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!

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!

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.



Like Sands Through The Hourglass…

I have the honor of teaching part of our church membership class and, during yesterday’s, something occurred to me. I usually begin my section by introducing myself and telling the class that I joined the church back in 1991 when my family moved to Houston and that it’s been really cool to see all the highs and lows and God’s constant sustenance and provision here.

As I was “reviewing” that spiel in my head before taking the stage, our pastor was asking some of our LONG term (and one founding) members of our church how long they had been here. (Our church was planted in 1973.) It struck me in light of those 30+ year members, that some of the people in yesterday’s class were JUST beginning their potential 20, 30, 40 years of membership!

It was such a cool moment to think that, in 1991, I was a knuckleheaded 7th grader running around with hardly any clues about anything and NO clue that 20 years later I’d be on staff, married and starting a family here. I wasn’t thinking that, in my 30s, I’d be worshiping alongside other second and third generation members of our church that were knuckleheads like me in the 90s.

I encouraged yesterday’s class that they might be sitting across the table or across the room from lifelong friends that they haven’t even met yet but that God was leading to join our church just like them.

It’s so cool to think about! God has given us a spiritual family in the Church! Becoming a church member, then, means SO much more than just agreeing with a statement of faith. Praying that our church continues to be a healthy expression of the body of Christ!

All Style, No Substance

I had an idea to post this right after NBA All-Star weekend. So, TBT to All-Star Weekend and a shout out TBT to the “good old days.”

I haven’t watched an entire dunk contest in years. I remember watching Blake Griffin jump “over” a KIA… that’s about it for the last several years. For some reason, I watched this year’s competition. Apparently it’s now officially called “Sprite Slam Dunk.” Which just sounds awkward. Would it hurt them to add “contest” to the title? I mean, there is more than one dunk involved…

Regardless, what stood out to me about the dunk contest and the all-star production, in general, was the gaudy amount of flash/production and the glaring lack of substance. This dissonance was really apparent when finalist Ben McLemore came out dressed in a robe, preceded by a herald, and had Shaq sit in a throne for him to jump over… then he missed the dunk. “All show, no go,” comes to mind. He made the second attempt and then knelt to be crowned by Shaq. But the wind had already left the sails. SO much build-up.

John Wall just came out and dunked. He executed, on the first try, a physically impressive dunk. Then went into a swaggerlicious victory dance. Something to be said for letting the work speak before going into hype mode. Wall not only executed this platform, he verbalized it in this article, questioning the role of hype in recent contests.

Of course, back in MY day, I don’t remember any victory dances. Just raw dunkage and maybe a mean game face afterward. Those were the days. Less pyro, less fly-girls, less hype men. You tuned in for the athletic competition. So what happened? Either the crowds/audience/consumers have grown hype-thirsty, demanding high-fructose entertainment along the lines of the WWE or the NBA realizes there is nothing new under the sun and all the dunks have been dunked, so to speak. (Dunkers realize this, too, as made evident by the influx of props and hype over the last several years.)

It’s also evident in the NBA’s formatting remodel that they’re trying to keep up or stay relevant somehow, knowing their product is lacking. It’s also glaringly evident that there is a lack of superstar showdowns. Where is Lebron? Where was Griffin? This year’s contestants were no slouches, but at the NBA’s peak the brightest stars threw down (Jordan vs. Wilkins, anyone?) One of my favorite dunk exhibitions of all time was Vince Carter. Props for no props, if you know what I mean.

Dunks!

I think the superstars are afraid of losing. They claim they are too busy, need/want to rest or possibly avoid injury. More likely, they just can’t afford to hurt their brand, so younger, hungrier dudes are trying to make a name for themselves or gain some ground on the elites.

Overall, I feel like All-Star weekend is broken. It was a bunch of smoke and mirrors perfectly cued and timed, accompanied by the reality of missed shots and dunks. The fanfare presented superheroes, but real people came out to compete. It kind of creates a disconnect.

All that to say, maybe I think it’s “too loud” because I’m just too old. Maybe the NBA’s targeted demo loves the hype machine. Maybe they love being told what is awesome by emcee Nick Cannon, rather than just waiting and reacting to the events as they unfold.

I’m sure the “good old days” I keep referring to are abhorrent to previous generations. The idea of a dunk contest, in general, is pretty self-aggrandizing I realize… as are blogging and tweeting, heh. But yesterday’s dinner table soapbox rant is today’s blog post. Welcome to the table.

I Love My Pastor

Today marked the one year anniversary of Pastor Steve Bezner coming to Houston Northwest Church. I am just one of many, many people thankful for the blessing he has been since his arrival. Here are just a handful of reasons why I love my pastor.

-He loves Jesus.

-He encourages me frequently.

-He loves my family well.

-He loves his own family well.

-He loves our church well.

-He has a pacemaker, but it seems to work more like Iron Man’s flux capacitor chest thing, powering him!

-He is my friend.

-He loves Blue Bell.

-He’s read everything.

-He laughs at my jokes… usually.

-He is obsessed with great BBQ.

-He is a “why not?” person which I admire because I am a “why?” person.

-He dreams big.

-He’s wicked smaht but doesn’t flaunt it.

-He does sound effects when he tells stories.

-He listens and he cares.

-He gets really excited about sharing Jesus with others.

Happy Anniversary, Pastor! Here’s to many more!