I'm just saying that in reality, there isn't a single point of crisis for a failure after which I have no opportunity to not fail. Or if there is, I give up long before I get there. There is definitely a point in the continuum at which stopping my failure goes from merely difficult to herculean. All the points are critical--it's just that some are more difficult than others to reverse. Regardless of the degree of difficulty to turn from the progression of failure, at every single millimeter of the slippery path to "epic fail" my responsibility and culpability remain, and I know it. The "always provides a means of escape" promise doesn't comfort me in retrospect; it kills me, throws the truck in reverse and runs over me again just for good measure. It means there was a way out, and I watched it pass by.

So, on those days when I'm less-than-great (i.e. most days), I sit in the misery of "epic fail" paralyzed by my own weakness and the soulful remnants of the actions (condemnation). There's nothing I can say or do to reverse the damage. It all makes me want to take out the giant "FAIL" stamp and call it a day. I might as well just veg out on TV. Tomorrow will be a better day. Tomorrow I'll walk with God like Enoch did. Yeah. That's it. I'll start keeping track of my righteousness again tomorrow. I'll reboot. Over 95% of all problems are solved with a reboot (just ask any IT guy); so, I'll reboot and be fine tomorrow. I'll be faithful in devotion tomorrow. I'll be passionate for ministry tomorrow. I'll apply the gospel tomorrow. yadda yadda

The problem with that sentiment is that it means a) I'm counting on my own righteousness/strength (doomed), and b) most of my life would be spent in FAIL (poorly-executed doom). It doesn't take me long to crowbar a perfectly good day; so, if I wait until the next morning to reboot, most of today and by extension most of my life will have been spent having a "bad day". Lifehacker recently ran an article about the science of having a bad day. Some of it is probably off-base, but they made some good points about "bad days" which I distill below:
  1. label the "badness" rather than obsess about it
  2. reevaluate the outcome
  3. remember that past failure does not indicate future success
  4. get on with it
What it reminded me of was to not wait to reboot crappy days. Maybe you failed miserably. Big deal. Reboot NOW. This applies to days that aren't productive/creative/energetic. This applies to days that don't feel sanctified/devoted. Feelings lie. Label it all sin, confess it, look for God to be glorified in it while disciplining you, and move on. Every time inappropriate images surface, slap "SIN" on it and shove it back under the blood of Christ. Every time the echoes of anger or frustration reverberate, slap "SIN" on it and shove it back under the blood of Christ. Every time doubt whispers that you won't make it, slap "SIN" on it and shove it back under the blood of Christ. Reboot now and expect Him to make you what He's destined you to be. Our perfect record as Christians is only because of Christ's perfect life and His righteousness; so, starting today over right now is really no different than how this day started or how tomorrow will start. "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden" must be right now. He doesn't need a breather after your failure. Devotion starts now. Sanctification starts now. Belief starts now.

reboot now

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christ and Skin

During this morning's "Bible time" (a.k.a. me dragging everybody's butts out of bed so I can stay motivated enough to get up and be disciplined), I asked the girls, "Do you apply the gospel to your life every day?" "Yes"...yes, of course we do was their reply. At 12 and 14, they're accustomed enough to dad probing for the right answer to questions that may or not make complete sense that they can (almost always) intuitively arrive at the correct "short" response most of the time without knowing what it actually means. Whatever I may be teaching them, I'm pretty sure I'm teaching them to test well on multiple choice-type questions. That was definitely the case for their "yes, of course" because when I asked for more information, "What does that mean?" the blank stares I received were only partially due to the sleep-residual fuzzies.

Now, being able to say "God knows me", and "God gave Himself for me" are absolutely invaluable statements. They're invaluable because the God who is faithful to them is infinite, and the worth of the gift He gives is infinite. We believe in them strongly enough for those to be the central message of our upcoming VBS. If I could apply those simple truths of the gospel and actually live in the full knowledge of just those two things, I'd undoubtedly be farther ahead than I am right now. But in these simple truths, God has richly provides greater depths of understanding so that we might more fully know His love! We deny ourselves the power to know this love by failing to personally grow beyond such high-level statements (much less appropriate them). We deny our children the power to know this love by failing to teach and require such things of them.

So I tried coaching the girls through some sort of recitation of the gospel. No dice. Now, this isn't completely unfamiliar territory. When we were prepping to go to Mexico last month, we talked about giving our testimony, what that meant, etc., and both of the girls prepared well and ministered well when called upon in the field. But they could tell I was after a more specific, semi-codified answer; so, they continued to stare blankly at me.

I (much to their joy, no doubt) went through the following list.
  1. incarnation
  2. sinless life
  3. substitutionary death
  4. resurrection
  5. ascension
  6. imminent return
...more nods and semi-disconnected stares. Right. Then the lights started to come on about what I was digging for. Now, the words are undoubtedly inadequate and the codification incomplete, but this is the list we arrived at together after discussion. I hope to live it out with them daily.
  1. incarnation - Because Christ put-on skin, he knows what it's like in mine
  2. sinless life - Because Christ lived a perfect life, I get a perfect record
  3. substitutionary death - Because Christ willingly gave His life, there's no more punishment for sin
  4. resurrection - Because Christ lives, I'm no longer trapped in the death of sin. I have eternal life.
  5. ascension - Because Christ ascended to the Father, I have an advocate--both before the Father (Christ), and from within me (the Holy Spirit).
  6. imminent return - Because Christ is coming again soon, I have hope and purpose
Do you apply the gospel to your life daily? Does that even make sense? Do you help your children to do the same?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

6 a.m. reminder

at approximately 6:05 a.m. this morning I had a startling reminder of what carnality really feels like. Settle down. I've been recently challenged by a number of sources (friends, books, etc.) about perseverance, spiritual discipline paralleling physical discipline, etc.; so, I have (once again) reasserted my resolutions for physical discipline to exercise, get up on time, etc. to make progress in my desire for spiritual discipline. During a nice conversation with myself this morning justifying why it was OK to stay in bed even though I had purposed to get up (you know the kind...I can shave in 15 seconds, etc.) it hit me. "This is what carnality feels like." It feels like the bed, pillows, sheets, etc. forming themselves around you in the most motivation-draining way possible. It feels like the temperature of the room being perfect for indulging in just a little more sleep. It feels like the blankets being warm but not hot, and the pillows being perfectly fluffed but not suffocating. It feels like your loved one's slow, rhythmic breathing. It feels like the best, most logical thing in the world is to concede the fight for just a little more sleep in the perfect sleep environment. It's surrounded by terribly logical excuses (I need the rest, I think better after more sleep, I can really give myself to prayer when I'm not so tired). It all makes perfect sense except that it is practically opposed to what you've said you really desire--a deeper walk with Christ I say practically because it isn't always obviously opposed logically. If it were overtly opposed logically it would be easy to recognize, but the damage comes in the fact that you can't recognize the damage to the actual practice of your right intention until it's too late. Maybe sleep's not your thing, but in that moment it struck me again that (whatever the expression), the desire to cave to flesh always has a similar quality. The perfect jerk and situation present themselves at which to be unduly angry. The perfect example of God's genius in creating woman presents herself to be looked at lustfully. The perfect compliment is given from which to derive pride. The perfect insult is given from which to nurse wounded pride. The list is endless, but caving to carnality always seems to make majority sense in the moment. To be sure, it isn't the only voice, but it sure seems to be the majority that resonates with my flesh. It reminds me of a comedian I saw years ago talking about the power of her bed on cold mornings. The bed would speak to her, "Come back to bed. You can pick out your clothes from here. Come back!"

It's interesting that the things used to distract us from our ultimate goal (Christ) are often the means of grace through which God shows us His love: a place to sleep; a snuggly spouse who is a gift from God; etc. While all of these things are ordained to point us to joy, we take joy in them instead of Him to whom they point. What an insult to the Father it must be that I so often treasure the gift over the Giver. What an amazing grace it is that He persistently calls to me through my blanket cocoon reminding me of my intention for fellowship with Him, promising me that I won't be disappointed, and empowering me to continue trying.

Friday, July 09, 2010

a dog named cowboy

That title with the nouns transposed would make for a pretty decent western novel. The setting for this entry could have been from a western--Arid and desert-like, with rough-finished, open air buildings into which Cowboy regularly wandered. Even the company he kept would fit well in a western--Joel would make a great cowboy: slit-eyed tough guy with black boots. But Cowboy is a dog--Joel's dog--and Joel is the director of Dayspring Ministries Training. We were at the Dayspring complex in Dr. Arroyo for a short-term mission trip which Joel lead, and Cowboy's favorite past-time was patrolling the dining area for scraps of food. He was having issues that affected his equilibrium, causing him to, at time, careen into the common area making him that much cooler (Cowboy es chida, but Cowboy has dysentery).

I tried to connect with Cowboy. Most people on our short-term mission trip tried, but most didn't succeed. My best effort was a food offering. It seemed like a sure bet given Cowboy's love affair with food scrap. He flatly declined. To say I was offended when he rejected the piece of banana I proffered may be an overstatement, but I can't deny I was a little perturbed. I'm not saying I was consumed with it. It wasn't even really a prominent distraction--just a very low-level buzz in my head. But, seriously, giving any emotional energy to a dog because he didn't immediately gobble up the food offered has got to be indicative of some sort of issue. Issues, as it turns out. I've never heard a donkey speak (although the freakin' donkeys there seemed to scream at the top of their lungs constantly), but I can say that God dealt with me through that dog.

Sometimes I understand God's dealing pretty linearly. He reveals lesson A, builds on that to B, etc. Many times, though, He deals with me in a way that unravels backward to the core in one flash. The core isn't the first thing I observe, but it's primary to the story. The core for my experience with Cowboy was pride. Shocker. Here I was, an important person in my own estimation, condescending to offer him some of my food, and he would deny it? Look at where he is, and where I come from. He's making me look less than cool. He should know that in addition to all of my many other talents, I moonlight as the Beastmaster. No dice, and "no, thanks" to the banana. Worse yet, he didn't even wait to see what else I would offer. He brushed me off (ME) as insignificant! I (obviously) deserve better than that. Now, I've searched myself. I can't find any overt prejudice or elitism, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's what it was to some extent. Sure, I can observe that prejudice in other people (how do *these* people survive without carpet, etc.), and if it were an active voice in the proclamation of my depravity it wouldn't be the loudest, but SERIOUSLY? There it is, though. Cowboy should take my food because look at where he is and how much better off I am. Pride rears its ugly head. Not only that, but he should really consider that I'm tall, good-looking, and an humble servant of God. *vomit* He's not cooperating with my facade. *vomit* Lesson number one: I am prideful enough to be insulted by a dog with dysentery.

Yeah, maybe your moments of lucidity follow actual crises rather than imagined offenses by a dog, but nonetheless, Cowboy caused me to pay attention. I started watching how he treated everyone and my minuscule indignation grew ever so slightly (first layer of the ball of thread that later unraveled). Not only did the dog not treat me as significant, he didn't treat me or anyone else in our group as a person. Dozens of groups go through that complex every year, and to Cowboy, I was just one piece of walking scenery. Sure, he'd accept a food scrap from the talking shrubs, or maybe even a belly rub, but they weren't actual people. I can't adequately describe watching the difference in his behavior between the short-term groups (the walking scenery) and his family. When *his* people walked in the room, everything changed. Nothing else mattered. The groups going through were just a temporary and insignificant distraction. Cowboy became a figurehead of another battlefront. The one where my pride was offended because I was wrongly sensitive to being the cause of the monotony of daily ministry. "I don't want to be a burden" can be one of the most prideful things uttered. You know what I'm talking about. About the 40th time that ______ does/says _______ and as a pastor/missionary/______ you have to participate in what God's doing for them even though you've lead expeditions around that mountain umpteem times, you show less than the overwhelming joy of service; so, to allow some else to serve you is of pride. Cowboy was looking through me as a non-person to what was important to him, and the growing indignation widened its scope to the insecurity that driving me to get ice cream wasn't what these missionaries had signed up for and they were bothered about it. *vomit* Thankfully, God always provides a way of escape from temptation. Invariably, that way is lined with enough glass to scrape off all the stinking flesh. The way for me back into a right spirit was the realization of how often had I looked *through* people rather than *at* them. How often had I not had God's perspective about a person in process when I'm in process myself? I looked through them to what I thought was important (people that gave me stuff, resources, pleasure, name it). I looked through them because they didn't provide identity or status or advancement. I should have rather stood secure in who God says that I am and where He told me to be and been an instrument He could use in their process. Lesson number two: I am probably one of the worst at looking through people because a) I'm insecure and b) my treasure is in the wrong place.

At this point of the epiphany, the carnality ball is unraveling with alarming speed and the conviction is working overtime. God may have dealt with my lack of concern and insecurity through Cowboy's lack of consideration, but He really worked me over using Cowboy's response to Joel. Joel was the source of supply, the center of identity, the cause of joy for Cowboy. Whatever else was going on, if Joel moved, Cowboy moved. If Joel spoke, Cowboy listened. Cowboy's first and last thought was for Joel. Cowboy didn't care at all what I though of him or even what I might offer him if Joel was there because Joel was his everything. Lesson 3 (yeah, this one was a short punch right to the gut): While looking through others to selfish ends is wrong (Cowboy and I are both guilty, but hey...Cowboy's a dog), because God is my source, supply, and joy from which none other can detract (Cowboy got this right and I struggle daily), I need consult nothing and no one else connected to my joy, and subsequently, I have the foundation and strength to recognize the moment and the people in that moment as the mission for which and to which I can give myself wholeheartedly (no real dog analogy here, but by this point I had enough of a head of steam for God to finish the pruning) without trying to manage peoples opinions or perceptions, and (further) I can joyfully accept God's provision through those He puts in my life.

Turns out Cowboy just really doesn't like bananas.