October 26, 2010

There IS Joy in Mudville

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

There is no joy in Mudville (aka Philadelphia) today because the mighty Ryan Howard has struck out. But unlike Casey, he didn’t even swing. He just stood there looking. Low and outside. Strike three.

And thus ended the Phillies’ run toward the National League Championship and a spot in the World Series. This team was so good that sportswriters and fans concluded victory was not only expected, it was a sure thing.

Yet, it was not to be.

I’m no baseball fan and don’t care much if the Phillies win or lose but I can’t help notice that fingers are being pointed. Heads are being hunted. And the person in the crosshairs right now is Ryan Howard. Here’s what folk are saying about him:
“Grossly overrated”
“Got what he deserved”
“He choked”
“He’s primarily to blame for the NLCS loss to the Giants.”


It makes sense that when you get paid millions of dollars to hit baseballs you better do that—especially when the stakes are so high. And when you don’t there are consequences.

Yet the fate of one man’s reputation was decided in a crucial moment. His worth and perceived value completely contingent on his performance. Hit a home run, we’ll throw you a parade. Strike out and we’ll run you out of town. It’s like this with any athlete.

“We’ll love you if…”
“We’ll cheer for you if…”
“We’ll praise you if…”

But if they fail, falter, fumble mess up or let us down—watch out! Cheers become boos. Esteem turns to disdain disdain. Adoring proclamations morph into scathing criticisms.

Oh how fickle our affections. Not just for sports figures, but for one another as well. Our actions—if not our words as well—say, “If you earn my love/affection/devotion/dedication/respect, I’ll give it to you.”

It's no wonder we have such a hard time comprehending the true meaning of grace.

Grace is God’s unmerited love for us. He offers this gift to ANYONE who accepts it, without ANY strings attached. Grace costs nothing for the recipient, but everything for the giver.

Philip Yancey says, “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less.”

Nothing. At. All.

The idea that God’s love comes to us free of charge seems to go against every fiber in our beings. We’ve been brought up in an environment of ungrace and every day we breathe its polluted aroma. Everything and everyone around us expects us to earn our favor.

Except Jesus.

Grace is illogical. It’s counterintuitive. It’s radical. And it simply doesn’t add up. That’s what makes it so amazing!

The apostle Paul says:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God..” (Romans 5:1-2)

It doesn’t matter how often we strike out, screw up or miss the mark. In Jesus, there is NO condemnation. Ever.

That’s good news for you and me. And it’s good news for Ryan Howard, too. Something tells me he could use some loving right about now.

October 21, 2010

Midnight in the Habitrail of Good and Evil

It started during the incident that will hereafter be known in our family as The Bunny Massacre of Summer 2010.

Let’s just say a neighborhood rabbit decided to make a nest for her new arrivals in our yard. And then let’s say our dog “noticed” this nest in HER yard and was excited to discover a bundle of “squeaky” toys just for her. And then let’s say my kids were witness to the aftermath of this discovery.

There was much drama around these parts. Rescue efforts ensued. Life-saving efforts, including an eventual trip to a local wildlife rescue, were taken.Yet the fragile little bodies could not overcome the damage done. Tears were shed. The circle of life/survival of the fittest/Shakespearian tragedy played out on our backyard stage. The sound of Taps lingered in the distance.

Amid the emotion and angst, I developed a soft spot for small furry creatures. In a moment of weakness and in an attempt to assuage my kids’ sadness I uttered words I immediately regretted: “What if we get a hamster?” (Was I nuts? We already have a dog and a cat!)

My son, who recognized my temporary insanity, latched onto this unexpected, yet brilliant idea. His mantra became: “When can we get a hamster? Can we get one now?” I finally conceded that my stall tactics wouldn’t work and knew I had to make good on my “promise.” We headed to the pet store.

We returned home with a little hamster, a cage with a spinning wheel and all the necessities a growing hamster needs.

It wasn’t long before the other four-legged residents of our house noticed the new arrival with great interest.  Tess, our yellow lab, came to inspect the goings on. Her eyes sparkled with excitement, her ears perked and her gaze fixed determinedly on the hamster with great anticipation—“Really? For me?” she seemed to say. Later I caught our cat sitting on my son’s dresser peering into the hamster cage, plotting her next meal perhaps.

I warned my son, “Make sure you always close the cage because if the hamster gets out it doesn’t stand a chance in this house.”

Without a doubt, that little hamster was brought into a hostile environment.

The hamster, however, doesn’t seem to be aware of the danger that lurks. It doesn’t hide when a big, wet dog nose sniffs at it. It doesn’t cower when a cat bats at the exercise ball it’s running in. It's just blissfully unaware.

I’ve been thinking our lives are a bit like the hamster’s. We were born into a hostile environment. However our enemies aren’t a yellow lab or an orange tabby cat but a far more powerful adversary.

There is an epic, cosmic battle that preexists the creation of the heavens and the earth. When Satan tempted Adam and Even and they aligned with him, rebelling against God, that battle came to earth. “From that moment forward, human history is marked and marred by satanic, demonic sin, folly, rebellion, destruction, and devastation. And this epic, cosmic battle rages. We are each born into it. And furthermore, we see the effects in the lives of average, ordinary, normal, everyday people.” (Marc Driscoll, from his sermon “Jesus vs. Satan”)

It’s a scary thought. One we’d rather not delve into. But whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re players in the battle. The devil is deceptive, sneaky, relentless. He aims to trip us up, tantalize with temptations, fill with fear, douse with doubt, blindside with busyness and do whatever it takes to keep our eyes off God. 

We can choose to remain blissfully unaware like my hamster—at our own peril. We can try to fight the battle on our own strength and willpower—but it is one we simply cannot win.

We must recognize our need for protection, but where do we find it?  Here's what the Bible says:
Be strong IN the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore…Stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions then, with the with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:10-12, 14-18, emphasis mine)

The good news is we know the end of the story. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from grave, he overcame death. He won the battle. But until Jesus comes again, Satan is fighting for dominion of the earth. Wisdom says we must recognize our situation and enter the battle prepared for victory.

There’s a gospel song we sing when we visit the prison.

In the name of Jesus
In the name of Jesus
We have the victory (v-i-c-t-o-r-y)
In the name of Jesus
In the name of Jesus
Satan will have to flee (f-l-e-e)
Oh tell me who can stand before us
when we call on that great name
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus
We have the victory
In the the Lord. In Jesus. In the Spirit. We are protected. And we have the victory. (Thankfully we have furry friends to keep us company.)

October 15, 2010

On the Road Again

Thanks for your insights and heartfelt comments to my last post. It was a tough issue and I truly appreciate your honesty and passion for friendship. God spoke to me through each of you.

Just after midnight he opened the door and drug his tired, weary body into the house and heaved his overstuffed suitcase onto the hallway floor.

"Tough trip, huh?" I asked.

"Yeah, the storm delayed our takeoff for two hours and when we finally landed we sat on the tarmac forever because there wasn't a gate available."

But instead of sitting down to relax he started scurrying about unpacking and repacking. Confused at the flurry of activity I asked, "Why are you doing all that now?"

"Because I have to leave at 7:00 tomorrow morning?"

"But you just got home! I thought you weren't leaving until later." My warm feelings at his return quickly chilled.

Such is life with a husband who travels. The ups and the downs. The comings and goings. The schedule and the complete lack of it. The swirling unpredictability.

Business travel is part of Dan and my life. It's the path we journey on. I'm proud of my husband and what he does for a living. I try to be a loving, supportive wife—really I do—but sometimes it's just plain hard to be "the one" on the home front 24/7. Sometimes the tensions build and I act...well...not quite so loving and supportive.

As was the case last week. It was not my finest hour. Or the finest hour/day/week in our marriage. Let's just say things were kind of tense.

A while back (when all was relatively calm) Dan knew he'd have a free weekend during his West Coast travels and suggested I come to Seattle for a visit. I'd never seen that part of the country jumped at the opportunity. But last week as I simmered, I wondered if the trip was really such a good idea.

I waited for God to miraculously answer my prayers for a softer heart. But departure day neared and the hardness remained. Yet, despite the fog of emotion even I could see that staying home was a foolish choice. So I packed my bags, kissed my kids and headed to Seattle.

And boy am I glad I did.

Amid the backdrop of a fantastic city, wonderful food and beautiful scenery God did answer my prayer, slowly. And then on Sunday Dan and I walked to the downtown campus of Mars Hill Church and God used that place and their pastor (Marc Driscoll) to reach into both of our hearts and leave us breathless. Shaken. Convicted. "Wow!" we exclaimed as we left.

No marriage is easy. Some seasons are more challenging than others. But I have seen time and again how important it is to take time to get away. Together. Even when it's not convenient or all that desirable. And more recently God has shown me (and I think Dan, too) the truth of His words:
"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

So with the lemons of business travel we've made lemonade with some great trips together. Here's a look at our latest... 

The original Starbucks!
Totally enjoying Pikes' Place Market...and our one afternoon with sun
Will you?
A walk around Bainbridge Island
Do we look as cold and wet as we were?
A brief but awe-inspiring peek at Mt. Rainier

Do you need to get away with your spouse? I encourage you to make the time and just do it! Where will you go?

October 6, 2010

Stay?...Or Go?

Friends are one of God's greatest blessings to us.

The Bible teaches a lot about them. It teaches that iron sharpens iron, that a friend loves at all time, that we should love our neighbors and that peacemakers are blessed. It teaches that we're better together, we need to hold one another accountable and we need to speak the truth in love. It also teaches lots more.

However the Bible doesn't advise (at least not that I've seen) when or if we should end a relationship. And if doing so is loving...or selfish and prideful. (I'm not talking about marriage which Jesus certainly talked about.)

The story of Paul and Barnabas is the closest I could find.

Paul and Barnabas were ministry partners and best friends. Yet in Acts 15 they had such a sharp disagreement they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus and Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Ciliicia (v. 39-40). I'm guessing hurt feelings and wounded pride traveled with them as well.

Even though this story occurred 2,000 years ago, it could have happened yesterday--probably because things like this DO happen every day. Our humanity gets in the way and friendships end.

Yet what surprises me most about Paul and Barnabas' parting is that God used the schism to strengthen the church and it grew as a result of their separation. It seems the dissolution of their friendship was actually a good thing.

Certainly you can think of a friendship that ended badly—perhaps to be reconciled later, but never to be the same. Maybe you were the one who walked away or maybe you were the one left behind. Rejection hurts. It's hard to see how good can come of it.

But what is one to do when sharpened iron cuts more than strengthens? When love, even with the best intentions, hurts. And when personalities cannot arrive at peace?  Is it a loving thing to separate? Or does it still come down to a matter of pride and selfishness?

What would Jesus counsel us to do?

What would YOU do?