Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bringing Sexy Back

At the end of October, I spoke on Jesus’ “revolutionary” definitions of holiness. I usually receive some feedback from congregants about the messages, which is good (even the occasional negative comment is worthwhile). But every once in a while, most always a surpirse, I will receive more than a little feedback. “Buzz” is the word that comes to mind. The topic or delevery or my thoughts or some combination of the three seemed to really resonate. I love it when, good or bad, things that happen in church make people really think, explore, feel. God’s voice is so much easier to hear and understand when He has our attention.

Strange, while most of the points upon which people connected were different, one of my off-the-cuff statements emerged in quite a few conversations. Somewhere along the way, I said something about falling in love with my wife. It wasn't planned or even very strongly connected to the general topic. I made a comment about how captivating it was to watch her worship. How gorgeous she was in those moments when she was lost in love with God. I hadn’t thought it should be all that novel an idea. Still, the positive reactions on this prompted me to unpack it a little more.

What is attraction but to see in someone else something we find disirable—something we want for ourselves? Lust can distort this, sure. But, far more stunning than any element of my wife’s physical appearance was this picture of self, holistically wrapped in presentation to the One she adored. She has beautiful eyes, an amazing smile, an adorable laugh; she is intellegent, thoughtful and witty; she has other very attractive features which a gentleman should not discuss. But, if in time these things begin to fill out or shrink back or sag or fade or should her mind become less sharp… all the things that happen as we age; her love for God, the beauty I see in her in those moments at His feet, it is timeless. In fact, it stands to grow more and more beautiful with increasing wisdom and the passage of time.

Today I turn 36 years old. I received an e-card from one of my aunts, wishing me a happy birthday. The closing screen flashed Psalm 103:5 from Eugene Peterson’s, The Message. I had never seen the idea of this verse interpreted this way. It said, “He renews your youth—you're always young in his presence.” See what I mean? His presence… timeless… beautiful!

I am blessed. It is only four o’clock in the afternoon and already I have received twelve facebook wall posts (from all over the world), two emails, four phone calls, five text messages and two personal appearances to wish me a happy birthday. This is in addition to my wife and boys. I don’t think I have ever had so many independent, unsolicited (not associated with a group or party) birthday well wishes in my life. Curious.

I have a point. Can I get to it? Let’s see. My oldest son just went on a field trip to see the musical “Wicked” in L.A. The only song (in fact the only word) I know from the musical is “Popular.” (to be sung in a kind of half yodel made famous by Kristin Chenoweth) Apparently, at this point in the storyline, Glenda the good witch is trying to convince the young wicked witch of the west to embrace a quest for popularity. The most she offers by way of help is a quick fashion makeover. There are many ways to gain popularity. Few of them involve acquiring or demonstrating eternally attractive qualities.

Grant me a moment of narcisism. “Popular” has never been a word with which I have much associated myself. And yet, somehow today, I have never felt more “popular” and for all the right reasons. Not because it’s my birthday, but because, for the past few years I have chosen to more actively pursue in my own life the eternal things I find most attractive. There are many factors contributing to today’s events (including technological convenience). But, as I think through the list of people who have wished me well on my “special day” and consider the content in their expressions, I believe many were offered, not out of sense of obligation or because of what the giver hoped to receive in return or simply because they were prompted by a social networking site, but because of connections formed from a genuine affection for and attraction to the God parts of me. I don’t know quite what to do with that thought. Even though I have done little to earn such a thing, I’m still honored and humbled by the very idea. And, while it may not be as true as I’d like to think, I will indeed cherish the thought a bit longer. Because, whether or not it is altogether true, I desire to live my life in order to make it so.

So, here’s to bringing sexy back. A life lived in worship is HOT! Dang, I wanna get wid dat.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pilgrim's Progress

Some new friends came over for dinner tonight. We had a great time. It was fun to watch a young couple with a new baby and remember when... It did make me feel old though. Not that this is hard to do anymore. It's just that there was a point in the evening (I don't recall now what it was) that I realized, it has been over eight years since we were where they are in life right now.

Overall, I am glad to be the man I am now. Still, there are parts of that man, the eight years ago man, that I really miss. In general, I am not all that nostalgic or, at least, I haven't been in the past (that sounds funny). But, in life, the roads across bridges are all one way. You do not get to go back. There are second chances but they don't erase the first try. Every shot counts... either for or against you.

I feel like I've seldom missed the target but I've never hit the bull’s-eye. Just once I'd like to knock it out of the park and make the headlines. Not for the fame. Just for the satisfaction of knowing I nailed it and it mattered. I'm great at the exhibition work. But I want to bring it home in the last game of the finals. I guess that is what every man wants in the end-- to know that, even if only for a moment, he is a superhero. Most days I feel, at best, like a sidekick. I have the costume, but that's about it. Oh well. (How many clich├ęs can I possibly fit in one paragraph? Let's count...)

On a completely unrelated note, we have been talking about making a quick trip to the Grand Canyon to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am excited about solidifying this idea of a family adventure as our holiday tradition. Our family hike in Palm Springs a couple of Thanksgivings ago is one of my fondest memories. Still, I think Kris will miss the feast a bit. Truthfully, so will I. Not the eating part. More the strange let down of leaving something I've always done behind. But we are not leaving it behind. We're just amending it a bit. Tweaking if you will. We'll see. Regardless of what we do, I'm looking forward to spending fun time with the fam. For that, I am truly thankful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"I am Invincible!"

…shouts Mr. Incredible’s arch nemesis, Syndrome, just before his cape gets caught and he is sucked into the turbine of a jet engine. “I am invincible,” repeats John Mayer in his hit song, No Such Thing, followed by the statement “as long as I’m alive.” I love that song.

The last few years have served to teach me just how invincible I am not; the events of the last couple of weeks, reminders of these lessons.

When I was young, I believed in all kinds of wonderful things. Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the President… seriously, I believed my parents, my grandparents, my friends would always be there for me, would always be around or together or happy. I would never have to face life without them. I believed everyone in the church loved God and me and wanted what is best. I believed Jesus would heal every sickness and that, if I loved Him, I would never go without the things I felt were most important. I believed the past was really like the Flintstones and the future would be like the Jetsons. When I was scared or in trouble, I believed I could outrun any foe. I’d take off as fast as I could, heart pounding, mind racing… the world was a blur, my feet barely touching the ground… and when I’d finally stop and turn around, I was home, safe and sound. Nothing could touch me when I was home.

It wasn’t until I was 30 that I broke my first bone. I was 31 when I felt my first real disappointment and fear over a job. I was 33 when I first felt the pain of a lost relationship. It wasn’t until I was 35 that I received my first speeding ticket or lost my first grandparent. I lost my brother when I was only nine (one year older than Christian is now). But my memories of that time are surreal at best. I don’t think I remember them for what they were but rather for what they would become as I grew up.

When I was a very young man, I was often the smartest person in my class. I was often the most naturally talented person in my circle. I became accustomed to people pulling me out of the crowd. I was spoiled, a little. I admit it. But, really, the attention was seldom given because of who I was. Most of the time it was about what I could do or with whom I was associated. I was relatively young when I first began to deal with the pain of this duality. I think I tried to convince myself the two were somehow the same or that fusing them was the key to happiness. When you allow yourself to be defined by what you can and can’t do, you are asking for heartache and disillusionment.

Truthfully, looking back on life thus far, it seems I spent the better portion of it defining myself and my worth by what I couldn’t do (on a personal level) and hiding behind what I could do (on a public level). I lived my teenage and adult life like I lived as a child. I ran and ran and ran but I never made it home. Every time I would turn around, my enemies would still be chasing me. I grew tired of running. I stopped to realize I was not being chased by a monster but rather by my own shadow. Still, in all my crazy chasing about, I had done real harm to myself and others. I had nothing else to blame for it. I was the very enemy I feared. It turned out that I am NOT invincible. Worse yet, mine is my own undoing.

So, I began to think invincibility was a myth. Only God could defeat every foe. He created us to be vulnerable, breakable, weak. That is the mature conclusion, right? Maybe not. You can’t kill something that’s already dead. You can’t slay a spirit. You can’t wound an apparition. You can only be wounded, slain by it—not the fact of it because it doesn’t exist in fact. Rather by the idea of it and your faith in that idea. I was being destroyed by the idea, a lie. My faith in it gave it power. My choices gave it form. Therein lies the key to invincibility.

I read this and am perplexed by its simplicity. “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.” – Phil 1:20-26 It really seems as if Paul is saying “I am invincible!”

I am only capable of being conquered, defeated or subdued when I put faith in the enemies I fear. When I was a child I thought I was invincible. I thought my faith was invincible. I had evidence to support my claims. Little by little, my case unraveled before me. Trying to come to terms with this and still have a life worth meaning became impossible.

“I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.” – John Mayer

So, I’m learning how to be invincible again. Wish me luck.