2006-01-24

Needle Pricks, Crocodile Tears, and Divine Providence

I think I learned something about God this morning.  At 9am it was time to take my daughter to the doctor for her 15 month checkup.  My wife is a teacher with a very structured daily schedule, and since I am a youth minister with a completely variable schedule, I usually get to take our daughter to the doctor.  I do not like going to the doctor.  I hate getting my blood drawn, and I hate shots. But I have found out that there is one thing I dislike more than getting a needle stuck into me.  It is getting a needle stuck into my daughter.

The last two times I have taken my daughter to the doctor, she has had to have multiple immunizations.  During this ordeal (which my daughter is actually really brave during) my job is to hold her arms and hug her as the nurse injects her thighs with vaccine.  This morning it was four shots.  During the first one, my daughter got wide eyed and had a shocked look on her face.  When the second injection came, her shocked face turned into a frown.  And by the third and fourth shot she went into full fledged wailing.  This is not because the nurse was bad.  She was actually ninja-like.  Four shots in under ten seconds.  Impressive.

But, nevertheless, my daughter went into full pathetic-baby-wailing mode.  And when my baby goes into that mode she does not flail her arms and get rigid.  Actually, she goes limp.  Like a rag doll.  A little wailing, tear filled rag doll.  It is heartbreaking, really.  All I can do is scoop her up and hold her close as she cries and the pain subsides.

I hate giving my daughter shots.  I wish I could take them for her.  But I can't.  All I can do is hold her afterwards.

Now, I try to look at this like she does.  What is she thinking?  Her daddy takes her to a strange office where a lot of really nice, smiling people ask a lot of questions and touch her and look at her with strange, shiny things.  There are lots of toys to play with and cabinets to explore.  She gets to hang out for a while without any clothes on.  That's fun.  Then daddy picks her up (she always likes that- she can trust daddy).  Then daddy puts her down on a table with another smiling woman at the other end of the table getting things out of a brightly colored box.  Must be time to put clothes back on!  Then daddy hugs her and kisses her head as the lady grabs one of her legs.  Then it feels like her leg got pinched.  Then again.  Then the shooting pain hits her full force and she begins to cry as hard as she can.  Pinch!  Pinch!  Then daddy picks her up and holds her close and says things to her in his "I'm sorry" voice.  How could he do this?  Why would daddy stand there and let her get hurt? Why is he holding me now?  Should I trust him, or will he hurt me again?

There is no possible way that she can understand why she needs to hurt like this right now.  She has no idea that this pain will somehow save her from greater pain later on.  All she knows is that her daddy let her get hurt pretty badly.  And she cries.  And thank God, she chose to trust me again.  But, in all honesty, I would not have blamed her if she stayed upset with me for the rest of the day.  I guess she trusts me enough to know that I, for some unknown reason, let her get hurt for a good purpose.

I think our relationship with God is a lot like this.  He allows us to undergo pain so that we can be healthier in the long run.  He wants, more than anything else, for us to be healthy, whole people who can receive and give His love as a child of God.  Everything God does- even if it is sometimes amputation- is done to make us healthy.  Scripture tells us that:

"Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:10-11)

The word "discipline" here is the Greek word "paideuo".  It comes from the Greek word "pais", which means child.  It refers to that training a child has to undergo to become a healthy, fully functioning adult.  Sometimes, God trains us in painful ways that we cannot possibly understand at the time, any more than my daughter can understand the concept of immunizations.  God would do it for us if He could.  And in fact, He has overcome death and evil for us in the person of Jesus Christ.  But, there are some things we still have to undergo to be the children God has made us to be.  And during these things, God holds us tightly to Himself and brushes away our tears and helps us through our pain.  

We may not be able to understand what God's purpose is in the trial we are undergoing.  We may not understand why He has allowed THIS to happen to ME.  But we can understand the Cross.  We can understand that in Christ God is there with us, to go through everything we go through, even to death and beyond.  Why does suffering and pain happen to God's children?  Most of the time I have no idea. But if we cling to Christ, and allow Him to suffer with us and heal our wounds, we will know someday, even as my daughter will someday understand why she needed immunizations.  Someday, she will even have to go to the doctor to get her own children immunized.  And on that day she will learn something about God too.

2006-01-20

They don't get it but maybe they will someday

I just switched over media players on my computer, and I am tidying up my music collection.  You find some strange and wonderful things when you do that.  I found an album on my hard drive by a band called "Concrete Blonde".  They are an L.A. club band with a hard edge to them.  I loved them in high school.

I stopped listening to them because they are blatantly anti-Christian.  It is clear from their lyrics that some person(s) who claimed to be Christians hurt some of them very badly when they were younger.  Concrete Blonde was also into the "Anne-Rice-Interview-with-a-vampire-dark-goth-vampire" thing in the early 90's.

They have great lyrics.  Passionate, painful, haunting lyrics.  Angry lyrics.

Last night I began reading Anne Rice's new novel, "Christ Our Lord".  She used to be a bitter anti-Christian for the same reasons that Concrete Blonde still is.  Anne Rice was deep into the dark-voodoo-vampire thing in New Orleans.  She is now a passionate believer in Jesus Christ.  If you doubt it, read the last 17 pages of her novel.

I wonder if the same thing that happened to Anne might happen- by God's grace- to Concrete Blonde as well.

One of my favorite songs by them (I found it again today) is called "Tomorrow Wendy".  It is a gut wrenching, haunting song about a friend who was dying of AIDS.  The lyrics go like this (but the lyrics do not do justice to the music):

------------
It is complete now - two ends of time are neatly tied
A one-way street, she's walking to the end of the line
And there she meets the faces she sees in her heart and mind

They say - goodbye - tomorrow Wendy's going to die

Underneath the chilly grey November sky
We can make believe that Kennedy is still alive
We're shooting for the moon and smiling Jackie's driving by

They say - good try - tomorrow Wendy's going to die

I told the priest - don't count on any second coming.
God got his ass kicked the first time he
Came down here slumming

He had the balls to come, the gall to die And then forgive us -
No, I don't wonder why.
I wonder what he thought it would get us

Hey hey, good try - tomorrow Wendy's going to die
------------

Does it mock Christ?  Yes.  But it is filled with real pain.  If they only realized the meaning of their lyrics.  God DID come down and "get His ass kicked", to join with us in our pain, to take our pain and our sin into Himself... and to overcome that pain and sin and death and suffering by His resurrection.

If they would only realize that God is not above laughing at their pain, or blissfully unaware of their pain, but that He joins in their pain with them.  If they would realize that God "came slumming" for them.  For Wendy.  For all of us.  He had the "balls" to leave the joys of heaven for the hell of Earth, just to bring us back to the Father.

Maybe they will read Anne Rice's new novel and get a glimpse of what that means.  Maybe.  I hope so.

I hope that maybe, in the silent places of their hearts, Concrete Blonde will truly wonder "what He thought it would get us".  Because maybe if they wonder that, God will show them.  It- the Incarnation of God as man- gets us everything.  Absolutely everything.  God took me from the place that Concrete Blonde is to Himself through Jesus Christ.  He took Anne Rice.  Maybe he will take Concrete Blonde as well.

I pray for Concrete Blonde.  They know that God came here "slumming" in Jesus Christ.  That is more than a lot of people who call themselves Christians realize.  But they do not yet know what Christ MEANS.  May He bring them to that knowledge.  Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

2006-01-13

A good debate on spiritual gifts

Hey folks. I am participating in a really good discussion with the boys over at Fide-O about whether or not the Spirit has ceased giving the gift of "prophecy" and other spiritual gifts (called "cessationism"), or whether the Spirit continues to give these miraculous gifts (called, guess what, "continuationism").

I am on the continuationist side of things, and I think my arguments are better than theirs (no surprise here). But, they like their arguments too. And, they bring up a lot of good points and a lot of problems associated with the use and abuse of spiritual gifts. Definitely worth reading.

Go see what we have to say at:

The introductory article (filled with good links too):
http://fide-o.blogspot.com/2006/01/oops-holy-spirit-messed-up.html

Where the discussion gets a bit better:
http://fide-o.blogspot.com/2006/01/schizophrenic-god.html

2006-01-07

God tricked me into reading it again...

At one of my Pre-Christmas Youth Minister gatherings we had a "book exchange" instead of a gift exchange.  I love and hate book exchanges because while there is a great chance of getting introduced to a great author that someone else treasures, there is also a great chance of getting stuck with a book that has been stuck, un-read, in a drawer by someone's toilet for the last three years.

But, one of my good friends, Molly, is a very literary and spiritual soul, and usually brings good books.  So, I looked forward to stealing her book as soon as possible.  She is also a Henri Nouwen fanatic.  I read most of a small book by Nouwen in college, and it just didn't do anything for me.  I though He had three strikes against him: He was Catholic (which I had no taste for at the time), he was Canadian (still not sure about them), and he did not teach in what I considered a very "Biblical" way (I was, at the time, a fundamentalist-ish Bible Church Christian who believed that good teaching came in the form of Biblical proofs, using Biblical prooftexts, constantly saying "and the Greek/Hebrew of this text really says...", while throwing in a funny and relevant illustrative story every now and then).

So, while what he said was nice and didn't seem heretical, it just didn't speak to me.  I never finished the book.

Fast forward 10 years to this party.  Molly brought a Nouwen book "In the Name of Jesus".  This book wasn't my first choice, but the pickings were sparse, and heck, if Molly liked it, it can't be all bad.  So I picked it up.  And it sat in my stash of Christmas books until today (I usually get a small library of new and used books every Christmas).  I picked it up finally.

I started reading it, and it started speaking to me.  About 1/3 of the way through, I realized it was the same book that I read in college.  It is amazing how time and experience change your perception.  It took me all of about 2 hours to finish the entire book.

In this book he dealt with critical issues about the nature of ministry in the [post]modern world that I have been wrestling with for the last year.  How do we stand for Jesus in a consumer society that sucks the life out of everything just to make a buck?  How do we proclaim a Suffering Savior that calls us to suffer and sacrifice along side Him in the midst of a culture that says "New!  Improved!  Easier!  Better!  Try it for 30 days and if it does not work, double your money back!"?  In the face of a culture that idolizes pastors who have 20,000 seat stadiums as sanctuaries, what should pastors do who could never be that hip, trendy, cool, or relevant?

Nouwen uses Jesus' experience of temptation in Matthew 4, and Peter's re-instatement and call to ministry in John 21, as the framework to build a theology of ministry that confronts the powers and principalities of consumer culture.  He calls us to question and deny the temptation to be "relevant", "popular", and "powerful", by choosing to be irrelevant, despised, and self-emptying like our Lord.  Only by irrelevance will we speak to the deepest needs of culture.  Only by being despised will we create a community of total acceptance, confession, and forgiveness.  Only by emptying ourselves will we ever be filled with the power of the resurrection.

I thought this book was totally irrelevant for the last decade.  But, in it, God spoke to me as clearly as he has in the last decade.  The quote that I read and re-read at least 20 times today was this:

"I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.  That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love." (p.17.  Henri Nouwen.  In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.  1989. Crossroad: NY).

Amen.

If you have 2 hours to kill and want God to speak to you, I recommend this book highly.

2006-01-06

Gig'em Bevo

Greetings my friends from that other University in Texas!

I just wanted to say congratulations from the Texas Aggies on your incredible victory over Southern Cal to win the National Championship. You did a fantastic job, and your quarterback is a pretty good guy, considering he isn't an Aggie (maybe he should have been...). It is good to see that Texas is teaching all of those weenies in California what real football is all about.

I have attached a commemorative picture celebrating your achievement. Gig 'em Bevo!

Sincerely from the Republic of Texas,

Nate Bostian, Fighting Texas Aggie class of '96



And a friend sent this to me too...

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.