Faith, Life

What God Made Us For

God made the Sabbath for us. God did not make us for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27, my paraphrase)

I’ve read the words I don’t know how many times and thought, “That’s cool. Way to go Jesus. Showing those Pharisees what’s what.” But for some reason I had to read it a thousand times before I thought about what that really meant about our place in Creation

See, this is why I love scripture. It haunts you. Like a song your mother taught you that only comes back when you start singing lullabies to your own children. And that song’s absence from your life in the intervening years only magnifies the realization: wow, she really loves me, and wow, life is beautiful. This is what scripture can do if we tuck it into the seat cushions of our hearts and wait to find it again right when we need it. Wow, God loves us. Wow, life is beautiful.

So that’s where I started today in Mark 2, with Jesus’s words:

“The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath,”

 

but this is where it took me:

God made the church for us. God did not make us for the church.

God made the law for us. God did not make us for the law.

God made morals and virtues for us. As a tool to help us in the struggle of life. God did not make us just so that we would become moral and virtuous.

God made fear for us. For our survival. God did not make us to be afraid.

 

God made sex for us. God made it so beautiful and enjoyable for us. God did not make us simply to be objects of sex.

God made ambition and desire for us. To drive us to be better. God did not make us just to be slaves to our desires.

God made storm clouds and mountains. God made pinky toe nails. God made music and the uncontrollable urge to dance. God made taste – in fine wine, in theater, in a succulent steak. God made an entire Earth and solar system that has conspired to protect us in this nursery of life. God made our children’s ridiculous laughs and crocodile tears. God made charlie horses and gut-wrenching grief. God made strawberries so full of flavor that they’re about to burst.milky-way

God made it all for us, for us humans and for our animal cousins. God made it so that we can find how deep and beautiful and precious and valuable we really are.

God made it so that we would always be drawn away from the easy answers about ourselves –

  • that we are just flesh and bone,
  • that we are failures, that we don’t measure up,
  • that we need success or wealth or beauty to matter,
  • or that we don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

God made all this impossible universe so that we would know that those answers are not good enough. God made it all to make us look deeper into ourselves to see what depths are truly there, and in so doing, so that we would also find God. And find a god who is not an absentee landlord or a vicious dictator or a temperamental, moody deity on Mount Olympus. God made it all so that we would discover a god that exudes love in every itch and every inch. So that we would discover that our God has decided to need us.

God did not make us to fulfill creation. God made creation to fulfill us.

We have been God’s mission all along. We are not a means to another end. We are God’s end.

 

Someone might rightfully and rationally criticize God as being weak for making such a decision, but such is love, open to criticism and open to vulnerability but ultimately a force that cannot be denied.

O God, help me to hold on to this moment where I can see what you’re up to with us. Help me to hold onto this one moment where I get it and I somehow overcome my instinct to think that’s crazy and that you cannot possibly love me that much. Remind me when I start doubting myself again in 5 minutes that for this one moment I got a picture of how precious we all are to you. Remind me how my gratitude ran so deep that it tapped into the well of tears. Thank you thank you thank you O God. Amen.

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Faith, Life

18 Things That Will (Almost Certainly) Not be in Your Obituary (or mine)

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  1. Had this annoying habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Successfully allowed other people’s opinions to shape all your important decisions in life. Well done.
  3. Failed at that one new thing you tried 15 years ago.
  4. Did a beautiful job protecting God from the attacks of people with different opinions. Whew, that was close.
  5. Definitely should not have donated any money to that man on the street that one time.
  6. Definitely should not have served a meal to that one homeless lady that one time.
  7. Forgave your friend again after having already forgiven them seventy times seven times. Big no no.
  8. Showed mercy to someone who definitely did not deserve it in any way. Tsk tsk.
  9. Could have made more money if you just had spent less time with family and friends.
  10. Did not develop an acceptable amount of stress and worry.
  11. You didn’t beat yourself up enough over things that no one else cared about.
  12. Spent too much time being quiet and listening to friends.
  13. Successfully kept all out-of-the-box ideas to yourself.
  14. Could have felt more guilt and shame.
  15. Shared love with too many people.
  16. Laughed way too much.
  17. Bad dancer, should have never tried.
  18. Experienced too much grace.

Take a break. Breathe. Do not worry. Do not fear.

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Faith, Life

At What Point Does Someone Become Unworthy of Love?

This morning when I pulled into church I found some very unexpected visitors. Nine adorable little puppies were apparently left here overnight in a cardboard box lined on bottom with a black garbage bag. My heart was immediately broken and my first reaction was anger: who would do this? I made a couple phone calls to some true pet lovers and found the best place in town to take care of them and find them a home.

puppies

 

As I drove them over there, I was comforted by the fact that they were going to be adopted quickly. These were tiny puppies, probably not even fully weaned, and I knew that compared to all the older dogs in the adoption center there would be a lot of children ready to embrace these little pups. So my comfort was suddenly tinged with a nice blend of sadness and guilt when I thought of the older less cute dogs that would be left (thanks Sarah McLachlanWarning: In the Arms of the Angel).

I wondered, at what age do the dogs become unworthy of love?

The answer of course is never. Of course, they deserve love always .Of course that’s how we make our decisions on who to love and who to take care of.  Of course every one of God’s creatures, whether four legged or two, is equally valuable. And of course every one deserves a fair chance. Of course we give it to them and design our society to make that happen. Of course. Right?

I wonder now, at what age do people become unworthy of our love?

If you have ever seen a child sleeping, as I love to watch my boys, you cannot help but be overcome with a sense that this living, breathing being though small and in many ways weak, is nonetheless the most valuable and important thing in existence. And it doesn’t matter if that child is white or black or brown. It doesn’t matter if she sleeps in a designer bed or on a makeshift palette on the floor. Of course this child deserves to be loved and nurtured and given every opportunity possible. Of course.

So at what age does a person no longer deserve love? At what point does a person lose their right to a fair shot?

For every baby blissfully snoozing with that cute baby snore there’s

  • An 87 year old woman without any family left who sits in front of her nursing home waving at total strangers hoping they’ll stop for a chat
  • A 76 year old inmate wrongfully accused but on death row (or even if guilty, I wonder, who would Jesus kill?)
  • A 68 year old woman living on the streets because she was born with a mental handicap
  • Another prisoner, this one 57, who stole $50 from a store when he was 16 and has never been able to escape privately run prisons that profit from his incarceration (did you know that ⅔ of released prisoners will be arrested again within 3 years?)
  • 40-something middle class parents signing their bankruptcy papers because their son needed an emergency life-saving surgery to the tune of $150,000
  • A 32 year old single mom working 60 hours a week but still unable to live in a safe home for her children.
  • A 22 year old college graduate rewarded with a diploma and a $40,000 student loan who can’t find a job because she is either overqualified or needs 5 years experience.
  • A 14 year old teen with incredible computer programming skills, musical abilities, and also severe autism, who stays in his room all day, increasingly disillusioned at a world that has judged and rejected him at every turn.
  • A 6 year old boy who is zoned for an elementary school, middle school and high school that are grossly underfunded and are only unique for producing dropouts.

So in that list above, where do you draw the line? At what age do we stop deserving love? At what age do we lose our right to a fair chance?

Puppies need good homes. But there’s something even more beautiful and powerful when that ragged 14 year old lifetime stray finds a home that will love her for the rest of her life.

It is good to love and nurture innocent children. It is good to love people like you. But there is something much more beautiful and powerful when you cross the aisle or the railroad tracks, when you forgive someone seventy times seven times, or when you leave the 99 to bring back the 1 wayward soul, or when you love the very person you’re not supposed to.

As Christians our call to love doesn’t have an age limit. There is no three strike rule. It doesn’t make sense and frankly most of the time it sucks, but it is the only way.

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Faith, Life

Forcing the Call: Why I Want to Thank Jonathan Martin

There’s this play in football made by defensive players at least once a game. If they see an offensive player move, or twitch, or do anything that could be called false start, they are not supposed to just wait for the refs to blow the whistle. They are now coached to stand up, cross the line, touch or push the offending player and force the refs to make the call. At this point they have to throw the flag, one way or another. The player forces the refs to have a discussion about who is at fault.

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I want to thank Jonathan Martin for crossing the line and forcing us to make the call.

When one valuable player resigns and another is suspended, we have to pay attention. Now we’re having the discussion: Who is at fault?

Now, maybe Jonathan Martin had no such grand designs when he resigned. Most likely he just decided that this kind of abuse was not worth it. Just that is saying a lot, I’m sure he didn’t decide to give up such a dream job with a lucrative salary without a lot of soul-searching.

But in effect, as this story has spilled over from sports talk to GMA, CNN and Fox News, he has forced us into a national discussion. What is acceptable? It’s one thing to hear of bullying in the middle school hallways. It is another to hear it from a 6 foot 5, 312 pound professional people pusher.

So who is at fault? As I write this, USA Today has an article on its front page called “Blame the Victim” with a picture of Jonathan Martin. It details players who are criticizing Martin:

  • A real man would handle this himself.

  • Incognito, his tormentor, was just trying to toughen him up.

  • All rookies deal with this. This is how it works.

The article tells us that these are reactions we might not expect. But what can be more unsurprising? Those who benefit from a system of hazing that depends on secrecy are blaming the victim who stepped across the line to force the call.

Just because former victims (hazees, now become hazers) went through it doesn’t make it right. And if these players are defending Incognito’s verbal abuse as normal in the NFL, well, good luck with that argument.

I want to thank Jonathan Martin, because somewhere a scared middle school girl, who’s bullied for being too tall, too skinny, too fat, too pretty, too white, too dark, too anything is going to read about this intelligent, gigantic man and realize:

“Wow, if he can be bullied, anyone can.”

Perhaps she’ll stop listening to those voices and realize how strong and beautiful she is. And perhaps, if there’s someone there willing to listen, she’ll have the courage to force the call like Martin has done.

I want to thank Jonathan Martin for performing what is to me one of the most obvious parts of our calling as Christians, whether he realizes it or not. He is taking a stand for the powerless and giving a voice to the voiceless. Not just NFL players, but victims of abuse everywhere. Doing so at such a high level and in such a public sphere takes even more courage and has an even wider effect.

I want to thank Jonathan Martin for standing up, crossing the line and forcing the call. Now, as a nation, we are huddling together and it is on us to decide: who is at fault here?

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Life, Parenting

6 Things I Had to Give Up as a Parent

I have heard some peers say, “Why would anyone want to have children?” And almost three years in, I can say they have a point. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.  And absolutely the best.

So to give a taste to anyone sitting on the fence or just watching in the bleachers, here are some of the things I had to give up when I became a parent.

1. I had to give up knowing what smells to expect at any given second.

Bennett FacepalmThanksgiving 2010. Isaiah, our oldest, is 2+ months old. I’m at my parents’ house, up at 6:30am, half-asleep, changing a diaper on the floor of my room in my boxer shorts. I have cleaned the specimen. While I’m reaching for the new diaper, Old Faithful goes off. Only brown. And horizontal. I caught my breath for a second, realized what had happened and told my wife, “You’re going to have to work on this. I’m taking a shower.” Continue reading

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Life

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Everyone who’s hip likes Fight Club. Even if we didn’t quite understand the ending (why didn’t he die again… never mind). But over all the classic down-with-the-man quotes and scenes from the movie, one subtle line has stuck with me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about it. Here’s the scene (it’s towards the beginning of the movie, so it’s pretty spoiler-free):

The exchange that interests me starts at around 0:54. “It’s very clever, How’s that working out for you?” Tyler says.

This 13 year old quote has made me wonder how much time and effort I spend trying to be clever. In some ways, I think cleverness has replaced “class” as the quintessential virtue for a post-modern Western cultured young adult. Think I’m wrong? How about everyone who has ever spent more than a minute carefully crafting in your head the perfectly worded Facebook status update or Tweet, please stand up. See? Continue reading

The Cost of Being Clever

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