Saturday, June 30, 2007

Imagine if we were honest in delivery rooms.

Imagine if we were honest in delivery rooms.

What if fathers said what would ultimately come true to their children when they first held them in the delivery room of hospitals? What if instead of ooohhing and ahhhing over the closest thing most of us come to a miracle, we told that little baby was going to happen when they were older?

“I’m going to abandon you and your mom when things get difficult and I feel trapped.”
“When you’re a teenager you’ll be sexually active in large part because I never gave you love in your early years forcing you to cobble together a father figure anywhere you could.”

“I’m going to start a new family and pretend you’re dead.”

Those would be horrible things to say to a newborn, the nurses in the delivery room would probably weep. But no one thinks that way. When you’re screaming at your daughter in a counseling room 25 years later, no one stops to say, “Would I have ever said this to the baby I thought was an angel? Is this person, with all the bumps and bruises she’s acquired over the years, any less my flesh and blood?”

But why are we able to say those things by our actions when kids get older? What happens after the delivery room? How do the things that were so alive and on fire in that first moment of fatherhood grow so numb and cold? When does it become OK, internally at least, to hate your children?

I don’t have a clean wrap up for this one, just a friend who’s dad chose his new family over his first family and killed his first daughters along the way.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sex. Sex. Sex. Murder.

Sex. Sex. Sex. Murder.

I think a lot about sex, but not as much as God does. That sentence was delightful to write, mostly because it’s true. God doesn’t waste time, or Bible, on things that aren’t that important. Like murder. Those three sentences, even the fragment, don’t really make any sense, but then there’s Leviticus.

Unless you’re a huge fan of detailed descriptions about skin diseases, Leviticus isn’t the most enjoyable read. But it’s right up there in the front of the Bible and I’m trying to read through the whole thing in two years so there you go.

In Leviticus 18, God, via Moses, reveals how important sex is to Him. You can almost hearing him pleading with us not to mess this one up even as he knows we’re going to. You get the sense that he’s warning us that the biggest blessings come with the biggest dangers. And that’s true. We’ve made a mess of sex. Right now there are one bajillion examples bouncing through my head to prove that last sentence. One of my favorite is that in the Vanity Fair article on Paris Hilton, Donald Trump said that her publicly released sex tape actually helped her career. Awesome. (I swear my daughters are entering a convent in like an hour.)

Back to Leviticus. God ends the chapter by saying that when we defile ourselves with perverted sex, even the land becomes defiled. Verse 28 elaborates, “And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.”

Can you imagine Delaware just puking people out into the ocean? Whole nightclubs of meatheads just emptied into the sea after a sweaty barrage of techno silliness?

Then after dropping the puke metaphor God spends roughly five verses discussing child sacrifice in Chapter 20:1-5. Child murder gets barely any real estate in the Bible because God knows we won’t be prone to really messing that one up. How many friends did you have that by the time they entered college had slept with a boyfriend/girlfriend? How many had killed a kid? Child murder is not a billion dollar industry and is still one of the few issues in the news that gets a genuine reaction of disgust when it occurs.

But sex, clearly we’ve blown that one. As predicted, as pleaded. The point? God cares about sex. A lot.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The devil is not a cool uncle that buys you beer.

The devil is not a cool uncle that buys you beer.

My friend Jimmy made an audio tape of the meeting during which he got kicked out of Liberty University. He played it for me late one night when we were driving to the beach. I’m not sure why he recorded the conversation, but by the end of it, the Dean was crying.

That’s just the kind of thing Jimmy was great at. He got interrogated for passing counterfeit money in Costa Rica. He taught me how to fit four people into a hotel room you’ve only paid for two people to sleep in. And when I tried to get in touch with him ten years after graduating college his email response said simply, “Want to see some nude photos of my wife?”

I’m sure he was joking. I think he was joking. It’s hard to tell because Jimmy always seemed one step ahead of getting caught. But he was a lot of fun to be around and when I found myself on an island drifting far away from all the other guys in my college that were in fraternities, Jimmy’s friendship filled a very real need. He might have been crooked on the edges, but at least he was sitting on the edges of the school with me, watching and wondering what it was like to be on the inside.

Sometimes I assume the devil is a lot like Jimmy.

He’s not really that evil. He’s more like your troublemaking friend that is always up to hijinks and tomfoolery. If you hang out with him, your days are filled with lots of those “you got me again” moments where you shake your fist in mock frustration when you realize he’s tied your shoe laces together again.

How did I get that perception of Satan? Just typing that word makes me feel a little weird, like I might be handling a venomous snake this weekend at church and dancing around like a crazy God person. How over the years have I been so numbed to his presence and his poison? When did I start to believe that the devil was more interested in pranks than in pain?

The devil must have the greatest PR in the world. In cartoons he’s always got a curly tale and a mischievous grin with a harmless looking pitchfork in his hand. He looks like the naughty version of cupid. And then when a little kid misbehaves, we call him a “lil devil.” Imagine if instead of being vilified by the world, OJ Simpson became a symbol of being mischievous. “Oh there’s Johnny, he’s a good kid but when his parents go out of town, he is quite the little O.J.”

But today I read two articles online that reminded me of who the Lucifer really is.

The first was the murder of Jessie Davies. She’s the pregnant mother that was kidnapped and perhaps killed in front of her two year old son. When they found the toddler home alone, all he could recall of the incident was “Mommy was crying. Mommy broke the table. Mommy’s in rug.” Days later, they found her and the baby girl she was on the verge of delivering. The father of the baby to be is the suspect.

The second was the murder/suicide of the Benoit family. The details of that one emerged today. Chris Benoit, a famous WWE wrestler, strangled his wife and then perhaps a day later smothered his seven year old son. This was undoubtedly a little boy that was just coming into the best months of the summer. He had finished the first grade. He was learning how to read. He was probably just getting really good at riding his bike. The entire world was unfolding before him in that way that it gloriously can when you are a child. But three days ago, perhaps while he slept, his father, who he probably thought was a super hero given his pro wrestler status, put a pillow over his face and killed him.

Those two incidents are testament to the depravity of mankind, but more so, they’re reflections of the kinds of things that give the devil the most pleasure. He’s happy about death. He celebrates ruin. He dances in destruction. He’s not going to buy you beer when you’re underage or sit on the sidelines of a fraternity flag football game and make you feel like maybe you’re not that alone after all. He’s going to do everything he can to hurt you and break you and chain you down to a past you just can’t escape.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Christopher Walken and God.

Christopher Walken and God.

I’d like to think that when I get older, and dare I say wiser, I’ll have the ability to see God in every aspect of my life. That when I come across a broken stick on the ground I will scratch my bearded chin and in a British accent, which I will have picked up somewhere along the way, remark “We truly are the branches, and this gnarled piece of wood has reminded me of the desolation that results when we tumble from the safe grasp of the Lord.”

Until that happens, I am left to see God in small ways. But even small ways can feel surprisingly big.

The most recent came during the movie “Man on Fire.” I’ve seen it a dozen times and can probably quote most of the important scenes. But sometimes you see a sunset and sometimes you the paintbrush of God in the sky.

In the film, Denzel Washington plays the role of Creasy, a washed up black ops military man in Mexico City. His body is physically scarred, his heart is empty and his head is only happy when clouded with liquor. A friend from the military, Christopher Walken, arranges for him to become the bodyguard to a little girl named Pita. Pita is a blonde sprite of a seven-year-old played by the ubiquitous Dakota Fanning. Throughout the first half of the film we watch as Creasy hits rock bottom, only to find a new reason to live in Pita. He teaches her how to swim, drives her to school and gives her the love and attention her narcissistic parents refuse to. Along the way, we seem him spend increasing amounts of time in the Bible.

But because this is Mexico City, and at the core a revenge film, Pita is soon kidnapped after exiting from a piano lesson. Creasy is shot multiple times and spends days hanging on to thin threads of life. The doctors say that without a month of rest he will die. While trapped in bed, the ransom drop goes horribly wrong and Pita is executed by the kidnappers. When told of her death, Creasy is devastated, his world collapsing in scenes of Pita laughing and playing. He leaves the hospital and decides to track down the killers.

In a hinge scene, on which the entire movie changes, the young mother of Pita asks Creasy what he is going to do. His response is simple, “What I do best, I’m going to kill em. Anyone that was involved, anyone that profited from it, anyone that opens their eyes at me.” This statement serves as the doorway to a veritable house of pain and suffering. The violence is shocking in both its graphicness and its creativity. At one point Creasy duck tapes the fingers of one of the kidnappers onto the steering wheel of a car. He then proceeds to cut them off one by one, cauterizing them with the cigarette lighter, until he gets the information he needs.

At this point, my initial idea that I saw the love of Christ in this movie may seem virtually impossible. We do not serve a God that would torture a man with a cigarette lighter or plant a plastic explosive inside another kidnapper. Our God is not that cruel. I think that’s worthy of argument though, at least from an Old Testament point of view. Would the Egyptian mothers that woke to find their first born children dead in their beds agree that God can not be cruel? Would the residents of Sodom, with flesh ripped apart by sulfur falling from the sky agree that God is not violent? I’m not saying these things were not justified. I just think that maybe we make too light of the fury and might of God.

After cutting a swath of death through Mexico City, Creasy finds the pregnant wife and brother of the main villain, simply referred to as “The Voice.” He forces the family to the roof of their dirty little home and calls the Voice to apprise him of the situation. The Voice asks him, “How much do you want?” Creasy responds by saying “Your brother wants to speak to you, hold on” at which point he shoots off all the fingers of the brother’s hand with a shotgun. “I’m going to take your family apart piece by piece. You understand me? Piece by piece. I don’t want your money. You understand me? I want you!” It’s numbing really, the brother tied up to a pole with a bloody stump of a hand, the pregnant wife wailing. But that’s when grace first makes an appearance. The Voice calls back and says “I will give you a life for a life. I will give you her life for your life.”

The camera spins on a confused Creasy as he struggles with the idea that Pita is still alive. Suddenly the violence, the rage, the wrath of Creasy sinks out of his face. In the final scene, Creasy, Pita’s mother and the kidnapper’s brother drive to an abandoned bridge in the middle of the Mexican countryside. With a bullet ridden body and a weariness that is almost three dimensional, Creasy walks up the bridge. When the kidnappers see him waiting there, they pull a hooded Pita out of the car. They remove her dirty blindfold and with eyes not accustomed to light, she squints toward the bridge. With the sound of a child witnessing an unlocked gate in hell, she screams “Creasy” and runs to the bridge. Creasy, unable to run from all the pain, waits for her. She jumps into his arms, and with hands dotted with blood and scars he cradles her there. This is what follows:

Creasy: “Are you alright? They didn’t hurt you?”
Pita: Shakes her head no.
Creasy: Laughing and smiling in relief, “Hi.” More laughter. “Alright your mother is waiting for you; she’s right down at the end of the bridge. OK, you go home.”
Pita: “OK. Where are you going?”
Creasy: “I’m going home too.”

Pita runs to the arms of her mother. A red laser scope lands on Creasy’s heart, which he covers with a hand that is dotted in scars. He throws up his hands and walks slowly to the kidnappers. He stumbles to his knees in pain as they drag him into a car. Pita cries watching Creasy surrender to certain death. Creasy closes his eyes in the car and dies.

I missed it the first ten times I saw the movie. Missed that I’m Pita. I’ve lived most of my life under the stairs in a dark, dirty cage. But unlike Pita, this is the place I deserve. For although she did not ask to be kidnapped or receive this experience as a consequence of her actions, I did. If this were the story of my life, justice would have already been served. The prisoner’s life is the life I deserve. But God is like Creasy. In Isaiah 30:18 it says “he rises to show you compassion.”

The new life that Creasy finds when he meets Pita is but a glimpse at how God delights in us. And it is this love, this adoration that drives him to rescue us. But is he violent? Is there anything he wouldn’t do to rescue me and rescue you? I don’t think so. To the violence question we need only look to verses like Numbers 24:8 in which the Israelites, God’s people, are said to “devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces.” That was describing work and battles that the Lord had blessed.

Is that any less graphic than anything that happens in “Man on Fire?” God’s love has no limits. If violence is what it would take to rescue me, I have little doubt that he would be violent. That he would remove an entire planet in a flood to save the righteous family of Noah. And even though he is blessed with the ability to open the core of the earth with his fury, it is love and ultimate surrender that shows us the true depth of his heart. In the movie, Creasy could have easily continued killing the kidnapper’s family. The brother could have been tortured, the pregnant wife and unborn child murdered. But it wasn’t about revenge, it was about rescue. And when Pita was discovered to be alive, he stopped everything. He surrendered and walked willingly into a certain death.

I’ve always been struck by the description of when Christ was arrested. In Luke 22:49-51 it says: 49When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. What I think is shocking is that Jesus healed the priest. There’s great power revealed in that. Obviously someone that can heal a severed ear can at the same time cause much pain.

In his last moments, before the cross, the undeniable power of Christ is revealed one more time and yet he denies it. He surrenders. That’s how I felt about the last scene in Man on Fire. Creasy had just blown off all the fingers of the brother. He had the pregnant wife and a shotgun and a mouth full of loud, angry words. But the second he knew Pita was alive, he surrendered.

That is the Christ I serve. Powerful, fearful, able to heal the sick and blind, capable of walking on water itself. But willing to give it all up upon realizing I am found. Willing to pay the ransom with his own life. Willing to free me from a prison I created. And whether he’s crucified on a cross or forced to walk across a bridge in Mexico, he’s willing to do it all over again for me. And for you.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Is God happy when we fail?

Is God happy when we fail?

My uncle Bill helped start an orphanage in Kenya. The majority of the children that attend are victims of the AIDS crisis that is ravaging Africa. One of the Kenyan couples adopted a young girl that was born HIV positive. Typically, if there is going to be an adoption of this type it happens when the child is still a baby. But for some reason, this little girl had always been passed over and spent the first 5 years of her life waiting to be adopted at a different orphanage.

When the couple came to speak at my dad’s church, the father said something interesting about the little girl. He said “We kept hoping that she would be disobedient and break the rules.” As a young father, I have to confess this hope has never crossed my lips with my own children, nor will it ever get the chance as strong willed as both my kids are. In general, rule breaking seems like a strange thing for any father to wish for, but this dad had a reason.

“When we first adopted her, she tried her hardest to be perfect. This little six year old girl was terrified that if she broke the rules she would be kicked out of the family and sent back to the orphanage. For her, breaking the rules would be a sign that she was comfortable and was no longer living in fear.”

I wonder if God is ever like that? Not that he wants us to break the rules, sin is never something God desires for us, but when we do, is he like that father? Does he see that sin as an opportunity to pull us closer and reaffirm our place in the family instead of sending us back to an orphanage? When we fall and come back to him with new bruises, is he quick to tell us we still belong to him?

I think so. In Psalm 103: 3-4, God is described as he “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with compassion.”

The most important part of that passage is the word “from.” On the surface it’s a transition word, but the reality is that “from” represents the difference between man and God. In the world, when you fall into a pit, you’re expected to clean your act up. To get yourself together. To straighten up. In every job you’ve ever had and most of the relationships you’ve been this verse would read, “who redeems your life after the pit.”

But in God’s world, He comes to the pit. He redeems us from the pit. Not once we’ve managed to get out of it, but from the middle of it. From the deepest part of the pit. He gets down with us in the pit and rescues us from it. Not after it.

I’m sure that little girl in Kenya has failed at this point, that’s kind of one of the things we all do. But I’m sure that when she shared that failure with her father, he didn’t return her to the orphanage. Because his rescue was a one way trip. There will be no going back.

Whether she fails a 100 times or a million times, that decision was already made.

Go and then I'll tell you where.

Go and then I’ll tell you where.

If I were God, a position counselor #3 regularly tells me is already filled, I would probably give people detailed instructions on the things I wanted them to do. Maybe I’d have a website called “Godquest” where you could type in an order I give you like “work in Atlanta” and then get directions. Move your family to your in-law’s house for a few weeks. Buy a house in Alpharetta. Write advertising for Home Depot for 14 months, etc. People would love it and say, “Man, that God Jon is so detailed!” And I’d shrug my huge God shoulders as if to reply, “Hey, that’s just the kind of God I am.”

The real God however isn’t like that. Rarely in my own life has he given me specific instructions. The closer I get to him the more I feel I am able to discern his heart, but it’s never 100% clear. And it wasn’t clear for one superstar in the Old Testament - Jacob.
In Genesis 43, Joseph of the colorful coat fame has asked his long lost father to come to move to Egypt. This is no easy feat given the size of Jacob’s family. Plus he owned a ton of livestock and moving goats by foot has to be an unpleasant experience. In verse 1-3 it says:

“So Israel (Jacob) set out with all that was his and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied. “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.”

Note the progression of events here. Jacob sets out with all his goats in verse 1 and then eventually in verse 4 God says ”I will go down with Egypt with you.” Not the other way around. If I were Jacob I would have thought “That’s great to hear God because I’ve kind of already left.”

Jacob had to move his entire family, everything he had ever known to set out for a strange land with only his faith in his relationship with God to back him up. No detailed plans, no vision, no promise of success.

Why doesn’t God always give us an instructional sheet for the journey ahead? I think it’s because he’s brilliant and knows that if I had a sheet, that sheet would eventually become my god. When times got tough, I wouldn’t cry out to God in confusion, I would look at my sheet and trust in it for clarity. I’d make an idol out of his instruction and put my faith in the piece of paper instead of Him.

I don’t know if you have a big goat move ahead of you, but if you do, don’t think that God isn’t with you just because he hasn’t delivered clear directions. His silence might be the greatest sign that he wants you take the first step long before he’ll tell you the next one after that.

God was surprised sex was fun.

God was surprised that sex is fun.

A man in my dad’s church once spent six months building a canoe in his basement. Slowly but surely he bent each piece of wood around the smooth hull. It looked like the carcass of a strange beast when we saw it mid project, covered with dozens of vices to force a curve in the wooden ribs. He knew every inch of that boat and had dedicated hundreds of hours to it’s creation. At last, when the Massachusetts snow melted and the layer upon layer of sealant had dried, he was ready to launch it in a local river. But on the day he did, the strangest thing happened. Instead of floating peacefully on the surface of the water, the canoe lifted high into the air like a bird and flew away.

That didn’t happen. Canoes can’t fly, but that’s sometimes how I treat God and sex. I assume that when God created sex it was strictly so that we could have a way to populate the planet. It was strictly about procreation, not recreation. He, much like the canoe builder, was completely shocked when people started enjoying it and not just using it as a way to extend their family.

I’ve never actually said those words out loud, God was surprised that sex was fun, but my actions certainly yell them. For years, I’ve trusted the world’s opinion on sex.

I’ve digested the world’s definition of sex and subconsciously believed that maybe at the end of the day, Hugh Hefner invented it, not God. After all, “sexy” is not an adjective I’d use to describe Christianity. I’ve certainly never invited God into my sex life, which sounds completely creepy. But why not?

If God invented sex, then doesn’t that make him the ultimate expert? Forget the Kama Sutra. Forget Dr. Ruth. Forget the billion dollar porn industry. Those are just people on the shore describing a canoe go down the river. I’d rather ask the guy that created the canoe how to navigate the rapids and enjoy the deepest sunsets from the calmest stretches of water.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How to act in a counselor's office.

How to act in a counselor’s office.

I’ve been to four different counselors in my 31 years on the planet which either makes me well counseled or deeply troubled. And along the way I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that can make a first time visit to a counselor’s office much better. So if you’re going get some counseling, which everyone should at some point in their life, please consider the following:

1. Don’t show up too early.
You’re goal should be to spend the least amount of time in the lobby of the counselor’s office. If it’s a big office the longer you wait for your appointment the longer you’ll have to do awkward head nods with other people that are leaving from other counseling sessions. And the magazine selection in counseling offices always suck. I think this is on purpose because if they had great magazines you might get happy in the lobby and feel like you could cancel your appointment. So instead they stock things like “Golf Digest” from 1987 and ”Saltwater Trout Fishing Digest.”

2. Read the magazines while you’re waiting.
Most counselors tend to run about 5-10 minutes late because the person that’s before you is always a narcissist that has no problem rambling on about their problems. In many cases, that person might be me. My sincere apologies. But when you’re waiting in the lobby, you want to stay busy to avoid the “I wonder what that person is in here for” game. Don’t stare at the other people and try to analyze what life crisis brought them to the lobby. Grab whatever magazine is nearby and read deeply, unless an addiction to salt water trout fishing is ruining your marriage. In that case don’t read the magazines.

3. If see someone you know, don’t start a long conversation.
Again, a simple head nod will suffice if you happen to run into someone you know. A few of my friends from my small group actually go to the same counselor I went to. I love these guys and talk to them all the time. But if we ever see each other in the lobby of the counselor’s office we act like baseball players from different teams shaking hands at the end of game. Much like standing next to someone at a urinal, it’s just not the best place to have a great conversation. So avoid the temptation.

4. Don’t make small talk with the admins.
Chances are, you’re not the only narcissist that comes to the office. The admin has probably spent an entire day fielding awkward conversations about the weather, the traffic, the growing cost of gasoline etc. from dozens of other people that can’t stand the silence of the lobby. Focus on the magazine.

5. Prepare a good answer to the question “what’s the nature of the visit?”
A lot of times when you schedule a first appointment on the phone, the admin will ask you some form of the question, “why are you coming?” I think that’s a horrible thing to do because basically someone has finally broken free of their fear to be real and honest about some pain and the admin is the last person they want to share their junk with. But it happens, and when it does go ahead and generalize your response. I told counselor #3’s admin that I was coming in to discuss “work issues and marital communication problems.” That was true, but it was definitely the G version of the mess I was in.

6. It’s OK to request different lobby music.
A lot of counseling books don’t address this one, but it’s important. Sometimes the office will have Satelite radio and the channel will get turned to something completely random. One afternoon before I session I noticed that the lobby was playing calypso music. I’m not saying they need to be blasting out something depressing like 13 minute live version of the Counting Crows “Round Here,” but it was hard to get into the counseling music with what sounded like the theme music to a Captain Morgan Rum commercial blaring in my head. I started making up words to go along with it, “I’m about to go see, counselor number 3. My hope is that he’ll fix, the junk inside of me. Congo line!”

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but those are a good start. Go to counseling. And if you need a good one in Atlanta or Birmingham let me know. There are some horrible counselors at there and I know at least four good ones.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The hermit lie.

The hermit lie.

(Originally posted June 22, 2007)

I am kind of a lie connoisseur. After spending the better part of my life lying I’ve become apt at recognizing them and one of my favorites is the Hermit Lie. A friend of mine reminded me of how funny this one is just the other night.

He told me he really struggled spiritually whenever he went down the snack food aisle at the grocery story and saw the Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. Now clearly I’m substituting “Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls” for something far more insidious and obscene. No one could ever struggle with Swiss Cake Rolls, they’re delightful.

But when I asked him if he was going to skip the snack food aisle the next time he went grocery shopping he got offended and told me the Hermit Lie. “I can’t eliminate every temptation in my life. I’d never leave the house.”

On the surface that’s true. If you tried to eliminate every temptation in the world, you’d have to live under your bed. And you’d become a hermit and would eventually smell weird. But it’s crazy to think that your two options are either keep doing everything or stop doing everything. That if you stop going down the snack food aisle you’ll instantly become some kind of sinless recluse.

The truth is that if there’s something you struggle with, stop doing that thing. I’m not saying you can’t ever go to the grocery store to buy food. You need food. But if one particular aisle is causing you to stumble, don’t think you’ve got to go on a hunger strike. Avoid that aisle. You won’t become a hermit. Promise.

My 6 most smite-worthy moments.

My 6 most smite-worthy moments.

(Originally posted June 22, 2007)

The other day my friend Ryan and I were talking about God. Ryan is kind of my “Fake Christian Consultant” or FCC if you will. He’s not a Christian but he reads everything I write and helps me yank out any words that sound like me pretending to be a perfect Christian instead of just being real. In the middle of the conversation I told him I thought God was chasing after him. His response was instant and puzzling: “If God is trying to kill me, he missed his chance when I got in that car wreck at 18.”

I wasn’t trying to say that I thought God was chasing Ryan down for the purposes of exterminating him. I meant that God loved him and was desperate to love him even more and was running after him. But Ryan’s answer reflected what I thought for most of my life too, “If God ever gets his hands on me, he is going to punish me and make my life miserable.” And once the punishing was over I was convinced that God was going to ask me to become a missionary somewhere horrible like Guam. I’ve never been to Guam but it’s my go to geographical location whenever I need somewhere faraway sounding for an example. But He didn’t punish me. There were definitely some consequences to my actions that I had to face, some responsibility that I had to take, but God didn’t create either of those things. I did and the ability to walk through them with him holding my hand saved my life.

But what about Ryan’s thought, are there moments in life when God has a chance to exit us from the planet and doesn’t? I mean, if you believe that God is all about punishment and ruining good times then shouldn’t he be sending out lighting bolts all over the place? If he’s vengeful and angry and full of spite for people that don’t toe the line exactly, then why am I still alive? Especially considering my 6 most smite-worthy moments.

6. Shoplifting
Instead of going to our youth group leader’s meeting my friend Kris and I got caught stealing basketball cards. The plan was brilliant. We hid them inside a pack of big league chew but yet somehow the staff of Rich’s department store was able to see through this master ruse. The worst part was that a kid I went to Texas with on a three person mission trip was working there that day and came to look at me in shock in that little room with all the televisions.

5. The History of Rap Project
In the ninth grade the most important thing our school did was something called “history day.” Because I was an idiot at the time, I choose to do my history project on the evolution of rap. I made up stuff like “rap censors are often tied to KKK organizations” and other such nonsense. I remember my dad shaking his head in frustration as I cut out photos of Public Enemy for the cork board I would later display with a smirk beside other kids and presentations on Ben Franklin and Da Vinci.

4. Skipping out on the Promise Keepers
My brother Will and I went with my dad to a Promise Keepers event in Syracuse, New York once. Instead of going to the final event we went to look for bootleg tapes. This was before Napster and MP3s so the only chance to get bootleg music was to hope that some hippy had brought a tape deck to the Dave Matthews concert. At the end of the PK event they marched all the sons of fathers triumphantly into the auditorium. My dad was in the crowd scanning the sons looking for us. But we weren’t there, which was not good.

3. Promising my parents I’d send them to Europe
This one still makes me want to throw up a little bit. For my parents 25th anniversary I told them I was giving them a trip to Europe. In front of all their friends I gave them an empty photo album with captions like “Mom and Dad in front of the Eiffel Tower.” I was 24 and haven’t sent them to Europe yet. My brothers still bring this up at family gatherings.

2. The fire extinguisher incident
On Halloween night during my freshman year of college I helped crazy Nate shoot a fire extinguisher under the door of a guy we knew. The smoke from the extinguisher set off the fire alarm and 300 guys had to be evacuated at 2 in the morning. I was put on disciplinary suspension for a year.

1. Drugs & Devotionals
When I graduated from college I got a job writing for a Christian advertising agency that specialized in churches. I was also dating a girl that loved to go to raves. I didn’t want the relationship to end and wasn’t very happy so it made all the sense in the world to dance with glow sticks in dark warehouses at 5AM. There were times where I would spend the day writing prayer devotionals for churches and then spend the night rolling on ecstasy.

I’m pretty sure I’ve done worse things than those. That list is just the first six that popped into my head, but God still loves me. When he caught me, he didn’t hurt me. He hugged me. The embarrassing son. The suspended college freshman. The raving devotional writer. Not because of who I am, but because of who He is. He is love.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Does God Hate Sarcasm

Does God hate sarcasm?

I love the church I go to. It’s probably my favorite church of all time, except for the one my dad started at a car wash.

But a few weeks ago, a stand-in minister, who was great although he didn’t have a beard which I often associate with wisdom, made a point that I’m pretty sure God hates.

Here’s the setup:He was talking about how in good marriages you need to know if your spouse is a safe person or an unsafe person. On one column of the bulletin he had signs that they were unsafe and on the other signs they were safe. The information was fill in the blank so that me and the other 5,000 people in the crowd could play along.

I read ahead because TiVo has ruined my attention span and here’s what I saw for his last point:

Unsafe: Safe:

________ humor Words of _______

I instantly started to rack my brain with words he could put in there under the unsafe column instead of the one I feared. Hateful? Mean-spirited? Unfunny? (Let’s be honest, being consistently around someone unfunny would be a fairly serious marital problem.)

Any of those options would have worked perfectly, but before I could stand up and suggest one he said “And the last sign that you’re spouse is unsafe is that they use sarcastic humor instead of words of life.”

Here are three reasons I think that’s wrong:

1. God was sarcastic.
In one of my favorite and least quoted verses in the Bible, God delivers some classic sarcasm to his buddy Moses. Basically, in Numbers 11:23 Moses does one of his “you gotta be kidding me God” monologues about how there’s no way there will be enough meat for the Israelites. This is God’s response: “”Is the Lord’s arm too short?” At that point in their relationship Moses had witnessed God open and close the Red Sea, rain frogs from the heavens and countless other miracles. Was God really asking Moses about the length of his arm? No, He was being sarcastic.

2. People that God dug were sarcastic.
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah is on top of a mountain seeing whose God can light an altar with fire. The prophets of Baal are freaking out because Elijah is playing head games with them by throwing water on his altar. Then in verse 27 it says:At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”Clearly, sarcastic. And how does God respond? He lights the altar on fire for Elijah and all the other prophets are slaughtered. I don’t know Hebrew, but I’m pretty sure that’s an indication that God is a huge fan of sarcasm.

3. I’m sarcastic.
It’s entirely possible that when I’m more mature in my faith God is going to ask me to give up sarcasm. I might just have bigger issues to work on right now. Like honesty. Good Lord, sometimes I lie for no reason. Like instead of saying “I saw something interesting on TV last night” I sometimes catch myself saying “I saw something interesting in a book” just because I want complete strangers to think I’m smart. That’s ridiculous. Obviously God doesn’t want me to lie, but until sarcasm is added as the eleventh commandment, I can’t accept that when it comes to communicating, the opposite of words of life is sarcastic humor.

Harleys and Heaven

Harleys and Heaven.

Over the weekend I came across an interesting description of what it means to experience Christ:

There are “three essential elements to the Christ experience, which believers feel for the first time they experience Him: the joy of individualism, the chance to be free, to make choices; the commitment to adventure, the opportunity to change, to discover new experiences and emotions; the reward of fulfillment, an intense, personal and consuming bond with Christ that means a richer fuller life.”

I like that description. It covers a few of the things I’ve felt since committing my life to the Lord two years ago. The sense that I had the “chance to be free,” that the Lord knew me as an individual, not just a nameless person walking this planet, but as his son. That I now had “the opportunity to change,” after years of trying on my own, here was the real opportunity. And it has been all consuming, dropping me to my knees in wonder at how much “richer and fuller” my life has been as I live in his will.

There’s only one problem with that description. I didn’t find it in a book by Erwin McManus, or Phillip Yancey or Donald Miller.

That text came from the Harley-Davidson Brand Guidebook.

All I did was change the words “Harley-Davidson” and “the bike” to “Christ”, “ride” to “experience Him” and “riders” to “believers.”

Here’s how it was originally written:There are “three essential elements to the Harley-Davidson experience, which riders feel for the first time they ride: the joy of individualism, the chance to be free, to make choices; the commitment to adventure, the opportunity to change, to discover new experiences and emotions; the reward of fulfillment, an intense, personal and consuming bond with the bike that means a richer fuller life.”

That last line is my favorite. I can just see a neighbor leaning over the fence and asking his buddy, “How are you liking you’re new Harley?” The neighbor turns his head to smile at the bike and then says “I gotta tell ya, we’ve really formed a consuming bond that’s meant a richer fuller life for me.”

But according to research, that’s happening, sort of. Data shows that 95% of people that buy one Harley-Davidson buy a second Harley-Davidson. Why is their repeat purchase rate so absurdly high? Could it be that upon owning a Harley-Davidson, a man realizes that the motorcycle failed to deliver on the promise of a “richer fuller life?” Could it be that there’s a portion of the 640,000 Harley owners that think “I’m still lost. I’m still hurt. Maybe it’s the second motorcycle that will set me free.”

I like Harley Davidson, I think their advertising is brilliant. I’d own a Honda Ruckus moped if my wife didn’t think categorize that as another “kill the breadwinner in the family” activity. But at the end of the day, even the most amazing motorcycle is just a motorcycle. It’s steel and rubber and gas and oil. At best it will change your driveway, not your life.