Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Blessing for Joshua

“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.” (Genesis 48:15-16)

A Blessing for Joshua
On Father's Day, 2010, when he was 12

May God bless you and keep you always. May you know how much he loves you, and how much he wants to bless you, and how delighted he is in your desire to please him. May you lean on him when you're tired and afraid, and may you walk in his strength and run in his power and fly in his grace. May you always find joy in your heart, whatever the circumstances around you.

May you never lose your wonder and curiosity. May you be always learning about the world and people your God has made, and always amazed at each new discovery. May you never grow jaded, calloused, or hardened. However the world may wound you, may those wounds never scar. May you open yourself to love, beauty, and hope, knowing that there is no true substitute for any of them. When you’re temporarily hurt or disappointed, remember that the God of love, beauty, and hope will one day fill you with them.

May you never live in fear. May you be first out of the boat, and never give the waves a thought. May you keep your eyes on the One who walks on the water and silences the wind, and reach out an unshaking hand to take his.

May you grow up to be righteous and true. May your way be clear and your paths straight. May you always love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and may you always love your neighbor as yourself. And may you be always be willing to accept all people as your neighbor. May you welcome into your home and to your table and into your life those who are unwelcome everywhere else.

May you always raise your voice against injustice and oppression. May you be the first to the side of the friendless, the first to speak on behalf of the voiceless, the first to act on behalf of the powerless. May you have no patience with or tolerance for corruption, deceit, or self-interest, and may you know them when you see them. And yet may you believe that human beings can act out of generosity, selflessness, and altruism -- even though we often choose not to.

May you always know that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witness. May you treat the name you wear with honor and pride. May you respect the great men who have walked the road ahead of you, and may you always walk in their footprints. And may you always be aware that others will follow the footprints you leave. May you build bridges after you've crossed chasms, remembering those who are behind you.

May you know who you are, and may you be comfortable in your own skin. May you be confident in your worth and secure in God's acceptance and love. May you never compromise or give up one ounce of who you are because of someone else's expectations. May you always avoid self-promotion, but never lack for self-confidence. May you be known for loyalty, faithfulness, truth, and strength, and may you pursue those as others pursue money, success, and power.

May you laugh often, with delight and joy. May you learn to say “I love you” and “I'm sorry” often, and never forget how. May your words always bless, encourage, lift, and heal. May they never be fouled with bitterness, sarcasm, cynicism, or dissimilation. May you always say exactly what you mean, and may you always mean precisely what you say. May you measure each word carefully, knowing that God holds us accountable for the damage done by thoughtless speech. May you be known as a person who doesn't say much, but whose words speak volumes.

May you discover that substance is more important than flash, depth is better than width, truth is superior to image, and finishing strong preferable to starting fast.

May you know that guilt has no power over you; Jesus has forgiven your sin. May you believe that evil has no power over you; Jesus has overcome it. May you stand in the hope that death holds no fear for you; Jesus has destroyed it. May you live your life in the power of grace, the victory of good, and the promise of Heaven. May you keep your eye on the horizon, even as you serve the earth. And may you be waiting and listening when you hear the trumpets and see Him coming.

May you be blessed by finding and loving a woman who is “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh” -- as I was blessed by finding and loving your mom. May you learn to love without expectation or reservation -- and may you be loved in the same way. May you always welcome children, and make them feel important, remembering that Jesus welcomed them especially. May you never be so busy that you cannot take time to play with your children, or listen to them, or share their joy, or quiet their fears.

May you find work that gives you satisfaction, and may you do it with all your heart. May you learn what our ancestors knew but our world seems to have forgotten: that a human being hard at work glorifies the Lord. May you never work one day of your life just to get a paycheck. May you work to bless others, to fill a need, to make the world better. May your work be a calling from God, and may you do it, finally, to please him.

May you never forget how much I love you. Whatever may come between us, may you always know that I am in your corner, and that I will fight for you with my last ounce of energy and speak for you with the last breath in my lungs. You are the best of me, and after I am gone I pray that whatever good was in me lives on in you.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Whatever You Do...

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Oksana Chusovitina didn't expect to be competing in the 2008 Olympic Games. It was “been there, done that” for the gymnast from Uzbekistan. Several times.

Oksana competed in her first Olympics in 1992, as part of the “Unified Team” that took the place of the Soviet team after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1996, 2000, and 2004 she was on the team from Uzbekistan. She was 33 years old in 2008 – absolutely a senior citizen in a sport dominated by teenagers.

Besides her age working against her, Oksana just has things other than gymnastics on her mind. Interestingly, though, it's those other things that led to her being in Beijing for one more Olympic games.

In 2002, Oksana's then 3-year-old son, Alisher, was diagnosed with leukemia. She went to doctor after doctor in Uzbekistan, always hearing the same thing: “There's nothing we can do.” Uzbeki medical facilities at the time just weren't up to par. So Oksana went outside her country, to the University of Cologne, in Germany, where she had sometimes trained. Money came in from all over the world to help pay for Alisher's treatment. He responded, and got better, and finally went into remission.

And Oksana needed a way to say “thank you” to those who had helped her.

She didn't have much – only one thing, really – to give. She was an Olympic gymnast. And so she offered to compete for Germany in Beijing.

“I don't know how to thank everyone for all their help,” she would say later. “Now Alisher is in school and he is doing fine, but we couldn't have done that alone. I compete for those people.” She said that, in fact, right after the medal ceremony in which she won a silver medal in the vault.

It was the first medal she had ever won in Olympic competition.

It strikes me that you and I share something with Oksana. We've received an amazing gift, just as she has. God has done for us something that we could never have done on our own. He's forgiven us, and saved us from death, and given us hope, and made us a part of what he is doing in the world. He's done all this through an amazing gift: he gave his Son to the world and allowed the world to do with him what it would.

And, like Oksana, we have the problem of not knowing how to say “thank you” for this gift we've received. What can we offer? What can we do? How do we show our gratitude for forgiveness and life and joy that never end? Maybe Oksana is on to something. Maybe the best way to show our gratitude is to offer what we have, what we do, and who we are to the One who has given us so much.

I'm endlessly intrigued by Paul's language in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever you do – that's pretty broad, isn't it? Covers a lot of ground. I suspect that, if we learned to take that seriously, we would have learned pretty much all we need to know about living the “Christian life” to which the church gives so much lip service. What, really, is a “Christian life” if not the offering of every moment, action, thought, vocation, hobby, passion, talent, and pursuit as a sacrifice of gratitude to God? What is a “Christian life” if not living out every moment of every day in Jesus' name in gratitude for what he's done for us and what he will do with us?

“In Jesus' name.” We have something else in common with Oksana Chusovitina. We are not our own. Oksana isn't German by birth, of course. But when she became a German citizen and put on that uniform, she became as German as anyone else on that team. That “Deutschland”on her uniform marked her as a citizen of a new nation, and everything she did in the Olympics connected her to that nation. She's still Oksana Chusovitina, but she's chosen to give herself, at least in part, in gratitude to those who have given her a gift she can never repay. What she did in Beijing, she did in the name of Germany.

I'm afraid we don't always consider the implications when we use the phrase “in Jesus' name.” Maybe it's too often something we just tag onto the end of our prayers. But to think about doing everything we do “in Jesus' name”: well, the implications set your head spinning. To do everything in Jesus' name is to take his agenda for our own. It's to allow his priorities and values to supplant our own. To do everything in Jesus' name is to claim not a minute of your time, not a part of your life, not a piece of your heart as your own. It's to open your life to his scrutiny and live it out by his command. That's a huge commitment, to be sure, and not one that can be honored with only one decision. It works itself out over the course of our lives.

For a start, though, you can begin to imagine what it would look like if you did your work, not for the company or firm that employs you, or for your own financial security, but for Jesus. Would it change your priorities? Alter the way you spent your time? Would your interactions with your colleagues be different? How about with customers or clients? Would you work more? Less? More responsibly?

Or what might it look like if your school days were lived out in Jesus' name instead of in the name of pleasing your parents or teachers or securing admission to a better college or a higher-paying job? Would it change how hard you worked? How honest you were? How you lived with your fellow students, teachers, and administration? Would it make a difference in the goals you worked toward?

And how would it change life with your family if you were committed to doing everything at home in Jesus' name? How about friendships? How would things at church be different?

It's impossible, of course, to repay God for the gift he has given us. Thankfully, that's not what he asks. He asks us to show our gratitude simply by offering him what we have. By doing the things that we do each day in Jesus' name. While that's not always easy, it's something we can do.

So, whatever you have planned for today, whatever is on your schedule – go ahead and do it. Finish that project at work. Clean your house. Read to your kids. Take a break. But do it, do everything you do today, in the name of Jesus. Offer it to him: to his use, to his glory, to his pleasure.

I can't promise you a medal. But you'll have shown him how thankful you are for what he's given you.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14)

It's happened 20 times in history. But it should be 21.

“It” is a perfect game in Major League Baseball. Since June 12, 1880, when Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs retired all 27 Cleveland Blues batters without any of them reaching base (on a hit, walk, hit batsman, error, balk, or for any other reason), only 19 other pitchers have managed the same feat. Those who have go down in history, and the list reads like a pitching hall of fame: Cy Young, Addie Joss, Don Larsen, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Len Barker, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, Randy Johnson, Mark Buerhle, Roy Halladay.

There should be one more name on the list: Armando Galarraga.

Galarraga, of the Detroit Tigers was perfect through 8 2/3 innings Wednesday night against the Cleveland Indians. Twenty-six batters up, twenty-six down. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, a buzz building as Cleveland's Jason Donald came to the plate. Donald slapped a sharp grounder into the hole between first and second base. It's an easy play, one professionals can execute in their sleep. While the first baseman fields the ball, the pitcher runs over to first and the first baseman tosses him the ball for an easy out. It happens several times in most games.

It went exactly like it should have this time, too. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded the ball clean. Galarraga was in position. Donald is fast, so there wasn't a lot of time, but Galarraga beat him to the bag, ball in his glove, by at least a step. All the replays showed it. And first-base umpire Jim Joyce was right there, in perfect position to make the “out” call and touch off a celebration.

“It was the biggest call of my career,” Joyce would say shortly after the game.

And he blew it.

“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said, tearful in the umpires' locker room later.

Joyce thought Donald beat the throw, that's all there is to it. He sees the same replays as everyone else now, and knows he missed the call. But when it happened, he seems to have truly thought that Donald beat the throw. Maybe it was the way he was standing, the angle at which he was looking at the play, but he says he was “convinced” that the baserunner was safe.

As the boos built to a crescendo and everyone in a Detroit Tigers uniform got in his face, it became clear he was the only one in the stadium who thought so. And when he saw the replays, he knew. He knew what everyone else knew. He had so monumentally blown a call that he will probably be remembered for it as long as there is baseball.

It's hard to be perfect. Ask Armando Galarraga. Ask Jim Joyce, if you need to. But I'm guessing you don't need to. You already know, don't you?

You've worked hard, done everything right, and still failed, haven't you? The victim of a blown call or a bad break? And probably at least once or twice, you've blown something so monumentally that you really doubt anyone will ever forget it.

It's hard to be perfect, even for a little while. And it's impossible for us to maintain for very long.

And that's why it has to be God's work.

In Christ God has made us perfect. That's the shocking use of tense in Hebrews 10:14: he has made us perfect. That's called the perfect tense, appropriately enough, because it signifies an action completed in the past that has ramifications for the present. And that's what the writer means. He's not saying that because of Jesus we can never make a mistake. He's saying that Jesus has made us complete. He has brought us to the place we needed to be. Everything that needs to be done to save us and redeem us is accomplished in him.

But that's not all. We've been made perfect, but we're being made holy in Jesus. Again, it's God's work. He's the one who separates us out from the world so that we'll be fit for his purposes. And that's ongoing. That's where the places where we don't look too perfect are dealt with. In the process of making us holy, God confronts our selfishness and sin. He reminds us that we are his and that our purpose is nothing more or less than to be living temples from which his glory shines.

You want a small measure of redemption in Armando Galarraga's blown perfect game? It comes in the way everyone has conducted themselves since.

Galarraga walked backed to the mound with a pained smile, shaking his head, while his manager and teammates argued with Joyce. He quietly went back to work, and retired the next batter to win the game.

Jim Joyce saw the replay, and then asked Tigers manager Jim Leyland for permission to talk to Galarraga. They hugged, Joyce cried and admitted he was wrong and told Galarraga how sorry he was. “You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, `Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,”’ Galarraga said. “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”

So Galaragga's probably had more pleasant hugs. That aside, though, he said he respected Joyce for admitting his mistake.

Since they couldn't be perfect, Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce did what we're all supposed to when imperfection inevitably rears its head. They admitted their mistakes, and they apologized, and they forgave. And then they went back to work. They have chosen not to let imperfection define them.

Your Lord has chosen to call us perfect, too. Not because we deserve it, but because the work he's doing in us can't be stopped. He's refused to let imperfection define who we are, and gave his life to prove it. Though he could have chosen to dwell on our sins, he chose instead to go to the wall to make us perfect and holy. So we should feel free to come before God as his children (Hebrews 10:21). And we should hold on to our hope, rising as it does from a faithful God (Hebrews 10:23). We should push each other to love better and do good more (10:24), and we should avoid deliberate, high-handed sin. (10:26)

In Christ, the issue is settled. The conflict is over. As long as we're in him, you and I are perfect, and nothing anyone can say or do, and not even our own failures, can change that.

Anyone who would say otherwise is, well, off base.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Way

This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go. (Isaiah 48:17)

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

An unnamed man in England was rescued in a small motorboat off the southern coast of Englad last month.

Rescued from his own lack of judgment, as much as anything.

The man was trying to sail from the London suburb of Gillingham to Southampton on April 19th when he got a little turned around. Rescue personnel found him, with his boat out of gas, floating near the island of Sheppey, near the mouth of the Thames River. He told his rescuers that he had been trying to navigate by keeping the coastline to his right, but had ended up simply circling the 36-square mile island instead.

He might still be circling if he'd had more fuel on board.

Something tells me that this lost traveller didn't have a lot of experience in boating. But lack of experience didn't seem to be his only problem. His rescuers discovered that he had no navigational instruments on board, and only one map.

A road map of southern England. No wonder he had trouble. He hadn't been that way before, and he didn't have a reliable guide for the journey.

He's not the only one, is he? Life can be a confusing journey, full of turns we don't expect and choices we don't have the resources to make. It seems simple enough – get from Point A to Point B as safely as you can. So we get our bearings and launch out, confident in our ability to navigate the journey.

But what if the landmarks by which we're navigating are the wrong ones? We wind up going in circles. Or worse.

It's easier than it sounds to navigate by the wrong landmarks. All it takes is to misread just one. Miss just one, and you can find yourself travelling a route you never intended toward a destination you never wanted. Backtrack through the lives of most of the prison population in America, for instance, and it won't take you long to find missed landmarks. Bad decisions, their own and others', that led to other bad decisions, and then to others. If a person should have gone this way at a key moment in her life, and turned the other way, how does that affect the rest of the journey? Often, deeply and profoundly.

I know, I know. We all miss landmarks from time to time. What's critical is not so much the missing of it, but whether or not you realize it, and how soon, and what you do next. Some wrong turns can be corrected. Others, you just have to recover from. As long as you can see that you've made a wrong turn and are willing to admit it and correct it, most of them aren't fatal. It's the ones compounded by ignorance, rationalization, or pride that'll sink you.

We have a God, the prophet says, who loves us enough to show us the way we should travel. God doesn't intend that life should be so complicated that we get lost. He wants us to trust him, to believe that he knows the way and navigate by the landmarks he shows us. Love for him. Gratitude. Justice. Concern for those around us. Honesty. Morality. Worship. Sacrifice. Generosity. Responsibility. These are the signposts, the landmarks that guide us. It's always right to choose generosity over selfishness, honesty over lying. It's always right to be thankful, to obey God, to help the marginalized. These landmarks guide the turns we make, inform our decisions and choices. And when we realize we've missed one, they guide us back to the route we're supposed to be travelling.

But we still get lost, and so God chose to intervene in our journey directly. “I am the way,” Jesus claimed. Not the teaching he brought, or even the example he lived. God came in Christ to show us the way to him, walk the journey ahead of us and clear up any confusion about the destination. And when we find the journey too difficult or too complicated, the way too obstructed, the side trails too tempting, he's there to patiently call us back to him. “I am the way,” he reminds us. And suddenly the path becomes clearer and the journey makes so much more sense.

He gives us the Holy Spirit, a sort of spiritual GPS who reminds us of the journey we're on and helps us with the turn-by-turn directions. And he places us in a community with other travelers along the same path, so that none of us have to make the trip alone. And through Scripture he expands our circle of acquaintances to include other men and women who have lived the same journey ahead of us, and the men and women who have been touched and moved and challenged and inspired by them.

Two points, then. First, if you find yourself off track and lost, know that there's hope. You go back to God. You do what you do when you get lost on any trip: go back to last landmark and start again. Tell him you're lost, and ask him for help. Listen to his Spirit. Listen to his people. Listen to his word. Put your trust in Jesus, and you'll find that whenever you're at a loss the right direction is always toward him.

And second, if you're not lost, know that you're a rescuer. There are so many people around you who are lost, and many of them aren't hopeful that they'll ever find their way. But you know the way. Not because you're so much smarter, or have figured out the mysteries of the universe, or because you never get turned around yourself from time to time. But you know Jesus, and so you know the way. Invest some time and energy, then. Come along someone who's adrift and show them the way. Invite them to come with you, and bring them to him.

He'll keep them from turning in circles and get them home.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.