That Feels Right

The other day I was standing in line at the Orange County Courthouse and Hall of Records with my new bride. We were waiting to pick up an official copy of our marriage certificate. After making a small mistake on our original application, it took the government a long time to correct it. So in the eyes of the Church we were hitched on November 3rd, but the state took 2 months to recognize us as husband and wife. I would make a joke here about “living in sin”, but that’s something else the State of California doesn’t readily recognize.

I digress.

As we stood in line, a TV on the wall was tuned to a cable news network. They were covering the president and congress as they work on some new legislation. After reading a summary of the law over the air, the lead anchor looked up at the camera and said, “Yeah. That feels right.”

I don’t know if it was my fledgling understanding of the intricacies of married life or my consistent displeasure with our society’s over emphasis on “feelings”, but the words of the newsman struck a chord. “That feels right”??

He was commenting on new legislation, not a back massage. He was reading a new law. Feelings have nothing to do with it. A law is either right or wrong. Either it’s going to be best for the American people, or it’s not. It doesn’t matter how it feels. If it did, then what if someone wanted to break the new law – presumably because they felt like it?

If my wife and I based our nuptials completely on our feelings, we would have been divorced before California recognized us as married. We must base our marriage on commitment to Christ and to each other, enjoying the good feelings all along, so that when the feelings aren’t good, we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As I’ve studied some of God’s commands this week (maybe that’s the reason why the news anchor’s phrase stuck out to me!), I think there is a truth here we struggle with in regards to God’s clear instructions for us.

God has given us commands. Laws, if you will. And many times – just like with marriage and our country’s laws – we don’t like the way they feel. And if we don’t like the way they feel, then we think they must not be right. But the most helpful thing to remember when we don’t feel good about a command God has given us is to remember this: God’s commands are for our joy. 

If God were a painter, the colors would be his commands and the finished painting would be our joy. One stroke at a time, God is painting a picture we do not yet see, but when it is complete, our joy and his glory will be the product.

Jesus, after teaching his disciples that remaining in his love was possible through obedience to his commandments, Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11 NLT) If we really loved God and neighbor as Jesus commands, we’d have no need for any of the other commandments. We would give love and we would feel love.

God cares about our feelings. In fact, according to John 15, he gives us instruction so that our feelings of joy will overflow. But unlike society, God says that doing right is the gateway to feeling right. Our culture says just the opposite. But if that were the case – if feeling right was the guide to doing right – then how do you think laws and marriages would work out? Mmm hmm. Not so great, huh.

Just something to think about the next time you get a little miffed by one of God’s commandments.

Remember – he’s looking out for you. He loves you. His commandments are not against you, they’re for you. God is not interested in giving you a joyless, dull, and restricted life. He’s only interested in giving you the best and the fullest. (John 10:10) So he gives you commands to do just that.

Bigger than 2013

My wife and I are glad that it’s 2013. Besides our wedding day in November, 2012 was a year to forget. The year was filled with unexpected challenges, pain, loss, and heartache. Personally, it was one of the worst years in memory. Which brings to mind an important truth.

Lasting joy is found only in something bigger than anything that can happen to us.

Without something bigger – something more important – something eternal – all of life will be a disappointment. I don’t mean that every day will be a miserable day, but the sum total of all the days will unlikely lead to lasting joy. Think about it.

Just this morning I received another disappointing call. I had just woken up, excited to pack my bags and fly to Texas with my wife to see our family for the first since we were married. We live in California, so we only get to make the 1500 mile trip to see my parents and my brother’s family once a year (maybe twice, if we’re lucky). My three nieces are 6, 4 and 2, so each year between visits we skip over several inches of growth and huge developments in their young lives. Plus, the three little ones and my sister-in-law were unable to make it to the wedding, so the nieces were super excited to meet their new aunt!

But my brother called first thing this morning to share the bad news: two of our nieces had the flu. It had been a rough week and a rough morning and by now their entire family was a five person flu carrier. As disappointed as they were, we would not get to see them. It wasn’t worth getting anyone else sick.

It was one of those moments when i had to decide two things – 1) Will I choose to live in the disappointment or still live in gratitude? 2) Is seeing my family the most important thing in my life or is there something bigger?

Missing out on your nieces is not the biggest thing in the world. Unless, seeing you nieces is the biggest thing in your world. The same with everything else. Losing a job is not the biggest thing in the world, unless your job is the biggest thing in your world. Losing your health is not the biggest thing in the world, unless your health is the biggest thing in the world. You get the picture. Relationships… money… house… reputation… sex… hobbies… church… even life. Losing any of these is not the biggest thing in the world unless its the biggest thing in your world.

Don’t get me wrong here – losing things does not make me happy. But there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is circumstantial, joy is not. Happiness is fleeting because it’s based on temporal things, joy is steadfast because it’s based a permanent thing.

For me, that permanent thing, is God, revealed in Jesus Christ, the One that gives joy and will outlast everything else.

Paul, one of the writers of the Bible, puts it this way: “He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything i the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the thing we can’t see…..He existed before anything else and he holds all creation together.” – Colossians 1:15-17 (NLT, emphasis added)

He existed before anything else and he holds all creation together. If you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket, don’t you think the One who holds all creation together would be the best basket?

Lasting joy is found only in something bigger than anything that can happen to us.

Here’s to 2013. Here’s to choosing gratitude in the face of disappointment, and resting in an eternal God amid a life of temporary things.

Good Angry

This week for a work event I found myself at a wedding reception for 350 people at a big hotel in Los Angeles. The bride and groom carried foreign names and their guest list was diverse: young and old, single and married, first-generation immigrants and long-time Americans, some who spoke English and some who did not. This was not an atmosphere – or a people group – that I normally find myself in. I love having experiences like this because there is always something that reminds me of the universality of humanity. Laughter. Language. Music. Affection. Family. Love. On this day however, I experienced an emotional element common to humanity but rarely seen in its proper expression: anger.

After about an hour of standing at my station, a group of five men, ages ranging from 55 to 70 stood nearby enjoying drinks and dessert. It’s difficult not to eavesdrop at events like this for a few reasons: everyone is yelling over the wedding band, people are interesting, and frankly, I sometimes have nothing else to do. All three were the case this time. In their foreign accents I heard a few words and phrases that stuck out above the rest: “Cruel idiot.” “I could shoot him myself.” “There is no human explanation for his behavior.” At first I thought they were probably just gossiping about a crazy uncle who was drunk and acting a fool at the reception. That would not be too abnormal for any wedding reception. But then I heard a few more words and phrases that narrowed the subject matter to an event that disturbed all of us this week. “Connecticut.” “Shooter.” “Tragedy.” As the men continued, I listened more closely. One man – probably 65 years old – lowered his voice, and spoke intently to his listeners: “This kind of thing makes me angry. Very, very angry. Now that I have 6 grand-kids, it makes me nauseous.”

The massacre in Connecticut, and others like it, are not supposed to happen. Children are not supposed to die. No life is supposed to be lost in this way. In truth, life is not supposed to be lost in any way. And the anger that we feel is right. In fact, if we don’t feel anger then something is wrong. If we don’t encounter the evil of the world – the harming of innocent life – the taking of what should not be taken – without good, just, righteous anger, then something is definitely wrong.

This week as I prepared to write something else, I happened to read John 2:12-22. In this passage the Gospel writer recounts Jesus’ clearing of the “merchants” in the Temple. Jesus makes a whip – a real, pain inducing, whip – and literally chases them out of his Father’s house. Jesus is angry. Good angry.

Our politically correct glasses – you know, the ones we frequently wear to try to make everything “ok” and “happy” and “copacetic” – are overused: in our world, and when we look at Jesus. We want him to be passive. Easy. Lovely. Calm. Emotionless. But Jesus is none of these things. Jesus is love. Love does not turn away from evil in order that the evil-doer’s feelings are not hurt. Love does not let evil run rampant because confronting it will cause distress and discomfort. Love hates evil. Love fights to protect what is good and innocent. Love becomes angry at the broken, harmful, and evil things of this world.

In light of such horrific tragedy, I’m thankful for the shared humanity I see in random groups of people like at the wedding on Saturday night. I’m thankful for people who have allowed themselves to feel and express anger – the just response to the evil that has fallen on Connecticut this week. And I’m thankful that Jesus’ love allows room for anger at what is wrong.

We are praying for the families and friends of the victims in Connecticut, knowing that we can’t fully understand the pain, confusion, loss, and anger.

Only Because I Have To Be?

A buddy of mine and I recently strolled into a local car lot. He’s preparing for the day when he has to finally buy a new car. He’s driving a 2001 Ford Focus that had absorbed more of his paychecks than he would ever get in return. So, it’s time.

With the economy still not doing so well, the cost of used cars has gone the way of the dollar, and it seems everything else from gas to groceries is going the other way. So, every salesman at the lot looked at us like a fat commission check. As soon as our feet hit the pavement, we were greeted by a used-car salesman. No stereotypically greasy hair or bad Southern accent, but none-the less a man on a mission. Suit and tie. Big smile. Firm handshake. A nice guy.

But only because he had to be.

After the car buying process I realized that the salesman really only took interest in us because we were on his lot, looking at his cars, and he was hoping to make a deal. Then another thought struck me; This kind of thing happens all the time. Everywhere. The lady at Starbucks; she doesn’t care what my name is. She just has to write it on the cup. The checker at Ralph’s: he doesn’t care how my day is really going. He’s just asking so I’ll move up in line and let him run my Lucky Charms through the scanner.

Then, as if this was not enough thinking for one day, I thought: “Huh. Do I do this?”  Do I take interest in people only because of what I can get from them? Do I only talk to influential people because I’m networking? Do I only speak to my co-workers because I will eventually need their help? Do I say ‘hi’ to a girl only because she is cute? Do I only ask someone how their day was because I really just want to tell them how crappy my day was?

Or, do I really care about people. Do I look someone in the eye, and genuinely care if they are sad, or lonely, or sick, or well, or happy, or satisfied? Do I care about people because according to Jesus of Nazareth, I am to consider others’ concerns more important than my own? Or do I just want to get what I want. I’m afraid the answer is, more often than not, that I am a nice guy.

But only because I had to be.

And the question, “Do I do the same with God?” will just have to wait ‘til another day…when I’m not so afraid of the answer.

I Want to be Carl Hauser

Why do I want to be Carl Hauser?

Because Carl Hauser saves the world.

If there was any question about me being 100% male, let Friday night stand as exibit ‘A’. To cure a bit of boredom and restlessness, I went to watch “Total Recall” (As I said – I’m 100% male). I needed a dude’s movie and it did not disappoint. Lots of things blew up, and lots of people got hurt. And Colin Farrell’s character, Carl Hauser, did indeed save the world.

And in the middle of the movie, as Carl was rescuing a damsel in distress on his way to conquering world-wide evil, I wondered (almost aloud), “Why do I want to be Carl Hauser?” And the answer came as quickly as the question did: “Because deep down, I want to save people.”

Here’s the beautiful thing – I am Carl Hauser. And I live in a world full of people who need to be saved.

We talked about this very thing last Tuesday night at my guys group. My “guys group” is a small group of 7 guys who have been meeting weekly for the last four years to discuss life and the Bible, and to pray for, encourage, teach, and call each other out. These are my best friends.

Last Tuesday we disussed the challenges of talking with other people about our beliefs and the times in life when we were (are) afraid to tell others about Jesus. We linked the difficulty of sharing our faith with people to our fear of rejection, our insecurity, and our desire not to be labeled as a “crazy Christian”; something that happens readily in Los Angeles, CA.

But in the end we each concluded that separation from our beautiful Creator, self-destruction, sin, and death are all very real. And if each of these things is real, then our lives are closer to Carl Hauser’s than we often realize. And there is no time to be fearful, insecure, or to worry about the labels we will be given.

This is the beauty of movies like Total Recall. I admit they are more than a bit ridiculous, but there is a simple truth in them that should resonate with our souls: the world is broken and it needs saving.

So the question is not so much why do I want to be Carl Hauser – the question when am I going to be Carl Hauser?

God is giving us the opportunity – in fact He is calling us to step into the reality that He wants to use US as the supporting cast in His epic attempt to let the world know that He can, and will save it from all that is killing it. Jesus did all the saving work on the cross and on resurrection Sunday, and now He’s asking us to lace up our boots, wipe the blood and sweat off our foreheads, and go into battle again and again for the sake of the world. This is not some drummed up Hollywood movie script. It’s the reality of the world we live in.

Here’s the good news – if the Church is the Body of Christ in this world (as Scripture says repeatedly) then we are the Carl Hausers that the world is looking for. We are the butt-kicking, evil conquering, life-saving force that this world needs and we carry the Truth that will save it.

Don’t you want to be Carl Hauser too?  Then your question is the same as mine – WHEN are you going to be Carl Hauser?

Now Go save the world. You know you want to. And you’re supposed to.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21       Ephesians 6:10-18

Digging for Gold

You know what used  to annoy me?  The people who walk down my street pulling a loudly rattling grocery cart full of bottles and digging through my trash cans for recyclables.

It was now Saturday night, and I sat at a sidewalk table in Studio City enjoying some fro-yo and an interesting book. For those of us who feel the extreme societal pressure to be busy with cool people in cool places on Saturday nights, this was, by all accounts, lame. But for me, it was just what I needed; a quiet ending to a quiet day. 

As I finished up another chapter, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I turned to find a short man, meagerly dressed, digging through a trash can 15 feet from where I sat. Much like the people who make their way down my street on trash day, I paid him little notice…at first.  

As I closed my book and rose to leave, I noticed a glass bottle on the ground near my seat. And the thought went through my mind; “I bet that guy could use this glass bottle.” So, I caught his eye, and pointed to the bottle. He nodded “thank you” and then went back to digging. Then I thought, “Chris (that’s what I call myself), don’t just point at the bottle. Take it over to him – just like you take something to someone who does not dig through trash.” So I picked up the bottle and handed it to him.

And it may sound cheesy, but in that moment, I felt the pure joy of helping another human being.  An act so little. So simple. And so meaningful. 

Then, I spotted a aluminum coke can on the sidewalk. I picked it up too and walked over to his car, full of bags of recyclables, and handed him the can. He had a scruffy face, sad eyes, and the posture of someone who has had a rough go of it. He smiled. As it receded from his tired face he took the aluminum can, and said “ah…these are like gold.”

Soon, I found myself also digging through trash cans for more pieces of “gold”. Something I have never done before. And, I’m sad to say, for someone I would have never helped before. 

The truth is, that man and I are not that different. I too am looking for “gold”. I’m looking for things of value to make my life better. And just because my “gold” comes in the form of a weekly pay-check, I think I’m better than him and the people who pull grocery carts down my street. 

But on that quiet Saturday night, God patiently reminded me that we’re all the same. And God loves all of us the same. And God has chosen to show His love to us by acting through us. He has chosen us to help others find the “gold” in this life. 

This morning I saw the lady with the loud rattling cart come down my street again. And this time I was not annoyed.

Galatians 3:28    Romans 12:3, 9-13   1 Peter 1:3-9

Thank you Jesus. Thank you that you change me, even the greatest of sinners. Teach me to love even more.

First-Class Island

A few weeks ago I took my very first, first-class flight. American Airlines, flight 32 from Los Angeles to New York City. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?  The irony is that the flight was the first leg of a trip to Brazil where I was doing mission work for 2 weeks. I confess that I felt a bit more like a tel-evangalist than a regular guy doing some mission work, but I must also confess that it’s not a bad way to start a trip; mission or otherwise.

The free flight was a gift from a church-member who works for American, and was given to help our mission team cut expenses. I happened to be the lucky recipient of her generosity.

I received my boarding pass and easily found my seat as I stepped on to the afternoon flight. 2D was the first seat, in the center aisle. The only seat in the center aisle. I sat down and took in my surroundings.  My first thought? – “Where are all the people?”  My second thought – “2D makes me feel like I’m the only person on this flight!” Seriously. Those were my thoughts.

My center seat was set a few inches further forward than the seats on my right and left, and I was isolated from them by an aisle on each side. The seat behind me was set back at at least 5 feet. Compared to flying coach (where I have been every flight of my life thus far), I was an island. And frankly, it was weird.

There was no bumping in to anyone; no shooting pain in my elbow from getting hit by the beverage cart; no “excuse me” from the window seat passenger trying to escape to the bathroom; and no “Are you from L.A. or just visiting?” back-cabin-banter exchanged over the fumbling of seat belts.

That, my friend, is the privilege of first-class. And that, my friend, is the problem with first-class.

Isn’t it funny how the more privileged we are, the fewer people we bump into?  The goal in our lives seems to be away from people, not towards them.  Airplanes are the perfect example. When you’re poor, you don’t fly at all. You stay at home with your family. When you’ve got a little money, you cram everyone into a mini-van and head to the state park with lots of other families. When you hit middle class, you scrape together as much money you can, buy a coach ticket and end up sitting at the back of the plane with screaming babies and other financially strapped middle-class families. Moving up in socio-economic status? Then so does your seat on the plane. Business class, then eventually first-class. The super rich never fly with anyone again – they trade back-of-the-plane for owning-the-plane – flying around the world with no one but servants on board. More privilege, less people.

And the examples of “first-class islands” extend well beyond airline travel. Big promotion at work = big corner office. Higher income = gated community.  As one moves up, he trades the public gym for a private trainer – left-field cheap seats for luxury box – state park picnic for guided safari – public education for private tutors. The more “important” we are, the less people we interact with.

This is exact opposite of the most important person to ever walk the planet.

God the Father left His throne to walk in the garden with his prized creation. God the Son left His spot at the right-hand to become Immanuel, God with us. The Holy Spirit left the Trinity luxury suite to dwell in the lives of every person who calls His name.

This is the incarnation – Jesus, comfortably sitting in first class, gets up and walks to the back of the plane, to join the people He created. And He seemed to find as much comfort and enjoyment grinding it out in coach as He did sitting co-pilot and sipping fine wine with the Father.

There’s never been a King who has initiated as much, or accomplished as much, as Jesus by leaving His first-class island and rubbing elbows with a different class. And because of it, each of us who calls on His name gets a life-changing “bump” to first-class. But when we get there, we won’t be alone.

He asks us to do the same. Leave our seat – head to the back of the plane, and bring the King with us.

As the flight attendant refilled my Dr. Pepper for the 8th time in under an hour, I got more and more excited to leave the tiny little first-class island, and rub elbows with humanity on my mission trip.

Thank you for coming to us, King Jesus. We needed it. We still do. Help us to leave our personal first-class islands to touch and be touched by everyone around us.

A City Around Jesus

 

Have you ever read Revelation and felt a little guilty for not being super excited about worshiping Jesus forever?  Revelation 19, among other places, describes masses of people worshiping Christ. The image it sets in my head is of an incredibly long worship set. I’m sure the band is amazing, but  I’m already worried about getting tired of standing up and raising my hands for eternity. Maybe this picture I have of worshiping God forever isn’t quite right…..

I just returned from Brazil after a two week mission trip. On day one of the trip, we flew into Rio De Janeiro and got to make a quick trip to “Cristo Redentor” – the Christ the Redeemer statue, one of the seven wonders of the world. It is an awe inspiring statue in an awe inspiring location.

From the platform at the base of the statue you see dramatic views of the Brazilian coastline. The blue ocean, green mountains, and bleached white buildings that make up the city of Rio spread out below its visitors in the most beautiful combination of water, land, and urban sprawl I’ve ever seen.

And as I gazed out at the kaleidoscope of creation, I thought, “this whole city revolves around Jesus.”

With my mind full of thoughts from Revelation (which I was preparing to teach to the Brazilians we came to see) I quickly connected those two thoughts; a city that revolves around Jesus – and a worship service that lasts forever. And I think finally got a more accurate mental image of what eternity with Jesus will really be like.

It will be a city that truly revolves around Jesus.

In Genesis, God gives us jobs before sin ever enters the world. We will be people who work. And Paul tells us in Colossians 3 that whatever work we do can be, and should be, service and thanksgiving to Christ. Worship.

Combine God’s design for us as workers and His promise to create a new city, and I think our worship will be living life as he intended it – work and community in a beautiful city – with our Christ the Redeemer as our central focus. Not a cold statue that looks down on those below, but a kind and powerful King who is all at once high above us and living among us.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”                                  Revelation 21:2-3

I can’t wait to live in that beautiful city; to stand on the platform at the feet of the living King while also working along side him in the city below. All for worship. All to His glory.

One Single Thing

There’s a pastor I listen to on occasion – Matt Chandler from the The Village Church in Dallas, TX – who essentially has only one message.  That message is the Gospel. One single thing.

I’ve listened to him for several months now, and no matter the subject – a series in Galatians, sermons through Advent, one-offs on discipleship, and various other Biblical subjects – each sermon has one goal, one theme, one purpose. At it’s core, each message is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s like the basketball playoffs going on right now – no matter who you watch, Lebron and the Heat, K.G. and the Celtics, Duncan and the Spurs, or Durrant and the Thunder – you’re watching the same thing. Different players, different styles, different offensive schemes. But at the end of the game – no matter how dramatic those differences were – you’ve only seen one thing. Basketball. Every player and coach’s goal, theme, and purpose is one single thing. Basketball.

That’s what I love about Chandler and many other good preachers I’ve heard. Every sermon, no matter how different, can be boiled down to the single most important thing. Because at the end of this game, it’s the Gospel that people most need.

One of my heroes understands this well. This week he began a new job after an almost 2 year lay-off. We have been praying for work, and now it has come. He sent me an email letting me know he would start on Monday, and in a celebratory reply I wrote “Yay!” and “Have a great time!”.  I know this new job is something he will love. It’s the kind of job you hope someone gets because it’s right up their alley. So, needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear about his first couple of days of work.

He emailed me back after day two.  Part of the email was about how “cool” the first two days were and some details about the project they had him working on. It was obvious he was excited about it. But, it was the  last sentence of the email that moved me. He wrote:

“One of the men I work with is an agnostic.  Pray that God can use me to bring him to Christ.”

And this – this one single thing – is why he’s one of my heroes.  He’s gone 2 years without work and finally has an opportunity to do something he’ll love, make an income again, and enjoy the satisfaction of starting a brand new work life. Yet with all that, his mind is on one thing. The Gospel.

You see, friends, no matter which team we play on, how we play the game, and who we play the game with, ultimately, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all that matters.

I’m thankful for the humble reminder, from a man I love and admire, that all of life is about this one single thing.

Idol Live

Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez are now household names. Or at least in the households who watch American Idol. You’ve watched American Idol, right? It’s ok. You can admit it. You’re normal.

It’s a fascinating choice of names the producers chose for this TV competition that has now become one of the most popular television shows in history: American Idol. American Idol. .

Isn’t it funny how something dangerous can begin so subtlety?  A hurricane begins as as subtle mixture of wind and moisture thousands of miles away from the coastline it destroys. Addiction begins with a few harmless experiments with friends years before a destroyed life is taken to rehab. And the things we worship begin with a small interest, a minor profit, a good feeling, a delightful taste. Then, some seasons later, instead of that small interest, profit, feeling, or taste being at our beck and call, we find that we’re at it’s beck and call. The power. The money. The experience. The person. We are the boss who has become the slave.

Ok. Let’s pause here. I’m not about to go all neo-conservative on you and rail against the evils of the media and the pursuit of pleasure. I have no interest in demonizing Ryan Seacrest, J-Lo, and the rest at American Idol. Heck, I want Ryan Seacrest’s job, for crying out loud!

But, I am going to share with you a bizarre experience I had last week. And I’m equally interested in your similar experiences.

Here’s the short of it – I don’t watch Ameican Idol regularly – but when a friend of mine said he scored some free tickets to the live finale show at the Nokia Theatre in downtown L.A., I agreed to go (calling it a “difficult ticket” has been a gross understatement for 9 of the last 10 Idol finales). I had a a free afternoon, and I’ve long said, “I’ll do anything once.”

The Nokia Theater was all lit up like and indoor Times Square – huge stage, giant screens, and bright lights. It was everything you would expect, only now it was tangible. Real. When it’s projected into your home through a 48 inch flat box, as sense of distance is created that disappears when you’re sitting in a sold-out theater with real people, real lights, real color.

And then, the weirdest thing happened. The contestants – who, as I said, do not seem real when I’m watching from my couch – were introduced to the 7000 person crowd. And the place went ballistic. Absolutely nuts! I expected this when the judges were introduced, and obviously, when the 2 finalists paraded onto the stage. But when Seacrest introduced the 8 others in the top 10 – all of which had been voted off the show already – the crowd erupted, many screaming aloud the names of their favorite top ten-er. People literally seemed to lose control – even over the losers.

And the feeling I got was very, very strange. It was worship. It was idolatry.

“These people have done nothing!”, I thought. Each is valuable, and special, and a creation of God. But none of them is God. And yet they were worshiped more fervently, more excitedly, and more passionately than I have ever seen anyone worship our God (sadly, including myself) who has not done nothing. In fact, He has done everything. Everything! And where are the packed theaters of people who have been changed forever by Him, and are now screaming His name in utter, uninhibited, worship?

The self-convicting questions flooded my mind.

“How did it become not ‘ok’ for us to scream and jump out of our seat at the name of God, and yet it is second-nature to do so for a bunch of kids who can (and can’t) sing?”

“Am I a fan of God?”

“Do I love and admire and idolize Jesus?”

“What do I worship?”

Who do you worship?

Maybe you dismiss this as teen frenzy – something every junior high kid would do. But I’ve asked myself, and I ask you….Do you react this way to a celebrity? How about a sports team? Your spouse? A beautiful stranger? Your kid? Your commission check?  Your own goodness?  Do you have an idol?

I’m wrestling with these questions too. Along with this one: why do we have this fervent reaction to 10 singing strangers, and yet the God of the universe might propel us into reflective thought and appreciation, but not outright, carefree, uninhibited worship?

Suffering is the Currency of Love

Recently at Harvest Church in Irvine, CA, I heard renowned author, writer, and Christian apologist, Dinesh D’Souza speak about suffering.

The guy is smart. This guy is faithful. This guy is prolific. He’s authored numerous New York Times best-sellers, regularly debates the world’s leading atheist thinkers, is a former research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, and is currently the President of King’s College in New York City. Finding out Dinesh D’Souza is filling the pulpit at your local church is like hearing Derek Jeter’s playing short-stop your softball team. It’s not happening very often, and it’s definitely raising the bar.

He spoke for an hour, and his speech was packed with fascinating stories, poignant answers to atheist arguments, and huge words I couldn’t define – not to mention powerful arguments for God’s design –  from the trees in Eden to current scientific information on plate tectonics. All this, compiled by one of the world’s leading thinkers, to offer a God centered explanation for suffering.

And it was a good one. But after all that, it was one phrase spoken in the final moments of his presentation that has stuck with me.

“Suffering is the currency of love.”

To help explain what he meant by this, Dr. D’Souza spoke of the death of a distant cousin who lived in another country. While death is always tragic, his distant cousin’s death would not cause him much suffering. However, if his mother, wife, or daughter were tragically taken – he would suffer greatly. Why? Not because death is different, but because the depth of his love was different. For those close to him – those he loves dearly – the suffering would be exponentially worse. And that suffering, is the currency of love. The extent of his suffering is directly related to the depth of his love.

When all was said and done, it is in that statement that Dinesh D’Souza struck the good in Good Friday. The statement, “suffering is the currency of love”, helps us measure the greatness of God’s love displayed with the pain of that cross.

No man has known the depth of suffering of Jesus on Calvary. And no man has given the depth of love He poured out to us through Calvary.  Sure, other men died on a Roman cross. But no other man did so with the full weight of every sin of every man who will ever live. No other man could.

And it is in that suffering – suffering the pain caused by every human wrong for the fullness of time – that we see the greatest love the world has ever known. There is little doubt that Jesus suffered. Extremely. Deeply. Abundantly. So there is little doubt that Jesus loves. Extremely. Deeply. Abundantly.

Dorothy?

Jim ended our meeting with, “Well, I guess it’s time to go say hi to the 94 year old.” I had told him about meeting Dorothy two weeks earlier and how she and I had planned to meet again after our appointments today to exchange a magazine, a poem, and more conversation. I was excited to see her! I’d been looking forward to it for 2 weeks.

I walked out of Jim’s office and began to look for Dorothy. I assumed she would be on the curb again, waiting for her ride home, so I headed in that direction. I reached the sidewalk with magazine, poem, and Bible in hand, ready to resume my conversation with my new friend Dorothy, but found the sidewalk empty. There were cars passing by, a few strangers talking across the street, but no sign of the small, elderly woman I had met two weeks before. I heard myself quietly mutter, “Dorothy?”

“Maybe she was not out of her meeting yet”, I thought. I walked back into the building, looking down the hall and around the lobby, again saying “Dorothy?” No response. “Well”, I amusingly thought to myself, “I know she is old, but she’s just spry enough to have possibly slipped by me.” So I wandered back out to the sidewalk. “Dorothy?” Still no Dorothy.

I sat down on the concrete ledge at the edge of the parking lot and waited for another 10 minutes. I took one last look inside and out, then finally walked to my car, disappointed at not getting to see Dorothy and wondering where she might be.

I was sad not to see Dorothy. Obviously, my mind wondered at all the possibilities – hopeful ones like maybe she had to reschedule her appointment, or her ride came before I got to the sidewalk, or maybe there was a fun activity at her retirement community that she didn’t want to miss out on. Or, maybe she just forgot! She’s 94 after all. I also thought of less hopeful scenarios: maybe Dorothy is sick. Maybe she got to the sidewalk before I did and left thinking I forgot about her. Maybe our meeting two weeks ago was the only time I will spend with Dorothy. I hope not.

I quietly said her name one more time (as if it would somehow she could have heard it wherever she might have been). While I don’t know why she wasn’t there that day, I do know this: I can rest in this fact that I’m not the only one quietly calling Dorothy’s name.

In our brief conversation we talked about the most important thing of all – Jesus’ love for her and the reality that she can have a relationship with a loving God through Christ. And scripture says that He’s calling her name. Sweetly, gently, compassionately, lovingly. He’s calling the name given by her parents, longing to give her a new name: Redeemed, a Child of God, Beloved. If only she will just respond to Him.

“Dorothy…If I never see you again here, I’m praying that just as He calls your name, one day, you will call on His.”

I have a feeling I will see Dorothy again.

Revelation 3:20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”

See You in Two Weeks, Dorothy

I had an appointment last Thursday in a large office building. As I walked into the lobby, I saw a tiny, elderlywoman, sitting in a wheel chair, neatly dressed, with glasses, and a sweet smile. I tried to make eye contact and  return a smile to her, but she was busy looking out the window and singing a song to herself (and to whoever else would listen). I passed with no more attention paid as went on to my appointment.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, I emerged from my meeting and noticed this same woman – Dorothy– sitting in her chair on the sidewalk. I’m not sure why – call it a random overflow of compassion or the work of the Holy Spirit (although I’m pretty sure those are the same thing) – but I felt the need to check on her. I approached slowly (people in L.A. are a bit skittishwith approaching strangers – as they should be) and asked her if she needed help, mentioning that I had seen her more than an hour before and just wanted to make sure she was taken care of.

That’s when she introduced herself. Dorothy. It’s also when she decided to chat. And I’m glad she did.

She asked me, as a young person (which I was thankful to hear), what I thought of the current presidential candidates. That’s quite the introductory question for a complete stranger! So with that, I decided to stick around and get to know this woman. An hour later I had learned the following:

Dorothy is….(in order of conversation, not importance or identity!)

– – A Democrat and not too thrilled with the Republican candidates

– – Interested in what young people think about politics

– – Living in a nearby assisted living facility

– – A survivor (of 3 heart attacks and several slipped discs!)

– – 94 years old (but she looks 80)

– – forthcoming with her compliments (She thinks i’m handsome and  I also look young for my age)

And then, because I’ve been praying for God to give me more opportunities to share the Gospel and because I’m finally starting to truly believe His Gospel is the most important thing for anyone to know, I got to know a few more things about Dorothy.

Dorothy….(again in order ofconversation, but this time it was all about identity)

– – is an atheist

– – had a Jewish mother who for some reason, recited the Lord’s prayer enough that Dorothy still has it memorized

– – Prayed that prayer as a child, asking God to heal her mother, all night the night before her mother passed away

– – cites the loss of her mom and the perceived unanswered prayer as the reason for her atheism

– – envies people of faith

– – is still not a person of faith because of all the suffering in the world (and, I would guess, most because of the initial suffering and loss of her mom)

– – wishes she could know God like her Catholic friends do

At the end of this conversation, my heart was broken for Dorothy. Literally. She actually envies people who have faith in God. Envies them! But beneath her fun-loving, positive and outgoing exterior, she is so hurt and angered that God allows suffering and pain in the world, that she will not allow her envy of others to actually allow her to explore a relationship with God for herself.

As our conversation progressed, I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t help but share in her concern for the suffering in the world, and the sorrow of losing a loved one. And I couldn’t help but share with her that God loves her – that He loves and is caring for all those who are suffering – and that while God’s love is real, there are still a lot of real questions we all ask of God. In the end, I shared with her a verse that is quickly becoming one of my favorites – not because it’s immediately satisfying – but because it speaks to our suffering and gives hope in the middle of it.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John16:33)

When our delightful conversation was over, we agreed to meet again in 2 weeks. We both have recurring appointments in this building, so we set an appointment with each other. I look forward to seeing her again. Hopefully. It might seemmorbid, but Dorothy is 94 and while she has a youthful and enthusiastic spirit, her physical health is not that great.

Until then, I will pray for her – as I promised in the last few moments of our conversation. And I know exactly what I’ll pray….

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”(Ephesians 3:18-19)

See you in two weeks, Dorothy.

Discovery Channel: Part-time Worship Leader

I’m going to start tithing to the Discovery Channel. Seriously.

Currently my tithe checks go to my local church, where the Pastors and Elders and volunteers lead me in the worship of, discovery of, and learning of my Creator.

So, I’ve decided that periodically, a tithe check will head straight to the Discovery channel – because periodically, the Executives and staff and production teams there lead me in the worship of, discovery of, and learning of my Creator.  And what a beautiful, beautiful creator they help lead me to.

Don’t know what I mean?

Check out Discovery’s “Planet Earth.” Watch the first 10 minutes and then see if you don’t know exactly what I mean. Not enough? Try their latest video coverage of the most remarkable natural phenomenon on the planet in “Frozen Planet.”

A week ago I ran across Discovery’s “Frozen Planet.” In this series about the life, beauty, function, and pure magnificence of the Arctic and Antarctic, the cameras have captured aspects of God’s creation that most people will never see. And it is absolutely awe inspiring. Worship inspiring. As I’ve watched, I’ve found myself seated on my couch, mouth hung open in sheer amazement at the wonders of this planet, worshiping God.

I challenge you to watch it – or get “Planet Earth” from Netflix and sit down for your own, in home, worship event. You won’t be disappointed.

The pure beauty – absolute uniqueness – transfixing creativity – and spell binding wonder have led me to worshiping my God as creator in a whole new way.

Now, when I read Genesis 1 or 2, or run across Job 38 in which God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?”, I have beautiful images of the Earth God speaks of.

And it is glorious. Just like its Creator.

Dear Discovery Channel,

Thank you for showing us His world. A check is on its way.

Dear God,

Thank you for creating our amazing world.  Praise is on its way.

Little Things Matter

Last night I sat down in a chair at the front of the room and nervously looked out at 30 people facing me. All of them in this room, in this house, on this night, because of me. And I had no idea what they were about to say.

1 month and 10 days ago I lost my job as a college director at a large church in Los Angeles. The church was struggling financially and needed to make some difficult decisions. Eliminating my position, along with 3 others, was one of those decisions. Tough news to hear. And it came on the heels of a difficult 6 months of doubt and insecurity about my ability to do my job.

The church was a large, thriving church with dynamic leaders, ministries, and Sunday worship. And I had begun to compare the larger church experience to our college group experience. And they seemed much different. It was small. It didn’t feel like it was thriving. I was almost certain that its leader was not dynamic.

But last night, I heard a different story.  Those 30 people, in that room, in that house, were current students, former students, volunteer leaders, and staff members I have worked with for the last 3 years. They had surprised me. 6 weeks after leaving my post, they had all shown up at this church-member’s home to share one more night together. The first hour was full of laughter, memories, and food.

And now, here I sat. And they were all staring at me. They had just been asked to affirm me. To tell stories, share experiences, and recall moments with me that might have impacted them. And as I sat there – after a difficult season of uncertainty in ministry – I truly did not know what they would say. Or if they would say anything. I was nervous and self-conscious.

And then, one-by-one, they shared how God had used our ministry together to change their lives. How Jesus had become a real friend. How they had heard from God for the first time. How they had felt new freedom to serve God with their gifts. How they were encouraged, challenged, embraced, convicted, moved, and loved by each other – and yes, by me.

All I could do was sit still – look them each in the eye – and whisper thank you. Out-loud to them, and silently to my Father. I was humbled and moved. And I offered Him the praise He deserved in this moment. For changing lives, and for allowing me to be part of it.

As it turns out, our ministry was not small at all. And thriving and dynamic it was. And I was humbled and disappointed in myself for thinking otherwise.

I tell this story for this reason – the little things matter.  They matter a lot. The things you do, in the name of Christ, for the benefit of others that you think are little – are not little at all. They change people’s lives by drawing them closer to the Savior you know and love and serve.

There are very few moments – if any – in life when you are forced to sit and humbly listen to encouraging words from those you have impacted. It just doesn’t happen. It will likely not happen to me again.  But I relay this story to you, not as a reminder that what I did was important, but as an passionate encouragement to you – WHAT YOU DO MATTERS.

Every time you love – every time you are honest – every time you listen – every time you smile, serve, touch, forgive, teach, lead, empower, witness, accept, embrace and speak to another person at home, work, the bank, Starbucks, the grocery store, church, Macy’s, the inner city, or a foreign country – it matters.

Jesus is using you. He is loving others and calling them home – through you. And nothing about that is little.

My hope is that you and I, whether or not we ever have the embarrassingly humble oppportunity to hear from those Christ has touched through us, that we will never fail to remember that people matter. Every person. Every moment. Every time.

May you and I love Jesus because nothing else matters, and love Jesus because everything else matters.

And may we humbly enjoy the rare moments in life when God tells us through other people that we matter.