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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random Thoughts from a Long Drive

A few minutes ago, it hit me.

This dream is two decades old. I have friends younger than this dream. And here I am.

Today, Bill and I drove across part or all of five states: North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and now, Missouri.

At this moment, I am sitting in a guest room at Covenant Theological Seminary. I've dreamed of being here since 1992.

In 1992, I spoke extensively on the phone to a seminary student working in admissions here. His name was Jeremy. I had recently claimed the traditional Christian faith as my own real faith--or, more correctly, it had claimed me. I was on fire and I wanted to pursue a Master's degree in theological studies through Covenant Seminary, mainly because of the Christianity and Contemporary Culture program and the Francis Schaeffer Institute with its influence on worldview and engaging the culture. It has been a passion for me, right up there with the brotherhood of the Church Body, ever since I became a believer. But I just couldn't get here. Money, geography, time, family... there were always obstacles.

But tonight we drove into this lovely city after dark, the Arch rising above everything else from miles out, lit from below so that it didn't seem to be a concrete structure but like two light beams clasping hands with the St. Louis skyline gradually appearing behind it. It was breathtaking. I am here.

Tomorrow and Friday, I will meet with academic advisors, admissions personnel, financial aid. I will get to sit in on four seminary classes and a chapel. Lunch and dinner with staff and students. It's exciting. It's surreal. But I'm here, so it is real. My hope is to begin with just one class, from home, online, in the fall of 2013. And then within a 5-year window, to complete the Master's of Theological Studies in Christianity and the Contemporary Culture. I hope to further expand my knowledge for the writing I currently do for God's World News, and I hope to teach as well--worldview and culture to high schoolers or possibly even college level one day.

So tomorrow it all begins. Tomorrow, I will be serious. Tonight, I am tired of driving and my brain is full of so many random thoughts that occurred along this trip. So, who is up for a little silliness interspersed with some reflections? I feel the need to express. :)

Bill coined a new word on the trip. I think I might submit it to Merriam-Webster. The word is "millimoot." It is insulting in tone, and it means "so minimal in impact that it is only a fraction of what it is to be moot." Proper usage: "Your input was so pointless it is millimoot."

Tennessee is beautiful. Period. Cities and rolling country and mountains. It has it all.

Kentucky is likewise lovely for the most part, but its shining star must be Paducah. We saw signs for Paducah for hours before arriving there. However, I am intrigued by the "Welcome to Paducah" teaser: "Art, Rhythm, and Rivers." Well, hello Paducah. You definitely have my interest. I would like to visit there someday and see if it really is all that.

Kentucky does have its downside though. We saw the rolling hills, the vast fields of tilled soil, the picturesque wineries, and the wildlife--or the wild dead. Kentucky has more roadkill than any other state I've ever been in: deer, coyotes, countless raccoons, even a turkey. Kentucky is the place all fuzzy and feathery things go to die. That was rather depressing. We saw inmates cleaning trash from the roadsides, but apparently roadkill just stays to decompose and return to dust there.

On this trip, I realized just how very much I love bridges. We crossed several major rivers, and while Bill was looking at the water and the boats, I was gasping over the massive wide-flanges, the intricate detail of intersecting supports, the girth of the suspension cables. I love the idea of a bridge--making a way where there wasn't one before. Man taking dominion over the chasm, the floodwaters, the insurmountable gap. Never, never give up. But I realized something else while studying bridges today. I've always known myself to be a bridge in other people's lives. I tend to fill a gap when someone is in transition, and when the transition is over, the person moves on. I am a bridge to help people get from here to there. It's been a lonely role for me. I invest so deeply, and then experience loss so deeply when my loved ones move on. But something is different in my life now. I can say this today. I couldn't say it and believe it a year ago. I have begun to believe that a handful of beloved people in my life really are here to stay. I have begun to believe that these few (these noble, patient, longsuffering few) truly love me back enough to not just see me as a transition on the path to something else. I am gaining confidence that, while I may still be a bridge from time to time, there are now several of you who have linked arms with me, and together we are spanning the chasm of life's challenges and living in the unity of the love of the brotherhood. And that thought, that realization, that even a bridge person can find stable supports with others, is refreshing and satisfying and comforting. Thank you, my faithful friends. Thank you. You know who you are.

Now, back to the more random thoughts:
Have you ever noticed that, when on a long roadtrip, you can ALWAYS find Journey songs on the radio? It's like "they" know somehow that you're traveling, and you need Journey for your journey. And it's usually the really, really old Journey songs too, like "Anyway You Want It," though I did hear "Separate Ways, Worlds Apart" on this trip too.

And I also realized that even with the convenience of cruise control, it is still extremely difficult to do the Thriller dance when confined within the small space of a VW Beetle and traveling at 75 mph. But it was worth a shot.

Happy evening, everyone. More on this trip later.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Right Stuff: A Day at the Races

The Right Stuff

Can't you just feel the confidence? This is a mental trick Coach Weaver put on. He had his seven runners pull out before the entire field a number of times, huddle up, and then turn and walk back, casually, confidently, with total, breezy solidarity. I admit I felt it. I was thankful I wasn't running against this team.
Moments later, these seven girls were all in the top 12 at the bottom of the bottleneck, out of a field of 137 participants from about 20 schools.


Coach Hammond and the girls in the final huddle.

The team, with Coach Hammond in the background.

Hammond's Contraband
"I don't want to see ONE of you girls lookin' at your watch. You watch the FINISH."
The Team Roster
Runners were Kate, Lindsey, Ruth, Emma, Brittainy, Lauren, Savannah.

Cary Christian School won the State meet for 2A three years in a row. Asheville Christian Academy girls pushed them to their limits this year. Her are our girls waiting for the announcement for runnerup, which simultaneously announces the winner.
So sorry, Cary Christian. This was the year the Lady Lions roared!

2012 NCISAA 2A Women's Cross Country Champions: Asheville Christian Academy

Later, the Men had a great showing too. Josh took 2nd place and Sully took 5th. 

Overall, our ACA guys grabbed that Runner-Up spot. Great job, guys!

Emma sparkles as she shows off her medal...

 ...and her own name and team on the back of the souvenir sweatshirt.

The ACA girls raced their hearts out. Lindsey led our team and finished in the 5th spot overall. Lauren and Brittany were not far behind. The top 5 girls on each team score points. Emma finished 7th of the ACA girls (as expected) but broke her PR once again by 30 seconds, coming in at 24:06, a VERY respectable time for State competition.

We are neck & neck with Cary Christian, and waiting for the final count. One girl in the top 30 got skipped at the finish line, and so judges are evaluating the video to determine whether that changes team scores.

The boys are finishing now. All ACA boys finished at or well ahead of the midpoint. Josh took second place and I think Sully was in 5th. Barron is 3rd for the ACA team. (Betty--Jack was up in there with Rory and not far behind Michael--Jack was our boys' team sweeper and doing great.)

Awards at 12:45 if they are on time. With a few straggler guys still coming in now, it may be 1:00 before awards.

It's been a great day for The Pride!

10:05am: This post will be updated as possible over the course of the day.

We are on our way to the WakeMed Soccer Complex for the State Championship Cross-Country Competition.

Big news: I just found out last night that our ACA Varsity Girls are ranked #1 in the state for the 2A conference. Our coaches (Weaver and Hammond--thank God for Coach Weaver and Coach Hammond) had t-shirts printed for themselves and the team. A large bull's-eye on the back features ACA in the center spot. The message: We're the ones everyone else has to shoot for.

Emma has been visualizing herself passing other runners on what they call "the hill" here. It's a gentle slope. These mountain goats should have no trouble there. There''s more oxygen in the air here than at home. It seems the competition will be mostly mental, not physical. Cary Christian School has won the women's varsity 2A division here for three years running. They don't release their stats so their competition can't know what they are up against. That's the biggest hurdle--the unknown previous champions.

The little girl who, as a baby, refused to stand up and walk so long we wondered if something was wrong with her is now running on the top-ranked team in her division in the state--at just 13 years old. God is good.

More on the day as possible. GO LIONS! (It's a Pride thing.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blessings NOT in Disguise

A few weeks ago, I shared a meme on my Facebook page. I was only half joking about it. It showed a pen-and-ink drawing of a professional-looking woman, thoughtfully expressing a sentiment I’ve shared but never before spoken outloud:  “I’m ready for some blessings that aren’t in disguise.”

I had to laugh, because from where I stand, with my very limited point of view and my very small seed of faith and my very weak and flimsy and immuno-deficient constitution, this seems like a reality. “I believe! Help my unbelief!” is what a close friend and I have referred to countless times as “the daily cry.” I do believe. I believe God is good. I believe he is always working and even when life hurts, I do believe, I do believe, (remind me that I believe it), I honestly do believe that he is blessing us even then. I just can’t see it. I can't see how it all works out. So that phrase “a blessing in disguise” doesn’t always refer to a blessing that becomes revealed as such. Some blessings may always remain a mystery.

At the points in life when ALL the blessings seem to be disguised, it can become a temptation to believe that he intends no perceivable gift in this lifetime—that it is all intended for eternity and none for now. I find that scary thinking for a Christian. As the Church, we are his Body on earth. What’s a body for? It’s the physical, visible, active presence. It's for the now. I forget, then, that just being able to see my brothers and sisters, spend time with them, encourage one another, know them through the Spirit we both share, is a blessing not in disguise. I forget that the Fruit of that same Spirit that began blossoming in me some nearly 22 years ago is a blessing not in disguise. The hardheartedness that melted away—what kind of trouble would I have caused if I had held on to that with all that life has thrown me, and returned evil for evil at every chance? It’s cringe-inducing, the thought of the escalation that might have occurred. What if we lived in a world with no forgiveness—from God or man? Don't think about it too much. It is more than we can bear.

Those are big-Spirit-issued blessings, and for those, I should remember to give thanks daily. But I also do not want to forget to give thanks in the things that seem less spiritual, daily, even common. Those blessings are still blessings. And sometimes we overlook them because they are so NOT in disguise.

Today my husband, our youngest daughter, and I will drive over four hours. We will spend a night in a hotel. The next morning, we will run from edge to edge in a field, cheering and encouraging and fretting and over a long-legged, graceful, determined, antelopine (yes, I made that word up), sparkly-eyed thirteen-year-old who has driven herself to achieve this semester the maximum her body can produce on the cross-country course. She has quoted Eric Liddell for inspiration. She has fixed her eyes on a couple of prizes along the way and achieved them. She has trained and stretched, watched her diet and nutrition, consumed once-disgusting liquids for the hydration value until she became used to the taste, sweated profusely and bathed in ice, wrapped sore joints and run with steady impact on painful ones. She has watched the shoulders that, at first, disappeared over the horizon in front of her come closer and closer until, finally, she has passed those shoulders and others ahead of them and pulled ahead herself. And she has grown. She has earned her place in tomorrow’s state-level competition.

Competing at State is an honor and a reward. But it is more than that as well. It is a blessing, and an outright, public one. The opportunity to run with this team and this coaching staff is also a blessing and I will publicly say there’s been no disguise there either. Being her parent, longing for her improvement and success, the confidence she has gained, the spirit of unity with the team she can now compete with well enough to serve them with her participation, all blessings.

Blessed means “happy,” or so I’ve read. Yes. It fits. I am blessed today, happy to be enjoying the anticipation of tomorrow. Happy in the moment of feeling “God’s pleasure,” as Eric Liddell said, in this blessing that came unwrapped and lavished luxuriously on us. I'm drowning in gratitude. Thank you, Daddy, thank you!

How are you enjoying the Giver today?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Training Like an Athlete: On Renewing the Mind

I’m not going to pull any punches here on this blog post. I’m going to admit outright that I am becoming weary of hearing the hopelessness some Christians have for life today, in this world. Too many of us are giving up, sitting down inside our own homes pursuing our hobbies or nursing our anxieties, or hiding behind the excuse of the sin nature, and waiting out our days until we can rejoice and live free in Eternal Bliss.

I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because we hear the gospel and yet we won’t let it out of the graveclothes. We hear that we’re sinners. We accept it. We hear that Jesus came and died, and we claim the cross. But we forget the really, really good news part of it—and it IS good news.

He didn’t STAY dead. He absolutely rose from the dead and when he did so, that was total victory. The story has been written. The end is won, and if you believe, then the victory is yours too, right now. It’s for now, not just for the future. We are more than conquerors, because he conquered the grave. And he did it in real space and time, at a fixed and established and unchangeable point in history on this very ball of dust we are currently spinning around on too.

How is it, then, that we can become so fatigued and hopeless that he will really ever change us, so our perspective is only ever distantly in the heavens, and not for today—for right here, right now?

How is it? Here comes that punch: It is, I have come to believe, because we are a lazy, lazy people.

We hear that Grace is what God does for us—it’s free. Yes. Grace is free. Absolutely. I didn’t do one thing in all my life to earn God’s favor. Nothing I can offer to him is ever enough to purchase my good standing in his sight. He did it. Christ alone took all my filth for me, and all the Father’s righteous anger and judgment for my filth. It’s gone and I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it for myself. (Believe me, I’ve wrestled with this too—though I am by nature far more of a prodigal than an older brother, I’ve had my own share of polishing up all the “good,” or at least all the “not as bad as those OTHER people” actions and contributions I’d line up like top-heavy dominoes in my own Pharisaical Portfolio of Promise.)

But just because Grace is the free gift of God doesn’t mean that I get to sit down, separate myself out from the vigorous business of living, and wait, just on the off-chance that after imparting Grace to me he might also, maybe, if it pleases him, in his own timing, pull out his magic wand and zap me with a burst of healing that removes all sin, fear, temptation, doubt, depression, and anxiety from me. Until then, I’d better just stay over here, though, eating Doritoes in the spiritual bean bag chair. I guess if anyone comes to me, I’ll answer the door, but I’m NOT letting him or her in.
No, that’s what we want. To get grace and then coast on through to the end of days, when we’ll get to go to the big party, and my, won’t we be fine then, with no more sin to battle.

How do we get here? How do we forget so much that repentance and sanctification and renewing the mind are active and not passive events? We will use the word “relationship.” Salvation is a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But what do you really mean when you call it a relationship? Think about your closest relationships—those with your best friends, your family members, and the co-workers or fellow students or roommates that you spend six or eight or sometimes more hours a day with. There’s this back and forth thing going on. You talk. You share food. You get in each other’s way. You argue sometimes. You share plans. You ask advice. You give advice (whether asked or not). You plan surprises for each other. You give up or give in to keep peace or to meet a greater goal. Whatever it looks like, it’s a two-way thing and it takes effort and engagement and work. And it’s worth it. It’s not passive.

There’s a reason, then, why Paul tells us to train like an athlete. Near the end of 1 Corinthians 9 he gives all these examples at once: “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Elsewhere he tells us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Feel the burn, keep going, but don’t you dare give up!

This is not a passive approach to the Christian life. This is not a fear-filled approach either. It isn’t hopeless. But it certainly isn’t easy. I don’t think he is talking, literally, about beating his body, though I wouldn’t doubt that he did press his physical limits over and over again. I don’t see Paul as a couch potato, mentally, physically, or spiritually.

But we Christians can be such a hopeless bunch, and brothers and sisters, it ought not to be so!

Again, I admit I am more an “already” than a “not yet” person. “Become who you already are in Christ,” my pastor says. Just become it already! But we hold back, because we still think it’s our own power and not his, and we know how finite and small it is. Are you dust? Absolutely. But you are no longer your own. You have the very God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, LIVING IN YOU. The word is living and abiding, and it does purify. Adelphoi, believe it!

Jesus said it was because he was going back to the Father that his followers would be able to do greater things than he had done. (John 14:12) He is speaking, I believe, about the great growth of the church that was and is still being experienced through us—through you and me and the family that slips into the pew at 11:05 and out by 11:55 as well as the ones who arrive 45 minutes early to make the coffee and stay an hour late to lock up. We are his active hands and feet here today, and we are called to action, to relationship, to go wherever it is he sends us.

But no, we are not sinless yet. It’s still no excuse to sit still. We are not brave. We are not confident. We don’t feel capable. We’d just plain old rather not. All of those excuses are lies for the one who is indwelt with the Spirit.

So, I have learned something about this process of renewing the mind over the last year. Some of you who read this know a bit of my story. Some know nothing. One or two know almost everything. You don’t need the details. But know this: I know what it is to be afraid. I know what it is to be paralyzed by conditioning to fear. I know what it is to believe lies that I am not truly secure in my God’s hand. And I know that the mental and spiritual training it takes to break free from that into the kind of trust that puts God first and foremost is the one key to being able to get up out of the spiritual bean bag, and set aside the excuses for inaction, and take down the boundaries and fences that prevent us from acting like we truly are empowered by the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the Universe, so that we can put that power on display before the world, and through that display, others will see and know that he alone is God and this is not from ourselves. This is how the church grows, and that is the primary work we are here, spending our days, doing. Following in his steps. It is for this purpose you have been called. It’s more important than putting food on the table. It’s more important than pursuing a hobby. It’s more important even than nursing the wounds this life has inflicted. Growing the church. Reflecting God’s power and restoring love to the world and building up one another for that purpose.

About 14 months ago, my paralysis was pretty much complete. Almost. Except for God himself still in me. I could say, “I don’t know how he’s going to bring me out of this, but I believe he can.” I really could not see any hope for myself, but I never stopped believing that God was able. And he was. But I had to participate too. And that’s what I want to share with anyone who is willing to work at his or her own renewing of the mind.

The spiritual battle that we endure in this life is really far less one of the physical struggles than we like to imagine. It goes on inside the mind. But we are more than conquerors, and we don’t own our own minds. Satan doesn’t own our minds. God does. Your private thoughts? That too is a lie you’ve believed. Your mind as well as your body belongs to God, so give it to him. Just do it! Stop holding back and give it to him! Here are the steps:

1. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 is a critical passage.
Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Remember, we are lazy! If a fear-filled thought, or a sinful thought, or a depressed or anxious thought comes into your head, and you entertain it there for awhile, you are NOT taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We must be diligent—like an athlete in training, to monitor our thoughts all the time, and to take them captive when they stray.
With training, this becomes much more of an involuntary action, but at first, it won’t come naturally. At first, you may let the thought linger. You may dwell on it, especially if you think it is “harmless,” or if you rather enjoy it. But you won’t get stronger that way.
When one of the lies of the evil one shows up there in your head, you must first learn to recognize it. Recognize it is harmful—that’s what evil means, anyway. Harmful.
Whether the thought is one of devaluation or one of outright sin, the process works, and it starts with capturing the negative thought. (Yes, guys: this EVEN works on lustful thoughts; you are NOT off the hook simply because you were designed with testosterone pumping through your body. You are still responsible for your thoughts and they are NOT too fallen to be controlled by the power of God at work in you. Sorry. You’re not “just wired” that way. That in itself is an evil thought that needs to be submitted to obedience to Christ.)

2. Identify the lie that is in the thought.
2 Corinthians 10: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” We must destroy the arguments that are planted in our heads, keeping us fear-filled and impotent. God is a God of hope. He is not a God of despair. If you are stuck in despair (and I know, it can happen; I was), then it is not his truth you are hearing in your head. If you are stuck in a sin, or frozen for fear that you might be led into sin, then you are not hearing his power and promise. You are believing a lie. Identify it. Test everything; hold on to the good. Reject the lies and extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.

3. Replace it or counteract it with the biblical truth.
Actively counter the lie with the truth it is trying to undermine. No—you are not worthless. Christ died for YOU. He gave you his own worth when he did so. No—you are not an accident. He foreknew you from before the foundations of the Earth. No—you are not incapable of ceasing to lust after someone. Remember how Paul instructed Timothy to relate to every individual in the Body as family members, even the young single women as sisters “with absolute purity.” He would not ask us to do something he could not empower us to do. He called Lazarus forth from the grave and commanded his friends to “unbind him and let him go.”  When you replace the lie with the truth it tries to counter, you are unbinding the power of the gospel. The truth IS power.

4. Ask Christ to forgive you for falling prey to the lie before now and to help you to believe the truth.
I believe! Help my unbelief! And if I confess my sin (of doubt, of wavering) he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse me of all unrighteousness. I am responsible for my thoughts, but he will not continue to hold it against me when I confess it. However, I am in training. I need my trainer to help me move ahead past this one, and to be ready to face it if it comes back again.

5. Expect him to respond.
This step is just as important as all the others. This step moves the other four above from works righteousness into true faith-living. Expect Jesus to respond, to act on your behalf.
Ask and do not doubt. He is your friend. And he is the most powerful friend there is. And he has already proven that he will use his power for your good. So ask and do not doubt. There is no place for hopelessness when a believer is seeking renewing of the mind. There is no room for “I’ve always struggled with this (issue, sin, fear, etc.; fill in your own blank) and this is just the way I am” if you believe in the God who raises the dead. This is the very business he is in, and when you are asking him to help you do that which he came to do, you can expect him to do it!
Friends can be many things. Some are tough and hold you accountable. Some are gentle and compassionate and comforting. Some supply personal needs. Some provide fun and refreshment. Most probably can’t do all those things or at least not perfectly. But if there is one thing a friend does, if that person is truly a friend, it is to respond when asked. So if you, who are evil, know how to respond to a friend when asked, how much more will he come to your aid?
Expect Jesus to exceed all your expectations when you ask him to help you. Expect and do not doubt.

Now, repeat, numbers 1-5. How many reps does the spiritual athlete need to make to see progress? (We have to ask because, remember, we are lazy. Oh please, please, please…let me just do this once and be healed.)
Wait. Do I have to do this every day? Yes.
Do I have to do it morning and night? Yep.
How many reps? Honestly the only answer is: as many as it takes.
For how long? For always. For as long as there is breath in your nostrils, you will need to practice and refine the skill of taking your thoughts captive, identifying the lies, replacing the lies with truth, repenting and asking for help to believe, and then expecting his response.

But it is worth it. It builds the relationship with him, invigorates it, frees the believer—yes, it is true, you really can be freed from what holds you back now! This is sanctification. Get one issue in hand, and there will be another one, but the paralysis goes. You will be able to live for him instead of just sitting out your days waiting for the instant maturity that comes at death. You will be able to walk and run and even leap sometimes! You will NOT be a boiling pot all your days, just struggling to keep the lid on so you don’t boil over. This process will turn down the heat. The process is power, because it is God who is at work within you, to will and to act, as you go through those steps, working out your own salvation.

So get up. Get up out of the spiritual bean bag of mental paralysis, take your mind—which is being renewed, remember you have been given the mind of Christ—and go—into this world, into your community. Go where he sends you. Do what he sends you to do.

Let’s go out and be the church. To one another, to the world, for his glory. It is for freedom you have been set free.

On your marks, get set…

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Knowing Face to Face

I told a friend today that after Jesus himself (of course), I think I may be most looking forward to meeting the Apostle John in heaven.

Do you ever think about that? Think about all the people you'll meet in heaven that you didn't cross paths with on Earth? Whom would you put on your list?

There are people who've gone before me that I long to see again. Mary Sue, taken from this world at age 29. I still taste the bitterness of her loss, and think of Jesus "weeping" (or, more like, snorting with overwhelming emotion) at the site of Lazarus' tomb, even though he knew he would raise him. That's how offensive Mary Sue's death was to me. Clearly wrong. Not the way it ought to be. I want to see family members who are there. I want to see Arthur Matthews, and talk again about important things. I want to meet my four children whom I didn't get to hold and raise here, know them instantly as peers.

But all of those already touched my life personally. I am looking forward to meeting The Beloved Disciple. I have a feeling he and I will just "get" each other... We share the same sort of deep-feeling, relational, physical approach to life and observation and communication. We both find the unusual and unconventional noteworthy in the impact of its symbolism. I imagine him to have been a bit effervescent even before the Christ ignited him with epignosis. I wonder how much more so he is on the "completed and mature" side of life.

But I also look forward to meeting Charles Spurgeon, and knowing his melancholy is wiped away for eternity. I want to meet Jill Brinkerhoff, who lives in my heart because of the family legacy she left, even though I never met her. I look forward to meeting my pastor's father. He lives larger than life in the stories I've heard about his extension of grace to others.

Who do you look forward to meeting, and why? When you never have to say, "Time's up, gotta go," won't it be something wonderful to linger with the eternal family?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Turning the Bucket Upside-Down

This term “bucket list” entered the American English vocabulary officially this year. It is in the newest Merriam-Webster Dictionary. And we’ve all heard it. I’ve been appalled that people younger than I am are already working on creating and fulfilling items on their own “bucket lists.” I’m not quite ready to begin thinking that way. Maybe that’s me fighting against reality. Maybe it’s because of the undeniably geezerish nature one must assume if you in any way link yourself and your goals to the old guys in the movie that popularized the term. And honestly, as I begin to consider, even remotely, what my own bucket list might comprise, those guys are not the place I would go for inspiration.

I know I’m an adventurer at heart. An adventurer fully entrenched in the dolor of daily life. I told a co-worker a few days ago, when assigning a story of an adventurous nature, that if I could I would be giving historical architectural and archeological tours by dirigible somewhere over the sands of Egypt. But it’s by map and book and the lives of others that my adventurous spirit clings to life. My own real life is words and children, penny-pinching and praying, writing assignments and deadlines, the constant fight against mildewed and wrinkled laundry, band-aids, boo-boos, snippets of theology, letters and phone calls from college students and world-traveling friends, broken glassware and bare feet, apples decaying in the bushel, cross-country cheerleading, a little poetry—with most of it never making it to full form on paper or computer screen, and not enough sleep. I doubt making a bucket list would do anything for the goal of sustaining my own contentment in the dailyness of life. “Know thyself,” I’ve been told. Yes, I know it’s probably best for one like me, a natural daydreamer, not to create such a list. Not to add a stumbling block of longing when there’s much to be done today.

And for that reason, it occurred to me that maybe that which is becoming an accepted American phenomenon might actually be a detriment to us. Are we again being drawn to focus too much on our own selfish desires? Are we counting the value of our lives against some exotic definition of existence that we’ll mostly fail to accomplish? Or are we really looking to “redeem the time” by making ourselves available in the small details or the big opportunities that our Maker has for us, according to his own purposes?

Maybe it wasn’t written down the same way, and maybe it would never be called something so jovial and irreverent as a bucket list, but Jesus had one. He knew all that he must do before his time on Earth was done. And he set about doing it with purpose. I was struck this morning once again by John’s conveyance of one very important item on Jesus’ bucket list. And it actually involved a bucket. Or a basin, as my translation says. Chapter 13 starts out this way. Let these words wash over you. Consider your own bucket list, and how you would feel about it if you were at the very last hours of your life, and you knew it, and you had only a little time left to accomplish what you had written:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

He has only a few hours to live. He knows it. He even knows who is going to start the process rolling that will take him down. Does he try to protect himself? No. Does he look to relish the last moments in personal pleasure? Does he ask for a perfectly grilled rare steak? Does he want one more adventure? The company of a special woman? A glass of priceless amontillado? No. His bucket list isn’t about those kinds of self-satisfying things. He seeks no earthly comfort, no final thrill. He has his beloved friends gathered around him. The only thing he wants to accomplish still is to love them to the end.

Having loved them while he was in the world, he loved them to the end.

What he came to do, he had not finished until his life on earth was completely over. To the very end, he kept doing what he came to do, and it wasn’t about the quality of his own life as we would define it.

His last hour wasn’t spent in anything for himself, and no one there was meeting his needs either. He kept loving them. They loved him too, we know this. But it was with a childlike, immature love. They just didn’t get it. (And I daresay that though we try, and we keep returning to him, we don’t fully get it either. I’m not saying this judgmentally of the disciples. I just see so much of myself in them that I relate to them here—baffled, probably feeling a little proud and exalted, thinking something like, “Yeah, I’ve really hung in here, haven’t I? All this traveling, living from hand to mouth, probably good for me to rest and have my feet washed tonight…”) But even though they didn’t get it, he still gave. He kept on giving and doing without resentment. Without bitterness for how little they understood how much more he was even still going to give for them.

According to the passage, they didn’t even think to thank him. They just sat there and took it. Except for Peter, who so audaciously disagreed and tried to stop him, tried to STOP God Incarnate. But Jesus persisted. Gently, firmly, he persisted to love him to the end, even when Peter didn’t want it—wanted instead to rebel against God’s expression of love, or control it on his own terms. Ah, Peter. I know. I know.

What will my bucket list have on it? I can’t say. I think I won’t make an actual list. But for today, I’m going to love someone who’s near me. I know myself well enough to know also that already, I need to confess to God and ask him to prepare me for that snare in my soul that wants to be loved and thanked and lavished upon afterward in return for whatever act of love I managed to offer, in my bungled childish way. I know I cannot yet act altruistically. But I see him. I see you, Jesus. I don’t get it entirely, but you. You’re my bucket list. Apart from you, the bucket is empty. Apart from you, a life full of accomplishments and comforts is empty. A chasing after wind. But here it is, the bucket that is my life. Let me love to the end, and claim your promise and yours alone, that I need no list. My bucket will be filled to good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, for with the measure that one uses it will be measured back.