Trouble

I have a friend whose grandfather served in WWII. He’s an amazing guy. My friend stayed with my cousins in England during a semester abroad and learned the Air Force base where he was stationed was only a few miles up to road. They took her there and showed her around. During one of their visits to America, I got to have dinner with Grandpa. Listening to him tell his stories I was blown away by this Guy. He was a B-17 pilot shot down on his 24th mission (you might recall the Memphis Belle is famous for being the first to complete 25 missions), when he told his crew to abandon over occupied France.

Me and My Cousin Lee on Boxing Day

I asked him how he was able to make the decision to bail out of a plane with three of four engines working. He was a 22 year old guy at the time charged with the lives of 14 men. “There was no decision to make. I saw other planes go up in flames with less damage than ours. I saw were in trouble and did what we had to do.” As a 22 year old at the time myself, I was astounded.

After he jumped, he landed in occupied France and was picked up by the French resistance. Eventually he was captured by the Germans as POW and placed in Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland) of The Great Escape fame. While he was not a part of the Great Escape, he was there with the guys when it happened. To top it off, when the war ended American tanks rolled into Stalag Luft III to liberate the POWs and who popped out of the top of the tank but General Patton! By the time Grandpa turned 25, he had endured life and death decisions, imprisonment, and the help of some of the most famous people in the War.

I read Psalm 46 this morning where the psalmist declares his gratitude for God’s presence in the midst of trouble, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Ps 46:1-3) For the psalmist, as for Grandpa, the difficulties of life are from outside threats. Drought induced famine threatening his ability to eat. Enemies who want to take over his city and kill him.

B-17 Bomber World War II

I’m tempted when I hear stories like Grandpa’s or read texts like Psalm 46 to think how easy my life is in comparison. In real ways this is true. I am not a soldier in war. My problems with food result from its abundance not its scarcity. No enemy force is plotting how to conquer San Luis Obispo, CA.

Still, I find courage in my life from hearing about Grandpa’s service in the War. I am heartened by knowing God is ever present in times of crisis. External trouble is easy to see. Internal conflict is just as real. I have fought battles and wars against depression and doubt about my worthiness. I have been imprisoned by false stories of shame, inadequacy and rejection. I have endured times in my marriage when Lisa and I both wonder if we can keep going anymore. I have questioned my calling and career path often. I have felt alone.

But I know I am not alone. I know men and women struggle with these same internal struggles everyday. Men, anxious about if they are strong enough, brave enough, successful enough enough to be loved and respected. Women, feeling guilt about whether they are pretty enough, love their kids enough, do enough for those around them. People who feel alone, secretly believing no one feels fear, hurt, and anxiety like they do. Women sometimes share their struggles. Men often believe we have to keep our hurts, fears and anxieties secret for fear we will appear weak.

We live in a world where being human everyday is hard. Many of our lives our are like 22 year old Grandpa–flying in the plane of our lives, one engines out and in trouble. The only option is to see it and take action. The great lie is we are left to face these difficulties alone. We think if anyone knew the truth, we would be attacked, ostracized or ditched.

But we are not alone. We have each other. Shame researcher Brené Brown, in interviewing hundreds of people, has found the most courageous thing we can do is find someone we can trust and be vulnerable with them. Whoever you think has it all together has as much going on in their life as you do in yours. No one needs to share everything with everyone, but we all need a couple confidants with whom we can be terrifyingly honest.

We are not alone. God is present. The psalmist calls him his “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In The Lord of the Rings, the Elf Queen Galadriel gives the little hobbit Frodo a gift in his quest that is too large for him. “And for you, Frodo Baggins, I give you the light of Earendil our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” The light of Earendil is imaginary in a story. I have found time and again God’s presence to be a true light when all others go out.

Grandpa survived his plane getting shot down, capture and imprisonment during WWII. At every step he was not alone. He had his crew, a French stranger to guide him, fellow POWs and his God. We are not alone. We have our confidants, temporary guides like coaches and therapists, our fellow travelers in life suffering alongside us and our God.

What challenges are you facing?

Waiting

Matthias_10YearsWhat do you do when you have to wait? Our son Matthias has grown up waiting. When your brother has special needs, it’s part of the package.
Matthias_David_Babies
Matthias has grown up in a story that is inextricably linked to his brother. He has spend too many hours in doctor’s offices waiting for David’s appointments. Waiting with us for results. Waiting to proceed to the next waiting room. He’s listened patiently to the story of David’s birth and the way that has shaped Lisa and I over and over again.
Matthias_Riding_Daddys_Shoulders
In spite of the waiting—maybe because of it—Matthias lives a life that redeems time.
Matthias_Dress_Up_Restaurant
He is an artist. He’s drawn for as long as I can remember. He spends so many of the hours waiting coming up with ideas and drawing. He’s the first in our family to publish a book. OK, it was self-published, but still!

A couple years ago he decided to make a book for Lisa for Mother’s Day. He created a Superhero A-Z book. For each letter of the alphabet, there are three superheroes. Drawn. Colored. Named. Original superheroes. Each has their own backstory. I remember him working on it in waiting rooms and hospital cafeterias. He had nights sitting awake in bed working to meet his deadline.
Matthias_Drawing_at_Pub
“Dad, I’m really worried that I won’t finish in time. I have so much work to do to finish for mom.” He told me night after night as I put him to bed.

“It’s OK kiddo. just keep working on it a little at a time. I think mom will understand if you don’t quite make it.” I said. (His first big project and I was already teaching him to blow off deadlines! What a terrible father!)
Matthias_At_Home
Matthias turns 10 today. He is creative. He is imaginative.  He is dedicated to his art. He thinks, he draws, he writes. Every day. Everywhere we go, he’s got his bag with paper, pencils and pens at the ready just in case he has to wait—he’s ready. He is  loving. His book for Lisa was a work of love. He loves his brother—even looking for him at school (they inhabit afferent parts of campus), and being protective of him with other kids. He is sensitive. He cares about the people in his life. He is kind and respectful and knows how to talk with adults.
Matthias_Photo_Bomb
I am proud that Matthias is my son. I celebrate his step into double digits toward the pre-teen years even as I grieve the loss of our little boy. I can’t wait to see the man he will become. Happy birthday Matthias.

Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

George-Washington-Great-ManDo you seek out examples for your life? 2013 renewed my desire to read biographies and find worthy examples from whom to learn. It’s easy to see great men and women and to think, “I could never do something like that. I don’t have the…education, money, intelligence, connections, skills…that they have.” One of my great take-a-ways from the book Mindset this year (see my post here) is that we have a choice when we see examples of success—we can feel threatened by them, or we can find lessons and inspiration from them.

I’ve read biographies for many years to learn from great people of the past and present. This year, I began to engage with them afresh to learn from people who made a significant difference in the world—especially because of and for the sake of the gospel.

I closed out the year reading the excellent Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I read Metaxas’s biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 2012 and loved it. When I saw this quick character study on these seven men, I knew it would be a great read and that Metaxas would handle these men in a way that showed what made them great—including their humanity and flaws. I was not disappointed. I commend the book especially for men and dads of boys looking for worthy models for themselves and their sons to follow. These seven men were great in the history of the world and were driven by their understanding of God’s grace in their lives. Consider these brief highlights:

George Washington—An ambitious, even arrogant young man who sought the highest possible leadership roles. But, the only man in history to lay aside his power after conquering the superpower of his day.

William Wilberforce—A self-centered, self-aggrandizing politician who schmoozed his way into high position in the British Parliament.  After coming to faith, he campaigned for decades for the abolition of the slave trade in England, France, Spain and the Americas, the abolition of slavery in Engalnd, the fair treatment of animals (in the 1700’s people!), the dignity of  workers and more.

Eric Liddell—Famous for his refusal to run the Olympics on the Sabbath because of his faith, Liddell showed his faith more profoundly by looking after the children in a concentration camp while a missionary in China. He died in their service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer—The genius German theologian who saw the German’s treatment of the Jews in WWII through the lens of the racial segregation in America. Pastor Bonhoeffer was executed for his role in the Valkerie plot to kill Hitler.

Jackie Robinson—The talented athlete whose record of standing up to racial injustice  and stats won him a place on Branch Ricky’s Brooklyn Dodgers to break the color barrier in baseball. Robinson and Ricky took Jesus at his word, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

Pope John Paul II—A poor Polish kid, Karol Wojtyla,  who grew up in the shadow of Hitler’s Germany and quietly rose in the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church by resisting communism’s , investing in teenagers, writing theological treatises on sex, and human dignity. Wojtyla, unexpectedly elected Pope, became one of the 20th century’s most well-known advocates for the oppressed, reconciliation between religious groups, and personal devotion to the Lord.

Charles W. Colson—The power-hungry and ruthless special counsel to President Nixon who was arrested and imprisoned for his significant role in the Watergate scandal that took down the President of the United States. On meeting Jesus (just prior to his imprisonment), Colson realized that his life was to be given in the service of his fellow inmates—proclaiming to the gospel and equipping them to live it out behind bars. Even developing robust worldview resources to reach people before they had committed their crimes.

I am thankful for Metaxas’s work in bringing these heroes to life. In our day, we need realistic portraits of heroes for ourselves and for our children. I plan to share these stories with David and Matthias in the days ahead that they might have real life examples of those who lived out a deep understanding of God’s grace and his redemption of His world.

Question: What have you read in the past year that inspired you?

 

The Secret to Joy in the Christmas Season

Birth-of-JesusChristmas is a time that seems to be a bundle of emotions—excitement, fear, expectation, loneliness, happiness, sadness—that happen all at the same time for many of us. In the midst of fighting traffic, running our business, shopping for gifts, preparing for guests, and all that goes into this crazy season, I want to take a moment and reflect on Christmas.

Holiday movies urge us to respond to this holiday a variety of ways. It’s about believing—in Santa, in the Christmas spirit, in belief itself (Buddy the Elf wouldn’t lead us astray, would he?), or for nostalgic longing—both for the perfect gift and recapturing childhood (A Christmas Story), having a loving community (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), avoiding stinginess to avoid punishment (A Christmas Carol) and miracles (Miracle on 34th Street). Christmas is about love, sentiment, family and belief we’re told.

The Bible presents a different picture of Christmas in recounting the humble birth of The King in the midst of real life among real people. It’s easy to think of people in Bible stories as characters in…well a story…rather than as real people responding to the world and the events they experienced just like you and I do. But if we take a moment this season to notice how those first people responded to the first Christmas, it might provide us some ways to think about this Christmas. Luke 2:1-20 (you know, the passage Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas) shows us three responses worth considering.

The people’s response – When the shepherds told people they met that they had seen the long awaited Savior, Messiah, they were amazed—Something big had happened, but they didn’t do anything differently. The people respond with indifference.

Mary’s response contrasts deeply with the crowd.  Mary ponders and treasures her experience and all that had been told her.  “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary responds by embracing the news and taking time to consider the savior’s birth.

The shepherds’ response is to glorify God and to tell others what He has done. God has entered history to bring Salvation! The King has come—and that is good news for them and for you and for me. The shepherds’ respond by praising and talking about God.

The secret to joy in Christmas isn’t time with family, nostalgic memories, doing good deeds, miracles or even believing. It’s understanding that the Lord is come, the King, who rules the world in truth and grace, who puts an end to sins and sorrows and who “comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

I want to be like Mary and take time to consider the miracle of the Savior’s birth. I want to be like the shepherds’ and praise God for changing history by sending his son.

How do you make room to consider and praise God in this season?

I’m Not Righteous

During a recent trip I chatted with a friend about what it looks like to be a righteous man. He had searched the Bible for a description of righteousness and found a useful list where Titus outlines qualities of Christian leaders, “He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” (Titus 1:7-8) It’s a helpful list of attitudes and actions to avoid and to adopt.

Of course a righteous person avoids things like:

  • Arrogance (missed that one)
  • A quick temper (ouch!)
  • Drunkenness
  • Violence (public or private),
  • The idol of gain—whether financial, power, success, or reputation.

A righteous man or woman should also increasingly live out the positive qualities on this list:

  • Hospitality (devoted to the welfare of others)
  • Generosity instead of stingy
  • Self-control
  • Uprightnessbeing and doing what God requires.
  • Holiness (dedicated to God and his will)
  • Disciplined (exercising self-control in our lives)

As my friend shared his list and his thoughts on it, his passion moved me. He convicted me of my own need for righteousness and a greater desire for it. But, I was also troubled by this list of righteous attitudes and actions. Something didn’t sit right with me. If Christian righteousness amounts to a list of qualities to attitudes and actions to avoid and to adopt, what does it mean if I struggle to avoid and adopt those attitudes and actions?

But Titus’s list won’t make us righteous men or women. This list describes one who has trusted in The Righteous Man, Jesus. Righteousness begins with Jesus and not with us.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

The phrase “being justified by his grace” means “made righteous” by his grace! Titus’s list about righteousness assumes our trust in The Righteous Man and his mercy!

Here’s the thing. I know the Christian life is about trusting The Righteous Man rather than making myself righteous. But, do I trust The Righteous Man, or do I strive to prove my righteousness to God and myself and others? If I’m honest, I depend on myself. I trust my education, I trust my good intentions, I trust my service to God and much else besides. If I am to grow in righteousness, I must grow in my trust in “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior,” The Righteous Man.

In what ways do you struggle to trust in The Righteous Man rather than your own righteousness?