Sunday, August 31, 2008

Viva La Vida?

So I admit it I'm a Coldplay fan. Worldwide there must be about a half billion of us, but unlike a lot of bands that command such a fanatical following, this British sensation really does make great music. Their rhythms are original and catchy, and I guess maybe their lyrics are good too. I'm just not much of a lyrics person--unless it's a lyrical disaster akin to Phil Collins' Groovy Kind of Love, which is too painful to ignore--mostly I don't even listen to the words. I just hum along or make up my own lyrics, which are sometimes quite similar to the original and sometimes, to the irritation of those around me, rather dissimilar. I know, I know. Poor Will, and he's such a lyrical purist.

But sometimes I wonder what subliminal messages I'm picking up with all my nonlistening. For example in Coldplay's recent number one, Viva La Vida, I know they are saying something about Saint Peter, but what? As you may know, the album's full title is Viva La Vida Or Death and All His Friends. Evidently, the members of the band were going for a sort of bipolar mood, attempting to reflect the ups and downs of life. The upside is the song Viva La Vida, Spanish for long live life, the downside is...well, obviously Death and All His Friends, a ballad about ill-fated love. Life and Death. You can't be more polarized than that. And even in the life song, the words belie hope: "For some reason I can not explain I know Saint Peter won't call my name."

Wow. I guess if one knew Saint Peter wasn't calling their name, they sure would want to "long live life," so the album title is certainly apt, but how sad. So much of my purpose, so much of my hope, so much of who I am is derived from this very issue: For many reasons I can explain Saint Peter is calling my name.

Is he calling yours?

This blog is about spurring each other on to greater love and good deeds, but did you know love and good deeds are irrelevant when it comes to eternal life? I mean completely irrelevant. You can no more earn your way to heaven with good deeds, than you can drive there. The only way to heaven is to "confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead." (Romans 10:9 NIV). It is so simple a child can understand, and by God's grace, I have two that do. Working your way to salvation is impossible, and God in His mercy, has provided such an easy answer. Unfortuately, some people refuse to accept that it really is that easy. But if God loves you, and He does, why would He want it to be hard?

John 3:16 says whoever believes in Jesus "shall not perish." Now that's my kind of Viva La Vida!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Pillow Principle

A few weeks ago a babysitter put my children to bed while my husband and I enjoyed a picnic dinner and concert at Wolf Trap. A DC summer is incomplete without at least one visit to this amazing venue (check it out at www.wolf-trap.org). But when I got in bed, The Black Crowes still ringing in my ear, my most beloved pillow appeared to be missing. It is important to know that this pillow has been a part of my life for more than thirty years. Originally a fluffy down pillow, it is now flat as a pancake and easily folded into my suitcase wherever I go. I've wondered whether any pillow, save one of the airlines' sorry little numbers, has ever logged more miles than mine. It has been to Europe twice, Canada, and Mexico. It has cruised to the Bahamas, once in 1985 and again twenty-one years later. And that's only its international travels. Goodness, I sure hope this post doesn't prompt the CDC to confiscate it, because although I admit it is a little peculiar, maybe even a teeny bit unsanitary, I love this pillow.

So I drifted off to sleep longing for the malleable coolness of my beloved, contemplating doing a full search, but fearing that little ones would wake from the ruckus. In the back of my mind I think I already knew that little Will had taken it. In the morning he received a full interrogation.

I should have asked about the babysitter, how the night went, if the baby cried, but I couldn't help myself. When little Will appeared at the bottom of the steps my first words were, "Did you take my pillow?"

He grinned from ear to ear, quite satisfied that the coup had been successful.

"Please don't take it, again," I warned.

"Well, I love it too," he said with his palms up and out in indignation. "Why can't I have one? Can I get one for my birthday?"

Poor thing he doesn't understand it can't be bought. Only thirty years of reckless devotion and fanatical use could reproduce it. It is one of a kind.

But it means the world to me that he loves it. I find it oddly affirming and bonding--this shared love for my pillow, especially since he and I are the only ones that seem to recognize its beauty.

Last week I had the immense privilege to vacation at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference on Lake Michigan. (www.vacationwithpurpose.org) I saw seven magnificent sunsets in seven days, each painted with different shades of pink and purple and blue. I also heard the president of Cornerstone University, Joe Stowell speak (www.getmorestrength.org), and he made a very simple, yet profound statement. He said that we care about what people we love care about. Stowell didn't say so, but really it's the Pillow Principle. It is rejuvenating and edifying when people you love are enthusiastic about something dear to your heart, even when that thing is a nasty old pillow. And the converse is also true: the absence of enthusiasm can be deflating, especially when your loved one is never or rarely jazzed about the things that get you jazzed.

So what's the lesson? Should I expect my husband to all of a sudden love my pillow? No, of course not, we don't need to feign enthusiasm, but we can be cognizant of how meaningful it is to share genuine enthusiasm. My husband is already looking forward to football season. He greatly appreciates my shared interest, my willingness to park beside him on the couch and cheer on the Philadelphia Eagles. Would I watch the Eagles if it weren't for Will? Probably not, but I love him and I care about what he cares about.

But the Pillow Principle is actually a lot more than just sports and idiosyncratic fixations, it's biblical. In John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times, "do you love me?" Peter assures Jesus that he does, and each time Jesus follows Peter's assurance with a command to feed and take care of His sheep. It is somewhat of a cryptic exchange, especially given the unique history between Jesus and Peter, but Joe Stowell helped me see that what Jesus is really saying to Peter is, "if you love me, you'll take care of my sheep." Who are His sheep? People.

So just like Peter, there is an implicit command in loving Jesus. If we truly love Jesus, we will care about what he cares about. And Jesus cares about people! All people. Do you?

Let me just say that when I pose this question to myself, my heart cringes. I know it's a work of the Spirt, but somebody spur me on!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Message

I've heard people say that in every oral communication there are at least three distinct messages. There is the message the speaker intends, the message actually conveyed, and the message the individual hears. I recently saw the truth of this principle when I took my three little boys to Fort McHenry, a lovely national monument about an hour from our home. Fort McHenry is where Francis Scott Key penned the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, and our visit there was quite educational. I had always thought our anthem was written during the Revolutionary War, but now I know better and my little boys know better. It was written in 1814, during the Battle of Baltimore when the British attacked Fort McHenry.

I have to admit that I was rather pleased with myself and with them that afternoon. On our drive home Will, who is six, and Nate, who is four, were spouting out all manner of facts and figures regarding the War of 1812. The recitation put Baby Sammy to sleep, but I had a surge of pride over my budding history buffs, and found their level of interest, and seeming comprehension, remarkable.

But then came bedtime. Nearing tears Nate told me he was afraid to go to sleep because “those bad guys with the cannons might come back.”

“You mean the British?” I asked, trying not to laugh too uproariously.

Nate nodded gravely.

"Sweetheart, there is absolutely no chance of the British attacking us again,” I offered.

But big brother found my assurances wanting, wholly inadequate. “Nate,” he said, tenderly, “don’t you remember? The Americans won. The British can’t attack us again. We killed them all.”

So much for history lessons! I've laughed and laughed about it, but could the message received be more different than the message intended? And how often do we fail to discover that the little ones in our lives, or even the adults, have so miscontrued our message that they effectively believe we've wiped out the British race?

Isn’t it astounding what poor communicators we are? I mean we do it all day everyday, yet so few of us are much good at it. One of my favorite authors, C.S Lewis, once wrote that “to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” But it is often an elusive joy, isn’t it?

I think that's the treasure of good friends--an implicit agreement about the art of words, a shared joy over their meaning. When we muse in a self-deprecating way about life, a friend laughs. But there’s always a danger that a person still outside that lexicon barrier will say “awww,” and rob you of all the joy your words intended. And nothing ruins a funny moment like pity. For example, when I joke about proudly wearing a fabulous new sweater only to find at the end of the day that the strip of plastic identifying the size was never removed, I don’t want someone to think the Large, Large, Large, Large, Large I was branded with all day is sad. I want them to join me in finding it hilarious, absolutely side-splitting that I could do such a thing…AGAIN!

And when you tell a friend that you’re stressed or tired, they know just what you mean, whereas between strangers, these are very subjective standards. You need to know tolerances, personalities, even sleep patterns, to rightly associate the real meaning of such labels. It can take a long time, a lot of interactions to come to mutual understanding, a consensus about words.

It shouldn’t be too surprising then that relationships, especially new ones, can sometimes feel like work. But the payoff, the wonder of being understood, is a sweet reward so be willing to work at it, be willing to suffer through all the misunderstandings. Reflect on the fact that you sometimes hear a different message than was intended, and that sometimes the message you send is not what is in your heart. Most of all, just keep trying, because that elusive joy is a wonderous joy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

SPEAK!

Only the Father of lies could come up with that old whopper about sticks and stones breaking bones but words being powerless to hurt us. Isn't it astounding that people bought into that one? I mean what an easy victory for the enemy! But even though it's been many years since I tried to apply that ridiculous little jingle to my tongue-induced wounds, I continue to be struck by the truth of the exact opposite message, the message of the Bible, the message that words are incredibly powerful, especially words that are spoken. (See Proverbs 16:24 and James 3:3-12)

I just finished Beth Moore's Believing God 10-week Bible study. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and it's available online. http://www.lifeway.com/believinggod/ Grab a few friends for accountability and do it! You won't be disappointed. The study is foundational and profound at the same time, which is truly a feat. The overarching themes are basic to the Christian faith, but Beth Moore takes it deep with probing questions and personal examples, and of course, the entire study is drawn from the Bible itself.

One of my favorite parts of Believing God was on the power of the spoken word. She said, "I believe, therefore I speak." Again, it is simple, yet profound. It really got me thinking about how little I talk about what I believe. Sometimes my reluctance stems from the fact that I don't want to hold myself out as example, "prone to wander" as I am. But that's another great tool for the enemy. After all, if we waited until we were perfect to share our faith, no one would ever share anything. And as Ravi Zacharias is fond of saying, Christ didn't die to make bad people good, but to make dead people live! So I'm embracing a new willingness to share my faith and God's great faithfulness to me. Hence, this here blog!

But the power of words isn't just a spiritual principle. I mean of course God spoke creation into existence, and as Romans 10:9 states, I'm saved by confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, but the spoken word also gets you married. It is with your voice you plead guilty or innocent in a court of law. With my voice, my spoken word, I became a member of the Virginia bar. At our baby dedications, I promised with my voice to raise the boys in a God-fearing, Christ-centered home. We take oral agreements very seriously. We may commit the most binding contracts to writing, but when someone goes back on their word, we feel a keen sense of disappointment.

Even in day to day life the spoken word has a mysterious strength that the written word lacks. We sign our most insignificant notes and emails with love. Yet how often do you tell that same person that you love them? I know you can picture a thank you note that says something like "Love, Sally," and yet you are certain Sally has never told you that she loves you. And how great is it to hear, instead of read, that someone loves you. Are there warmer words in the English language than "I love you"?

So it might be a bit ironic that the topic of this first-ever blog is the power of the spoken word, but I am praying that this writing will encourage you to think about the power of the words you speak. Maybe you will even call Sally and tell her that you love her.