Gift 22 – Prayer (II)

Child,

While I don’t have any magical prayer advice (as I said in the previous post), allow me to share some useful practices that have helped shape my attentiveness towards God:

  • Praying the Psalms. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say to God. Reading the prayers of psalmists who lived thousands of years ago can be a surprisingly meaningful way of waking up my heart and offering words when I didn’t think there is anything to say. The biblical psalms have a way of taking me by the hand and leading me to paths of repentance, praise, thanksgiving, and even lament. Check out this article for more reasons to pray the Psalms: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/october/35.88.html?paging=off
  • Go for a walk. I have ADXD (the Xtreme version of ADD). This means that prayer can be a real challenge if I’m sitting still with hands folded and eyes closed. A few years ago I discovered that praying while walking allowed me to focus my heart and mind in a way I was never able to do while sitting inside. This is now one of my favorite things to do. Being outdoors, away from controllable conditions and eight-foot ceilings, reminds me that I am less significant (in a good way) than I often imagine when surrounded by hundreds of gadgets and systems in place to make me comfortable. On windy days it is as though God’s wild Spirit is walking by my side, listening and speaking like an intimate companion.
  • Pray the names of God. As the revelation of God unfolds in His Word, God is given countless names that point to various aspects of His divine character. He revealed Himself to Abraham as the God who Provides, to the people of Israel as the God who Heals, and to David as a Shepherd, a Fortress, and a Light. Using different names in prayer directs us to God’s past faithfulness and reminds us just what kind of God we’re praying to.
  • Write your prayers in a journal. I think this prayer-practice has been more transformative than any other in my life. Writing prayers down forces you to actually think about what you’re saying. While I often absentmindedly pray things like, “Thank you for this day” with my mouth, filtering words through a pen reduces and refines my chatter into genuine prayer. And just like a family photo album can be a fun and important method of recording life with loved ones, having a prayer journal allows you to look back and see your relationship with God mature through times of celebration, struggle, and change.

I’m a little hesitant to put excerpts from my prayer journals in this post since Jesus talks about praying alone in a closet (and the Internet isn’t exactly a private place). Still, these examples offer a picture of the way God has used journaling to deepen our relationship and to draw me to Him in all times and circumstances. I hope it is helpful…

photo (8)How good it is to come to you with a tangled heart and to tell you everything, not stopping till I’m completely laid bare before You. Here is where you break through the mess and finally speak to me. There is nothing more lovely than hearing Your voice and talking with you honestly and opening—even about my jumbled soul. You still the storm with Your mighty voice, “Trust, son. Trust.”

Thank you for wise people like C.S. Lewis who stretch the boundaries of our minds in what it means to love You. I am reading The Great Divorce and learning lots.

God, my humanity has been reduced to efficiency. The heart you gave me to be a temple I have turned into a factory. Make my heart softer and gentler. Let it always be found at Your feet. Keep me from becoming wise in my own eyes or anything stupid like that. I am in the middle of this process of being made new, somewhere between grape-flavored water and watered down wine. For some reason I thought this happened instantly.

Ahhhhhh! I am full to the brim with praises to You. Tonight I got to experience the answer to 8 years of praying. My dear friend came over and shared what You’ve been doing in his life lately. All I can say is PRAISE YOU! PRAISE YOU! PRAISE YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Thank You for this story You are telling!

Lord, life is bigger than I thought. I do not know the way to go. I feel so sure about one path one instant and then 20 seconds later another path seems like the right one. I am so confused, God! Ahh, being a person is so multifaceted! It’s too much sometimes. Tell me You love me, that ever applicable truth.

Confront me, Almighty God. Confront me with your Word, your Truth, your Spirit. Confront my ways, confront my sin, confront my attitudes, confront my choices, confront my feeble beliefs, confront my idols, confront my small ideas of you. Confront me so that I cay come back under your headship and authority.

God, sometimes I love your Word so much, like a person clinging to a photograph of a separated loved one, or like the way I’ve saved my dad’s voice on my phone so I can hear it whenever I want. That’s the way I love your Words. Sometimes I long to stand before you like one of the children from the Narnia books, to stand in your great shadow waiting—excited and afraid to hear your voice! But other times I don’t really care. In these times it’s like I’m numb to your Words, or just plain tired of having a relationship with a God who isn’t here in person to look at and talk to. I guess it’s like any other relationship; there will be ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys. Give me a strong heart that can hope past times of tastelessness, like the tree Jeremiah talks about: “It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Gift 21 – Prayer (I)

“Sometimes I wonder if God is secretly thinking, ‘Dear Child, you are welcome for this day and I already blessed the food. Can we talk about something else now?'” – Anonymous

I once saw a skit that followed a day in the life of a young Christian. Throughout the day—when he got out of bed, before meals, before bed, etc.—the man got on his knees to pray. Every time this happened Jesus would enter and stand next to the young man, eager and excited to talk. But the kneeling man never noticed Jesus standing right next to him. Why not? He was too busy praying, parroting words and phrases that had long since lost their meaning. Jesus tried getting the Christian’s attention and faithfully appeared each time the man knelt to pray, but they never really connected or even truly communicated.

Is this prayer? I think many people would guiltily agree that this pretty much sums up what prayer looks like in their actual lives. We know prayer is meant to be wonderful, powerful, and transformative, but there is a massive divide between theory and practice. Imagine being married but only ever communicating with your spouse via text. There would be little life in the relationship because all interactions would be limited, simple, one-dimensional, peripheral, and brief. This is a picture of the sad reality many Christians experience (or don’t) when it comes to communicating with God. Thinking back on my own prayer journey you would have thought I was an auctioneer the way I “talked” to God:

Dear God thank you for this day please keep grandma and grandpa safe as they fly to Florida and bless this food to my body in Jesus’ name amen.

But son, I want you to know there is so much more.

To be honest, I don’t really have any awesome advice to get you from point A to B in what might be called your “prayer life”. I don’t have 5 simple steps to achieving deeper communication with God or 10 helpful hints to get you praying like Mother Teresa. Because really, there is no such thing as “improving your prayer life” apart from cultivating and nurturing a dynamic relationship with God. Like all other relationships, the depth and tone of conversation is merely a reflection of the relationship itself. Listen in on a conversation between teenagers on a first date—the communication will probably be forced and awkward because the relationship is just beginning.

This means that prayer is more than folding your hands and closing your eyes before you eat; it is an awareness that the place where you’re standing is holy ground and you had better take off your sandals, it is an attentiveness to the fellowship of the Spirit even on a mundane Tuesday, it is a responsiveness to the company of the Living God who seeks to take up residence in your everyday life, it is what Brother Lawrence called “The practice the presence of God.” Walking this path is like walking in the very heart of God.

And yes, son, like all other Christian practices prayer often requires discipline before it becomes delight, but you must know that the heart of prayer is accepting Christ’s own blood as the invitation to enter the sacred fellowship of the Trinity, the Holy Wellspring of Joy and Life from which Creation sprang into existence. When you understand the gravity of this gift you may very well only be able to pray, “Dear God!” But when you say those two little words, and mean them both with all your heart, you will have learned what it means to pray.

Gift 20 – The Truth about Fiction

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Believe it or not, this lit. enthusiast, English major, and all around word-lover used to utterly detest reading.

In middle school I somehow almost always coincidentally chose books to “read” that had been made into movies. The teacher would see the title I’d picked and say, “I think that story was made into a movie a few years ago. You might enjoy watching it when you’ve finished the book.”

“Oh Really?” I would say, “I didn’t know that. I’ll have to see if I can rent it when I’m done reading.” I knew this was a dishonest practice, but I had no other way of passing the monthly Accelerated Reader tests.

But everything changed when I checked out The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the school library. It was the natural choice since I’d already seen the movie adaptation at my grandparent’s house, though when a friend told me about a few variances, I decided to skim the first few pages just to cover my bases.

ozThen it happened: I went to Oz. I didn’t mean to, but I ended up getting hooked and actually finished the book (“It was kinda like watching a movie in my head,” I told my flabbergasted friends). I found out that L. Frank Baum had actually written 13 other Oz adventures, so I bought and read them all.

This was just the beginning of my love for fiction, and for reading in general. Over ten years later, I am convinced that books such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz impact young people in countless positive ways and contribute to a person’s sense of creativity, wonder, and depth. Every once and a while I meet a fiction critic who doesn’t have time to waste on “silly stories that aren’t even true”, and while I have about a hundred reasons why reading fiction is an unequivocally good and wholesome activity, I want to share just one with you now:

The very best fictional stories are true. Really.

You see, there is a difference between something that is truthful and something that is factual. Many Eastern cultures have historically appreciated this difference when it comes to storytelling. Take, for example, the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. A westerner will tell you that the story is not true. Why not? Because it didn’t really happen. But tell the same story to someone from a story-centric society and they’ll likely tell you that it is in fact true. Why? Because it is true, isn’t it? The deterioration of one’s integrity is very serious business. Every time you break your word the value of your word decreases. Or, as Aesop famously said, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!” These things are true, making the Boy Who Cried Wolf a story that tells truth, though not necessarily through fact. This is an exceptionally significant distinction to make, and is, in my opinion, the very best reason to read fiction.

Books such as the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia are stories that tell the truth. Friendship is more valuable than power. There is more to people than mere appearances. Humility and self-sacrifice is greater than superiority and self-importance. Things are not the most important things. Courage in the face of overwhelming odds does make a difference. Love is stronger than death. The light does shine in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.

There is great and nourishing magic in stories that tell the truth—even when the stories aren’t comprised of facts. It is worth noting that Jesus himself dealt almost exclusively in fiction to communicate truth to his audiences (Matt. 13:34). “There was a man who had two sons. The younger son came to his father and demanded his share of the inheritance…” “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and one of them runs away…” “There was a woman with ten silver coins…” “A wealthy man was preparing a great feast…”

Clearly there is more to fiction than meets the eye. In fact, In Mark 4 Jesus explains to his disciples that the very reason he speaks in story is so that only few will understand. It is as though his stories are invitations beckoning the true in heart to follow where he leads. Because bookJesus, in his unexpected, seemingly foolish, upside down way of doing things still leads to a cross, and it will be those whose eyes have been shaped by the truth found in fiction who will be the first to recognize and believe that the gardener outside the tomb is really the resurrected Son of God.

Gift 18 – Relatively Speaking

Einstein was right: everything is relative.

You see, I’ve always thought of Piper as a wild and bad dog. I think this when, out of all the magazines, he finds and destroys the one called “Family Dog” as though he knows our secret plans to civilize him and won’t have any of it. Or when I hold his face by the hole in the wall that he’s eaten for the third time and sternly say, “bad dog!” while he wags his tail. Or when I come home from work to find him sitting in my chair and he looks at me insolently as if to say, “Um, can I help you?”
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I used to think these things about Piper, that is until I saw a picture my friend posted on facebook (right). My friend’s dog saw a squirrel outside, and knowing the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, bolted right through the window to catch his quarry. Instead of getting the squirrel he got 9 stiches in his nose.

After seeing this picture I thought to myself, Piper isn’t so bad after all. Because, of course, the badness of dogs is relative.

Everything is relative if you think about it.

You might be 6’2, but you still won’t feel tall standing next to Shaq.

You might consider yourself fast, but not when racing Usain Bolt.

You might think you’re rich, but not when walking in Bill Gate’s neighborhood. On the other hand, you might think you’re poor, but probably not when visiting a developing nation. It’s all relative.

I think this is why New Testament authors constantly remind early Christians to keep their eyes on Jesus. We humans have the tendency to complain—this happens when you compare yourself with someone on the more “desirable” end of the spectrum; when you see that you’re not as popular as _____________, or as well paid as ______________, or as talented as _____________, or as clearly understood as ______________. Poisons such as jealousy, envy, gossip, scorn, discontentment, and dissatisfaction all bubble up from this toxic spring of comparison.

But, in reminding believers of Jesus’ own experiences, the Apostle Paul points us all the way to the other end of the spectrum. Look at Jesus, he says. You might want to complain about the crappy day you’re having, but when you run into a friend whose house recently burned down, you’d feel pretty stupid grumbling about a broken dishwasher. Likewise, any unfair, or difficult, or upsetting situation I find myself in quickly seems more than bearable in comparison with all that Jesus endured on my behalf.

I often catch myself saying things like, “But that’s not fair!” “I don’t deserve this!” “This is ridiculous!” Even in marriage I am often all too concerned with what I think is “fair.” “I did the dishes last night, it’s your turn.” “You want me to run to Sam’s Club? I was at work all day!” etc. And yet, my logic becomes embarrassing and laughable when I consider Jesus surrendering his rights—all that he really did deserve—to pursue a cross on our behalf. What complaints slipped from his lips as he surrendered to the Father’s will? Did he so much as grumble as He set his face toward Jerusalem? Or as he was mocked and spat upon? Or as he was brutally murdered in the greatest act of injustice the world has ever seen?

And here I am complaining…about Sam’s Club?

The purpose of looking to Jesus’ suffering isn’t so that you feel like a horrible person whenever you want to complain. Nor is it the purpose to trivialize the truly difficult and sorrowful things going on in our lives—not at all. The point is to understand the depth of Christ’s selfless character and to be shaped by His good heart, remembering that we’ve actually been given more than we deserve.

Do this, son, and instead of being filled with jealousy or discontentment you will come alive with gratitude, joy, and a deeper love for Christ.

My Favorite Place: The Great Outdoors (by Andrew Russ)

My big brother Andrew is a mix between Tom Bombadil and Aragorn. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m trying to say two things. First, Andrew is more in-tune with creation than anyone I know. His ears are open to the words God wants to tell us about Himself through his world. Second, Andrew is an expert guide. Though he is ahead, he is always looking back to make sure I’m making it okay. Whether I have a gardening question, or am wondering how to find cheap airplane tickets, Andrew always has an answer and is willing to help. I’m grateful to him for writing this wonderful letter.

Little Drew on a 4-wheeler.

Little Drew on a 4-wheeler.

Son,
I’m going to share with you my favorite place in the whole wide world, my escape, the place where I go to recharge my battery… it’s the outdoors. I’m telling this to you because you’re DSC_0013probably going to need to escape a lot; as I write this story your sister Grace is 20 months old and your sister Autumn isn’t yet born but should be here in a couple of months. Which means at the very least you’re going to have 2 older sisters, if not more, and my boy you aren’t going to stand a chance! They’re probably going to want to dress you up and make you have tea parties with them, and play house with them and all sorts of other girly stuff and you’re going to need a place to escape to from time to time. So I want to share with you the place I go to escape: the great outdoors.

I’ve always said I think God gave me allergies because if I wasn’t allergic to things outdoors I’d never come inside. There’s just something about being outdoors in nature that I can never get enough of. Whether I’m following a deer trail seeing where it leads, or planting fruit trees in one of my orchards, or hanging a deer stand in anticipation of shooting a big buck that coming fall; as long as I’m outdoors in God’s creation I am happy and at peace.

Before I met your mother I used to live on my own in a house 294837_233409563375252_1969226363_nsurrounded by over 200 acres of fields, woods and even swamps that our family owned. I had free range to manage it as I saw fit and every chance I got I spent working on any project I could think of to make the habitat better for wildlife. I hung tree stands, made trails through the woods with a bulldozer for better access to some of the more remote areas, made bedding areas for the deer and other wildlife, the list goes on and on. Your uncles would call me on a Saturday night to see what I was up to and 9 times out of 10 I’d be outdoors. They’d ask if I’d had dinner yet and I’d say, “Dinner!? What time is it? I had a granola bar for breakfast but I haven’t thought about going in for lunch yet.” To which they’d reply, “Drew it’s 8 o’clock at night! Aren’t you starving?” I’d be having so much fun outdoors I’d lose track of time and forget to eat!

My favorite time of day is in the late afternoon, as the sun’s setting and the cool evening air is starting to descend upon the land. The animals start coming out to feed as the daylight fades; it’s such an exciting time to watch the day end and the night arrive. Every night is slightly different from the last and you never know what you might see. The world just seems so much simpler when it’s just you alone in nature. It doesn’t matter what happened earlier in the day, when I’m alone outdoors all of my worries seem to disappear and I get lost in thought, wondering about things like “I wonder what kind of tree that is?” or “I wonder where this deer trail leads to?” or “I wonder if this will be the year when this tree I planted from a tiny seedling will produce its first crop of fruit?”

I want you to have a place like this where you can just get away from all the busyness of the world and be at peace in God’s creation. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the manDSCN2635 and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” In the beginning, when the world was still perfect and evil had not yet entered the world God gave man one task, “to work it (the land) and take care of it.” I would have loved to be Adam! Placed in this beautiful, unadulterated and pure garden with one simple task to take care of it—talk about perfect! It gets even better, God would come down to be with man at my favorite time of day, and go for a walk with him in the garden. How cool would that be to get to walk and talk with God in his beautiful perfect creation! Genesis 3:8 says “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day”.

This is why I want to share my favorite place with you and hope that you will enjoy it one day as much as I do. I pray that you may grow closer to God by seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, and even tasting God’s perfectness in his great outdoors. It is when I am outdoors in nature, when I don’t hear any cars or see any buildings, when I’m surrounded by nothing but God’s perfect creation that I feel closest to God. The busyness of life seems to stop when you’re in nature just witnessing the plants and animals doing what God created them to do, and by their doing what they were created to do bringing glory to God. So the next time your sisters are trying to get you to put a boa around your neck and have a tea party with them, politely decline their invitation and go outdoors instead and see what God’s trying to tell you through his creation.

Love,
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Gift 17 – Hibernal Man Fires and the Like

A “Hibernal Man Fire”—That’s what we called it.

Ingredients are as follows:

– 1 large circler pit dug out of the 3 feet of snow in our backyard.

– 1 bonfire in the middle of the clearing.

– 5 guys bundled in hats and coats gathered around the fire to read classic short stories.

– 1 full moon.

The guys and I had the idea for this “Hibernal Man Fire” while sitting in the library at school. We had all been feeling a little stir-crazy as the bitter winter months drudged slowly on, so we decided to do something about it. Yes, some good stories told around a fire in defiance of February’s crappiness was exactly what was needed (Plus, who doesn’t love fire any time of the year?).

It is random outbursts of craziness and life such as our “Hibernal Man Fire” that turn into wonderful traditions. In fact, we’re hoping to have another short story/bonfire combo soon (stories on deck: “The Machine that Won the War”; “The Most Dangerous Game”; “By the Waters of Babylon”; “Leiningen vs. The Ants”; “Lamb to the Slaughter”; “The Man by the Window.”)

Traditions are so important because they are always relational—they are things we do together, usually to celebrate, or to remember, or to simply to keep life from becoming mundane. And frankly, our culture stinks at them. What do we do to celebrate important milestones?… hmm…get wasted on our 21st birthday?

Oh. Great.

Son, it’s up to us to create traditions that nurture good things, admirable things, life-giving things, Dangeruss things. Here are a few ideas…

1. A 15-year-old Adventure. This means that when you or any of your siblings turn 15, we’ll plan a weeklong trip in the wild. Maybe we’ll canoe down Michigan’s Jordan River, or hike the Porcupine jordanMountains in the Upper Peninsula, or explore South Manitou Island, but wherever we end up going you can count on being challenged—and you might just learn a thing or two about the outdoors (and maybe about yourself, too). We’ll bring a book (preferably one of the Chronicles of Narnia ☺) to read around the fire at night before crawling into our really cool Cabelas Alaskan Guide tent (which I’ve already purchased in anticipation of our camping adventures).

2. Birthday gifts. This may sound fairly typical, but let me explain. I learned a few years ago that expecting great gifts is a surefire way to have a disappointing and/or insignificant birthday. It is way more fun to give awesome gifts to the people you care about (or to complete strangers…either way). So, while your mom and I will still probably give you a present or two, your main gift will be $100 to spend any way you choose, as long as it’s for other people. Be creative. Be generous. Have fun. (But be careful, this is how our family ended up with our crazy dog, Piper).

3. It’s-Not-About-You Trip. I heard about my principal’s family doing this and definitely want to copy their idea. When you turn a certain age, your mom and I want to take you on a mission trip to spend a week serving others. It’s easy for young teens to think that the world revolves around them…but it doesn’t. In fact, your life isn’t even about you. Seeing the conditions in which so many live around the world will challenge you to examine our culture’s concepts of entitlement, materialism, and self-centeredness.

4. Cousin Olympics. Ever since we had our first Cousin Olympics almost ten years ago I’ve been excited to plan this annual extravaganza for the next generation. We’ll spend three days at grandpa and grandma’s competing in all kinds of team activities such as archery, board games, relay races, swimming, dodgeball, kayak races, and many more. Traditions like this contribute to strong and healthy friendships between family members—friendships that last a lifetime.

5. Rite of Passage. Your uncles and I have been talking about having some kind of ceremony when you reach a certain age. Here’s the general plan: you’ll have about three hours to round up as many downed limbs from the woods as possible to collect in a giant pile. When time’s up, we’ll light the mound on fire (safely, of course ☺) and spend the evening gathered around sharing stories and advice. Each adult will tell one “success” story and one “failure” story as a way of offering guidance and advice to the younger one(s). At the end of the night we’ll give a blessing and welcome the new adult into the tribe.

There are so many other great traditions I want to start with our family and friends that I don’t have space to write them all down here (Note: Please feel free to comment below with traditions you currently have or hope to start in the future).

Our culture has lost its sense of ritual; we no longer think of identity in terms of community, but only as individuals. Creating traditions is a way of bringing us back together, of shaping a culture that values people more than things, and of making memories with the people we love. A good tradition can be a mini-revolution of life and friendship, and all the other good things in life worth coming together to celebrate.

Gift 5 – Action Figures

“[We need to] just land the plane on our plans to make a difference by getting to the ‘do’ part of faith…love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.” – Bob Goff

“Christian life is action: not speculating, not debating, but doing.” – Frederick W. Robertson (1816 – 1853)

“Dear Children, let us not love with words or speech but with action and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

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When I was a kid I collected action figures almost obsessively. I would heap blankets on the floor of my bedroom and stage “mountain” battles between my GI-Joes and Star Wars toys. The cool thing about action figures is that the characters are made as though halfway through a motion—slashing with a lightsaber, running to the crime scene, flying on a skateboard while tossing a pizza in the air (Michelangelo the ninja turtle). They’re doing something.

Have you ever met a kid who wanted to play with an opinion figure? Me neither.

Imagine a boy getting his toys together for a meeting. “Okay guys, today we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of being a polypropylene composite.” Doesn’t happen. We’d rather do something. The reason companies make action figures instead of opinion figures is because no one ever wanted to play with an opinion figure. There’s a word kids use to describe things like this that are all words and no action: boring.

In Matthew 25, Jesus separates all people in to one of two groups—one group going with him and his father, the other group going away to be punished. The folks who get to go with Jesus are the ones who fed the hungry and thirsty, invited strangers to become friends, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited the imprisoned. In other words, the ones who did stuff. The interesting thing is that Jesus didn’t ask the people on his right what they thought about predestination or about Christians getting tattoos, shockingly, he didn’t even ask them what they believed. He simply saw what they had done and knew right away what was in their hearts.

Son, when Christ returns I want you to be found—like an action figure—in the middle of doing something. Being dangerous isn’t about having certain ideas, or agreeing with other Christians, or even just about believing certain things, but about a heart so filled with love for God that it comes out. Sometimes Christian culture (Christian school, church, etc.) can be breeding grounds for opinion figures; boring Christians who talk too much (I’m guilty!), but the Bible is like an exercise DVD in that it’s no good being passive. Imagine watching “Power Body Strength Training” while sitting on the couch eating French fries. What’s the point? Likewise, Jesus asks time and time again, “What’s the point of hearing my words if you’re not going to do them?”

So lets make a deal: I’ll stop writing, you stop reading. Receive the love of God with open arms and go do something about it!

Gift 4 – Perseverance

Son, I want to tell you the story of how I got to marry your mom.

There was this beautiful girl I’d seen a few times in a college Bible study. We knew each other a little bit—she knew my name and I knew hers, but that was about it. I wanted to get to know her better and told one of my best friends, Ron. Well, Sunday after Church Ron and I went to The Wooden Shoe restaurant for lunch, and lo and behold, the beautiful girl from Bible study was working there! What luck! Unfortunately, Ron didn’t realize that this was the girl I’d been talking about; he basically blew my chances of getting to know her by fleeing the restaurant (and taking me with him) when he heard about free waffles somewhere else.

We got to the car.
Me: “Ron, you idiot, that was the girl!”
Ron: “Oh shoot, I’m so sorry, let’s go back in.”
Me: “No, we’re not going back in! We’d look even more crazy if we did that!”
Ron: “Well let’s come back next week then.”

And we did. A group of friends and I came back the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, for something like 8 weeks in a row just to have this girl as a waitress (Stalker-ish? Maybe). Finally, after 8 weeks of small talk I knew I had to make a move. “So, what are you studying in college?” I asked.

“I’m a nursing major and Spanish minor,” she replied.

Close enough, I thought to myself. “I love Spanish!” The truth is, son, I knew about 3 words in Spanish.

“Oh yeah? Would you be interested in helping teach an ESL class for Spanish speaking adults in the community with me on Tuesday nights?”

“Um…yes, I would love that.”

She walked away; my friends all looked at me like I was crazy. Great, I thought, I’ve got one week to learn Spanish.

To make a long story a little shorter, we began teaching the class together and it didn’t take long for her to realize I was a fraud (on the first day I showed a picture of my 1 year old niece to the class and communicated, in Spanish, that the little girl was my girlfriend). But I stuck it out, learned a bit more Spanish, and eventually got a dinner date with this beautiful multi-lingual waitress who is now my wife.

While this might sound like perseverance, to be honest, it’s really not. Running after a beautiful girl (and even pretending to speak foreign languages to spend time with her) isn’t really all that difficult. The difficult part comes later, and this is the gift I want to point you towards. True perseverance starts when your desire to move forward stalls. When instead of excitement and romance, you’re figuring out who will pay bills, who will scoop the dog poop from the yard, who will clean up all those dirty dishes in the sink. Perseverance is all about the decisions you make to keep serving, to keep loving, and to keep hoping in life when it would be easier not to. This is what will make you a dangerous man. And though this is extremely difficult at times, the man who perseveres becomes a little more like the Leader of our tribe, and will someday taste the sweet fruit of his resolve that so many have forgone in search of a happiness that comes without perseverance—a kind of happiness that doesn’t exist.

Adios por ahora 😉

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Gift 3 – Wonder

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

– Abraham Joshua Heschel

So come to find out the sun is humongous. Like really big.

I mean, the earth alone is unimaginably large. Just last year scientists discovered a remote part of the Amazon rainforest that people had never been to before and found 258 new species of plants, 84 new kinds of fish, 22 new reptiles, 18 undocumented birds, and 1 new mammal (it’s a monkey that purrs like a cat when it is happy). How crazy that we’ve lived on this planet for thousands and thousands of years and haven’t even seen the whole thing yet!

A few days ago I walked from Zeeland to Holland (about 7 miles) and it took for-ev-er. As long as my exhausting walk took, the distance registers less than the diameter of a grain of sand on google maps, even when just looking at little ol’ Michgian. My fist thought was that Lewis and Clarke must have been insane. My second thought was something along the lines of, Whoa, Earth is a beast.

But as massively massive as planet Earth is, my brain pooped its pants when I was told that the sun is an estimated million times bigger. A million times bigger?!?!…what?

Does it seem just a little humorous to anyone else that there is giant ball one million times bigger than our entire planet floating in our sight all day long—oh, and did I mention that the massive sphere is basically on fire!—and no one even acts like this is unusual?

Pardon me…PAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! WHAT?! If my brain had a diaper it would currently be full. I mean, a million times bigger than earth?! What does that even mean?

When you stop to think about it, everything is pretty much awesome. A few weeks ago I started making a list of amazing things that I’d been taking for granted all my life. Here is a little snippet:

– Everything in my house came from the earth. The toaster, the lamp, the television—all these things came from the ground and are only in their current form after a complicated and precise series of processes and exchanges. It’s like Adam and Eve were given the earth and a piece of paper saying “some assembly required” and here we are today with skyscrapers and jet skis like they magically fell from the sky.

– How the human body works. I’ve had one my whole life and still have no clue what’s going on. My brain works without my telling it to. My heart beats without my telling it to. My eyes see without my telling them to. The whole thing is one astonishing compilation of cells, organs…cells…and I think other stuff too (my biological knowledge is slightly limited ☺).

– People get so excited over 3D movies, apparently forgetting that life was already 3D to begin with though nobody seemed to notice.

The more you think about it the more you start to realize that everything is awesome, and strange, and unexplainable. Here is where the gift comes in. Wonder is essentially having eyes to see. Wonder means living with the conviction that everything connects to everything else. Wonder is going to the border of things imaginable and placing your palms against your brain’s boundaries to feel the warmth of God’s breath on the other side.

This is a valuable gift because there aren’t many folks with wide-open eyes. Not only will wonder make you a visionary in the dullness of everyday, but more importantly, it will become a wellspring of worship swelling up and over in your life. Oh, and I almost forgot, it will make school way less boring.

Gift 1 – A Dangeruss Name

I remember waiting in the bathhouse with ten or so impatient campers.  We had an hour set aside to wash up before breakfast, but since there were only three working showers, the majority of time was spent standing around.  I had just finished shaving and had a good-sized gob of shaving cream left in my hand, so I decided to put it to good use.  “Line up!” I said; the awkward adolescents made their way over to see what I was going to do.  I went to the first boy, smudged my thumb with cream and began drawing lines on his face in what I hoped would look like some kind of native design.  “You are Wild Wolf,” I said in a deep voice, “Brave and true, a defender of the weak.  You will be a great leader of men…” and on and on.

I went on like this down the line of boys, giving each one a different shaving cream “war paint” design and a new name to go along with it.  I was improvising.  I was playing.  But I quickly discovered that they were not.  The young men hushed and drew close to hear what name I would say, to find out what kind of identity I would see and call out in them.  Each boy lifted his face to meet the “paint” while drinking in my words greedily, some even ran back to the cabin to grab a pen and page so they could remember their new name word for word.

What was happening?  Why had this little time-passing game taken on such meaning to these kids?  I quickly realized something I had been seeing all summer as a camp counselor: young people, boys especially, are desperate to find out just who they really are.  And if there’s no one there to show them the way, to see something good and alive and even daring in them; to call it out and nurture that identity, then surely they will look for a name somewhere else.

So I want to give my son a name.  I want to give him an invitation to be someone who has something real and important to do.  A few hundred years ago our communities needed young men, without whom they couldn’t survive.  Now all we need from them is to sit still until the bell rings.  And they know it.  So they go where they’re needed, even if they know it’s not right or even real.  Everything from gangs to video games—after all, aren’t most video games just a way of temporarily being someone else who has a significant role to play in an important story?

A good name is like a path in all this wandering wilderness—an invitation, a summons, a call to go a certain way.  Granted, a road still has to be walked for it to make any difference, but even so, it’s a start.  Names have been used like this in cultures all around the world for thousands of years, most famously in the biblical Hebrew culture, and I want to carry on the tradition.  That’s why my son’s middle name will be “Danger.”  And yes, I’m serious.  First, because what little boy wouldn’t want to be able to say that Danger is his middle name and actually be telling the truth?  And second, because I want my son’s name to be a constant reminder of God’s call and claim upon his life.  To be a doer.  To be an active participant in Christ’s unfolding Kingdom.  To be filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus that is always dangerous and destructive to the Enemy’s causes.

Looking around (and I must confess, looking in the mirror), it seems we are under the impression that a Christian man is simply someone who thinks certain things, who believes certain things, who has certain “Christian” opinions.  But no matter how much we’d like to believe it, I don’t think our Enemy shutters at our opinions.  I don’t think he is threatened, dare I say, even by our beliefs.  It is only when the power of Christ’s boundless love takes root in one’s hearts that the fruit of action burst up all over to threaten the dominion of darkness.  This is dangerous.   And sadly, this is rare.

Being dangerous doesn’t always look how you’d think it would.  In a culture that prizes quick fixes and easy-way-out-solutions, it might simply mean being in one place for a while.  It might mean leaving your comfort zone to do the right thing.  It might mean being mocked and laughed at while going out of your way to befriend the friendless.  It might mean having the courage to tell the truth when telling a lie would produce better results.  It might mean being vulnerable so that others can lower their guard and feel safe.  Whatever it looks like, my son’s name will be a constant call to follow The Dangerous One, who relentlessly threatens the seeds of loneliness, despair, isolation, hatred, shame, and sorrow planted by our Enemy.  I want my son to know that being a follower of Jesus means being dangerous.