Monthly Archives: May 2016

Great Expectations

13310471_10154176654699378_2405963628386265997_nSo I got my first ear piercing yesterday (a small cross in my left ear; see the pic at left). My wife got her third piercings done the day before, and as we were talking about me getting mine done (what I would get, whether or not it’s even a good idea, and so on), we hit upon the subject of people’s expectations. Southern culture in general has a lot of expectations about what a man does and does not look like, and things get even more complex when you throw in the fact that I’m a pastor as well. Being the pondering person that I am, this got me to thinking. There are a lot of expectations that we all have to deal with as we go through our lives, some of which are good and others not so much. For example, society expects that when we see the posted speed limit while out driving, we won’t exceed it. In return, we can expect to get a ticket if we’re caught by the police while exceeding it. Personally, I don’t have an issue with expectations like that one. There are, however, other expectations that we all face from time to time, expectations regarding far more personal aspects of our lives. We come up against expectations regarding who we’ll become, how we’ll look, who we’ll marry, where we’ll live, and so many more; expectations that, if we’re not careful in how we respond to them, can turn us into people we never wanted to become. How then do we respond to these expectations? Perhaps a better question is how should we respond to these expectations? While it may not be possible to live up to these expectations without losing ourselves in the process, those who hold these expectations can often be those closest to us, and the last thing we want to do is hurt them. How do we manage these expectations in a respectful way?

As a Christian, I find it useful to look at how Jesus handled similar issues. As Scripture shows us, Jesus dealt with expectations regarding all areas of His life. People had expectations of Him as Messiah, to be sure, but those closest to Him also had expectations of Him as well. In Mark 3, for example, we’re told in verses 31-35 of a time when Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up while He was preaching: “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.'” The expectation, obviously enough, is that He will drop what He’s doing and come see what they want. (Skipping back to verse 21 tells us why they’re there; they think He’s nuts and they’ve come to take Him home.) His reaction, however, is not what we would expect: “And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’ Instead of meeting their expectation, He in essence redefines their relationship. (Now before you go thinking this is an excuse to hurt those closest to you, remember how Jesus cared for His mother during His crucifixion. As John 19:26 tells us, He was very much concerned for her welfare. In short, even though He did not meet their expectation on this occasion, He did not stop caring about His earthly family.) 

Another example of Jesus dealing with expectations of others comes in John 21. Here we read of Him appearing to His disciples following the resurrection, and what we read is not what we would expect (for me at least). There are no heavenly trumpets, no angels shouting in victory, no glorious appearing, just Jesus by the seashore with His friends. Neither does He come to them as King demanding worship; rather, He plays a prank on them, recreating a miracle while they do not realize it is Him. (He is so wondrously human here; this is one of my favourite Scripture stories.)

I could go on and on and on. The point is that Jesus is Himself. He is unfailingly, unflinchingly, gloriously and wholly Himself. As He tells us in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” His relationship with His Father defined everything about who He was, and, secure in that knowledge, He could be Himself. Furthermore, that relationship meant He could manage the expectations of those around Him without hurting them and without losing who He was. The scandalous truth of the Gospel is that we have that same relationship now. We get the same access Jesus has. If we are secure in that relationship, we get to be ourselves, too. We can respond to the expectations of others has He did, not breaking off the relationship but not giving in to the expectation, either.

I have had many people ask me why I got my ear pierced yesterday (and I expect I’ll get many more questions in the days to come). The truth is, this whole post is the reason why. I like the way I look with it pierced (and I don’t think Jesus minds one bit), and if me living in the freedom of that relationship allows you to do the same, then as a minister of the Gospel I’ve done my part. What freedom is He leading you into today?

A World at War

passchendaele3I have a confession to make. I don’t like living like I’m in the middle of a war, a clash of kingdoms, or an epic struggle between good and evil. Most mornings my most pressing prayer is that I make it to work on time and in one piece. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (I think), I work with kids now, and as the week draws to an end my highest priority is typically that we all make it through the day without a major blow up. On average we have 25 or so children that I work with directly, which means on top of that we have whole posse of parents, every single one of which has an idea about how you should raise kids and, as you find when you get to meet them all and compare notes, very few of which actually agree with each other. Most are understanding and respectful, but there are a few that are a little more, well, forceful than others. I learned very quickly which were which and, although I am always respectful, I am a little more wary around certain individuals than others.

Two weeks ago, a parent made a complaint to a state licensing agency regarding activities in my class room. There was nothing to the complaint, and we had no idea who had filed it. There were parents we suspected, of course, but over the days following the complaint and subsequent investigation, it became apparent that it had probably not been filed by who we thought it had been. It came totally out of left field, and what totally rocked my world was the realization, as voiced by a co-worker, that someone was simply trying to get me fired. (I mean, parents definitely do have concerns, but more often than not those concerns are simply shared with my supervisor and resolved quickly. This went way beyond that.) This job is my livelihood, not to mention the source of our healthcare benefits, and someone deliberately tried to destroy that.

In John 10:10 Jesus tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In that verse we have the context of our days. We live with the conflict of of these truths; we live, so to speak, in the in-between. I don’t know about you, but I tend to live in light of the second part of that verse and ignore the first as much as possible. I want that abundant life. I work hard to provide for my family. At the same time, it rarely crosses my mind to think that the life that Jesus brings is opposed somehow.

In the days since this whole thing started, my focus has understandably shifted. My prayer first thing in the morning, rather than simply that I make it to work on time, is now that I see any threatening situations (which might give parents more ammunition to shoot at me) before they happen so that I can respond differently and avoid the potential difficulties altogether. I’ve started praying directly against whatever it may be that’s opposing this life He has for me. And so far I’ve survived, with a lot of His grace and a lot of prayer.

Does it sound crazy to ascribe a spiritual side to a work issue such as this? Maybe. And yet that is the only answer I can think of for what’s behind all this. In truth, I almost didn’t write this post. For one thing, the events are still relatively recent and being at the center of all this probably means my perspective isn’t what it could be. For another, I don’t want to come across as one of those “chicken-little” Christians, the kind who see spiritual warfare behind everything, no matter how trivial. And yet…why else would someone deliberately attack my livelihood in a manner that hurts far more than it resolves any issue that may or may not exist?

My question for you, then, is what’s your perspective? Are you living in the in-between? As 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls aroundlike a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” That’s a reality we all have to come to terms with. As I found out the hard way, acting like it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.