Monday, March 31, 2014


The Chicago Bulls three-peated twice. They won NBA championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993 and 1996, 1997 and 1998. Why didn’t they win NBA championships in 1994 and 1995? Because Michael Jordan retired and played baseball. The Bulls were dependent on Jordan. He was the contingency. He was the X factor and the common denominator in their championships. When he was there they won. When he left they lost. When he came back they won.When Jordan came back from baseball they didn’t say “We don’t need you.” Their winning was clearly contingent upon him.

My wife and I are looking at houses and loan options. One option is a "contingency loan." If we make an offer on a house with a contingency loan our offer is only good if our house sells. No sale. No deal. That's what contingency looks like.

All life hinges on Christ. The world is on His shoulders. Humanity’s collective breath is contingent on God. This is what Paul meant when he said “In Him we live and move and have our being" and "in Him all things are held together."

God isn’t merely a religious idea that occupies one corner of our life- God is the fundamental mystery and great actuality our breath and world hinge on. We are dependent on Christ for existence. No God. No life. Contingent. Since we are literally dependent on God for existing the only sage thing to do is depend on Him.

The sun shining each day and there being the right amount of oxygen in our atmosphere is out of our hands. It’s contingent on a force. That force is God. The food we ate this morning and will eat today were contingent on God’s invention and implantation of nutrients, chemical energy, animal life and photosynthesis.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Be Discipled by and Disciple those around you

Who are you around? Who is around you? Your co-workers? Your family and friends? Your neighbors? Your roommate? Your spouse? Your children? You are their disciples and they are your disciples. Don’t we tend to want to look out of our ordinary circle of life, such as co-workers and family, to perform something exceptionally meaningful and maximize our potential? I do.

Maybe someone wants to enrich themselves and the world. We might look to do so outside of those we are around most. Why neglect the real and present needs of my co-workers and family because I am focused on Kenya or the city mission? Sometimes I have a lower view of my immediate life than I ought and a higher view of what could be my life than I should. But, in wisdom we hunker down where we are and make ourselves attentive to the needs of those around us. The person right in front of us is the most important person to bring Christ’s kingdom to. This is much harder than chasing “greater and far off” visions. 

Since we can't be where we are not, we might as well make the most of where we are. Chasing "greater" things is like a mirage. Say we get to that place we've idealized. We won't know how to live there because we have learned not to live in the present. The only place we can bear fruit is the here and now.

You may have heard, “Grow where you are planted.” Like the prodigal son we might leave those around us, physically or emotionally, to follow our aspirations. Interesting how in our youth we are filled with ambition and that ambition promises to eclipse or relieve us from our very real and close present. Perhaps we learn where we are and who we are with are the most important things in our later years. Maybe only time, which is short, can teach us. “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger,” as the song says.

We should also, “Scatter seeds where we are planted,” and “Help others grow where we have been planted.” We should expect to grow where we are planted. We can't grow elsewhere, because we are not there. Those around us have a lot to impart. Ministry is always mutual. Becoming a disciple of those around us when we don't enjoy them or aren’t impressed by them requires God’s intervention.

I have a friend whose wife is ill and can’t leave the house on her own. He is a very gifted man and likes to travel. He is well-spoken, very intelligent and exceptionally likeable. He could be used in so many ways in so many places. Yet, he has counted his wife more important than brandishing his impressive gifts throughout the city, church and world.

We don’t need to chase far off visions.


Friday, March 28, 2014

That Unnamed Harmful Force

“Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but it is forbidden because it is hurtful.” -Benjamin Franklin

It often seems we think of sin as pertaining to right-doing or wrong-doing and forget that sin is primarily about harm and hurt. When our ancestors chose something over God they didn’t primarily break a written code in a rule book, they ruined art. They put graffiti on Michelangelo’s statue of David.

If sin is merely breaking a rule, frankly, it means little. A person is not charged with assault chiefly because they broke a written law, but because they harmed someone. A violation is a violation because it abuses and misuses God’s good, peaceful and fruitful creation. The consequences of abuse and misuse are not so much “punishments accrued” as they are natural and inseparable byproducts of harmful actions. Our harmful way needs righted.

The initial sin caused environmental and relational micro-fractures and brought death to life. It does the same today. It micro-fractures what is whole and healthy. The environment is affected. The skeleton that is the human race fractures. We are suffering from multifaceted malnutrition because of our harmful ways. We affect our friends, families and loved ones. Our cities and nations splinter. God is grieved. The destructive and harmful force that goes unnamed in the news that causes war, injustice, economic crimes, envy and greed is “sin.” Sin has us missing out on something better, heavier and more real. This is why God steers us from it. God's intention is not for us to keep a bunch of laws, but to know Him. Any precept by God for us is for our ultimate good and the greater good.

When I talk to my mentee about lifestyle and temptation and tell him about my life story I try to emphasize the harm and hurt of sin over the right and wrongness of it. I hope he sees sin not as something that is merely forbidden, but something that is vandalism to God's art and damaging to humans, including himself, and the world. I also want him to know right-doing is not merely doing right, but entering a particular way of life unique to God- the way that does not cause micro-fractures, but instead prevents and heals them. God, because He is love, proposes to work in and through us to resurface the statue of David we vandalized.

*First picture from JG-Pain deviantArt



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hostile Friends and Fine Art

We can probably agree Osama Bin Laden was an enemy of those he was trying to injure and kill. In light of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (love your enemies) we can at least question whether President Bush and President Obama went the Jesus way. Were they responding in the energies of man or of God? What does it mean to "love our enemies" after all? C.S. Lewis said it is not to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy about them, but to wish the best for them.

Webster’s says an enemy is “a force hostile to another," and “one who hates and wishes to injure another.”

What about when people don’t mean to wish to harm or injure us, but they do anyway? Can we legitimately call them our “enemy?” Let’s say you are having dinner with a couple friends. For some reason they decide to bring up topics that are like knives in your side and they are oblivious. You are hurt and angry.

We know the Lord’s prayer: “…forgive us as we forgive those who have sinned against us…” Yet, it doesn’t take sin to feel trespassed against. We can easily be annoyed or angered to the point of holding something against someone without them ever having “sinned against us." So, perhaps what Jesus says has wider, deeper and broader meanings than it means on the surface.

Perhaps, if we take Jesus so literal we miss the bigger picture He is painting. We not only need to “forgive those who have sinned against us,” but “not sin against those who have not sinned against us, but have ticked us off and annoyed us."

Wouldn’t it have been more applicable if Jesus had said “love those who annoy you and hurt you without knowing?" I don’t perceive many people as my enemies, but there are a lot of people who annoy me to the point hate and judgment well up and fester.

This might sound crazy, but at the dinner table Jesus’ "forgive those who sin against you" wisdom is applicable. Our friends aren’t hostile against us per se, yet there is anger and hurt we somehow need to let go of. This anger and hurt, by the way, would not exist had we not gone out to dinner with them, which brings up the point that community hurts. It's easier not to be in it. Pain and anger can be averted in our room, but our heart can grow cold, hard and unused. In community we bear other unredeemed-ness. Back to the main point...

It seems like the big picture Jesus is painting is the (fine) art of not holding something against someone…because that is not what God does to us. If we have truly received mercy and love we reciprocate it.

Someone doesn’t have to steal my shoes to warrant Jesus’ love your enemy, and bless those who curse you teaching. Really, someone just has to look at me the wrong way. When they look at me the wrong way I have perceived a force hostile to me. When someone rubs us the wrong way, Jesus’ way is always applicable. It doesn’t just apply to Bin Laden-like situations.

Jesus says in the instance we are annoyed or ticked off to “let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.” (Matthew 5, The Message

If we only get along with those who are not a hostile force, or annoyance, to us we can easily do that in human energies. But, to truly love others, those who annoy us and tick us off, and therefore become a hostile force toward us, we need God's energies and power.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Options Don’t Guarantee the Happiness and Freedom they Promise

Arising early one morning in the dark the amenities I take forgranted made themselves known. First there was the comfy bed, then the (properly-working) toilet, and a faucet and clean water. We have a shower in our house. And a coffeepot that makes hot coffee.

We have a fridge to store our coffee creamer in too. I put glasses over my eyes so I could see. All are gifts. Paul asked rhetorically, “What have you received that was not given to you?” He even says who we are and what we are able to do are gifts. This one morning, unlike others, I was blown away and thankful for all those amenities God let me use, and the engineers/inventors who designed the washing machine, water pipes, and the person running the machine that stitched the shirt on my back.

My friend Brett says cultivating gratitude is important because it helps us live in the moment. The power of simple, childlike, gratitude in our times of endless options is undeniable and concrete. It begets contentment and commitment.

When we lived in Colorado I had something like a nervous breakdown on Saturday mornings trying to decide where we wanted to go to hike that day. Should we take 1-70 to hike in Summit County? If so, which trail in Summit County? Should we head south to Colorado Springs and take 285 to Lost Creek Wilderness? Should we go to Rocky Mountain National Park? The indecision was crippling. On free days, believe it or not, I am happy we live in Nebraska for that reason.
As I finally made a decision I instantaneously began second guessing myself…Oh, we should have gone there! That would have been nicer and better! Because I wasn’t grateful for that one place I wasn’t content. This led to dissatisfaction and frustration and it robbed the situation and hijacked joy. Options don’t guarantee freedom. Paradoxically, they can mean regret, anxiety and pain.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote, “We have trouble committing because we love to keep our options open…We imagine more options means more freedom. The irony is limitless choice doesn’t actually make us happy. The number of choices available to us becomes overwhelming, and actually makes it difficult for us to ever have joy of fully committing to anything or anyone. Even when we do commit, our culture then makes us feel dissatisfied with the choice we’ve made."

In his article Imprisoned by Choice in Christianity Today Barry Cooper wrote, “The customer in front of me at Starbuck’s ordered a decaf grande sugar-free vanilla nonfat latte with extra foam and the milk heated to 140 degrees. Suddenly, his choices made me unsure of my own. Was this freedom of choice, or a slavery to it?"

Spotify (until they recently changed it), like the mountains, had my number. You mean I can listen to any song ever at any time? There were twenty songs I wanted to listen to at one time, but not only is that impossible, it would sound really bad. If I chose one song I thought, Oh no, that other one would have been more fitting.  Other times, because I knew I could listen to any song, the impossible happened; I couldn’t even conjure a single song to my mind. Spotify offered me limitless options and told me I can have everything, in the end, left me with nothing. Imagine if I could have been grateful for, and entered into, the one song I was listening to.

Have you ever stood in a store and stared at cough medicine and toothbrush options? Someone recently told me they spent ten hours in a store picking out door handles for their house. Why? Because there were four-hundred options and three variations of each option. Stress.

Cooper wrote, “The god of endless options will break your heart. He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option." Fear of commitment is common, tangible and noticeable. It invades our jobs, marriages, relationships, families, thought life, communities, finances and all choices. 

To paraphrase Cooper: The God of infinite possibility chose to limit himself to a particular time, a particular place, and a particular people. God closed off all other alternatives so that he could pursue for himself one bride…Nothing narrows your options more than allowing your hands and feet to be nailed to a wooden cross…If the living God were as fond of keeping his options open as we are, we would have nothing to look forward to.

Living like Jesus and for Jesus, then has big concrete implications. The commitment of God in Jesus contradicts a lot of the lies we hear about happiness and joy and life.




Monday, March 24, 2014

Feelings, My Basketball Coach and Our God

I was reading a book that was explaining how to “accept” Jesus, or believe the gospel. It said, “Whatever you do, don’t trust your feelings.” How misleading, I thought. That seems incongruent with how God charms our souls, which, to me, feels like “feelings."

After I got home from a walk a few days I thought, There were no deep thoughts or prayers to enter on that walk, no revelations or anything exciting. God, that was worthless. Don’t you even like me anymore? Why didn’t you commune, seize, uncover, speak and listen? I didn’t feel you. In a way I was like the Pharisees demanding signs. I was demanding feelings.

In Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning wrote, “…the dawn of trust requires letting go of our spiritual consolations and tangible reassurances. Trust at the mercy of the response it receives is a bogus trust. In trembling insecurity the disciples pleads for proofs from the Lord that her affection is returned. If she does not receive them, she is frustrated and starts to suspect that her relationship with Jesus is all over or that it never even existed. When the craving for reassurances is stifled trust happens.” (Bold mine.)

My high school basketball coach, Mr. Jerry Eickhoff (pictured), is legendary. He was inducted to the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame Foundation. He got win #500 at Hampton High School when I was a junior and had many more after. Like Tom Osborne he did so much more for his players, school and community than win games. My friend used to tell me he treated me like a son. I said, “What?!” I thought he didn’t even like me.” I tore my ACL about a week before our first game my senior year and missed the entire season. At the Athletic Banquet after that season Coach Eickhoff said some really nice things about me and that our team missed a “difference-maker” this year. I thought, “What?! I thought you didn’t even like me.” It wasn’t that he didn’t instill confidence in me, but that I was insecure and have low self-assurance.

I couldn’t depend on my coach, who didn’t hand out compliments and warm, encouraging words, to prove his appreciation and affirmation of me every week. It’s sad I leaned so much on what I thought my coach thought of me. It’s sadder my thoughts were inaccurate. It affected my performance. I also lean heavily on how I feel God is treating me, or affirming me, at any given moment. I thought my coach must feel the same way about me as I felt about myself. He didn’t. I think God must feel the same way about me as I feel about myself. He often doesn’t. If I don’t like myself, or think God doesn’t like me at the moment, it doesn’t mean it’s true.

When we do this our relationship with God is affected. We “preempt the presence of a compassionate God with my preoccupation of self,” as Manning put it. I preempted the presence of a coach who liked me with my preoccupation of self.

Just like a basketball team that lives by the three (point shot) dies by the three, if we live by feelings we die by feelings. A feelings-based faith is immature, finicky, flimsy and subject to whims. So, the book I mentioned at the beginning has a point. Though, it’s to be taken with a grain of salt, because God, God-willing, gives us tiny consolations, affirmations and silent affections- we sense and feel His presence and power and teaching and feeding. It's hard not to rely on those things. It's not as fun when He takes the form of a silent, stable core like the center of the Earth, which is our bedrock whether we feel Him for not. It's hard to remember the fact that He stretched out on a cross for us should be more than enough affirmation for a lifetime.

So, we ride the tide of our humanity, hoping to feel what we know is real.  


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Sighing Liberator

We love liberators. Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez (pictured.) They make things how they are supposed to be. Liberators identify and sympathize with sufferers and put themselves in harm's way for them. Compassionate leaders invigorate their people. Jesus does this.

In the region of Decapolis people were begging Jesus to heal a deaf man with a speech impediment. They were asking him to liberate him and identify with his suffering. He did. God knows how things are supposed to be and doesn't stop at death to fix them.

You know the feeling in your life when all is well? Maybe your life has been so hard you don’t. You aren’t alone. God is with you and others are in the same boat. Surely, you know the feeling when all is not well. We are attuned to the pervasive feelings of something is wrong. Jesus is too. Since we were made in God’s image something innate wants all to be well. This can’t be entirely unlike God’s desire for the same.

Back to the story. Jesus said, “Ephphatha!” which means “Be opened!” and “Instantly the man could hear and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly.” (Mark 7:34-36) Jesus’ compassion and healing invigorated this otherwise non-revitalized man.

Before Jesus said that word that freed the man’s tongue He sighed. This sigh is no small thing. It means God is sighing with us- this is what the incarnation means. A woman I know lost a 2 year-old grandson last week. Can you imagine? Jesus sighed.

All is not well. God, make things how they are supposed to be.

What Paul says in his letter to the Romans might sum up the hope of humanity better than anything else all time: “…the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (8:21) (I can’t believe hope in freedom from death and pain escapes some of us, as if we are ok with being hostages to the ultimate tyrant.)

God will say something like “Ephphatha!” to the entire multiverse, or whatever we call it today. God will do to creation what Jesus did to the man’s tongue. He will free it, because He is a liberator. And because we are captive. He sets what is wrong, and what doesn’t sit well with us, right.

All is not well.

Much has been lost.

We have much to be sad about.

We can think of something to grieve.

There are situations we wish were different.

We are like the man who is deaf with the speech impediment. We live our lives in our towns like him and eat like him and one day Jesus will stumble into our town and make everything how it is supposed to be and we will say “all is well.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Right Beliefs are not enough. Right actions are not enough.

Orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right living) must be married. "If we don’t live it, we don’t believe it," said Bryan Clark. About ten years ago my friend Andy said, “I don’t need to learn more, I just need to live what I know.”
Psalm 34:14-15 says, “…Keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work hard to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right…"

I was, and still am, a bit scared by this. Why? Because, I get more excited over ideas than living. I love thinking, but action not so much. I don’t feel like I’ve internalized how important doing right is to God. Perhaps, I think right beliefs are more important to God than right living.

Yet, always on the heels of Paul’s justification by faith in Galatians is the importance of love and doing right: "Faith expresses itself in love.” (Galatians 5:6) Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “The way of godliness consists of these two parts, pious doctrines and good works. Neither are the doctrines acceptable to God without good works, nor does God accept works accomplished otherwise than as linked with pious doctrines." We live right because we believe right. C.S. Lewis wrote, "Fine feelings and new insights mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better...Christ told us a tree is known by its fruit."

There is a nuance to doing right: Avoiding being bad is not the same as doing good. Peace (shalom) is more than absence of fighting and good-doing, implies a blossoming mode of being, more than a mere absence. If I avoid eating someone else’s sandwich it doesn’t mean my spirit is being generous, it only means I have abstained from acting according to something wicked inside me.

Doing right and doing good (God's ideas of these may be different than ours), like repentance, are not things we are scared into. My wife and I are reading Orphan Train and Mrs. Byrne's hard-nosed, non-relational approach to getting her adopted orphan, Dorothy, to behave is futile. It’s the same way with us. God loves us into doing good and doing right…up close and personally. He doesn’t force us from afar.

Why is good-doing soooo important if, “People are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners?” (Romans 4:5) Because, faith works…We don’t have faith if we don’t have right living. If we say we have faith but we don’t have right living (love), perhaps, it is only a religious label we cling to.

Our neighbors across the street have a beautiful, windowed walkway linking their garage to their house. It is pretty when the rising sun shines through the windows. Lord, light these dim halls, which are our souls so we can live free.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Do I flock to Him?

“People ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was.”  –Mark 6:55

Imagine Jesus teaching, healing and traveling through your town, countryside or city. I wonder if I would have stayed in my house if I heard he was around. I often pass on going to events in the city I live, because it will be expensive, crowded, inconvenient, parking will be bad, I might run into five people I know, I am too worn out to go, or I prefer the comfort of home.

I wonder if I would have chosen to say home over going to see Jesus in the first century. Would I be like the people who flocked to Him? I can imagine being in my dwelling watching a couple people running with someone on a mat to where they heard Jesus was. I might have thought it would be too crowded and inconvenient. I might have thought I am fine where I am. Would my heart have been too hard to recognize my need for this teacher and healer? I might have stayed where I was, studying the Torah or watching March Madness. What do I do today?

Yet, as I write this I am worn out. I have a hard heart. I need healed. I need help. I am brokenhearted. I should go. I love that the opportunity the first century people around Jesus had is constantly available to us. We can choose to think we are well enough and stay in our dwelling or we can go to Jesus. Would we show up following this guy Jesus around?

Going to Jesus out of need, hope and help is the crux of Christendom. It our only hope in life and in death.
What happens then? When He sees us? “At the sight of the large crowd his heart broke- like a sheep without a shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.” (Mark 6:34) Nothing has changed since then. Jesus is the same. He always has a heart for and compassion for those who show up to hope, to be healed and listen. But, how can he have a heart for those who are not there? How can He have compassion on those who stay home (or stay in themselves) for various reasons? Do I go?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is There Truth?

“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later.” -C.S. Lewis

The person who says “every religion is true,” comes to a tough spot when they realize the implications of their statement means they need to support the “truth” of the beliefs of those who flew stolen planes into the Twin Towers.

If there “is no truth,” or “we determine our own truth” we disallow ourselves to disagree with any movement that is based on any beliefs, even the Nazi’s- who were simply acting according to their self-generated “truths.” If we hear of a new religion that wants to kill Americans how could we demerit “what is true for them?"

We easily bring ourselves to say, “What the 9/11 terrorists did was wrong,” but what that statement inextricably means is, we believe the terrorist’s beliefs about humanity were astray, not true, right or accurate. But, if we say there are no true or right beliefs we forget we are not allowed to say anyone is wrong for believing anything. As Lewis wrote, “Wrong would not exist unless Right is a real thing."

Perhaps, our dilemma about “truth” comes in part because we have changed the definition of the word. “Truth,” in our culture today means, “Something that is subject to us, according to private judgment, rather than something transcendent we are subject to.” So, we rarely use the word “truth” like our dictionaries define it.

C.S. Lewis wrote something about sixty years ago that describes our contemporary attitude: “A religion should be thought of as true or false. Not academic or practical, outworn or cotemporary. Since a religion is based on facts it should be thought of objectively."
The word “truth,”as it is used today, does not refer to an overarching fact we are to conform to. Rather, it refers to a reality that is obedient to us. But, truth is a determiner, not to be determined. It trumps opinions. We are no more than left in the truth’s wake. If truth is something that is subject to us, then we rule it and it doesn’t rule us. But, is that how reality works? Is that how history works?
Hiroshima happened. We can’t change it. We are subject to the facts of the event. Jesus happened. Whether he is God or not we can’t change it. We are subject to the facts of the event. My beliefs don’t alter a transcendent, stand-alone, historic reality.
Why we are here, why we are the way we are, who or what we are here for, and how we might turn out has nothing to do with what we believe. We ought to seek the truth and be shaped by it, not shape it.
We don’t give credence to someone’s “truth” that the Sun revolves around the Earth. We say “The fact that the Earth revolves around the sun is true for all.” Why is any other fact different?
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christianity is true for everyone or for no one. Christianity can’t be moderately important. It either has infinite importance or zero.” If Christ’s bones stayed in the grave Christians believe a worthless faith. If Hinduism’s polytheistic claim is true Christianity’s monotheistic claim is not. Two incompatible truth claims can’t sustain, so everyone can’t be right. There can’t be a God and not be a God at the same time. And on and on.

I see the catch here. Christianity, or any belief system, particularly atheism, requires faith since none can be empirically proven. That’s ok. We all live by faith. My point is not “Jesus is God” or “Jesus is truth,” but that there are true and false things about the universe, which are inescapable to those in it. If we say there are not, we find ourselves going back a moment later.

Since I happen to believe Jesus is God, I think lies about the nature of truth make it hard to touch Jesus, who heals us. How can we commune with the embodiment of truth if we divert ourselves from Him? That’s why this discussion matters. Yet, many of us don’t think what we believe will matter in the end. It might.

I also think we prefer lies about the nature of truth, because holding the belief that truth and morals are relative and determined by me, the ultimate authority, cut back on personal accountability and responsibility. There is no standard but my own. Since the truth depends on me I must be right. Yet, self-generated “truths” have landed humanity in the Holocaust, Native American genocide, racism, violence and war. The greed, anger, envy, pain, lust and ignorance in our life, and in the global community, results from believing, and living according to, something other than the truth; the life-giving, loving, peaceful, selfless way.

If I am responsible only to the beliefs I determine, or choose to adhere to, I will likely make things pretty easy on myself. (We all do this to a degree.) Christianity is different, because it is a “received faith.” (Brian Zahnd) As Lewis put it, there are a lot of things we would change if we were making Christianity up. Lewis said, "Truth is a nuisance to our inclinations. It disrupts doctrines derived from our imaginations.” It can prove our feelings and perceptions wrong. The truth is either the affirmer or disappointer.

If I crown doctrines derived from my imagination king, instead of seeking to conform to transcendent reality, I’ve done the contemporary switcheroo and I'm not in good company.

*Digital art by Paulo Zerbato

Friday, March 14, 2014

Struggles and Character are Unique to Each Person

A man recently told me he lost his patience waiting in line at The Moose’s Tooth in Lincoln. He was buying a North Face jacket. Imagine a Syrian man waiting in line to receive his daily food rations for his family in a Lebanese refugee camp where he has fled due to violence. Say he loses his patience.

The Syrian man would have been more than pleased to wait in line at The Moose’s Tooth with a full stomach, in a peaceful area, in a climate controlled room, and to have keys to a car and house.

We might say “The American did not encounter true opposition in his soul. How could he have? It was the Syrian who encountered true opposition and a real opportunity to show character, because he is in a real struggle.” But, the American had an opportunity and choice to be either a) impatient and angry, or b) patient and peaceful.

Each man was in a moral dilemma of similar weight because of what they felt. Just because the Syrian seems to have it harder on the outside it does not mean the American did not run up against a problem inside of him. The American’s struggle seems absurd, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard for him.

So, God is not limited in working in and with the filthy rich or filthy poor, nor by our best or worst circumstances. Each of us is formed according to, and by, our raw material and given situation, which are relative. This does not mean God’s Spirit’s fruit is different for different people, but that we are formed, to be like Jesus, out of different raw materials like Michelangelo’s sculptures. Each sculpture began from a unique rock, therefore the chisel-work on each rock is distinctive.

Here are a few excerpts from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis that help clarify:

“Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C…”

...When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by this companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend…

...Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard at fiends…We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it…
Lewis is saying what Jesus did in the parable of the talents: I will not be judged compared to Joe, who is better, or Sam, who is worse.Yet, I still want, frankly, I need, to be able to judge myself against others to know where I stand and where they sit.
These thoughts might seem like a slap to right and wrong. Perhaps, it seems relativistic. We might say, "If there are no absolutes in behavior, immorality and morality cease to exist." But, being compassionate is not the same as saying the man who kidnaps and kills can't be held responsible because he had a complex. No. That eludes the point, which is you and me, and how understanding and compassionate we are.
Ian Mcclaren said, “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” and you may have no clue what it is and you might struggle worse than them under the same circumstances, and they might do better than you under your's.
Jesus doesn’t tell us not to judge people just because He thinks it’s a bad thing to do, but because we are utterly unequipped to do so, since we don't know another person's inner workings or circumstances or heredity. Lord, have mercy. We don't live these truths. Help us to.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We Grow in Circles as we Go in Circles

“Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in the interior life as one sometimes thinks. When you reread your journal you find out that your newest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and same experiences.” –Thomas Merton (bold mine)

My iphone had about 1,300 pictures on it and I recently deleted about 1,000. The pictures spanned for more than one calendar year. I took pictures of the same tree in the fall of 2012 as I did the fall of 2013. I circled.

Merton’s observation is right. We may peel layers off our ideas and experiences with time, but we are largely circling the same ideas and experiences, hopefully with a more transformed mind.

Life and life’s thoughts have a circular shape to them. Perhaps, we don’t learn in linear lines. Maybe we live and learn circularly- layers are peeled off as we get closer to the core of what we already know.

I try some nostalgic exercises sometimes. I mentally walk through every room of the house I grew up in. I recall what someone said to me when I was 10 years old. I look around my boyhood room and try to feel how I felt. I picture the little league dugout and look around it and see my teammates. I recall the recess and the cafeteria. Playing with my friends in the woods as a boy and their facial expressions and voices. Our bus route. The elementary school and its classrooms.

It’s odd that we can look at something with more clarity in retrospect, in circling back, in peeling off layers. We get closer to the core of what we already knew. It turns out the first time we lived something or thought about something it was our maiden voyage, but now we are out at sea and therefore have a better vantage point of the coast we were once on.

We wander through life and wander back down the course of our life hardly believing it is our own. It seems our memories come with their own wavy, water-like borders like a sitcom from the 1980s.

There are underlines and notes in the Bible I started reading around 2004. A lot what I wrote then I haven’t learned yet.

There are comments in that Bible that seem new to me, as if I’m yet to discover them. Yet, there are things I understand about life and the Bible I didn’t then. The Bible and life are like an onion. They have layers. It seems we can read the Bible, or any book, day after day for decades and arrive often at a new place or deeper level, even though they are the same ideas. Reliving and living life’s experiences let us penetrate deeper and access more nuances of God, life and scripture. At the same time though, we are learning for the first time what we learned (then forgot) years ago.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

20 Mile Radius Life, Cliff Diving Life

The following ideas perpetually pop up in Christian circles: Do not live safely. Following Jesus leads us out of our comfort zone. Depend not on what you think you can do, but on God who can do more than you can imagine through you. God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity.

When I hear that message a couple things run through my mind:

1) I am failure. I have made comfort an idol. I have duped myself. Often I think I am following Jesus, but I am just following my safe and customized, neutered and Americanized Jesus?

2) Quit playing that card. Are you telling me my relatively “quiet life” seeking God in my non-risk taking, 20 mile radius, 40 hour job, dishwashing, laundry-doing life is somehow inferior to 100 foot cliff diving, AIDS clinic faith? Does God refuse to work through us if we are in our comfort zones? That’s preposterous! Are they discounting what Mother Teresa said; that we do “small things with great love?” Do we all need to climb spiritual Everest's or can we play and work in the dirt below? Aren’t some people, because of the genes that chose them, more inclined to take risks anyway?

I don’t think either reaction is right. My reactions are extreme. It's not either a 20 mile radius God or a Cliff Diving God. We are probably called to both.

It’s probably best to consider the merit of the point.

First of all, the fact that I have customized, neutered and Americanized Jesus is inevitable. Of course I have, and so have you. We follow a God made in our image to a degree, just hopefully not to a titanic degree.

I think why I pushback against this idea that Jesus leads us out of our comfort zone is because I love my comfort zone. Comfort is a cruel God and I love him/her/it dearly. (Idolizing comfort does not just mean lounging on our couch, it's more of a pervasive attitude.) I do think we (I) fail to consider what God can do through us because we are too focused on our own limitations- what we perceive we can do. Our faith is little and anemic.

Since we believe God empowers us to live beyond our natural ability we shouldn’t have a problem with overlooking our limits knowing God’s power in us, and with us, is limitless. Right? Yet, this does not mean this has to be 100 foot cliff diving faith. God’s power is sometimes most evident in the most nuanced and unnoticeable things.

Perhaps, I misinterpret the message at the beginning a bit. I push back right away because I know I have crowned comfort. Maybe it doesn’t mean we have to sign up for the EXTREME JESUS CHALLENGE or something like that. Maybe it means to go about the work in front of us humble and be willing to consider God and what God might want us to do in whatever grabs our heart or pops up in front of us…which may include, but is not limited to, a risk that scares us and affronts our logic.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Sex, Drugs and Wondering Where it all Went

“Have I kept myself pure in vain?” In other words, “You mean, I could have been doing all that stuff?!"

Recording artist Flame has a song that says “Everything that’s bad for you, bad for you, bad for you/ Why does it make you feel so good?"

A co-worker was telling me how much different he would live if he didn’t believe in a higher being. He would do drugs. He would live in Vegas. He would have women. He would get in fights. He would blow his money on cars and material things. He would mouth off. He would get rich by any means possible.

He said it’s stupid for anyone who does not believe in God not to partake in the world’s most decadent and pleasurable living. He said, “Why refrain? Why get married? Why fight to live a moral life? It makes zero sense.” He’s mad atheists don’t take live according to their beliefs which would only lead to their own personal benefit and indulgence.

The questions cut both ways though: If you are atheist why not reap the rewards of benefits and riches of your beliefs? If you are Christian why not reap the rewards the benefits and riches of your beliefs?

Those who ask, “Have I kept myself pure in vain?” might think, “I see what I am missing out on…The high life. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Have I withdrawn from satisfying things for a God that does not even exist?"

We say “Shallow, transient things don’t gratify.” Yes, they do. That’s why billions, including ourselves, go that route. That’s why a person can live 90 years without ever having accessed life’s deep points and yet be moderately satisfied, or not disappointed enough to despair for something else.

We, like Asaph, who wrote Psalm 73, get fixated on the short term. Asaph noticed when he followed God he suffered and he saw others who didn’t follow God living painless, happy, healthy lives. Is it worth? He wondered.

In verse 17 Asaph backs away from the quick cash ATM because God opens his eyes. He eyes become telescopes instead of microscopes. Asaph leaves his dream. His eyes are no longer fixated on the outward and seeming. He enters reality. He perceives the paths as they really are. He sees that those living carefree indulgent lives get their entire reward IN FULL and UP FRONT. NO BACK END. This is his impetus for joy and patience and for not growing weary in doing good and following God.

The (redeemed) blunder of Asaph, and us, is failure to realize God gives the best life, the most satisfying and gratifying life, not only now but forever, whereas an unchecked life is like a dream. It’s not real. It comes quickly and dissipates quickly and we forget it and wonder where it went.

To wonder “Have I kept myself pure in vein?” is a good sign. It puts us in good company. Wilt Chamberlain or Joseph Stalin didn’t have to worry themselves with that question.