Saying Goodbye

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I remember vividly that night more than 7 years ago. Whitney and I had been married for 8 months and finally decided to get a puppy. We prayed about it and took the leap of faith. We weren’t ready. Sleeping on the floor by the crate of our new dog, Freckles, assuring her that she wasn’t alone. I was learning exactly what it meant for something else to be completely dependent on me. We carried that tiny puppy up and down three flights of apartment stairs at 3 in the morning so she could learn to use the bathroom outside. All the while, I was learning to put my own comfort aside because she needed me to take care of her.IMG_1187.JPG

The first day we had her, we had to leave her in the crate while we went to church. We came home to an escape artist puppy who had left her excremental artwork on the floor, the wall, and the door. I felt even more sure that I wasn’t ready to take care of her.

But every day, I got more and more used to her rhythms, and pretty soon it felt like she was taking care of me more than I was taking care of her. She was my companion through late nights of studying and papers during grad school. Our forays to the dog park always sparked the most interesting conversations. In some sense, she was a better bridge to the gospel than I was on my own. Every time I came in the door from work, her tail wagged so hard that it hit each wall with an ear splitting thud.

When my brother came to live with us, working through a rough spot in his own life, Freckles was his therapy. You never needed to beg for her affection, she gave it liberally. Her bark was scary, unless you knew it was just her way of begging to jump and kiss your face.

When Whitney got pregnant, she went from being “my” dog, to being Whitney’s dog. She used to sit at my feet, under my desk, and follow me around. She could sense something was different when Whitney got pregnant and she turned into a protector. She was Whitney’s shadow.

IMG_4572When J was born, she started checking on him. At first it was licks and sniffs, later we’d find her sitting outside of his room, just making sure everything was ok. She loved that little boy. She tolerated his antics, but love him she did. Sometimes she wanted more space than a 3 year old gives (especially when his idea of love is jumping on and chasing her). But one lick and he was the happiest person in the world.

When we had a miscarriage in 2014, Freckles knew what to do. She snuggled her head under Whitney’s arm, looked up with her big brown eyes, and licked the tears away. There are few things more beautiful than the unrelenting love of a dog.

And today we had to say goodbye.

This moment came suddenly and much too soon. Freckles developed pancreatic cancer and the treatment was too dangerous, too costly, and too ineffective.

To be fair, she was “just a dog.” But “just a dog” was what we loved about her. She was an important part of our family. She was part of our routine, our conversations, our life. She contributed love and affection. She provided companionship and activity. She taught us sacrifice and love. She was the “dog” part of our family. Her intuition and affection played a part in our lives. She was “just a dog” but dogs are family too. I miss her already.

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This poem by Jimmy Stewart captures some of my feelings of joy and loss.

Fear and Worship

My pastor preached a fantastic message on fear the other day from 2 Timothy 1. A lot of the things he said resonated with me. They made so much sense of the world, the way people act, and the way the good news of the gospel gives hope and freedom rather than bondage.

Fear is a universal and powerful emotion. It is good to be afraid of the right things (a.k.a. clowns). I always think of people who should be afraid of something but aren’t, the results are often disastrous. I never understood people who could glibly play with giant snakes or tigers. Some things should cause fear! Some fears are even kind of funny.

However, most people are afraid of the wrong things. Rather than being humorous, a lot of fears leave people paralyzed, timid, and cowardly in the face of things beyond their control. They are afraid of things that shouldn’t matter. They are incapacitated by the meaningless approval of people, by trying to control every little facet of life, by buying into the lie that any problem in life is an unfair crisis, and so much more.

I was pointed to some powerful quotes from Corrie ten Boom that echo the teachings of Jesus in Luke 12:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

What became abundantly clear as I listened to the description of fear in the Bible is that fear is really an act of worship. We give authority to what we fear. We submit to what we fear. That is why the Bible says to “fear God” but not to fear man. When we fear God we submit to Him, we worship Him. When we fear other things we actually submit to them. When we fear God, we are telling Him that He is powerful, in control, awe-inspiring, worthy of our submission, and rightly entitled to our worship. That is why unhealthy, unbiblical fear is idolatry. That is is why so many people are trapped in their fears. They have literally submitted themselves to their fear. Their fear controls them. They spend their lives offering sacrifices at the altar of their fear. So many of us have sacrificed joy, freedom, relationships, and new experiences to our ungodly fears.

If you look at it closely, you can see by someone’s level of fear where there worship is directed. As my pastor reminded me:

When our heart is set on the world, so are our fears. As a result, everything in the world scares us.

This is why so many people see the world as a great, big scary place. The world isn’t scary. Sure, it’s broken by sin, but behind the brokenness we see the beauty and promise of God’s creation. Behind the pain, we see the longing for redemption. The world is full of murder, hatred, war, and tragedy but that is not all it is. When I see the dancing colors of a vibrant sunset or hear the unrestrained laughter of my child, I’m reminded that God has embedded flashes of hope, which point us to what creation was intended to be and what God promised to come back and make it.

I think this is why one blogger recently called “fear” the “greatest false idol of modern Christianity.” A Christian (so-called) who worships at the alter of fear spends all their time pointing out their enemies, managing their morality, and playing defender to God (as if he needs our help). It’s as if they feel that God might lose if they don’t try hard enough. God does not need your defense. He wants your trust, worship, love, and obedience.

It reminds me of a quote I read once:

The message of Christianity isn’t that the world is a scary place where everything and everyone is a potential threat—but you wouldn’t know that on Facebook.

There is a powerful sense among many Christians that everything is bad and everything is falling apart and that the future is hopeless. What that does is put our fear and, in a real sense, our faith in the things of this world. This might be why Christians have such a bad reputation for being fearful, hopeless, curmudgeons.

But there is a better way. There is a way that acknowledges and grieves over the brokenness of this world. But that grief is not as those who have no hope. If we have tasted the goodness of God, then we can have a humble, confident, joyful hope in His promises. We can learn to see the remnants of God’s beauty even in a broken world. We can learn to encourage each other with the proven promise of God’s faithfulness. We can live in fear and worship of God, rather than submission to His creation.

So the question becomes, who or what do I fear and worship today?

Christmas Isn’t Over at Our House

Christmas is one of my favorite times. Our family has been fortunate enough to find a way to carve out meaningful traditions while maintaining some sense of calm and peace. This year was full of lots of things. I was able to preach on Matthew 1-2, we had tons of family in town, and J is at that fun age where Christmas is full of wonder. It is nice when a pair of shoes and sunglasses is enough to evoke awe (such is the life of a 2 year old).

One of the things I wasn’t quite prepared for was J’s lack of compartmentalizing Christmas. We have (for better or worse) boundaries for our Christmas celebration. There’s a time when we start listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies (you can see some of my favorites here). Everyone gets all flustered when Christmas displays appear in the store too soon. We also try hard to get our tree and lights down close to New Year’s day.

Our 2 year old does not understand these boundaries. When Christmas and New Year’s came and went he still wanted to watch his favorite Christmas movie (for those wondering I’ve seen “Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas” a gazillion times). Not to mention the “Mickey Mouse and Friends Christmas Favorites” CD is on repeat in the car (surprisingly the music quality is very nice). As he’s going to bed at night, I’m still likely to hear him softly sing Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, or Happy Birthday Jesus over the baby monitor.

The more I think about it, the more I’m okay with extending our Christmas celebration. One of the great frustrations of nominal Christianity is attendance at a worship service that has no bearing on the ins and outs of every day life. The truths of Christmas (e.g., the incarnation of God, the glory and truth of Christ, the worship and adoration of those who first met the newborn King, etc.) should permeate every day of our lives. God becoming flesh is not an occasional or seasonal event to be acknowledged but a world-altering, life-changing, paradigm shift that changes everything. Every decision, every relationship, every day has been forever touched by Christmas, so maybe it’s okay that Christmas isn’t over at our house.

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Liberty University and Benny Hinn: A Match Made in Confusion

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.20.27 PM (2)Today the announcement that Liberty University was partnering with Benny Hinn Ministries hit the interwebs. The relationship seemed official. The course material bears the name “Liberty University.” There is even a mock diploma with the name and apparent official seal of LU. The provost of Liberty is in the video with Hinn and a prominent Liberty donor endorsing the partnership. There have been past internet grumblings of associations between late Liberty founder, Jerry Falwell, and Hinn but we all know how hyperbolic the internet can be.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 3.21.09 PMMany (most?) evangelicals would consider Hinn’s theology and ministry practices to be clearly aberrant. Sproul has argued that heresy is a fair description of Hinn’s teachings (not too mention his lavish lifestyle and spending). Especially those associated with the more conservative strains of American Evangelicalism (e.g., Liberty University) have been quick to denounce the word-faith theology and pseudo-miraculous claims of Hinn. So any such partnership would immediately cause shock.

Within minutes of the announcement there were affirmations and denials of such a partnership. Liberty issued a statement:

Liberty University is not partnering with Benny Hinn.  Liberty transferred the operations of Liberty Home Bible Institute, a non-accredited biblical studies certificate program, to Mr. Dan Reber a number of years ago.  It is our understanding that LHBI’s new operators are working with Benny Hinn but LHBI is no longer operated by Liberty University.  Mr. Reber was granted certain licensing rights to use Liberty’s name because the Liberty name was deeply imbedded in LHBI course materials.  He was also required to obtain permission from Liberty University for any changes in marketing of the courses and Liberty University is investigating to determine whether this new marketing approach violates the terms of its agreement with Mr. Reber.”

The statement echoes the problem with the partnership. Liberty does not want to be connected to Hinn. Liberty definitely needs to investigate. Yet, while Liberty claims LHBI is no longer operated by the university, their website implies something different. Not only is LHBI on the liberty.edu website, it boasts that an LHBI degree is transferrable toward an LU degree. Further, the current Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Liberty University Provost is seen in the video endorsing this partnership.

So what hath Lynchburg to do with Hinn? In my opinion: too much.

There is no place for LU or its subsidiary institutions, much less its prominent faculty to sacrifice Biblical fidelity and sound Christian theology at the altar of a pragmatic partnership with a theologically and ethically suspect televangelist.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 4.19.59 PM*Besides, we all know that Hinn is really from the dark side.

 

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