A Few Thoughts On Seven Years

Today marks my seventh wedding anniversary with Mrs. Wilsonian. She is a grace and joy to me that I cannot comprehend. The last seven years have been a blur in slow motion. More experienced parents have often said this to us about raising children, “The days are long but the years are short.” And, amazingly, they really are.

Here are some thoughts on the number 7 and marriage:

Most mornings, I walk the family dog (bear with me) on the trails behind our neighborhood. Sometimes I am there pre-dawn, sometimes I miss the sunrise, and sometimes I am there to glimpse the sky on fire.

As I reflected on seven years of marriage, I thought about the varying skies I’ve walked under all these mornings. Our marriage, like the sky, can sometimes be really photogenic, vibrant, eye-catching, even instagram-able! Other times it may appear less “brilliant” with overcast shadings. Every day as husband and wife is varied, bringing different contours, textures, moods, and colors. Also, like the sky, every day is the same in that the sun comes up, the world continues to turn, and it’s all beautiful.

I know seven years is not that long in the context of a lifetime, but it’s long enough to be known for “the seven year itch” because for a long stretch of time, statistically, seven years has been close to the median duration of marriages before divorce. If someone sets their hopes on marriage always being a fiery sunrise with cotton candy clouds, I can understand why a grey cloud could rattle their commitment.

If, however, you view marriage as a commitment out of love rather than a “what’s in it for me” relationship, you’ll stay married AND find more fulfillment.

This thinking about marriage and “seven” reminded me of Jesus’ response to Peter asking, “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

He said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
(or “seventy times seven” depending on your translation)

The point is that seven sounded like a lot to Peter, but Jesus pointed him toward not keeping count at all. So, while seven years of marriage appears to be an accomplishment in some ways, it’s a drop in the bucket of a lifelong journey! We’re shooting for seventy times seven!

That’s how I knew I was ready to marry Danielle when I knew I could commit the rest of my life to her. I could have rushed into the idea of marriage much sooner based on how amazing she is, how pretty she is, how she makes me feel inside, etc. But seeing marriage as a lifelong partnership for the beautiful sunrises AND thunderstorms of life, I knew I wanted to marry someone with whom I could face it all, not matter what, til death do us part.

Seven years is not a long time. But long enough to discover that Danielle’s faith balances my skepticism. Her fearlessness balances my caution. Her enthusiasm balances my even keel. Her ridiculousness “balances” my logic. She challenges me and encourages me. She supports me and grounds me. She is the answer to a question that I once doubted would ever be resolved.

Love you, babe! Congrats on covenanting with my Costanza-ness for LIIIIIFFFEEEE!

Small Talk(ing)

If you’re a fan of comedy you might enjoy watching comedians talk about the craft of comedy. I always find it interesting (and entertaining) to hear the thought processes that go into writing a joke or bit or even a set of jokes. In Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, as the title implies, Seinfeld picks up a fellow comedian in some unique car and they simply go out for coffee. It’s usually entertaining because comedians are typically funny and it’s often fascinating because you get a behind-the-curtain look at how comedians think.

In a recent episode Jerry’s guest was comedian/actor, Kevin Hart. During their discussion something stood out to me that I think has striking implications outside of comedy. Seinfeld began professing his disdain for the use of pyrotechnics, flash, lasers, stunts, etc. before a stand-up comedy routine. He mentioned it might work for some people (like guest Kevin Hart) but he preferred a much more yeoman-like approach, similar to Mike Tyson’s approach to a boxing match. Tyson went against the grain of the flashy, bombastic performances that many prize fighters were known to embrace by coming out in a simple terry cloth “poncho” instead of a silky long, embellished robe. As Seinfeld remembered, “He would cut a hole in the hotel towel… no socks… so stool… he came ready to fight… It’s a reduced essence.”

Seinfeld’s reasoning? Too much lead up to the actual stand-up routine “makes the talking seem small.” I couldn’t help but to transfer this assessment to modern church culture. A lot of churches with vast resources create fantastic events which help to raise attendance and interest. The danger, though, is what Seinfeld fears about his shows: that the talking (sermon) might be made to seem small. The message from God’s Word is meant to be the centerpiece of a worship gathering. If there is more emphasis placed on creating an exciting environment or attractive event than on hearing from God, we’ve missed the mark. There is an adage in ministry that says “what you win them with is what you when them to.” The idea here is that if people are “hooked” by hype then that is what they will desire and will often find themselves dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

A similar scenario unfolds in Mark 8. After we read about Jesus miraculously feeding a multitude, some Pharisees demand a sign from Him as a test. But Jesus questions their desires, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

NOTE: I am not saying Jesus’ miracle is empty hype. I am simply pointing out that people are often attracted to the fantastic and then err by letting it distract them from a richer truth.

If we are truly longing to know and follow Christ we will, like Paul, keep the Gospel as our top priority (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This was Jesus emphasis, too, when asked for a sign in Matthew 12. He replies, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Knowing that the people were testing Jesus out of curiosity as a test and wanting to simply see something amazing, Jesus responded with a prophecy about His resurrection from the dead!

Stay alert, folks! Let’s not be considered an evil generation that only longs for a fantastic event and dismisses the message of God’s truth as it gets overshadowed. God talks to us through His Word. He talks to us through the Spirit. He talks to us through faithful preaching.

Let’s avoid anything that makes “the talking seem small.”

Cough Drop Christianity

I was recently under the weather (like many others) and in frequent use of cough drops. I noticed the particular brand that I was using offered “a pep talk in every drop.” The cough drop wrappers have inspirational phrases printed on them to, I guess, lift your spirits.

Phrases actually found on these wrappers include (but are not limited to): “Keep your chin up,” “Conquer today,” “Elicit a few ‘wows,’ and “Don’t give up on yourself.”

I’ve always struggled with the idea of pep talks that aren’t grounded in any sort of truth. Blame it on the cynic in me or my lack of emotion, but if there’s no reasoning behind “keep your chin up,” I have a really hard time being convinced to keep my chin up.

I’ve heard motivational speakers tell crowds of high school students that the only thing keeping them from having a great day is the decision to just “be awesome.” That’s such a cotton candy approach. It might get you out the door, but sooner or later reality of a broken, fallen world will set in. A pep talk might lift your spirits when you realize someone at the last donut. But if your mind is overcome by the real tragedies and disasters that affect this world, let alone the discouragement we can muster in our own minds, positive thinking won’t cut it.

Sadly, most people outside of Christianity never hear about victory that is grounded in the eternal hope of Christ. It’s also important to recognize that many Christians don’t either. A lot of Christians are settling for motivational speaking rather than the transforming truth of God’s word. It’s concerning that some sermon points could double as cough drop wrapper pep talks. The ideas that “all that you need is found in yourself” or that fulfillment is found in “eliciting wows” are contrary to the gospel message of Jesus.

We can’t handle everything that comes our way on our own. We don’t have everything we need within ourselves to conquer the world or even the day. These deficiencies and weaknesses highlight our need for a Savior. We may want to believe that we can do anything if we just believe in ourselves, but we are saved by faith in Christ, not faith in ourselves.

Self-sufficiency is a really dangerous mindset to adopt. Self-sufficient people don’t know their need for a savior, so they won’t surrender to a savior. They also won’t point others to the Savior. That’s the ugly flipside of “cough drop Christianity.”

I’m not condoning self-loathing, either. Please don’t get me wrong. I believe we should all walk in confidence, freedom and victory. And I believe we all have worth. I just believe that confidence, freedom, victory, and worth are all found in Christ.

I often find that the music of modern hymn writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty really ministers to me. Their song, “My Worth Is Not In What I Own” really reiterates the truer, better pep talk that comes in claiming and celebrating the gospel of Christ and the worth that we find in Him alone. May it minister to you, as well, and serve as a reminder of the antidote to Cough Drop Christianity that we have in the gospel of Christ!

The Better Way

Our church has been reading through “Make Mature Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus,” edited by Brandon Smith. In chapter 6 Logan Gentry notes that Jesus’ evangelism strategy was to point people to “the better story.”

Gentry points out Christ’s “you have heard it said, but I say” statements as a means to contrast the world’s perspective with the better way of the gospel.

This resonated with me and something I’ve been working through when it comes to parenting. I’ve been wanting to develop a way to shepherd our son’s heart and not just his behavior. I definitely want a well-behaved kid, mind you, but I also don’t want moralism to be an obstacle or distraction to his realizing a need for the gospel.

We have one son, now, and he’s only 10 months old, so we still have a LITTLE time to work on this. Recently though, I was challenging myself to point him to a better way rather than just a “because I said so” approach. I want my son to know that I have his best interest in mind when I correct him. I want him to recognize that his heart is not whole apart from Jesus.

So I’ve tried recently, instead of just saying “no” or “stop” to adding “you don’t need that” or “that will hurt you” as a further explanation of why I’m disciplining him. It’s a small step in a huge journey, but I can only hope that I can point him to the better way found only in the gospel of Christ.

What Does It Mean (To You)?

David Crowder’s latest album Neon Steeple just released but the single “I Am” has been out for a while now. Here are the lyrics to the chorus without any capitalization or punctuation:

i am holding on to you

i am holding on to you

in the middle of the storm

i am holding on

i am

How would YOU interpret that? When I first heard this song, I wondered, “Does he mean that he is holding on to God or does he mean that I Am is holding on to ‘you’ so be encouraged? (Or is he being creative and meaning both or switching back and forth?)”

It’s a great song. You can hear it here: http://youtu.be/mw4ES27w3oU

Music is really powerful. It moves people in ways that nothing else can. That’s why I think it’s really important to clear up any vagueness that can occur with worship songs. If you’re singing to and/or about God, you’re presenting some kind of doctrine, whether you know it or not.

With Crowder’s song, neither version I offered presents a false doctrine. But I think the stronger image and message is that I Am is holding on to me in the storms. This interpretation puts the focus on God, rather than my efforts or desperation.

That’s why I was thankful that Crowder provided this:

If you didn’t watch it, he explains how amazingly reassuring it is that I Am, Creator God is holding on to us. Unfortunately, not all artists provide explanations for their songs. And even if they did, how many people would find those explanations rather than just assigning whatever meaning they want to the work?

Not too long ago John Mark McMillan released “Future/Past.” Here’s the chorus:

and you,

you are my first

you are my last

you are my future and my past

I know I’m guilty of over-thinking things but when I hear that chorus, I think, “What does that mean?” It sounds great and the video is nothing short of epic, but is it ok to apply any meaning that doesn’t contradict scripture? Or, worse yet, any meaning that is relative to the hearer? Or should it be more specific, especially since it’s a worship song? I looked, not very hard admittedly, but could not find McMillan’s explanation of the song.

And I’m not intending to attack McMillan. He just has a song that fits the bill here. I have been blessed by his music and we sing it in our College and Young Singles ministry often. But when “Future/Past” came out, a handful of leaders from our church, including some worship pastors, offered different meanings to the lyrics. (All of them were doctrinally sound!) This was a fun and interesting poll but also concerning. If leaders in the church are not exactly sure what the song means, how do we expect those new or unfamiliar to the faith to interpret it?

I understand that scripture can be (and is) misinterpreted often, too, but if we can take measures to clear up confusion, shouldn’t we? Or should we leave room for “what ifs” for the sake of art?

I remember a friend years ago taking issue with people singing, “Who may ascend TO the hill of the Lord?”

“Anyone can ascend TO the hill of the Lord,” he argued. “The question is who may actually ascend the hill!” The memory makes me chuckle. He was definitely more ardent, but I share his conviction for truth!

People connect with music very deeply. We sing and are moved but are often moved by the artistry and emotion of the song rather than the truth of the lyrics. So, I personally believe it’s important to guard doctrine when “teaching” through song, and I’m thankful for the worship leaders in my life who value this principle, as well.

May we strive to worship in spirit AND truth!

Setting Things Straight

So, the fellas over at Outside the Box Score have an 80s Movie Tournament Bracket going. Naturally, they messed up several of the seedings. This caused me great anguish in picking certain movies over others. They also snubbed Raising Arizona completely. So, myopia strikes again.

I’m trying to darndest to make sure The Goonies keeps winning. That’s right, I’m voting as many times as I can. Which is possible if you clear your cache, so the poll doesn’t remember you. Goonies never say die.

I liked their tournament idea, but decided I’d just declare some of my favorite movies because that’s the kind of narcissistic exercise that blogs accommodate so well!

I consider myself a movie guy. “Movie buff” seems too intense and lofty for my level of fandom. But, because I’m a movie guy, I can’t just answer what my favorite movie is without some explanation. And I certainly cannot list my top five or ten favorites in order. SO, I usually resort to this:

Favorite War Movie: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard (1988)

Favorite Adventure Movie (Yes, it’s different than action.): Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Favorite Christmas Movie: Home Alone (1990)*

*Technically, Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie but I figured I shouldn’t duplicate any entries.

Favorite Monster Movie: The Monster Squad (1987)

Favorite Silent Movie: The General (1926)*

*This is actually the only silent movie I’ve ever seen.

Favorite Comedy Movies: Raising Arizona (1987) and Bottle Rocket (1996)

Favorite Mob Movies: The Untouchables (1987), The Godfather (1972), and The Departed (2006)

Favorite Sports Movies: Hoosiers (1986) and A League of Their Own (1992)

Favorite Sci-Fi Movies: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Back to the Future (1985)

Favorite Fantasy Movies: The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and Willow (1988)

That’s all the categories that came to mind off the top of my head. When it comes to movies, “favorite” and “best” are two different things, I believe. A movie can be a favorite because of nostalgia, impact, resonance, etc. without being good. Conversely, a movie can be really well made but not interesting or enjoyable to me (see The Aviator (2004)). So that brings me to my favorite movie of all time.

All-Time Favorite Movie: The Goonies (1985)


Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!

Hallelujah, the tomb is empty! I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re able to celebrate your risen Savior today. If you cannot, I pray you would turn to Him in faith.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

“The power that raised Him from the grave now works in us to powerfully save! He frees our hearts to live His grace; Go tell of His goodness!”

Happy Resurrection Day!

Forever-minded

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17 ESV)

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7 ESV)

The grass withers, the flower fades,

but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

49 years ago today the Astrodome opened as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” hosting an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Today it is a mostly empty shell, hosting only fading memories. It’s dwarfed by the newer, bigger, better and shinier Reliant Stadium. Oh, how the mighty has fallen.

I might not have taken much notice of today’s Astrodome anniversary if I hadn’t already listened to the Johnny Cash interview I posted earlier. In that interview Cash is asked if he sees himself as an icon, the “John Wayne of rock and roll.” Cash thinks the question is ridiculous. He says when he looks in the mirror he sees pimples on his nose, a swollen and hurting jaw, and thinning hair.

As much as the interviewer wants Johnny to revel in the glory days of his youth, Cash keeps responding with humility and self-deprecation. I think Cash understood that new things get old, strong things grow weak, and shiny things dim as time passes on. He used to be one of the biggest and brightest stars, but it was all temporary.

Fleeting, just like the novel Astrodome of the 60s (Indoor baseball?! No way!). Temporary things have a way of disappointing over time because they, by definition, don’t last. But that’s what we always get caught up in, because this world is temporary.

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18b ESV)

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)

We are a culture consumed with the temporary. We don’t consider eternity, let alone 40 years from now. But what might change if we did? Less spontaneous tattoos, probably, heh. But hopefully and way more importantly, people living now for a kingdom and a King that will stand forever. May we be a people who boast only in the cross of Christ!

The Man in Black Denies Being ‘The Man’

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with the late Johnny Cash. It’s not excitingly revelatory, really, but it’s refreshing to hear how down to earth Cash is. He denies being a hero or icon, denies being brave, and just plain keeps it real. I may be giving him too much credit, but I feel like his humble answers are heavily influenced by his faith and the rough times he endured (many as consequences of his own choices).

WARNING: Cash does drop an “S bomb.” So be careful little ears what you hear.