Friday, August 26, 2011

You Can’t Handle the Truth… Apart from its Context

I am a big fan of movies but I have a confession to make… I have never seen some of the most well-known movies in our world such as Casablanca, The Godfather, or The Terminator.  While I haven’t seen these movies I am familiar with some of their greatest lines such as “I’ll be back”, “Here’s lookin at you kid”, and “I’m going to make you an offer you cannot refuse”. 

If you ask me what The Terminator is about I would give my best guess that it is about some robot from the future that has come to save earth from some other bad robots.  I’ve been told that this summation of The Terminator misses the plot pretty bad.   For me the line “I’ll be back” is just some silly line from a movie that I might say when I take a quick trip to the grocery store for some eggs before breakfast.  That line is one many iconic lines from movies that has somehow managed a life of its own in American pop-culture that for many, such as myself, has nothing to do with the actual movie.

However when I hear other famous lines from movies that I have actually seen, I don’t just hear a random movie quotes but I am reminded of the story in which those words take place.  Take for instance the line “You can’t handle the truth!”  That line brings me back to the scene from A Few Good Men where a proud Col. Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, is finally pushed to the tipping point by the questioning of a cocky young Navy Lawyer played by Tom Cruise.  “You can’t handle the truth” is the very climax of a story about honor and justice and government cover-ups.    For me that line doesn’t have a life of it’s own but rather finds its significance in a compelling story.

For the last 8 months our church has taken a very slow and deliberate look into the book of Philippians, a book which has so many lines which have become popular in modern Christianity such as “to live is Christ, to die is gain”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”, and “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus.”  For 8 months we have looked not just at the words of Philippians but at the story of Philippians… and it is a great story!  A story of  a guy named Paul who planted a church in Philippi with a handful of women.  A story of a church that is beginning to suffer the persecution of Rome under a crazed emperor name Nero.  A story of a guy in prison 800 miles away from one of his most dearly beloved churches who is all alone in prison without food or possession yet is being visited by a friend from Philippi who is bearing gifts to take care of him in his time of need.  A story of the gospel going forward even in the most inhospitable of circumstances.  A story of the grace of Christ in the midst of trials and suffering.

After going through this series I can honestly say that I will never read or hear the words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in the same way again.  These lines as with the other famous and not so famous lines from Philippians will never be simple inspiration sayings for me.  They will always take me back to the story.  And the story gives me as much hope as the words themselves.

I have seen so much misunderstanding and bad theology come from a failure to understand the stories of the Bible.  When we take lines from the Bible apart from their context in the story they end up having either negligible effects in our faith journey or simply get relegated to the realm of pop-culture along with lines from movies, poems, and songs.  I feel like much of the surrounding world has been shortchanged on the truth of scriptures because the church has not done a very good job on telling the stories of the Bible.  I can only hope that this trend is reversed because I have seen in my own personal life and in the life of the church of which I am a part that knowing the story anchors the words of scripture into the actual everday realm in which people have been seeking to live out their faith for thousands of years.  The reality is that apart from the story we can’t handle the truth.  

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Why "The Best" is the Enemy of Good

On more than a few occasions in my life (mostly in church services) I have heard the inspirational proverb “Good is the enemy of the best!”   The wisdom contained in these words is that one should never settle for good but hold out or seek the best.  While on the surface these words sound quite wise and reasonable I want to give an apologetic for how the opposite is true—sometimes the best is truly the enemy of the good. 

The problem with “Good is the enemy of the best” is that that mindset can cause people to live continually striving for perfection, for distant fantasies that may never be, or by simply weighing themselves down with unreasonable expectations of how they should be performing.  However this mindset is manifest it becomes both a heavy burden and a barrier to experiencing the good all around.
Larry Mullen Jr., drummer of U2

I heard an interview one time with Larry Mullen Jr. the drummer of U2 in which he was asked about his drumming philosophy.  He told the interviewer that his philosophy had to do with coming to terms with his own limitations as a drummer and sticking with what he is good at.  This approach to playing drums could almost  seem like a cop out by someone who is too lazy to do the hard work of getting better on the drums ,and yet by sticking with what he is good at he has been able to be a part of one of the greatest bands in the history of rock-n-roll.  Larry Mullen Jr. has found out what he is good at and how he can use his gifts to contribute to something much greater and far-reaching than merely his own quest to be the best.

Stepping out to plant a church is a risky endeavor with all kinds of pressures from putting together the weekend services, to attracting new people, to reaching out to the community, to pastoral care, community development, Bible studies, budgets, building issues, administration etc.  I find it so easy to come under the tyranny of trying to be the best in all of these areas when frankly I don’t know much about much of it.  I am coming to terms with the reality that I am not a great administrator, I am not real good at handling real estate deals, and I am not the most business-savvy person I know.  But I am a pretty decent musician/worship leader, a good communicator, and not a half-bad as a pastor.  How many times do I wear myself out by trying to be the best in all kinds of areas of which I am not even gifted?  How many times do I miss the goodness of the moment because I am so often pushing myself to be better?  How many times to I fail to celebrate the good because I have just moved right on past it?

I hear pastors all of the time who are driven by a quest to be the best.  But the problem with “the best” is that it is a mirage that keeps moving further and further towards the horizon as we chase after it.  If being the best and having the best are what you are after as a church then you will never be satisfied, there will never be enough people showing up on the weekend, or a good enough building, or the right kinds of programs and classes in place.  It is a trap!

I am kind of getting over being the best (can we call this recovery?).  Like Larry Mullen Jr., I just want to be good at what I do and to contribute to something larger than myself that helps people to experience God’s goodness.  I am finding that when I live in this kind of reality I begin becoming awake to goodness all around me and that I begin to truly enjoy all aspects of my life more (even the mundane everyday stuff of life). 

Perhaps you may be a stay-at-home mom reading this blog who struggles with wondering if putting your career on hold was a good thing, that maybe the world of diapers, Nick Jr., nap times is somehow not the best use of your life.  Maybe you feel as if you have somehow settled for something less than the best.

Maybe you have been working the same job for years and now you question if staying with your company was the best idea after all because it meant saying no to other opportunities.  Maybe you struggle with regrets that you may have missed out on something amazing in your employment.

Maybe you have given your best shot at being an artist or a writer or a musician but it has never worked into a financially viable option for a career.

Maybe you struggle with other questions of how you may have settled for less than the best in your life.

Well… is it still good enough to just be a mom that loves your kids deeply and takes care to raise them as best as you can even if nobody else sees you?  Can you work that same old job you have been working for years and find pleasure in just doing it well?  Will you still write good songs even if only a handful of people may hear them?  Can you still create art just and write poetry just because you like to, just because it is good?  Can you find joy in simply loving and pastoring people into relationship with God even if it never turns into the next mega-church?

Maybe seeking to do good and to appreciate goodness isn’t a copout at all.  Maybe it’s actually a better way to live!

Monday, August 01, 2011

A Daisy in the Cracked Sidewalk

On Saturday August 2,1997 I found myself dressed up in a tuxedo writing the final words to what would be the hardest song I ever sang in my life.  I wrote the song Daisy for Dina on our wedding day.  The chorus "You're a daisy in the cracked sidewalk..." seemed like such a fitting line for my Dina as it speaks of something beautiful and unexpected breaking forth from what could hardly be called ground, of life coming forth in the most unlikely of places.  Dina is this to me.

14 years ago she said, "I do" and joined me on what has been one crazy adventure.  14 years into this marriage I find her more beautiful than the day we were married as God's love has made a mess of her heart and life.  No one really knows what they're getting into when they write love songs in the springtime of infatuation.  I certainly didn't.  Since the day I first penned those words and did my best to sing without letting my voice crack from the nerves and emotions it has at times been a very challenging journey.  In the early days of our marriage I really wondered if we would make it at all as the issues within both of us began to come to the surface.  In hardly no time at our the idealism of our romantic love was waking up to the reality that marriage was going to be a lot harder than either of us had imagined.  At times our marriage felt a lot more like war than love.  But here we are, and all of the fights, and struggles have not compared with the joy and love that God has brought about in us.  I am truly a better man because of Dina and those words that I wrote 14 years ago are as true today as ever.