Monday, October 27, 2008

Are Those Your Ribs?

We wear nametags at Lifehouse Church. It’s a practice I have historically avoided until now. Now I see the benefit of helping newcomers get to know about a hundred people. One Sunday morning, the woman writing out nametags gasped when I slapped the sticker to my shirt. Apparently, I had leaned back as I breathed in and she saw the ridge of my ribcage. “Isaiah! Oh my goodness! Are those your ribs? Do you eat?” She and I stared at each other for a moment. If she’s asking if I eat, I thought, that’s one thing. If she wants to know if I eat enough, that’s a different question altogether. It didn’t occur to me until later that I should have asked if she wanted to feed me. She apologized for making a scene about it and I told her not to worry. I’ve been this way my whole life.

If you can’t figure it out from my pictures, I’m a fairly scrawny dude. At a height of six feet two inches, I have, once, weighed a little more than one hundred forty pounds. There are a few reasons for this. First, I have a world-class, championship, gold-plated metabolism. Second, even if I have enough money to buy three meals a day, I usually forget about eating. One of my old roommates once said, “How can you forget about eating? That’s all I think about!” I’ll tell you how. I’m busy. I’ll get to reading and writing, playing music, cleaning, watching a baseball game, or anything besides taking the time to preparing a meal. Grazing typically gets me through the day, though. If I can wrap my teeth around a granola bar or bagel while I’m working, I can sustain for hours. Sometimes days. This will go on until I see an oversized, perfectly cooked steak advertised on television or smell someone grilling as I walk by their house. Then I’m reminded, “Oh right! I haven’t eaten.” Suddenly, I feel downright ravenous. The next chance I have to eat a meal, I will devour it without any thought towards table manners.

Like most stories, I didn’t see any significance in what Nametag Lady said until much later. I’m re-reading Lilith by George MacDonald and came across a certain passage. The narrator has come to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Raven. “We are in want of something to eat and drink, wife,” he said; “we have come a long way!”

“You know, husband,” she answered, “we can give only to him that asks.” She turned her unchanging face and radiant eyes upon mine.

“Please give me something to eat, Mrs. Raven,” I said, “and something – what you will – to quench my thirst.”

“Your thirst must be greater before you can have what will quench it,” she replied; “but what I can give you, I will gladly.”

The whole book is like that. One, big metaphysical knot that MacDonald takes his sweet time in untying. How can a person be hungry or thirsty, but not nearly enough to have the thing that will really satisfy? Wouldn’t it makes sense that if a person were only a little thirsty, a little water would take care of the thirst? Isn’t a snack sometimes enough? Mrs. Raven’s enigmatic reply reminded me of two passages in scripture. Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” Then, in John 4, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well. He asks her for a drink and this sets off a conversation that makes MacDonald’s dialogue seem elementary. Jesus then begins to talk about the difference between well water and “living water” that He has come to offer. He says in John 4:13-14, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

A good friend of mine told me that he wanted to become more disciplined in spending time with God. Then just a few weeks later, he confessed to how little time he had spent in prayer or reading his Bible. He said, “It’s not that I don’t have the time, but when the opportunity comes to spend time with Him, I make up excuses to do something else. I think the reason is that I don’t desire God enough.”

I told him, “Dude, please, I know you. You desire God. You’re hungry. You just don’t know how hungry you really are. I’m not going to pray that you become more disciplined. I’m going to ask God to show you just how desperately you already want Him. If you want something bad enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”

Of course, discipline is a good thing. Paul commended the church in Colossians 2:5, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.” But I believe that desire leads us to begin a pattern of discipline, after which we need to persevere in it. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul talks of working hard for the sake of the gospel. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

My friend’s problem with discipline and my eating habits look very much alike. When I have the time to eat a meal, I toast a bagel or open a bag of chips because I think it’s more important to do other things. I’m misdirecting my hunger to something that won’t satisfy. My friend wants to spend more time with God. At the moment he has the chance to get alone with God, though, he chooses to do something else that he believes is more important, like sleeping in.

Jesus’s death and resurrection enabled us to come into God’s presence. We now have the opportunity to accept His gift of salvation. This is at the heart of the gospel, and we must want His presence so badly that we’ll do anything to get there and stay there. We have to love the gospel so much that we can’t help but tell other people about it. We have to need God’s presence like the deer needed water in Psalm 42. We must feel our need to drink the living water Jesus offered before our thirst is quenched. We very well could be starving, but sometimes we need a lady to ask us if our ribs are showing. Once I realize that a granola bar isn’t a substitute for a solid breakfast, one meal isn’t enough. I have to commit myself to eating three meals a day, otherwise nothing will change. And I really should stop losing weight.

I wanted to remind any readers of my offer to answer questions in the form of a post. You may leave a comment here or email me at

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our Team Will Change the World.

The cool kids at Hiawatha Elementary School each had a favorite basketball team. They’d show off their trading card collections and posters of gigantic men performing super-human feats on the court. Well, I didn’t have those trading cards or posters. I didn’t watch professional basketball. Ergo, I wasn’t one of the cool kids. But what I did have was an intense desperation to avoid their scorn. At some point in fourth grade, one of the coolest kids asked me, “Who do you think the best basketball team is?” Other kids were laughing, thinking that I wouldn’t have an answer. I said, “The Harlem Globetrotters”. They laughed so hard that one could have called it hollering.

Later that year, I met Curly Neal, arguably the most recognizable of the Globetrotters. He tried to spin a basketball on my hand, but I was so nervous that it kept falling off. I brought a photo of our meeting to show and tell, me with a stupid grin, him looking with polite dismay at the ball toppling off of my hand. I told the kids that Fred “Curly” Neal was involved in the Orlando Magic organization (which was true). The kids thought I was trying to tell them that I had met Shaquille O’Neal, who played for the Magic. Afterwards, I decided never to discuss basketball with any of those kids ever again.

I hadn’t thought about the Globetrotters for many years until last week. My friend Matt and I were praying for the people in our church and I began to thank God for allowing us to have fun while we did His work. I thanked God for the victory that Jesus assured us even though we find ourselves in the midst of a battle. “It’s like you made us the Harlem Globetrotters,” I laughed. It was just an offhand remark in prayer, but now I can’t shake this picture of God’s church.

The Globetrotters are a highly skilled team that exists outside of any recognized league. Even though they have the talent to compete with NBA teams, they serve a different purpose. The UN named them Goodwill Ambassadors. They have traveled to 119 countries to show the world just how fun and how excellent people can play the game of basketball.

Every analogy will break down if you look into it hard enough, but think about this for a moment. The world seems defined by competition. Who has the best job or car? Who’s got the blazing hot wife? Who’s famous, successful, beloved, cool, or revolutionary? The world chases after these things, but it ends in frustration apart from God. Sometimes, God’s the one who frustrates those plans. The people in Genesis 11 tried to come together in direct opposition to one of God’s commands. In Genesis 11:6-7, “The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech.’”

Jesus trained His disciples for a new and different purpose. When He rose from the dead, He told them of this purpose in Acts 1:8. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This is typically referred to as The Great Commission. God Himself gave people purpose again, based and driven by the power of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Great Commission goes against the world’s attitude of competition. Instead of getting the biggest slice of pie, we’re meant to bring life and truth to the world.

Paul explained our new roles as Ambassadors for the Kingdom of God in 2 Corinthians 5:14-20. “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

I recently joined a church for the first time. When I joined, I put aside my old ambitions for fame and success with writing and music. In its place, I took on a new ambition to spread the Gospel with those talents. Many of my friends in this church have that same ambition. We hope to travel in at least 119 countries, should God call us there, in order to show people the good and excellence of life in Jesus. My punk rock heart loves the idea of existing outside of the recognized leagues of the world and speaking a message that runs contrary to its norms. But I know I’m not quite ready to go out there yet. During this period of my life, God is training me for that purpose and sharpening my skills.

Like all the kids who dreamed of one day becoming a Harlem Globetrotter, my friends and I look forward to the next step in advancing God’s Kingdom. And it’s going to be fun, because like the Globetrotters, you can count on seeing a victory.