Please Pass the Chips

They say records are meant to be broken. So this week, I did.

To be fair, it isn’t technically a record. Just a bit of self-imposed criteria. The ‘record’ I broke is length of time between posts on this blog. There’s a good chance you hadn’t noticed. There’s an equally good chance you welcomed the reprieve from more bloggish noise. Whatever your perspective, my recent trek in the blogging desert sparked some reflection.

But while I was musing, life surged on. In some ways, it ran me over. Seems every waking moment these days is spoken for. Silence, solitude and rest are conspicuously absent. And what’s strange is that even with life’s tire tracks on my back, I crave more of what’s crushing me. I want to know. I want to experience. I must respond—now. I’m hypnotically drawn to the false energy of busyness.

It can be easy to get wrapped in culture’s paradigm of 140 character bursts. To feast on bits of disjointed conversation like a whale eating krill. There’s a non-stop banquet out there that leaves consumers curiously hungry. It’s an addictive paradox—one that’s nipping at my heels. One that shows, along with my record breaking, that I am a victim of my own lusts. Frederick Buechner was right: “Lust is the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst.”
I sure have been thirsty lately. But I keep eating the potato chips.
And the more I eat, the less satisfied I feel. I munch and crunch as I battle the urgent. The ‘tyranny of now’ cleverly confuses my needs and desires. Life slips into maintenance mode as I settle for easy, comfortable and quick. Priorities are dictated by energy level and meeting reminders. The cycle of days blurs. And before I know it, I’m breaking records.
My record breaking didn’t bring a moment of celebration. There were no cameras or interviews. What it brought was an eye-opening collision with reality. The reality of potato chip crumbs on the front of my shirt and the burn of salt on my lips.
I can’t deny the disappointment I feel in not meeting my own expectations – with timely blogging or anything else. But my disappointments are opportunities to expose my lusts. To admit unhealthy cravings. My recent reflections exposed some ugly things. But sometimes I need ugly to recognize beautiful.
I’d like to put the chip clip on the bag more often. To rest in my God who’s ‘steady as He goes.’ A God who wants me to be just, merciful and humble (Micah 6:8). The lusts of life will beckon. And if I’m not careful, I might find myself eating chips all day then wondering why I’m so doggone thirsty.

My Dynamic Duo

One thing I savor with the onset of colder weather is the chance to hunker-down. To pull out the hoodies and fleeces, as well as extra blankets for the bed. It’s hard to beat a crisp night, a good book, a sweetened cup of coffee and my wife on the couch beside me. Such moments are rare in our home. Five children and a heat-sucking, parasitic dog provide plenty of sabotaging moments. Nevertheless, I cling to my dreams.

Winter in Michigan can be long. Monotonous. Even claustrophobic. That’s why most Michiganders stumble over each other on the way South come late March. But in these long nights of winter lay a hidden blessing. Our forced corralling indoors brings time to rest. To sit. To ponder. To talk. And with the turning of the New Year just a week ago, this season is ripe for reflection.

With the birth of a new year comes a natural time for starts, stops, lessening, increasing and freshening. Last January I started an Affection Revolution. It was a revolt against myself. I stood-up to my misplaced affections that were stealing from my love of God. That war is still raging, but I am winning some battles. It will be a lifetime struggle, but one worth fighting. And you can join me. Read my post and battle with me.

As 2012 dawns, my inclination to stop or start through resolution is a bit subdued. Instead of feeling inspiration toward big commitments, I keep hearing two words. I think they will be my one-word resolutions for this year. Those words are: faithful and obedient.

Like Abraham.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) When God called, Abraham moved. There was no road map. No clear direction (as far as Abraham knew). Yet he gathered his things and stepped out into a grand adventure. I suspect at times he felt lonely, scared, tense, tired and maybe even a bit frustrated by God’s demands.

Have you ever felt like that? I have.

But into the fog of a wonderfully mysterious promise, Abraham obediently plodded. Step by step. It was gutsy. Courageous. Inspiring. It was rock-solid faith. Faith in a God he was just getting to know. But a God he trusted to lead him safely through the unknown, the unpredictable and the uncomfortable. And because of Abe’s astonishing faith and prompt obedience, God’s promise to him is still growing in its fulfillment.  

What’s cool is that Abraham’s God is my God. A God who has never failed to honor His word—to me, or anyone else. He’s got my back—through the good, bad and ugly. God’s character and deep grace bring comfort and peace to my wandering heart. I savor Him much more than a great book or a Starbucks Salted Carmel Mocha on a chilly winter evening.

Abraham’s faith and obedience showed that God can be trusted—no matter what. As I consider my own faith and obedience, how will I prove—like Abraham—the greatness of God in 2012?

Faithful and obedient. My dynamic duo for 2012. What’s yours?

Join My Protest!

You might have missed it. Many aren’t aware of it. Yes, October 31 is Halloween. It is also Reformation Day.
Now before you write-off this post as another puritanical rant against Halloween, keep reading.
Reformation Day recognizes the protest lodged by Martin Luther against specific doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church. Ninety-five protests, nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. The protesting Luther sparked a theological schism that still reverberates with eternal implications.
Our collective willingness to protest didn’t end in the 16th century. We see a 21st century version in the phenomenon known as Occupy Wall Street. But there is a significant difference between Wall Street and Wittenberg. Luther sought dialogue and constructive argument. The occupiers seek only to be seen and heard. They’ve devolved into a mob of complainers. No matter your beef, you’re welcome to occupy. If you’ve been treated unfairly, take a seat in the street. This disease of complaint has spawned a global illness as disgruntled folk are occupying streets in towns small and cities large. It’s intriguing behavior.
So I’ve been thinking: what warrants protesting? Many things in life are perturbing. Exasperating. The diversity of humanity and the brokenness of life is fertile ground for disagreement and disgust. So what should attract my attention and demand my energy to be disturbed to the point of being a disturbance? What should raise my ire to the level that I’d go to great lengths to make my opinions, feelings and beliefs known in a public way? Is it unemployment? Income taxes? Bad coffee? Children who won’t stay in their beds? Abortion? The mascots for the 2012 Summer Olympics? Presidential candidates? Melting polar ice caps? Sex trafficking? The new facebook format?
It isn’t difficult to find people, principles and policies to get riled about. But if I stop and think about what’s most upsetting in life, I don’t need to look far. In fact, it’s closer than I want to admit. What unsettles me most – is me.

In response to the question, ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ G.K. Chesterton gave this infamous reply: “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”  The Apostle Paul expresses similar frustration with himself: “…if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7:17-20, The Message)

Have you ever felt like Paul? I have. A lot. I don’t wake each day scheming how I can self-sabotage. But it happens. Despite my best effort, I can’t deny that I am broken. Messed-up. Desperate for help but unable to make life work. And when it doesn’t  the pull is to look for a scapegoat. Point fingers and make excuses. Assume the role of victim. Groan. Grumble. Complain. Perhaps even protest.

Without doubt, there are things that should cause us indignation. Things that we should, like Luther, protest. Seek productive discussion and pray for resolution. But the more I think about what frustrates me and thwarts my desires, the more I understand that often I am a big piece of the mess. My own sin is the problem. And I need help.

Jesus is that help. He patiently redirects my protestations toward the real problem – me. He lovingly shows me who I really am and my dire need for His grace, forgiveness and perfect justice.

So, I’m organizing a protest. I’m protesting me, and my sin. I’m protesting the harm it brings to my relationships. I’m protesting my affection for things that drain my affection for Jesus Christ. Will you join me with your own protest?

"Pain"-ting

Staying true to a literal rendering of Labor Day, I did much laboring. Painting, specifically.
Changing wall color is fresh meat for the interior decorating monster. I’ve encountered the ID monster before. Just took me 18 years to realize he lives at the paint store. He’s the master of suggestion, planting ideas in the minds of gleeful wives fresh from convincing their husband some painting would be in his best interest.
Ideas like, “Hey, those curtains don’t really match the hue of that new wall color.” Or, “that new bedding doesn’t coordinate with the wall decorations.” Such diabolical suggestions can unleash an onslaught of decorating madness (or euphoria, depending on perspective). In the case of this past weekend, the paint brush suddenly found itself lonely as the search for new curtains took priority.
Curtains were purchased. Curtains were returned. Repeat, ad nauseam. Arguments brewed over what colors coordinate. My temper simmered from an overspent “painting” budget. And out of nowhere a tongue-in-cheek disagreement started as to whether one of us is color blind. As Katrina shared our painting fun with some facebook friends, someone commented, “Don’t forget, painting starts with ‘pain’.” Man, do I give an “Amen!” to that.
Despite attacks from the decorating monster, I do find joy in bringing newness through paint and other accessories. There’s a part of me, peeking from behind the dormant engineer, that appreciates colors that compliment. And well-placed accents. And when the dust settles, a room that is warm, peaceful and beckons, “dwell here.”
However, my appreciation for tasteful décor does not preclude times this past weekend when I wanted to drop-kick the paint can. Or scream at the sun as it blazed into the room in which I was cutting-in yellow paint next to white. Or rant about the first mark on my new paint job (I should be entitled to at least 24-hours with walls unmarked by children, right?). There were several moments I was cursing the curse, wanting to have words with Adam. At a minimum, I was certainly having words with myself.
My frustrations sent me tumbling head-long into the swamp of self pity. With each brush stroke I concocted another scenario of being underappreciated. Disrespected. Ignored. Used. My painting looked great, but my heart was ugly.
While waxing eloquent on another stanza of my miserable monologue, my wife jabbed me – verbally. It was a punch out of nowhere. Not a sucker punch, just a surprise. A sweet surprise. As she patiently listened to my grousing, she very simply stated, “But what you’re doing for us makes us happy.”
Happy? Hah! My first response (which I wisely kept to myself) was, “How nice for you. What’s anyone doing to make me happy?” It was then I received another punch. This one less sweet. And very direct. The Holy Spirit leveled a right-cross that rocked me. I put the brush down. Sat on my little painting stool. Breathed deep. And listened.
Moments like that still shock me. Even when I’m fully aware of being in a bad way, there’s times I keeping humming along to my sorry tune. I buy into the pitiful story that I deserve something I’m not getting. On the outside, I’m the helpful and cordial Dr. Jekyll. But inside, Mr. Hyde is raging. With Mr. Hyde around, I risk having my good actions sullied by selfishness. By demandingness. No matter how great the painted room might look, the lies of Mr. Hyde threaten to rob joy from the experience – both in the moment, and for months to come.
In those stool-sitting moments with God, I confronted the pain in my painting. I found that it wasn’t the painting that pained me. It was my desires. The desire for perennially fresh, unmarked walls. The desire for extended down time during a holiday weekend. The desire for more kudos for the way I was bustin’ it early in the morning and late at night. The desire for more money (or less spending). But such wanting reflects misplaced affections.
John Piper said, “Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.” In those moments of self-pitied painting, I loved me most. My wife did not feel my love. Neither did my children. And my esteem for a well painted room pulled rank on my love for God. Sad, I know. Such is the struggle with life’s greatest tension: who, or what do I love – most?
I doubt the “pain” of painting will ever go away this side of heaven. I know my future holds many more run-ins with the ID monster. Knowing this to be true, I must guard against misplaced affections. Loving God is better than perfectly applied paint. Loving my family and enjoying their happiness is to be treasured more than marked-up walls. Still, there are moments when that’s easier said, than done.

Shhh…it’s a Secret

Secrets. Everyone’s got at least one. Some secrets are fun, like a surprise party. Others exciting, like a pregnancy. Secrets can also be heavy as they weigh on our conscience, monopolize our thoughts and blur our focus.

This week one of my children told me a secret. It was a secret held close for quite some time. It wasn’t the fun, surprise party kind of secret. It was big. Burdening. Volatile. It was festering in a cloak of darkness. A secret that had secrets of its own, which it whispered into my child’s self talk. Lies, actually. Words from the pit. Poisonous arguments meant to bind my child in silence – a silence that sustained the secret and kept it safe.

But here’s a truth about secrets: a secret revealed has no power. That’s great encouragement, especially for those secrets we want hidden forever. Secrets that we fear, once known, will make us unlovable. I saw that fear in my child as they voiced their secret with a nervous courage. As the secret found expression, wonderful moments of victory erupted. A tightly closed door opened and light raced in to chase away darkness, deception and guilt. In the telling of what was hidden, my child was freed from a silent prison. Physical and emotional expressions of relief ensued. A celebration started as the power drained from a secret held painfully tight for too long.

And then we received an unexpected gift of grace. A gift born out of our interaction. My child expected me to respond to their revelation with some level of disappointment, anger, or even a lecture. That’s Ok. I’ve earned that presupposition. But by His grace, God blessed me with a calm spirit to receive the secret the way I would want my secrets received – carefully, gently, lovingly, gracefully.

How I listened and interacted with my child in a moment of intense vulnerability resulted in a memorable moment in our relationship. A small, but wonderful victory. The type of victory I yearn for. John Piper said, “God often disapproves of his children’s behavior. But he never treats us with contempt. Imitate him in your disapproving.” Too often my disapproval has tilted toward contempt – sometimes subtle, other times overt and judgmental. When really upset, I’ve been known to launch into a rehash of a tired 3-point sermon. Those are not my best moments. And that’s not how I would want to be treated. Nor it is how God treats me.

Jesus gives me blood-washed, bottomless grace for all my nastiness. He picks me up after all my stumbles. He knows about the secrets I’ve shared, and those I still keep. He receives me, not because of what I do, but because of who He is (Titus 3:5). That kind of treatment makes me want to do the hard work of growing a greater affection for Him and His kingdom. To be a better husband, father and friend. To be a better listener to my children’s joys, hurts, questions…and secrets.