Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday devo: A new normal

A few weeks ago I was in a situation where I suddenly realized the person I was talking to thought I had just said the most bizarre thing. I was describing something that seemed perfectly normal to me and I could tell he thought it sounded completely abnormal. Slightly embarrassed, I laughed it off with, "Almost everyone in my family is like that. It doesn't seem odd when it's normal in your family."

I was talking about a physical oddity. But I've seen the same sort of thing happen in families with emotional and behavioral oddities. Like that frog you always heard about in science class as a kid, sitting in a pot of cold water that gradually comes to a boil without the frog having noticed, we become acclimated to the environment around us. Often, the weirdness of our situation doesn't occur to us until we see ourselves through others' eyes.

As I thought of this today, I was reminded of Jesus' words to his followers: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Really, Jesus? Love? That's it? That seems so, well, normal. So ordinary. How on earth is that going to send out a signal that we're your followers?

But of course, it's not normal at all. Normal is discord, and jealousy, and self-centeredness. Normal is greed, and gossip, and exploitation. Normal is sin.  Love, meanwhile, is so essentially a divine quality that the apostle John proclaimed that "God is love."

This is not to say that people who follow Christ have the love thing figured out. We're human (read, "normal"). And often we act in perfectly normal ways. But when we can get love right, really right, it has a powerful effect, shining a light not on us but on the one we are following.

And if get love right often enough and for long enough, who knows -- maybe it will start to feel normal to us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Korean Child of Divorce

I've been waiting for this for so long, it almost didn't seem real anymore. Until I arrived home from a trip on Friday and found a package waiting for me. Four new copies of Child of Divorce, Child of God -- in Korean! The cover is beautiful, even if I have no idea what it says.

If you or someone you know reads Korean and would be blessed by this book, it is available from IVP Korea. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday devo: The scandal of worship

Every year about this time, I pull out my DVD of Jesus Christ Superstar. Watching it has become an Easter tradition for me. I prefer the stylized, artful presentation of the last days of Jesus to the blood and gore versions that have become popular in recent years. And, yes, I realize that there is a good deal of theological fallacy in the screenplay. After all, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice are not exactly Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the scene that takes place on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Jesus' crucifixion, the Sunday we just celebrated here in 2014.  My brother's family were staying with me this weekend and over breakfast, I explained to my three-year-old nephew that this was the Sunday that Jesus came to Jerusalem and that when he got to Sunday school this morning he would be given a palm branch to wave, just like the ones that people waved and threw down in front of Jesus' donkey so many years ago.

In the movie version that I have, the one from 2000, instead of palm branches the people are carrying signs, the sort of signs that you see at rallies and protests, featuring a picture of Jesus and the words "Jesus Rules." They carry Jesus into the city on their shoulders, like a rock star, or a superstar. Their exuberance and celebration is over the top, unseemly in a way, for someone who is supposed to be a religious leader.  It's scandalous, and part of me always feels just a tiny hint of sympathy for the Pharisees who are looking on this spectacle and feeling more than a little uncomfortable.

That small twinge of sympathy is always followed by a dose of conviction. Not because I felt sympathetic, but because my worship of Jesus rarely if ever rises to the level of scandalous.  I would happily stand at the side of the road and politely wave a palm branch. But would I lift the Savior onto my shoulders, parade him around, while holding a giant sign that proclaims my adoration?  Of course, neither of these are happening in a literal sense in my life in 2014. But I fear that too often I let my faith become polite, never rising to anything close to exuberance or scandal.

I'm not saying that I feel the need to jump around and shout. But I am saying that occasionally my beliefs, my lifestyle, my faith should strike someone as a little extreme. As in, "Sure, you're religious, but do you have to take it that far? Can't you just reel it back in a little and be politely, nondescriptly spiritual, without all this Jesus stuff?"

Actually, no, I can't. Because the truth is, in both a literal and figurative sense, Jesus rules. Hosanna.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday devo: A How-To Guide for Transitions

We all experience transitions in life, right? Maybe it's a job change or a move to a new place. A wedding, a divorce, a death, a break-up. A new baby, a new boss, a new pet. Every four years, we have the chance to elect a new president for our country and when that happens transition teams are set up to make the hand off from one leader to the next smooth and seamless.

Children of divorce experience lots of transition. One parent moving out, moving to a new house, a new school, a new stepparent, new stepsiblings, and the constant back and forth transition of visitation or shared custody. If the transition itself is handled well, the road forward is a whole lot smoother.

The Bible gives one of the greatest examples of transition at the end of Deuteronomy. After wandering the desert for forty years, the Israelites had finally arrived at the cusp of the Promised Land. Moses was going to stay behind, climb a mountain, watch his people enter their new home, and then transition from this life to the next. But his wasn't the only transition. The people, these thousands upon thousands of tired, excited, human people, were about to experience multiple transitions at once. They were leaving a life of nomadism and embarking on a life of settlement and all the war and hardship that come with settling in a land that others have already made a home in. On top of all that, their beloved leader who had been the only leader most of them had ever known was about to leave them while some other guy took his place. Handling that hand off badly could have spelled disaster for the people. But instead here's what happened.

First, Moses gave the people a pep talk. In Deuteronomy 31:1-6, he tells them that he's leaving them, but assures them that God is with them, that they have a great new leader, and that they'll be victorious in their new mission.  Then, he calls Joshua to the platform and, in front of all the people, he tells Joshua that he is the new leader, that he will lead the people to success, and that God will be with him.  It's a real "rah! rah!" moment.

But then something interesting happens. God calls Moses and Joshua aside and has a little chat with them, out of earshot of the people. In verses 16-21, God tells it like it is: Before Moses is cold in his grave, the people will be worshipping other gods, they will fall into chaos, and God will rain down punishment on them. Sounds rather harsh -- but then again, God wasn't being a naysayer; he simply knew the future.

Here's what I love about this story. Moses, the beloved leader, gives the motivational speeches out in public, for all the Israelites to hear. Then, in private, behind the closed doors of a pillar of cloud and a tabernacle, Joshua, the new leader, gets the real story. The people are left encouraged, Joshua is teed up to have a great start with them, and then he is given a reality check by the one person who could see the future.

Too often, transitions include one of these elements but not the other. Either we're all trombones and marching bands, or we're all gloom and doom and steel yourself for the worst.  This story shows how to achieve a happy medium. Yes, let's have some encouragement and motivation to get everyone on board and ready to face the future. And yes, let's have some honest conversation about the challenges ahead. But let's do both in the right way, at the right time, and with the right people present. How we handle the transition can make all the difference.

Friday, April 04, 2014

'Til Death Do Us Part

This article on Gwyneth Paltrow's choice of words regarding her divorce from Chris Martin struck me as interesting for two reasons.

First, the author starts out sounding like she is all for the idea of a kinder, gentler divorce, especially because as a child of divorce herself, she struggles with feeling like her family is broken. But then by the end of the article, she reveals that she is troubled by the thought that one could enter marriage with the idea that it is a transitory relationship.
But without even the intention to make it for the long haul, won’t relationships end even earlier? To me, adding an escape clause to the highest level of commitment would only weaken it.
Good point.

The other interesting thing I found in this article was how worldview played into the conscious uncoupling concept. The article has a link to a post on Paltrow's web site by Habib Sadeghi, in which "he mentions how mating for life was easier when life was shorter. Since cavemen lived till their early 30s, they could stay together till death do them part, no problem."

Of course, if one holds a slightly different worldview, say one that involves guys like Methuselah and Noah trudging along through life for 969 and 950 years respectively, a paltry 50 or 60 years of marriage should seem like a real piece of cake.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Finding the right one...

...even if it's the second time around. Diane Paddison is an author and founder of a nonprofit that encourages women in their faith, career, and relationships. In her book Work, Love, Pray, she was refreshingly candid about the failure of her first marriage. Having gotten a second chance at love, in this article on her blog, she talks about how to make a wise decision when it comes to relationships and marriage.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Without a Trace

It's been a rough year for country star Trace Adkins, so perhaps this is no surprise. One does though wonder if he and his wife of 16 years are going to be finding new meaning in the words of his song, "You're Gonna Miss This."