Saturday, May 23, 2009


True story:

On a random visit last year, my mother-in-law offered me a pair of Dockers she had bought for my father-in-law, since the pants had turned out to be the wrong size for him. Once I made sure the pants would fit me, I gladly accepted the offer and brought the pants home.

A week or so later, I decided to wear the pants to work. I removed the labels from the pants, touched up the ironing, put on the pants, and went on my way. (I know, I know, I didn't wash them first...)

Later on, in the middle of my work day, I happened to put my hands in the pockets of the pants, and felt a piece of paper. I pulled out the paper and realized it was the receipt from the purchase of the pants I was wearing.

The date of the purchase was printed on the receipt, and, much to my surprise, the date was five and a half years prior to the morning I pulled the labels off the pants.

My brand-new Dockers were actually five and a half years old!

They were both new and old at the same time.

A pair of pants that should have been well-worn, if not worn out, was still in mint condition, never used, never even tried on, forgotten for half a decade. The pants hadn't served their intended purpose for anyone in five and a half years.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." -- John 13:34-35

"Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning..." -- I John 2:7

Love one another.

A new commandment? An old commandment? Both?

The children of Israel had been commanded to love their neighbors as themselves centuries before Jesus' ministry (Lev. 19:18). So, it's certainly an old commandment in that sense. But Jesus made it new again by raising the bar of what the commandment means. When He talked about loving one another, the standard became, "as I have loved you". Who could have claimed to have already had that covered?

In another sense, as John reminds his readers, the commandment to love one another is old to every Christian, because it was introduced right along with the gospel, at the very beginning of each soul's walk with Christ (I John 2:7).

But, there is yet another sense in which this commandment is both new and old at the same time, and will be forever, for every Christian.

Like my "new" Dockers, the commandment to love one another is brand-new again each time we realize we've forgotten about it.

Maybe the commandment was accepted warmly, even eagerly, to be put into service to the blessing of others, only to find its way to the bottom of a drawer, out of commission and unaccounted for. Maybe the season or the fashion changed, and it just didn't seem like the right time to wear that garment.

For whatever reason, has the commandment to love one another, as Jesus loves us, fallen to the back of your mind, or been forgotten entirely?

Is it so taken for granted that we're content never to see it?

May it never be so.

Pray that our Father will make this old commandment new in our lives every day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's the Point?

OK, NBA fans: Did you hear the news?

The Los Angeles Clippers, through some far-fetched stroke of what statisticians refer to as "dumb luck", claimed the #1 pick in this year's NBA Draft Lottery.

Perhaps you, like me, are rolling your eyes and asking yourself, "What's the point?"

Or, maybe you're even feeling a twinge of pity for the young athlete selected by the Clips. "Sorry, man. Hang tough."

Growing up in the L.A. area, my blood ran purple and gold. The life of a Lakers fan was good in the 80's. I actually remember the Clippers' move from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984, and, even as a kid, wondered what on earth was the point.

Ever since, the Clippers have operated for the most part in total futility, right in the shadow of an NBA powerhouse. Not even #1 draft picks in 1988 and 1998 have helped right the Clippers' ship.

And, now, here they are all over again.

But this really isn't about the Clippers.

Have you ever given up on someone? Do you know anyone who is so chronically unreliable that you finally roll your eyes in disgust?

Someone who, despite the help of everyone around, and the benefit of every resource and opportunity, just never seems to get it together?

Someone who prompts you to ask yourself, "What's the point?"

Of course you do. We all do.

*The struggling, straggling student who can be led to water, but can't be made to drink.

*The troubled employee who doesn't seem to comprehend that the boss's patience will eventually run out.

*The borrower back in debt just a year after being bailed out.

*The spouse who never matured beyond selfishness.

*The child who continues to abuse his parents' trust.

*The hollow promises coming from all of the above.

Where does anyone find the patience to deal with this? So much promise, so much possibility, so little results. Total futility.

More importantly, do we realize that, on our own, this is all we amount to before God?

Where can we find the patience to deal with unreliable people who don't perform?

Where does He?

May His grace toward us give us the perspective we need to extend grace to others, even when efforts are futile and patience is thin. Even when it's hard to see the point.

In fact, especially then.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Classic Quote

So often, the classic quote comes at the most random moment.

This afternoon, I spent some time with our boys, letting them ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk by our house. This is still a "follow-along" activity, as Jonathan is barely getting started at riding, and Benjamin still needs a little help now and then.

We were following our usual route, past the next-door neighbors' house, over the drainage ditch (yes, a glorious view) and on to the driveway of the next house, where we turn around and head back home for another lap.

Just as we made the turn in the usual driveway, I took hold of Benjamin's handlebar to guide him around. Without hesitation, he made clear he had it all under control:

"Daddy, you just have to let go now."

I had to let that one sink in for just a second.

How deep does that statement go in your mind?

Talk about flash-forwards. Coming back up that sidewalk, I saw visions of everything from the first day of Kindergarten to high school graduation, relationships I may or may not approve of, and life choices that will be entirely our son's to make.

Lots of moments ahead when I will have little choice but to let go.

But that's only part of the story. The fact is, the only reason Benjamin was able to tell me to let go, was the fact that I had held on for as long as I had. Today wasn't his first bike ride. I've taken hold of the handlebar many times before. And, it probably won't be the last time he ends up needing my help. But his confidence has grown to the point that he believes he can handle it on his own.

And the safety of my grip on the handlebar was needed for a time.

Just not forever.

*The wisdom to know when to let go.

*The courage to let go when you know you should.

*And, the commitment to hold on long enough to make your grip obsolete.

All this wrapped up in the confident statement of a 4 year-old.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Mothers' Day

I thought it would be appropriate to re-post this one from last year on the occasion of Mothers' Day. This one originally appeared in July, 2008, and was entitled, "A Promise Kept". Happy Mothers' Day!

Jane: "Mary Poppins, you won't ever leave us, will you?"
Michael: "Will you stay if we promise to be good?"
Mary Poppins: "That's a pie-crust promise; easily made, easily broken."

Most of us know the story of the prophet Samuel's birth.

In a sense, every human being owes his existence to his mother, but Samuel in particular owed his life to his mother Hannah's deep faith and heartbroken prayer.

We read the story in the first few chapters of I Samuel.

Hannah lives, as so many women of her era, in a polygamous relationship, with a husband who loves her dearly, but also has another wife. The other wife has borne children, but Hannah has not. In fact, the Scripture says, "the Lord had closed her womb". (1:5)

No explanation is given for this, but it is clear that Hannah's inability to conceive is a source of great pain for her. This fact is not lost on the other wife, who takes advantage of this sore spot to "provoke her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb." (1:6)

"She was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish." (1:10)

Out of this torment comes a request, and a promise.

"O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant, and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life." (1:11)

Hannah's prayer is granted, and she names her son "Heard by God".

As moving as this part of the story is, it alone does not provide the most compelling point for us today. That is yet to come.

God's intervention in this story is, like most of His deeds, beyond our grasp. How does God take a woman who cannot have children, and bring about whatever change is necessary to allow conception to occur? How or why had He prevented conception from occurring before? We'll never know; we accept that He can and does intervene in such ways, according to His will.

Not to suggest that God's work is not the most remarkable element of this story, but His intervention in this case is similar to innumerable miracles He has performed over the centuries, completely in keeping with who He is and what we have always known Him to do.

The most unusual element of this story is Hannah's promise. More specifically, the fact that she keeps it.

After all the years of torment and depression, after all the wishing and hoping, the son she wondered if she could ever have is finally in her arms. Any mother who has locked eyes with her newborn knows the instant and eternal bond. Everything else is reordered. Previous priorities fade. Nothing is ever the same.

Yet, in spite of all this, as God remembered her, so Hannah remembers her promise. She weans her son, and then takes him, at a very young age, to Eli the priest to begin his life of service to God. And, the course is set for a critical period of Israel's history.

Imagine it. Taking your small child to begin a life apart from your household, willingly giving him up to see him again only once a year thereafter. A tear-jerker of a passage is found in chapter 2, verses 18 - 19: "Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. And his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice."

Can you see Hannah stitching her son a new robe, remembering what he looked like the last time she saw him, wondering what he would look like now? Wondering how much he might have grown? Hoping he'll like his new robe? Can you imagine the annual reunion, with Hannah helping Samuel try it on? Can you imagine how often Samuel thought of his mother throughout the year, every time he wore that robe?

Considering all this, it's truly amazing that Hannah kept this promise. Honestly, if she had failed to keep her promise, would we judge her for it today? Could we blame her? Could any of us keep a promise like this? Would any of us have made such a promise in the first place?

Hannah would have had at her disposal any and every rationalization she would have needed to break her promise to God, and make it all right in her mind. Imagine how the tempter might have worked on Hannah's mind in the few years she had Samuel at home. We're not given any indication that Hannah even struggled with this decision, but if she did, she would have had plenty of help.

While we might not have been inclined to judge Hannah harshly had she failed to keep this promise to God, Scripture indicates God Himself would indeed have taken it seriously. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5) And while Hannah's story is not entirely equivalent to the story of Jephthah (Judges 11), it serves to illustrate the same point: take seriously what you tell God you're going to do.

Buried beneath all this, lies an often-overlooked fact in Hannah's story.

"And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, 'The Lord give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the Lord.' Then they would go to their own home. And the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the Lord." (I Samuel 2:20-21)

Who knew Hannah was going to have more children after she gave Samuel to the Lord?

There is no indication that anyone knew. Hannah's original prayer was for "a male child", not for the ability to have as many children as she and her husband might have wanted to have. It was on her heart to have a son, and once that prayer was granted, it is clear her heart was content. (2:1-10) In fact, we have to assume that Hannah thought she was handing over to the Lord her one and only child, and that she would live the rest of her years on the joy of her short time with her baby Samuel. There was no inkling of future children to numb the pain of giving Samuel up, or to make it any easier to keep that promise. The reward of having five more children must have overwhelmed her heart.

Promises, promises. We live in a world today in which promises don't seem to mean very much. It seems people vow first, and think later. The vow may even be sincere at the time, but changing circumstances provide the back door people use to abandon a promise they no longer wish to keep. Even marriage vows turn out to be pie-crust promises with disturbing regularity.

More than anything else, a Christian is supposed to be different from this world. How seriously do we take our promises to ourselves, let alone others, let alone God?

"This is the year I'm going to exercise again."

"Till death alone separates us."

"You are my God."