Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sarai or Elizabeth

So it’s interesting that I actually posted what I did Monday night.  In the moment I didn’t want to believe the truth that I had written about.  Like I said and will continue to say: biblical truth is a lot harder in practice than in theory because it involves our hearts, our scars, our open wounds, our hopes, and our dreams—it messes them all up.

I don’t like patiently waiting, AT ALL.  I’m frustrated with it and with God for asking me to do it.  I’m working through a book that deals with past pain and this week’s subject was betrayal.  The last question of the chapter asked me to write about what I’d like to say to God.  The question really pissed me off.  I answered the question as if God was in the same room, within earshot of me but as though I wasn’t speaking directly to Him (I don’t want us to be on speaking terms right now).  I wanted Him to hear what I had to say but without having to look Him in the face to do so.  Here’s part of what I wrote:

I’m frustrated with [God] because of this process to find healing and wholeness.  I’m frustrated because I know the Bible too damn well to walk away from Him for good—I have the choice to act like Sarai or Elizabeth…

What do I mean by acting like Sarai or Elizabeth?  Well for starters they were both barren and advanced in years far past the age of logically conceiving a child.  They both have very different responses their shared situation.  My last entry referenced Elizabeth’s “patient endurance” with her husband Zacharias alongside her.  She waited on God to answer her prayers while faithfully serving Him.  Sarai (Abraham’s wife before both their names were changed) had a very different response.  She knew God’s promise to her husband, Abram: that he would have a multitude of descendants, that he would be the father of NATIONS.  Instead of waiting for God to show up and act in the ways He said he would, she took matters into her own hands.  She gave her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to Abram as a wife so that he could have a son by her.  Hagar gives birth to a boy, Ishmael, who is described BY GOD as a “wild donkey of a man (insert Pat’s interpreted version: he was a huge ass)” who fights with anyone and everyone.

I understand why Sarai did what she did.  It makes sense doesn’t it? Her husband was supposed to be a father and there she sat, old and barren.  Why not expedite things a bit? It was pretty resourceful and not all that uncommon in the culture of their day. But here’s the truth that comes to light and frustrates the hell out of me: taking God’s plans and promises into our own hands ends up horribly for us.  Sarai ends up resenting Hagar and treating her horribly.  Ishmael becomes the forefather of a multitude of nations as well—and those nations are habitually enemies of Israel (the descendants of Abraham and Sarah’s legitimate son—the means by which God fulfills His promise).

My impatience in waiting for God to fulfilling His promises and the subsequent acts of me trying to do so by my own means has ended horribly for me on every occasion.  It often feels like a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation.  Either I’m left lonely and unfulfilled waiting for God’s blessings to come to fruition (and who knows when that will happen?) or I try to do things on my own and end up more battered and bruised than I was to begin with.

As always, there’s hope (I wish there was a way to express mild sarcasm in text).  The fact of the matter is although Sarai screwed things up pretty royally God still delivered on His end of the deal.  She still conceived a son, and through the process of receiving that blessing she literally was given a new identity.  That’s the hope that I’m begrudgingly holding onto: that despite my litany of screw-ups and failures, my infidelity to God, and my lackluster history serving Him, He will still come through and bless me and that by blessing me His way he will restore me into the man He intended me to be from the beginning.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lessons From Luke 1: Climax

God loves climax.  He loves doing things that make us sit back in our proverbial seats and shout, “I can’t believe that JUST happened”.  The only problem is He unfolds stories over decades and generations, not hours like movies or minutes like sitcoms.

The married life of Zacharias and Elizabeth is a perfect example of this (from here on out they’ll be referred to as Zach and Liz). Luke describes them as being “advanced in years” and says that they lived their lives righteously before the Lord, keeping to His commandments.  Both Zach and Liz spent decades devoted to loving and serving God.  I can only imagine how many times over the years they both prayed to God asking Him to bless them with a child, with seemingly no response.  Many of us were raised with the mentality that silence in response to a request was to be interpreted as a “NO”.  I can’t imagine how Zach and Liz must have interpreted God’s silence over the many years they lived together trying to conceive.

Then, one day, something BIG happens. Zach goes to work in the Temple in Jerusalem to burn incense in the Holy of Holies (the residence of YHWH at that time).  While he’s in there by himself an angel comes and tells him that his wife will conceive a son, a son who will be a great prophet and prepare the way for the Messiah-Israel’s Savior.  Zacharias’s response was more or less, “Really? You do realize how old we both are right?” The angel kinda gets pissed at this response and makes Zacharias mute until the day his son is born.

Zacharias spent a long time in the Holy of Holies that day, too much time.  The people waiting for him outside began to worry that he had been struck dead. Then he came out unable to speak and everyone began to understand that God was at work.

I like to think that God used the years of waiting to develop and establish character in Zach and Liz, the kind of character that would be necessary to raise such a special child-to handle the enormous blessing.  The years of waiting also made John a very special child.  I don’t think anyone would have paid as much attention to John’s life and subsequent ministry if he had an older brother Steve hanging around.

As always, biblical facts are often fun and feel fuzzy when we just know them in our heads adding them to our wealth of knowledge somewhere between the multiplication tables and our favorite Gandhi quote.  It is a lot harder to get our hearts involved and apply even simple truths to the mess of our own lives. 

I’m 24 and there are lots of times you will hear me moping and whining about how I haven’t dated in over 6 years, still live in a small, often dirty, apartment, and have yet to start my career.  I’ve asked God for those things.  I haven’t been asking for them as many years as Zach and Liz and can’t even begin to claim that I’ve spent those years of petition “being righteous and walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord”.  Regardless, I feel like God is at work: building climax in my life and character within me. 

Today, I’m not a doctor providing medical care to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.  I’m not a great leader or a passionate activist.  I’m not the faithful husband of the love of my life.  While I’m not all of those things, I hope that I will be someday (and I hope to God it doesn’t take decades).  I also have to hope that once those things are in my life and I am that man, it will be greater than I ever could have imagined.  The blessings of God are always completed in their proper time; I just need the patience to wait.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Luke 1: Good News

I’ve been reading through Luke 1 this week.  This is the first time that I took the time to REALLY read it, not just rush through its 80 verses in order to “get to the good stuff” of Luke’s account of the life of Jesus (you know, things like the Christmas story, feeding 5,000 people, stumping the Pharisees, loving on the outcasts of His day, etc).

My next couple posts will be lessons God has taught me through this chapter.  Above all else, He has used it to remind me that He really does do extraordinary work in the lives of ordinary people: a couple trying to get pregnant, a young peasant girl, my friends, people I go to church with, and even myself.

I won't post the entire text here.  You might want to read through it yourself to get some perspective on what I'll be talking about.

I hope you hear about God's amazing character through my imperfect words.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tenderness I Cannot Bear

In the play Man of La Mancha, the Don Quixote’s love interest sings these words:
“Blows and abuse I can take and give back again.  Tenderness I cannot bear”.  The song she is singing is an attempt to convince Don Quixote that she is not Dulcinea, a princess who is the epitome of beauty, chastity, charity, and grace, but rather Aldonza, a “kitchen slut reeking of sweat”.

“Tenderness I cannot bear” resounds deep within my heart.  Dulcinea/Aldonza is a woman well acquainted with sorrow who has taken her lot in life to be the maid and prostitute of mule-drivers. Over the years she’s steeled herself to both pain and pleasure (after all to her  “one pair of arms is like another”).

I read through some Wounded Heart tonight.  The chapter I started on was on betrayal.  One of the lines that struck me to the core of my heart was:
The [abused] child does not have the intellectual understanding or the contrasting experience of a nourishing home to evaluate the shortcomings of his own parents and siblings.
Until recently this statement remained true of me.  In many ways I was still an abused, childish man who didn’t realize the full extent of the damage done to my soul in my childhood home intentionally and through neglect. 

In recent months I feel like I’ve been stepping more and more into manhood for the first time. But that transition is not the important variable in this equation.  What is important and what has brought about change is the fact that I have witnessed and begun to understand the  “contrasting experience of a nourishing home”.  It has been heartbreaking to say the least.

What could have been first-hand experiences of tenderness have glanced off my heart, which like the heart of Aldonza/Dulcinea is protected against any feeling: good or bad.  Compliments and emotional nourishment offered by members of my church family (especially from Renee Wurzer) have gone unheeded by my heart.  Thankfully, I have been witness to others being the object of tenderness and it is these moments that have softened my heart and caused me to be introspective, starting the process of healing in my life.  One instance in particular stands out to me and still brings tears to my eyes (in fact I was a sobbing mess in Racy’s tonight when I remembered it).

I was meeting with my friend Perry, who also is my pastor, at his house. For several days prior to me visiting his 3 year-old daughter had been extremely sick and was still hadn’t fully recovered by the time I stopped by.  During our time together she came into the office, climbed on Perry’s lap, and in whispers asked for food, medicine, and a bubble bath.  Perry’s tender response undid me and continues to do so to this day, months later.  I had never been such an intimate witness of tenderness like that, much less experienced it for myself.

One of my goals for August (a month of break during my academic year) is to “Fall more in love with God”.  To do that I need to give into the tenderness he’s offering me.  All too much like Aldonza/Dulcinea, the experience of true unadulterated tenderness without strings attached is just awkward for me, almost unbearable.  I’m accustomed to dealing insults, emotional abuse, being shamed for physical attributes and lack of performance, etc and know how to dish those things out on others.  Things like affirmation of my good character, compliments, grace, kindness, and love are all unfamiliar to me and I don’t know how to respond to them.  Part of me “falling more in love with God” over this next month (and the rest of my life) will be learning how to believe in God’s love for me and how to properly respond to it.

It’s going to be unfamiliar, awkward, and unsettling. But I need to believe in the end it’s going to be worth it, that the pursuit of loving Christ will bring me the best life possible. It will not devoid of sorrow, heartbreak, and sacrifice but it all will have a purpose: my sanctification, God’s glory, and the restoration of the broken world I live in.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


What did God do on the seventh day? I mean of course before creating the Packers, beer, and rock n’ roll. Was He tired from the previous six days? Was the universe just a little too crowded after creation, making Him need some “me-time”? What does an eternal Creator-God, who is unrestrained by time, do on His day off? Did He alternate napping with watching Grey’s Anatomy while sipping coffee on a recliner?

To me, YHWH’s day of rest in the creation story is a cosmic lesson about how we as humans, made in His image, need to take time to rest. In the times that the Hebrew Bible was written God commanded that the people of Israel “keep the Sabbath day holy”. Saturdays, the seventh day of the Hebrew week, were set apart specifically for rest.  It must have been one really simple way of imitating God at that time (Hey, I have the same day off as YHWH!).  But, over time we, as humans, put way too many rules on how to “rest” on our Sabbath.  As a Jew during the time of Jesus, observing the rules of the Sabbath had to have been exhausting; you could only walk so many steps, you couldn’t cook, couldn’t carry things over a certain weight, etc.  Rest must have seemed oppressive, like work.

Why does God command us to rest, even to the point of modeling it Himself?  Think about it: if anyone really does have the weight of the world on His shoulders AND the ability to change things that are wrong with the world it is God.  Sometimes, I wish He had used the 7th day to make the human genome a little more robust or figuring out a way to make the world work without mosquitoes and cockroaches.  He didn’t though.  He was intentional about resting---and it was good too.

I’m at a point in my academic year where I actually get to rest, legitimate days off without obligations to do anything but get out of bed (I really don’t even need to shower or brush my teeth).  Is that what God wanted? I don’t think so; but at the same time I don’t want to feel obligated to do certain things to make my day off restful. What’s the point of rest for me? Recharging my batteries, regaining mental function, having coffee with friends, finding time to enjoy myself, etc.  Is that just as “holy” or worthwhile as spending a day fasting, in prayer, listening to sermons, and reading the scriptures?

I don’t know really. What I do know is that God is constantly calling us to something better, better than day-to-day survival and better than rule-following religiosity. The specifics of what that looks like for me may be very different than most everyone else (who else would spend a day off looking at pictures of gross anatomy for enjoyment?).  God wants us to have one day each week set apart rest, take stock in what matters, and spend it doing something we enjoy.  Why is that so hard for us to do?