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Archive for the ‘Experiencing Life’ Category

What’s In a Name

Today’s Blog was inspired by a friend of mine’s blog at www.jessicalagrone.com

Stick and string strapped over my bare back perched on my bare feet. Poised at 4 feet tall, I was the greatest toe headed five year old Indian the world had ever seen.  With a collection of caterpillars, locusts shells, and armed with invisible arrows, I was set for adventure. Our suburban neighborhood was transformed into a western landscape.

Playing Cowboys and Indians was a childhood staple when I was growing up. There was never a fixed enemy and I never saw a problem with having cowboys and indians fighting on the same side.  The American Indian held my fascination. There was a mystery and nobility about them that matched the mystic of the mountains that often served as their backdrop.  For this little boy, they were the Yoda before there was a Yoda.

One can only imagine my delight in discovering that I was named after a Paiute Indian, a student my parents taught while living in a remote town in Nevada. My imagination was filled with rich images and pride that I had some kind of connection with a real “Indian”.  What would it be like to meet this man? I would eventually have that meeting.

Twenty years old, long blonde hair, pierced ears, armed with a Chevy Corsica and torn baggy jeans, I headed out West for a kind of pilgrimage.  Part of my four month journey was spent working on a cattle ranch in Nevada where my parents had once taught school.  I immediately asked if Cory “A” still lived in the area.  With raised eyebrows I was told yes.

I eventually ran into Cory “A” while at one of the local rodeos (an event almost as common there as a pick up basketball game is here).  It was not Cory “A’s” best day.  He was passed out drunk in a horse stall.  Talk about an underwhelming first encounter with your namesake.

Like many products and institutions, people are often branded and labeled early on in life.  Valid or not, those brands can make us or break us.  Nicknames, harsh words, accolades, can all seep into our self image and determine the choices we make in this life.  The question every person must face is, “will I define my name or will my name define me?”

As disappointing as it was to see someone I was named after living as a drunk, I was detached enough to know that he didn’t have destiny ownership of how my name was to be lived out.  But how many of us are emotionally entrenched with the brands we are given?  Perhaps you are told that you are “just like your father” and your father is never home with his family and generally living pursuit that degrade and not uplift those around him.  There are countless number of children who give in to that label and decide that this must be the life they are supposed to live. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will maim and destroy me.

The good news is that you do not have to live the legacy of the name you are given.  The good news is that there is a deeper rooted identity granted and graphed into your makeup.  It is the identity of the image of God. Sure, that a big image to live up to, but because God created us he has also equipped us to live it. The promises we are given through Jesus Christ are ones of abundant life, joy, peace, freedom.  These are aspects of the image of God we are given access to simply by living out of the name we are given.  The amazing thing is that it is not a new name God gives us, but our first name.

A name helps us set goals in our life.  Be it a name we write on a paper or one we write in our heart, what we perceive as our identity matters.  In Spanish my name sounds like the verb “he runs” which I suppose is as close is I’ll ever be to having a name like Rerun from “What’s Happening”.  Thankfully, a friend in college discovered that my name has a Gaelic root.  It means, “dweller by the water”.  I decided then that that was who I wanted to be.  I wanted to be one who dwells by the living water of Jesus Christ.

I later met Cory “A” when he was sober.  He was very nice and seemed humbled and surprised that he impressed someone enough that their kid would share a name.  Perhaps he began to see that there was an alternate story for him to live, an image and name that was positive and one that was deeply rooted within.  I saw a spark of recognition in him that day, a recognition that he was more than the image of “drunk” that he portrayed. Perhaps he would see who my parents saw when he was younger, or even better, the image God has called him to be today.

The name of life, the name of the image of God is not just our name; it is our calling.  The apostle Paul tells us to live a life worthy of our calling.  What’s in a name?  When it comes to being defined by God, everything.  It means  joy, peace, wholeness, abundant life.  This name is our birthright, it is our inheritence. Will we be bold enough to live out our calling?  What’s your name going to be?

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The other night I found myself watching “Finding Bigfoot” a show on Animal Planet, mainly because there are only so many times you can watch Sports Center in one day. Never the less, there I am watching these simian stalkers in their search for real evidence of this beast. I was pulled into the story with comments like

“Just so you know, one of my claims to fame in the Big Foot World is I was the one who discovered Big Foot’s two wood knocks, and figured out that if you make noise, they’ll respond. No other researchers knew that before because they never went in the field that often.” -Finding Big Foot

Seriously, can you find better T.V.?

These “researchers” were very serious about their sasquatch(sasquatches? sasquatchi?). They found witnesses who gave testimony to their own personal encounters. However, their encounters were of the “bump-in-the-night” variety. Ok, sure, they found a big foot print, but come on… I can make baby feet impressions with the side of my hand and a few forefinger pokes. None of these witnesses had much personal investment or real encounter. They were mostly retelling stories of something that almost happened to them. Without these researchers having a personal life-altering encounter, it is difficult to take them seriously.

I am reading Acts (from the Bible) this week. In the first chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to give them his Spirit and they are going to be his witnesses to the world. A witness to what? As soon as I read this I thought if the disciples had tv and this program on big foot was out (of course they would watch it… it’s Bigfoot) would they have thought, “Great, Jesus disappears and now some camera crew is going to follow us around as we give witness to something nobody else can see”?

There are many people who actually view Christianity in this light and I believe one of the reasons for this is that many of us don’t know what it means to be a witness and are simply telling stories of something that is almost happening to us.

Most of the time when the word “witness” is used throughout scripture, it is used in reference to personal experience. We give witness to something that has happened to us or is happening to us. A witness on the stand is only credible if they were there. Jesus is telling the disciples to be his witness. Jesus is telling the disciples to be, by the power of the Holy Spirit, his active and experiential work and presence in the world. They are to give witness to their personal experience of Christ in their life. In short, they are called to live Christ. This is the point of the church. Luke Timothy Johnson writes in his book “Creed” that “the church is, in a real sense, the continuation of the incarnation, the embodied presence of the resurrected Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (doubleday 2003 pg 256)

In order for the Christian to be an effective witness we must begin by being witnesses to what God is doing in us. The question then becomes, “am I willing to open my life to God?” The rest of the book of Acts is about how ordinary men and women become extraordinary witnesses of Christ. They did not tell about things they “kind of” saw. The gave witness to what God was doing in them. Our call as Christians is not to point to some weird moralism told in folklore and mountain myth, but to actually be the proof of witness to the greatness of God, to be the walking miracle, to be the transformed life. What kind of witness are you giving? Does it point to something that is almost happening to you, or have you surrendered to God in such a way that your life is transforming and a living witness?

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Who Loves Ya Baby?

Your kids are great and all, but my kid is awesome… and for no better reason than she is my kid.  I love my kid and nothing can change or take this love away. Every now and then I will ask her if she knows that I love her while I am tickling her.  The other day I decided to ask her if she knew “how” I loved her. She answered, “you love Mommy!”  I said, “yes I do and that is one way that I love you, but there are other ways too.”

I went on to tell her that I love her by playing with her, and taking care of her, and buying her toys.  She perked up at that one.  I told her that I loved her by feeding her, putting her to bed, changing her diaper, and reading her stories.  I explained that there are many ways that I love her. I then asked her if she knew how she loved me.

What does a child of this age do to show a parent they love them?  She can’t take care of me. She can’t protect me. She can’t buy me toys or feed me. I sat there for a second after asking the question and then told her how she loves me.  I told her that she loves me by trusting me to take care of her and provide for her. She loves me by the excitement she shows when I come home, by inviting me to play with her and her toys. She loves me by depending upon me and desiring my attention.  She loves me by responding to my love.

There is nothing we can give God to earn his freely given love.  There is nothing we can give him that he needs.  But he delights in the fellowship of our play, our laughter.  He delights in the invitation to our mundane and sacred living. He delights in our trust and reception of his guidance and love. In this kind of love there is nothing on our part to “prove”.  It is an action that requires no scheming.  It is a love that requires us to be still and know that he is God.

With no anxiety to prove that God loves me and that I love him, it certainly opens up room for me to love others. Sydney was right; I do love her by loving her mommy.  That’s also how I love God.

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Too Bright

One of the great advantages of being a pastor is the over abundance of junk mail.  It is amazing how much advertising is done in the name of Jesus… or in the name of church growth.  I should also say it is amazing how much bad advertising is done in the name of Jesus.  I don’t know if we are trying to advertise Jesus or legitimize our junky product.  Did you know that there is a dance class in Texas called “Pole Dancing for Jesus”… seriously, it’s an exercise class. But as my relatives in Jersey say, “Whaddaya gonna do?”

Most of the junk I receive goes in the trash or I slip it into my youth ministers inbox. But, a few times a year I get the coveted free pen.  Usually they are junk, but once in awhile there is a nice balanced shiny writing pen.  Today did not disappoint.  Today’s pen had a flashlight imbedded in its end.  Yes, I am a sucker for free flashlight pens.

I noticed something though.  If the light is on it shines in your eye when you are writing.  The pen cannot simultaneously work effectively as a writing utensil and an object of illumination… some might argue that is the problem with most writings in our world.  I thought wouldn’t it be great if the light shined the other way so I could write in the dark.  Light actually revealing what I am doing instead of hindering what I am doing.

I wondered at the numerous illustrations of the goodness of light in our life.  We are told to “go to the light”.  Let the “light of Christ” reveal your path.  The “lights” came on and I could see clearly.  The list can go on.  But how many times are we “blinded by the light”?  How often do we come out of that dark restaurant (Mojo’s BBQ) and are hit with a hint of sunlight and feel like Paul getting knocked off his horse  with blindness cowering to the ground yelling “my world, my world”… what, only me?  How many times does light seem to work against us?

During this period of fasting, I have found myself too often faced with the blinding light of God.  At first I am like my daughter who says “it’s too bright for me daddy” and the little gremlin that I am wants to shy away.  They say there is no insult like the truth.  Is that how I take God’s light?  Is it an insult?  How arrogant and self centered I am to think that anything contrary to me is insulting or harmful.  I have Dennis Hopper yelling “Perspective, Man!” in my ear.

Coming face to face with the light of Christ, the revealing nature of God’s love, is not his condemnation.  He is not even insulting me.  God is in the business of revelation, truth, and love.  His light isn’t to blind me at all.  It is revealing a better way.

There are a couple of ways in which to protect your eyes from a blinding light.  You can cover your eyes and keep walking, in which case you are still blind and stumbling.  You can endure the pain and eventually be permanently blind.  You can turn around with your back to the light and have the light wash over you and reveal a shadowy path ahead of you.  In which case you will see shadows of yourself blocking a clear path. Or, you can get next to the one holding the light and see what they see and step where they step.

His blinding love is not an insult, but an invitation.  If I want to see clearly, I have to start walking with the one who has the light.

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The Odd Art of Fasting

Fasting.  Why do we participate in such an odd thing?  We work all our life to obtain, and here we are declaring our fast from those things we thought we were looking for.  Our very act of fast seems to denounce the hard work we have put in to the consumption we were previously engaged in and will soon take up again. No matter what your reason for fasting, frankly, it’s weird.

However, maybe it is not our fast that is weird, but our own behavior.  We fast for 40 days during lent for various reasons.  Some have discovered that they are addicted to certain things, so in order to move away from those things they refrain from consuming said things. At least for 40 days.  Why is that weird? Because we admit that these are things not healthy for us, yet we go back to them after 40 days.  We spend our fast longing for that which is unhealthy.  Honestly, it is like a spiritual bathing suit diet.  I don’t really want to be healthy, but I’d like to at least look good once in awhile.

But the Biblical fast was less about abstaining from and more about focusing on.  Fasts were called for in order to focus and pray intently on a serious matter, to prepare for different tasks.  Biblical fasts generally were about moving toward God to hear his voice, to see his face.   The most famous fast we have is Jesus’ fast.  He wasn’t fasting to abstain from sins in his life, but in preparation to follow and depend upon every movement of the Father.

The other thing about Biblical fasting is that it always involved food.  I doubt Jesus was a glutton.  (Judging by all the paintings, he was either a competitive swimmer or a troubadour singer from the 60’s.) What Jesus was doing was living by the real essence of fundamental living; the truth of God. Even before shelter, food, and clothing, we need the presence of God in our life and to feed on that presence.

I don’t know about you, but that is a reality I need to revisit often and put to the test.  This lenten season I have decided to fast from lunches everyday and a full fast once a week.  I have learned several things about myself.  1. I snack a lot.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have slapped my hand as I have mindlessly reached for a cookie or cracker or my daughters PB&J.  2. I can justify about anything.  My first full fast was very tough in the beginning.  Missing dinner while making dinner for Sydney was a true test.  I kept coming back to the prayer of “let me feed on your presence in my life, Lord”.  I almost caved several times.  3. God is faithful.  In those moments of weakness, I was able to look to the Lord and find strength and even joy.

I had to let go of one frame of mind and grab on to another.  I had to let go of one dependence and find another.  When I looked at this fast as a task, as something to simply complete, I would think, “I need to eat a big meal so I can make it through missing my next meal”.  Then, when the Lord kindly reminded me why I was doing this I changed and thought, “He has food for me that will satisfy the depth of my being”.

I won’t lie, I am very hungry right now, but giving this hunger to God I find that he fills me with a comfort and strength no steak every could.  I’m not fasting in order to appreciate more what I have an abundance of, to abstain from unhealthy behaviors, to prove my strength of will, or even to obtain some mystical experience.  I fast so that I might focus more clearly upon the presence and reality of God and to take him on his word that he sustains all my needs and that they begin with him.  I fast, not to be deprived, but to feast. The absence of food in my life doesn’t make me miss food because fasting is not about the absence of a basic need, but about the presence of the primary need;  God in my life.

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Tat Too?

It is true.  I have entered into the ranks of those who have been inked.  This past weekend I took the plunge and subjected my forearm to the ancient practice of tattooing.  A practice where people go to express their individuality by doing something that millions of others have done.  Tattooing, an act in which you pay someone money to take a needle covered in ink and stab it into your arm over and over and over again.

As we walked into the parlor, (really, it’s called a parlor,  I doubt that when little old ladies create their little parlors with doilies and ribbon candy they had in mind Lidia the tattooed lady serving tea, but here we are.), the walls are framed and decorated with tattoos from bodies past and present.  Each person’s choice etched out from stories of great personal  meaning to a night of drunken dares.  There are dragons and fish, eagles and tigers.  There was even a collage with guns and a cross.

The language was as colorful as the arms, necks, and faces doing the work.  Tattoos, often a sign of toughness, rites of passage, initiations… and in I walk to order my ink of choice.  I slapped my picture down on the counter like a man ordering apple juice at a biker bar.  “Good sir” I say, “I’d like to tattoo my daughters hand print on my arm”.  Yes, I am that burly.

Did it hurt?  Well, if you have read my other blogs, you will know that I have subjected myself to more painful and stupid things, so pain is relative.  Much less painful than the Hot Wing challenge or the last 6 miles of the 1/2 IronMan. It’s like a thousand ant bites without the poison.

Once strapped to the chair, and internally laughing at the site of severally tattooed people sterilizing everything, the artist placed the stencil of Sydney’s hand on my forearm, made sure that was where I wanted it placed and put his needles to work.  As I sat there exchanging small talk I began to think of the significance of the experience.  I have thought for a long time about what kind of tatoo I wanted and when we had Sydney I knew I wanted something to do with her.  It took three years, but I finally figured it out.

One night as I was watching TV, I didn’t realize that Sydney had gotten into her paints.  She is usually pretty good at keeping the paint on paper, but this night… not so much.  She came around the corner and yelled “surprise!” I looked over and thought I saw Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but it was just Sydney covered in green paint.  As I picked her up to wash her off, I soon discovered that the paint was not just on her.  There were little green foot prints on the, thankfully, wooden floor.  That was when I saw her hand print on the floor as well.  I knew then that I wanted Sydney’s print forever etched on me.

Her high energy, strong will, permanent joy, as well as the reminder that she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh all play a part in it’s meaning.  Plus, I think it looks pretty dang awesome.  It is no secret that I am devoted to my daughter, for I know how fierce and protective I am and how much I love talking about her.  As I sat participating as a piece of canvass, enduring minor pain, I couldn’t help but hear God tell me, “If you think you know fierce love, how much more do you think I love you”.

As much as I have etched a print of Sydney’s hand on my arm, God desires me to be imprinted in Him.  Not just a sketch, by my life.  I don’t see this as selfish on his part, but an act of undying devotion to see me live.  The vibrancy I desire to see in the life of Sydney He wants even more so for me.  The question I ask myself is if I am willing to stop being the canvass and become the ink in which God creates.

As I sit on my back porch I see Sydney play with bugs and the dogs.  I see and hear birds and turtles.  My orange tree is finally ripe.  The works of his creation abound.  Why would I not subject myself to the work of the Divine artist, the true creator, the author of life.  May I be marked proudly on the arms of my God.

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Did you finish out your year or did your year just end?  Usually in December one can find many television programs reflecting on the past year.  I myself am a January man.  Reflection, however, comes at a cost if done properly.  It would be easy for me to look back at my major accomplishments.  It would also take less time.  The difficulty comes in recognizing the areas that were not as glamorous or even flat out mundane.

I don’t mean to say that we need to dwell on these issues.  This isn’t a time for self-flagellation.  Feeling sorry for yourself or even feeling guilty does little to remedy the issue.  Let those feelings lead you to the important part; what are you going to do about it?

I was watching ESPN, one of my new things this past year that I am fairly certain has led to more hair on my chest.  Quite frequently ESPN has these mini inspirational commercials during playoff and bowl season.  Some man with a rich baritone voice philosophizes about the connection between the battle on the field and the battle in our life.  They spout moving phrases that seem almost Shakespearean that if spoken by any other man would sound like Al Franken reading “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy”.

Recently, while watching Sports Center… again… the same day, I caught a phrase they used while showing highlights of the Auburn/Oregon game.  The announcer said, “endings are imposed, finishings are celebrated”.

Once I got over the shock that an ESPN commercial made me think deeply about something, I started reflecting on my year.  How did my year end?  What things did I celebrate finishing and what things had an imposed ending?  In reflexion I discovered that the things that simply ended, I invested little in.  They simply dissipated.  It wasn’t that they were things that did not work.  Failing or losing is not an imposed end.  Not trying, not investing, not swinging, those are examples of endings.  If you have ever watched baseball or basketball you know that there is nothing worse than watching a game end with the losing team resting a bat on their shoulder or the ball still in their hand.  That is an imposed ending.

Finishing, however, is swinging for the fences.  It is striving for that goal.  Check out this video clip of this Chinese hurdler.

He finished.  It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t graceful, not ever sure it was legal, but he didn’t quit!  When I think back at the things I am most proud of this past year, it was the things I was intentional about.  Think about the phrase, “he went out swinging”.  Swinging takes purpose.  You don’t accidentally swing a bat.  When you swing that bat, it is filled with purpose and intention.  You are invested.  What is amazing about intentionality, it has nothing to do with greatness and bigness but with purposefulness.  Did your year finish with purpose or did it end accidentally. Now that is over, how will this year proceed?

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