Monday, March 28, 2016

Video Games and Life

I never thought I would say this, but life is like a video game.  In my very limited experience with video games, I see some profound similarities to real life.  (If my ignorance about video games becomes too apparent, please forgive me.)

When you play a game, you can start at the elementary level.  When you have mastered that beginning level--by finding the prize or killing the enemy--you advance to level 2.  This level might be much like the initial level, with more difficult obstacles or trickier enemies.  It's like level 1 on steroids.  Several levels might show the same kinds of increasing difficulties.

But then there are some levels at which the rules are completely different.  Rather than walking, you are flying.  Rather than working alone, you work with a team.  You are no longer looking for a hidden treasure or a sneaky foe; you are achieving a goal or building something.

At these advanced levels everything changes.  The terrain is like nothing seen before.  Colors and textures feel like another world.  The music evokes different desires.  It's the same game, but not.

This is how video games are like life.  As we mature, we go through stages of life.  The world looks different to a 2-year-old and a 32-year-old.  It's the same world, but the rules are different.  The goals are different, the feel is different.  The other players are different.

And there are differences in the adult perceptions.  A 72-year-old doesn't see life like a 32-year-old does.  The rules are different, profoundly different.  Think about it:  If a young woman sees life like a grandmother, something is wrong.  If an old man sees life like a college athlete, he has never matured.

Some of these transitions of perspective can be sudden and immediate.  A child is born, and the new mother loses her selfishness as well as sleep.  A man has a heart attack, and suddenly he cares about relationships.

A person is freed from addiction, and the world no longer wreaks with temptation.  A couple stops competing and begins working as a team--and the home is filled with joy.  A man recognizes a life of accomplishment, and sees that life is about more than building wealth. 

Life looks different as we mature.  The important things change.  The more we mature, the more we "get" life.  We look back and see our unhelpful--and just plain wrong--assumptions about ourselves and the world.

As we work through life, we break through to new levels.  Everything changes.  We see our true selves.  We take ourselves less seriously.  We finally recognize what really matters.  We really begin to live.

I look for those new stages, and long to see the truth in life.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Making Hay

I had planned to do some wood working on Saturday, but it was cold and rainy.  I have to set up my tools in the driveway, so rainy days are not ideal.  It was a good day to stay inside, read, and write. 

Our youth group had planned to go skiing last weekend, but there was not much snow on the mountains.  They went to the beach instead.

To get the most done, it helps to cooperate with the weather. 

While weather can be unpredictable, we can have some reasonable expectations:  cooler/cold in the winter, warmer/hot in the summer; warmer in the day and cooler at night.  Precipitation can happen any time of the year in NC.  We learn to work around the weather and do those activities that suit the weather.

Now, my moods can be like weather.  They are somewhat predictable:  more energy early in the day, better creativity when I'm not rushed, deeper thinking when away from distractions.  Unlike the weather, I can control my moods.  Being well rested always helps my mood.  When I need to use my brain-power, I need to avoid being rushed and distracted.  When I need to be out in public I want to be tuned in for interaction with others.

Here's my point:  it helps me to work with my natural mental/emotional rhythms.  When I have some flexible time, I need to work with the weather in my brain.  I need to make hay while the sun is shining.  I can allow the Spirit to use me more effectively when I surrender to his lead and sail with the wind.  Obviously much of anyone's work needs to be done whether or not you're in the mood.  But having work options available for various kinds of mental weather can boost effectiveness. 

Mindless paperwork should not be done during your mental prime.  Deep thinking should not be done in the post-lunch slump. 

Yeah, I know this is nothing new, but it recently occurred to me that our moods are like the weather.  It helps if you work with what you've got.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Defiance in Faith

Last Sunday I spoke about Daniel in the lion's den, in Daniel 6.  Daniel defied the law designed to trap him, the law against praying to any man or God but king Darius.  Daniel had a high level government job, and his rivals conspired to trap Daniel and have him executed. 

Daniel continued his normal routine, praying to the true God three times daily in front of a window in his home.  He defied the law by praying.

But any prayer is defiance.  It defies the systems of this world.  Consider:
  • The world says, “produce,” but prayer looks unproductive.
  • The world says, “Look powerful,” but prayer admits powerlessness.
  • The world says, “Take charge,” but prayer surrenders control.
  • The world loves a show, but prayer looks dull, boring, uneventful.
  • The world says, “Do the best you can,” but prayer seeks the impossible.
  • The world says, “Work the system,” but prayer denies ultimate human authority.
If you choose defiance in prayer, here's what you can expect:
  • If you pray, you are defying this world’s system.  It will cost you.
  • If you pray, you will have to repent.
  • If you pray, you will take on the heart of God.
  • If you pray, you help bring his kingdom.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jimmie Hendrix and Heart

I watched a documentary on Netflix about Jimmie Hendrix a few months ago.  This man could shred a guitar.  His untimely death robbed us of more amazing music. 

My family collectively rolled their eyes when I brought home the 49 cent U.S.P.S. commemorative Jimmie Hendrix stamps.  I would proudly pay bills with these psychedelic stamps, and pay tribute to a great musician.  Yes, he personified the sex, drugs, and rock and roll stereotype; but he had such talent.

For him, life was all about music.  Everywhere he went, he had a guitar hanging around his neck.  Now I hack away at my Statocaster, playing basic chords and a few riffs I have picked up.  But I can't tell you many of the notes on the fretboard.  Jimmie, now, he knew the fretboard backwards and forwards.  He knew what each string on each fret could do.  He knew how to form chords from top to bottom.  It was second nature to him.  He did not have to think about playing.  It was like breathing to him. 

Jimmie could play any song that he heard.  He often did covers, and did them so well.  I wish that he had done more original work, to show his creativity.  His most famous piece might be his "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.  Again, not an original song, but unforgettable as it penetrated the New York meadows.

He was great because he loved what he did, and he carried it with him everywhere.  He had a heart for music.  For him, all of life related to music.

What do you have a heart for?  Do you carry it around with you everywhere?  Is there anything to which you would give that kind of devotion?  For too many people, mediocrity works just fine.

I want to be that devoted to Jesus.  I want his word to saturate my soul.  I want his love to overflow through me, so that I bring him into the room.  I want his eyes of compassion, so I can see the need around me.

Maybe I can be as good at showing the love of Jesus
as Jimmie Hendrix was at making music.  The only way that will ever happen is by God's grace.  Yes, grace.  That's the answer.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Going There

One of my favorite YouTube videos is Bob Newhart's sketch, "Stop it."  It's a riot.  Bob's a shrink, and he's counselling one of his clients.  When she starts to blame her problems on childhood experiences, Bob quickly interrupts her, saying, "No.  We don't go there."  She could not blame anything on her past.  Bob didn't want to "go there" with her.

There are places in our souls where we just don't want to go:  Missed opportunities, bad decisions, hurts we experienced, hurts we caused, addictions we deny, conversations we need to have, regrets about parenting, habits we need to change, attitudes that damage relationships, and the list goes on.

We don't want to go there because:
  • It hurts.  We don't want to experience or relive the pain.
  • It won't do any good.  We believe that forgetting, not dealing with it, makes it go away.
  • We might have to change.  If I go there, I will have to admit my sin.  Then I'll either feel guilty or have to make the change that I so dread.
  • It will strain my relationships.  Going there means having a difficult conversation, and I have no idea how that will turn out.
  • We are ashamed.  If I keep denying this problem, I don't have to face my shame.
  • People will think badly of me.  I've worked so hard to build this identity, and if I go there, it will change me.  People will be disappointed.  They won't like me anymore.
  • We are not ready.  Deep down I know that I'm not authentic.  But I like this pose.  It's working so far..
There are some advantages to going there.
  • You can stop pretending.
  • You can stop hiding.  You have been discovered.  And it's okay.
  • You will find some company.  Whatever you are dealing with, you are not the only one.  Some are hiding it, just like you.  Others have already gone there and lived to tell about it.
  • You are set free.  Whatever is there has been mocking you, holding you captive, stealing your joy.  When you face that thing, it loses power over you.  You are free!  You don't have to worry about being caught, because you have turned yourself in.
  • Life looks brand new.  When you have been there, life has nothing to threaten you with.  And life was never really threatening you anyway.  You just didn't know it.
Are you ready to go there?  Here are some parting suggestions.
  • Pray.  You can't go there alone.  You need Jesus holding your hand. 
  • Receive God's forgiveness.  Jesus died on the cross for your sin.  You can only really be free when he takes your sin and guilt away.  He paid your penalty for you.
  • Forgive yourself.  That may be really hard.  But it is your path to freedom.  No, you don't deserve it.  That's the point:  Jesus gives you what you don't deserve.  That's how good he is!
  • Be patient.  Really going there may be a process for you.  Keep working through it.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cars and Childhood

I went to a classic car auction yesterday in Greensboro -- the first time I've ever been to one.  I went mostly for the chance to hang out with some friends from church, but it was much more interesting than I expected.  There were hundreds of cars waiting for a turn on the auction block, on display in a huge show room.  The real bidders paid an extra fee, while most people simply came to look.

1964 Lincoln Continental, like one I remember from childhood. 
Ours was light blue.
What is it about automobiles that captivates us so?  Just seeing old cars brings back memories for me.  There was a 1964 Lincoln Continental, much like one my family owned.  I remember a few things about that car.  Whenever we took it through the automated car wash, we armed ourselves with towels, because the windows leaked terribly.  I also remember asking my mother about a dial on the dashboard:  it was the cruise control, she said, explaining how that feature worked.  The dial was slightly crooked, and Mom explained that it didn't work.  We had bought the car used, and apparently there were some issues with it.  I don't remember when we sold it, but I do remember that we ended up with a Volkswagen station wagon and a Toyota Corolla station wagon.  My dad liked station wagons.

I'm not the only one with car-memories.  The auction room yesterday was full of old people telling stories and young people making memories.  I wonder if such fascination with automobiles is unique to Americans. 

The cars from our youth make a deep impression on us.  My daughter's boyfriend was captivated by our 2003 Ford Windstar van, because it was like the one his family had many years earlier.  She, meanwhile, is mourning the failing health of the car she drives, the car that has been part of the family since before she was born.

It is not only cars, however, that make a big impression on us.  Visiting places of childhood brings back more than memories.  It brings back impressions and feelings.  We might remember a song or situation or a long-forgotten friend.  So much of our lives is shaped in childhood. 

And that is why childhood and children are so important.  My children are grown now, but I know they have powerful memories from their early years.  Attitudes, perspectives and feelings about life take shape in those earliest years, when children spend hour after hour riding in back seats, looking out the windows, watching the world go by. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Old Prayers Fulfilled in Us

Last night I had the privilege of attending the annual banquet for the Greensboro Fellows, a mentoring ministry for recent college graduates.

The banquet's emcee shared some of the history of Greensboro, beginning with the Quaker settlement in the New Garden area of Guilford Co.  They were -- and still are -- a community of faith.  They sought to reach this new world for Christ.  And they prayed.

The emcee then made a profound statement.  We are now living out the prayers of those who have gone before us.  Centuries ago, people of faith prayed for this new community.  As we see the Lord's kingdom come in Guilford Co., we are living out the fulfillment of those prayers.

There is no telling how many people before me have prayed for me.  Realizing that gives me new purpose and energy.