Friday, May 29, 2009

It Is To Your Advantage That I Go Away

A mother was mowing her front yard on a warm July afternoon. Her 13 year-old son sat at the front steps playing his Nintendo DS video game. Disturbed by this sight, their retired neighbor walked over to the kid and asked why he wasn't mowing the yard. "I don't know how to start the lawn mower," he said.

There's nothing wrong with a mother mowing the yard. But ignorance is no good excuse for the son not to be doing it instead. I can understand how families get to this scene. As a father there are many times my expectations for my kids are not quite what they should be. If my kid can't tie his shoes when he's 4 then why not just keep tying them for him when he's 5 or 6 or 7. Before you know it you got a 13 year-old who can't tie his shoes... completely dependent on a parent for this task. Hey if it works, why change it? It would just be aggravating for everyone involved.

But there is something good about a 13 year-old with the ability to operate mowing equipment safely. There is something good about a 6 year-old son being able to tie his shoes, take a shower on his own, pour his own cups of milk and read his own books. Equipped and empowered there is no limit to what a child is capable of learning and doing.

During Jesus' ministry, his followers learned much about him and the Kingdom of God. They depended on his acts and teachings to understand what all God was doing through him. The Gospels reveal that those same followers had a really tough time understanding just what Jesus was doing.

In order for them to grow in faith and become the instrument through which the gospel would be made known to the world, Jesus had to leave. They depended on Jesus for their every move while he was still around. But after he was gone they depended on Jesus in a new way: in a way that empowered them to use their gifts... in a way that equipped them to reach all the corners of the world with the message about Christ.

Jesus says, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7)." That Advocate is the Holy Spirit, given to us in our baptisms. Yes we depend on Jesus, but we are not puppet children waiting for Jesus to tie our shoes and mow our yard for us. Through the Spirit, Jesus is with us to give us faith in him and an ability to serve that not only surprises others, but often surprises ourselves.

After the teen boy told the retired man that he doesn't know how to start the lawn mower that retired gentleman took the boy aside and showed him how to do it. With some patience, encouragement and determination that boy now understood how to make that lawn mower go, from pressing the priming button to emptying the collection bag. By August that empowered boy was making $50 a week mowing yards for 3 of his neighbors.

The Spirit is our gift from Christ. He guides us in the truth and shows us all the amazing things we are capable of doing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Show A Little Love

I'm new to all this Chicago Blackhawks excitement going on around the Chicago area... but not because I'm only now hopping on the bandwagon of a team that's playing well. I'm new because I've only lived in this area for three years. Hockey was always a game I found exciting to watch. Growing up near Detroit it was fun to put on the CBC and catch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. Those Canadians sure know hockey. It was also fun in those days to cheer an up-and-coming team called the Red Wings who hadn't won a Stanley Cup in decades. In the 80's they still found themselves on the losing end of the playoffs, usually to teams like the Edmonton Oilers.

After I left Michigan my excitement for the Wings faded, even as they became Cup monsters like the Oliers were. I couldn't get CBC on my TV in Iowa or in Ohio... and the glowing puck of the Fox TV years were too hard to bear.

When I moved to Chicago I knew I was ready to get back into the sport... especially since the Blackhawks were a struggling team just beginning to show some signs of life. (Love those up-and-comers.) What I didn't realize when I made the choice to start following the Hawks was that the Hawks fan was an abused, lost and angry soul. Year after year of abuse by the ownership had left the United Center half empty, never ever any home games on TV, and their favorite announcer sent packing for no good reason except to punish the fans.

The abandonment of the Hawks by the fans was not simply because the team hadn't made the playoffs since 2002. That year the higher seed Hawks played those playoff games in front of plenty of empty seats. What the Hawks have been missing the past 15 years has been love. Without love even a winner will not attract fans.

The Scriptures reveal that God is love. In John's Gospel we learn that God's love is poured into his son, Jesus and that Jesus then pours out this love onto us. Love defines our relationship with God. Love is our call from Jesus. We abide in Jesus' love when we love others. Now im not talking kissy kissy love or love out of pity... This is a friendship kind of love! The love Christ calls us to live by is a love that's not looking for payback. It's sincere love. It's love for love's sake.

Somewhere along the line the love between the Hawks ownership and the Hawks fans was lost. All that remained was bitterness and hate. A great NHL franchise almost was ruined and arguably began playing second fiddle to a minor league team called the Wolves.
In early 2007 I naively asked a bunch of guys, Chicago sports fans everyone of them, if we should try to get to the UC to see a Hawks game (after all there were plenty of seats available). To a man, they all gave me a look of horror and disgust... with a tinge of sadness, because they felt awful they had to think that way about their beloved Hawks.

Under new ownership things changed. Apologies were made. Relationships were rebuilt. Genuine love began to shine. You would think that regaining trust after a long separation would take a long time, but it didn't. The Hawks set attendance records this year, long before the first playoff game was played.

"I have said these things to you so that my joy my be in you and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:11-12)." I know its just hockey... but the story of the Hawks is a lesson of love and hate, poor choices, grudges, and reconciliation. God wants us to live lives filled with joy. We can do that because of the love he has showered on us through Christ. But such joy only becomes real for us if we take the courageous step of loving others just to love them. A genuine friend lovingly sticks by a buddy to the end: that's what love is. It's not easy and because of sin its not our instinct, but man is it worth it.

Go Hawks!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Living Bubbler

I was born in Wisconsin. There are some unique aspects to life in Wisconsin. People wear fake cheese on their heads. Intersections must have no fewer than 2 "taverns" on the street corners. The Friday Fish Fry is central to life, not for religious reasons, but just for the love of fried fish. Only after living outside of Wisconsin for twenty years did I come to discover that yes indeed there is a Wisconsin accent. But even after calling far off places like Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Illinois home, I still can't help but call drinking fountains... bubblers. That's right bubblers! In Wisconsin the fountain is not named after what a person does at it, but by the sound it makes when it is turned on: "bubble... bubble... bubble."

I love drinking water, so bubblers have been very important to me. I still remember my favorite bubbler at the University of Michigan. It was on the first floor of Angell Hall. It was cold, powerful and delicious every time. Those are the keys to a good bubbler: the water must be cold, it must taste like clean water and not some rusty stuff, and there must be enough water pressure to produce a good flow. "C" hall in my high school had a really good bubbler. I discovered recently that the bubblers in the upper deck of Miller Park in Milwaukee are quite good. When you don't want to pay another $4.50 for a watered down soda, you can be confident that you can have your thirst quenched by the fine bubblers there. Even Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field has some pretty good bubblers.

For a while I was on the bottled water kick, but a "green" conscience (I mean saving money more than the planet) has led me to return to good old bubblers. After all... I'm only human... and humans need water to survive. We will die if we don't drink water. The bubbler is society's gift to a thirsty community.

People have always needed water. In the days before indoor plumbing the daily need for water meant constant drudgery for woman traveling the distance to the water source. It was just part of life. When Jesus encounters a woman at a well in John 4 she was in the midst of performing this daily task. In the course of their conversation with each other Jesus tells her that if she had asked, he would have given her "living waters." The woman eyes got wide... no doubt envisioning a bubbler for her dining room. It would mean no more daily trips to the well. Give me this water, is her response. But of course Jesus is speaking about our spiritual needs and faith. He didn't mean a bubbler in every home. Just as the body needs water to survive we likewise need Jesus to survive spiritually. Jesus is the spiritual equivalent of water.

In my life I have discovered great bubblers in some strange places. Who knew that the Sox Park would even have a bubbler, much less a good one. Likewise we can find "Living Waters" in some strange places as well... and when we least expect it. We all need Jesus... we need his love... we need all that he offers us through faith. Without him we find ourselves in a spiritual Death Valley. Look for those sources of "Living Waters" in the unexpected places... but also don't neglect the obvious places. When you practice living the 7 priorities of faith you are drinking from the bubbler of Living Waters. Give us this water always!

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37b-38).'"