Friday, July 15, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Free to Be Me

I meet with a group of men on Thursday morning. They are good guys, every one of them. Varied backgrounds, ages, and places in their Christ journey. They speak to me every week, teach me things, challenge me to do better, be better. They have become brothers. Some days we wax eloquent with deep, theological discussions. Other times we spend a lot of time talking about the Boston Red Sox and the difference in real hardwood floors and laminate. One thing is consistent though, I never go away from that group feeling judged or condemned or less than. Sometimes I am confronted. Sometimes some error in my thinking (or doing) comes to light. But it is without guilt or shame or blame. See some stuff. Point it out. Leave it in God’s hands and go on.

We all need a group like that. Don’t we? Aren’t we all a little hungry for a place where we have nothing to prove and nothing to hide? I think there is buried down in the DNA of all of us this little (or not so little) voice that is screaming out the truth about us.” I’m scared. I have doubts. I don’t get this right very often. I hate myself sometimes. I hate God sometimes. I just want to be accepted.” Have you ever heard those things? Maybe coming from inside of you? And our little voice screams them out, desperately wanting to be heard but scared to death that somebody might listen.

The fear of that becomes a shell, a mask that we hide behind. We bump into each other in the hallways, “How ya’ doin?” “Fine, Fine. I’m just fine.” We stop by the water cooler, “Everything okay in your life?” “Oh, yeah. Good. Good. It’s all good.” The muffled little voice behind our mask says, “No its not. It hurts in here.” And we clamp our hand over our inside mouth and smile, “Have a good one.” I have come to say, maybe too much, that the deep need of the human creature is to know and be known. Yet I also believe that the darkest fear of the human creature is the fear of knowing and being known. What if they really knew I struggle with this? What if they could see that I’m not what they think?

We’ll, I don’t know. What? You were expecting some profound wisdom? I don’t know what would happen if we really knew you. We might not like you. We might turn away in disgust, or gasp in disappointment. We might reject you completely and make you feel like the miserable failure you already are. Or…

Or, we might find the courage in your transparency to drop our own masks. We might say, “I am so grateful that you said that. I struggle with the very same thing.” We might throw our arms around you and say, “Welcome home. I have been there too and I thought I would never get out.” Who knows what would happen if we started telling the truth. We might connect on some level that only God has imagined for us. We might become a community of vulnerability, an open, safe, honest place where anyone could speak the truth, be real, stand naked (it’s a metaphor) before God and a group of people that love you and say, “This is who I really am and I am so glad to be able to say it.”

In Romans 8:19-21 (remember Fridays @ 8. You thought I forgot didn’t you? Oh, quit judging.) In Romans 8:19-21 Paul says that in some sense the whole world is hungry to see us do that. Now I know he is speaking eschatologically (impressed?) on some level but he is also addressing the here and now. Verse 19, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons (and daughters) of God to be revealed.” In verse 22 he talks about the hope that “all of creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The whole earth groans and waits for you and me to finally start being, well, you and me. Not some pious, preacher voice, always have the answers, and a scripture verse for every occasion ambassador for the Happy Place. No, what they want, what we want, are people who are free, who walk in the full, abundant, joyful life that Christ gives us but in a genuine, real, honest to goodness way. True Christ followers who can say, “I don’t know about the future (and that is scary) but I know who holds the future in His hands. (and that is GOOD!)

I waiver between to faces neither one of them really me. The one mask, on my good days, is smiling from ear to ear and every time you pull my string says, “Well praise God, Thank-the-llujah. Everything is hunky dory.” The other face is frozen into a frown of despair. I wring my hands. I fret and fume and hopelessly cry, “What are we going to do?” (Ever seen me there?) Neither one of those is the real me. Paul says I am free. Jesus says I have abundant life. My running shirt says I may be slow but I’m ahead…. Oh, wrong shirt. My running shirt says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Now that is freedom.

So, here’s the deal. What about deciding to be real? What about taking off the mask and living life in the glorious freedom of the children of God, sometimes confident, sometimes afraid, sometimes on top of the world, sometimes lower than a snakes belly, but ALWAYS sure that He loves you, that He is really good, and that He is large and in charge. Woohoo! I can be free in that. I don’t have to fake it till I make it. I don’t have to toe the line, or suck it up, or put my best foot forward. But I do have the unbelievable joy of knowing that ‘my redeemer lives,” that He “loves me with an everlasting love.” And that I am His child, saved by grace, full of hope, and able to be far more than I ever dreamed possible because “Christ in me is the hope of glory.”

Sound good? It takes practice. It might be frightening at first but you’ll get the hang of it. Take a deep breath pull off your mask and say “Hi, my name’s Mike…” I suggest starting with a group of guys on Thursday morning….you’ll fit right in.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Foundation

I have always dreamed of a little cabin in the woods. My friend Robert says, "Mike, you are so optimistic. You are the only person I know who calls a storage shed a cabin." Nevertheless, I managed to get a little building and put it on a small piece of land we have in the woods in middle Tennessee. For about a year it has been sitting in a field, waiting to be moved to the right spot and put on a good foundation. So last week Doris and I took a week off and went and stayed in my sister's nearby, nice cabin (do I sound bitter?) with the goal of building the foundation and getting the cabin moved.

While Doris enjoyed a good book, I went down the hill every day to our little spot and worked on the piers upon which my dream cabin would sit. I dug out the holes for the footers, smoothed the ground with sand and pebbles, and laid the blocks carefully to make sure they were straight and level. Eight piers, four in the middle and one on each corner, stood strong and solid waiting for the cabin. I had contracted with a wrecker company in town to move the building though I was a little nervous about the size of the cabin in comparison to the size of the truck. I took them pictures, gave them measurements, kept quizzing them, “Are you sure you can do this?” Every time the confident response was, “Of course we can. We do it all the time.”

The afternoon of the move was exciting. Doris drove down the hill to watch. I had the foundation ready. A young guy (not the confident man I had been talking to) drove up in the wrecker truck with his girlfriend beside him. He got out of the truck, spit on the dirt road, and said “Man, we’ve never done anything like this before.” Not what I wanted to hear. He hooked the cabin to a cable, tilted back the bed, and to my amazement, hauled the whole thing right up onto the back of the truck without a hitch. This is gonna’ be great. Then he started moving. With every little dip in the rough ground the heavy cabin would shift a little and the not as heavy truck would lift up, wheels almost leaving the ground. He hadn’t gone ten feet when his girlfriend came boiling out of the truck like hornets out of a nest yelling, “I’m not riding in there.” She and Doris went over to the van and smoked a cigarette and prayed. (I mean she smoked a cigarette and Doris prayed.)

Young Guy carefully backed across the rough field, somehow lifted the cabin out over the piers, and sat the thing right down on the foundation perfectly. I was dancing. He was dancing. Doris and Cigarette Girl were dancing. What a day! Then he tried to pull the truck out from under the cabin but the support brace in the back had dug into the dirt. Truck won’t move. Cabin won’t budge. Dancing is not so good. In order to get the truck loose he had to pick up the cabin again, twist it a little bit, and…when he did, down came the piers, down went the cabin, and down sank my heart. Dream cabin in the woods was sitting at about a 45 degree angle with concrete blocks all around it and a hole in the floor where the toilet once had been.

The boys and I, and several other friends, have been reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life for the last few weeks. It’s a good book, easy to read, about getting back to the basics of our Christian walk. You might say it is about having a solid foundation. I find that in the helter-skelter, hustle and bustle of life I often get away from the things that keep me straight and level and solid. Things like a deep, intentional prayer life, a consistent time ruminating on the Word of God, seeking His face in gentle acts of service to my family, my friends, and to people I don’t know, and, focused accountability with a few guys that keep me honest and know when I am not being transparent. Those things are not spectacular. They don’t have much pizazz or sizzle. They are just the solid piers upon which any life of faith must sit. I forget that. Well, to be honest, sometimes I don’t forget. I just don’t want to do it.

Usually when that happens I begin to tilt, get a little off center. I may look okay at first glance but if you look carefully you’ll see that I am out of balance and there are a few glaring holes on the inside. I’m short with the people I love. I am impatient about the path God has me on. I get worried and fearful about my circumstances. And I lose track of the purpose He has set before me. I’m a mess. But getting back to the basics, doing the elementary things, has a way of righting me, hauling me back up onto a more firm foundation. Jesus may have had my little cabin in mind when He said, “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and put them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid his foundation on the rock.” (Luke 6:47-48) There are all kinds of neat, special things I want to do for Christ. But the bottom line is the bottom line. What really matters is getting, and keeping my life on the rock.

The next day my friend Robert came out. He brought a little hydraulic jack. We started at one corner and jacked up the cabin and slipped one block under it. Then we went to the next corner and did the same thing. Then the next. Over and over again, one block at a time we lifted the little cabin and rebuilt a solid, firm foundation. It took a while but at the end of the day we had Mr. Tumbles (that’s what Robert named the cabin for obvious reasons) back on level footing and looking good. That’s what we have to do almost continually. One block at a time, one step at a time, discipline after discipline, we build and maintain the foundation of our lives, maintaining our houses on The Rock. And, I have come to believe, when we do that our ability to be used by Him and live for Him is, well, it’s a dream come true. I don’t know where you are in your faith journey today but if you are not solid like you want to be I suggest you look at the foundation. Get that right and the rest will take care of itself. And if you need a big wrecker truck, I’ve got a number for you.