Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hipsters, E-Harmony, and Why You Should Date God

Spiritual Truths from Online Dating

Going to see live music is just part of the fabric of life in Nashville. At one point, while I was trying to sell myself as a music producer I was getting 6-10 show invites a week in my inbox. Going to all the shows is financial suicide; death by cover charge and PBR. But the night I met Alex and Rachel I was out to see a close friend of mine play drums with his new band. “The End” is an interesting little joint. It has all the trappings of a dive bar; the dim lighting, the poster-littered walls, and the big ole’ sound guy who’s been there since country was cool the first time. That particular night it seemed like all of the hipsters were in a swank match to see who could have the skinnier jeans and the more artsy fedora. The room felt like a Hollywood caricature of the Nashville Scene. Like some director filled the room with pretty people straight out of an urban outfitters catalogue. I remember thinking, “Where are all of these people in real life? I never see them out in the wild”.

Alex and Rachel were one of those unbelievably good looking couples. We began chatting while the stage was being reset for the next band. There was small talk for a bit and then I happened to ask how the two of them met.

“E-harmony” Alex said.

I honestly thought he was joking at first but he went on to tell the story. Alex was new in town and didn’t know anyone. He signed up for the service and met Rachel just a couple weeks later. They were just friends at first but it quickly became something deeper. My conversation with the pretty hipster couple didn’t go much further, the next band came on and I left after their set.

Later that week, I received an email informing me I could make a profile and try a free weekend on one of the online dating sites. I gave it a shot. I went out with Erica, the feisty sarcastic hairdresser who was slightly less attractive than profile pictures lead me to believe; Angie, the nanny who tried to get me in bed after the first date; and Danielle, the bartender who would have been perfect if she knew as much about Jesus as she did about Jersey Shore. I decided three strikes were enough for me. That was the end of my online dating adventures.

The thing about the online approach is that while a profile page can give you a picture of someone, tell you about them, let you know how much you have in common; a profile is not in and of itself a relationship. It leaves much to be desired. The inflections of a voice, the gentle touch of their skin, the goodness in their eyes are the things you cannot experience from a website.

And so I ask this question. I wonder if Scripture is like God’s E-Harmony page to humanity. Move past the obvious irony and consider it for a moment. The written word gives us a picture of who God is, but it is not the relationship itself. It’s a starting point but not and end unto itself. John tells us the “Word” has existed since the beginning. It was the Word that brought creation to life and that same Word that became humanity and gave up His life to redeem the very creation He once formed. To “obey” the Word is to follow Christ. Not Just a historical figure but rather the essence of truth and love that was embodied in Jesus and has existed throughout time.

Is the written Word profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction and instruction in righteousness? Yes. But I submit to you the idea that maybe we could view this written Word as a diving board into a deep pool of relationship. Forgive me for my harshness here but I am beginning to believe the reason we as believers strive so hard for dogma and doctrine is because the idea of a truly relational God by proxy of the Holy Spirit in our lives is scary.

Do you believe your God is big enough to care about you and your specific situation to speak to you in a real way? Is the Heavenly Father you pray to more than some cosmic pen pal who wrote us a letter 2000 years ago and hasn’t responded since because He assumes all we need to know is written in the first letter? I have a hard time believing that. Either God is alive and well and breathing and moving and desperately longing to have an intimate relationship with His beloved or He’s not.

The God I know is wildly imaginative, insatiably personal, eternally relational and in no way stoic, formulaic or mathematical. Do you want the 66 book e-harmony pocket edition Jesus or do you want the fullness? Brother, Sister, I implore you ... hear what I am saying. The Word of God is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. All of it. So yes! Take in all that scripture has to offer. Let it be a firm foundation for your faith.
But honey there’s more.

So much more.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Back-story

North of Chicago, right on Lake Michigan, there’s a little town called Kenosha. I get up there once a year or so to spend time with one of my spiritual fathers and his family. I also go up there to clear my head and slow things down for a couple days. There’s a great little coffee shop on the water called Common Grounds where the barista asks questions like, “If you could be personified by one event in history, what would it be?” It’s the kind of place I imagine an author writing some inspiring memoir or iconic piece of fiction in; the kind of place that feels like it should be experienced in black and white.

Just down the road on the Main Street, which feels like the main street in many small towns, is a flower shop called Summer’s Garden. On one of my trips, I stopped in to kill a few minutes before the wine bar next-door opened up. There was a fantastic aroma coming from the front of the store but it wasn’t the flowers. It was soap! There were a number of different scents, some smelled more like something I wanted to eat than use in the shower. The shop owners, Lyna and Kevin, were so kind – I must have asked them a million questions about soap and they answered every one. Lyna makes it at home. She explained the process and the ingredients and the difference between good soap and great soap. She also told me about growing up in Kenosha and living in two houses her whole life. She began to tell the stories of each of the soap labels which were old family photos repurposed. Lyna had a fascinating story. I was so glad to have spent those ten or fifteen minutes listening before buying some soap to take home. I wasn’t just buying soap though – I was investing in her story.

One of the things I love about my church is the importance Pastor Jamie places not only on the narrative of the gospel but also on the interpersonal narratives within our community. Almost every year our small group takes a few weeks and gives everyone in the group an hour or so to share their back-story. It has really helped to create a deeper “soul environment”. It’s not easy telling people where you’ve been and what you’ve done but when you are with people that love you it takes the pressure off. It also opens up space for a continued conversation. The idea that a story doesn’t have to be a testimony is kind of refreshing. I mean that in the context of creating a space where the person sharing their back-story knows that it’s an unfinished narrative and it doesn’t need a happy ending. I’d like to share one such story with you, this is Sherry’s story – it’s not pretty but it is beautiful.
I was a victim of childhood molestation at the age of 5-6. As a teenager I got involved with drugs and alcohol. I overdosed in Jr. High. I was raped at 15 and began to live a promiscuous life style. By the end of my senior year I was pregnant and that pregnancy ended in abortion due to pressure. I moved from home just before I turned 18, into the home of a man twice my age that I had known for less than a month. We married 2 years later and the marriage ended in its first year. I had another relationship that resulted in a pregnancy and the father pressured me into having an abortion. Shortly after, he ended the relationship and moved across the country. I met another man that I shared my secrets with who assured me he loved me and he would never leave if I got pregnant. When I found myself pregnant once again, he tried to pressure me to have an abortion, saying it was something I had done in the past and he didn’t see why I couldn’t do it again. But I chose to carry my baby this time, and did it as a single mom.
I felt guilt, shame, rejection, abandoned, and damaged for all the bad choices I had made. I didn’t know how my life could change. But I loved my baby more than anything and I wanted to be better.
I tried psychological counseling but they wanted to excuse my behavior as “the only choices I could have made at the time” when deep down inside I knew that wasn’t the truth. The memories haunted me. My health was suffering, and I ended up having to take leave from my job.
Surgery and chronic pain left me addicted to pain meds and as a result my doctor placed me in a hospital for withdrawal. However, the in-house psychologist decided I should stay longer to address the past issues. I was in denial of my need or their ability to handle my need. My 3 day stay became a 30 day stay.
I hated being there, separated from my child. One night I cried out to God – on my knees in the library, asking if there really was a God, would he help me, admitting I couldn’t do it alone.
Through the rehab program I met my husband. He brought us to a church where I heard that Jesus loved me and wanted to forgive me for all my sins. In December of 1988 I was introduced to Jesus in a personal way and was amazed that He loved me and would forgive me for all I had done.
I was excited to be involved in church, serving in the office, prayer meetings, learning, and eventually even leading ladies studies. But inside of me I still cringed every time I heard a message on abortion and the murder it was. I sat in silence, guilt, and shame, believing that if anyone knew my story they wouldn’t want me teaching their kids, leading studies or even be part of fellowship. I was forgiven, but still in bondage.
I heard a woman speak on the radio one day who talked about the affects of abortion on women. When she listed the symptoms of post abortion trauma she was talking to me and the tears flowed down my face. I contacted the ministry and that was the beginning of my transition from forgiveness to healing.
The Word of God taught through the study helped me to see my sin and my life in light of God’s Word; to identify areas I needed to confess of my sins and ask forgiveness. But it also identified areas in my life where I needed to be willing to forgive what others had done that hurt me and showed me how to depend on God’s grace to walk out the choices of forgiveness.
Psalms 32:3-5 says, “When I kept silent in my sin my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was zapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” and you forgave the guilt of my sin”.
The enemy wants to keep us silent, groaning, drained, depressed and guilt ridden, but God doesn’t want that for us. God not only forgave the sin, he forgave the guilt of the sin. Continued guilt from confessed sin is not from Him.
Healing is a process…Confession and forgiveness is huge parts of that process.
Years ago a medical professional sexually molested me during therapy. I was devastated. I was almost crippled, as if I were the 5 year old child. But this time was different, I knew God, and I knew He would help me. So this time, instead of living in fear, hiding and owning someone else’s actions, with the support of my husband, my child, and my pastor I addressed it head on. It was one of the hardest and most painful things I ever faced. But, I was not alone. God’s love and grace walked with me through every uncomfortable step. And when the trial was over, although my assaulter was let go, I was free in a way I had never known possible. I had done the right thing and stood up.
As a result, I went to the ministry where I began my walk of healing, and inquired to become a bible leader and online counselor. I completed that training in 2008 and have since then shared my story with individuals, spoken at churches, and banquets. God did the healing and He always goes before me and prepares me when I speak. In 3 years I have worked with over 50 women through this program, either online or in person.
Most Christians know that I John 1:9 say’s “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” So, we know that God forgives our sins, but it is common for women and men involved with abortion to read this verse and think, “every sin but this one”. But 1 John 1:9 doesn’t say “every sin but this one.” It says; He forgives us all our sins, even “this one”.
I don’t live in my past. I don’t glorify my past. I seek to glorify the one who redeemed me from my past and made me whole… Jesus. When he places a hurting woman in my life, be it as a result of the ministry, or in an unexpected place, I am no longer ashamed; I know who I am in Him. That is true freedom.
It would be easy to zoom in on any part of Sherry’s story and be angry at God, on the surface it seems that there were decades where His goodness was missing. I don’t have an explanation for this. I do know that God worked all of that hurt and pain together for good. God is a God of redemption. Her love for God hopes all things and believes all things and has kept no record of wrong doing.

The narrative of Sherry’s life is deeply personal because the third pregnancy, the child she decided to carry was me. She is my mother.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Angel on Ice Skates

Unity of the adventure

Rochester, NY is known for a few things; like being home to the Kodak Film Co., Zwaggals Hot Dogs, their delicious Garbage Plate, and being bitterly cold in the winter. I spent this particular weekend in Rochester working on some demos in the studio. Mark’s brother was in a band and they had a pretty killer recording set up at his house.

On a good day the trip from Rochester back up to campus took about 4 hours. Winter weather however, is always somewhat of an unpredictable mystery. Between the lake effect snow, incoming nor’easters, and the occasional ice storm, the ride to Potsdam, NY can stretch out to six or seven hours. This was one of those rides; driving ten to fifteen miles under the speed limit, through white-out snow, wearing out whatever cd was in the deck. It was somewhere in the seventh hour that the snow turned to ice. The sun was setting and the road began to freeze.

Other vehicles had already pulled over but I am from New England. We believe we’re nearly invincible when it comes to storms and we are stubborn. I kept driving. I drove with the car in low gear and went no faster than 10 miles an hour. As I crested a hill and began the descent my wheels started to slip on the now thickening sheet of ice that had replaced the pavement. My little car was drifting. I knew I was in trouble.

My car slid off the road and hit another car, it was the only other vehicle for miles. Crunch! I got out and assessed that there wasn't any serious damage. Nor was there anyone around. I managed to get my little car out of the ditch and out of the way but there would be no more driving in this weather. The road was a sheet of ice.

My cell phone had no reception, the temperature was below freezing and dropping, and I was alone on highway 11 with a car in the ditch and nothing but a set of ice skates in the trunk. Staying in my car until it ran out of gas and I started losing appendages to frostbite seemed like a bad plan. Not that my contingency was much better. You know that Joni Mitchell song about skating away on a river? I kind of tried to do that. I strapped on that pair of ice skates in the trunk, locked my car, and started gliding – quite ungraciously – down the road. My skating escapade lasted about two miles before a set of head lights was shining behind me. Miss Annette and her family were intending on driving from NYC to their daughter’s new college due north. Unfortunately they had driven about 4 hours west when I met them. Miss Annette was a Jazz singer on the lower east side – a lovely women with a beautiful family. The picked me up and we braved the next several miles together. I told them about driving in a lower gear for traction and they told me about their crazy road trip across the state of New York. Eventually we made it into town, eyes tight from laughing.

They dropped me off at the top of the block. I waved goodbye and they shouted, “Thanks for being our angel on ice skates.” Since I left my shoes back in my car I clopped up the steps to my friends' house like a kid on the first day of pewee hockey. The next morning there was a knock on the bedroom door.

"J, the NY State Police are on the phone."
“Son we are going to need you to come down to the station and fill out some paper work.”

Good morning to you too officer.

I went to the station and told them what happened. They were practically rolling on the floor as I told the story. One of the officers had actually seen me and thought for sure I was a drunken fool out of his mind. I got a ticket for "skating away from the scene of damaged property" but to be truthful, it was totally worth it. I called the woman whose car I damaged to apologize and she was very gracious.

While I only shared a short period of time with Miss Annette and her family they were grateful for my company, the story, and even the advice from someone who had just learned the hard way what not to do. If anything, they saved me from my own silliness. But being an “angel” to them wasn’t like a hero reaching down and pulling a peasant out of the dirt, saying, “Oh you poor thing – let me help you.” It was all of us on the same adventure together; they were saving me too. I wonder if the greatest heroes don’t rescue victims but rather rescue friends. When we come along side of each other and really see one another like neighbors and family then we give and receive so great a help. The dualism of “us” and “them” begins to break, and the unity of loves begins to triumph.

“I wonder if anything is more urgent today, for the honour of Christ and for the spread of the gospel, than that the church should be, and should be seen to be, what by God’s purpose and Christ’s achievement it already is – a single new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters who love their Father and love each other, the evident dwelling place of God by his Spirit. Only then will the world believe in Christ as Peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due to his name.” -John Stott, God's New Society

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Nice Legs & Jesus

Miscommunication Heartbreak and the Holy Spirit

I missed the first couple weeks of class due to my trip to Europe with Mark the Photo Journalist, which wouldn’t have been a big deal save one very important piece of information. This media course required 10 one-page paper assignments to be turned in throughout the semester. That much was made clear. What wasn’t communicated was the academic value of these seemingly inconsequential tasks. So I missed a few here and there, shrugged a couple off, and at the end of the semester was met with a very surprising F. My assumption was that skipping a few simple assignments would be innocuous. I was wrong. Those suckers were worth 60% percent of the grade.

I did, however, meet Kelly the Communicator in that class. She sat two rows behind me. I looked over my shoulder a lot that first class. I liked her right away. She was attractive and she laughed at my jokes. She was the first girl I met who possessed a self-help, pop psychology, relationship book library as large as mine. I started walking Kelly back to her dorm after class; we would flirt and exchange stories. I remember being too scared to ask for her number so one day after class I said, “Hey call me later and let me know if you’re going to the basketball game” at which point, in a moment of successful manipulation, I got her to ask for MY number.

She quickly became a very close friend to both my sister and I; which was perfect at the time. Kelly is the kind of girl that makes a guy want to grow up and become better. She carries herself well, she’s articulate, and she is very loyal. When a couple guys from my floor decided to get a house off campus, Kelly and my sister decided it would be fun to rent out the house next door with a couple other girls. And so was the beginning of our little community. I finally asked Kelly the Communicator out at the end of the spring semester. She was the first girl I dated since high school. I was living the dream; dating the girl next door, playing music with my roommates and racking up heaps of student loan debt to do it.

Kelly was a great teammate, a trait I probably took advantage of too much. She was constantly helping me with class and even some of the work I was doing at the time. After my car was stolen she became my chauffeur. That poor girl did the best she could to put up with my worst. Looking back my truest failure was in my disillusion; I wanted to be a rock-star, plain and simple.

I think Kelly liked the idea of dating a musician until we started talking about the future. All of a sudden the uncertainty overshadowed the excitement and lent itself to worry. This was the beginning of the downward spiral. Little fights became big fights, feelings were hurt, and egos were bruised. My favorite argument was over a Jimi Hendrix poster in my music room. We duked it out over the phone for twenty minutes while I was wandering around a record store in the mall. Years later I realized her problem was not with the poster but with the ideology it represented.

We had many discussions that were tainted by miscommunication. What she would say and what I would hear would be different and vice versa. We did try to work through our differences. I would even wager to say we might have been too educated for our own good at that point. All those self-help relationship books shined in our ability to theorize on how to communicate with one another but proved destructive to the actual conversation. While she encouraged me to be the best possible version of myself academically and professionally I interpreted her loving encouragement as a threat and ploy to get me to give up on my dreams, quit music, and become a College Professor.

One night I asked Mark the Photo Journalist for some advice. He asked me two questions. 1. Does she love Jesus? and 2. Does she turn you on? The answer to both was yes. But I needed more than nice legs and Jesus to convince me that Kelly and I were meant for each other.

Sometimes relationships are like that media class I failed. You think you’re doing great and the mistakes you’re making are inconsequential. It feels familiar and easy but the next thing you know it’s over and your heart has a big F on it.

1 Cor 13 6-8
6 {love} rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love never fails.

There’s no big red ribbon, no white-horse-happy-ending. Kelly and I broke up. It was ugly. I hurt her pretty deeply and we both made mistakes.

God is a God of restoration; this is one thing I know. Not only that, He’s also a God of relationship. I don’t know what eternity looks like; I’m not a scholar on the new heavens and the new earth. But I do wonder if those we tie our souls to in this life, the ones we let in, connect with on a deeper level, the people who are like family to us; I wonder if those are the people our spirits will rejoice with in eternity. If that’s true it makes me want to love well – here in this present life – so the next stage can be a little sweeter.

Years later Kelly and I reconnected and repaired our friendship. Clarity is a funny thing. It usually comes thirty seconds to late. Learning to listen, learning to communicate, learning to love isn’t something I’ve found in pop psychology books. It’s a painful beautiful process that I will walk through the rest of my life as I follow the spirit and commune with the Father.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Cheap Beer, Cops, Weed & Jesus

day 30
finding God's presence in the dark

Have you ever smelled something that took you to another place? Or maybe heard a sound that turned your brain into a time machine? Doctors call it “involuntary recurrent memory”, more commonly referred to in TV and film as “flashbacks”. For some reason every time I catch the scent of yogurt covered raisins (which isn’t very often) I instantly flashback to second grade, grabbing a snack out of the pantry in my parents’ house, right before a wild pitch with a tennis ball took out a window pane in our garage.

One of the more meaningful involuntary recurrent memories I have is from a road trip, my Junior yr in college, to Charlotte, NC. I’m sitting in the back seat of an old Geo Metro. The kid on my right smells like alcohol and energy drinks; we’ve stopped on a side street and the other guy in the back seat steps out to purchase some of his “medicine” (marijuana) for the trip. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the car who was over twenty-one; so when the Charlotte metro officer pulled up behind us I was more than a little concerned about how the next few minutes of my life were going to unfold. In that moment I asked myself a question that is very important to ask yourself in these types of situations. “What am I doing with my life?!”

My first semester at Lee University had its share of hardships; with my car being stolen, losing a close friend to suicide, coming back from Europe quite ill, and fighting with depression, not to mention the normal frustrations with adjusting as a transfer student. My head and my heart were burnt out. I had been trying to cope emotionally, catch up academically, and stay alive spiritually. But I wasn’t doing any of those things well.

My social drinking started becoming more of a hobby. This will get you friends when you live on an alcohol free campus. I became known as the guy with the bottle of Jack Daniels stored in the drop ceiling above my closet. Occasionally I would come across complete strangers in my room, with a freshly mixed drink, a couple bucks on the table and low muttered “thanks bro” as he walked out. I’m not sure when my closet attained open bar status, but when you’re hooking the right people up, you don’t get in trouble.

A couple days before I left for Charlotte I was talking to my Sister; she was trying to pray some sense into me. She said, “J. You need to start Loving the Lord; I don’t think you love God very much these days”. And she was right.

Sure between drinks and classes I had tried to find God a few times that semester. I looked for God with my guitar, on my bed, in that prison cell of a dorm room, I checked a few churches in my town to see if He was there, even looked for him on a couple of dates with “good girls”. But I didn’t find Him. At least not the Him I was looking for at the time.

I don’t remember anything about the ride to Charlotte, only that I couldn’t wait to get away from the dorm rooms in Bowdle Hall. So there I am, in a back seat full of very incriminating evidence scrambling to hide the empty bottles of Smirnoff ice and 211 Steele reserve. Praying to a God I hadn’t kept in touch with, to keep me out of jail. Sometimes it takes those aha! moments of “what had to go wrong in my life to end up here?” to really clear up the brain fog.

The next few minutes seemed like an eternity, and I may not have been very close to God earlier that day but you better believe I remembered how to pray real quick. So somewhere between answered prayer and dumb luck that officer stayed in his a car and carried on with his business. The next morning, as a sign of good faith I decided to pay God a visit. I went to church with my friend Manny. Manny’s father was the pastor of a black church in Charlotte. After the service Pastor Threatt invited me over for lunch. That afternoon I opened up, I told him about my roommate’s death, my stolen car, my search for a God I had once loved so much. I explained how I had been feeling burnt out and how any attempt to find, love, or serve God was kind of empty and more out of habit than faith. Fully expecting him to commiserate with me and pat me on the back, imagine my surprise when he said, “The only time people get burned out is when they don’t spend enough alone time with GOD. Let me show you.” He then took me upstairs to a small finished attic space. It was there in that little room with its pink carpet, plush pillows, and unscented candles for the first time in a very long time I felt the presence of the LORD. Pastor Threatt told me that this was his prayer room, where he “hung out” with God. Usually I would say this was hokey but down deep I knew it to be true. I could tell this man had long talks with God, like they were friends or brothers or something.

Even though my ride to Charlotte wasn’t very memorable I’ll never forget the ride back. I was silent the whole time. I felt the darkness starting to lift and the words of my sister Lore’ and Pastor Threatt kept repeating in my head. Love God and spend alone time with Him. Could it really be that simple?

john 15 26 "When the Advocate is come whom I will send to you from the Father's presence--the Spirit of Truth who comes forth from the Father's presence--He will be a witness concerning me.

John 16 27 for the Father Himself holds you dear, because you have held me dear and have believed that I came from the Father's presence.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Unrequited love songs

day 29
God as the hopeless romantic

I write a lot of songs. I’ve been lucky enough to write with some amazingly talented people over the years. Some famous, many not, but all very passionate about their craft. Song writing is such a strange process because for some it’s not really a process at all; it’s more like an experience. For others it’s much more mechanical; show up at work, write some melodies, articulate some lyrics, throw in a catchy guitar riff and move on to the next one.

Many of my songs are inspired by my woeful love life or the romantic happenings of my friends. One of the recurring themes in my songs and in my life is “unrequited love”. I have a skill for being captivated by the uninterested. Don’t get me wrong this is not a cry for sympathy as much as it is a communication of empathy. Most of us have experienced that pit in our stomachs when someone we like walks into the room, and we are dying to confess our feelings but we don’t for one reason or another. Also, I imagine many of us have mustered up the courage to actually speak our heart only to be let down easy with some sort of thanks but no thanks.

Rejection hurts, whether we are paralyzed by the fear of it or immobilized by the feelings after it; it’s painful. I read an article recently about how great music comes from broken people. For me this is true, some of my favorite songs were reflections on my least favorite moments in life. There were the girls with whom I fell in love with the idea of them, the ladies with whom I landed quickly in the friend zone, and the women who I actually shared my feelings with only to be shot down like a bird in hunting season. Yet, I have no regret of being willing to take chances with love.

Does it hurt to not be loved back? Yes. I have been disappointed and let down by those who used me as their backup plan, as the emotional fill in or the fake boyfriend. Though, if I’m honest, I’m guilty of the same with others. Everyone wants to feel love; relational, brotherly, or otherwise. We crave it, live by it, and above all it’s part of who we are designed to be. It’s no wonder the great commandment is to love God and love others. When humanity is deprived of love it is deprived of the richest of all natural resources.
“Unrequited love is love that is not openly reciprocated or understood as such, even though reciprocation is usually deeply desired. The beloved may or may not be aware of the admirer's deep affections.”

The greatest unrequited lover is Love Himself. He has deep affections for us and sometimes we are completely oblivious. Sometimes we make God the backup plan. We give him a call when we’re a little sad or lonely. We send him a drunken text when things with whatever idol we’ve replaced him with aren’t going so well. We put Him in the friend zone and only allow our ability to give and receive love to go so deep.

One of the worship leaders I played with years ago used to say, “Christians don’t tell lies they just sing them”. “...I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone” or “All I want is you...” Grace is God saying, “I love you” and worship is us responding “I love you too”. Sometimes that looks like songs of adoration; sometimes it’s feeding the hungry or praying for the sick. Whatever it is that we do to not just love but do love is worship.

There is a God in Heaven who is desperately longing for a relationship with us. He is fascinated by us, enamored with our intricacies, unabashedly proud of who we are, and completely overwhelmed with compassion and a desire to see us walk in the fullness of who we are designed to be.
1 Cor 13
2 And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Would it be safe to say that I could be the most spiritually gifted believer on the planet but if I don’t have, poses, receive God as the fullness of love, then it profits me nothing?
1 John 4
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19We love, because He first loved us.

He loved us first, with no hesitation, and put all his cards on the table. The cross stands as a shameless display to win our affections. The Groom is down on one knee, ring box open, saying, “I know you don’t really know me, but you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve been watching you for a while, your whole life in fact, I love everything you do. I see so much goodness in you. I want to spend all of my time getting to know you better from now until forever. I’d be honored if you would let me.” And sometimes we say no.

I’ve written a lot of songs, some great and some not so great. But there’s an author writing the poems and prose of eternity on the pages of humanity – a pen dipped in the ink of compassion. How incredible is the invitation to have a part in this story?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The story of Johny Gelato

Day 28
There's a difference between sharing the gospel
and sharing of the gospel

If you’ve ever been to a larger city you’ve seen the street meat cart; those shiny metal boxes filled with delicious, wax paper wrapped heart attacks. Hot dogs, pretzels, Gyros, you name it I probably bought one from a street vendor. In the Summer of 2005, before Mark became the photo journalist capturing images for the Times and The Journal, he was running a Marketing Company in Rochester. I came down late that spring to help him out with a few projects. When I arrived at the office on the 5th floor of the Goodman St. complex the place was a mess. There were sheet metal and insulation pieces on the ground, and the over-sized whiteboards on the east wall were covered in strategies and plans for something.

One of our friends hat recently returned from a trip to Italy. While he was there he experienced the delight of fine homemade Venetian gelato. The idea was simple. Bring an international dessert to NY and sell it out of a cart. We had a superior product from an amazing supplier, a vintage style mobile ice box, and of course the key to the whole thing was our friendly face to the masses. Which I didn’t realize until the end of Mark's pitch, was me.

It seemed like a good plan. I’d put on my candy stripe button down and my newsies cap, head down toward the pier, and sell cart fulls of dessert cups. We tried everything to get that business off the ground. We took it to festivals, fairs, birthday parties, anywhere we could get people to try it. You would expect that being a salesman for something that everyone should like would be easy right? I’d give history lessons on gelato to potential customers, I’d offer free samples, we even had punch cards to encourage repeat business.

That cart quickly became the bane of my existence. It was a quarter mile from the storage facility to our spot on the pier, and it was literally up hill both ways. I spent 12-14 hours a day, six days a week, trying to sell that stuff. We eventually hired high-school Kate to operate the cart because the company couldn't afford to pay me.

I remember one of our early business meetings, one of the selling points was that we were going to all make so much money we’d take a trip to Italy, and eat gelato in Venice or Milan. Ironically enough, Mark and I did end up in Italy together, on a missions trip. Unfortunately, it was for about 12 hours, most of which were spent in an airport, waiting for our flight to Hungary.

You learn a lot from failure. Once you experience it, it loses some of it’s fear factor. We started a business, used every trick and most of the money we had, but it didn’t work. I wish I had 7 reasons why Johny Gelato failed and 6 steps to success, but I don’t. And this is how sharing your faith can feel sometimes. I don’t mean sharing it in the, "I left a chic tract in the gas station bathroom", or the "If you were to die tonight” tactic. I mean wearing Jesus on your sleeve, choosing to take up your cross and follow him; constantly trying to hear from and follow the voice of the Holy Spirit. Sharing your faith like a pre-schooler shares her Oreo cookies.

As if to say, “Here’s something I love, that my mommy or daddy gave me, it’s awesome. Do you want some?" Which is kind of what we were doing with our frozen dessert, “It’s awesome, I know you’ve never tasted anything like this before!" "Sure, there’s other stuff down the road that’s similar, but this is the real thing!” I hope that’s kind of the place our faith sharing comes out of. A place of relationship, with an honest story, and a genuine heart that really translates to people.

But when it doesn’t, that’s okay too. In the kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom we are praying daily to come as "His will be done”, success is not measured by conversion numbers; it’s not even measured by how obedient we are to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, though that is vital. Success in the kingdom of God is Christ, and Him crucified, risen and coming again. Should we be faith sharers? Yes! As long as it is the love of Christ that compels you toward compassion for those in need of Love. People are the only thing that are eternal; Why invest in anything else?

Philemon 1
1Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philemon’s Love and Faith
4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.a 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.