Monday, January 11, 2010

An Arctic Anomaly

What were you doing in February 1996?

Maybe you were rocking the grunge style in high school, blaring Boyz II Men or the Spice Girls in your college dorm, joining the millions of people who got the Internet that year, or among the throngs of parents shelling out big bucks to get your preschooler that year’s coveted Tickle Me Elmo.

Whatever you may have been doing, if you lived in Texas, I can tell you one thing for sure: you were COLD. That’s because February 1996 is the last time temperatures in the Lone Star State took an arctic plunge as deep as the one we had this past week.

For those of you who hail from north of the Red River, let me explain what we Texans mean by “cold.” Down here, where summer temps regularly soar past the century mark, anything below 60 degrees is considered cold. Anything below 50 degrees is “freezing” (as in, “Get back here and put your coat on; it’s freezing outside!”). We don’t own snow boots, scarves, or ski masks. Instead, we buy knit gloves to match our windbreakers; and the few of us with wood-burning fireplaces throw on a few logs occasionally just for ambiance.

(Northerners can insert your own snarky comments about wimpy Southerners here.)

But this winter has been the coldest on record in more than a decade. In fact, North Texans got a Christmas present our state hasn’t seen in more than eight decades—a truly white Christmas! It snowed three times in December alone, which is about three more times than it usually snows here. And it wasn’t just a few flakes, either; we actually had a “blizzard” on Christmas Eve with powdery snowdrifts several feet high, followed by enough wet snow later that week to make a real snowman. (I'm including a picture of ours, dubbed "Freezy.")

(Political types can insert your own snarky comments about global warming here.)

As giddy as we Texans are about snow, we are perhaps more confounded by last week’s arctic anomaly: days that are sunny, bright, clear . . . and freezing. This makes no sense to my children, who associate the sun with T-shirts and flip-flops.

Let me give you a glimpse of a conversation I had with my three-year-old son (in this blog, I call him Buddy) last Friday when we were eating lunch:

(NOTE: It looked like this in our backyard.)

Buddy: “Mama, can I play outside?”
Me: “No, honey, it’s freezing out there. We have to play inside today.”

Buddy (pointing toward the window): “But Mama, see? The sun is out! It’s warm now!”

Me: “Yes, I know it’s sunny. But it’s still too cold to play.”

Buddy: “But Mama! The sun is out!”

Me: (taking a deep breath, trying not to get frustrated) “I can see it, honey. But it’s cold.”


Me: “Listen. To. Me. It’s freezing out there. Do you want to feel how cold it is? (I cracked open the door to let some of the arctic air blast inside.)

Buddy: “Oh. It’s cold out there. Can we play cars?”

You see, at the time, despite being sunny, bright, and clear outside, it was 21 degrees with a wind chill of only 11 degrees.

To put that in perspective, it was at least 20 degrees colder than it was on this day (Christmas Day):

Strange, huh? But as we all have learned, sometimes the hard way, looks can be deceiving.

For example…

Have you ever become friends with someone who appears to have a warm, sunny personality—only to be slapped by the bitter cold of criticism, gossip, manipulation, or betrayal?

Have you ever gone to a church that seems bright and warm from the outside, pews filled with “smiling, happy people” and a bulletin featuring a cozy, heartwarming vision statement—only to discover that when you take the risk to let them see the real you, instead of warmth and grace you feel only the frigid, biting winds of legalism and judgment?

I have. On both counts.

Then again, if I’m honest, there were also times when I donned a sunny, bright, “I’ve-got-it-all-together” persona so others would think I was “spiritual.” After all, I grew up in church, so I can speak “spiritual-ese” with the best of them. Back in those days, I’d pride myself on being humble (oh, the irony!) and impressed my church friends (so I thought) by quoting Scripture verses from obscure books like Amos and Zechariah. It was as if I was in some kind of warped competition to be voted Most Likely to Succeed in Christianity.

It makes me shiver just thinking about it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with quoting from Amos or Zechariah, mind you. And in the years since then, I’ve grown to love and feed on God’s Word more than ever before. Maybe that’s because I realize I need it now more than ever.

You see, nowadays, what you see is what you get. After years of doing things to please people (attempting to live up to others' expectations of a “good” Christian, a "good" pastor’s wife, a “good” mother, etc.), I’m no longer trying to impress anyone—I’m striving to please only One. And after nearly three decades of following Christ, I'm no longer too proud to admit I still struggle with sin. When I sing the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour”—I really mean it. I need God. Every hour. Every minute. Every breath. I can’t do this—any of this—without Him.

Yesterday at church, two people separately told Pastor Brett how much they appreciated how authentic and approachable he is. This was after he preached a sermon with not a single story about himself—he simply explained the big picture of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. And people eagerly listened and took notes, hungry to hear the Word of God. It's one of the reasons that The Church at Sendera Ranch has grown by 90% in the past year.

It just goes to show that churches don’t have to put on a show of being hip and glitzy to be attractive, nor do Christians need to try to impress people with feigned, “we've-got-it-all-together” spirituality. Because no matter how warm that may look from the outside, when people get close enough, they will be repelled by the chilling blast of shallowness and self-focus.

Yet when we let go of our pride and embrace the reality that we can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5), God will begin to melt away our cold places and replace them with His grace and love.

No matter how sunny we appear, it's only when make much of God that His light and warmth will truly radiate through us.

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