Why It’s Good to Cry

Can I be honest? I’ve never understood how some people can always have a sunny disposition. I’m not sure what to make of folks who always seem to be upbeat.

Now, to be sure, I could learn from such folks. And I hope I do. But I think it’s also true what the 4th century Christian leader, Gregory of Nyssa, said: “It is impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are.”

Life isn’t easy. Challenges come our way, and, truthfully, I don’t always feel like smiling.

I think what I’m referring to is the ache that I believe is in every human heart. It’s a longing for more; it’s the ability to see what is, and what should be — and to recognize the two are so often so far apart.

Maybe this has something to do with getting older — because it’s not just my wife who’s piling on the years. And maybe, the older we get, the more we recognize how this life, this world, this this is not all it should be. It’s not all God wants it to be.

At this point, as I’m typing these words, I clicked over to my music app, which I had paused. When I looked at the next song, it’s by one of my favorite groups. The song’s title? Jesus wept. Lyrics include these lines:

Another bad guy wins
More good friends die
They mounted up like eagles
Now they’re dropping like flies
I cry “Let me out”
You’re saying “No, not yet”
Before he danced Jesus wept

Sure, it’s the shortest verse in the English New Testament. And yes, it’s a classic for kids to memorize who are looking for a simple verse to get points at VBS or camp. But what a powerful punch are contained in these two simple words: Jesus wept.

Jesus wept. My Jesus wept. The God-become-human Jesus wept. The One who knows how things ought to be — and came to make them that way — wept at all the ways they aren’t.

It may sound strange, but I take great comfort in the weeping of Jesus. For it shows me that I’m in good company when I weep at all the ways the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be; at all the ways the Church isn’t what it’s supposed to be; at all the ways those I love aren’t what they are meant to be; and at all the ways I am not what I am called to be. All my grief at these realities find their meaning in the reality that Jesus knows what I’m experiencing. For he ached for the very same things.

Now, to be clear, nothing I’m saying minimizes the reality of joy and peace. In fact, if anything, I think what I’m saying amplifies the need for the fruit of the Spirit. For, knowing what we know about this world and all its brokenness, we ache for more. And because of the presence of the Spirit, we get a taste of God’s grace in the midst of all this mess. The presence of joy isn’t the absence of ache and longing; it’s the hope and promise that our longing points to a Reality that is deeper than our hurt. Likewise, peace isn’t the lack of all longing; it’s the clinging to the promise that our longing is pointing somewhere.

And that somewhere is the kingdom that Jesus is building. It IS a kingdom of peace in the midst of war, suffering, divorce, depression, wayward children, and uncertain tomorrows. It IS a kingdom of love in a world of hate, apathy, racial tension, class warfare, and political bickering. It IS a kingdom of faithfulness in a world of faithlessness — faithlessness that I see on my TV set, and in my own heart.

So, that’s why I think it’s okay — even necessary — to put aside the smile sometimes, and even weep. For we long for what is not, but what Jesus came to bring — and what will one day Fully be. Til that day, I’m going to let the longing and ache I feel be a reminder, and a prompting, and a challenge to pray for, ache for, work for, listen for, and love toward the Kingdom of Hope.

It’s coming. I know it is. Because Jesus wept for it.

Someone I Love Is Turning 49

Gulp! Someone close to me is about to have a birthday — her last one before the 50-mile marker. How did I end up married to — how should I say this? — a woman of such advanced years?

If after that comment, my amazing wife is still reading, I’d like to share with her 13 reasons I love her. In honor of her age, I’ll break it down into 4 main reasons — and 9 supporting ones. Here goes…

Florida, January 2016

4 Reasons My Wife Is Fantabulous:

  1. She loves her family. Kim is a committed advocate for her kids. She goes to any length to provide for her kids — in ways they don’t even know, let alone appreciate. Hang in there, honey. Some day they will.
  2. She really cares about people. I enjoy watching her in action, as she encourages people who come into our orbit. Whether it’s a child, an older person, someone quirky, or just an average, everyday person, my wife always has time for people. And her concern for them is genuine. Especially if it’s a baby. If it’s a baby, bar the door. My wife has a special homing device for them.
  3. Kim demonstrates her love for God and people by serving. Service is literally wired into her brain; it’s what makes her tick. I have never been around someone who combines skill and desire as amazingly as she does. She is the rare breed that can feed 150 people — and enjoy doing it.
  4. And, of course, she loves and puts up with me. Need I say more?
25th anniversary, June 2016

Okay, now for the 9 supporting reasons:

  1. She’s an awesome cook! It’s truly amazing that I don’t weigh 300 pounds.
  2. No job or task is beneath her. For example, there was the time she went to spray a wasp’s nest in our back yard. To protect herself from getting stung, she put on a giant Tweety head. There’s a picture somewhere on her facebook page, if you really want to see it.
  3. She is the Queen of Bargains, the Empress of Extraordinary Deals, a specialist at finding special discounts, a veritable garage sale guru.
  4. Related to this: she’s never owned a new car, and doesn’t expect me to buy her one.
  5. She easily forgives. She is simply not a grudge-holder.
  6. We speak the same language, but sometimes she teaches me new ways to say common English words. Thanks, honey, for your creative use of the English language!
  7. Dear, is this a good place to remind you how easily you forgive?
  8. She has a great smile!
  9. She has literally helped me grow, and grow up, and grow in Christ.

Thanks, honey, for nearly 26 years! I love you!

Faith, Doubt, & the Choice of Easter

Recently, I read a book I really enjoyed. The Skeptical Believer, by Daniel Taylor, wrestles with faith, doubt, and what it means to live what we believe. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who likes questions, you’ll like this book. If you’re a person who simply has questions — whether you like them or not — well, then, you need to read this book.

Taylor doesn’t shy away from reasons skeptics have not to believe. In fact, he includes a chapter where he lists all kinds of reasons folks have to be skeptical, agnostic, or just straight-out atheist. There are intellectual objections (like the supposed inconsistency between faith and science). There are emotional objections (like the presence of pain and the absence of God). Some choose not to believe because of how the Church has acted throughout history (and there are plenty of ugly examples), and some can’t commit to belief when they find doctrines that they consider unpalatable. In total, Taylor lists 40 reasons people give for lack of belief in God, or the Bible, or the story of Easter that is at the center of both.

A part of what makes Taylor’s book unique is his willingness to address these concerns. He doesn’t dismiss them, or treat them casually. Instead, he challenges those who don’t believe to be honest in the search. Questions are ok, he says. But face them; don’t let the fact that you have questions keep you from honestly and fully pursuing truth. Taylor writes: Why would anyone stop looking? Why would you decide at 18 or 28 that there is no God, and not at least stay open to the idea that God might exist? If a person is really open to truth, why not stay open to truth?

In fact, why would anyone stop seeking Truth. Even for someone who doubts whether Truth (capital-T) exists, just the fact that you’re thinking about it means that it’s worth pursuing. By the sheer fact that we are able to ask big questions, why would anyone not?

Even so, when it comes to metaphysical matters, Taylor makes it clear: There is no such thing as certainty. When it comes to the Big Questions of God, purpose, and eternity, there can’t be certainty. That’s why we call it faith. And anyone, no matter what their decision is about the Big Questions, is making a faith decision — whether that faith is rooted ultimately in Science, or a Holy Book, or a life experience, or even just What-I-Feel-Inside-of-Me-Is-True. Ultimately, life is all about faith — in whatever form that takes.

Perhaps because of that, Taylor doesn’t point his reader to 3 convincing ideas that will turn a skeptic into a sure-minded believer. What he does point us to is the Story that is given to us in Scripture. It’s a story of hope, of grace, of meaning and purpose. And while we can argue with those who disagree with us, Taylor suggests a better apologetic, when he writes: “Having a plot for your life is better than having a proof.” For, as elaborates: “One can only answer some important questions, not with an argument, but with a life.”

In the end, I believe that the ultimate plot that tells me who I am is found in the Bible. And I believe that the ultimate guide for what Life is meant to be — and will one day fully be — is found in an itinerant preacher who made such an impact that the religious and political powers conspired to kill him. And they succeeded. For a time. Until Easter Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive.

I believe that’s exactly what happened on that first Easter, though I can’t prove it happened. No one can. But if it’s true, then everything changes, and life — my life, ALL of life — has new meaning, purpose, and direction.

So, this Easter Sunday, where I serve, I’ll be talking about the Choice that Easter lays before every person — the choice that Easter is either an End (death, Jesus defeated), or a Beginning (Jesus alive, Death defeated). You decide which is true, because only one can be true. But know this: either choice is ultimately a decision of faith. And, since it’s Easter, let’s just say: I know which basket I’m putting all my eggs in. How about you?

If I Were the Sports Czar

I am on vacation this week, so let’s do something light and largely pointless. Let’s talk about sports. Specifically, let’s talk about my ideas to make them better.

First, let’s look at the two sports that overlap this time of year: the NCAA basketball tournament, and Major League Baseball.

For March Madness, here’s my idea: expand the NCAA tourney from 68 to 72 teams. I would then divide the 72 teams into 4 brackets (just like it is now), but I would then seed them 1 through 18. Before the big opening weekend of March Madness, I would have the 15 seed play the 18 seed, and the 16 play the 17. The winner of the 15/18 game would play the 2 seed in each bracket, and the winner of the 16/17 game would play the 1 seed. This does a number of good things (at least in my mind):

  1. Adds four teams to the tournament, which doesn’t dramatically change the makeup, but does allow one or two additional mid-major teams to get in the tourney, and show what they can do against teams that refuse to schedule them during the regular season.
  2. Doubles the number of “play-in” games, making each night more intriguing.
  3. It gives the lowest-seed teams a chance to actually win a tournament game. And, to make it more exciting, the NCAA could decide to let the 15 and 16 seeds host the play-in games. This would put these opening NCAA games on college campuses, increasing the interest and excitement.
  4. The NCAA makes more money. And as we all know, the NCAA likes making more money.

Ok, that’s NCAA basketball. I’m going to skip the NBA, because…well, because I just don’t care about the NBA.

So, on to baseball. I would expand the wild card game to a three-game series. Currently, the two wild card teams in each league (American and National) play a one-game, sudden-death, loser-go-home free-for-all. While that’s exciting, for sure, it takes a sport with 162 games, and forces four teams to prove their postseason worth in only one game. And if in that one game, you have to face a guy like Madison Bumgarner or Jake Arrieta, you’re likely toast.

So, why not make the wild card a three-game series? This has the benefit of replicating what the season actually is. The six-month baseball season can be broken down, essentially, into lots of little three-game seasons. And the best teams tackle the season by trying to win as many three-game series as they can.

So, carry this over into the wild card, with a slight twist — and a throwback to the old days: play the first two games of a three-game wild card as a doubleheader. So, if the team that hosts the doubleheader wins both games, they move on without having to try to win the wild card on the road. But, if the visiting team can win one of those 2, they have the chance to win the third game at home. Since it seems to me to be a coin flip which is better — hosting the doubleheader, or having the final game at home — both wild card teams essentially have access to home field opportunity.

In the end, this simple change would add excitement and money (something MLB enjoys, just like the NCAA) — all without adding any extra days to an already-inflated postseason calendar.

On to college football. I think it’s time to expand to an eight-team playoff. To pick those 8, I would give an automatic bid to the team that wins the championship of the 4 top conferences. The remaining 4 bids would go to 4 at-large teams — determined in the same way the 4 teams are now picked.

Why four automatic bids? Well, it’s because there are five power conferences, and by only giving an automatic bid to the four, it serves as motivation to the teams in the those conferences to schedule stronger games. Each conference will be ranked on the strength of its out-of-conference schedule, and since no conference will want to miss out on an automatic bid, they’ll play better games.

In short, I see it working this way: if a team is the champion of one of football’s four best conferences, it deserves an automatic bid — even if it stumbled in the regular season (I see you Penn State). But with four at-large bids, deserving teams that haven’t won their conference also have a shot. And if adding an additional playoff game is too much for college students (I say this with no sense of sarcasm), then go back to 11 regular-season games.

Okay, one more: the National Hockey League. For that, I only have one suggestion: Let every team into the playoffs. Every. Single. Team. And then have a really short, 30-game regular season. With the league going to 31 teams this fall, have each team play each other team once — and that’s it. Begin the playoffs at that point, since, really, that’s all that matters anyway. I mean, does anyone really pay attention to the NHL regular season (outside of Canada, I mean)?

So, that’s what I would do if I were Sports Czar. What would you do?