Monday, November 22, 2010


I really like the word "broken."  The way the "k" juts out in the middle disrupting the flow of the word.  Even in print the word looks like it is hiding some semi-secret violence.  The pronunication clearly causes us to pause in the middle and fight through the "k" to finish the phrase.  I like its dualistic nature.  Because while broken obviously has its damaged, fractured, weakened meaning, it also can mean tamed or reduced to submission.  In the Christian life, brokenness is not a condition to avoid but rather one to covet. 

I have been learning and writing often about the life of David lately.  Maybe that's why the work "broken" is coming up for me so much.  His life was characterized by brokenness and yet at his lowest, with nothing to boast about and nothing to bring before God to cover over his sin.  It is there we might witness David's finest hour or at least the one we can most identify with as he says, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."  Our broken hearts and broken spirits are all we possess before God and yet somehow that is enough for Him.

David was a poet and wrote the majority of the Psalms so it's fitting that my meditation on brokenness turned into a poem.  The thing about writing poetry is that it's very analogous to cooking a meal for someone.  You never really know if it's any good until you put it out there in the world.  I say that just to ask that you not judge me too harshly.  I"m pretty rusty at this type of writing but I do enjoy it.  I also tried to do this thing with pronouns in there that hopefully you'll pick up on.  Let me know what you think.


the broken sun breaks broken day
breaking darkness with broken ray
on broken people living broken lives
exposing broken bonds and broken ties

my broken heart it cannot love
the broken her I'm afraid of
my broken hopes and broken dreams
her broken words and broken speech

my broken legs they cannot walk
the broken path we choose to stalk
broken steps will lead no where
but to broken promises we now share

my broken eyes they cannot see
broken you and broken me
but when they lift to broken Him
broken chains are broken again

broken prayers on broken knees
from broken he's and broken she's
our broken God shows the broken way
to place our brokenness on display

Thursday, November 18, 2010

just friends

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. - 1 Samuel 18:1
Now let's be honest with ourselves for a minute.  That feels a little weird.  Saying one man's soul is knit to another and that he loves him as himself.  That falls somewhere in between the posting on my friend's facebook wall, "OMG!!! We're BFFs!!!" and catching my roommate singing "Teenage Dream" loudly to himself in his mirror.  (Neither of those have actually happened though one is substantially more likely than the other.)

Even as a friend and I were mutually making plans via the magic of Facebook to watch Monday Night Football together a few weeks ago, a female friend inserted her own comment to one of our posts.  "Isn't that cute?  You two boys have a date."  This isn't written to chide her but simply to illustrate the general attitude of our society toward male friendship.  We look on it with suspicion.

Ironically enough, it was an essay written by Al Mohler in the wake of the release of Brokeback Mountain that caused me to realize one of the main causes of the decline in male friendship.  The strongest aggressor in the war against men being friends is homophobia.  It's impossible for two men to share any kind of meaningful friendship without the eventual, obligatory, intolerant, narrow-minded leveling of the charge, "You're gay."

From the biblical narrative to numerous examples in literature, art, and history, we can easily produce evidence that our culture was once much more likely to celebrate the concept of common brotherhood rather than be repulsed by it.  After all, our nation's first capitol was located in Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love."  Our society has quite literally moved away from the virtuosity of male friendship.

It was C.S. Lewis, himself a possessor of a strong bond with fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien that helped from both men's writing and character, who wrote most poignantly about the current condition of friendship or "philia."

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.  The modern world, in compariosn, ignores it.  We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few "friends."  But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make would describe a friendships, show...It is something quite marginal; not a main course in life's banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one's armor.
Far from denying the superfluous nature of friendship, Lewis goes on to argue this is friendship's virtue.  The fact that men and women and whole societies can go on living and existing in a world without friendship proves the spiritual nature of the love.  He ultimately concludes that the reason God does not use friendship as a symbol of divine love for human beings is because it could so easily be mistaken for what it symbolizes.  A love that is unnecessary but freely given is perhaps too close to divine to be used analogously.

What love motivated God to create human beings in the first place?  A love for the other.  The trinity is a mysterious and inexplicable truth.  One thing we can definitely know is that if God lives in community and has lived in the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity and God is Love, then God is motivated to create out of His love and in conjunction with His character as developed by the eternal connections that bind the three members of the Trinity into one God.

What love motivated God to forgive His creation even as it rejected Him and severed the community that existed between God and man?   The love of a friend.   The same love that Jonathan showed to David when he went to his father, King Saul, and pleaded for David's life.  He convinces the king to be merciful and spare David's life.
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.”

So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.
One of the most important beliefs that Christians hold is that Jesus pleads to His Father on our behalf.  And it is not difficult to imagine that the conversation doesn't sound much different than the conversation between Saul and Jonathan.  Except God is completely just in asking for our lives as we have sinned and broken our relationship with Him.  Jesus, as the truer and better Jonathan, not only pleads with His Father on our behalf but takes the punishment we deserve in our place so that both His Father's mercy and His justice can be satisfied.  The same Jesus who calls us "no longer slaves, but friends" is the one who sacrifices Himself that we might live.  Christ is not only our Savior but our model of friendship as well.  "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

Now I might be able to write all this in a blog post, but I am no model of friendship.  If there's one thing I have been learning lately, it is that I don't allow my friends to share enough of my life.  I am ashamed of vulnerability and never want to burden other people with my struggles.  Often, I find it easier to blog about my problems than turn them over to a friend for support and prayer.  Sure, I'll say that it's because I don't want to burden other people's lives with my problems but the truth is that, like many men, I never want to appear weak in the eyes of others.  Even if I know that through my weakness, God's strength can be more clearly imaged. 

But when we hide behind our facades of strenght and pretend everything is just fine, we not only deprive ourselves of the help of others, we deprive ourselves of true friendship.  If we never share our struggles and doubts and insecurities with other people, we never have reason to celebrate together over our victories or marvel together at God's deliverance.  By not allowing others to carry our burdens, we're not doing them any favors.  Instead, we are depriving them of the biblical sense of community that they have been created for and called to live in.  In reality, we are denying the truth of the trinity and rejecting Christ's own model of friendship.  Christ died that we might have friends and be friends.  Far be it for us to reject His sacrifice out of fear.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

i am still painting flowers for you

"When I wake up, the dream isn't done
I want to see your face and know I made it home
If nothing is true, what more can I do?
I am still painting flowers for you"  All Time Low
A boy who would be a shepherd in a field before it's known that he would be king.  This is how we meet the boy-king David in the first book of Samuel.  A boy who would be king in a temple before it's known that he would be a savior.  This is one of the scenes introducing us to Jesus in the gospels.

The parallels between the life of David and the life of Christ are exponential in scope but I hadn't really take the time to connect those dots until recently when our church began a study on the life of David.  All throughout this study, the pastors and elders of our church have been emphasizing that we should be looking to David as someone we should emulate directly but instead read his story as a foreshadowing of Christ and his life.  By doing that, we learn more about who Jesus is/was supposed to be and we stop placing the focus of bible stories primarily on ourselves.  After all, the books of the bible are written in histories, in letters, in proverbs, and in song.  But none of those books are primarily about us.  All of them are primarily about God. 

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to hear my friend and pastor Trevor preach about what discipleship means.  He was making the altogether true, but somewhat controversial point that discipleship does not happen in the Protestant-approved spiritual disciplines.  Reading your bible is not discipleship.  Singing worship songs is not discipleship.  Prayer is not discipleship.  Sitting across the table at a coffee shop from someone and talking about your feelings is not discipleship.  That's not to say those things aren't important to the Christian life or forming our character or that they aren't good spiritual practices.  But they are only preparations for discipleship.  Discipleship, after all, is following Christ.  That happens primarily when we suffer and when we struggle and when we fail.  Because discipleship is following Christ and Christ is going to a cross.  The question we face as His disciples is are we willing to follow Him even there?

As many similarities as there are between David and Christ, I am indebted to my friend Dan for pointing out to me a key difference.  David became king.  Yes, he spent much of his life running from Saul, hiding in caves, facing persecution, plots against his life, and real danger.  But he became king.  He enjoyed the spoils of wealth, of success, of power, of prestige, of significance, of military might, and of celebrity.  He became everything he could have ever dreamed to be and more and all of this was clearly done by God's own hand.

Jesus did not.

At least, not in the way we see in the life of David.  Jesus would become a spiritual king, the savior of Israel.  But he spend his life nomadic and homeless, hanging out with the scourges of society.  He had no real career or accomplishments to his name, certainly no prestige or celebrity.  He never wrote a book, never was even recognized as a proper teacher by the religious authorities of His day.  He was 30 years old, unmarried, with no property, and spending all his days with a bunch of uneducated fishermen.  It is safe to say that most people probably thought Jesus' life was a failure.  And then he went to a cross.  The only recognition of his kingly status was a sign reading "King of the Jews" hanging above his head adorned with a crown of thorns.

Now who do I really want to be like?  Do I want to be like David or do I want to be like Christ? 

Our pastor J.D. drew a comparison in his sermon this week between the pasture where David is tending sheep when they call for him so that Samuel can anoint him as the next king of Israel and the place we spend our lives as we prepare for whatever we think God is calling us to in the future.  I think this reads with a lot of twentysomethings like me who constantly feel like we are waiting for our real lives to begin and these preparation times to fade away to mere memories.  J.D.'s point was not waste this time.  God forms kings in the pasture.  That is where he makes ordinary, weak people into people who are capable of extraordinary things through His strength.

But what if God's calling for me isn't from a pasture to a throne?  What if while I wait and doubt and struggle what God is calling me toward is more suffering?  If following Christ means going to a cross then suffering is a permanent part of that equation.  I must be united to Him in His death if I am ever to access the healing that is found in His life.  Would I still worship Him if that is the case?  Am I enduring the pasture and the cave and the wilderness because of the promise of a throne or because I know that God is with me no matter where I am?  (I'm asking these questions because I honestly don't have the answers.)

If God's calling for me doesn't involve getting married to the woman of my dreams or having a moderately priced house in the suburbs or attaining financial stability or having the respect of my colleagues or the admiration of my friends, then am I still interested in pursuing the path which he has laid out before me?  And if I don't, then did I ever really have any faith or trust in Him at all? 

I think no one serves better as an example of someone who suffered well in scripture than Paul.  He encountered difficulties not when he was young but when he was older and knew enough to avoid strife and hardship.  He had status and prestige and power before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  That was where Paul lost everything.  He lists out the various things he has suffered in his second letter to the Corinthians. 

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
And yet through it all, he sings hymns while in prison and converts his jailers.  He not only endures torment and hardship, he almost seems to prefer it or at least to expect it.  He goes around writing things like, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.  And "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  And "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."  At the end of his life, he uses his allotted time to defend himself before his would be executioners to try to convert them to Christianity instead.

This is not to fall into the all-too-common traps of sanitizing the bible or of glorifying the saints.  Paul's suffering were real and painful and difficult.  I think his testimony suggests that he endured them faithfully but at the cost of great discomfort.  I just don't think Paul considered it to be suffering if it was what God planned for Him to do.  He welcomed God's plan no matter the outcome or affect on his life.  He didn't hold back his faith hoping to attain the things he wanted all along and then just slap the name of God on the side.  He was ready, he was eager to suffer if it meant joining God in His mission for the world.  I don't have Paul's faith.

Much like life, this blog post will remain unresolved.  But I do want to leave you with some encouragement.  There's no better way for me to do that this week than to introduce you to new music.  My friend Jonathan put out his debut album this week under the name Aftermath and it is called The Aftertaste of Abandonment.  Not only is the record an incredibly insightful reflection on what it sounds like and feels like to have faith in God in a world that often disappoints us, it's also just flat out good.  You should go download it immediately.  (It's only $7.92!)  And listen to track 5 entitled "Waters Rise."  No, this storm is not over.