Archive for November, 2008

Nov 30 2008

The Innocent Question of a 7th Grader

Published by under Life

I help to teach 7th/8th grade Sunday school at my church. It’s always a super fun time. You’d think it would be full of unruly, sniveling little tweens. And you’d totally be right. And they’re HILARIOUS! Even though 7th/8th graders can’t think like older kids, they more than make up for it with personality. They haven’t reached the age yet where being sullen is cool. They’re full of energy and, for most, their personalities are on full display. Yes, it’s probably because of the awkwardness of the age, but I feel like the creepy old guy in the Geico commercials – I’m observing these kids in the wild – even if the wild happens to be a Sunday school class.

With all that said, every once in a while, one of the kids asks a question so penetrating that it cuts to the core of MY heart. Today it happened not once, but twice. I’ll share one of the innocent questions and why it’s not nearly as innocent as it seems.

“Hey, where does Jesus actually say He was dying for the sins of the world?”

Notice the question is where does JESUS actually say it. This seems totally innocent. And it kind of is. It’s not like the question is asked with malicious intent. But there’s a huge problem. If you’re a Christian and you try to answer that question yourself, you may not have an answer. And if you don’t have an answer, and you have a certain temperament that needs answers to questions like this, you’ll get a panicked feeling. It feels like a bucketful of extra blood gets thrown into your heart. You get a little sweaty. You hear this faint voice in your head that says, “Oh, man.” There are lots of questions that will cause you panic if you can’t answer them. His question made me reflect on an experience I had a while ago and, coupled with the sermon from church this morning, reminded me of something.

When I was a sophomore in college, this exact thing happened to me. I was a Freshman Orientation leader. I took the freshman all over campus and did activities with them for 4 days. On the last night, we had a motivational speaker talk with all the freshman about college life. During the course of the lecture, the speaker made some disparaging remarks about Christianity. So after his lecture was over, I went to talk with him about what he’d said. In the 5-minute span of our conversation, he did more to undermine my confidence in the bible than anything I’ve experienced. And it all started out with that simple question above. Unable to answer, he pressed the issue further and began throwing the hammer down on the entire bible, doing so with similar innocent questions – never getting angry, just asking questions. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t answer him. Over time, I got some answers to my questions, but there are still periods of my life where I have problems with the book of John. In fact, I can probably just say, “I have problems with the book of John.” In my heart I believe all of God’s Word is right, but something in my head still has problems with the book of John.

What am I saying? Someone might reasonably think I’m going to say youth workers need to have answers to these questions. I think it’s good that they do, but that’s not the point I’m after here.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.” (Exodus 13:17)

Our aim in having Garmins and TomToms is not to get lost. We want the most direct route. God often doesn’t work that way. He takes us the long way. Intuitively, something inside us understands this. Rascal Flatts scored a huge hit with “Bless The Broken Road.” The Israelites’ road to the Promised Land was more than 400 years long because getting the Israelites to the Promised Land wasn’t God’s only objective. He had tons of stuff He wanted to show them. He had lots He wanted them to experience and learn.

Maybe the kids in Sunday school panicked when they heard that question (we’re talking about it next week in class). Maybe they didn’t. Hopefully I won’t always have problems with John. Either way, we have to trust that God is taking us the way He wants. The direct route is an answer in 5 seconds. The indirect route is an answer in 5 years. Only He knows why one person gets the direct route while another doesn’t. But He’s not a robot. He’s not predictable. And I think that’s cool! Sometimes it doesn’t work out how I want it but God isn’t a Garmin.

“Jesus told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:26-27).

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Nov 26 2008

The Poor Aren’t At Our Parties

Published by under Life,Worms

I’ve got a broken heart right now.

There are so many things which compete for our time, attention, and money.

During the holidays, one thing we hear about is poverty and hunger. According to this Anderson Cooper blog entry, 1 in 8 Americans got food assistance of some kind last year. As food banks struggle to keep up with demand, we can only assume more are in need of food. That doesn’t even broach the subject of world hunger.

Here’s why I have a broken heart. Because I’m so heartless.

One of the women in the story talks about how many of us spend as much on ONE MEAL as some people need to eat for one DAY…OR LONGER! That prompted me to ask this: “Why do I go out to eat at all? And if I do, why go to such expensive places?” In effect, I’m saying this: “Oh, yeah, I know there are poor people who need a meal. But I need this $20 steak more.” And there is no argument anyone can make to me that will convince me this is not morally deficient. MORALLY deficient. Our consciences (or maybe more accurately, volition) are fine with all of this. Every day.

We go to all these parties, creating elaborate themes and costumes and dishes, drinking wines and beers, eating dips and cheeses, watching football and movies, listening to music. And most of us, myself included, rarely think about poor people.

Having fun is no crime. I’m not hating on parties. But that doesn’t let us off the hook! Abandoning huge segments of humanity while focusing entirely on ourselves is a huge problem. It is selfishness in its highest, ugliest form. And we wear it like a garment. Daily. It looks so good at all our cool activities. But aren’t we just whitewashed tombs? Won’t we be exposed some day? Are we so sure we’re living life the right way in this regard? I wonder if this is one reason why many of us secretly hate our lives. Maybe we weren’t supposed to live this way.

Here’s the worst of it…we may be sympathetic to the poor, but we never have time to do something about it. We’re so booked with our cool activities. And, even if we think about helping, the thought of actually doing something about it really bothers us. We get uneasy when we think about it. Often, the poor are weird. They smell strange or say weird things or generally creep us out. That’s honestly how I feel in my heart. And I HATE it! I feel like there’s nothing I can do about it. They offend our sensibilities. I wonder which of Jesus’ sensibilities I offend.

Sometimes the “poor” are white collar folk who hit a bad patch. Why are we more inclined to feel ok with helping them? Because they’re more like us. They’re familiar and comfortable and “normal.” In essence, we don’t believe that all men are created equal. We don’t believe that they are created with certain inalienable rights (among which I’m SURE food is one). We weasel out of things, rationalizing our way to the next event we’re attending. “I’ve earned this” or “They need to fight for themselves. I did.” The truth is: we didn’t. Other people have fought for us our whole lives. Who will fight for the poor? I know there are some great people doing great things with the poor. Most of us don’t, but should.

I wonder how many parties I’ll remember when I get older. I wonder what the quality of my life will be like. I wonder what regrets I’ll have. I’m hoping right now that neglecting the poor is something I can say I stopped doing when I was 28.

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Nov 23 2008

Sports Pics #1

Published by under Photography

Most people don’t know that I really dig photography. But I do – especially sports photography. The guys on my soccer team are studs. I’m a dud so I sub in a lot. Some games I make good use of my time and take pics while I’m waiting to get in. It’s incredible how difficult it is to get really good action shots. The 7 photos here are the best I could find out of about 1400. Happy sporting. (Oh, and the last pic is one of my brother, John. Speedy on land, speedy on the ice. Speedy Juanzalez.) Click on any of the pics and you’ll get the bigger version.

Hoover establishing position.
Hoover gets position.

Joe with a 30-yard hit.
Curtis with a 30-yard hit.

Jordan across the field.

Hoover again. Stop ahead.

Mila doing what he does…domainating the entire field.

Wiles winds.

Speedy Juanzalez.

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Nov 20 2008

Softballs and Close Calls

Published by under Uncategorized,Worms

Meatheads and Hosses
40 degrees here in Nashville tonight and my brothers and I were playing softball. Pretty chilly. We played two games tonight in the tournament. We won the first. In the second game, we played a team we lost to by 1 run in the regular season. The team we played is called Social Pipeline. They’re a cool group. I was thinking during the game how easily our judgments of people are formed and switched. When you look at a lot of the guys on the team, they’re cut. Their the ones Under Armour was made for. Guys built like me don’t exactly fill that stuff out.

Anyway, earlier in the season, seeing these guys for the first time, I thought, “What a bunch of meatheads.” Turns out the team is a ton of fun to play. It’s not like we’re joking around all game but a laugh here and a, “Nice hit” there can totally change your opinion about someone. So now these meatheads are just hosses (no, hot hoses…hosses…they’re big and can hit the ball far). A meathead is someone who is 1. bigger than you and 2. stupid and/or 3. drinks protein shakes at every meal and calls it muscle milk and/or 4. someone you have animosity toward, probably for one or more reasons above. A hoss is someone who is 1. bigger than you and 2. talented. There is a difference! Well, the team we played has a bunch of hosses – guys who can hit the ball very hard and very far. The first game against us, they hit 4 home runs farther than anything I’ve seen in a while.

The Games
From the time our first game began, I kept having this thought over and over again (I’m not telling you what it is yet). I pitch for our team so every few pitches I would have this thought. And it’s strange because every once in a while during the season, I think this thought, but not so many times in one night. Well, the first game ended and nothing became of my thought. Then we came to the 3rd inning of game 2. One of their hosses came to the plate. I had the thought again. I pitched the first ball. It was perfect. And he just watched it. Strike. “Weird,” I thought. “Why didn’t he bomb that thing?” Pitch 2. The batter swings…

The Hit
I’ve played baseball/softball for a long time. I played outfield in baseball and I pitch in sotball. When a ball gets hit, there is only one trajectory that’s difficult to judge. This guy hit it. “He hit the ball,” I instantly thought. “Why does it seem to be moving so slow?” My reflexes kicked in. “Because he just hit a line drive at you, dummy!” (My reflexes talk to me.) In all the time I’ve played, I think I’ve only had one other ball hit so hard at me. Line drives are so tough to judge because there is no frame of reference by which you can judge its speed. You just know its direction (at you).

The Aftermath
Is this just some melodramatic, not-so-interesting storytelling exercise? No. See, this guy hit a screaming line drive right at my head. That recurring thought I was having? All night long up until that point, I had been thinking, “You’re going to get hit in the head tonight.” I got my glove up and the ball didn’t quite hit in the webbing. Actually, for those keeping score at home, it hit me mostly in the first metacarpal (the index finger bone just below your actual finger digit). Stung like a beast. There were a bunch of people waiting to play the next game who were watching. I heard a collective gasp. The batter said, “Oh, sh!t” and came running out to see if I was ok. I always feel bad for batters when they hit a ball right back up the middle at me. They don’t intend to do it – it’s just part of the game. We slapped five (the bro five) and I said, “Ain’t no thing, man!”

But that’s just it. It WAS a thing to me. See, I’m scared to die.

Even though I’m a Jesus follower, I’m still scared to die. “What if that ball HAD hit me in the head?” Truthfully, I may not have died, but I’ve got to think it would have cracked my skull. And I mentioned this is the only the 2nd hardest hit ball. Last year, one of my friends hit a ball just like that. I got my glove up a split second before the ball hit my heart. Back then, I remember thinking about how trauma to the heart (via ribs) can cause it to beat irregularly or stop beating altogether.

On December 19, I’ll probably catch a flight back to Michigan. I’ll go and hang out with my family and eat good food and tell good stories and laugh a lot. And there’s no doubt in my mind I’m going home. It doesn’t scare me. It’s home.

So if, as a Christian, heaven is my true home, what does it mean if I’m scared to die? Does it mean I am UNSURE of what Jesus actually did on the Cross? I’m inclined to think, “I’m just a human. It’s normal to be scared of all that. I’ve been home hundreds of times. I’ve never been to heaven.” Ah, but that misses the essence of faith. The classic Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being SURE of what we hope for and CERTAIN of what we do not see” (emphasis mine). The author goes on to talk about all the people in the Old Testament who just trusted God. They took Him at His word.

The Truth
I’m afraid to die. That’s just the way my life is right now. Yes, this sometimes makes me wonder if I’m a Christian at all (I think I am, by the way – according to the gospel interpretation commonly accepted in evangelical circles, I’m a Christian). And, yes, some people reading this might feel sorry for me. But I’m beginning to be ok with all these things. Don’t get me wrong. There would be no greater Christmas present (or Tomorrow present) than understanding I really AM forgiven and I really AM going to heaven when I die.

In chapter 12, Hebrews says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

The Purpose
Is it possible that all the frustration and all the questions and all the doubt in our lives is producing a “harvest of righteousness and peace”? If God lets us wrestle with these questions (which can be painful), does that mean He’s disciplining us in some way? I don’t know. Maybe. Here’s what I wrote to my friend, Annie, today: “I wonder if people who always say life is awesome are just deluded or trying to delude others. Deceived or deceivers? And if they legitimately live on Easy Street, are we so sure we’d want to be there, too? See, I wouldn’t. And that’s interesting to me. A life on Easy Street scares the junk out of me.”

And THAT is why I don’t mind wrestling through the fact that I’m afraid to die. Should I be afraid? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I am. And this is another Worm of mine – something it scares me to admit. My name is Andy. I’m afraid to die. And Jesus is going to help me not be that way anymore. I trust His Word in Hebrews. I trust Him.

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