The Whistle

This is an old vignette I wrote back in 2009. I’ve cleaned up some sloppy writing in it, and thought it worth sharing.

“Do you think it’s true?” The boy’s eyes glistened. He watched as the old man worked the oak in his hands.

“Do I think what is true?” The old man moved his knife from one end of the wood to the other, the shavings drifting to the floor around his stool.

“Is it true what they say about love? Can it really change everything?”

“Where did you hear that?” The old man carved as the boy’s body twitched as his thoughts ran their course.

“I heard some of the potters talking about it. They were saying it could be like magic. Love could change everything.”

“Heh. I suppose they said something about kings leaving all their riches behind? Poor men becoming rich?” The old man raised his eyebrow, the shape of a whistle emerging amidst the aroma of the fresh wood.

“That’s what they said.” The boy paused. “Have they said this before?”

“Many times.”

“So it’s not true, then? Love isn’t magic. It isn’t what the potters said? It isn’t strong?”

The old man put his creation down on the workman’s table. He turned to see tears forming in the corners of the boy’s eyes. The old man recalled the forest when he looked into those little windows. He put his calloused hands on the boy’s shoulders and waited.

“It’s just…I thought…well I hoped that love was something stronger, than, you know…”

The old man smiled. “August, you want to know what love is capable of?”

The boy wiped away a tear with the sleeve of his ragged coat.

“Well,” he said, reaching for his handkerchief, “that all depends on what you believe about love.”

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Papa Hemingway and Valentine’s Day

This is a slightly modified version of an article I was asked to submit to a local magazine, Vero’s Voice. The article was not picked up because it “wasn’t American enough,” (and to be fair, that is what they had requested) so I figured I would push it off on my unsuspecting readers.

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February will see a spike is candy sales and flower deliveries as people celebrate Valentine’s Day, the American holiday devoted to love. While the holiness of such a day is certainly up for debate, the value placed on Valentine’s Day by the average American is evidenced in stores and malls everywhere. Apparently, we are a nation who loves to be in love. Ernest Hemingway, the quintessential American author, was known more for his personal exploits at times than for his literary prowess. In Hemingway’s breakout novel, The Sun Also Rises, the central character Jake Barnes discovers a profound concept for life through his new acquaintance the Count. “I am always in love,” Mippipopolous explains. It is a short scene, and if you are not paying attention you can easily miss it. Yet, these five simple words set Jake off on a pilgrimage, where he begins to grasp what it means to love truly.

The kind of love the Count is advocating is not restricted to the arena of romance, but rather reflects a holistic approach to living, which advocates for the proper flourishing of humanity. This idea, found in a “profane” piece of American literature, finds a corollary in the Christian Scriptures: “…I came to give life with joy and abundance,” (John 10:10, The Voice). Despite the surface differences between the two works, the idea is a sound one. A life lived without love can hardly be called a “life” at all. However, it must be about more than a fleeting emotion, or devotion to some particular hobby. To be fully human is to find the ultimate love, to rest fully in what our hearts long for. To put it another way, our hearts make us a restless people until they are filled as they were always intended to be. There is an aim that each of us is built to seek, and it is only there that we can fully be “in love.”

It is sometimes hard to picture such a fulfilling notion of life emerging from “Papa” Hemingway. His penchant for drinking and his reputation as a scoundrel with women certainly throw a damper on any impression that he fully grasped the very knowledge he was touting. But is that not the case with so many of us? Millions of Americans will pour into shops this Thursday to purchase candy, buy roses and pick up singing cards; but it is important to take stock. While Hemingway may not have found a way to apply this kind of love to every aspect of his life, his zeal and passion for things like fishing and bullfighting prove that he did the best he knew how. Can the same be said for you? For me?

Are You A Good Christ?

This is an article that you can read here. I don’t typically repost entire articles like this, but I thought Chan’s musing were worth the read.

ARE YOU A GOOD CHRIST?

By Francis Chan

I think it’s time we stop asking ourselves the question: “Am I a good Christian?” We live in a time when the term “Christian” has been so diluted that millions of immoral but nice people genuinely consider themselves “good Christians.” We have reduced the idea of a good Christian to someone who believes in Jesus, loves his or her family, and attends church regularly. Others will label you a good Christian even though your life has no semblance to the way Christ spent His days on earth. Perhaps we should start asking the question: “Am I a good Christ?” In other words, do I look anything like Jesus? This question never even entered my mind until a friend of mine made a passing comment to me one day.

Dan is a long time friend of mine. In fact, he’s the pastor who performed my wedding. He was talking to me about a pastor named Von. Von has been working with youth in the San Diego area for decades. Many of his students have gone on to become amazing missionaries and powerful servants of God. Dan described a trip to Tijuana, Mexico with Pastor Von. (Von has been ministering to the poor in the dumps of Tijuana for years). Dan didn’t speak of the awful living conditions of those who made their homes amidst the rubbish. What impacted Dan the most was the relationship he saw between Von and the people of this community. He spoke of the compassion, sacrifice, and love that he witnessed in Von’s words and actions as he held these malnourished and un-bathed children. Then he made the statement that sent me reeling:

“The day I spent with Von was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”

Dan explained that the whole experience was so eerie because he kept thinking to himself: “If Jesus were still walking on earth in the flesh, this is what it would feel like to walk alongside of Him!” After that discussion, I kept wondering if anyone had ever said that about me-“The day I spent with Francis was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.” The answer was an obvious “no.” Would any honest person say that about you?

What bothered me was not that I hadn’t “arrived,” but that I wasn’t even heading in the right direction. I hadn’t made it my goal to resemble Christ. I wasn’t striving to become the kind of person who could be mistaken for Jesus Christ. Isn’t it ironic that a man can be known as a successful pastor, speaker, and CHRISTian even if his life doesn’t resemble Christ’s?

1 John 2:6 “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

When John made that statement, he wasn’t speaking about how to be a church leader or even how to be a “good” Christian. He merely stated that anyone who calls himself Christian must live like Jesus did. So how did Jesus live? You could make a list of character traits to compare yourself to, but it would be far more beneficial to simply read through one of the Gospels. After you get a bird’s-eye view of the life of Christ, do the same with your own. Are you comfortable with the similarities and differences?

It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of “success” as American church-goers define it. The thought of being well-known and respected is alluring. There have been times when I’ve been caught up in the fun of popularity. I’ve even mistaken it for success. Biblically, however, success is when our lives parallel Christ’s. Truth is, there are many good Christs that you’ll never read about in a magazine. They are walking as Jesus walked, but they are too focused and humble to pursue their own recognition.

We make it our goal to someday have someone say of us: “The day/hour/15 minutes I spent with ______ was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”

As Christians in America, we often complain about how antagonistic people are toward Christ. Personally, I’m not sure that Americans are really rejecting Christ. They just haven’t seen Him.

Try to be COMPLETELY honest with yourself right now. Is the following true of you?

You passionately love Jesus, but you don’t really want to be like Him. You admire His humility, but you don’t want to be THAT humble. You think it’s beautiful that He washed the feet of the disciples, but that’s not exactly the direction your life is headed. You’re thankful He was spit upon and abused, but you would never let that happen to you. You praise Him for loving you enough to suffer during His whole time on earth, but you’re going to do everything within your power to make sure you enjoy your time down here.

In short: You think He’s a great Savior, but not a great role model.

The American church has abandoned the most simple and obvious truth of what it means to follow Jesus: You actually follow His pattern of life. I pray for those who read this article- that we don’t become cynical or negative toward the church. Instead, let’s make a personal decision to stop talking so much and begin living like Jesus. Then we can say as the apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). My guess is that you’ve never had someone say that to you, and you’ve never said it to anyone else. Why Not?

A Little Bit of Hospitality

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The Paraclete Book of Hospitality is a wonderful, little gem of a book. It’s short 117-page exposition regarding the Christian virtue of hospitality is littered with insights from Scripture, saints, and a host of experiences. While not a theological diatribe about the doctrinal status of being a hospitable person, the editors over at Paraclete Press have none the less put together a brilliant introduction to what it means to exhibit this oft overlooked spiritual discipline.

Perhaps my favorite element of this book was the frequent connections made between Christians of the past, and those living in the world today. The theme of being welcoming is clearly woven throughout Church history, and this little tome does a marvelous job of highlighting that without inundating you with dates and places and hard to pronounce names. If you’ve ever wondered it means to have an open home, or if your curious as to how monastic practices can still serve as relevant tools in this technologically addicted society we call home, this is undoubtedly the book for you!

Of all the portions in the book, there was one chapter which stood out to me.

“Everyday there are occasions, simple moments when we can show hospitality to another person by giving ourselves away. But like every valuable spiritual lesson, this one takes practice and focused attention on our part,” (p. 38).

I had always thought of hospitality as “one of those things,” which if you had a natural inclination towards, could serve God’s purposes. I did not see it something to cultivate, a habit that needed to be formed. However, after reading this book, I am convinced that this practice is essential to living the Christian faith. One does not have to join a monastery to carry about the kind of things mentioned in this book, and I think that is exactly why Jesus talked about it as often as He did. There are no geographical limits on being hospitable.

58: The Film

That was the genius of this movie. It wasn’t a “look at all these starving children and feel guilty.” It was just seeing reality for what it is and these real people accepted it as such. Both the good and the bad. – Elisa, Founder of Average Advocate

I’ve been searching for the words to describe 58: The Film, but someone else had already said what I wanted to say. The quote above accurately details what made 58: The Film so powerful.

It was interesting to take part in the website, because it was there that I discovered many of the organizations behind the film are groups that my wife and I already partner with in various ways (Compassion International, Living Water, ECHO, etc.) That, in and of itself, was motivating. If these groups can work together, then other Christians should be able to gather together and do this, right?

Out the gate, the response has been muted. There have been no world-wide revivals of Christians living out Isaiah 58. There are still the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed.

And yet, Christ still reigns.

This is a hard truth that I have been dealing with lately. If my goals are not met, does that mean Christ is no longer sovereign? The easy answer is, “that’s silly.” The truth is though, many, like me, want to give up when the response isn’t what we thought it would be.

What if the vision isn’t contagious?

The reality is, sometimes we aren’t communicating well. Other times, people aren’t receptive. But regardless of what hindrances exist, we all must live up to what God has called us to.

A friend tonight told me had “stirred” up the worship pastor in our church. He meant it half-jokingly, but the statement made an impact. Am I stirring people up towards God? Because that’s what I think He’s called me to do.

All of this goes to say, 58: The Film stirred something in me. And I want that stirring spread like a wildfire through everyone I encounter. But even if it doesn’t, I must always remember: “I am neither an optimist, nor a pessimist; Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!”

My dearest Father, Who resides in heaven eternal, may Your name by glorified and made holy through Your people. I beg You to use me as an instrument to make Your will a reality on earth, just as it is in heaven. I thank you for the provision you have blessed me and my family with, and I pray that we will be a blessing to others as a result. Forgive me my insecurities and selfish ambitions, just as I forgive others through the strength and love you have given me. Keep me from temptation Lord. Do not let Satan have his way in my life. For everything: this world, the afterlife, all power, and all glory; they’re all Yours eternally. Amen.

When? Tonight!

I heard TobyMac’sCity On Our Knees” for the first time tonight. I’ve listened to it several times now, trying to let the words soak into my mind and my heart.

If you gotta start somewhere why not here, If you gotta start sometime why not now, If we gotta start somewhere I say here, If we gotta start sometime I say now…

It’s a pop song. It’s sugar coated, and simplistic. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally listen to. Still…something about this song calls out to me.

Through the fog there is hope in the distance, From cathedrals to third world missions, Love will fall to the earth like a crashing wave…

A pastor said recently, there is often great truth in even the simplest of songs (my paraphrase). He’s right. In fact, I’d say he’s directly on target.

Tonight’s the night, For the sinners and the saints, Two worlds collide in a beautiful display

This song is not just a call for action. It’s not only a plea to God to work in His people. It is definitely those things, but it is so much more as well. It is a standard. It is a conviction. In this song, we are reminded of the hope of Christianity.

It’s all love tonight, When we step across the line, We can sail across the sea, To a city with one king, A city on our knees

Forget for a second, if you can, all the silly rhetoric you hear in church about love. Ignore the impulse to lump this song into the category of “isn’t that ideal” like so many other Christian songs. Try, concentrate on the words, and absorb what is really behind this song.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14)

It’s there. Imbedded in this sugary tune, Jesus’ heart can be seen. Not only is this song calling Christians to prove the apostle right when he wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” This song is a call for Christians to love God, to love the broken in this world, and to definitely love one another.

It’s probably that last one that trips us up the most. I think that’s why Jesus didn’t talk about it amongst His more casual disciples. He saved it for Gethsemane. He saved it for His friends. Jesus understood (among everything else in the universe) that it is sometimes hardest to love those who see us the clearest. I can give $20 to the homeless man downtown, and he will never know the depths of my selfishness and sin. God knows, but He forgives and sanctifies.

My brother in Christ? That’s a different story. We tell ourselves all kinds of little consolations to avoid really loving our brothers and sisters. “They should know better by now than to act like that.” Or maybe, “they’ll just judge me if they know what’s really going on.” There’s a million more excuses out there. We get frustrated with each other. We make each other crazy, but still, Jesus doesn’t leave us any outs: “This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17).

No matter the issue, great or small, we have been given a spirit of unity. When are we supposed to live this calling out? Well, if we gotta start sometime I say now.

CPR

My life group had an interesting discussion this past Sunday. We’ve been going through John, and we were looking at the Bread of Life discourse during this particular meeting. We observed how simple the message of Christ is: “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” In the course of talking about the different ways we add to this Gospel, we began discussing the whole “works versus faith” issue that often arises in Christian circles. Theologians have been dealing with this for  a long time (St. James, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Francis Schaeffer, James W. Sire, N.T. Wright, to name a few) and there are still a variety of opinions.

In my life group, there seemed to be two main thoughts (well, two were voiced anyways): 1) When you’re saved, you desire to have the character of Christ, and this desire produces the works James wrote about. 2) Works that are forced are bad, because works should come naturally from our salvation.

This sums up the perspective of many Christians that I have met over the years. They often cite amazing transformations (like those of Paul, or the brother of Jesus, or even Constantine) as examples of how the power of the Holy Spirit comes down and just changes a person overnight. While there is some truth to these examples, this kind of thought offers an incomplete picture for a few reasons.

1) Powerful transformation does not happen overnight. The few (and I stress the word, few) examples of this kind of thing that we find in Scripture should serve as a stark warning. For most people in the New Testament, change is difficult and slow. The Disciples are perhaps one of the most prime examples of this, and Christians should keep in mind that while the Spirit does indeed give us a new nature, that does not mean we will be sinless from that point on.

2) The Christ-like character of people like Paul came with effort. Immediately, people will want to point out errors in this thought. So perhaps an example will help. As a Christian, it is our business to help point people to God, in effect saving their life. A person trained in CPR is very similar. Both desire the best for those in need, and have a sincere desire in their heart to help people. However, if I am choking, I would rather have the CPR-trained individual nearby than the Christian with well-meaning intentions. In order to be of any use in the business of saving lives, we must practice the habits that will be used in this process. This leads into the next point.

3) Being kind by nature is not the same as being transformed. The person who was gentle before they were saved will continue being gentle. So when this individual reads that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, they think to themselves, “look at how easy this comes!” This is a deception though. Some people will have gentle natures, while others have the nature of a thief. And yet, no one is exempt from needing God. We have to understand that in some aspect, we will fall short of God’s standards. If kindness comes natural, perhaps honesty does not. Of maybe we fail in our sexual ethics, but stand strong in our generosity. Regardless, in order to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, we will have to practice some of them.

C.S. Lewis often spoke of the importance of doing something in order to really feel a certain way (he touches on this in Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, and The Weight of Glory, which are all books I recommend). The idea is this: if we treat someone like we love them, because we desire to love them as Christ does, our hearts will be transformed. Eventually we will find ourselves loving this person without effort. It becomes natural because we made it a habit.

In the end, the Christian who does not live the Christ-like life is not fulfilling their purpose. And that, sadly, seems to be the case in much of the American Church. Perhaps, we are just out of practice.

Lord, as we seek to really be Your body here on this earth, soften our hearts to the wounds around us. Open our minds to the truth found in Your Word. And give us the hands to carry out Your will, just as You would have it done. May Grace and Peace characterize Your people. Amen.

Advent Season, Part IV: …Redemption.

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear Him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped His servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For He made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.
– Luke 1:46-55 (NLT)

This time of year, it’s easy to get busy. It’s easy to forget why we celebrate. And many of us end up not celebrating at all. Browse the Christian blogs on WordPress or Blogger, and the overwhelming notion is that Christians have forgotten what Christmas is about (here are one or two to make the point).

Pick up a Christmas CD by N’Sync, or Garth Brooks, or Kanye West, and you get the impression that Christmas is about feeling something in particular, although just exactly what is fuzzy.

Of course, when Mary offered her song of praise in Luke (see above), I don’t think she worried about sleigh bells or ballin’ at the mall. The promise of her Son was something amazing to her: it was a fulfillment. But not just any old promise was being kept. Read her poem again. Mercy. Hunger. Humility. These are the things that characterized what Mary envisioned through her Son.

Everything we long for, hope for, & even fight for…it’s all about redemption.


My mom had a sister I never met. She is rarely talked about in our family, and until recently I did not even know how she had died. She was 31. In the midst of her varying medical issues, she developed an infection that couldn’t be contained. In an attempt to help her, her doctors wound up killing her. She had been the subject of electro-shock therapy, among other not so pleasant “remedies” during her life. And yet, at the end, her final words were simple. “Jesus,” she whispered. That story still brings my mom to tears, almost 30 years later. It’s a wound that has never quite healed in my family. My grandparents, my mom and her siblings, they go on living despite this pain they still feel.

This is the reason for Christmas.

There are countless other stories. International ones, too. So many in this world seeking redemption, and the healing that comes with it. I tell this one because, well, it hits closest to home for me. But there are others. Some even better, I’m sure.

These are the reasons for Christmas.

This Christmas, rather than bemoaning the lost Christmas Spirit, or demanding that Christmas be “reclaimed,” I think we would do well to remember God’s redemption. It came upon a midnight clear, and it is still offered to those who are weary or downtrodden or hungry or alone.

We worship a merciful God. Let us never forget it.

"That is the secret, you must get to know the values."

"I am always in love." – Count Mippipopolous, The Sun Also Rises

What are the values in my life? Do they originate with God? Or myself? Or even more frightening, can I ever really know the answer to that?

The Count’s words have been ringing in my head for the better part of a week now. Might be nothing, but it might be something. As I sit and mull those words in my head over and over and over, I ask what it means to be "always in love?"

I don’t think the Count is insinuating that he always has a pretty lass on his arm and in his bed come sundown. I think he’s after something entirely different. In truth, I think he’s after something Biblical.

Hemingway started the novel with an epigraph from Ecclesiastes, "but the earth abideth forever" (1:4). The author even wrote in a letter that the earth was the true hero of the novel, because it will always remain. But I do believe that there was something else palpitating along underneath that. The whole book of Ecclesiastes bleeds onto the pages of The Sun Also Rises. Think of the scene where Brett goes with Jake to church and yet she will not pray; "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong" (5:1).

But there is a response to Ecclesiastes. I’m not talking about a novel or some commentary, but I refer here to the Gospels of Jesus Christ. And as I think about how Christ came to fully demonstrate that man should "fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecc. 12:13), but Christ also came to impart that "as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. […] This is my command: Love each other" (John 15:9, 17).

And the Count is a man who understands the words of Jesus. He knows the values that Jesus taught. And he sought to help Jake Barnes uncover the "secret" by setting him on his pilgrimage to Pamplona.

So I ask myself, am I always in love? The answer: I truly hope to be.