The Greatest Showman, the Power of Story, and God’s Circus

Two intellectually challenged adults were in front of Teckla and I when we went to buy tickets for the movie The Greatest Showman. The young man looked like he had Down’s Syndrome. The young woman seemed to have some speech impediments. The lady they had come with was buying tickets and popcorn.

It turned out we were in the same theater. They weren’t noisy, but we could tell they liked the movie. The movie, a musical version of P. T. Barnum and his circus, tells a story of man who made a place for “freaks”. He gave jobs to contortionists, tattooed men, a bearded lady, a little person. In this musical he also gives them dignity and family. Of course, this is probably a more politically correct celebration of diversity and inclusiveness than historically existed in Barnum’s circus, but I loved the movie—especially the big song and dance scenes. All dance scenes need elephants and lions!

But what happened at the end of the movie made me love it even more. As the credits rolled, we could hear the intellectually challenged woman gently sobbing. As we walked by them, we heard the young man saying, “It’s okay. I’m your wingman. I’m your wingman.” It moved me that she was so moved by the movie, and that he was so kind.

We headed to the restroom. While waiting for me, Teckla heard the young lady saying excitedly, “There is a place for us! There’s a place a for us!” She then walked up to Teckla and said, “March, March, March.” Her escort gathered her in and said, “Yes, the DVD comes out in March. I will get it for you.”

When I came out of the restroom, Teckla was in tears—moved by the woman’s declaration that there was a place for her. I was moved too and amazed at the ability of a story to create a place where we belong—where we have value. I have always believed in the power of stories, but this punched me in the heart. Here story-telling had the power to give a home to the wounded and excluded.

I also could not help thinking of church. I am part of motley crew at my little church—broken, breaking, healed, and healing. But at the end of each service, I hope we can say, “There is a place for us!” We are all God’s circus. We are all Jesus freaks. This is the power of God’s story.

Posted in Culture, On Faith, Oyan | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Common Grace: My Dad, Harry James, and All That Jazz

My dad loved jazz. Growing up, I never thought this strange even though in those righteous days Nazarenes didn’t smoke, drink, attend dances, or go to movies. It seemed there were more things we didn’t than did. Jazz, of course, sprang up smack in the middle of all the things Nazarenes didn’t do. And Dad, a third-generation Nazarene, played it.

Dad played the trumpet, so he especially liked Louis Armstrong and Harry James. Dad was amazingly good. I am the youngest son, so I never got to hear him play when he was at his best. I know when he was in high school and college, he turned down invitations to play at dances. He sometimes played solos at church or played trumpet and violin duets with Mom. He only played jazz at home. It wasn’t anything sneaky—just different music for different places.

I still have the sheet music of his favorite song “Ciribiribin.” It was the signature song for Harry James after he left Benny Goodman and started his own band. It starts out slow and respectable but then Harry James “swings it” and throws in a bunch of triple-tonguing.  The song was incredibly difficult. As Dad would say, “You have to have some chops to play it.” It was jazz, and Dad played it beautifully.

Dad also had a bunch of Louis Armstrong records. Armstrong (Satchmo) grew up in the worst parts of New Orleans and had played everywhere including dance halls and whorehouses. Only looking back on it, do I realize how strange it was for a Nazarene pastor to love his music and gravelly voice.

And only now do I see the gift this was to me. I had a father with a passion for God and a heart big enough for jazz and Jesus. He had an instinct for the common grace that recognizes that all the good in the world comes from the grace of God.

Though I grew up a preacher’s kid, my home never felt cramped by a narrow religiosity. We read everything and took nature walks everywhere. Curiosity was the air we breathed. I never smelled a whiff of anti-intellectualism or the fear of ideas. And when we discovered good things in our broken—but—beautiful culture, Dad and Mom embraced it. Holiness meant wholeness.

I keep harping on this common grace idea because I think the heart and experience of the church should be as big as my Dad’s heart. There should be room for every kind of music. Bars should not be the only place a person can go to hear good jazz. Those who love the arts for their inherent goodness and beauty, not just as another evangelistic strategy, should be valued by the church.

Not that all kinds of music must be part of the worship service. I am not arguing for jitterbugging for Jesus, though that sounds fun.  I simply want all the arts and every kind of artist to find a home in the lives of believers. Whenever we refuse or shut-out anything that is truly good—even if in the world—we shut out God. I long for us to have hearts as big as God who has embedded and embodied his grace in the world.

When I remember the joy on Dad’s face as he played “Ciribiribin,” I realize that faith “don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.”

Posted in Culture, Fathers and Sons, On Faith | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Common Grace on Mount Magazine

Beetles were his passion, the subject of his PhD in entomology, and the focus of his research on Mount Magazine, Arkansas. Teckla and I had seen what looked like billowing sheets tied to trees out by the bluffs that looked over the wooded valleys. He explained that these were his beetle traps. He had been camping on the flat top of the mountain for weeks, gathering specimens and taking notes on their behavior and habitat.

Mount Magazine, he explained, is an ecological island. Because it was the highest point in Arkansas, it contained species of plants and insects found nowhere else in the Midwest. With joy he declared the place a paradise for entomologists.

He invited Teckla and I into his campsite to take a look at the beetles he was studying. Half-apologetically he said, “They are small and not too impressive.” Sure enough, they were just little brown dots in the bottom of a small white box, but a quiet excitement filled his voice. He explained that the larvae of the beetle were completely dependent on certain species of mushrooms,  a kind of russula I think,  that grew on the Mount Magazine. The mushrooms depended on the rains, so theprogress of his research depended on the weather.

Teckla and I, who were camped in the same State Park, left him to his work, but I loved him for loving his beetles. I have no idea whether he was Christian or not, but I felt we had shared a moment of worship as we looked at his beetles. We shared a child-like delight in the extraordinary world God has created. We experienced a moment of what I would now call “common grace.”

Common grace is the goodness of God still found in people because they, even though fallen, are still beings created in God’s image. We all, believers and unbelievers, have a call to be stewards of God’s creation. Common grace is also expressed in the goodness and wonder God has embedded and embodied in creation itself. Therefore as a believer I have common ground with anyone (biologist, geologist, astrophysicist) who responds to  God’s creation with wonder and joy.

This moment of grace regarding beetle-infested mushrooms happened years ago—in the 1980’s–but has stuck in my mind. I have, over the years, learned to value how this concept of common grace enlarges the hearts and the minds of Christians. It gives us room for anything that is truly good and beautiful.

On this high place in Arkansas, we worshiped no false god. We simply joined with God who in Genesis looked at all the “swarming and teeming” creatures He had made and blessed them. With God, we were seeing and declaring “that it is good.”

Posted in Culture, On Faith, Oyan | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Cold

Recently I wandered the grounds of the Heartland Center, near Kansas City Missouri, in 7-degree weather. The sun was shining but the grass crunched beneath my feet. At night it dropped below zero.

I had been thinking about the cold even before I flew back to Kansas City. Over Christmas break I re-read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in Prose. I was surprised how the cold gets into the very bones of the story. I was surprised because my memory of the story always summons up visions of a warm Christmas hearth and Tiny Tim blessing everyone. Here is how Dickens describes Christmas Eve:

It was cold, bleak, biting weather—foggy withal; and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already, –it had not been light all day,–and the candles were flaring in the windows of neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without that, although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.

It is not just the weather that is cold. Dickens tells us that inside the offices of Scrooge, he “had a very small fire, but the clerk’s [Bob Cratchit] fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal.” Scrooge, of course, is so tight-fisted that the whole office is dark and cold. To stay warmer, Cratchit wears a long white comforter while he works and warms himself with a candle.

Even colder is the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge:

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rim was on his head, and his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

As Dickens follows Scrooge back to his house (we can’t call it a home), the weather becomes “foggier yet, and colder. Piercing and biting cold.” Scrooge does not mind the dark and cold of his house. Dickens says, “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Inside, Scrooge broods over a low fire, barely able to warm him, and contemplates the face of his dead partner Marley—who he has seen on his door knocker.

Dickens is sometimes accused of sappy sentimentalism, but I am struck by how the cold and dark takes center stage in this classic story of Christmas joy.  But this is how it should be. At Christmas those who “walk in darkness see a great light” (Is.9:2). The fire of God’s love burns brightly in the face of baby in the manger.

Believers are simultaneously pessimistic and optimistic. We doubt the natural goodness of people. The cold and dark are real—and like Scrooge, many people prefer it. As Christians we can look with clear-eyed honesty at the depravity of man—the coldness of the human heart. We, like Dickens, are utter realists.

At the same time, believers are the wildest and most ridiculous optimists because we believe in redemption—the possibility of becoming, like Scrooge did, a new person. After his transformation, Scrooge wished Bob Cratchit a merry Christmas and hollered, “Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”

Although we don’t know for certain the dates of Christ’s birth, I like that we celebrate it in December. The greatest light came in the darkest time. Hope and joy warms our hearts during the coldest season. We don’t deny the cold, we light fires.

Posted in Culture, On Faith, Oyan | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Lion’s Den Delusion

Too many Christians use the story of Daniel’s night in the lion’s den, not his decades in the governor’s office, to define their relationship with the world.

I understand this. I grew up with Bible stories, VBS, Sunday school, and sermons, so whenever anyone says Daniel, I think lions. For church kids like me, Daniel is always the guy God saved from the lion’s den. This is natural because the story about the lion’s den is full of danger and drama. I like this story, but it represents only a small fraction of Daniel’s life.

We hear way less about Daniel as the governor (satrap) in Babylon. After he rightly interpreted a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was made “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 3:48). Nebuchadnezzar appointed his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, to help him administrate the province of Babylon—the most important province of the empire.

Daniel held important positions throughout his life and served under several kings. In fact, Darius’ plan to appoint Daniel over all the kingdom (6:3) led the other satraps to plot against him. After God shut the mouths of the lions and delivered Daniel, Darius declared the God of Daniel to “be the living God.” After the lion’s den, we are told that Daniel “enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (6:28).

Despite the miracle of Daniel’s many years of success in Babylon, evangelical Christians have usually used his lion’s den experience as the paradigm for their relationship to the world. I have called this a “delusion” not because the “lion dens” aren’t a possibility for Christians, but because they aren’t the only one or for most of us, the most likely one.

If our whole approach to working in the world is defined by the lion’s den, we are likely to retreat from involvement in “Babylon”. After King Nebuchadnezzar found Daniel and his Jewish friends intelligent and “endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge,” he ordered them to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. These were not books from the Christian bookstore or CBD; these were probably works celebrating the bad behavior of Babylonian gods (see The Epic of Gilgamesh). The lion’s den delusion would have pushed them to refuse such training. A focus on the prospect of a lion’s den or a fiery furnace would have hindered the progress and promotion of Daniel and his friends.

The constant expectation of persecution can cause followers of Christ to retreat from the positions of influence God wants us to have in the world. Daniel ended up in a position where he had the power to bring justice and wisdom to thousands of people within the province of Babylon. His decisions and policies probably relieved the suffering of a multitude of people. He could have said, “Well, this isn’t Israel and really isn’t part of God’s end-time plan, so who cares! Let’s just wait until we return to Jerusalem.” Instead he did good. Daniel served successfully long after his lion’s den experience. It did not dissuade him from serving God in Babylon. He did not get burned, then retreat.

When we live expecting the world’s hostility, we do less good. Instead we circle our wagons. We take postures, use language, and make assumptions that actually generate hostility. The lion’s den delusion makes us see persecution where it isn’t and play the victim when we aren’t. The delusion tempts us to retreat into our Christian subculture and wait for an end to our exile.

I have spent four years at a state university and over twenty years teaching at a community college. Most of my academic life has been at secular institutions. There have maybe been a few times when my faith and Christian worldview caused trouble for me, but not much. I have usually liked and respected the people I work with. Therefore, I am grieved when I find either Christian students or colleagues who suffer from the lion’s den delusion and are frozen in a posture of fear and hostility toward the world.

I know there are universities and specific departments where Christians would, if they could get hired, face much more persecution and bigotry than I have. However, it has been important for me to resist lion’s den delusion and embrace expectations based on all the rest of Daniel’s life. I expect the wisdom of God’s Word and Spirit to empower me to do genuine good where I work.

Lion dens and fiery furnaces are real. They may even be a probable result for the few put into major positions of authority in the world. When and if they come, it is important to remember God’s faithfulness to deliver us. He will be with us in the fire. However, it is even more important for us to be prepared for a greater trial—a lifetime of effective service in the midst of Babylon. We need to hear more of this story.

If all we are looking for is the lion’s den, we will never be effective enough as leaders (servants of God) to deserve the honor of such a trial. Before we can expect God to shut the mouths of lions, we need to open ours and graciously speak wisdom and justice in Babylon.

Posted in Culture, Oyan | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Angry Teacher

Have you ever seen anger, like a bolt from the blue, explode in teachers known for their gentleness and patience? Perhaps not. Far more common is the slow burn that turns a faithful teacher into a sarcastic misanthrope. This anger erupts in both the church and the classroom. Some of the reasons will always be idiosyncratic and individualized, but the common ones are easy to identify.

First, those with a gift of teaching are often like the workman with only a hammer who sees every problem as a nail. I don’t know if I have gift of teaching—that is for others to say—but I know I have the habit. My conversations slide into numb-minding lectures without warning. I can feel it happening, but can’t stop myself. Because of this instinct to teach, every problem or situation appears to be a learning opportunity. Because of my misdiagnosis of the problem, I am frustrated that my instruction falls on deaf ears. How can my clear and logical explanations not solve everyone’s problems?

The answer is that we are made up of a mind, will, and emotion. More information, no matter how clearly presented, will not solve problems rooted in the will or emotion. Sometimes we simply need someone to go with us—not the directions explained one more time. Often more information outlined with logical precision only intensifies our self-loathing. Friendship sometimes does more than expertise.

Second, teachers often fail to distinguish what can be taught by precept and what must be taught by example. Congregations can be taught the seven keys to spiritual growth again and again without doing much of what they have heard. Teachers often have a “Listen up!” instead of a “Come and see” pedagogy. As has been said, “More is caught, than taught.” This is certainly the case with faith and revival. Long arguments about why we should trust our parachute are not as effective as teachers jumping out of the plane. Sermons on prayer are not as effective as pastors praying. Costly obedience is often a teacher’s best argument for what is true and important.

Third, teachers often fail to take sin and our fall seriously. We act as though people are inherently good and will do what is right once they know what is right. Wrong! Today people approach every social problem as though the problem is a lack of information. It was frustrating when a national study concluded that the D.A.R.E. program had been almost completely ineffective in keeping kids from using drugs. Our faith in education to solve problems has also created classes for anger management, drunk driving, and domestic violence—but no classes in humility and repentance.

It turns out that people often know what is right and wise but choose what is wrong and foolish. Short-term pleasure or convenience often vetoes what a person knows is right. To the surprise of no one—people sin! This makes the progress of students herky-jerky—two steps forward, one back. Or one step forward, faceplant. Teachers should not respond to this brokenness with anger and surprise—as if most of the Old Testament hasn’t warned us about people.

So what then should teachers do? We can begin by admitting that teaching is one of many tools needed to build up the body of Christ. We need exhortation and prophecy. We need those with gifts of mercy and kindness. Some teachers need to give up control and invite the whole body of Christ to minister truth to the hearts of the congregation.

Second, we should recognize that many of the most important truths must be taught by example—made flesh and lived out in the context of a community. Many are learned in the motions of a shared life and pilgrimage. Teachers must sometimes close their books and invite students to come and see.

Third, we must take seriously the parable of the sower whose seed lands on many kinds of soil. The job of the sower is make sure the seed is good and then sow freely. Obsessing about the germination and maturation rates will drive a teacher crazy.

Most important of all is to recognize that we are co-laboring with God. His Spirit is at work in our teaching and way beyond it. Sometimes teachers must simply stop talking and let God speak.

Posted in On Faith | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sympathy for the Idol

If you think about it, it is hard being an idol. It is a terrible burden, a crushing load of expectations. When we take a good thing and make it the most important thing, we begin expecting it to do for us what only God can do. Our idol is set up for the fall. It is unfair.

For instance, if we make our career an idol, we are demanding our career validate our worth and satisfy our God embedded hunger for significance. We are asking it to do something it can’t. The resulting emptiness often turns to bitterness and resentment—or apathetic detachment until retirement. It is why those most devoted to success are the least likely to enjoy it when it comes.

Sometimes people make an idol of their family or marriage. This is terrible. It is easy to get away with this kind of idolatry. After all, who is going to call you out for putting your family first? Nonetheless, it is cruel to expect from your spouse or family the purpose, joy, and unconditional love that only God can give. Our disappointments in our family can crush us if we have made it an idol—the source of all our worth. Spouses can drift or stumble spiritually—or much worse. Dreams for our kids can evaporate or turn to nightmares. Disappointment easily sours into anger and emotional desertion. We can end up destroying a good thing because it couldn’t be everything.

Even church can be an idol. Broken and insecure people come to church and discover, to their horror, it is full of other people who are broken and insecure. They may be progressing toward wholeness or stubbornly resisting; either way, they will fail to give us the perfect love only God gives. We will encounter some hypocrites, be criticized by some legalists, or tempted by some libertines. The loving Christian community we long for can easily become just one more dysfunctional family. Often when I encounter a bitter ex-Christian hurt by church, they will recite grievances against Christians and tell of their wounds. Almost none say, “Here is how God let me down and wounded me.” I often want to say, “You and God have a lot in common—you have both been wounded by his people.” If we refuse to make the church an idol, the wounds we receive there won’t destroy us, but instead become an invitation to the fellowship of his suffering.

My first title for this blog was a brief guide to enjoying life because when we refuse to make idols of the good things in our lives, we are set free to truly enjoy them. Sometimes I really enjoy teaching, about twice a month. If, however, I made my career my idol, I would begin to hate teaching. I walk away from the classroom feeling a failure too often for teaching to be my idol. Teaching can’t satisfy my desire to do something of lasting significance and value. Nothing lasts—it’s all dust in a Kansas wind. But I can delight in every “Aha!” moment a student has precisely because I have not unjustly expected teaching to give my life worth.

The same is true of money and possessions. A couple years ago Teckla and I saved up our money and bought a used Chevy Trailblazer with about 50,000 miles on it. I am 64 and still, haven’t, bought a new car. I had wanted a Toyota four-wheel drive, but they were about twice what we paid. If money and possessions were my idol, I would hate that I couldn’t afford a brand-new Toyota. I would hate my Trailblazer. But instead we love it. Yesterday we took it up some logging roads to cut our own Christmas tree. When we shift into four-wheel drive and head up rutted logging roads, Teckla and I look at each other saying triumphantly, “We have a Trailblazer because we are trailblazers.” Stupid? Of course, but it is an example of how not making things an idol frees us to enjoy their goodness.

Idolatry stops us from enjoying the good things of life. When we demand that good things do what only God can do, we fail to respond to their goodness with thanksgiving. Instead of celebrating what things are, we resent what they aren’t. We become blind to their goodness and see only the ways they disappointment us. When we worship only God, the good things in our lives become rightly ordered and thus thoroughly enjoyed. This ordering is especially important for relationships.

Because I don’t expect Teckla to be my source of purpose, worth, or joy, she is free to be who God has made her. She doesn’t have to be who I “need her” to be. And because I know Teckla has not made me an idol, I am free to be myself. I know her faith is anchored in a God who never fails and never forgets. Not having to be god frees me to grow in godliness.

I have not always recognized the first of the ten commandments as the door to enjoying life.  Unconsciously, I have probably absorbed that distorted view that God is a killjoy and the commandments are given to keep us from enjoying life too much. But when we walk upstream to our source of unhappiness, we will almost always discover we have made some good thing the ultimate thing. When God is our one thing, all other things are fully enjoyed as expressions of His goodness.

Isaiah (46:7) points out that those who make idols have to carry their idols around. Idols become a “burden for the weary.” So not only does idolatry burden good things with unfair expectations, we burden ourselves with idolatry. A few verses later in Isaiah, God says to Israel, “I have made you and I will carry you.” It is not just the burden of sin that we are invited to lay down. When we lay down our idolatry of good things, we and the good things in our lives are set free. We can let God carry us.

Posted in Culture, On Faith | Tagged | Leave a comment

Toxic Authenticity

Some people should never be told, “Just be yourself.” I have grown up in the church and have a nose for hypocrisy. Much of my life has been a search for authentic Christianity: people who are the real deal, who walk the talk, who are doers of God’s Word and not just hearers. I detest all religious priggishness and pretense, but there is a kind of authenticity that is toxic.

If someone told me to just be myself, I would have to ask, “Which self?” I am full of potential—not all of it good. I can discover, especially when tired, selfish impulses within me. When discouraged or depressed, I can speak faith-destroying words of bitterness—a wintry blast of despair. With withering wit, I can destroy every trace of hope in a young Christian.

Or I could get real and tell my brothers and sisters in Christ about their own shortcomings and immaturity. I could loose shot-gun blasts of authenticity and wound everyone around me. A part of me (one of my “selfs”) would relish crushing the naivete of young social justice warriors who think they alone understand racism and sexism. No one could accuse me of being a hypocrite or phony because my critique of myself would be even more merciless.

There is, however, this other self: one that rings true. As I pursue Christ, I am becoming the person God created me to be. I am a work in progress, so there is evil stuff around that claims to be me. What God says about who I am and what Satan says are at war in my heart and mind. When I say yes to what God says about me, I choose to do what is kind and speak what I know is true—no matter how depressed and discouraged.

It is here where Camus and Sartre get something right, our choices when fully owned create our authentic self. I have chosen to place my faith in Christ and God’s Word. I am existentially choosing this every day. Some might say that I am inauthentic because my choice doesn’t express every selfish or depressed impulse I have. But in Christ those impulses aren’t me anymore. I can be honest about them without serving them.

On a more down-to-earth level, I have learned from my wife and from Teresa, Peter’s fiancée, that being gracious to others is not being phony. Teresa has worked in customer service in many capacities and has a great ability to be charming and polite to even the rudest person—even me. It is simply putting others first. It is love.

It is too easy to excuse rudeness and meanness as simply being authentic or honest. We can easily let cruel and destructive words roll off our tongues under the guise of being genuine. We often justify this toxic authenticity as edginess, being a straight-shooter, telling it like it is, or having some prophetic license to wound.

When I stifle the reflexive motions of pride and vengeance by blessing those who curse me and praying for those who hurt me, I am truly myself—the self God created me to be. Choosing to be this new creature in Christ is the most authentic thing I can do.

Posted in Culture, On Faith | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kansas City Blues

This morning I awoke from a dream that was simply a conversation with an old friend from my days in Kansas City. We were sat at a table in an outdoor café and talked about how life had gone since the eighties when Teckla and I were in Kansas City. My friend explained how the church had wounded her, how life had disappointed her, and how her faith had been battered. In the dream, I asked, “What about God?” I then woke up.

I asked about God because I too have been wounded by those in the church. I have seen hopes and dreams die. I have disappointed myself and been disappointed by others. All this has required the hard work of forgiving people and surrendering my dreams and disappointments to God. In the end, I too have had to answer the question, “What about God?”

The answer that raises my heart from the dead is this: “God, you are perfect in all your ways!” When said with full conviction and passion, these words sweep away every grudge against God, every unconscious accusation against his goodness. It revives my soul.

I declare this without having an answer to every question about those times when obeying God did not have the cool result I thought it should. Often God has not followed my script. And unlike some, I can not look back on my life and discern how God was secretly working everything out in some wonderful way.

I still have questions. Some things in my past still seem simply wrong—without any redemptive purpose or design. Some things may have just been the work of the enemy, or expressions of the evil in people’s hearts. I can’t explain away everything that grieves my heart as an unseen blessing. I do know it is important to give all my grievances to God.

Often, we don’t recognize that our grievances against life have mutated into grievances against God. A sign that this has happened is when our disappointments move us further from God instead of closer. When we withdraw from God and God’s people to nurse our wounds and nurture our disappointments, we are blaming God. That blame shrinks our love for God and kills our communication with him.

I have beloved brothers and sisters who have been hurt by churches, wounded in their marriages, and seen dreams for their children dashed. Some have gone through divorce, even the death of a spouse or child. We live in a world full of thorns, thistles, and unanswered questions. We have a real enemy who lies, steals, and destroys. Yet, through our tears, it is our privilege to declare to God, “You are perfect in all your ways.”

The more I come face to face with my weakness and the brokenness of the world, the more I love lifting my eyes to a God who has loved me perfectly and saved me fully. I am His. And He is mine. When I see all that is mine in God, the riches of grace found in Christ, and the glorious hope of an eternity with Him, my grief is swallowed up by joy. My Kansas City blues become jazzy hymns of praise.

Posted in On Faith | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Resurrection and Marriage

Having Teckla as my worship leader is, and has been, one of my greatest joys. It has also given me a glimpse of something difficult to grasp: the relationship of a husband and wife after the resurrection.

It has always bothered me that Jesus said that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” The longer I am married, the more this bothers me—the less I want to be like an angel.

Every sappy and cloying thing a couple could say about their love, we say with all sincerity. It feels like we have an eternal love. We have been married almost 40 years and would still rather be with each other than anyone else. Start the syrupy Hallmark movie music; we have undying, everlasting love for each other. Not being married seems terrible and unimaginable—nothing heavenly.

I blame this on my parents who were crazy in love for over fifty years. Last year when my mother was bedridden and dying, I mentioned something Dad used to do. Because of her stroke, she couldn’t talk, but I saw a tear slide down her cheek. I asked, “Why are you crying? Are you hurting?” She nodded no. When I asked if she was missing Dad, she nodded yes and shed a few more tears. It had been twenty years since Dad died. I know she looked forward to being reunited with Dad, but what does that look like if there is no marriage in the resurrection?

Several times I have gotten a glimpse of this while Teckla leads worship. When I see her face alive with joy and love for God and watch her pour out her heart to God in love and celebration, I fall more in love with her. I also rejoice that God has blessed me with a wife that loves Jesus with wild abandon.

But quickly there is a shift in my thoughts and spirit as I follow her example and give all my attention to God. As I fling all my adoration Godward and sense God’s presence in our midst, I realize that Teckla and I are brother and sister in Christ. Our love for each other is flooded with God’s love for us and our love for Him. Just as the rising of the sun makes stars grow dim, our love is submerged in a greater love. In that moment, it feels like nothing is lost—every good thing is found. It feels like eternity—all joy. Teckla and I are the Bride rejoicing in Jesus, the Bridegroom.

It is biblical, of course, that being married gives us glimpses of eternity. I will be okay not being married in the resurrection; Teckla and I have an invitation to the wedding that matters most.

Posted in On Faith | Tagged | Leave a comment