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.

Of Babies, Grads … and Cardinals

Babies are a great way to start people.

I don’t know who first said that, but it’s a great line. And it’s so true. You have to be a pretty hardened and self-centered person not to notice a baby, and at least for a moment, be reminded of the joy of life.

But it’s not just babies that remind us of the many ways life involves joy and celebration. All throughout life, if we are paying attention, there are times to stop and simply be grateful for life, and those we share life with. Birthdays. Weddings. New jobs. First homes. Graduations. Retirements.

Life is full of difficulties and challenges, sure. But it is also full of times of celebration and shared joy. And shame on us when we miss those times, for they are gifts to be cherished and remembered. May happens to be a great month to do that, and so this Sunday at Fern Creek Christian we are going to celebrate new children, new graduates, and one guy who is anything but new — but has a powerful story. If Fern Creek is your church family, I hope you’ll join us to celebrate some important moments in the lives of folks within our church family.

But make sure you are also taking time to notice the moments of joy that happen around you each day. Don’t be so caught up in the now that you miss the new — for we serve a God who is continually up to new things.

The other day, I looked out my living room window and noticed a cardinal hopping around my front yard. Cardinals are everywhere — after all, I live in Louisville. This particular bird didn’t see me, so I was able to watch him for a couple of minutes. I made note of how black it is around his eyes — something I hadn’t taken the time to notice before. I watched as he pecked at the ground. I enjoyed seeing him continually bob his head, scanning the the space around him for danger.

Normally, I don’t give a cardinal more than a few moments. But stopping and seeing one the other day, I was able to remember the beauty of Cardinal,_Northern_male_Ash_2012our world, the wonder of God’s creation. I do that far less than I should.

Then, this past Sunday, I pulled into the church parking lot, and before I got out of my car, another cardinal came and landed on my driver-side mirror. But he must have noticed me right away, because no sooner had he landed — he took off again.

So close! And so close to another “cardinal” moment.

The truth is: all moments and seasons of celebration end far too quickly. But whether they last for a year, a month, a day, or a second, they are reminders of just how quickly life passes us by. And how good God is, during all seasons of life.

So, let me encourage you not to miss those “cardinal” moments — no matter how long they last. For they are gifts of God.

5 of the Best Things about The Church

Last week, I wrote about getting together with my larger family. This week I want to write about the same thing, only bigger. I want to talk about getting together with the larger church family.

I love the church where I serve, Fern Creek Christian. I love the diversity of folks. I love the opportunity to share life. I love how we are able to grow and serve together. But it’s also good to think about the fact that church is much bigger than just the people I see on Sunday. The Church is so much bigger, and makes more of a difference, than I can see — because the Church is so much bigger than just you and me.

Shine your light - at the North American Christian Convention
Shine your light – at the North American Christian Convention

I got to experience this, once again, at this year’s North American Christian Convention. The NACC is a gathering of several thousand folks who are striving to simply be Christians — followers of Jesus. At the NACC, we worship, we we are challenged & encouraged, and we see old friends and make new ones. In a nutshell, we are reminded that Christ’s Church is alive and well all over this country, and the world.

And as I reflect on why I love (and need) the larger church family, let me share these five things:

  1. We are family, no matter what. Our church family belongs together, because we need each other. Is life always easy, just because we follow Jesus? No. But we find ourselves needing others for the journey, precisely because it can be difficult. Church is the one place we should expect to experience love (even if it has to be tough love) — because family loves each other, no matter what.
  2. What unites us as a family is more important than what divides us. In church today, it is pretty easy to focus on the things we disagree about. The list is endless. But what holds us together must be stronger than what would pull us apart. Church is the place where we drawn together — and held together — because of Jesus. And Church must also be the place where what pulls us apart — our preferences, our wishes, and our feelings — never comes before the unity that we have in Jesus. What holds us together is not that we agree on everything; it’s that we agree on our need for Jesus.
  3. It’s really cool watching the church family grow. Is there anything more exciting than someone in your family having a baby? Is there anything more exciting than seeing a church give birth to new life in Christ? There is simply something wonderful about seeing new life begin. Church is that place — where we get a front row seat to watch people begin a life in Christ, and then watch them grow — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  4. Life is better with others you love. And Church is the place where we get to learn how to walk in the way of love. Can you think of any better thing to “walk in”?
  5. Laughter and joy should come naturally. Who has more reason to live life joyfully, full of hopeful laughter, than Jesus-followers? While at the NACC, I saw Tim Hawkins in concert. And I’m not ashamed to say that I laughed til I cried. Do you need a smile (or a belly laugh)? Give Tim a try. Life is meant to be joyful. Sure it has its times of sadness and pain. But faith recognizes that there is something deeper, something more meaningful than our hurt. Joy does not ignore life’s struggles; it simply knows a deeper truth — that we do not face the worst alone. We face them with Jesus in us and his people beside us.

If you’ve read this far, you might notice that my five points are exactly the same as in my previous post. (Just scroll down a few inches and you’ll see what I mean.) That’s because Church, when done right, is family. Church is not simply like family; it is family. For it is the place where we experience grace and love from God, and from each other. And by that love, we are changed.

The 5 Best Things about Family Reunions — and Families

Last week, my family got together for a family reunion. But this was no ordinary get-together. It was extraordinary because all 31 in my family were there — my parents, their five kids and spouses, and all the grandkids and great-grandkids. And it was even cooler because of the reason we gathered: to celebrate my parents’ 60th anniversary.

Mom & Dad on their big day - August 1, 1954
Mom & Dad on their big day – August 1, 1954

It was a fun weekend. The food was good; the weather was nice; and my team even won the Ultimate Frisbee game we played. But more importantly, this was the first time all 31 of us had been in the same place at the same time. And it was obviously the first time my mom and dad had a chance to celebrate 60 years of marriage.

I love getting together with my family, for special occasions or for just run-of-the-mill visits. And as I reflect on why I love (and need) family, five things come to mind:

  1. We are family, no matter what. Family is a place of love, no matter what we face — for family is the place where we are meant to face whatever we face, together. Is this always easy? No. Does it sometimes require hard choices? Absolutely. But family should always be the one place (even if it’s the only place) where I can be loved. No matter what.
  2. What unites us as a family is more important than what divides us. As I think about all the people in my family, there are some noticeable differences. Some worship at churches very different than what I am used to. Others look at life differently, or have everyday lives very different than mine. But what holds us together is not that we agree on everything; it’s that we are family. No matter what.
  3. It’s really cool watching my family grow. When we gathered, I got to meet my six-month-old great-nephew, Hudson, for the first time. And see his big brother Caleb for only the second time. Wow, had he changed! Is there any better place than family to watch others grow — physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Day after day, year after year, decade after decade — it is in family that we get to watch growth, and walk together through the growth that comes through the long journey of life.
  4. Life is better with others you love. Need I say more?
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    Never too old for a selfie; my folks, one of my daughters, and me
  5. Laughter and joy should come naturally. And in family they do. It was fun watching my kids laugh with their cousins at our family reunion. I loved seeing my dad tease my children — and having them see that my sense of humor is a genetic condition. It was cool watching the grandkids reenact how my parents met and got married. And I loved hearing my six-year-old great nephew tell me repeatedly how great it was that our team won the game of Ultimate Frisbee. Life is meant to be joyful. Sure it has its times of sadness, grief, anguish. The wise person doesn’t overlook those. But joy says there is something deeper, something more meaningful than our deepest pain. An insightful person once said that at the heart of the universe is laughter — the laughter of a God whose crazy, extravagant love meets us where we need it most. And oftentimes, the place we see this most clearly, is in family — when we share the joy of the journey with each other.

So, even when my family faces challenges (as they all do), I want to remember these five things. How about you?