Monday, June 25, 2012

A New Chapter

Am I crazy? I muttered to myself again as I ran my hands through my hair and looked at the map on the computer screen.  Arizona?  Show Low?  Where did this come from?  

I had been looking for a job for the last few months.  Teaching jobs aren't exactly easy to come by in the best of times, especially not early in the summer.  But with extensive area budget cuts and the job markets flooded with experienced (and desperate) teachers, I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere.  I had done everything I could.  I applied at three different districts, done several screening interviews, and personally dropped off more than 20 application packets at schools.  Nothing had clicked. 

I felt like I was banging in vain on the doors, hoping one might open.  Playing the waiting game, hoping the waiting didn't go on all summer.  My prayer became:  God, I'll knock on all the doors I can.  I trust you to open a door in your timing. 

(Sometimes I wish it were that simple, but I suppose that would not foster true faith)
And then, it came out of the sun.  Something completely unexpected.  A school in Arizona had several open positions.  Teaching in Arizona had never even crossed my radar.  My girlfriend's family live in Arizona, so I had visited the town.  I had visited the school.  I may have even met the principal.  I had even joked with my girlfriend that I should go teach there.  But seriously considered it for more than half a second?  No way!  My girlfriend is finishing her senior year of nursing school in Indiana and moving across the continent didn't even cross my mind.

I laughed when I first heard about the opening and dismissed the thought.  But it kept coming back.   The more I thought about it, the more the knot in my stomach began to loose. 

  • It is a small school, one with a very small student to teacher ratio.  I've learned a lot about teaching here at Bethel, but I still have a long ways to go.  This would be a great way to learn how to teach without the stress of a 24 student class. 
  • This school would provide an excellent, positive environment to grow as a teacher.  There are several other experienced teachers and I know I would be able to ask as many questions as I need to.  Every Friday is a "day of collaboration."  Although three days weekends are a plus, I am looking forward to days to work alongside the other teachers in the building.
  • It's a huge step, but it's not so far away from what I thought I'd be doing when I graduated.  I never planned on staying permanently in Indiana.  I've always wanted to learn how to be a good teacher and then go overseas.  Recently, my thoughts and prayers have been turning more and more towards Arizona.  I just wasn't expecting a door to open this soon. 
  • Both the first year of teaching and the final year of nursing school are very intense and time consuming.  Although the time apart will be tough, this may be to our benefit as it will give us the time and space we need to focus on what God has put in both of our paths.  

However you slice it or dice it, it's tough.  Leaving friends and my second family here in Indiana is hard.  A year apart from my girlfriend isn't high on my list of favorite things.  But the more that both of us have prayed about it, the more convinced we are that it would be good. 

So to shorten the story, I applied for the job.  I figured it was a long shot.  Who hires a green teacher from across the United States when they know next to nothing about him.   On top of that, I didn't even have an Arizona teaching license.  But I filled in an application and prayed that God would open or close the door.  

Several days later, I got a call from the principal in Arizona.   He said he wanted to schedule an interview.  In shock, I agreed to an interview a few days later.  Now I've really got to decide, I thought as I hung up the phone. Do I really want to go to Arizona?

In a bizarre series of events, I randomly got called in for an interview a few days later at a local middle school.  It was the first real interview I had landed for a local job.  And it fell on the same day as my phone interview for the job in Arizona.   I went in and did the interview at the local school, leaving feeling really good about how it had gone.  Then, later that day, as I was doing my interview with Arizona, I received a voice mail thanking me for coming in for the local interview, congratulating me on a wonderful interview, and informing me that they had offered the job to someone else.  

It felt as if the doors to a job in Indiana were closing and stubbornly staying shut.  The interview with Arizona, on the other hand, went wonderful and resulted in another phone interview with the entire school board.   (Sidenote: If you think it is intimidating to do an interview with eight people, HA!  Do one with eight people you cannot see or hear but you know are listening very intently to every word you say...)  

In the end, I was offered a third grade position.  Just like that.  An open door.   Something I never would have considered.  It seems to be how God works in my life a lot of the times.  I'm praying about doors A, B, or C...and then trapdoor H opens beneath me. 

The more I look into the job, the more excited I get.  I believe more strongly each day that this is the next step in my life.  Easy? No, not at all.  But I am confident that it will be good.  I am sure that I am in God's will and the next year will be one of growth and drawing close to Him. 

It'll be an adventure!  That's for sure. Closing this chapter will be tough. I've built a lot of relationships here in Indiana and I feel like I'm leaving part of my heart in this sorry state.  But that's how leaving always is.  I am comforted and encouraged by the fact that my master walks before me, hemming me in behind and before (Psalm 139).  

So here's to adventure and the next chapter!  Hurrah!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Sound of Genocide

"The Lord said, 'What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.'" 
 Genesis 4:15

Abel's blood cried out from the ground What must that cry sound like?  What must the depth and horror of man's sins sound like to the ears of a holy God? 

Nails on a chalkboard?

A loud ringing in His ear?

A mosquito in the middle of the night?

The type of screaming you hear only in nightmares.  When someone you love deeply is hurting, bleeding, breaking, falling, dying...screaming out for you....and you can do nothing.   The kind of gut-wrenching screams that break your heart, make you want to vomit, and echo in your mind when you wake.  

Love consents to all and commands only those who consent. Love is abdication.  God is abdication.        -Simone Weil

God has stepped back.  Abdicated His authority and power.  Why?  To give us free will.  To let us choose.  To choose Him.  Or to not choose Him.  And the devastation left in our wake cries out in anguish.  If God hears the dying breath of sparrows, what must our atrocities sound like to him? 

What did it sound like when millions of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals were herded into Nazi gas chambers?  

When a man beat another man and ate his face while onlookers drove by on the Miami interstate?  

What do the more than 54 million children killed in their mother's womb sound like? 

What does it sound like in heaven when a child comes home from being bullied at school and hangs himself in the basement?  

The genocides in Sudan, Pakistan, Burundi, North Korea, Lebanon,  Rwanda....

How do these things sound to God?

Unbearable.  The sacred beauty of life trampled and spat on.  An incessant wailing. 

"I seen the misery of my people...I have heard them crying out..."
Exodus 3:7

God heard his people's cry. We are familiar with the story that follows.  God's vengeance on those who had persecuted his people. The great deliverance of His people from Egypt.

Over and over in the Bible, God hears his people's cries and acts. 

How long will it be before God has had enough?  How long until He will not tolerate the killing of another one of his children?  How long will he show us mercy?  

How long, oh Lord?

"Come, Lord Jesus."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tebow, Wurmbrand, and Suffering for Christ

Tim Tebow has risen alarmingly fast to be a very prominent figure in football today.  Why?  Because of his mid-season out-of-nowhere winning streak.  Oh yeah, and his praying after touchdowns and thanking Jesus Christ during interviews.   "Tebow mania" has swept the country as fans suspend their disbelief in the hope that the underdog team could somehow overpower other NFL superpowers.

Controversy surrounds Tebow like one of the Patriot pileups he was caught under in the recent game.  Christians hold Tebow's autobiography high while touting him as an excellent example of a Christian who glorifies God.  "Tebowing," or going down on one knee like the Broncos quarterback after a touchdown has been mocked incessantly by the media.   The Saturday Night Live crew happily grabbed the opportunity to tear down both Tebow and the Jesus Christ he proclaims.   

But whatever their religious beliefs or football convictions, everyone is watching him.  Many are just waiting for him to fail.  To be caught by the paparazzi having an affair or something equally un-Christlike.  Or just to finally lose a football game.  Christians across the sports-frenzied states of America watch his games and talk extensively about the seemingly miraculous fourth-quarter comebacks.  Some vehemently defend any negative comment about the quarterback and refuse to watch as Tebow is hammered into the ground again by the Patriots. 

I've even heard some say, completely serious, that God is on Tebow's side

Really?  God on Tebow's side?  I think the better question is whether Tebow is on God's side.  God doesn't take sides with man.  He doesn't get behind man's causes, wars, or football games.  Man takes sides either with God or against God.  

Tebow is being mocked by the press, the NFL, and football fans across the nation.  I guess that in a way, he is suffering for his faith.   But if that is as bad as it gets, I can't say as I feel sorry for Tebow.  

When people talk of people suffering for their faith, I think of Watchman Nee, Polycarp, Richard Wurmbrand, or the hundreds of thousands of others who have suffered and died throughout the world for their faith in Jesus Christ in the last hundred years alone.  Do I need to go into the tortures and atrocities that these faithful men and women faced as they daily were pushed to deny Jesus Christ?  Do I even dare tread that holy ground?  I, who have not faced even a small beating for my Jesus.  Those men and women are my heroes.  As Hebrews 11 says, "the world was not worthy of them." 

I'd like to see you try to tell someone who has been sitting in prison for fifteen years, enduring torture and attempts at brainwashing, that Tebow is suffering for his faith. 

We live in a nation where, by and large, the most persecution we get for Jesus Christ is a few jokes, a diminished social life, and possibly some job discrimination.  Shame on us.  No wonder our faith has grown lukewarm.  

 If our nation was anything like half the other countries on this globe, Tim Tebow would have been dropped immediately from the Broncos for his stand, blackballed from the NFL, possibly imprisoned, and death threats would have started coming on a regular basis to his family.  

If Tim Tebow could still get on his knees and thank his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ after that, then he would become one of my heroes. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

What would you do for love?

What would you do for love?

A somewhat vague question, but one that is interesting to ponder none the less.

It sounds almost like the subtitle of some chick flick.  One I would roll my eyes at.

Most people who seem to respond to the question answer with something along the lines of "anything!"  After all, if love is everything the movies would have us believe, who wouldn't do anything for love??  Listen to a few songs on the radio.  You will hear more than your fill of lovers swearing they'd do anything for the one they love.

 "I'd catch a gernade for ya, 
throw my hand on the blade for ya.
I'd jump in front of a train for ya. 
You know I'd do anything for ya...
yes, I would die for ya."  

Just don't listen to the radio too long.  You might hear all the music associated with the other side of the coin.  The heartbreak, pain, and anger at love makes me wonder if Bruno Mar was thinking.  And with divorce rates only going up and broken families becoming the norm, I can't help but scoff at the somewhat hollow promises the movies offer.  Something's missing.  

So as Christmas approaches, I couldn't help but think about the love which we, as Christ-followers, claim has transformed our own.

The question then morphed into "What would God do for love?"

The idea of a cosmic sized God loving His tiny creatures is crazy enough.  But then deciding to love those same creatures after they turn on Him and refuse to follow or return His love.  Crazy love.

I wonder when God had the bright idea of coming down himself.  From all human viewpoints, it just seems like a bad idea.  God becoming man?  Just to try to win back these pathetic sinful little creatures?  Ridiculous.

There is nothing glorious or legendary about it.  The story of Christ lacks the poetry of mythology.  Who's the hero??  The one who was born in a dirty stable?  The one who hung out almost exclusively with the social outcasts of the day?  The one who reached the height of public acclaim a few days before the crowd turned and brutally murdered Him?  Some hero.  Christ doesn't act like a hero, but a servant.  God descending to the land of the mortals is anything but glorious. It must have been mortifying and a little bit enraging for the angels to watch their master humble himself to the size of an embryo and go through the ordeal of human childbirth, let alone in a forgotten stable.   What would it have been like to watch the God of the universe as a human baby, puny and crying in the used straw?

 And all for the love of these mortals who would spit in his face and nail him to a tree thirty-three years later.

Immanuel.  God with us.  The scope of God humbling himself to the level of His creation is unimaginable.   Us deciding to become down to the level of a fruit fly or a cockroach still wouldn't be close.

What would God do for love?  Well, it doesn't end there.  He came for a reason: to die. 

[Jesus Christ], who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!

                                              (Philippians 2)

You think you love someone?  You think you would do anything for the one you love?  Alright.  Become nothing.  Become their servant.  And be willing to die every day for them.  That's the love that continues to rock the world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Manhood in the Shadow of Christ

What does it mean to be a man?  This probing question has been pulsing through my brain for more than a year, begging an answer.  Unable to find the answers I sought or the words to communicate my own ideas, the topic retired to the back burner of my mind.  I had read dozens of excellent blogs (,, books, and articles about what ‘true’ manhood looks like.  But I did not think I had anything to add to the fray.  I had tried to tie a few feeble fragments together, but nothing seemed to connect.  

How can I, who have experienced little to nothing of the world, make a claim about what it means to be a man?  As Elihu said in the book of Job, “I am young in years...that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.”  

But I have watched and seen men of God.  I have also seen boys in the body of men.  The little I know about manhood, I know from watching my father and other men I respect and seeing how they interact with those around them.  I also believe that the Bible lays out a framework of what it manhood means.   Therefore, I have decided to scrawl down a few of my ideas in the hopes that I may be able to help connect some dots for other people as well.

Which brings me to my first distinction.  Our culture has defines manhood much differently than I do.  Watch a few movies or The Simpsons.  Flip through the channels, taking notice of the commercials especially.  Look at the men featured on the front pages of popular magazines and in the limelight of our applause.  What are they living for?  What are they telling us about manhood?  To be completely honest, I am sick to death of what popular culture has been telling me about manhood.  This generation seems to not even live up to the standard of manhood set forth by generations before us.  As Fight Club so aptly put it, we are a “generation of men raised by women.”  Looking to men around me has proved some benefit, but we are all sinful, broken reflections of what manhood should look like.  Discontent with our cultures’ definition of manhood and searching for sort of hope for manhood, I set out to find a standard.  What should a man look like?  Is there a standard?  I turned to the Bible, my own standard for how to live a life worth living.

After searching the pages of my Bible, I found two men who were truly all that men were created to be.  Oh, I found a lot about what a man should look like.  But I was looking for standards, flesh and blood examples of true manhood.

One was Adam, before he chose to disobey God.  He was created perfect, reflecting the image of God.  He was a flawless image, a standard, of what men were made to be.  Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Adam in the days before the infamous fall.  We do know that when the moment of battle came, when he was called to defend Eve and resist the serpent’s attack, he backed down and gave in without much of a fight.  

That is the manhood I see all around me.  And I hate it.  We know we are supposed to be strong and noble and protect the beauty that still somehow exists in this crooked world.  We know that!  And we feel it burning deep within our souls.  But when the moment of conflict comes, we shrink away.  Thoughts and lies plague our minds.  Something slyly whispers that we need to watch out for number one.  We find it easier to slip into the background than sacrifice our reputations, our comforts, or our very lives.  And so beauty is trampled.  Truth is slandered.  And our own hearts begin to become numb.  

So that leaves the second man, who came to right what the first man did wrong.  Jesus.  I believe that Jesus Christ is a model for every area of life, including manhood.  He was the only one who was what men were supposed to be before sin made its entrance and desecrated manhood.  In Jesus, I find the only true hope for our broken attempts at manhood. 
In a culture where men pride themselves on their strength and straightforwardness, I believe there is something to be said in defense of gentleness.  As Jesus walked through life, he cared for those around him.  Whether it was the pious Pharisee or the prostitute from down the road, He cared enough to connect with them.  He was gentle and caring to both those who loved him and those who hated him.  I believe that part of a man’s mission in life is to reach out to the poor, the broken, the widow, and the orphan.  To care for those who cannot care for themselves.  Also, I believe man must protect and care for those God has entrusted to him, whether it is his wife, family, or co-workers.   Man has the responsibility to protect and nurture.  Which brings me to strong. 

He was strong.  Jesus was gentle and caring, but he was no pushover.  Jesus had a backbone.  He fought to defend the truth, whether it meant cracking a whip and turning tables in the temple courts or delivering a scalding rebuke to hypocritical religious leaders.  He knew the truth and he stood by it.  Even when what he said flew in the face of what everyone else was saying.  Even when every single one of his disciples abandoned, betrayed, or denied him.  In the face of adversity, pain, and death, he stood his ground and still had the guts to tell the truth to those who spat in his face.  Jesus did what it took to protect those unable to protect themselves.  He chose how he fought his battles with wisdom.  He didn’t fight with his fists or even with harsh, bitter words.  He spoke truth, asked probing questions, and didn’t outright condemn.  Far too many men I have seen around me refuse to fight to defend the truth.  It is far easier, it seems, to sit back on the couch and escape from life in the stupor of pizza and late-night football.  We are called to stand take leadership as we are lead by God.  And when the truth is attacked or morals are compromised, we are called to use our strength to fight and protect.  

Jesus was the servant of all.  Servant.  The word tends to bring the image of a whipped dog into my head.  But that’s not what Jesus was at all!  Though he of all people had the right to be proud and a bit stuck up (he was God!!!), he chose to wash the feet of his disciples and live among the poorest of the poor.  We are caught up in a culture where men are taught to be independent, proud, and a bit cocky, especially if you have got the abs, skill, money, and power.   Yes, men are called to be leaders, but not arrogant, proud, power-hungry brutes.  Jesus stated very bluntly that the leader is called to be the servant of those he is leading. 
Gentle.  Protector.  Caring.  Lover.  Leader.  Sacrificing.  Servant.  

Words not typically used, possibly, in defining manhood.  But I believe that the same words that describe Jesus Christ are excellent in setting the bar for manhood.  Want a flesh and blood example of what being a man really looks like?  Come, let me tell you more about him. 

But let me warn you..  Being a man after the heart of Christ may require far more of you than you are comfortable giving.  It will require everything you have and leave you at times sweaty and bleeding on the ground.  But I have found no path worth walking other than one of suffering.  He is the true standard of all that it means to be a man. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

His Heart? Really?

           Many Christ-followers say they want want God’s heart.  Worship songs entreat God to “break our hearts for what breaks Yours” or to give us “His heart for just one second.”  So many times, I have heard people (including myself) praying that God would give us a piece of His heart for certain people or a certain situation.

Really?  Do you really want God’s heart?  I don’t think you or I could handle it. 

So many times, we think of love only in the fuzzy warm feelings we get when we are with someone we love.  Or we think of it in terms of the duty, obligation, or commitment to someone we love.  But I think we forget about the pain.  Love means brokenness and pain.  A piece of this pain is the fact that those you love will be torn from you.  Perhaps a car crash or a heart attack or some other tragic twist of fate.  Maybe they will move to a different city or country.  Maybe they will change and drift farther away from you.  Maybe you will.  Or, if all else fails, death will rip our loved ones from our arms.  But even if we were never to be separated from those we love, we would still be taking a lot of pain.  When we open up our hearts, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, of course we are more at risk of getting hurt. 

We have all had people we love disappoint us.  Parents get a divorce.  Friends one day decide to betray and hurt you.  Your girlfriend or boyfriend breaks up with you.   But all those things hurt ten times worse because you love the person.  Whether it be friendship love or romantic love, you will end up getting hurt.  Pain is inevitable.    

We know a tiny bit about the pain that comes along with loving imperfect people.  But to love on God’s level???  

Can you imagine?  The pain of the entire world.  He loves us.  He created and molded each one of us.  He loved us enough to die the most wretched, horrible death imaginable.  In that act on the cross, He made Himself vulnerable to us.  And what do we do?  Every blasted one of us spits in His face.  Every cursed one of us pounds His nails just a bit deeper through our actions.  

To endure the torment of rejection a billion times a billion times a billion times.  To give your creation the gift of freedom, only to watch them make foolish decisions and hurt themselves.  And then to endure their blame and hatred of you for their pain!  And to still love despite it all.  To still make yourself vulnerable in the hopes that one might one day choose to love you back.  This is what it means to be God.  

And we ask for His heart?  We ask Jesus, the man of sorrow, for his broken, tormented, heart?  

Really?  I cannot handle my own pain sometimes, let alone His. 
How does He do it?  How does He love despite the pain?  I can’t seem to master it. 
Do we really mean it when we ask for His heart?  

What if He answered your petition?  And gave you just a tiny taste of the betrayal, scorn, and rejection.  What if He actually did let your heart break for people you might have just passed on the side of the road otherwise?  I mean really break your heart.  Not the “oh-that’s-too-bad, cry for a while and forget by a month from next Sunday” type deal.  Really broke your heart.  If you could feel the love that He has for each person you walk by on a daily basis.  And then the pain He feels for them.  

Feeling his love for each and every single person. 


It would kill us.  

Do we dare to ask for His heart?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blast it all!

            Really?  Would it hurt us if life were a tiny bit easier sometimes?  Would we be permanently scarred if we had to say goodbye a few less times?  I’m sure it would be a horrific thing if loneliness didn’t try to devour your hope on solitary moonlit nights.  And I’m sure we will all be much better off for all the tears shed past the ache in our chests as we stare at the ceiling late at night.  

            It is because of love.  (I can think of no word laden with enough emotion to express how I feel about love without using profanities).  If I didn’t love you, it wouldn’t hurt when you turn and stroll away. If I hadn’t let this place or this time creep into my heart, it would be ten times, no a hundred times, easier to walk on without a backward glance. 

            So it would appear that the cure would be to become a robot of sorts, a man of steelStore it all in a forgotten  recess.  Do not let others in.  Keep your walls double thick.  If only you knew the pain inside my walls.  Maybe you did before you constructed such an excellent mask.  I like the handiwork.  It looks a part of your real face.  Not that I could ever know what your real face looks like...

            Or love all the more and embrace the pain like a sadistic man who has already lost everything.  To love all, to take the world’s pain as your own.  I don’t know that there are enough tears in all the earth for that kind of abandon.  Someone who really did love everyone would be mauled, probably killed.  I’d throw the first punch.  Maybe it’d ease the pain behind my own wretched walls.