It’s the Little Things

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I want to find huge shark teeth when I go shark tooth hunting.  I’m not out there searching for teeth so small I could fit ten of them on top of a Quarter.  I want to find a Mako or a Great White that fills up the palm of my hand and has weight to it.  People who say finding tiny little shark teeth is just as satisfying as finding big ones may not be lying, but I don’t think they’re saying the whole truth.  If they walked up on a Megalodon you’d hear them singing a different song.  But they (we) do get satisfaction from finding tiny shark teeth.  It is a different feeling.  When I comb the beach walking at my normal pace and letting my eyes search almost on autopilot, finding shark teeth that are teeny tiny makes me feel like I am the master of this beach.  It makes me feel like if there is any shark tooth on this beach it can’t elude me.  I will find it.  How can I doubt this when I walked along at full stride and picked a shark tooth barely bigger than 20 grains of sand out of moving water?  It is magical.  I’m not even sure how I do it.  It must be Spidey-sense.  Spidey shark tooth sense.  Whatever it is, picking that tooth out of the surf is satisfying because I’m sure I haven’t missed anything big.  If my methods work to find this tooth then I’m not missing other things.

Usually the tiny teeth end up at the bottom of a jar, not in a display case, but there’s no doubt in my mind there are plenty of days I would have quit hunting before finding a display case tooth if I hadn’t found one of these little things and renewed my belief that I could find another tooth.  It’s the little things that matter.  It’s the little things we do that accumulate in our hearts that add up to confidence to go on when nothing significant seems to be happening.  The tiny hints of the presence of the Holy are just as full in their ways as the monumental Red Sea splitting displays of power.  I want to walk my life pathway with the expectation of finding Jesus in the moving water.

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A Confusion of Identities

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.
– SuperTramp, Logical

The story broke this week that activist Shaun King, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, is white.  That’s a story.  That’s a breaking story.  Why?  Because King identified himself as biracial and the evidence is mounting that he is not.  He’s just white.  Plain old white.  Did he know he was white all along? Or did he really think he was (and is) black?  King said by the time he went to high school he identified himself simply as black, not biracial. His mom is white; there is no doubt of that but even though King’s family members say he is white, born to his mom and the white man named in his birth certificate, King claims his real father was an unknown black man with whom his mother had an affair. Confused yet?

Sounds familiar to another story from A few months ago. Remember Rachel Dolezal the president of a chapter of the NAACP who identified herself as black even though both her parents are white?  She said there was no proof her parents were her parents because there was no medical witness to her birth (which was in a teepee) and her birth certificate wasn’t filed for 7 weeks. She claimed she grew up seeing herself as black and drew pictures of herself with dark skin and curly black hair.  But in 2002 she sued the black college she was attending for discriminating against her because she was white.  Confusing.

Besides the Shaun King and Rachel Dolezal stories there is Elizabeth Warren who called herself a Native American, and proud of her Native American heritage but has no Native mirror-image1Americans in her family lineage.  And then the great big story of the year of Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner who changed his-her physical identity to match his-her internal identity of a woman.  Very confusing.

Identity is not optional.  We cannot live without one.  Not knowing who you are is the worst kind of psychosis.  It is so bad that truly crazy people will take on any identity rather than be identity-less; they’ll call themselves a rabbit, or take to calling themselves Jesus Christ.  I found this quote from Rachel Dolezal to be very appropriate:

“Overall, my life has been one of survival, and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive.”

True.  Very true.  But not necessarily in the way Rachel thinks.  She puts identity in that category of things that get things for us.  Identity is actually the thing that we must get or we have nothing at all.  The trouble with the identity stories we’ve read about lately is just this: the people seeking to use identity to accomplish something – social justice, career advancement, emotional integrity – have all missed a crucial and eventually devastating fact.  If you create your own identity then you must maintain it.  This is real identity confusion.  This is a real problem.  This isn’t to belittle the problem of having identities we don’t like.  That’s a problem too.  If you feel like being white is better than being black or that being a woman is better than being a man or that being an Indian is better than being white – if you really believe that – it presents a huge problem.  It’s whey people take on not just racial identities but also social and emotional identities.  People become the hero, the success story, the doctor, the lover.  All of them have the same fatal flaw; self maintenance.  It gets exhausting maintaining a self generated identity.  And when someone questions our self generated identity, we have no choice but to defend it.  We have to; it’s a matter of survival.

Surely though, all of us must recognize that it isn’t a breaking news story that will ultimately expose our lesser identities.  We will have to pass out of this life at some point.  Then who will we be?  All our carefully produced images will melt away and we will be in the presence of Eternity; in the presence of The Identity.  That experience will either be terrifyingly confusing or comforting depending on how we have oriented our lesser identities in the here and now.  The gospel is the only system of thought that tells people they can have a given identity now that will last forever.  It says God wants to give that to anyone willing to accept it.  The Christian term “repentance” is really nothing more than giving up lesser identities for the true identity of the God who created us.  The world could use more people who are not using systems, money, or other people to create temporary identities; who are humbled by an identity they did not earn, but emboldened by the riches of an identity that cannot be taken away.  SuperTramp said please tell me who I am – that is why Jesus came; to tell you who you are, and it isn’t a slave to God’s law but as a son for God’s glory and for your identification – and there will never be a breaking news story when that identity is exposed as a lie.  We can rest in it.

Heaven is for Real…if You Earn It: Bloomberg Shows a Way

At the close of an interview with the New York Times this week, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg had this to say about heaven:

Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.

But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Before you become too critical of Bloomberg, take a moment to consider whether or not you share his religion.  Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones, the British pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, used a very simple diagnostic question to determine if people understood and embraced Christianity or were adherents to religion.  Jones would ask a person “Are you a Christian?”  If they answered with, “I’m trying,” or “I’m doing the best I can to be Christian,” or “I hope so,” he knew the person did not understand what Christianity is.  What Bloomberg said, and what many many people BLOOMBERG-master675believe, is that the power to get into heaven, or to be pleasing to God, rests with us.  It is our job to be good; to do good, and it is God’s job to call balls and strikes.  And in the end we expect God will give us all a very generous strike zone because He is kind and generous and loving.  Is that what you believe?  Is it up to you to keep the Ten Commandments or follow the Golden Rule or to be generous with your stuff?  If so, then you shouldn’t be too critical of the Mayor because he is only telling your story with more confidence than most of us can muster.  He is sure his life will measure up.  He is so sure that his record is acceptable that he doesn’t even think it needs double checking at heaven’s gate.

That gate may be somewhere, but it isn’t the gateway to heaven that any Christian is looking for.  The Christian gospel is not our record offered to God for his acceptance, it is Jesus’s record given to us.  Are you a Christian?  Yes or no is the only correct answer.  There is no earning it.  It is a gift.  The whole Bible shows this pattern.  Abram gets God’s promise of land and blessing and seed before he did anything notable.  Moses is a washed up shepherd who ran away from a murder rap when God chooses him.  God rescues all of Israel from slavery before he gives them the Ten Commandments, not after they obeyed them.

The God of the Bible consistently gives away his endorsement to people who don’t deserve it; to people who have not earned it.  The final and full expression of this is Jesus.  Jesus earns a perfect record with perfect performance of human life.  This is a whole other topic worth considering – that when you see Jesus its not that we are just looking at a sinless life (no mistakes or nothing that makes God angry) its that we are seeing what a completely full human life looks like.  This life earns Jesus a place before God like none other.  Jesus then gives away his record to anyone who asks for it.  Good people don’t get it.  Bad people are not excluded.  Anyone can have it.  The only thing you have to do is accept a complete record swap.  You have to take all his record and give up all your record.  None of our marks transfer.  None of our good marks – the ones we’re really proud of – come with us, and none of our bad marks – the ones we’re really ashamed of – come with us either.  Complete swap.  That is the gospel and that is Christianity.  Are you a Christian?  If the answer is yes, you can have Bloomberg-like confidence in your record.  No need to even think about getting into heaven.  You already know your record “works” to get into heaven because Jesus got in with the same record and now its yours.  Pretty simple.  Thats the gospel.  Thats why gospel means “good news,” for those of us who aren’t strong and sure we can work our way into heaven.  We are going to heaven the real old fashioned way…Jesus earned it.

Why Hating the Haters Doesn’t Work

Calvin must drink a lot of water.  He shows up everywhere peeing on something.  Jeff Gordon, Chevy, Ford, Cowboys, Redskins, Bin Laden.  That dude can pee on anything.  I saw an ad that showed Calvin and his stream falling on a “place your text here” sign.  One that caught my eye recently had Calvin peeing on the word “haters.”  Everyone agrees with that, right?  Peeing on haters is right.  It is righteous.  If anyone deserves the Calvin treatment, it is haters.

But honestly, isn’t peeing on someone a hateful thing to do?  If we are going to be consistent, shouldn’t there be a stream of urine falling on Calvin’s head too?  Make anything in this world into the “hated object” – the thing we are allowed to hate – and the way you treat it will be hateful.  You will become a hater.  Fine, you say, some things are worthy of hatred; Its ok to be a hater of “those things.”  Everybody knows that (fill in the blank) is despicable, but its not true.  And it isn’t just innocuous things like NASCAR drivers, NFL teams, or the makes of cars.  The Bin Ladens of this world are not universally hated. In fact many of the things we hate are beloved by others.  It turns out that hating the haters isn’t so easy.  It makes us into haters and it divides us in ways we can’t account for or reconcile.  It makes for a world full of Calvins peeing on Calvins who then feel justified in peeing on some other Calvin.  Everyone feels like they are gettingdownload urinated on by someone and so they return the favor.  Sound like a good world to live in?

The story of the world according to Christianity is that we live in a good world gone bad.  Everything in creation was created good and retains the essence of that goodness AND everything is fallen and is marred by that fall.  In this story of the world, the source of the fall; the thing that scars us, is not from within the world, but comes from without.  This thing is worthy of hatred, and what it does to everything is worthy of hatred, but no object in the world is worthy of hatred on its own.  The power of the gospel is that it frees us from being victimized by The Hater and from becoming haters who perpetuate the cycle of hatred he introduced to the world.  Actually the gospel is that Jesus, the only one of us to live a life of pure love (zero hatred), has all the hatred of all the ages poured out on him, and instead of standing up and pouring it back out on the heads of the haters, he quenches the fire.  He puts it out.  No hateful thing ever done goes unnoticed.  No hater ever gets away with their hateful ways.  Jesus took all of it, and because of him and in him, Love has the final say.  Love reigns.  If hatred reigns in your heart it may be time to get a new heart; a heart so beloved it never feels the desire to pour out hatred on anyone or anything; a heart so complete it can’t be taken from you by a little boy peeing on it.

Writing that Makes Me Want to Give Thanks

One of my best friends died 5 months after I was born.  He has made me laugh, entertained me for hours upon hours with his stories, and opened my eyes to mysteries in ways that are marvelous to me.  Every time I think of him I am thankful that he shared his thoughts with me, and none more than these thoughts that inspire me and fill me with hope:

“And this brings me to the other sense of glory—glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more—something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have Door_Knobpeopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world,
the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.” – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Abundant Life, No Excuses

There are many places you can go to find an excuse for your substandard living.  You can find it in your past, present and future.  You can find it with counselors who will explain it to you by the hour.  You can find it in religious settings where helpful smiling people will commiserate with you.  The one place you cannot go to find your excuse is Jesus.

Talking to Nicole

baby_nicole_0008I didn’t know it at the time because I was a first time dad, but I realized later that I always spoke to my daughter as if she was a grown up.  I used words on her that suited my vocabulary, not a three year old’s.  I wish I could say I did it on purpose so I’d look like a really smart parent trying to help their kid become a great achiever, but the truth is more like this:  I’m not good at small talk.  Really, I’m not.  I don’t know how to jabber like some people who can carry on a perfectly pleasant conversation about nothing for hours on end.  I tried.  I got down on her level physically.  I took the time to listen to her little words.  But when it came time to talk back I used my own big words.  She grew up hearing an adult vocalization of the world.  I  think its been to her advantage.  She’s smart and she can explain things well.

This is the way the gospel works its way out in us.  God speaks to us in terms of what He is making us into, not in terms of what we are at the moment.  He sees the full life – the full vocabulary of living – and he keeps giving it to us.  He gets down on our level physically and he listens to our small talk.  Thank God for the patient lessons and the willingness of our Father God to play with us; to love us into Christ, the hope of glory.