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During my first year after high school, I worked at a popular restaurant in Austin. I hated it. I had to deal with people all day, and I hated people. I was irrationally annoyed with the very people who paid my paycheck. If only I could have been paid without having to put up with their peculiarities and needs.
As an occupational hazard of pastoral ministry, I have had the opportunity to observe private family life in a way most people don’t get to. Sure, we know our own family’s “dirty laundry,” but I never saw just how normal dysfunction is until I became a pastor. And that’s the great secret of living in a family: It’s hard and almost everyone gets it wrong to one degree or another.
The great paradox of the home is that the people we love the most are the hardest to get along with. We count on our homes to be a safe place in the middle of a comparatively dangerous world, but so often reality falls short of our expectations and our homes are where the bitterest arguments and deepest wounds are sustained. But that can change.
“I’m wrong” has to be the most unpleasant phrase in the English language to utter.
I was reading Richard Swenson’s book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Swenson, a medical doctor, took a “diagnose and prescribe” approach throughout the book. The most bitter medicine in the whole book was a quotation from cardiologist Dr. Meyer Friedman. Friedman routinely prescribed that his “Type-A” patients, “Purposefully say, ‘I’m wrong’ at least twice today, even if you’re not sure you’re wrong.”
Immediately, I knew it was medicine I needed. So, I took it. I try everyday to say, “I’m wrong” out loud to someone else. At first, it was difficult and bitter.
I must confess my own hypocrisy.
I’ve been exploring the idea of living the Christian life by personally associating with the death and resurrection of Jesus. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God who loves me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Another foundational passage for this idea is Romans 6:5-14, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his … Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him … The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:5,8 and 10-11).
The man in my congregation, whom I have always respected deeply, asked me, “You’re getting into woodworking right? Do you have a chop saw?” I didn’t. He said, “Well, I’ve got an extra one. Come by my house later and I’ll give it to you.” As I admired his fully-tooled shop, he mentioned how the whole shop was full of the Lord’s tools. Then, when I needed a trailer, he lent me his. He told me to use it any time. “It’s the Lord’s trailer.” He constantly uses what he has to bless the people around him, and every time someone thanks him, he’s quick to point out, “It’s the Lord’s.”
Jesus commanded his followers to deny themselves and take up their crosses to follow him. His earliest followers considered themselves as dead men. Paul claimed that he had been “crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
This is a theme I have chosen to adopt and to embrace and emulate. My motto is, “I am a servant, and I am already dead.” Living this way will have consequences on the way we view our stuff. The simple fact is that dead men don’t own things.
When I had kids, I found a new favorite hobby: defining words. You cannot tell a child to be patient if she does not know what patience is. “Waiting without complaining.” You cannot tell a child to be kind to her sister if she does not know what kindness is. “Treating someone like a real person with her own thoughts and likes and dislikes that might be different from yours.” You explain the cemetery to her if she does not know what death is.
It was that question that birthed the hobby. One day, on the way home from church, she pointed at Fairmount Cemetery and asked, “Daddy, what kind of park is that? What are those rocks for?” I explained that when people die, their family puts them in the cemetery. “Why won’t their family let them come home from the Sem-tary Park?”
Definitions are important.
“I am a servant, and I am already dead.”
In 2012, I started working as a part-time chaplain at a hospital. After training for a couple weeks, I got my first page. (Yes, we still used pagers in 2012.)
By the time I got to the hospital, the man was already dead. When I walked into the room, something was different. I was pretty new, but I had seen my share of geriatric deaths. All the things were in place. The IV stand was where it always was. Monitors, hospital bed, paperwork and everything was in its place. Even the sterile wrappers from the various implements were in their predictable places on the floor from the frantic push to save a man’s life. But something was different.
There once was a tree. It was beautiful and it was powerful. Those who ate its fruit would live in their bodies forever. It stood before any animal or human ever took a breath, and it made an eternal relationship with the Creator himself possible.
The Tree of Life makes its debut on the very first page of the Bible in Genesis 2. God, having made the perfect place on the perfect planet to place his perfect people, set it in the middle of the Garden of Eden right next to another tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I’m convinced there was nothing really special about this tree. It’s only power came from its prohibition. God told the first people not to eat from it, but they did.
I have no personal ambition for my children. I just want what is good for my daughters, and I don’t care what it costs me. Even — or perhaps especially — when they fail, I want to help them succeed. When they do what is bad for their own well-being, I want to help them do what is good. When they reject my love and my help, I want to bless them all the more. More than any seminary class, nothing has taught me more about what God is like than having children. God’s desires for you are the same. When you fail, God works for your success. When you fall into sin, God works for your goodness. When you reject him, he desires even more to accept you. This is true of God throughout the whole Bible.
Contrary to popular perception, God is the same in both the Old and New Testaments; He is the eternal, triune creator whose character is perfectly holy, righteous, just, merciful, gracious and above all loving. In both testaments, he acts to judge, bless and redeem all of creation.
Are you a good person?
Evangelist and author Ray Comfort thought of a simple way to test a person’s goodness. Look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. It’s a pretty simple test. Anyone who has violated them is guilty. Anyone who is guilty cannot be a good person.
But the Ten Commandments are in the Old Testament. Jesus, in the New Testament, didn’t judge, right? He wasn’t about guilt. He even said, “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1). One popular interpretation is that God in the Old Testament is judgmental where God in the New Testament is loving.
Everyone knows about the New Testament’s most famous definition of love. It is the safest bet for a Bible verse in almost any wedding. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not …” Much more than just marital love, though, it describes the kind of love God has always had for his creation, even in the Old Testament.
I’ve been exploring how, in both the Old and New Testaments, God is the same eternal, triune creator whose character is perfectly holy, righteous, just, merciful, gracious and above all loving. In both testaments, he acts to judge, bless and redeem all of creation. The last, but perhaps most important, aspect of God’s character is his love. John goes so far as to make the audacious claim that God is love (1 John 4:8). It is equally true in the Old Testament as in the New.
I had an intern at the church last spring. It was great not only to have the help, but also to learn from his perspective. One aphorism I shameless lifted from him, which he stole from one of his professors, was, “rules without relationship lead to rebellion.”
I found this to be most true when I applied the wisdom of the saying to the way I discipline my children. Instead of being strict, I found that if I let my children believe they deserved punishment for things like lying or disobedience or general nastiness, then gave them some mercy from time to time when they were caught, their behavior would improve.
In June, 2013, Wendy Davis delivered her famous filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate chamber to prevent a new law restricting abortion access from passing. It seemed everyone with a stake in the abortion issue flocked to Austin to protest, but not Sandra Franke.
Sandra is the director of the Pregnancy Help Center.
There’s a municipal court judge in Painesville, Ohio that does justice a little differently.
Judge Michael Cicconetti offers guilty parties in his courtroom the choice between traditional, legally prescribed sentences (jail time and fines) and his own more creative punishments. One woman was sentenced to picking up trash for animal cruelty. Another man had to ride a bike in a charity parade with a humbling sign as punishment for stealing a bike. The judge’s method and sense of justice been the subject of several national news stories.
As unique as Cicconetti’s approach is, I wondered how he would approach more serious crimes. The thief can return what they stole to “make things right.” The liar can tell the truth. But what can the murderer do? If he dies too, you haven’t set things right. The victim is still dead and you end up with two dead people instead of just one.
Being a prophet in the Old Testament was hard. Nobody listened to Jeremiah. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. Ezekiel had to chop his hair off, lay in bed for just over a year and two months and eat food cooked over cow poop. Daniel was thrown in a pit with lions. Sure God saved him, but I’d take not be thrown in a pit with hungry lions over being saved after being thrown in a pit of lions any day. Of all the prophets in the Bible, one deserved his hardships more than all the other. Jonah was the worst prophet.