Monday, June 06, 2011

an old pair of new shoes.

My buddy / Co-worker Jake gave me my first pair of cowboy boots. I feel like the marks the beginning of a new era.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

What Child Abuse Taught Me About God's Favor

...and other benefits of skipping 3rd Grade.
Aaron moved in next door the summer after my second grade year. On a street full of houses mine was the last one on the right, and on the other side of our fence was a small apartment building. It was a strange location for apartments but as a kid those ugly brown buildings just held significance as the place where my best friend slept when he wasn’t at my house. Aaron’s mom had just gone through a divorce and was trying to get back on her feet. She and my mom became close as well.

The year my mother started homeschooling me I would have been going into third grade. A few other moms from church were homeschooling their children and convinced her to jump on the band wagon. But she didn’t just start teaching me; she started homeschooling Aaron as well. Since Aaron was a year older and starting 4th grade my mother decided third grade wasn’t that important and started me in fourth as well.

Homeschooling with my mom, who had been diagnosed with Lupus and Fibromyalgia a few years earlier, was a mixed bag. Some days she’d be in full teacher mode. Other days looked more like a list of assignments in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and the rest of the day playing with action figures and reading comic books until Aaron’s mom picked him up after work. I liked those days better.

Aaron was not the easiest best friend to have. He was taller than me, a better drawer than me, had more girls who liked him than me and he “accidentally” broke my ankle... twice. Also there were the 11 stitches on the top of my head thanks to Aaron and an incident with a large icicle. Come to think of it I’m lucky to be alive. Ironically I think we were both a little jealous of each other. My mom had just re-married so I had a Dad, and a house, and a mom who didn’t beat me.

I remember quite vividly an afternoon at Aaron's’ apartment, he got in trouble for mouthing off to his mom and she got so angry she smacked him across the face with a pair of scissors. As a kid you don’t know what to do in those situations. I remember being pretty scared. A few weeks later he lied to my mom about something and she called him out on it. She told him she would have to tell his mom and he’d have to write out I will not tell lies to Mrs. Morris  on paper a million times (okay it was probably only a hundred but when you’re in third fourth grade it’s the same thing). I was so afraid of his mom’s anger and punishment that I begged my mom to let me take the blame. We hadn’t been going to church that long but I threw out some beginner Sunday School jargon about grace and Jesus taking our punishment.

So I did. I wrote until my arm felt like it was going to fall off and then I wrote some more ... I will not lie to Mrs. Morris. And, yes, I wrote it out as if I were Aaron, which might have been the hardest part because for those few hours she wasn’t my mom. She was “Mrs. Morris”. Later in life she told me how hard it was to not just let me go and excuse the whole exercise. I wish I could say there were never times later that year when I was getting in trouble that I wished he’d stepped in and done the same for me ... or when he “accidentally” shot me in the arm with is Blow Dart Gun I didn’t think, “Seriously?! After all I’ve done for you?”

Then again I was 9.

What I did for Aaron had nothing to do with how nice he was to me, or how cool I thought he was. I mean, yes, I looked up to him; but in that moment it was my nine year old understanding of anger and pain that made me want to step in and rescue him. I had seen firsthand what would happen if his mom got upset and so it was compassion - not his height, or drawing skills, or luck with the ladies - that was at the heart of me taking the fall for my friend.

Isn't that what the Gospel is all about?" Jesus taking the fall for us? The fall of Adam, the fall of man, of humanity! Not because of how much he likes us or how cool we are (though He is fond of us!) but simply because He is good. He LOVES us, wants to be reconciled with us, and doesn't want to see us suffer... “That NONE should perish.”

Things with work have been pretty rough lately. Finances have been tight. And I've been thinking a lot about favor; about how growing up I heard that if God liked you enough he’d give you favor and money and nice cars. Sometimes when work gets slow I wonder if maybe God just doesn't like me or something.
I know, technically, that's not true but it's sort of this subtle conditioning that I have to fight against.

The more I read and study the more I wonder if favor is less about God building us up and setting us on some high pedestal and more about grace, and coming down to walk along side us, making way for redemption, loving us. I was looking at one of the words for “favor” specifically in Proverbs 3:3-4

3Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
       Bind them around your neck,
       Write them on the tablet of your heart.
4So you will find favor and good repute
       In the sight of God and man.

From the Greek and Hebrew
favor gracious, pleasant, precious, well-favored
From chanan; graciousness, i.e. Subjective (kindness, favor) or objective (beauty) -- favour, grace(-ious), pleasant, precious, (well-)favoured. see HEBREW chanan  beseech, fair, be, find, show favorable, be deal, give, grant graciously

A primitive root (compare chanah); properly, to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow; causatively to implore (i.e. Move to favor by petition) -- beseech, X fair, (be, find, shew) favour(-able), be (deal, give, grant (gracious(-ly), intreat, (be) merciful, have (shew) mercy (on, upon), have pity upon, pray, make supplication, X very.
see HEBREW chanah

To bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior...which reminded me of this...Philippians 2

3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
I wonder if it's possible that I've spent all these years praying for the "Favor" of God when maybe I've had it all along.

What if it was that simple? What if the favor of God was simply the cross, and redemption, and the humility of a king being emptied that our hearts might be filled. I wonder if the fullness of God’s favor comes from unity and selflessness. Maybe favor is just the grace to keep loving God and loving others.

I once had someone pray over me and they said they felt like God was saying I was going to wear nice clothes and drive nice cars, and that He was going to use me to bring millions of dollars into the kingdom while having one foot in the ministry and one foot in the business world. I used to get frustrated when my bank account would be in the negative and I’d say to God (sarcastically), “where are those millions you promised?!?” And who knows? Someday I might look back and find that the old man who prayed for me was right. But the truth is, the balance in my bank account has nothing to do with how much God loves me.

Am I blessed and highly favored? Let me answer the question with a question. Did Jesus rise again?