What tragedy in Japan

Posted March 15, 2011 by Kyle Wise
Categories: Uncategorized

What pain and suffering thousands of people are enduring after the earth quake and tsunami.  Our heart goes out to them, and many will do more and actually fly over and lend a helping hand.  We’ll try to alleviate all the pain we can.  Helping people deal with pain is a pastor’s work.  And it is a church’s work.  The task of God’s people, being his hands and feet . . . his voice.  When we suffer, we ask questions about God, and we question his goodness, and sometimes we question his existence because we would rather not believe in him at all than to believe he could stop our pain, yet choose not to.

Sometimes our efforts to explain difficult and complex and painful events cause more damage than they help.  I’ll never forget my pastoral counseling professor at Gordon Conwell telling the story of a young couple in his first church who lost their only child in an accident.  They had only begun attending his church, and had not yet made a commitment to follow Christ in any way.  Now they faced tragedy and loss – and they expressed great displeasure toward a God who could allow them to endure such hardship and pain.  My professor, the young pastor, had no idea how to answer them.  He told us that he simply went by to see them a lot, sat on their couch, cried with them, shrugged his shoulders, said he didn’t know why God would allow such a thing.  He was, quite simply, at a loss.  He didn’t give them deep theological answers.  He just sat with them.  And loved them.  Until they eventually moved away.

I found this poem which was inspired by the picture above:

Natori

Some people have pastors who explain these things
but I don’t
know why she sits alone amidst the bodies that the water left behind—
bodies of houses, bodies of cars, bodies of boats, bodies of people—
knees bent,
arms clasped beneath bare thighs,
held together by the stiff embrace of a sob,
or why the earth shook,
or why the water came,
or why she has taken off her boots,
or why she sits alone amidst the bodies that the water left behind;
I only know that I don’t
want a pastor who explains these things.

And I understand.  Because being able to explain these things, or claiming to, can often rob someone of . . . well, something important.  It’s like they want their ‘answer’ to make your pain go away when it’s not really supposed to.  Like believing the right answer will make everything OK, or that it’s supposed to, when people need to hurt, and grieve, and cry.  And what God wants us to do in those moments is less about having the right theological and philosophical answer, and more about loving them and comforting them like he would if he were standing there with them, providing what they need, taking care of details they can’t take care of, etc. etc.  And cry with them.  Hurt with them.  Die with them.

That’s what my pastoral counseling professor did as a young pastor. He offered no answers save the ones that come from being loved.  And God met that young couple through his efforts.  After about a year, he received a letter from that couple.  They were thanking him, because his ministry to them helped them see the love of Christ in a time when he seemed impossible to believe in.  They had given their lives to Jesus, and wanted him to know that his visits during their loss is what made the difference.

Sometimes in our efforts to understand God and his world, we forget to do what he sent us to do.  Love each other.

When I Die.

Posted March 4, 2010 by Kyle Wise
Categories: Christianity

Tags: , , , , ,

As I was dropping off my teenage son at school today, we were listening to Blackbird by Alter Bridge.  Since he is learning to play electric guitar, I asked him to learn this song and play it at my funeral.  He laughed and went in to school.

As I drove on to work, the incident made me stop and think seriously about my death.  Don’t think me too morbid.  I had a NT professor once who confessed that he lay awake at night thinking of his death on a regular basis.  He was 38 at the time.

I listened to the song over and over as I drove, imagining the band at the Vineyard, with all the electric guitar players stepping up to play various solos.  The song tells the story of a friend who had died too young, but whose work would live on.  Here’s the pertinent line in the song:  “Ascend may you find no resistance, Know that you made such a difference, All you leave behind will live to the end.”

What on earth am I doing that is really making a difference?  And especially, what am I leaving behind that will live to the end?!?  Now I understand the sentimentality that accompanies the experience of telling your friend goodbye, and the emotion of wanting to say to them that they mattered.  I’ll let you say those words without protest.

I spoke on the parable of the talents this past weekend.  That story will get you thinking about your life, and meeting Jesus when you die.

It does you (us all) a world of good to pause on a regular basis, and ask whether you’re living the life you were created to live.  And when your master returns and meets with you to settle up, will he refer to you as ‘good and trustworthy’ or ‘evil and lazy/irksome’?

For one thing, it will be pretty hard to answer that if you don’t know what you’re for.  Spend time thinking about what you’re made for.  What’s your life mission?  Or, what’s the fire that burns in your core?  If you could really be known for something, what would it be?  What do you want to be remembered for?  What if you really could make a difference?  What would you want that to look like?

A friend once told me that he wanted to live such a life that when he died, no church in town would be able to hold the crowd.  His intention wasn’t to be famous, but to be that well loved, which required him to live well.  That’s a noble goal.

I’m not sure that’s quite what I’m digging for here, though. I’m not talking about simply being a quality person (which IS worthy) but what are you called to DO?

As I imagined that band playing my funeral, I wanted to think that what I had started in my short days was so important that someone would think, “We can’t let this work stop.”  Frankly, I don’t want to waste my life.  I have no need to be famous, but thinking about my funeral has been a real motivator to know what I’m for, and not to waste my life.

But in case I’m near the end, we’ve got to get Blackbird covered.  Let’s see,

Derek and Taylor should do the vocals
On electric guitar, I want Ryan, Matt, Jonathon, and Chris
Ian and Tim can carry all the percussion
Matt and Josh can carry the bass . . .

Lent Follow-up 1

Posted February 23, 2010 by Kyle Wise
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

For Lent, I am giving up meat, and listening to the radio. (MP3 is ok.  I’m just a talk radio junkie – XM style)

I went to Clocked today for lunch.  It’s just my favorite burger place in Athens.  “Hey, wait a minute!  I thought you gave up meat for Lent?!?”  That’s right, I did.  But, hey, this is Athens.  Can’t you get vegetarian practically anywhere here?  As a matter of fact, I remembered a conversation I had a few years ago with the owner of Clocked.  He and his wife started the restaurant because they were both vegetarians and couldn’t find a good veggie burger anywhere in town, so they started Clocked in order to provide one.  And they did.  You can put their black bean patty on any of their burger choices (which includes a peanut butter bacon burger that ROCKS).  So I got the veggie burger.

But, you see, I think about it at every meal, that is, ‘hey, I’m not eating meat.’  I wonder what I’m going to get, where I’m going to get it, etc.  So the fasting from meat reminds me, at least at every meal, that Jesus denied himself  ‘life’ and many worthwhile things of life, so that I could have life.  And maybe by denying myself a little meat, I train myself not to be overly self indulgent, I practice a little self denial which makes me endure just a little suffering.  They say that people who fast regularly are much more able to endure when real suffering comes their way.  They’re just a little more accustomed to knowing how to make it through something that is hard or uncomfortable.

Then there’s the giving up the radio thing.  One time, I drove an old Plymouth Horizon (which was it’s own form of suffering).  The radio worked when it felt like it.  It would play perfectly for months on end.  Then one day it wouldn’t. The next day it would.  It would suddenly come on – suddenly stop.  This went on for years.  I could never see a pattern, like it failed in the cold, worked in the warmth – I would hit the dash, turn it off and on, really everything.  Even so, it worked most of the time.

Then one day I had the thought (wonder where that came from?) “When the radio isn’t on, it’s a good time to pray and listen for the voice of God.”  “Hey” I said in my spiritual voice, “I’ll make a deal with you, God.  When the radio doesn’t work, instead of thinking of whatever, I’ll pray.”

. . . . . . . that radio never came on again.

So, for me to give up talk radio in the car (and sometimes I’m on the road hours at a time) I know it’s my attempt to make a quiet environment better suited for hearing the voice of God.  And, again, by making the commitment, it’s something that I think of every time I get in the car.  Thinking about it draws my attention to God’s presence.

That’s how fasting works.  It catches our attention when, otherwise, we would just coast along.

You can still join in, you know.  I challenge anyone to try giving something up for Lent, and tell me at the end that you didn’t grow in your faith somehow.

Meditation on Lent

Posted February 17, 2010 by Kyle Wise
Categories: Christianity, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

Today is Ash Wednesday, and a day when many Christians will gather somewhere and get a cross made of ashes swiped across their forehead as a sign of repentance and reminder of mortality. A clergy person or, in some cases, a lay person, applies the ashes with variations of the phrase: “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Thus the season of Lent begins.

A lot of Christians, on the other hand, don’t observe lent at all. But they’ll hear others talk about what they’re giving up for lent. Usually, people give up something like meat, chocolate, alcohol, or some other type of food. Others give up things like complaining, movies, or maybe Facebook. I even read from a few people who were giving up giving up, or giving up religion. Whatever.

But, what’s the point?

Giving up things for Lent (40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays) is a way of imitating Jesus who withdrew into the wilderness for 40 days, fasting and praying before his ministry began. In denying ourselves some pleasure or good thing, we’re also remembering the sacrifices Jesus made for us, joining him in that self denial. The scriptures teach that Jesus endured the cross ‘for the joy set before him’ and I think about that whenever I fast, or deny myself something for the sake of Jesus. Whatever I’m giving up can result in a joyous end.

As a matter of fact, Paul talked about how losing all his earthly gains and credentials were worth it as long as they resulted in him gaining Christ. Compared to knowing Jesus, all this stuff we think is important, is rubbish.

So, why don’t you join me this Lenten season, and intentionally deny yourself something, especially something that distracts you from Jesus. All that business about being mortal and all, that’s pretty true. The clock is ticking, and time is passing by. All those opportunities to gain Christ . . . well why not use this Lenten season to give something up that will work to your advantage?

Reading the Bible

Posted October 21, 2009 by Kyle Wise
Categories: bible

Tags: , ,

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I was listening to an XM radio program recently and a young woman called in for help with her problem. She was hooking up with a man who was married to another woman. She herself wasn’t attached to anyone else, so she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong. Nevertheless, some of her friends were telling her that what she was doing with this man was wrong because HE was married (apparently premarital sex would have been OK, but at least they thought doing it with a married man was wrong). This woman felt that what she was doing was fine because he was cheating, not her. The hosts to the program started discussing the issue. They sided with her, that she wasn’t doing anything wrong; it was the guy who was wrong because he was cheating. A background personality on the show piped in that he didn’t agree with them, that she was breaking up a family, so she was wrong too. He started saying, “You’ll lose your blessing! You’ll lose your blessing!” I thought, “Ah, there’s a Christian on this program.” So the main host started to scoff, and could tell from the language used that the guy was referring to the bible. “Where do you get that???” “Well, I’m not up to date on my references, but it’s in there! If you break up somebody’s marriage, you’ll lose your blessing!” So he obviously had enough church background, or Christian family influence, that he knew some biblical principles, but he didn’t know where his thoughts could be found. Well, he kept rummaging around until he was half quoting 1 or 2 of the 10 commandments. I think he said something like “Thou shalt not cheat on your spouse.” One of the hosts said, “What’s another one?” When he said “Thou shalt not kill” they started trying to figure out why someone would make these rules. “Oh, well, somebody took somebody out, so they wanted to put an end to that. And someone said ‘don’t cheat’ because they got cheated on. What are some more of those? I’ll bet we can figure out why they made all those rules.” Then they started looking on Google because they couldn’t remember any more of the c0mmandments. That’s all I heard because I had to get out of the car. Look at this article: While a recent survey conducted by Kelton Research showed respondents know more Big Mac® ingredients than Ten Commandments, taken on the whole the statistics are even more revealing: out of the 1,000 respondents, almost two in five (35%) can recall all six Brady kids, a quarter (25%) could name all seven ingredients of the Big Mac, but only just over one in ten (14%) can accurately list all Ten Commandments. I’m not criticizing non-Christians for not knowing the bible. I just find that it surprises me when they don’t. Somehow I feel that it’s teachings are more woven into our culture than they are. And I think I would be equally surprised at how little some people in my church know the bible. I had a professor who used to say, “Never under estimate how intelligent your people are. Never over estimate how much they know the bible.” This story is one reason I am so passionate about teaching the bible. If the only scripture you are planting in your spirit is what you get on Sunday morning, then I’m going to do my best to give you a good solid dose. That’s how important the scriptures are to us. Christians have always been ‘people of the book’. The bible is our source of truth and doctrine. It’s one of the key places we drink for life and sustenance. It is certainly the most reliable source of information and truth about who God is and how we can know him. But I’m hoping you’ll do more than just get a weekly dose on Sunday mornings, but that you’ll also act on my encouragement to apply a ’spiritual habit’ of reading and memorizing scripture as well. Will you join me in memorizing his word? Like I do with many of the things of life that are good for me, I cycle in and out of being ‘disciplined’ with my scripture memory habit. All I know is that if I don’t plant it in my heart – by memory – I am setting myself up to miss so much LIFE in life.

Storms (again)

Posted September 22, 2009 by Kyle Wise
Categories: Storms

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I write about storms often. To me they represent something both beautiful and terrifying. Life growth usually happens in and after storms, but wow, do we ever hate them when we’re in them. Lots of my friends have tattoos. Sometimes they ask me if I’m ever going to get one. I always say that it would need to be something that has significant meaning to me. Storms are one of those things, but I can’t imagine being satisfied with a little storm on my bicep. It would have to be huge and intimidating to fit the image I have of a decent storm. Life has been stormy around here lately. When you’re in the middle of it, you wonder if it’s going to destroy you, don’t you? I was water skiing one time as a boy and my mom was driving the boat. A storm blew in, and we were hustling back to our dock/lodging. I was huddled down on my seat under a towel when lightning struck the water somewhere nearby. I remember it being the loudest sound I had ever heard. I was fully expecting electricity to light us up and throw us onto the shore. Maybe that’s when I really learned to pray! But we made it back safely, and soon the storm blew over. During Push (our pre-service prayer time) on Sunday, one of the men reported something he saw. He explained that storms around here (GA) usually hug the ground, and all you can see in the midst of the storm is more storm. But he had been places (Texas) where he would see the storm rise up, and when you looked toward the horizon, you could see light on the other side. That’s what he saw; a dark storm, but when you looked toward the horizon, you could see light on the other side of the storm. As a former farmer from West Texas, I know that picture. We always knew that a storm wasn’t terribly intense when you could see daylight on the other side. What he saw has been a great source of encouragement to me. The longer I walk this life out, the more confidence I have in our God who loves to rescue, grow, discipline, teach, stretch and shape. And he regularly uses storms to do it. Learning his ways builds trust in him – read faith. Maybe even more than when he makes life easy, storms followed by rescue/deliverance build faith. Storms blow in, and you start looking around for how he’s going to rescue you this time. For him to give us a picture of hope and light on the other side of this storm is quite comforting. Embrace?

Happiness

Posted August 25, 2009 by Kyle Wise
Categories: Christianity, Dreams

Tags: , , ,

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This article got me thinking about happiness and our unquenchable thirst for it.  The article is about online dating, and how it can be risky, esp. since it feeds our insatiable need to follow unrealistic feelings which are built upon scary foundations. Here’s a quote from the article:

We are living in a “Have it your way” culture. When we want it we got it, from on-line shopping with next day delivery, to bootleg movies being sent to our cell phones before coming to theatres. We have created a culture in which we expect to get what we want when we want it, and in the way we like it. It is no wonder then that on-line dating has exploded as a means for finding that special someone. Just log on to the site and search through a menu-list for your perfect soul mate.

What we do, however, is find this perfect soul mate, and a few years later, dump them for a more perfect soul mate.  After all, I haven’t been happy for a long time!

But such we are.  We have been trained in our world that we deserve happiness and have the right to pursue such happiness, regardless the cost to others around us.  J.P. Moreland does an outstanding job of pointing out, in several places, that our definition of happiness is  a pleasurable feeling, specifically, a sense of pleasurable satisfaction.  He goes on to demonstrate that due to its fragile and volatile core, we can never keep this feeling going.  We’re left with longings, tied in with a disconcerting feeling that we’ve been cheated, and we go on our journey in the pursuit of happiness, which we can never ultimately find – at least not the way we understand it.  We actually end up depressed in the midst of abundance.  I cannot recommend highly enough the two books linked above.  You see, people of old (like those who first wrote about the pursuit of happiness during our country’s founding) defined happiness as a life well lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness.

The implications of our current pursuit of happiness are at least 2 fold.  1) we’ve been duped.  Our goal is impossible to attain.  2) it makes us self-centered and selfish.   If we had grown up with the classic definition of happiness stated above, we wouldn’t be living selfish lives pursuing feelings of happiness, but we might have a shot at living the kind of life that yields a deeper sense of a life well lived (and feelings of well being, satisfaction, and – happiness?)

Honestly, look at your life, and think of how many decisions you make based on what will give you those pleasurable feelings we call happiness.  How often do you feel cheated by life because you don’t have those feelings more often.

Working in the field I do, I am constantly torn by this dilemma.  You see, I have a really merciful disposition, so when someone is in my office telling me how unhappy she is with her husband, or he’s explaining why he doesn’t like to sacrifice for people who have less than he, because . . ., well, I feel their pain.  I find myself identifying with them and their pain.  It’s how I’m gifted.  But if I give in to it, I cheat them out of redemptive truth.

Someone close to me recently left her husband for a wealthy man.  She’s “happier than she’s ever been.”  It’s those fragile pleasurable feelings that make us do whatever it takes to find happiness.  She’s being duped.  She has left a lot of hurt people in her wake.  She doesn’t understand why I’m not happy for her.  After all, we’ve been trained to believe that someone’s happiness is what we should wish for them above all else (A major talk radio host has interviewed hundreds of people over the last few years by asking the question, “What did your parents want most for you – success, wealth, to be a good person, or happiness?”  85% said “happiness”)

Would it surprise you to find out that I believe the pursuit of happiness is wired into our very being, and that God passionately wants us to devote our lives to finding it?  John Piper explains it well in Desiring God.  The difference between our current pursuit of happiness and the biblical call to pursuing happiness is that the scriptures direct us to finding our happiness in and through a relationship with Jesus.  In that relationship, Jesus will direct us to lose our life to find it, and take up our cross (die!) and follow him.  In studying Jesus’ call to life and happiness, we find out that the ancients got it right.  Their understanding of a good life was one lived well, not one lived selfishly.

Jesus designed the world such that in pursuing happiness through him and living like he insists, we find that well spring of life and satisfaction, AND we don’t leave a scattering of hurt people and shattered lives in our path.  Instead, we GIVE life, and FIND life.  And happiness.

Go get it.


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