Thank You

I’m hoping to get back in a rhythm here at the ID, posting on a weekly basis. Let’s begin 2015 reflecting on gratitude and the wisdom gleaned from toddlers.

M is in a stage where she says thank you for things she’s received from others. For example:

When putting on shoes from a cousin: “Thank you, Nina.”
When playing with a toy from a friend: “Thank you, Bella.”
When putting on clothes from a grandmother: “Thank you, G,” or “Thank you, Grammy.”

(This is helpful because it reminds us to write thank you notes to people.)

She reminds me often to be grateful. And to be specifically grateful.

Gratitude is never truly practiced in generalities.
Gratitude must be specific.

There are too many people to thank, at least in this space, for all the help we’ve received over the past two months as we’ve transitioned from one coast to another.

Boston friends and family.
Salinas friends and family.
Oakland friends and family.

A million thank yous. Specific thank yous. Thank yous for food and visits. For carrying heavy boxes and packing and unpacking trucks. Thank yous for hospitality. And for spending time with our kids. For filling our pantry and refrigerator. And for big checks. And for so much more.

Thank you.

Reality, Grace, Obedience [part 2]

I have a friend who has a daughter a few months older than Marina. He told me recently that they have started spanking. I know this day is coming for us, and so I asked how it was going.

My friend told me spanking is hard, but, in a strange way, his daughter draws closer to him afterwards. It might take a few moments, but post-spanking there is more affection, hugs, and snuggling than before.

Interesting.

—–

Our community group spent some time in conversation around the story in I Samuel 15 where King Saul blows it and essentially loses his Kingdom (which will eventually be turned over to David).

Saul is supposed to defeat an enemy and keep nothing (no slaves, no cattle, no good stuff). Saul does go on a rampage but he decides to take the enemy king alive and bring back all that is good (cattle and sheep and whatever else he liked).

The prophet Samuel shows up after this and asks Saul how it went. Saul tells Samuel everything went really well. And Samuel, brilliantly, asks “What is this bleating of sheep in my ears?”

I love this question. It is a reminder to me that I need Samuel’s in my life to ask the obvious question.

Sometimes we need people around us to just say: “Hey, I know you keep saying everything is fine and you are handling it, but I see this and this (I hear sheep bleating) and it doesn’t add up to ‘doing great.’ What’s the real story?”

—–

Grace is fundamental to the Christian worldview. Without God’s grace the world ceases to exist.

But, I find that many, many people misunderstand grace. Grace is not opposed to making wise decisions, maturity, or doing hard, unpleasant things.

Grace is actually what makes wisdom and maturity possible.

Back to Saul. After he realizes he screws up, he begs Samuel to come with him, make a sacrifice for him, and essentially bail him out of his trouble.

Samuel says, “No.”

God says, through Samuel: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

My very human interpretation of this is: “Hey dude, if you had just done the right thing, the first time, we wouldn’t need to do all this work to make up for it.”

Grace is the fundamental reality that we don’t need to live in anxiety. That our identity and destiny are set.

But grace is not opposed to saying: “There is something better. You can do better.”

—–

Reality, obedience, grace.

I understand these words so much more as a parent. I don’t want to punish my daughter. But she has to learn, grow, and mature. It’s vital to her survival, and, more importantly, to her ability to thrive and excel at life.

So, is climbing the bookshelf the biggest deal in the world? Not really at one level (although if she continues to climb, she will fall and she will get hurt).

On another level, though, this is part of the process: learning what is in bounds and out-of-bounds, and, here’s the main point, learning the importance of obedience. Learning to trust.

When she screws up I want her to know that she is forgiven, and nothing about my love for her or her identity is ever in question.

But, I also don’t want her stuck in an endless cycle of “sacrifice.” I want her to mature and make decisions that are wise.

Because there are consequences to the choices we make. Grace certainly covers our sin, but it doesn’t eliminate the consequences of our decisions.

Grace calls us to be better, to grow, to mature.

So, a couple of questions:

  1. Are you stuck in a cycle of sacrifice?
  2. Who is your Samuel?
  3. Are you living in reality?

Reality, Obedience, Grace [part 1]

I taught recently on the passage in scripture where Jesus says “I am the true vine.” My main thesis, given that it was graduation Sunday, was that there are a lot of things you can give your life to, and in fact there are some things you can give your life to that are really good.

But, are those things true?

Jesus, in all of his I Am statements, is making the very radical claim that there are a lot of options, but only one way that is ultimately true.

—–

I read this post the other day, and I thought, as one who works with millennial, that there were many useful insights.

One thing the author says never to say to millennials is “stop being so idealistic…the real world doesn’t work that way.” I agree with the heart of this sentiment: we shouldn’t be killing the spirit of the next generation. Don’t be a wet blanket.

But, I also see idealism wielded as an ultimate trump card. A way to justify our own behavior and to do our own thing without being accountable to anyone, especially someone older, and potentially wiser, than ourselves.

[For the sake of integrity, I have used this trump card myself on too many occasions.]

—–

Of course, I also see a tremendous amount of cynicism, especially in my peers. A friend who just left the ministry told me a story about talking to another pastor who asked him, in so many words: “Doesn’t it feel so good to be out?!”

That kind of stuff kills me…I don’t ever want to be there.

Pastors do see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and there is a lot of the bad and the ugly, but we also know and preach and teach the good news about Jesus, which is fundamentally hopeful.

[For the sake of integrity I can be one crotchety, cynical mess at times.]

—–

Back to the vine. Jesus constantly cuts across the grain of all the false narratives we can construct for ourselves.

Idealism sounds so good, and presents itself in such a positive light, but it quickly runs off the cliff of reality, becoming a balloon floating on the wind with nothing to anchor it down.

Cynicism wallows in “reality,” but in a way that keeps everything at arm’s length to mask the pain we feel, and as a result becomes an un-reality.

The true vine gives life and sustains us because it is true. It is reality. Jesus, the good news of his resurrection, is what is real, and what is true, and what is sustaining.

I see too many people choosing to avoid reality: the reality of their situations, of the decisions they’ve made, of the challenges they face.

But avoiding reality leads us to shallow perspectives and prevents us from ever maturing.

Choose what is real.

Parenting, Original Sin, and The Goal

The other day my wife asked our almost 18-month-old daughter to do something (I think it had to do with putting clothes away), and it was fascinating to watch the wheels turn in our little girl’s head.

She started to move towards obedience, then said “no,” then leaned back towards obeying, said “no” again almost put the thing away, and then finally ran in the other direction.

My immediate thought: “you little sinner.”

My second thought: “That was harsh.”

Which pretty much summarizes two prominent schools of thought on child raising out there in the world (and even within the church).

If you go with my gut reaction you are either “biblical” or a “cruel/shame-based” parent”.
If you go with my second thought you are either a “soft/hippy” or an “organic/love-based” parent.

Having reflected on that moment, and my reaction to it, over the past couple of days, I think it all misses the point.

I absolutely believe in original sin. It’s one of the easiest biblical truths for me to believe. But, I think far too often this gets applied in unhelpful ways.

Original sin (and the subsequent “total depravity” doctrine) are misunderstood to mean that given the choice between “right” and “wrong” we will always choose wrong.

No. We can, and do at times, choose right,
choose good,
choose beauty,
choose right relationship.

But we also choose the opposite. And, back to the scene with my daughter, we struggle and agonize over the choice.

Choosing good, choosing to submit, choosing others-over-self does not come naturally. That is what I mean when I talk about original sin, or total depravity, or whatever you want to call it.

I watched my daughter listen to my wife’s request, process it, and then wrestle (in a very visible way) with what to do with that request. And that struggle, that wrestling, is the issue to me. Most people focus on the outcome: did she obey or not. Or they debate the ethics and morality of obedience or imposing rules on a young child.

Which all misses the point: we are hardwired to choose ourselves over others. And that is the problem of original sin.

This is why Jesus’ invitation to follow him involves picking up a cross, denying ourselves, and becoming great (read, good) by serving others instead of ourselves.

I don’t want to downplay morality, but I think the parenting conversation gets lost there and then lives in denial about the real issue (self-centeredness).

The goal is not to raise rule-followers or narcissists, but wise, whole, self-giving human beings. 

That’s what we are shooting for.

Bono, Grace, Barna, Mornings, and JSF #links

  1. Bono on why he is banking on Grace over Karma
  2. Speaking of Grace, here’s a great post/resource on the best of gifts
  3. Barna continues to pump out fascinating information on the Hispanic population
  4. I’ve never been a morning person, but this article on the power of mornings is right on. Not always up early by choice, but I find it is now my most productive time by far!
  5. “Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat” by my favorite writer

Tight Spots/Spacious Places

Have you ever been in a tight spot?

Where I went to school, as an undergrad, we had a busy street that many students walked across. The school responded by placing three stop signs incredibly close to each other to keep cars from speeding through and running over people.

Anyone who drove this street cursed these proximal stop signs.

One night, around 2 am, I blasted through all three stop signs (since not a soul was around). I was immediately pulled over and slapped with four moving violations (speeding and running three stop signs).

A $400 ticket.

I freaked out. My life was over. I had no way to pay that sum and opportunities I hoped to participate in evaporated before my eyes.

I was in a tight spot.

Psalm 118 provides us with a beautiful image: “When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place” (v. 5).

A spacious place.

Room to breath and run and be free.

My story ends well. The judge, for reasons I will never fully understand, let me off the hook. I went to traffic school and had the whole incident erased from my record. I owed nothing.

Grace. A spacious place.