Try

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I’m a sap.  Just a total sap.  I know that, and I’m pretty comfortable with that.  With the advent of social media, there is a “brand” that tends to be associated with you as a person, whether it’s what you’d pick or not.  I think I’ve realized that through a few attempts to step away from the aforementioned mediums, as well as through “inventing myself” to fit in through various moves during my school-years.

If I were to be a spokesman, and it was decided by my Facebook friends what I would advertise, it’d probably be Baby powder or carseats, or something.  I’m open to alternatives if you have any.

That being said, I take a certain amount of pride knowing that I don’t hide the fact that my wife and daughter bring me joy.  So I guess another thing I’d get behind as a spokesman is just like…family.  And stuff.

This blog is rapidly becoming a place for me to just let words that I think in my head fall out of my brain through my fingertips and into the great wide interwebs, the tubes (look up “Alaska Senator Internet Tubes” if you haven’t yet) where all the information in the world goes.  Perhaps me throwing some “dad who doesn’t totally know what he’s doing but is enthusiastic about being a dad” type wisdom is what someone out there needs.

 

Remember the first thing you saw here?  The picture at the top of my baby girl watching me mow the lawn?  I love that picture, because it reminds me that my kiddo watches me and learns from me.

With that in mind, I heard a song (that I had actually downloaded for free and never listened to awhile ago) called “Try” by Colbie Caillat, and it said a lot of things I hope that I model for my daughter (and my wife, and my sisters, and all the women I know).  I want them to feel like they don’t have to be someone they are not when I’m around.  I don’t ever want to hear that my daughter is somehow afraid to tell me something because she believes I will love her less, or think less of her as a person.  It will definitely happen…I’m sure of it, the part about her not wanting to tell me something.  But as far as my love for her goes…it won’t.

I think this song is a song that a lot of guys like myself need to listen to for our own edification.  Not just because of how it shapes our view of women/womanhood, but also because the message (even if the lyrics don’t quite land) is something we need to hear.

I want my daughter to know that she doesn’t have to be artificial in order for me to want to show her off, and proudly proclaim that I am her Dad.

But I (and we) all need to realize that often times it isn’t as easy as just “you don’t have to try.”

On the contrary (and I think what Colbie Caillat is advocating) is that we often DO NEED TO TRY.  We have to try…to not let ourselves fall victim to our culture’s perception of what makes something beautiful. So on the one hand, I don’t want my kiddo to waste her energy trying to live up to an artificial standard of beauty and poise that IS NOT REAL.  Or if it is “real” in the sense that it exists, it isn’t “real” in the sense that it is meaningful.

Now this post is already long, so I’m going to just come back (since, let’s be honest, this is a blog about me learning how to do life, and fatherhood is my life right now) to this at a later point. To summarize though:

Lindy Frances Rima, when you are reading this in 2o years after downloading it directly to your brain via WI-FI, please know that I’m going to TRY to be there every step of the way, as you TRY to live your life knowing you don’t need to TRY to become something you aren’t, just to impress people who are stuck in the “trying” cycle, for the benefit of people who make money off of creating insecurity and then providing the “fix” for it.

Psalm 100:3

“Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

 

Check out the lyrics to the song, and a link to the video on Youtube below:

 

Try – Colbie Caillat

Oooh
Oooh

Put your make-up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim so they like you, do they like you?

Get your sexy on
Don’t be shy, girl
Take it off
This is what you want, to belong, so they like you
Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
Yooou don’t have to try

Oooh
Oooh

Get your shopping on, at the mall, max your credit cards
You don’t have to choose, buy it all, so they like you
Do they like you?

Wait a second,
Why, should you care, what they think of you
When you’re all alone, by yourself, do you like you?
Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to bend until you break
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
Yooou don’t have to try

Oooh
Oooh

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

Take your make-up off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror, at yourself
Don’t you like you?
Cause I like you

Read more: Colbie Caillat – Try Lyrics | MetroLyrics

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

 

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Dear Lindy: Don’t Date Me. -Dad

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Dear Lindy,

This morning at 4am I woke up to a nudge from your Mom.  Slowly, I disconnected my dream (where I was struggling to live with a permanent disfigurement…my hands and soles of my feet were permanently lotioned.  It’s more terrible than it sounds) from reality.

Your Mom asked if I could pick you up out of your whatever-it-is-called-that-you-sleep-in, and change your diaper, because you had woken up.  I got out of bed happily this morning, because I’ve been so sick the last 10 days I’ve had to take sleep aids, and your Mom has been on her own.  She’s a saint. Anyway, I got out of bed happily, because I absolutely love being depended on by you.  I love that I can pick you up, take you to where you need to go, do what must be done (it’s more serious some times than others), and bring you back to your Mom to be fed. Honestly, it is one of the most thrilling things I do.  I’m not kidding. I really, truly, love you. When you are wailing, when you are disinterested in me (is Sophie the Giraffe really that great?), and even when you poop out of your diaper and up your back. Still not sure how you do that. But I love you, every moment.

I know that these moments of being depended on will not last long. Someday soon you will stand up for yourself and I’ll cling to those moments where you still need me (unless somehow you don’t inherit the run-into-walls gene from me). But then one day, you’ll be standing at your bus stop (your Mom and I still are debating schooling.  Maybe a bus stop.  Maybe your Mom will just take you to a library and tell you to read), and you will be going somewhere where you will be on your own.  You’ll learn things, and every day you are gone, you’ll come back home a little older than I remembered you last. I know there will be times that I’ll miss these early days. But I also know I will be so proud to see you become more and more of the woman you’ll end up being.

When those days come, and you are surrounded by girls your age, whose parents let them watch movies (we will let you watch movies, well, maybe, Miracle probably. And Rock-a-Doodle. And probably Newsies.), and whose time on television or the computer aren’t monitored, or who start texting boys at age 9 (this, you will not be doing), I hope that you will be able to learn ONE thing from your Dad and take it with you into your teenage years.

Don’t date your Dad.

Well, date your Dad then, I mean, we’ll go out to eat and stuff and I’ll ask you all about everything and give you rings and letters and it’ll be great.

But don’t date who I was.

When I was 18 years old, I had gone on dates, but never “dated.”  Not by choice. Oh no. Not at all. I like to think I had good taste. I never really pursued any girl at any point who I would look back on now and say, “Wow, what was I thinking??!?!” Every girl I can recall wanting to date, and the girl I did date, (before your Mom…I didn’t even know Mom then, give me a break!), has been someone who I still respect today. I’m very glad of that.

I, on the other hand…was a faker. I was a guy who you will probably come into contact with as a teenager. And I want you to hear me, here Lindy: I wasn’t purposefully, and wittingly fake. I just was. I worked to find what a girl I liked seemed to want in a boyfriend…and I worked on being like that. This happened because I wanted to be depended on. I wanted to fill the role of strong, trusty, sensitive but tough, doting boyfriend/ideal future husband. I wanted to. My words, and some of my actions (the most noticeable ones), lent themselves to a persona that I had worked on, not character that had been developed.

Now there are lots of girls who do the same things (Lindy, thank the Lord with me that your faker Dad never met another faker), but Lindy, based on your Mother…ain’t no way you’ll be one of those (please). So with that being said, I wanted to give you just a couple things to watch out for when it comes to dating.

First, don’t date until you are 22. That’s pretty much it, actually.

 

Kidding.

 

Honestly though, dating is fun, but if you aren’t dating the person you’ll marry…it can quickly become less fun. There is no biblical command to date someone in high school. There isn’t even a social one. Dating in high school isn’t wrong (it is for you, though), but it is often unhealthy. I find that this is because one or both parties tend to be discovering about themselves so much during those years, that dating can stunt that personal growth, or disfigure it. In your Dad’s case, he wasn’t even in High School when he started dating. But he still didn’t know who he was. He spent so much time crafting an image for others, his personal growth was stunted completely, and it didn’t really refresh until years down the road. I’m convinced that people are getting married so much later today, because they are dating so much earlier than before (and the definition of dating has changed so drastically).

 

Secondly, be wary of boys who seek to create dependence, and who are indecisive. Your Dad was obsessed with Instant Messaging (I’ll explain it later), and would sit on it for hours just waiting for someone he “liked” to hop on. Then, guess what he’d do? Nothing. He’d wait to be reached out to, as if he wasn’t some huge nerd just starting at the screen playing out all kinds of scenarios in his head (I’ll bet her family will need a gallon of milk and all their cars tires will be flat and she’ll need me to get it for them!  HERO!), all the while getting himself to believe that if only one of them would play out, he’d finally be able to fill that “role of a lifetime, BOYFRIEND”. In all honesty though, these young men may truly have pure intentions (your Dad did). But having pure intentions does not qualify a young man to date.

 

Thirdly, on the indecisive thing, part of being a grown-up, is making decisions. Your Dad was quite good at weaseling his way out of ever making a decision. You know why?  I want you to get this.

It was because he was so unsure of who he was as a man, that he believed that a decision was right or wrong, based on the reaction of the girl he wanted to date.

This is BIG. It does not describe all guys. Some guys are decisive, but should also have their… EDITEDEDITEDEDITEDEDITEDEDITED. One of the things that makes a man worthy of respect, and worthy of a wife (and girlfriend), is the ability to make decisions with sound judgment, taking everything into account, including the people who would be most affected by it.

A boy who abdicates decision-making to avoid being perceived differently, can be just as harmful to you as a boy who makes horrible decisions, if you go along with it.

 

My last piece of advice is very much related to decisiveness and decision-making. At one point when your Dad was dating, he had bought a car with a down payment from a credit card. He had a part-time job, and ZERO bills aside from his auto-payment. He spent his money on fast food and video games, didn’t pay his car bill (had his parents do that), and then would decry his poor self. And his girlfriend would give him gas money to go to her house.  (This is not a fun memory to dredge up).

DO NOT DATE THAT GUY. Do not date a hopelessly romantic, incredibly caring, overwhelmingly sensitive, “says all the right things” kind of guy who is dependent on, and finds his identity in, YOU.

 

Date a young man who seeks the Lord, who knows who he is and what his flaws are, and never holds them over your head. Date a young man who cautiously approaches you, never maneuvering, never scheming, never tricking you into being interested in him. Date a young man who can look your Mom and Dad in the eye throughout every moment of your relationship. Date a man who takes responsibility for his own growth, and expects the same from you. Date a young man who does not need to date. Date when you are ready, and when every respected adviser in your life agrees. Don’t ever date a guy who is personally threatened by your affection for family, or who complains about being “forgotten”. Don’t ever date a guy who utters the word respect, or care, but takes advantage of  you emotionally, spiritually, physically, or verbally. Date a young man, who can call out the lies you are believing, and turn your heart and your mind toward God’s Word. Seek after God, and date a young man who encourages you to more, no matter the “cost” to himself.

Don’t date your Dad (back then).

 

-Dad

 

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Growth (or another deeply impacting title for a blog post)

I didn’t plan on writing anything today. That’s how it usually goes though. I don’t write nearly as often as I’d like to, and when I do it’s because something is on my heart and mind and I feel like it needs to come out.

That’s why I’m writing this today.  I’m writing this blog to break up with Facebook.

I’ve always been a “status” guy. I loved when it was introduced.  My friends will attest to the fact that there is rarely a day when a status doesn’t fly from my mind and heart to my fingers to my Facebook. Sometimes it misses one of those steps. Usually it’s the most important one. I tend to assume that if it’s a thought I’ve had, it’s worth sharing. I’m prideful like that. This is something that has nagged me, in relationships in particular, both on and offline. I often speak/write without checking my pride at the door. I mean, look at what I’ve written so far in this post.  “I” sticks out as a well-worn word.

There are a lot of reasons I could give for logging off of Facebook. Not everyone needs to, but I do. It’s an example of narcissism, a time-waster, a thief of initiative, and at times, it’s a place I go when I don’t want to be where I am. I think when it becomes like that…there’s no choice but to disengage.

For those clamoring for pictures of Lindy…Laura will still be on Facebook, and she can be your friend, just ask her.  Also, I hope to blog more, so save this URL, or subscribe to my posts, and you can check it out. I’m also hoping to get into hand-writing letters more, so if you are interested in that, e-mail me at charles.s.rima@gmail.com and we can stay connected that way.

For practical purposes, I’m gonna leave this up for a bit, and then in a week or so, it’ll be sayonara Zuckerberg.

 

 

EDIT: My wife convinced me that I was better served in the long haul, just working on my heart when it came to Facebook (plus I couldn’t get my spotify to work without it), so I’m still there.  Just more mindful of how I use it.

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95 Million Seconds of Gazing

When I returned home from studying abroad in Rome, Italy in December of 2008, a lot had changed.  In a lot of ways, it felt like I had been gone far longer than four months.

In many ways I had finally begun the agonizingly, well, agonizing process of “growing up.”  As with many, wrapped up in that process was a sense of jadedness.  The world seemed like an superball in a blender spinning at warp speed.  I would lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, feeling as if my world was moving at an uncontrollable pace while I was in super slo-mo.  My days were disorientingly slow and at the same time blazingly fast.

Making decisions in that fog was nigh impossible.  Good ones, at least.  Imagine you are a kid on a merry-go-round (not to be confused with a carousel…look it up, it’s important), and you are standing in the middle as it is being spun around.  Soon you’ve fallen down, and you have no chance of moving (come to think of it, that seems like the most dangerous thing you could possibly put on a playground).  Well, I felt like that kid.

Then, one day, it stopped.  The world stopped spinning quite so fast, and I stopped moving quite so slow. 

 

In Rome, I had spent time reading Scripture.  It was really the first time in my life that I found myself doing it when I had free time.  It wasn’t out of curiousity, it wasn’t compulsory, it wasn’t to fact-check.  It was to read.  In that season I was often drawn to the Psalms.

In my journal, I wrote that the day the spinning slowed to a stop, I recalled one verse in particular that I hadn’t ever noticed before in Sunday School or while emotionalizing the vespers services at Bethel.  It was a simple verse in the midst of a seemingly simple psalm.  David, constantly surrounded by enemies who wish upon him only destruction, praises the Lord by proclaiming his trust in Him.  In my Bible Psalm 27 is subtitled as a “Psalm of fearless trust in the Lord.”

In one line of verse 4, this perplexing phrase appears:  “…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”

I can’t say how or why it came to mind in that circumstance, but it did.  And it drove me to read the rest of the Psalm.  How would I possible “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”?  That just seemed like a flowery statement without meaning.  I can’t see him, right? 

Shortly though, I began to.  I began to realize what the gospel I had spent my whole life hearing and never learning actually meant.  Redemption.  The forgiveness of sins.  I find it easy to forgive others when they misspeak, or when they accidentally knock my glass off the table.  But when others knowingly sin against me, forget it.  I don’t think I’m alone in that.  But that is what the Lord did for me.  Whew.  Things began to change (and are still changing) when I realized the depth of that phrase in Colossians 1:14.  Redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  That is beauty.

There was a time I wasn’t interested even in dating.  I knew I was called to marriage, but not for quite awhile.  And then, almost as soon as I had come to that conclusion, my conclusion was proved flawed.

Beauty has a way of overcoming even the most strongly-held convictions, and when it is the beauty of the Lord, forget about it. 

One day I was hanging out with a new friend named Laura (and others) and I began to notice that I cared for her more than I had previously realized. 

Fast-forward about 18 months and there I was standing on a stage and much of my family and friends were looking away from me, and they were looking at the same thing that I was.  Well, I don’t know if they were seeing what I was seeing, but they were looking in the same direction.

Because on June 4, 2010, when the wedding march started playing, I truly understood more than ever before what it was to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.

On that day the Lord gave me a precious gift, second only to His Son, and it was the privilege of entering into a soul-binding covenant between myself, My God, and my bride.

 

Laura Louise Rima is literally a manifestation of God’s grace every day of my life.  There is no other way to put it.  I am a mess of a man, and she is to me, a shining example of Christ.  When I talk to others about Laura, I often joke about her task-oriented nature, or her obsession with Christian rap.  Sometimes I’ll reference her nerdy love of sappy Christian movies, or her newly aquired love of all things blended.  But those who know Laura, know that her love for the Lord is what truly describes her.  Her desire to know him and make him known.  Her desire to see young women read the Words of God in Scripture and allow them to change their hearts. 

I see the Laura who journals at least one page every other day, not about the tedious details of her life, but about God’s Word.  Her journal is filled with prayers for students, her friends, her family, and me, but also with prayers for her heart to be shaped not by its desires but by its Redeemer.

 

When I see my wife, who I have now had the privilege of being married to for 3 years, I see a testament to God’s grace.  I gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.  I am so incredibly grateful to have spent 3 years, or 1,095 days, or 26,680 hours, or 1,576,800 minutes, or 94,608,000 seconds, gazing at beauty.

 

Here’s to 2,428,272,000 more.

 

I love you Laura Rima 🙂

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All Our Stuff vs. The Weight of Glory

Last Tuesday I woke up at 6 AM and took off for Louisville.  The vehicular trek from Minneapolis to Louisville is between 11 and 12 hours of driving depending on if you go through Chicago or not (I didn’t).  I had to leave that early because driving at night is not ideal with my vision issues.  My vision comes to bear on a lot of my life, but it’s become second-nature at this point.  I wanted to post a brief update on my vision because I’ve been asked about it quite a bit recently for whatever reason, and it’s been a little over a year and a half, so I’m sure some have wondered how it has been going.

I realize that a post like this could easily come off as self-centered, and that is not my intent.  I don’t want to post this simply because I think my life issues are at the forefront of other people’s minds…I know they aren’t.  And they shouldn’t be.  In reality, a large part of it is putting it into words.  I’ve written in my journal about it before, but there is something different about preparing an explanation that you know will be read by others. 

That said, there is one journal entry that explains in a very simple way how things are with the eye in particular.

“Dryness and a sense of being out of place or irritated.  A lack of balance.  The extra few moments it takes to focus.  Frustration.  Is there someone behind me?  Did I miss a spot along my right jawline?  Stare, stare, and stare some more…still periphery.

It’s interesting to think about that…periphery, that is.  In reality I know that its a familiar experience for many people, so it’s probably a pretty easy idea to relate to.  On certain days, at certain times, with certain subjects, that way of living where things are seen but not clearly enough to grasp what they are.  The overwhelming anxiety as you see something SO clearly and cannot tell what it is.”

 

Even reading that now, I find it to be true.  There is just something profoundly affecting about the experience that God has granted me…the recognition that I will never, as things stand now, see anything “easily.”  I say that because nothing about vision feels purely natural anymore.  For one thing, there is a noticeable oddness about the eye as it sits in its socket.  It may not look like it from the outside but I feel it.  All the time. 

Of course I can still drive, and I can still play basketball, and most sports I can pick up as long as I have time to adjust to the depth perception issues that accompany those sports where distance is measured in the blink of an eye for most.  This is not a plea for special privileges, certainly not the privilege (curse) of pity from outside sources, it’s just a recognition of fact. 

There are moments that I reflect and become discouraged.  I realize many have much more difficult circumstances, and I realize that I could have very easily simply been killed in a hunting accident rather than just slightly injured.  I am forever grateful for God’s mercy in allowing me to see Laura’s face when I arrived home, allowing me to keep the eye itself (which, oddly enough, is one of the difficulties I deal with, haha.  More on that later), giving me the incredible blessing of being able to see for myself children that we will have, and sunsets, and another round of game-winning shots in March.

I get discouraged that my life is different, and it will never be the same.  I wish I could say that I never did, but I do.  I think we all have those things that we bemoan in our lives at times.  Thankfully, there is always a cleft in the seemingly sheer rock face of despair, and more often than not, I find that cleft in God’s Word.

2 Corinthians 4:17,18 says this: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Oh man.

Yesterday I was reading a sermon that Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave in Pensacola, Florida in 1969.  He focused on this passage and it struck me to my core.

Think of a table in front of you.  Atop that table you find an old-fashioned scale with two plates on opposing sides.  In the life of the Christian, it can be easily discouraging at times as we see objects constantly added to the plate labeled “Afflictions.”  Injury, broken relationships, mistakes that cannot be taken back, words that cannot be unsaid, insults spat in your direction, the loss of ones you love, flat tires, constant pain, migraine headaches, divisiveness within family and groups of friends, war, famine, genocide, unthinkable atrocities, and more.  These are swiftly piled up, one on top of the other, until the weight is unbearable, we can no longer even see the table underneath it all, surely hope is crushed somewhere at the bottom of that pile.

And yet.

Paul says that it is “light.”  The weight of these is light in relation to this “glory” that is “beyond all comparison.”  I would urge you not to see those as words on a screen, and more as an idea, a notion.  The idea of a glory that is beyond ALL comparison…is, well, is there a word for it?  The notion that regardless of whether our afflictions weigh 20lbs or 20 trillion tons, the weight of glory makes them seem insignificant, is a pretty incredible thing to reflect on.  And that is precisely what I needed to hear.

Lloyd-Jones shared a portion of a poem in conjunction with the sermon and it summed it up beautifully.  I will carry this with me for the rest of my life.  Truly the written word is a gift from God.

“The eternal glories gleam afar,
To nerve my faint endeavor…
For I am His, and He is mine,
Forever and forever.”

-James Grindlay Small

 

May your afflictions seem to be smoke in the wind as you study God’s Word.

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Dad

Here is how I introduced a sermon I just gave tonight.

 

I grew up as a pastor’s kid.  Because my Dad was a pastor, I figured I knew what a pastor was.

I saw Dad leave in the morning to go to church during the week.

I saw Dad stand up front and speak.

I saw Dad studying his Bible.

I saw Dad’s sermons that used big words and were covered in 4 different colors of highlighters.

I heard Dad begin sermons with an interesting story, and then relate it to the text he was about to teach.

I noticed that we generally had a cool place to eat on Sunday after church because people would invite us out.  I started to think that being a pastor might just be the coolest job ever.

Then I started to notice other things.

I began to notice letters that were anonymous and said terrible things.

I began to realize that there were certain people who weren’t very nice at church and didn’t treat my Dad like he was awesome like I thought he was.

I noticed when people would come over to pray, or would just say it in conversation, and realized pastors must need a whole lot of prayer.

I noticed that my Dad would wake up hours before me, sometime as early as 3:30, just to have quiet time.  I realized that pastors must be busy.

I noticed Dad tired, frustrated, and disappointed.

But I would also notice that at times he was overjoyed and thoroughly thankful.

I recognized that sometimes he said things when others didn’t.  Like at my school one time.  No one was saying anything…so he did.

And I was really proud of him.

One thing that I recall always appreciating about my Dad was that he always got up and went to church.

He was faithful to his mission.

He wasn’t perfect. 

But he didn’t ever give up on his mission.

And he continues it today.

 

 

 

I was preaching on Acts 20:17-38, and as I was going through it I had an overwhelming sense of awe at how God has equipped and sustained the men who have discipled me in their ministry.  None more so on this earth than Sam Rima.

 

Thanks Dad.

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God Loves Nerds

As a student of history my entire life, I have always been as fascinated by what occurred in the past as what could occur in the present. There was never a seminal moment where I realized the value of history; I’ve had a healthy appreciation for it since birth. I never received a book as a child that I recall giving me that. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that since I can remember, I’ve loved placing myself in the footsteps of those who have walked before me.

From the beginning, I was engrossed in books about anything from Abraham Lincoln to the ’92-’96 US Olympic Basketball teams. My Dad recalled my having memorized George H.W. Bush’s cabinet members and I remember absolutely LOVING my ruler with all the Presidents listed on the back. I used to keep a white board in my room that I updated daily. On this whiteboard you would find a feast of useless information; I kept track of how many days I had my basketball shoes, how many days til my birthday, how many days til Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, NBA season, the Super Bowl, etc. I remember looking forward to taking Stats class in High School because I thought that it would basically be a class where kids brought their baseball cards in and we decided who had the best cards. At one point, I embarked on a journey to discover how many total HRs/RBI/SB and what the overal batting average was of all of my cards combined. Yes, I was that kid.

I didn’t just love the numbers, but what they entailed. Those numbers were meaningful, in the sense that they represented a moment in time. I have the same fascination with numbers and historical figures and dates now, although I try to keep it to a socially acceptable level on the surface.

The purpose of this post though, is not to belabor the fact that I’m a massive nerd (although check and checkmate on that, I suppose), but to point to the fact that lies behind the ministry leader’s admonitions to spend time reading the Bible. The fact is, that the Bible is not JUST inspired by God, but it also actually happened.

Unfortunately, we often read the Bible as a handbook for daily life…which in a sense it is. But labeling it as that alone is doing it a ridiculous disservice. I recently was struck by that fact again on vacation this past week. I spent ten wonderful days with my wife at her Grandma’s condo in Naples, Florida. It was an incredible blessing, and it gave me the opportunity to do something I generally struggle to find time for: read a book for fun. Well, sort of for fun. As part of my New Testament II class, Dr. Pennington at SBTS recommended that if we had some time, it would be worth our while to check out Paul Maier’s book, The Flames of Rome.

It is set during the years before and during Nero’s reign as Emperor of Rome; this time period is interesting to me in particular, as it is around this time that Paul and Peter are thought to have been martyred in and around Rome. Maier portrays the events that were occurring in Rome with historical accuracy and some necessary filling in of details based on educated conjecture, and does a splendid job recounting the Roman system of governance and the likely nature of their relationship with Christianity (at that time, thought of as a cult by much of Rome, which still held to the Roman mythic Gods).

It is an utterly fascinating work that is character-driven and well-paced, providing a balanced look at Christianity from afar in that context.

There is one anecdote within the work that struck me in particular, and brought to bear much of what leaders in ministry are trying to convey to the congregation (who sometimes views it as a chore) regarding the importance of studying Scripture. During his reign, Nero makes an attempt on his mother, Agrippina’s life. Maier notes that this occurred within the acceptable time and place that Paul could have been arriving from his harrowing journey with a Centurion escort to see his appeal to the Caesar heard as a Roman citizen.

This small anecdote reminded me of the historical vibrancy of the Bible, in this case, the book of Acts and Paul’s letters. These letters weren’t written in a sterile environment. History was occurring around them, just like what happens every day today. We take it for granted that historical events have enduring meaning, and we completely neglect that Scripture was recorded in the midst of them.

So what I’m trying to say is pretty simple. Embrace nerdity. God didn’t give us the Scriptures so that we could put them on a shelf. He gave us the Scriptures so that we could experience those “geek-out” moments when a solitary word makes our hair stand on end, and a smile creep across our face unbeknownst to us. God’s Scripture is His love. In words. To us.

So push those glasses up your nose and get cracking.

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Crying Wolf

Sinner:

“I can smell the death on the sheets
Covering me
I can’t believe this is the end

But this is my deathbed
I lie here alone
If I close my eyes tonight
I know I’ll be home

The year was nineteen forty one
I was eight years old and
Far, far too young
To know that the stories
Of battles and glory
Was a tale a kind mother
Made up for her son
You see
Dad was a traveling preacher
Teaching the words of the Teacher
My mother had sworn he
Went off to the war
And died there with honor
Somewhere on a beach there
But he left once to never return
Which taught me that I should unlearn
Whatever I thought a father should be
I abandoned that thought
Like he abandoned me

By forty seven I was fourteen
I’d acquired a taste for liquor and nicotine
I smoked until I threw up
Yet I still lit ’em up
For thirty more years
Like a machine

So right there you have it
That one filthy habit
Is what got me where I am today

I can smell the death on the sheets
Covering me
I can’t believe this is the end
I can hear those sad memories
Still haunting me
So many things
I’d do again

But this is my deathbed
I lie here alone
If I close my eyes tonight
I know I’ll be home

I got married on my twenty first
Eight months before my wife would give birth
It’s easier to be sure you love someone
When her father inquires with the barrel of a gun
The union was far from harmonious
No two people could have been more alone than us
The years would go by and she’d love someone else
And I realized I hadn’t been loved yet myself

From there it’s your typical spiel
Yeah if life was a highway
I was drunk at the wheel
I was seeing the loose ends
All fall apart
Yeah I swear I was destined to fail
And fail from the start

I bowled about six times a week
The bottle of Beam kept the memories from me
The marriage had taken a seven-ten split
And along with my pride the ex-wife took the kids

I can smell the death on the sheets
Covering me
I can’t believe this is the end
I can hear those sad memories
Still haunting me
So many things
I’d do again

But this is my deathbed
I lie here alone
If I close my eyes tonight
I know I’ll be home

I was so scared of Jesus
But He sought me out
Like the cancer in my lungs
That’s killing me now
And I’ve given up hope
On the days I have left
But I cling to the hope
Of my life in the next
Then Jesus showed up
Said, “Before we go up
I thought that we might reminisce
See one night in your life
When you turned out the light
You asked for and prayed for my forgiveness”

You cried wolf
The tears they soaked your fur
The blood dripped from your fangs
You said, “What have I done?”
You loved that Lamb
With every sinful bone
And there you wept alone
Your heart was so contrite

You said, “Jesus, please forgive me of my crimes
Sanctify this withered heart of mine
Stay with me until my life is through
And on that day please take me home with you”

I can smell the death on the sheets
Covering me
I can’t believe this is the end
I can hear You whisper to me,
“It’s time to leave
You’ll never be lonely again”

But this was my deathbed
I died there alone
When I closed my eyes tonight
You carried me home”

Jesus:
“I am the Way
Follow Me
And take My hand
And I am the Truth
Embrace Me and you’ll understand
And I am the Light
And for Me you’ll live again
For I am Love
I am Love
I, I am Love”

 

The song is “Deathbed” and I believe it’s an album-only song on iTunes.  It’s 10 minutes long and it tells the story of a man’s life.

What I love about this song is that it displays the glory of the Gospel.  Isn’t one of the most glorious things about the gospel the fact that it is so exceedingly simple?

I think we as Christians catch ourselves in a trap sometimes.  I know in my case, sometimes I focus so much on the idea of sanctification that I completely miss the doctrine of justification, and how truly awesome it is.  Sanctification, of course, is awesome as well.  There are few things quite as wonderful as seeing someone’s heart and life completely change in the direction of Christ.  But sometimes sanctification and justification become the same thing in our minds, and we miss out on the beauty that lies in the utterly (and instant) transformative power of Christ.  Christ does not only gradually conform us to His likeness, he also instantly makes us “positionally righteous” before God.

We’re all wolves, saved by a lamb.  Christ’s blood is on our fangs, in our fur, and yet the Lamb is who makes us clean.

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Loss

Today is the day that rolls around every year.  It’s New Year’s Eve, and it signals the end of one year (good or bad) and the beginning of another (sometimes anticipated, sometimes dreaded).  For me, it is a very bittersweet day.

When I moved to Washington a couple of months before my Freshman year of High School, I didn’t have a whole lot of hope.  It was yet another move, yet another jagged transition academically, socially, spiritually.  And although we were arriving in a state where nearly our entire extended family lived, I didn’t really hold out much hope for that being much of a salve. 

Justin was my cousin, and he was a year older than me.  I always thought he was funny, but I also thought he was probably the most intimidating person in the world.  He was not only funny, but smart, witty, savvy in just about any situation, social or otherwise, and really when it comes down to it…he was completely fearless.  That wasn’t me.

I was wracked by fears of social exclusion after spending so many years of my life playing social catch-up, just trying to become known to my peers.  I didn’t want to be invisible, but often as the new kid, it’s preferable to the alternative.  When I moved to Washington the thing I feared was falling into a void.  It seemed at times like there was this black hole that was always pulling at me through elementary and especially Junior High.  It’s not an uncommon feeling, I’m sure, but every person who feels it by definition feels alone.

At the age of 15, I met my best friend, and it was Justin.  I tend to be the last person to call someone to hang out…I think all of those years kind of got me into the habit of keeping myself busy, and not wanting to face the possibility of rejection.  In hindsight of course I know it isn’t usually the person but the timing that leads to that dreaded “Sorry, I can’t,” but I never really wanted to test that theory out.  Which was okay, because Justin called me. 

At first it was every couple of weeks, but soon it was almost every day, he would be dropping by to pick me up, or when I got my license I was making my way to his house, where we’d watch endless movies, listen to music, or play a video game.  We’d head to Alderwood Mall and he’d show me how to purchase clothing for myself that didn’t make me look like Beaver Cleaver, and introduce me to CDs I should buy…some good, some not.  But all along I could tell what was happening.  Justin was coming alongside me, and he was pulling me up to his level.  I’m not sure what drove him, but one thing I know about Justin, was that for all his brash talk and swagger, he had the kindest heart I had ever met.  He had a heart for those who were in danger of being left behind.

I was one of those kids, and Justin truly helped shape who I was and who I would become.  Of course now I can sit at the computer and say it wasn’t Justin, but his Savior, Jesus Christ, who was reaching out to me.  I didn’t have any desire to be involved at my family’s new church, and Justin literally forced me to attend Youth Group with him.  At that age, I wasn’t always hearing the teaching, or really being affected by the worship, I was being molded by the love of Christ through His people.

Justin allowed himself to be used for my edification, and gave of himself all the time for me.  I certainly didn’t always make it easy, but he never stopped, and what affects me most to this day are two things Justin taught me every time that I was with him.

1. Your closest friends, and the ones you need to keep around, are the ones who tell you the truth, even if it will be painful to you.  Like God’s discipline in our lives, it hurts for the moment, but is always beneficial in the end.

2. Of all people, we who are saved and justified in the eyes of our Father, have no need to fear anyone or anything.  I’m sure Justin was scared of circumstances and people, but he never let that define him.  He had this amazing ability to look people in the eye, no matter who they were.  You could call it confidence, but I call it a recognition that he was who he was made to be.

Only two years after arriving in Washington, we were told that we were moving to Minnesota.  What surprised me even then, was that I wasn’t really heartbroken about it, and looking back, I think that is one of the most incredible things that I was blessed with during my friendship with Justin.  God worked through my relationship with him, and gave me an ability to lean on the big picture, and not lose myself in every significant life change.  To use an analogy that Justin would punch me for using, I learned to wait on life’s curveballs (Justin was not exactly sports-oriented).

Just before I moved, Justin returned from a missions trip to Mexico.  He was very short of breath all the time.  I moved for good in October, and by that time, Justin was always in the presence of a tank of oxygen.  He of course joked about it constantly and kept things light, but you could tell he was becoming more and more aware of bigger issues.  He never told me how bad it was.  I had many nightmares, where Justin would pass away and I would hear about it over the phone.  I found myself (in the age before social media) texting him and calling him just to check in.  He always eased my fears.  Then one night I arrived home from playing basketball at the YMCA.  My aunt Candy was on the phone and she told me she was giving me my Christmas present, it was a flight to Washington.  I sat on the steps where she told me and wept, because I was glad to go back, and because it hit me how incredibly serious the situation was.

I went, and got to spend time with Justin, not as much as I would like, but it was time.  Justin needed a double lung transplant, and one night as his sister Heather and her then-husband, and our cousin Courtney and I were heading in to a movie…we got a call.  His lungs had arrived.

The ups and downs of sitting for hours in that waiting room were nearly unbearable.  Eventually, it was deemed successful, and we all shuffled home, exhausted by utterly overjoyed.  It was a long road ahead of us but the harrowing part had seemingly passed.

Justin never woke up.  Complications prior to surgery meant that he had gone a short amount of time without oxygen, which was too much for his lungs to handle, and he did not have the proper oxygen levels to his brain.  There was no doubt that Justin would never desire to live on life support in a vegetative state, and so his parents had to make the decision to remove access to the machines that were keeping him “alive.”  Of course they weren’t keeping him alive truly, and we all knew it.

Justin passed away on December 31st, 2003 at the age of 18.  I remember leaving the RV I had been staying in with my Grandparents, and asking my Aunt Janna if I could take Justin’s classic yellow ’50s Chevy Corvair out.  I just drove it around and recalled the many moments I spent with him in his car, weeping openly and screaming why it had all happened the entire time.  It was the best thing I could have possibly done. 

God never gave me an answer that day, he still hasn’t to this day.  The same can be said for the losses our family has experienced over the years since.  I have often wondered why.  The answer that “God just needed him more with Him in heaven” has never really stood up for me. 

Over the past 9 years, me and those closest to me have experienced the spectrum of joys and despair here on earth.  Weddings intersperse openly with heartbreaking divorce or infidelity, joyous births intersperse with tragic miscarriages, renewed life has gone hand in hand with the grief that accompanies death.

One thing that I know, is that God began in me at the age of 17 a very good work.  The seed of faith became a seedling, often ravaged and deprived of sunlight, but never uprooted, and that seedling has steadily grown in the form of a love for Him, and a cognizance of the fragility of life on earth.  I’ve often thought about what a sorrow it is that we must hold so loosely to the things we love so much here on earth, but God, ever faithful, soon reminds me of what lies ahead.

I take great hope in Paul’s letter to the Romans on days like today.  What a tender mercy it is to we who follow Christ, to read these words: “For I consider taht the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

All of creation cries out to God, wordless groans and sorrowful wails, yet we have an advocate who puts our groans into words, and our Father knows them all.  We serve a God who has promised to deliver.  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and DEATH SHALL BE NO MORE, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).  He will make all things new.

I take great comfort in the fact that my Father in heaven has recorded every single tear of mine in his book (Ps 56:8).  I firmly believe that on that day when we see God face to face, he won’t wipe our tears of the moment away.  He will wipe away every tear we’ve ever cried.  This is the God that I cling to.  A God more powerful than all imagining, and more tender than we could ever deserve.

I could ask why Justin was taken from this earth so young, but as with every other loss we’ve all suffered through, we must make a decision.  Each New Year’s Eve, I make a decision Justin would be proud of.  I don’t bother asking why.  I trust in my savior, who has kept every promise He has ever made.

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I’ve Often Thought of the Gospel as a Clock

I've Often Thought of the Gospel as a Clock

A lot of people know what it is and what it does, but they don’t understand how and why it works.
It is such a privilege to study God’s Word, because the inner workings in the “black box” that was the Gospel to me for so many years are finally fitting together.

With Christmas fast approaching, I find myself reflecting again on why it is that it is such an important event for the Christ-follower. I’ve realized while reading Luke 1 and 2, it is the fact that Jesus was born holy that is so encouraging. It isn’t merely the fact that Jesus was born that is worth celebrating, it’s that he was BORN so that we may live. And that life is only accomplished through his eternal holiness. The trinity came together (Luke 1:35) to ensure that a savior could be born. What’s more, we celebrate because at his birth we are reminded that his reign, his holy reign, is everlasting (Luke 1:33).