Sunday, November 29, 2009

Limping and Dancing

Thanksgiving has passed, and now I'm full, and thankful, and excited for Christmas season. Christmas? Really? 2009 went three times as fast as any other year. But that's ok, because I like Christmas season; I just wasn't prepared for it. God is continuing to collide my worlds, decompartmentalize my life, and allow me to live the same way with the same motivation, same joy, and same focus on relationships Sunday afternoon on the couch, or Monday morning in the office, as I do on Saturday night out with friends in Broad Ripple or downtown, or at home with family, or anywhere in between. It is an exhilarating process, and I hope it is only beginning. Drinking beer while praying for and in conversation with both your friends and people you've never met is an amazing experience. Thinking about Jesus and the Cross the same moment you are witnessing a round of shots (or taking one yourself), or decorating the tree with your family, or making a sales call, or having dinner with friends, is awesome. More on that later.

Relevant to all that is this three part conference sermon series by Tim Keller. I strongly recommend taking an hour and a half to listen to all of it. It is vintage, and crucial in understanding the hold on and damage to our lives that idolatry can have; and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most helpful message to confront that idolatry with, both in our own lives, and in the lives of those who could care less. None of us are immune.

Gospel Realization

Gospel Communication

Gospel Incarnation

"Once you know that Jesus blesses you unconditionally, at the cost of his life (and now you can know!), it doesn’t matter how much you’re dancing and how great life is going -- you’ll limp; your head won’t get big because you’ll know its all by grace. And no matter how much you’re limping because everything is going lousy in life -- you’ll dance; because you’ll know it will pass, and you’ll have him forever."

I hope to take that reality everywhere I go this Christmas season, and in 2010, and for the rest of my natural life, and into eternity, with a keen awareness to the temptation of idolatry and a humble recognition of the reality of (future) grace. And I hope my awkward and Spirit-led balance of limping and dancing will be a clear demonstration to the world of the gracious person and sufficient work of Jesus Christ.

I'll see you out there.

Monday, November 9, 2009

God's Grace and the Moon

I've recently discovered, with some help, the phenomenon of seeing the moon before dark; sometimes in the middle of the day. I can't explain this entirely, or why I just recently noticed and became fascinated by it. But true enough, on my way to work I stop the car in the middle of the entrance to my neighborhood when I see it, pull over, put my flashers on, and get out of the car and take a picture of the sky. Sometimes friendly neighbors ask if everything is alright and if I need any help. Perhaps you would say that such an action proves that everything is not ok and that I should have accepted the offer. But perhaps you are a jerk. Just kidding.

I'll spare you the science lesson on the cycles of the moon and the Earth's rotation in relation it, and why we can see some of it, all of it, or none of it at various points of the year in the night or day. Because I don't really know. All I know is that the gibbous moon is the best. Period.

Instead, I'll draw some kind of Gospel-centered spiritual conclusion, because that is what I do. You know how different days of the week have different feels? Jerry, Kramer, and Newman discussed this in a conversation you may remember. Monday has a certain feel; it's usually work or school or responsibility related, sometimes gloomy even if the sun is shining (i.e. "Someone has a case of the Moondays", no pun intended). Tuesday and Wednesday feel similar to this, but a bit brighter, perhaps busier with travel or scheduling of mid-week activities. Thursday is the weekend without being the weekend, Friday has a special anticipation and excitement about it, sometimes for no reason. Saturday usually feels like tradition, relaxation, or recreation (football, outdoor activities, family time), and Sunday feels unique altogether; the same things as Saturday but in a different way - perhaps more serious, God-centered, and urgent, knowing the week and its responsibilities is fast approaching. All the days have their allure and their downside. But they feel differently, right? You might be less concerned about not "going out" on a Tuesday night, but feel depressed or anti-social not "going out" on a Saturday night. Why is that? Working during the week seems natural, but over the weekend might be a total drag (depending on your job and required hours). Going to church on Sunday is not a big deal, but anything church-related during the week might just feel totally unnatural. What is wrong with us?

Well, one explanation I would offer is that we compartmentalize our lives to such an extreme, that we are motivated and satisfied differently in different circumstances. And this is dramatically unhealthy. It is unhealthy because we base our hope and joy in many different things, sometimes to our own confusion. When work spills into family life we forget the joy of playing with our kids on a Saturday (PS. I don't have kids), or when our social life spills into work we lose the motivation of a hard work ethic and end up under performing, or when we lose a job, a loved one, or a house, we shut down because we forget that our most lasting, consistent hope and joy should be in Jesus Christ who will never leave or forsake us. It is unhealthy because we delegate the operations of our head, heart and hands separately in our work life, our family life, our social life, and our spiritual life and it does not allow us to bring the controversial, eternal, and transforming reality of the Gospel into everything we do. So our usefulness for the display of the glory of God and the spread of his kingdom becomes a confused mess of half-hearted attempts to do our job, love our family, and live like Christ. Not half-hearted on purpose, but because our heart is divided, nothing gets all of our heart, and likewise, all of Jesus.

And from this perhaps we believe the lie that we are unable to be used by God, or that he doesn't have a purpose for us, or that we can never know what it is. We limp through our professional life, preoccupied with the possibility that it is not what God intended for us (it might not be) because of the lack of "fruit" that it seems to generate. We struggle through our social life, feeling guilty that maybe our actions do not entirely glorify God. We innocently face our family life, unsure what Jesus means when he says to leave father and mother for sake of him. And we insecurely approach our spiritual life, and our Lord and Savior, helpless for him to make us feel meaningful, loved, and whole in the midst of a confusing variety of compartments that seem to have no connection. And all the while God is pleading with us to see him as most precious, and everything else as a gracious gift whereby we can consistently, and simply, live and love according to the once-for-all-time reality of the Gospel: Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead. What this looks like specifically, for you, in every "compartment" of your life, I can not say. I just plead with you, as the Spirit is pleading with me, to be aware of the possibility and the potential of us not having a family life, a work life, a social life, and a spiritual life - but just a life, that is defined and motivated by the person and work of Jesus.

And you know what will happen? God's grace with show up. And it will be consistent, and sufficient, and life-saving. God through Jesus does not only wish to save us by his grace, though he desperately does. He also desires to keep on saving us by his grace, which he can and will do. And it will come in unexpected, but constant, ways - if you believe and trust in its coming and in its sufficiency. This is what I think our heart and soul needs, and what will connect all aspects of our lives into a glorious, realistic, fruitful witness where we can freely enjoy family, friends, work, and everything else, and in the process glorify our Father in heaven.

For me, the most visible metaphor of this consistent and sufficient grace has been the moon. It is not always visible, but it is always there. And when it is visible, it is beautiful. Sometimes, it is only a glimpse of the complete beauty that I know is coming, and sometimes even in its fullness I long for more. As some of these pictures hopefully show, the "face" or "man" that can be seen on the moon has such a relevant and helpful expression. It is one of awe (kind of looks like the Scream face). Every time I see it, I feel the same thing in my heart: awe that the God of the universe would supply such grace to me. And every time I see it, especially during the day, I have new hope that even when I can't see it, it is still there, and nothing will change that, unless I stop looking for it. So, I do need help, and if my neighbor asks maybe that is what I will say. I will say thanks for asking, but the moon that I am taking a picture of is to me the experience of God's consistent and sufficient supply of grace, and now that I have seen it, I am much better. Maybe that will lead to a conversation or friendship that will allow the display of that same grace in community, i.e., in life.