October 30, 2009

New Blog...

Just to let you know that I'm now writing on a new site. The format's a little different, so it might look funny for a while, but I'll get used to it.


October 23, 2009

Love Never Fails

A few weeks ago, a song wrote me, and it all started on Facebook. I had posted my status as “Love never fails.” Within a few minutes, one of my friends commented, “Don’t let me ever forget that.”

A little later, another friend and I were “Facebook-chatting,” and he too commented on my status. He has been having some health issues in recent years and told me that he is in that place where he is ready to die. However, he said, I just can’t imagine the hell I’ve put my family through. He finished by saying, I’m hoping with everything I have that love really never fails.

The next morning, I got out my guitar and started. Within a couple of hours, it was finished.

Love Never Fails

Shadows fall across
The threshold of death’s door
Through this vale of endless tears
Desperate plea
How long, how long, O Lord
Must I wrestle with these fears

Sky is falling, wolf they cry
Save yourself and wave good-bye
My heart hears an angel song

Love never fails
Love never fails
Darkest night, no strength to fight
Taunted by these hells
Love never fails

These are the days
Of apathy and greed
Of itching ears and broken dream
These are the days
Of cutting just to bleed
And we’re too numb to run and scream

Sky is falling, wolf they cry
Save yourself and wave good-bye
My heart hears an angel song

Love never fails
Love never fails
Darkest night, no strength to fight
Taunted by these hells
Love never fails

Comes in weakness, comes with power
Healing through the hopeless hour
Love’s the very air we breathe

Love never fails
Love never fails
Stronger than our blood and fears
Deeper than our hells
Love never fails

When the song was finished, I still had some ideas stirring, brewing inside of me. Looking closely at the lyrics, I picked out five phrases and started writing a short devotional book based solely on the song. For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading these devotional thoughts to the youth on Sunday mornings. I “should” be done writing them in another couple of weeks.
One of last week's writings stuck with me and I felt like sharing it with anyone who dared to come this way.
Love bears scars forever to heal all of our wounds. The scars of Love set us free from death’s numbing grip, set us free to live. Love breaks open the calluses that anesthetize our hearts, allowing us to feel again. Love speaks into the chaotic numbness of our hearts and life is born anew.
Love never fails.

October 12, 2009

Catalyst Musings

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, GA. It was my first trip to Atlanta, where I wasn’t trapped in customs for not existing in the national database of official US citizens. Close to 13,000 people attended the conference, which was packed with music and video and speakers full of inspiration and information. I’ll probably be processing my experience for many months to come, but here’s a brief summary of things that challenged and changed me.

1. Following Jesus is a life of risk and creativity. When we choose to rest on past successes or enjoy current privileges, we lose sight of the God who calls us on a journey to the cross. Failure is part of the journey; so is forgiveness.

2. We live in a culture obsessed with safety and security, leading to the development of artificial environments that have very little to do with day-to-day living or following Jesus. Following Jesus takes place in the real world, full of fears and doubts and questions, not behind closed doors.

3. “Technology separates us from those closest to us” (Shane Hipps). Technologies are an extension of the person (Marshall McLuhan). Our current addictions to all mediums blind us to the hidden powers of those inventions to shape everything from how we learn to how we interact with others.

4. “The flickering mosaic of pixilated light (on the TV) re-patterns neural pathways in the brain. These new pathways are simply opposed to the pathways required for reading, writing, and sustained concentration” (Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels, 78).

5. We live in a time of overconfident leaders. We need leaders who lead through humility, demonstrated in the willingness to listen to and learn from others (Malcolm Gladwell).

6. Jesus said, “The first will be last.” We don’t believe this, and we certainly don’t live by it.

7. There are 143,000,000 orphans in the world. It is imperative that we come alongside those in need, sharing resources, love, and hope. One hundred--$100!—well-spent dollars can change a village. (Two fantastic organizations are Compassion International and Hope International).

8. Shoes are a gift and a joy. If you don’t believe me, check out TOMS shoes.

9. Sleep is over-rated. Chick-fil-a is not.

10. “There is no place like home.”

October 1, 2009

Lessons of the Century or "What I learned on last weekend’s really, really, long bike ride."

Last Saturday, I completed my third century ride in three years. I now have bike riding friends who try and ride a century a month during the summer (which sounds both cool and crazy). Three centuries, I think, is the minimum number from which one can wax (wane? whine?) eloquently about what one learns while on a crazily long bike ride. Now the trick is to remember these lessons in “real life”…

1. It is much more enjoyable to ride together than alone. Riding alone may be good for the soul, but riding together makes the journey possible. I am convinced that bike riding is intended to be a social exercise, not a solo exercise. There were times that I rode with small groups and was able to sustain 22-24 mph for many miles. I am not capable of doing that on my own. Riding with others brings out the best in me, and makes the journey more fun in general.

2. Balance is imperative. At one stop, I lost my balance and bruised my left kneecap. It only happened once, but it was embarrassing and painful.

3. Ibuprofen and Tylenol are miracles of God. Enough said.

4. Enjoy the sights and smells. Even though the slaughter-houses and road kill turned me slightly queasy, there were many simple sights and smells of the wandering and rolling countryside that this city-boy just doesn’t appreciate as often as he should. The blazing sun breaking through the clouds on a crisp fall morning, lighting the way. Simple fields and small forests with meandering streams.

5. “Riding hills makes me stronger.” It’s the mantra I’ve quoted to myself for the last three years, and, in general, I do like riding hills and think that I am a decent hill rider. In my head I know that I only grow stronger through struggles, and there were some impressive hills last weekend. However, riding hills after eating lunch makes me sick.

6. Numbers can suck the fun out of anything. When we were just getting started, we got into a rhythm quickly, and I felt like we were going pretty fast. I leaned over to Grant and asked, “How far have we ridden?” He replied, “Four and a half miles.” I settled in the saddle for a long day. (Side note: Out of 2,000 riders, the lowest number I saw was “2” and the highest I saw was “1836.” I was “1777.” Grant was “203.”

7. Sometimes you pull, sometimes you are pulled. Except for the arrogant team that won’t let anyone new ride with them.

8. Cross the finish line together. I couldn’t have made it to the finish line without borrowing strength from Grant and Eli. When we crossed the finish line, there were those who had gone on before us cheering us on. And we got the privilege of cheering on others too.

9. Remember the mission. The night before the ride, the team (Tour de Ray) went to visit the team’s namesake at an assisted-living facility. We visited for a while and took pictures. Just before we left, he said, “You guys really don’t know how much this means that you are riding for me.” During some of those tough stretches, simply thinking of Ray put everything into proper perspective.

10. Dr Pepper tastes really good after 105 miles.

September 21, 2009

The Struggle

We loathe struggling.

The first time I remember struggling in school (apart from elementary school handwriting…ugh) was Mr. Quigley’s Calculus class. A severe case of Senioritis combined with the unanswerable question of “What-will-I-do-with-my-life-when-high-school-is-over?” and resulted in an overwhelming apathy towards anything school-related. The only cure was to play golf. So I did. I completely avoided the struggle.

A little over three years ago, I read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution. This incredible story challenged my comfortable suburban assumptions, stirred the slumbering prophet within, and called me to follow Jesus in the struggle of radical and ordinary love. I started learning to embrace the struggle.

Last Saturday, I went riding bikes with some friends to prepare for the MS-150. On this particular loop is the infamous “Longview Hill.” Over the past three summers, I have been training myself to love hill riding with the simple mantra, “Riding hills makes me stronger.” I overheard one rider say, “I would love bike riding more if there weren’t so many hills.” I started seeing purpose in the struggle.

One of my favorite stories in Scripture is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. He’s on his way to meet his brother, and is quite anxious about the vengeance Esau will exact. Instead of resting on a rock-pillow, Jacob goes WWF with God. At the break of dawn, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel means, “one who struggles with God.”

Jacob was completely transformed in this divine encounter. From this day on, he walked with a limp, because of an injury that occurred in the struggle. The limp was a tangible reminder that he now is no longer who he once was, but a new creation. From this day on, Jacob is no longer “the deceiver,” but the one who will live in light of the struggle. I started finding comfort in the struggle.

Over the past few years, my struggles have increased.

I still struggle living in the relative comforts of suburbia while millions have no place to call home.

I still struggle with our material excesses and easy access to food and clean water while 30,000 will die today from no food or clean water. (Take a moment and think about that number. That’s 10x the number of 9/11. Every day).

I still struggle to find affordable clothes and shoes that didn’t enslave someone in the making process.

I still struggle with a call to write stories and sing songs and dream dreams and pay the mortgage.

But I am finally learning.

In the struggle, I follow in the footsteps of those who don’t have all the answers yet live in a radical trust that love never fails.

In the struggle, the temporary plastic trinkets of stuff are revealed as the fluff of life and the true treasures are found in relationships with friends who are willing to faithfully walk with me.

In the struggle, I am starting to find joy, for I know that this faith of mine desperately needs to be strengthened, not overly dependent on what these myopic eyes see.

In the struggle, I find hope. For the struggle sends me to new places, to meet new people, to hear new stories, and to learn that there are others on this journey too.

I recently read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and loved it. Huxley imagines and writes some 600 years into the future, yet it looks remarkably like today. In this utopian world, people don’t struggle, for they have anything that they want whenever they want it. Towards the end of the book, the Savage, John, shouts out in protest to the consumptive comforts:

I don’t want comfort, I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.

It is in the struggle we find the fullness of life.