Friday, November 6, 2009

Learning from my living room...

My favorite chair rests in a corner, beneath a window on one wall and a mirror on the other. The chair’s deep cushions and wide arms make it the perfect spot for reading, relaxing, watching a game. I love the big chair. But, the best feature of the big chair has nothing to do with its construction or its coziness. From the big chair, there is no clock.

When I sit in the big chair, the clock in the living room is hidden from my perspective. Sometimes this fact makes me even more time-conscious; unable to keep tabs on the ticking, I fret that as I sit there the day is “getting away from me.” Yet, when I really allow the chair to work its magic, on a lazy Friday or Saturday morning, I get swept up into clock-free living. When I really allow myself to relax, to truly sink in to the chair, the clock matters not at all.

I, like so many others, rush through much of life. My calendar dictates my freedoms and often those freedoms are few. True, my work schedule is as flexible as a Romanian gymnast, yet even in the midst of such flexibility I find little freedom to let time slow down around me.

I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, yet, most days I pay little heed to the glistening of the late-afternoon sun spilled across the ocean and allow no time to take in the mountain peaks standing, almost defiant, in shades of mocha and evergreen, cast against a sky so deep blue that it seems intent on mimicking the neighboring ocean.

My great fear, as I consider my clock-consumed life, is not that I will go through life ignorant of the breathtaking natural beauty around me—although that would qualify as tragedy—but that the way I live allows me little time to truly love well. Not surprisingly, the example of Jesus challenges me in this.

During Jesus’ ministry, an important official came to him, pleading for the Messiah to come visit his sick daughter, teetering on the edge of death. The Son of Man obliged, until he didn’t. On the way, a woman who had sought him out for healing thrust herself into his path, into his schedule, and into the desperate father’s story. In the midst of a legitimate, time-crunch crisis (at least from one perspective), Jesus stopped. He stopped and listened. He stopped and listened and healed. He stopped and listened and healed and blessed this woman for her faith. Then he moved on. Despite the demands of the seemingly urgent, Christ refused to let the clock dictate when and where he would show compassion.

And once the Great Physician reached the father’s house, he showed his stubborn rejection of the clock yet again. Already told that his presence was no longer necessary, that the girl had died, that he was, ironically, “too late,” Christ responded to the cynical hearts of the scoffers with more compassion. The Lord of time and space, it seems, has little need to be confined by time and space.

The chair in the corner reminds me of all this; of my refusal to slow down and enjoy where God has placed me, of Christ’s example of more, of my need to live —if even for a fleeting moment or two—as if the clock didn’t reign supreme and take the time to bless the life of another. So, even though life doesn’t allow me to spend all of my time in my chair, I hope to live all of life as though sitting in that corner, in its easy embrace.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pumpkin spice lattes, Jacques Cousteau and the providence of God

Today makes me think of kickball. I loved kickball in my younger days. Kickball, such a simple contest, is made even simpler by the two-word phrase every kid has on the tip of his or her tongue at all times during the game: "do over."

As I would step up to the painted square on the ground I had grand visions of an epic blast unleashed by my right foot that schoolchildren would talk about in hushed tones for years to come. In my vision, all of my teammates would crowd around me to celebrate and then hoist me upon their not-so-broad shoulders as the whole playground learned of my prowess. When this exact scenario didn't play out, which was often, all I had to do was cry "do over" and I'd get to go again. As you might imagine, I yelled "do over" rather frequently.

It has been a "do over" kind of a day. Wrestling with some gnarly youth ministry stuff, a boatload of things on my to-do list, and, topping it all off, I made terrible coffee at home this morning. So, I started my "do over day" with a trip to Starbucks to at least right one wrong.

Shortly after ordering my Pumpkin Spice Latte (yes, I wrote it on the magical internet for anyone to read), a series of photographs on the wall caught my eye. Hung next to a quote from Jacques Cousteau, the first one featured a Great White Shark, a pale almost iridescent blue, hanging motionless as if by a string, against the deeper blue of the ocean background. Truly stunning. Turns out, the photographer takes some unbelievable underwater photos.

As I looked at photos of fish, crazy underwater plants and other creatures that defy my powers of description, Jesus' words popped into my head. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns..." The fish of the sea reminded me of the birds of the air which reminded me of the Father's great love and care for me.

Even as I would want to cry out "do over" and make the difficult things ahead simply disappear, God says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." So, I won't cry out "do over," and not only because it won't do any good. No, I'll wait expectantly for the Lord's comfort and deliverance in the midst of it all, and when he acts, hoist his name up on my shoulders for the world to learn of his goodness.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hello, again...

I haven’t posted anything here in a disgustingly long time. As good excuses go (e.g. “my critical, groundbreaking cancer research kept monopolizing my time”), I’m fresh out. So, I won’t fake it. A brief update on some happenings ‘round here lately:

-Made some really nice progress on Greta’s list of 30 things to do in her 30th year (some highlights: Dole whip at Disneyland, snowboarding in Boise, a night at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey)
-Witnessed Japan eek out a win over Korea in the final of the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium (most electric sports crowd I’ve ever been in)
-Got evacuated from our home during yet another Southern California fire (stunningly inconvenient, and our home was unaffected)
-Read The Reason for God by Tim Keller (best book I've read in a long time)
-Got a new job

I’ve got more than that, but most of it is tied to the final one. On May 15, I worked my last day at Westmont College. Really, it was a great two-year run and I loved the chance to work with incredible students who continue to shake up the world and alongside fantastic co-workers who made every workday an adventure. Not many other positions would have made me consider leaving Westmont. Youth Pastor at Santa Barbara Community Church is one of them.

On May 27, I started working at the church that Greta and I had attended (and loved) for the last two years. My job responsibilities are varied, so I won’t reproduce my job description here, but, in short, I oversee the church’s ministries to youth 5th-12th grade. We had such an incredible summer and I have really loved diving right in. I can’t wait to see where this road will lead and the path that God has drawn out.

In preparation for reawakening this long-dormant slice of cyberspace, I read through some old posts. Just two summers ago, I sat around in misery waiting for God to open doors that seemed firmly shut. Then, at just the right time, he brought along Westmont. Now, he’s done it again and I find myself, just as in August of 2007, consumed with thanksgiving.

Ironically, I already got to preach a sermon this summer in my new role. The topic? Psalm 100 and thanksgiving. Consider me convinced.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Come, Thou Long Expected Chapel

So, here's the message that's mentioned in the post below. It actually went quite well, once I finally found my inspiration and wrote it (Sunday morning).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to work...

I have sat in front of my computer for a while now. Trying to write my message for chapel. I selected the passage months ago, so it shouldn't be too hard now, right? Just use that fancy education, pull out the main point and exposit. Spice it up with some stories and, voila, a chapel talk. Doin' this for years, now. No big deal. Right?

A funny thing happened on the way to "world's easiest chapel talk." Seems the transition from "crisis response" to "desk work" is harder than I anticipated. Should I really be sitting at my desk again while others no longer have theirs? Can I justify spending an entire afternoon contemplating 7 verses of Scripture when some in our immediate community have much bigger things to contemplate?

The Tea Fire broke out 18 days ago. For many of those 18 days, I could find something to do that at least felt as though I was making war against the fallen world in which we live, with its fires, tornadoes, mudslides, earthquakes and hurricanes. I could fill sandbags, sift through ash, load and unload U-Hauls and crawl into bed at night knowing I charged the darkness in the name of hope.

But charging the fluorescent lights of my office feels altogether different. And therein, I have concluded, lies the issue and the issue is entirely mine. I fell too in love with the idea of Benji the Hero and am finding it hard to take off the costume and return to my mild-mannered alter ego. But, this is the front upon which I've been called to fight now. At this computer.

Perhaps writing this chapel talk is the boldest act of hope I can muster. Perhaps daring to get back to "normal" will scream loudly to the world that though all is not now right, all is not yet finished. Perhaps "crisis response" is simply character training ground for "desk work." Perhaps this isn't about my fancy education or my ability to exposit at all. Perhaps it is simply about moving on. In hope.