Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Light Princess and Other Stories--A Review

I just finished reading George MacDonald’s book, The Light Princess and Other Stories. MacDonald was a 19th century pastor who got himself in trouble because he didn’t believe in hell. He became an inspiration for other well known authors such as Tolkien and CS Lewis. The Light Princess is a classic children’s book but the story is anything but childish.

A King and a Queen have a child, a beautiful baby girl. But the King, busy in the work of running the kingdom, forgot to invite his sister to the child’s christening. Enraged, the sister—who is also a witch—shows up anyway and casts a spell on the child which causes her to lose her sense of gravity. She simply floats. MacDonald paints the picture of life without gravity in the most humorous of terms. But the story line becomes more focused when as a beautiful young teenager, the princess discovers the only place she feels truly at home, a place where she has gravity, is when she’s in the water swimming. The family castle is built on a beautiful lake which the princess swims in constantly. She loves the lake more than anything else—it brings her back to earth. It makes her heart sing. She is normal in the lake. Soon a young prince emerges on the scene and falls deeply in love with the princess. He is overwhelmed with love and spends a great deal of time in the lake swimming with his beloved ‘light princess.’ MacDonald paints the picture of the love between the two in interesting terms. The princess is not nearly as interested in the prince, as he is in her, but that is what sets up the rest of the story and in the end, drives the author’s point home.

The story takes a sinister twist when the evil aunt is enraged that her revenge on the King and his family is being undermined by the lake, so in another fit of anger she casts a spell on the lake and it dries up. The princess is beside herself. The one thing that brought her life has now been taken away. In grief, she locks herself in her room and becomes despondent. The king sent envoys into the remaining parts of the lake to discover why it was disappearing and discovered, to their dismay, a gold plate at the bottom of the now shriveled lake with this inscription on it, “Death alone from death can save. Love is death, and so is brave. Love can fill the deepest grave. Love loves on beneath the waves.” This enigmatic statement was explained on the reverse side of the plate, “If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which the water ran. But it would be useless to stop it. There was one effectual mode—the body of a living man could stanch the flow. This man must give himself of his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise the offering would be to no avail.”

As one would expect in a book like this, the prince found out and wondered if he should be the one to give his life on behalf of the princess. He visited a hermit for counsel before making his decision. His choice is cast in these terms, “She will die if I do not do it, and life would be nothing to me without her.” He chose to be the voluntary sacrifice. He simply made one condition, to have the princess be with him as he filled the hole and drowned. The princess indeed was with him, she fed him, she kissed him, but did so without feeling. However, as the water grew closer and closer to the prince, she came to love him more and more. When it went over his head, she could bear it no more. Shrieking, she jumped into the water, pulled him out of the water. Rushing him to the house they set about the impossible task of reviving him. Struck by grief, the light princess began to cry. She wept with such intensity that she created a flood of tears, she was wet with tears. She discovered that her true joy wasn’t in the lake, or even in having gravity, but in the one who gave his life so that she might be grounded. So it was that as she cried, he regained his breath and she her gravity and they lived happily ever after.

The spiritual background of this story should not be ignored. MacDonald used the story to describe the atonement found in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Christ willingly and selflessly sacrifices his life for those who are selfish and self absorbed. When one comes to grips with the cost and love of Christ, he becomes our beloved as we are his. We repent of our sin and receive his love. It's a great story and since its rooted in history, its more than a fairy tale. Think about it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Wedding Letter to My Daughter

I ran across this letter to my oldest daughter written just before she was married and thought it was worth posting. Here's a picture of the kids in 2006. Laurel is on the left. She now has two daughters. (Lyndi is in the middle, Katie on the right)

July 5, 2006

Dear Laurel,

I’ve thought about this letter for quite some time, knowing full well I’d eventually write it but not having a clue what to say.

Life is full of firsts and you have certainly had your share in our family.  You were first born, first in school, first to get a job, first to graduate, first to go to College and now, here again, you are first to be married.  

I was reading a book on the plane today called Velvet Elvis.  It’s written by Rob Bell, the guy who is the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, the church Katie goes to when she’s at school.  In the book he notes that through out life there are extraordinary experiences that point to something greater than us.  Those experiences become sacred space, places we want to take our shoes off and say, “This is holy ground I’m standing on!”  It’s a sacred place.  

Over the course of my life I can think of some of those sacred places, those experiences that have caused me to pause and ponder and see life for what it is.  I remember times with friends where our conversation was so rich, so funny, so real, so full of life that I didn’t want it to end.  It was a sacred place.  I remember a couple times out surfing when the whole experience was so surreal it pointed me to God and to a plan bigger than me alone.  It was a sacred place.  I remember times with you kids camping at San Elijo, wrestling in the living room, going out to eat—it was a sacred place, holy ground.

The day you were born was one of those times.  Our trip to San Juan Capistrano was another, as was our trip to Europe.  I suppose the day you caught me prostrate in front of your door praying was another.  God has given us those things we share: the good, the bad, the funny, the ridiculous, the audacious.  In all of it, for the past twenty-two years, we’ve shared it together; father and daughter.  And now we share another time, one very different from the sacred moments we’ve shared in the past.  I will no longer be the main man in your life as of July 14.  It is holy ground, Laurel.  It is a sacred place.   

Scripture says a man will leave his father and mother and a woman will leave her home, and the two will become one flesh.  What we will all experience July 14 with you and Noah is sacred, holy ground.  It points to something much more than us.  I suppose that is part of the reason I wanted to participate more fully in the service.  I like those places where you have to take your shoes off, where God meets us in the experiences of life.  

I love you and have been privileged to be your father.  But you were really never mine or mom’s.  You were loaned to us from God.  And now you move on in your life to start your own family, to have your own sacred experiences with your husband.  All the time it points to something so much greater than us, to God, the ultimate Father.  

My challenge to you is to seek him fully.  Surrender to him and his ways and you will be blessed.  Life is tough but without surrendering to Christ it becomes even tougher.  Learn to respect your husband.  Honor him as the man in your family.  You will not regret it.  You are loved and I am proud to be your father.

Love Dad

I Grew Up in Hawaii

Not really. I grew up in Michigan. But as a I leader I came of age in Hawaii. I’m in Hawaii right now. It’s Jan’s favorite place on earth. We were driving up to the north shore of Oahu, it was raining so hard it was difficult to see and she wistfully says, “Oh, I could live here.” I’m thinking, “Hey girlfriend, if this was New York, we’d be in a blizzard. I just want to get where we’re going safe.” That’s my reference right now. Snow.

At any rate, I worked here for 2 ½ years at a church. Flew back and forth to Oahu. Things at the church didn’t turn out as planned and some of it was our/my fault. It was that difficult experience that allowed me to grow up as a leader. Here’s some things I’ve learned:
•Don’t worry about transitioning people if it’s the right thing to do, either from a job or off the staff entirely. It’s probably in the best interest of all involved especially if people are burned out or in the wrong position to begin with.

•As a leader, I am a steward of the gifts of the people I/God bring/s on my team. To fail to address real issues in their lives, or to fail to serve or help a team member when they really need help, is to fail in that stewardship. (One of our staff graciously this to me)

•Make the hard organizational decisions regardless of what happens. My failure to push organizational, structural, leadership and constitutional issues at the church created conflict that could have easily been avoidable.

•Put standards and policy in place for your team before you are forced to by your mistakes. I was forced to. It was my fault. Lesson learned. We have lots of really good standards and policies that govern our team and protect our staff and the churches we work with so that we can serve others unencumbered. Policy that is an anchor around your neck to fulfill your organizational vision is bad. Policy that allows you to accomplish it is really good.

•Take care of little things like job descriptions and performance reviews.

•Don’t hire people who aren’t on board with the vision, values, and mission of the team.

•Reconcile with those you are at odds with even if others won’t own their stuff. This is mission critical.

•If you know something won’t work, don’t let a team member, or anyone else for that matter, force you to go in that direction. Just say, “Hey, I think we are going on a different direction on this one and I’m going to have to make some choices.”  

In the long run, the conflict generated by that experience has been what’s catapulted our team forward. I reconciled with the other staff guy involved, and he has taken a part of our team to another level. I shudder to think what would have happened had he left in anger or I just fired him outright in frustration.

Hawaii is a great place to grow up. Aloha.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ruined for Anything but What Matters--Part 2

I was studying Acts 17 for a sermon a few weeks ago. In pondering being ruined for anything but what matters I realized that just as there were idols in Athens, so there are idols in American culture: cultural idols. In Athens they had cultural idols for love and sex—Aphrodite and Eros were their names; athletics and work—his name was Hermes. They also had Bachus and Dionysus, gods for pleasure and the ultimate god, Zues, the god of power. Things haven’t changed. The same gods are in our culture today.

 If I’m going to be ruined, or ruin someone else, for anything but what matters, I have to become aware of our cultural idols and show them for what they really are. They promise the world but ultimately, over the long haul, they fail to deliver. And when you fail them, forget about it—you’re toast.

 I remember reading a story in the NY Times about a guy named Richard Fee who was his college class president, an aspiring medical student, very personable, etc. He committed suicide because he’d run out of a drug called Adderall. Its like Ridalin and used to help kids with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.). He’d gotten hooked on it and couldn’t see going through life without it’s assistance. Then the article went on to describe how this had become a normal thing on competitive college campuses. The students would use med’s to get the tunnel like focus they needed to study. In fact, they’d feign A.D.D. just to get access to the drugs. A friend of mine, whose son had legitimate A.D.D., told me that he’d tried them out himself, just to see what they did to his kid. He couldn’t believe how focused he became.

 In reading the article I thought to myself, “Why risk addiction for a grade?” Easy answer! The cultural gods promise you the world if you graduate from the best schools, make lots of money, and have the right job. But if you fail those gods, they punish you. This is one more reason I think Christianity makes sense—you find Jesus he’ll free you to become everything you were created to become. You fail him—he’ll forgive you. And because of his love demonstrated in his sacrificial life and death, you’ll want to live your life for him. If Jesus is who he claims to be, he’s ultimately, over the long haul, all that matters anyway. For me, its at least worth considering.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ruined for Anything but What Matters!

“My kids said I ruined them for anything but what matters.”

 A friend of mine said that to me a few weeks ago, while we were sitting in a local establishment in Cannon Beach, Oregon. It was cold and when I got there the surf was absolutely roaring. The waves were huge—fifteen to twenty feet. I was there giving the oral report for a diagnostic we’d done for a regional district in a Christian denomination (for my non-churched readers, a denomination is a group of Christian's who organize themselves around certain theological truths and historical events). My friend, Randy, who is the supervisor of that district informed me that his children had said this to him. It caught my attention. Why would they say that? Why would they put it like that? 

 Here’s why: Randy is entrepreneurial, a church planter, and radically committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his wife raised their children to not play church or to be moralistic religious people. They raised them to radical followers of Jesus and they did so in the Pacific Northwest, one of the least Christianized parts of the United States. Their kids were part of exciting and culturally sensitive congregations that served others and brought people to a life changing faith in Christ. By doing this, Randy and his wife ruined their kids....for anything but what matters. His children won’t waste their lives simply on making money, or having the American dream, or just having fun. They’ve been ruined for blasé, boring moralistic religion. And they’ve also been ruined for the vacuous claims of a culture that promises the world but leaves one ultimately empty. So, here's what do I plan to do with this.

I hope to ruin every church I work with for anything but what matters! And I plan to do the same for my adult children and their children. It’s a worthy goal and one I look forward to doing.