Parable of the guitar revisited. Again.

GuitarI’ve been preaching through the 10 Commandments this fall.  Tomorrow morning is number eight, “You shall not steal”.  I’ve been sitting here reminiscing about all the different things of mine that have been stolen over the years.

It made me remember one of the first blog posts I wrote eleven years ago.

I’m afraid it says way more about me than you probably want to know.  Read on…

I went to guitar center last night to peruse the best they had to offer. I’m such a wannabe guitar hack… While I was there, I thought about some former guitars I’ve owned.

Three different Ovation Custom Balladeers, a vintage Guild D4, a Takamine EG Series Cutaway, an Olympia OD5 made of white ash, and a Breedlove Discovery Concert Mahogany top… The first Ovation was stolen out of my car in the church parking lot before a Sunday evening service 29 (now 40) years ago. I replaced that Ovation with an identical one (after saving up for six months!). At the same church building, that guitar was stolen right out of a classroom during a youth group “all-nighter”…some kids let a guy in the building during the middle of the night and he bagged it.

Silly me, after saving up some more money (and some help from the youth group), I bought another Ovation and kept better care of this one. In 1989, I traded that one in on the vintage Guild D4 from a little “hole-in-the-wall” guitar shop. I had watched it for nearly a year and finally saved up enough money to go with my trade in.  No doubt, that was my favorite guitar I ever owned (complete with the deep, gouging scratch little Corey put on it with a screwdriver)…

The week before we moved to Texas in 1995, that guitar was stolen from the church we were serving in San Diego.  Some kids we were working with stole it during a Bible study and took it to a pawn shop for drug money. I didn’t have time to stick around to find it.  I always hoped it ultimately landed in the hands of a guitar player that appreciated it’s greatness.

When we moved to Texas, it took a little while to save up some more money, but after a few months, I purchased my Takamine.  Around 2000, a youth minister from another church group tried to steal it down on a Mexico mission trip.  No joke! Thanks to some stealth undercover work by my friend, Buzzy,  I got it back.  A couple of years later, though, the guitar was fully submerged in water when the tip of a tornado touched down in our camping area during a summer junior camp.  That guitar is still in use, but it sounds like I’m playing in a fish bowl…

I bought my Olympia guitar a few years down the road, and, guess what?  Some local downtown Lewisville hooligans broke into the North Point church building and stole it! A year or so after that, I purchased another guitar…a cool little low-end Breedlove that everybody always thinks is one of the sweetest sounding guitars they have ever heard….  Amazing.

The moral of this story?  Church is not a safe place.  Definitely not for guitars.  Sometimes not for people, either.


Dealing with parents who fail us, Part 3

HonorI’ll conclude with some lessons I have learned from a lifetime of helping people deal with the shortcomings and failures of their parents…

Parental abuse comes in a lot of different packages.  Certainly, physical and sexual abuse gets the most notoriety… and rightfully so.  But there are so many other ways.  Neglect. Intimidation.  Unrealistic expectations.  Belittling. Comparison.  Rejection.  Insults.  Unfair punishment.  Shaming.  Threatening. Withholding affection.  And so many more.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  One way children can show honor to their parents is by obeying them.  No doubt.  But obedience “in the Lord” is a huge qualifier.  I have come to believe God does not ask children to give their parents blind obedience, especially as they grow older. Parent’s demands must be consistent with the heart of God, if obedience is to be required.

When God wants one thing and your parents want something different, Jesus makes clear which master you should serve.  Man cannot serve two masters.  (Matthew 6:24)

Here are some other passages that help clarify the parent-child relationship:

“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for you have one father, and He is in heaven.”  Matthew 23:9

“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me …” Matthew 10:34-37

Harsh?  No doubt.  But the words of Jesus must inform our behavior.

There is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  Forgiveness is when the offenses of the other person have been pardoned to the point we no longer desire harm or payback to the offender, but we can wish them well.  Forgiveness does not require reconciliation.  

Reconciliation is the restoring or rebuilding of a relationship.  Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation to begin, but that is only the starting point.  Reconciliation requires repentance and life change on the part of the offender.  Trust must be restored.  Safety is essential.  Reconciliation may or may not ever happen between an abusive parent and a child who has received abuse, although it should always remain the goal. 

It is still possible to love our abusers, but because it is not safe to be with them, sometimes protective walls must be put up.  It is always ok to say “no” to an abuser.  It is always ok to withdraw from, limit, or even end a relationship with an abuser, if necessary.  It is always ok to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the behaviors of an abuser.  Even if it is a parent.

As followers of Christ, he is always our example.  We should always be defined by kindness.  Grace and mercy must be our guide.  Compassion and understanding simply have to be the filters for justice, if forgiveness and reconciliation can ever take place.

Let the God of second chances rule in our hearts.

Dealing with parents who fail us, part 2.

HonorThe motivation for this series of posts came from my sermon yesterday.  As I prepared for preaching last week, I realized I was preaching to two entirely different groups of people.  The first were people who had grown up in a stable (or relatively stable) environment…where love and encouragement and healthy discipline and constant provision were present.

The second group was the one I was concerned about.

To bluntly state, “Honor your father and your mother” could possibly be words of callous disregard to the painful and abusive childhoods of so many of our North Point family members.  (From years of friendship and counseling, I know many of these stories.)

So I acknowledged the reality and have chosen to write some more about it here.  If you are that person…the one with parents who failed you…the one who struggles with the command to honor parents that left you with scars and memories of fear and trauma…these words are for you.

We who live in the 21st century were not present when Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets bearing the ten great commandments.  Written history leaves us longing for more information to help us understand exactly what must have been meant by the words, “Honor your father and your mother.”  Much is left to speculation.

The Hebrew word for “honor” has multiple definitions.  One of those definitions (which I think applies here) is “be heavy” or “weightiness”.  It’s easy to see that honor might have something to do with giving weight to or seeing and interacting with our parents with a level of seriousness…or recognizing that our parents, no matter what they are doing, are always playing a tremendously important role in our lives.

As we work toward health and healing, I believe that honoring parents does not mean we ignore or deny our past.  Rather, it implies we acknowledge the seriousness of the impact our parent’s behavior has played in shaping the person we have become…both good and bad.

And since we honor our parents by refusing to deny or ignore the role they have played in who we’ve become, it also means we must own our responses.

More thoughts to come…

Dealing with parents who fail us…

HonorLately, I’ve been preaching through the Ten Commandments.  This sacred list of God’s rules has been cherished by religious folks throughout history.  Numbers 1-3 lay the foundation for functioning in a God-centered society.  Number 4 appears to be specific to the Jewish culture (though some would challenge me on this).  Numbers 6-10 are pretty straightforward, common sense rules for living with others.  

But what do we do with number five?

“Honor your father and your mother.”  It seems so loving.  So simple.  And it is for many.

I grew up in a loving, nurturing home.  My parents loved and provided for me.  My father was a carpenter and he worked long, hard hours to provide a roof over my head and food on the table.  He played catch with me when I was young and seldom missed my games or performances.  My mom was my den mother, secretary of the PTA, and the maker of hot chocolate when I was sick.

My parents were active in our church family and raised me to believe in God, treat others kindly, and be generous with my money and belongings.  We trusted the Bible as God’s word and lived by the Golden Rule.

I was never mistreated, abused, neglected, or overpowered by my parents.  But I have known many who did not live such healthy and idyllic lives as children.  Many.

I married one of those.

Wanda grew up in a home much different from mine.  She is a survivor of abuse…psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual.  She is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA).  She lived with unfairness, unpredictability, and fear.  There were certainly stretches of love and provision and nurture, but the abuse dominated and produced a foundation of insecurity, empty self-esteem, and fear of failure and rejection, that has taken a lifetime to overcome.

When we started dating at 15, I stepped into this chaos.  It was there I learned to be a “rescuer” and the repercussions of those early years of our relationship have lasted decades.  And not always in healthy ways!  It affected how we interacted with my parents.  It certainly shaped what our relationship was like with her parents and extended family.  It provided the backdrop of how we have related to each other for a lifetime, as well as how we raised our own kids.

Her family dynamic has clearly been felt for multiple generations.

Let’s just say that “honoring your father and your mother” has been a complicated command.

More to come…

The Middle

TruthI started writing this morning and it started to sound familiar.  Like I had written this once before.  I went back into my archives and, sure enough, I had written some really similar thoughts about five years ago.  So I’ll repeat them today.  

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything I believe stronger or that I’m more convicted about.  Read on…

The world we live in is more complicated than it used to be fifty years ago.  No doubt.  For crying out loud, it’s more complicated today than it was last year.

I don’t think the world is more sick and twisted and evil than it’s ever been.  I don’t think sin is more prevalent or humanity is any darker than it was during the days of Noah or the reign of Nero or the crusades of the middle ages or the tyranny of Hitler.  Sin is sin.

But what I do think is different today is access.  Information…any and all kinds of information…information with no filter for the voices and opinions and ideas that speak into our minds and hearts…all of it with unlimited access.

For all the good that technological advancement has brought, it has come with a price.  The internet…with instant and unlimited access…and the satellite…with the capability of bringing world events live to our recliners…have changed everything.

No longer are values or information or “truth” given in controlled doses by people we trust.  It is sensory overload and every man…and every “truth” for himself.  And may the loudest or most powerful or most manipulative win.

And it’s just the way it is.

One of the problems I see is christians these days are fighting themselves into a corner.  Running scared.  There is a paranoia and fear that we are losing the battle.  Especially here in the United States.  They say we are losing the battle for the minds of our young people.  They say we are losing the battle for the morality of a nation.  They say we are losing the battle for orthodox doctrine.  They say we are losing the battle for right against wrong.

Many followers of Christ are drawing lines between “us” and “them”.   As some try to bridge the gap with love and generosity, the Body of Christ has begun to turn on itself.  And because powerful and influential voices are heard loud and clear and instanteneously…and without filters…people are forced, or even coerced, into choosing sides.

And that’s inside the doors of the church.

My fear?  As the church becomes more militant and combative in our fight for truth, justice and the American way, the more our commitment to expanding the Kingdom will be compromised.

Come on.  Is our highest calling to preach the gospel to all nations and reach the lost with the message of hope and grace and healing revealed in the life and words of Jesus or not?  Are we called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus or not?  Are we to do what he did…say the things he said…treat people the way he did…and live by giving value to the things he valued or not?

You may say that Jesus was an extremist.  Some say he polarized people and drew lines and caused his followers to choose sides.  And in a way he did.  But he also did something else.

He navigated the middle.

He rubbed elbows with everyone.  He was as comfortable with the prostitute as he was with the aristocrat.  He saw the good, or at least the potential for good, in all.  He partied at the wedding feast and he taught in the temple.  He loved the saint and the sinner.  How about you?

He was a living bridge and not a wall.  He was a window and not a barricade.  He was always the safe middle ground where all were accepted.  All were welcome.  All were loved.   Such a far cry from so many of his followers today.

Are you safe?  Are you welcoming?  Do you listen?  Do you try to walk in the shoes of the other…to see what they see and feel what they feel and understand why they may think and act the way they do?  Without judgment and rejection?  Do you still have more to learn…even from people with whom you have differences of opinion or conviction?

Do you draw people in or do you push them away?  Are you known more for you love or your rhetoric?

Can I offer a suggestion?  The more people are defined by right and left…liberal and conservative…pro this and con that…the greater the need for some people who can navigate from the middle.  Followers of Christ who can understand and articulate and sympathize with both sides of the fence.   Any fence.

We desperately need a new generation of believers who will not be bullied by anybody.  Who will not be intimidated by new ideas or run scared by change.   Who will not be frightened by people who are different…philosophies that are different…and even ideas that challenge our orthodox understandings of the church and doctrine.

The world we live in has changed.  Technology has changed.  The flow of information has changed.  The rate of change has changed.  But people still need to meet jesus.

And if that’s going to happen in the world as we know it now, we need to have people who can navigate the middle.  The middle is where peace is forged, where compromise is found, where surprising friendships and new alliances are born.  The middle is where people are drawn in, not alienated.  

Will that be you?  Will you be a person who navigates the middle?

(If you think this is a call for people to have no convictions and to take no stands, you have missed my point.  Wholesale.  I will always study to show myself approved by God and contend for the truth as I understand it with passion and determination.  But I refuse to be a stumbling block to those who see things differently than I do.  For me, living as Jesus lived and treating people the way he did must take priority.)

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2Wanda and I grew up in a culture (church and society, at large) that assumed men were to be in charge.

Men certainly held most, if not all, the positions of highest rank in society.  Men were the mayors and principles and corporate heads and police officers and military leaders.  A female president?  Absolutely unthinkable.

Men were the movers and shakers.  Men were the bosses and decision-makers.  I was taught that men were created by God with inner strength and clear thinking and emotional stability that women didn’t have.  Women were designed by God to nurture and support…to be man’s “helper”, not his leader.

In marriage, a woman’s place was in the home.  She needed to keep her husband sexually satisfied…and give him a couple of kids for posterity.  Preferably at least one boy.  Keep the house clean…make sure food was on the table for her man at the end of his work day…keep the kids washed and fed.  The man provided and protected.  The woman submitted and served.

Church life was more of the same.  The men were the leaders.  They met behind closed doors to make important decisions and seek the direction of God.  Wives were not invited to those meetings, because they really didn’t have much to offer.  And they couldn’t be trusted not to gossip.   Men preached.  Men taught the adults and youth.  Men served communion and offered the priestly prayers.

And don’t even think about inviting a single woman for her leadership input!

Women sang, taught the children and washed the baptismal robes and glass communion cups.  Yeah, we had baptismal robes back in the day… 

I’m not making this stuff up.

Looking back, it’s pretty much always been a man’s world.  In fact, because of the patriarchal structure that has been present since the beginning of history, it’s easy to conclude that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Men had the power.  Men had the control.  Men were the leaders.  Men had the position and influence.  And that’s why Jesus was such a revolutionary and why the words of scripture can be misunderstood without even thinking.  Check it out:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  Ephesians 5:21-25

There are two lenses we use to interpret these words…the lens of culture and the lens of truth.   There is no doubt (historically) the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to followers of Christ who were living in a pater familia culture…a culture of male dominance and authority.

So when the first century christians heard these words for the first time, they must have sounded life-changing and life-giving…especially to women:

  • We are all to live a lifestyle of submission…not just women.
  • Women were now to submit to their husbands as they did to Jesus…the gentle shepherd, not the domineering boss.
  • Husbands were to now get their definition of “headship” from a suffering servant, not a military commander.
  • Husbands were to exist to serve their wives…never to treat them as a possession or an employee.
  • Submission could now be seen as something beautiful, because the husband would never “tell” his wife to do anything…ever again.  They would never abuse power, because his power was emptied the way Christ’s was emptied on the cross.

Did these new believers still live in a male-oriented, male-dominated culture?  Of course. Were women still abused?  Yes.  Were women still treated as property?  Yes.  Were women still considered second-class citizens who existed for the pleasure and service of men?  Yes.

But Paul is saying if you are a follower of Christ…if you are a follower of this “new way”, your marriage cannot look like that!  You may have to live and work and socialize in a cultural context of male domination, but inside the doors of your home (and within the vows of your marriage covenant) you must not ever act like that!

Over the course of my 63 years, the culture I live in has changed.  There are some things I wish we could turn back the clock on, but the role of women in society is not one of them.  I am so grateful to live in a world where it’s possible for women to be looked at as equal.  I am proud to live in a country that encourages young girls to be anything they want to be!  

I know it’s far from perfect.  Many men are still rude and obnoxious pigs.  Women are still sexualized and abused and mistreated and overpowered by men…and sometimes by each other.  There is still a huge gap in the pursuit of equal pay.  But there is progress.

It’s even changed in the church.  Women who are gifted speakers, teachers, leaders, visionaries and influencers are now living in a culture (both church and society) where the ceiling of service has been lifted.  We now see more and more women who are openly following in the footsteps of the female prophets of the old testament, the female disciples of Jesus’ earthly life, and the faithful female church leaders of the first-century church.

These women are no longer secrets.

As for marriage, I am honored to live out my life with my equal.  I am beyond grateful that we were taught, as a young couple, to go against the grain of culture and society and live out our marriage biblically.  I am humbled to realize I am called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as the defining picture of what it means to be a husband.

And to be married to someone who expects no less than that from me.


Finding my way back

Hey.  Remember me?

I’m not eeeeven going to try to explain where I’ve been or what’s been going on with me over the past “who knows how long?”.  Not now.  Maybe later.  Just not now.

What I will say is I just haven’t had the words to finish the sentences.  I start and I can’t finish. I feel it in my heart and I can conceptualize it in my mind, but somewhere between my brain and my heart and my fingertips, I go dark.

It’s been that way for months.

So I’ve had to let the words of others speak for me.  Reading the completed sentences of others have become my voice.  The wisdom of others has touched my soul and brought clarity to my thinking and healing to my wounds.

The scholarship and judgment and spiritual depth and common sense of others has become my voice…speaking to an intimate audience of one.  Me.

“That’s me!  That’s what I’m thinking.  That’s what I’m feeling.  Those words are shouting my pain…crying my confusion…clearing my path…declaring my faith!”  Man, am I grateful for the writings of others.

One of God’s gifts to me during this season of wandering is a guy I’ve never met and knew nothing about.  I stumbled on his writing late one night about six months ago, as I was reading another, more popular and well-known blogger.  I read just a little and I was hooked.

His name is Winn Collier and he’s a minister in a small church in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Yeah, that Charlottesville.  If you’re interested, you can read a little about him here.  One of these days, I’m going to write him and tell him how much his writing has meant to me on this leg of my journey.  Until then, I will continue to look forward to his next post.  And then his next…

Here’s a portion of what he wrote today.  It’s actually a letter he wrote to a friend of his. Carve out a few minutes of quiet and read his words and let them speak for you.  You’ll be better for it.

You know, though, how Charlottesville has been siphoning off so much of my energy in so many other ways lately. Our dear, broken town has been splayed across the news, and it’s not going away–last night CNN had a link to a livestream of our town’s City Council meeting–can you believe that? In the middle of Hurricanes and DACA breakdown and North Korea shooting nuclear missiles, there sits our town council with a lead-in from Wolf Blitzer.

John, I tell you, on August 12th, I experienced the most vile and vicious ways we degrade ourselves and others. I know racism and antisemitism is still very much with us, but I’ve never seen it bare its fangs– so brazen, without any twinge of conscience. And then, later, I stood between two groups of people spewing the most evil, dehumanizing words at one another. I will never forget that. Never. And though I would never want three people to die to be able to get to this point, I am grateful that now our wounds, festering so long, are in the open, that we simply cannot ignore them. I hope that now we can embrace serious national repentance. I hope that we can truly become brothers and sisters, that we can make communities where everyone truly belongs.

You talked about the “In-between”. I feel that all the time. I feel it, for instance, in trying to navigate how to live well in a time where we cycle from one crisis to the next, rarely without any moment to catch our breath or think deeply, certainly no time to think clearly. One downside (of many) to the 24-hour news cycle and firehose-style social media is that we are tempted to believe we can have (or should have) our finger and our mind on every issue, every crisis, every worthy concern. But we can’t. Only God can do that. If we think that we have no responsibility to engage the sorrows and injustices of our world, we need God to expand our heart. However, if we think that we are responsible to confront every sorrow and injustice of our world, we need God to chasten our bloated (and destructive) delusions.

Of course, for many of us, our overblown sense of responsibility comes from the shame blasted out from those who like to sound like God, only with a heap of self-righteousness poured on top. A long time ago, I gave up giving someone else that level of authority in my life. I’ve got my hands full trying to follow Jesus’ voice; I can’t tune in to the million-voice siren call on Facebook too.

All this reminds me of Ignatius who often signed off his letters with this inspiring jolt: Go set the world aflame! That’ll get the blood flowing, won’t it? We do need more people striking their match. However, Ignatius also regularly insisted on our need to foster a Holy Indifference. This Holy Indifference was Ignatius’ way of describing an abiding trust in God that keeps us from getting swept away in the emotions and demands of those things (and often good things) that simply take over more energy than they should. It’s not a call to apathy, not by any means. However, it is, as one writer put it,”peaceful acceptance, realistic expectations, and careful consideration.” If we have indifference but no flame, we’ll waste our life. And if we have the flame but no indifference, we’ll just burn, burn til there’s nothing playful or hopeful or curious left in us at all.

Beautiful.  Powerful.  Life-giving.  Words.  You can read the whole blog post here.

I have been completing more of my sentences these days.  Maybe you’ll get to start reading some of them again, soon.

Until then…