Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Every year you grow, you will find me bigger

In Prince Caspian, the second of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, the four Pevensie children are unexpectedly whisked back to Narnia for new adventures. Lucy, the youngest, faces isolation and fear as the children gain their bearings, faces a trial that she had not known during her previous journey. But all is forgotten when she is unexpectedly reunited with Aslan, the mighty lion, their protector and king of Narnia.
“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan," sobbed Lucy. “At last.” 
The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face. 
“Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger". 
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he. 
"Not because you are?" 
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
Eventually the day is saved, the kingdom restored. But Lucy's battles are not over. She will continue for a little while to be misunderstood by the others, to watch as Aslan tarries and gathers before finally completing the rescue. And she has yet another Narnian adventure ahead of her years later, the most difficult of them all, during which she sees Aslan only sparingly and has to live mostly by what she has learned of him, of what he would say or desire.

As most of us know, C.S. Lewis was a great Christian theologian and wrote his Narnia stories as parables, with Aslan as a stand-in for Jesus Christ. His heroes were children, because we are as children before God and before a world much bigger than us. Lucy, especially, is Lewis' main and favorite character because she wants to see Aslan. She wants to believe.

And Aslan's promise to us is God's promise - that as we grow, he will become bigger.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." - Matthew 28:20

I used to believe that things would get easier as I grew in the faith. The opposite is true. Like a video game, the levels only get harder. High school, college, the military, career, people in general...each one has been steadily tougher, presented fresh challenges to my faith and my identity in Christ, strengthened the lies and the spiritual warfare. The enemy doesn't just go away, and he doesn't give up easily.

Yet God has stepped up to the plate each time. If you've ever read the Bible just once and assumed God's done revealing himself, you've missed out. He never fails to reveal more as you stay committed to the pursuit. As the enemy's lies and discouragements increase, God's power and truth increase at a greater rate. He has answers for every obstacle we face, every loss we experience, every question that arises.

The apostle Paul describes a progressive journey - that part of the reason for each trial we face is preparation for the next one.

"Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us" - 2 Corinthians 1:9-10

Don't be surprised as things get harder despite your spiritual growth. Expect it. See it as a kind of backwards honor that the enemy feels threatened by what God is doing in you. And as you grow in Christ, Christ may sometimes seem to step back into the shadows for a while, but that is not abandonment. He will show up. His victories will grow in proportion to your challenges. He will guide you to the world's end and to Aslan's Country.

Man, now I wish I could find that boxed Narnia set that Mom got me. To think that there was a time I didn't care for reading.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Will God Repeat?

Five months ago, my Seattle Seahawks marched onto the national stage and practically waltzed away with their first Super Bowl. It's a cathartic and dizzying event for a sports fan, having YOUR team be the champ. The Seahawks are a relatively young franchise, without the storied history of older teams like the Packers, and most of their years have been synonymous with futility. The 90s were most embarrassing. To a lifelong diehard like myself, our Super Bowl isn't just awesome. It's therapeutic.

Yet here were are, five months later, and what are a lot of Seahawks fans doing?

Taking to the internet forums and dissecting the draft, analyzing our player transactions, and worrying. Worrying about what?

Whether we can repeat as Super Bowl champions next year.

Are you kidding me? We fight for almost forty years to get here, finally prove our place amongst the NFL's big boys, finally shut everybody up for nine months, and what do the fans do? We dart on to next year. We start worrying.

You'd think that now, of all times, we'd be taking the time to simply bask in the moment. Swagger around, buy and wear our merchandise, plunk down our emptied mugs of...um, soda...as we proclaim loudly to the...um, establishment...that we're the champs. For at least nine months, we're the undisputed top dogs. Can't we just enjoy it?

Now, yes, part of this worry is the desire to get a Seahawks dynasty going, rather than just a one-off win. I walked up to a guy in church the other day wearing a Broncos hat, deliberately and pointedly adjusted my Seahawks hat with my best mischievous grin, and he just chuckled and went "Yeah, everyone gets lucky once in a while." And we don't want that to be the case. We want to prove that not only did we win, but it wasn't a fluke.

But part of it is...we just forget. The glow fades and it's back to prove-it territory. And I am not immune.

I have just been blessed royally by God. I've gotten a new job for next year and a sweet pad to stay, a treat from his good heart that I wasn't expecting. It was the last-minute culmination of two years of prayer and waiting during which I had to fiercely battle and overcome my doubts about God's heart and attentiveness. (Perhaps that's why God kept me in the game until the last minute?)

And yet now, here I am just four days later, and I catch myself worrying about other things. My car, missions fundraising, how the new job will actually go. You're kidding me. It hasn't been 100 hours and already I'm worrying about the next season? "Yeah, but that was then. What if next time is different?"

Heck, what about the part where I just enjoy what I've been given? God didn't give me a good gift so I'd let other anxieties still the joy away!

Woe is me. My capacity for unbelief rivals the playoff drought of the Cleveland Browns. (That's enormous.)

"My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck." - Proverbs 6:20-21

The Pharisees took this verse literally and bound pieces of Scripture around their necks. Whatever other evil they were up to in the Gospels, I actually think they were ahead of me on this one. It helped them remember.

My good friend tells me to build physical altars in my life to remember what God's done for me, touchstones of faith for the next season. I'll do it. It's a simple matter of learning styles, providing visual keys to important things. Could be as easy as taking bright red paint to the key to my new apartment. It'll be hard to miss it then. An excellent, dominant-color reminder of his faithfulness. (And a shortcut to that usual jingling and fumbling on the key ring that typically results in your desired key being the last to be found.)

Next time might be different, but God won't be. He gives us evidence of his power and his love so that we have confidence in him for the next season.

I don't know whether the Seahawks will repeat next year. But I know God will.

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Not About You, Graduates

Graduation is upon you.

What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you've learned to hate, to be launched upon the world full of possibility...it's a great feeling. Heck, just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don't get enough of that these days, of being delighted in and pumped up by others. It's your moment in the sun. You've earned it. Congratulations!

The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don't let anyone tell you who you are or what you can't do. No doubt there is some truth in these, even stuff God would agree with.

Yet as the ceremonies and banquets conclude and the pictures flood Facebook, the life of Jesus intrudes upon this season and offers a word that, frankly, a lot of us aren't sure we want to hear.

It's not about you.

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." - John 12:23

As Jesus walked the earth, his eyes were fixed upon the cross as surely as your eyes have been fixed upon the cap and gown. That was his goal. He brought it up all the time. He kept his disciples thinking about it. He shushed up most of his miracles so that his "big moment" wouldn't be diminished. The cross was Jesus' graduation. He thought of nothing else, because it pleased his Father.

And what was the cross? Sacrifice. Pain. Shame. Jesus' ultimate emptying of himself. His identification with the lowest. Putting others first.

But he called it "glory".

Something in me just revolts at that, if I'm honest. Blood is glory? It doesn't match up with my system. And it doesn't match up with this graduation season, which, if we're honest, has a way of putting focus on ourselves.

But we know what we hold as believers. Jesus' whole focus, his great mission, was not an act of achievement but an act of sacrifice.

When we young folks (dare I say, we young Americans?) think of glory, we don't often equate it with emptying ourselves. We equate it with college degrees, prosperous jobs, families, success. I tend to, also. We talk of "making a difference", but I'll wager that half these valedictorians with their glowing speeches don't see themselves working at McDonald's. Will they end up there? I don't know. That's asking the wrong question. The question is, can Jesus use us there?

In case you haven't noticed, the world is a mess. Shootings. Starvation. Slavery. Everyday people riddled with shame, self-hatred, and shattered hearts. Christians are desperately, desperately needed, and not in a self-actualizing way. Contrary to popular belief, changing the world is not done by one person with an awesome scientific discovery or piece of legislation. It is done in a million small battles that will never make it into the history books. It's done on street corners, in shops, in classrooms, in counseling offices, on the manufacturing line and on the firing line, on the factory floor and the kitchen floor, in random acts of kindness and secret Santas and anonymous donors. That's where people's lives and hearts are healed. That's where they see Jesus.

I know. Hardly glory by our standards. Yet Jesus could hardly be worried about his image if he were climbing onto the cross. And he called that glory.

So many of these valedictorians' speeches seem to be envisioning some far-off moment, some pinnacle of achievement, that we should work towards. Maybe that will be true for some of us. But a lot of folks commit their entire lives to finding it and never do. For us, our shot at glory might lie before us everyday. Some of us might already have made an incredible impact and we won't even see it until heaven.

This is actually immensely good news, very freeing. We need no worldly position, no decades of work, to be Jesus to those around us. We need only a humble and willing spirit.

Graduates, this is not meant to diss your diploma. Congratulations. Really! Enjoy the parties and cards and loved ones and cake. You've earned it. Just guard your hearts against the hype of the season, because some of it is of the world, cleverly disguised. Don't lose sight of the One who showed us what graduation really is.

"For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God." - Hebrews 12:2

Monday, June 2, 2014

Living One Hour at a Time

I'm living one hour at a time right now, and not by choice.

I think God might be finally finished with me living life in the future and not the present, and is giving me live-fire training.

Yoda's words might be applicable here (just imagine God with the funny head-cold voice): "This one, a long time have I watched. All his life he has looked away to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was...what he was doing."

Two Fridays ago was when it started. I'm driving back home for a retreat and, sitting in the Taco Johns' drive-thru (maybe that was my first bad move), I notice with a lurch that my engine temperature gauge has returned to its old pastures of red. Crud. Turns out the radiator's empty. This is a really bad time, radiator.

I park, walk inside, wait for the restroom to clear (the guy seriously took ten minutes), fill up a gallon of water, wait for twenty more minutes so I can safely open the radiator cap, and in the meantime I'm in position to help an old lady get up after she falls on the sidewalk. I fill the radiator with the water. Hard experience at work here. It lasts me just exactly long enough to get past Kalispell and then runs dry again, sending my engine back into overheat.

So there I am, stranded on Highway 2, forty-five miles short of my goal...and its 10pm.

Who to call?

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

Fortunately, I realize I'm close to the residence of a good friend, who not only picks me up but actually drives me to the retreat (I'd given up on it)! I burst through the door of the cabin at 11:15pm and get a round of applause from my teammates. Great people.

But I still have to get back to Kalispell the next day, then pick up my car and get back to school!

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

I choose to enjoy the retreat. A teammate winds up leaving early and drives me back. I jump in my car, try the water trick again, and it lasts me just as far as the school.

The following day, me and nine others jump on a plane for the senior trip to Las Vegas (Australia was too expensive), and wouldn't you know - the kids have no idea what they want to do once they get down there. All those fun activities we planned? They're not sure what to do or when. They're not used to the desert heat. They're already tired, already cranky, and everything's fluid.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

So everything starts falling into place, we split up and hit the water parks and malls and movies...everything's going fine. Then, Tuesday afternoon, I walk away from the hotel pool for ten minutes and someone in our party finds her way to a bottle. Comes back to the room tipsy. Great. The student owns up to it, and we agree to make it a "freebie" instead of sending her home, but now I've gotta wonder who it's going to be next time!

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

It doesn't happen again. We have an epic time. I even boldly volunteer for get coaxed onto my first roller coaster. (I'm pretty sure it was simultaneously my last roller coaster.)

Then, standing in the airport to head home after having passed security, we sit down to wait for everyone, and eventually I notice that two of our party are taking a while to get through. A male student and the other chaperone. Turns out he doesn't have adequate ID and won't be allowed on the plane! Great Falls TSA had been kind enough to wave him through, but Vegas won't have it. That makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.

So this student is stuck in Vegas. He's going to need a chaperone to escort him home by bus, from Vegas to Great Falls. And the only gender-chaperone? Yours truly.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

Oh, and it's going to be a full day until the bus leaves. So we two skinny white dudes have fifteen hours of either sitting in a dodgy bus station or wandering the ghetto section of Las Vegas.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

Oh, and I just remembered - the bag with all my good stuff is already checked and flying to Montana without me, and I may or may not have remembered to get my car keys into it. They're sure not on my person.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

Oh, and the car to which those keys pertain? Still wonky and unreliable.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34



So, we sleep. We eat. We wander the block for fifteen hours.We find out that the Greyhound station is actually pretty close to the "old strip" of Vegas, so we get to enjoy some sights that the rest of the team never got around to. Yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition in the most glaring manner possible. The student, appropriately grateful for my companionship (well, what was I gonna do, leave him there?), buys extra gifts for his girlfriend, gets a picture taken in front of that "Pawn Stars" place, and tells me I need a wardrobe and a girlfriend. I tell him he needs some tact.

Finally, we board the bus. More sleep. Not the restful kind, but sleep nonetheless. The Interstate 15 corridor is actually quite scenic. I have some interesting conversations (you meet some real philosophers on buses). Our principal keeps checking in by text, and arranges to have me picked up in Great Falls and driven back to school and my trailer. The student's mother thanks me profusely.

I made it.

I just know God has arranged these last two weeks for me. Little things like the car radiator lasting exactly as long as necessary, or me being in good position to help others or enjoy special things - you can't look at that and see anything but God. A divine stamp on otherwise inscrutable events. He's trying to break old habits in me. Live in the now. Go from Point A to Point B, and don't worry about Point C. I've got you.

And during all of these proceedings, I've been operating without a job (those interviews were a no-go) or living arrangements secured for the next three months. I have no idea what Point C is. I am literally having to live hour to hour.

But you know, it's almost better facing needs rather than desires. At least with needs, you know God's going to come through. Desires...maybe, maybe not. But a plate stacked high with needs is nothing but a challenge for a God who loves challenges. Pile it on, he loves to tackle this stuff.

He delights in taking care of his people.

Oh, and I still don't trust my car.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:34

Okay, God. I hear ya.