Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So Maybe You Were A Jerk During The Election

Good afternoon folks. I want to thank you. I want to thank you each for the times you have chosen to overlook offenses throughout the past year, it has been to your honor and I am proud of you. Thank you the times you've avoided arguments over disputable matters (Rom 14:1), and have chosen not to judge your neighbor for his or her misdeeds, foul words, and misplaced votes. You have let your light shine (Matt 5:14).

You have also failed. You've been self-congratulatory (Rom 12:3). You've lost your temper (Eph 4:26). You've complained (Phil 2:14), served yourselves (Phil 2:3) and spoken thoughtlessly. You have judged your neighbors (Luke 6:37) and hated your enemies (Matt 5:44). Your limited goodness does not negate your misdeeds.

I'm right there with ya.  We're sinners living in a fallen world.  We mess up a lot, and our God is not amazed or surprised to that we fail and his love is so much greater than our failings.  Throughout our proud and pathetic moments God has remained and will remain good; his never fails (Ex 15:13). God goes to bat for us (1 John 2:1) and continues to guide our steps (Pro 16:9), answer our prayers (Jer 33:3) and cover over our sins. We've been busy for the past while, and life is about to get busy again. Take this comparatively calm moment to think clearly about how you've acted in the days leading up to yesterday's vote, and to understand beyond any shadow of doubt that in spite of anything you've said or done that here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst (1 Tim 1:15).  Etch that saying in your heart and I'm confident you'll have a better chance of not being a jerk in 2016.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Need Community Or I'll Die

In the first week Robert probably saved my life. It was a preventative measure, and it was high school, but his impact on my life was enormous. He may not even know. It's amazing how we can change one another's lives so nonchalantly.

It went like this: I'd graduated 8th grade from St. Paul Lutheran as part of a class of 32 students, which was a record at the time. Most of my classmates went on to small Christian high schools. I went to a public school where I joined an incoming class of over 500. I knew about seven people, and I rarely saw any of them. Being alone was bearable for the six hours out of the day when there was class but lunchtime bad. Lunchtime was terrifying.

Photo by: The U.S. Army
The cafeteria was packed, but somehow it was never crowded enough for me to inconspicuously sit anywhere. The tables were round, so sitting meant approaching a group. I was afraid to sit with a group who might reject me, so I sat alone at an empty table and my table stayed empty all through lunch. It felt pathetic to be so alone in such a crowded room. The same thing happened on the second day. And the third day. I felt so lonely I wanted to cry.

On the last day in that cafeteria I sat down feeling insignificant, awkward and alone. Then Robert walked up to me and changed me life. I'd seen Robert at St. Paul and at church but we hadn't talked much.
“Come on” Said Robert, “We don't eat here.”

I didn't know exactly what he meant but he was talking to me and that felt nice. He said “we” too, which felt even better. I followed Robert and he lead me to a little nook in the science hall where he and the kids from the Christian Club ate. Maybe it's dorky that we had a club, but I really needed those people. I ate with them every day for the next four years. They were there for me when I needed a place to belong. They were my family when I was alone.

Being alone is the worst. We weren't created for it (Genesis 2:18), and God wants better for us. We're meant for families, both real families and adoptive families. I don't meant to say we ought to never take a moment alone. I'm an introvert and I need time alone, but even as an introvert I know I cannot survive without a loving community.

I believe there is no comfort like that of truly belonging. Sadly we often live without the supportive communities we were created to thrive in. We hang back from meeting new people because we imagine we aren't interesting or cool enough. We avoid friendships we think will carry too much work. We don't share our struggles because we tell ourselves we aren't important. We even hold back encouragement and compliments so we don't appear too attached. We keep one another alone when we were created to be in awesome communities. Brothers and Sisters, this is all very dumb and we need to cut it out.

I know that it is hard to offer or to ask for help. It requires vulnerability. We get hurt when we're vulnerable, but it's so totally worth it. Jesus made himself vulnerable so that we could have a relationship with him. He got hurt, but still thought we were valuable enough to do it anyway. Jesus loves us, thinks we're terrific, created us exquisitely, and is excited to walk through life with us. With our confidence grounded in him, we needn't fear rejection. When we reach out, the worst thing that can happen is that someone may decline our awesome friendship. That's sad to be sure, but the way I see it it's their loss.

Root yourself in Jesus and take confidence in knowing he's crazy about you. Then reach out and love somebody. You just may save their life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"I Don't Care What Anyone Says!"

Dear Christians,

Please stop using the expression “I don't care what anyone says.” I'm embarrassed to say I hear this expression from the mouths of Christians frequently. To clarify: Christians are recipients of undeserved forgiveness.  We've been charged by God to:

Obey those in authority (Hebrews 13:17)
Be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Only evangelize with dignity and respect (1 Peter 3:15)
Love their enemies no matter what (Matthew 5:43-44)
Live at peace with everyone as far as is possible (Romans 12:18)

There are things which Christians should not compromise on in any situation, but not compromising is not the same as not listening. It is one thing to disagree with a person. That can be done respectfully and lovingly. It is another thing to not care what they say. That kind of apathy is hurtful if not hateful, and does nothing to win them over. If someone disagrees with you they are going to go right on disagreeing if you won't be civil. Without listening to your “enemy” you don't earn the right to be listened to.

When I was younger I was passionate about evangelism. Sadly I was also an ass. I shared my understanding of God's goodness and love at the slightest provocation, but I'm afraid that I was a pathetic ambassador of the gospel. I was pathetic because I didn't care what anyone thought. I thought this attitude was brave; it is not. It is unloving. I would ask people about their religious beliefs and then proceed to wait for my turn to speak. I didn't listen to them because I didn't care what they said. This was an incredibly disrespectful practice.

Listening is one of the most basic and essential ways to show a person love. By failing to listen I failed to share out the gospel I was so excited to talk about. I didn't win any hearts because I didn't demonstrate God's love. When we aren't listening we aren't loving.

Sharing Music, Roman Style by Ed Yourdon
We talk often in Christian gatherings about a need to love our neighbors, to act generously, and to be ambassadors for Christ. We rarely discuss the vital and loving act of listening to people we disagree with. Let's change that. Listening is a loving and generous action; it shows God's love practically and powerfully. Let's give it a try.

Who do you find hardest to love? Likely they're the person who is hardest to listen to. Try this new tactic this week.

  1. Don't try to love them.
  2. Meditate on the great patience and love God has shown you.
  3. Look at what you have in common with your challenging friend.
  4. Let me know what happens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jesus Is A Hugger

The worst is not knowing whether or not to hug somebody. You see somebody you love, value and perhaps miss dearly; you smile widely and move forward to . . . second guess yourself.
Photo by Joi Ito
I do this. I ruin hugs. I rush toward them and then I hesitate,
“Are we 'huggin' friends?” I wonder at the worst moment possible, “Is this ok?” “Will this make them uncomfortable?” “Will it ruin everything?”
Now I've waited too long and it's awkward either way.
I ought to be honest with myself. I've never lost a friend because I hugged them. Only once in all of my memory have I hugged a person and known it was a mistake. They didn't want my hug. In my defense we went from hugging friends to non-hugging friends overnight via hearsay and gossip. Not my bad. They hugged back though, but their body language told me not to hug that guy again.
Hugs are seldom mistakes, still I hesitate though my pro-hug instincts tell me I've left friends in need without the hugs they craved.
Humans need hugs. You've probably heard that babies face huge challenges when deprived of touch. A human being's need for physical contact doesn't evaporate once they learn to walk. We all need touch. We need hugs. I'm in the camp that recommends 12 a day.
Hugs. I need hugs; I love them - but I'm so awkward. I love people, but I get so stupid self-conscious that I talk myself out of hugging. I'm terrified they'll be all weird because I busted out the hugs, despite the fact that this has literally never happened.
“Don't be weird about this” I tell myself. “They like you.”
I love hugging-friends. I don't mean just my friends I hug regularly. I love them, but I especially appreciate those friends who hug no matter what the time and place are. I love their confidence. They never sneak hug, side hug, one arm, or awkwardly hug too slowly or for too long. These are friends for whom hugs are a special ministry. They remind me that I'm OK, and that touch is good.
I am not yet one of these people. I don't have the joy that they do. The hugs they give are given liberally and lovingly. My hugs smack of a fear of rejection. This is a shortcoming. This is not God's will for me; scripture says perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Slowly but surely God is getting me there. I can count on Jesus for that.
You see, Jesus touched the untouchables. He was a hugger. He was a hugging-friend. He IS a hugging-friend. He's not afraid of our rejection, but liberally offers his heart to anyone. Jesus loves us without hesitation, judgement or fear. Despite our resistance to him, Jesus never hesitates to bring us into his arms.
I'm held back by fear, but knowing God's love helps me move forward. What keeps you from passing that love forward? What gives you courage?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Vanilla Legacy

Did you ever hear about Edmond Albius? Yes, he had a name like a Harry Potter wizard, but he was more than just a name, and our lives would not be the same without him. Albius was born into slavery, but in 1841 he invented something that changed our world forever.

Before Edmond Albius changed things, Mexico was the only place in the whole world that could grow vanilla. There's a sting-less bee in Mexico that is the only bug in the world that naturally pollinates the Vanilla Orchid. Without pollination these orchids won't produce vanilla pods, and the pods are the tasty part. Sadly leaving Mexico means leaving the bees. No bees means no pollination and no pollination means no vanilla.  A Belgian botanist did invent a way to pollinate the orchid artificially, but his method was unusable and laborious.  Then in 1841 Edmond Albius took a stick and invented a simple technique to pollinate vanilla orchids. After over 150 years we still use that technique. Almost all vanilla on earth is pollinated this way.  He is the reason I get to enjoy vanilla. Oh yeah, Albius was only twelve years old when he figured it out.

This story stirs my desire to be remembered. Vanilla is grown globally because of Edmond Albius.  I may never do anything so globally important as that boy did.  This bothers me.

It's a basic human impulse: We want legacies. We want to leave something indelible that will be around after long after we're dead and gone. People build companies, challenge governments, break records and even wage wars with this end in mind. We do so in vain. This world is temporary. None of our legacies outlast us.  C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit, immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

I love this quote. It makes me question my longing to be remembered. I hope it makes you do the same because we are more permanent than any of our accomplishments. Our neighbors, enemies and friends are more lasting and valuable than anything we can build.


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
What do you treasure?  Is it of earth or heaven?  Lay down your worthless treasures.  Jesus is happy to forgive you if you have clung to the wrong things.  He is also happy to replace those old "treasures" with beautiful new ones, because he treasures you.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lovely And Excellent Vietnamese Coffee

 Photo by: Jean-Marie Hullot
I confess, I've turned up my nose at French Roast. I've just enjoyed every other kind of coffee more. There are so many stunning varieties of coffee that I've asked why “French Roast” is even a thing people drink. The answer is probably “The French.” Though this may be stereotyping, they're reputed to have some opinions about food.

Today I learned what French Roast Coffee is for. Mind you, I did not set out with the intention of buying or drinking the stuff. It sort of happened to me. A few weeks ago I worked a trial-shift at Zingerman's Coffee Company. It was great. I tried Liberica Coffee and Indian Coffee. I tried coffee's brewed brewed in fancy, simple and sciencey ways. I tried Vacume Pot, Espresso, Chemex and Pour over. I left with new knowledge and a notable caffeine high. Like coffee, new knowledge leaves me thirsty for more, so I went out and bought a Vietnamese coffee brewer.

I read articles, watched videos and determined that I had to buy coffee and sweetened condensed milk ASAP. The the tutorial that I found most helpful was by HighBeamFilms, but I'll give my recipe here. It is partially because I couldn't find brief instructions.

How To Make Vietnamese Coffee:

Start Boiling some water. 12 ounces is enough
Add 2-3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to a mug
Place your filter basket on top of your mug
Coarsely grind French Roast Coffee
Add 2 tablespoons of ground coffee to filter basket
Level out the grounds and tamp lightly
Splash coffee grounds with about an ounce of water
Wait 15 seconds
Fill basket with water
Put the lid on
Wait 5 minutes
Stir it
Love it

Come to my house and I will make you this coffee; the process is fun and the end product is sweet, creamy and strong.  

You may be wondering what this has to do with anything.  To which I can only say.  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" -Philippians 4:8


Find something lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and share it. Share it with your family, enemies and friends. Share it in real life. Share it online. Lets see if we can drown out some of the election-year negativity with some goddly excellence. Oh, and use the comments to let me know what you find excellent. Go!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God, Forgive High School Me

image by: Egan Snow
I fell asleep with the window open and woke up cold with the chill smell of leaves blowing through my room.  The particular cold botanical aroma of late summer awoke memories of Interlochen, the northern Michigan arts camp where I spent the last week of every summer for all four years of high school.  Filled with nostalgia, I also felt regret as I remembered those years.  I did not live up to the standard by which I judged others.  I was rude, fearful, and self-righteous.  Since high school, I’ve apologized to many of my friends for the person I was.  (If you feel you deserve an apology but have been left out, please let me know.)
I think I've improved as a person since then, but I don’t want to focus on that; it is unimportant.  Hopefully we do improve as we live life, but life isn’t ultimately about self-improvement.  Being better now doesn’t remove the consequences of my words and actions, not can it earn forgiveness. I personally must remember this or I fall back into self-righteousness.  Christianity doesn't smile on self-righteousness.
As I understand, teach, and live it, Christianity has little to do with good behavior or morals.  It can produce them, but at it's core Christianity is repeatedly realizing that our most heroic efforts to live holy lives have been unsuccessful (Isaiah 64:6), and finding that God offers his unconditional love to us no matter what we’ve done.  Regardless of how we've failed, God loves us more than we can imagine.  God readily forgives us, no matter how we embarrassingly we’ve behaved.


Read The Parable of the Prodigal Son today.  Did you know that “prodigal” means “Wasteful?”  Both boys were wasteful.  While one wasted his dad’s money; the other wasted precious time withholding forgiveness.  Which boy is most like you?  Whichever one you are, God welcomes you into his presence with open arms.  Jesus loves you relentlessly, with love you’re worst actions can never undermine.  Sometimes we struggle to accept this. We try to earn God’s love, but it’s free and can only ever be free.  When do you find it difficult to accept God’s love?  What wears down your resistance?