Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brotherhood: Growing Up with Sisters

I grew up with two amazing sisters: Kendra the oldest, Richelle the middle child, and myself, Scott the youngest. So thinking about brotherhood is often a difficult topic for me. I didn’t have brothers. Brotherhood was something relatively absent from my childhood. My sisters are awesome and I love them, but the relationships I have observed between brothers are distinctly different than my relationships with my sisters. The way you connect with a brother is different, and this was something that I desperately wanted growing up.

My desire for a true brother didn’t stop with my childhood. I had a few close friends in high school who were brother like and one in particular, Justin, who I did almost everything with. My first tastes of brotherhood came from him. We were brutally honest with each other and at times we were really angry with each other, but we could fight it out and go on knowing that at the end of the day, we would still have each others backs. We would stay up really late talking about girls and practical jokes we planned on playing on people and occasionally we would talk about God and what he meant to us and how we saw him working in our lives. It really was a great friendship. Unfortunately we decided to go to college in very different parts of the country. He went to Michigan, I moved to San Diego. I clearly made the better choice, but he could not be convinced.

College brought about an entirely new set of issues with brotherhood. Early on in my college career, I joined a fraternity and one of the things I was most excited about was this concept of brotherhood that they all talk so much about. My dad was in a fraternity and told me that some of his best friends even still he met in his fraternity days, and on the surface, the Greek system talks a lot about brotherhood. The brotherhood I found there was not what I had hoped. Sure I would hang out with the guys at parties, or at “brotherhood” events, but what I saw was a bunch of really awesome people make decisions that ultimately drove them away from intimacy in the name of brotherhood. Brotherhood in the Greek system often looks like spending time together drinking and then going to do crazy things. It is based on a false intimacy that says since we are experiencing these things together we are brothers, but I quickly learned that this is not true. Jack and Judith Balswick say that “Intimacy can be defined as a mutual knowing and caring free of embarrassment or shame.” It means that your name is safe in the other person’s mouth. I would hear people claim to be brothers one minute then intentionally disrespect their so called brother the next. I would watch Cain kill Able then look God in the face and ask “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I learned very quickly that true brotherhood in the Greek system would be hard to come by.

It was then that I moved in with a group of guys who would teach me what real brotherhood looks like. At first there were four of us. Andrew, Jamin, Scott, and I and later on we would add in Kevin, Carson and Eugene. With these six other guys I have learned what it means to have brothers. We live together, we fight with each other we stay up late and talk about girls, but we also care deeply for each other. We are there to support each other through the good times and the bad. They are more than willing to call me out on my crap, and I try to do the same for them. In the past three years no one has made me as angry as these six guys have, and in the past three years, no one has brought me as much joy. We are honest with each other, brutally honest. We share our lives together. If something has happened in any of our lives, good or bad, the other guys we live with are among the first to know about it and we are able to come around each other in prayer and with grace in order to build each other up. These guys have become more than friends to me.

Proverbs 17:17 says that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

There is a distinction here. A friend will always have your back, but a brother is someone that you struggle alongside of. You experience adversity together. There is more than just sympathy for a hard time, more than just kind words. A brother stands by you through thick and thin and marches into your battles with you, and carries you when you find the road ahead of you too difficult to keep going.

The story of David and Jonathan in the Bible is a beautiful picture of what Biblical brother hood actually is. Jonathan protected David from his enemies, even when David was the enemy of Jonathan’s father. We are given an image of these two men laughing together, crying together, and sharing an intimacy largely unknown in western culture. There bond was strong to the point that even after Jonathan had been killed in battle, and David had taken the throne from Jonathan’s father, David took it upon himself to care for Jonathan’s only remaining son, a man who was “crippled in both feet,” as if he was one of his own sons (2 Samuel 9). It is clear that though David and Jonathan were indeed examples of the Proverb. Even in the greatest adversities, and even in death, David was there to care for Jonathan, and Jonathan for David.

This is God’s desire for brotherhood: that we care for one another in a sacrificial manner; that we come along each other through the thick and thin and fight for each other in times of adversity.

Growing up with sisters was great. I have been shaped and formed into who I am partially because of their influence on me and I know that they will always be there to support me when I need it, but there is something undeniably good and distinctly different about living with the brothers that I have now. It is a special bond that cannot be manufactured artificially, and one that takes a lot of work to maintain, but when we do, I have experienced that it is more than worth the effort I’ve put in, and all of my relationships have been strengthened by it. You cannot lose. I honestly believe that it is something that God truly desires for us.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Why" is a Hard Question!

I was presented with this question recently: “Why are you a Christian?” "Why" is a hard question, but by thinking back on the other times I have been asked this or similar questions I am able to stop and realize the power behind the answer. A high school kid asked me this question this summer and later on another one got my answer without having to ask. He needed to hear it. I needed to give it. It worked out well for the both of us. I am coming to recognize that answering and sharing why it is I believe in the God of the Bible is both a necessity for my spiritual life and can have a great impact on the lives of the people around me. We need to know why we believe. We need to know both for our own benefit and the benefit of the people around us. If we do not actually understand why it is we believe in Jesus, why we believe in the resurrected Christ, then I have to wonder how honest our belief actually is.

The last time I was asked to respond to this question, here is what I wrote out:

I am a Christian because God has transformed me. I will not pretend that life is sunshine and rainbows because its not. In fact, that is the exact opposite of reality. Life is hard. Sometimes life is really hard and we do not have what it takes to make it through. We just don’t. We cannot do life on our own. It takes help. Help from the people around us, and help from those closest to us. Sometimes it even takes the help of a stranger. But what happens when all of that fails and we still find ourselves weak and floundering inside of the cruel and bitter fishbowl we seem to live in? We turn outside of ourselves and we attach ourselves to the things that give us meaning. Relationships become our everything. Drugs take us outside of our problems. Alcohol takes the edge off. We give ourselves to images and place our hope in our big glowing boxes…the picture sure is clear though. In our brokenness, we try to live a life that is “good enough,” yet ultimately still, these things that we form unhealthy attachments to end up failing. She breaks up with you. You overdose. DUI maybe? We end up retreating further and farther inside of ourselves only to discover that our own narcissism, vanity, and self-absorption has led us to a place of utter ruin.

Enter Jesus.

Though we pretend and hope at times that he does not exist and that he has not seen any of this, he has. He has seen all of it. He knows what has gone on and his heart is broken for us. It is broken into pieces as small as the grains of sand on the shore. His heart is broken for us as much as we are broken. He sees this and has seen this and while we have found ourselves living in this mess, he has already extended his hand to us saying, “All of those things that failed you, everything that has let you down, they are nothing but rubbish. It is not in my character to let go of you. Take my hand and allow me to begin healing your wounds. I can help you to become who you were created to be, there is no other way.”

I am a Christian because Jesus found me at the bottom of a pit which I had dug for myself. I have sat at the apex of my own conceit, stubborn and refusing to move. I have stood, shovel in hand at the nadir of my own despair ready to keep digging. Still time and again I find when I have reached the end of myself, I look up and I see Jesus extending his hand to me, reminding me of his goodness, and his awesome power in my life. He has reached out his hand to me and I have said yes. I am a Christian because he has held true to his promise. He has transformed me. He is transforming me. He will continue to transform me. I am a Christian because Jesus is the only one capable of helping me to reach my fullest potential. He loves me that much. He loves us all that much.

It is by no means a perfect response. It is actually lacking in a lot of areas but I am confident that God uses even the most broken of people.  He uses the imperfect to highlight the perfect that is all around us; the subtle workings of God in our every day life. If you were to ask me again tomorrow just why I am a Christian, I would hope to give a similar response.

We can never really know who is listening, or how impactful something we might share with someone may be. The important thing is that we share it.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his essay “Is Theology Poetry” a statement that has stuck with me. It has helped to shape my own feelings and beliefs and I cannot deny the truth of his words. He wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

This is just one more aspect of the larger story of our life. Yet it is a very important one. Why are you a Christian? Or if you are not one, what is keeping you from Christ? "Why" is a hard question, but the answer is more powerful than we recognize.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  – 1 Peter 3:15