Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Unhumbled by Kindness

I swiped my credit card about five times, but Red Box didn’t read it. A man about my age, next in line, spoke to me slowly, compassionately and clearly, mouthing his words like he was speaking to a two month old; “Try…to…turn…your…card…the…other…way. I know what you’re going through. I've had trouble with them too. Sometimes…they…are…tricky.” Unhumbled by his kindness, I thought, “Am I a charity case? Did he think I wouldn’t figure that out without him? Dude, quit watching over my shoulder."
I took his advice. I turned my card the other way and leaned over to block his view. It worked. I half turned around and said “Thank you” and walked home in the cold. As I walked I wondered what that interaction meant, because “we have a spiritual obligation to penetrate the inner meaning of events,” as Richard Foster put it.
Here’s what I took away. I was unhumbled by his kindness because I was proud. I looked incapable and incompetent and didn’t like it. I like to think of myself as capable – not one who needs help. I think we all do. Perhaps, in a nutshell, this is what is wrong with the human race; we don't acknowledge our need for correction, guidance and help from God. But, we should welcome help from God others because we need it.
On my walk I thought, “God, I am charity case. I need your help and help from others. All the time. I am not competent - at all. I’m incapable. I depend on you for everything – even air. I need to realize my need for you. I have not been humble. I have been proud.” A weight fluttered off me and I felt lighter and realer.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Our Imaginations

According to Webster’s Dictionary “imagination” means: a) The act or power of forming mental images of what is not present. b) The act or power of creating new ideas by combining previous experiences. c) The ability to understand the imaginative creations of others.
One person’s imagination can cause damage or build up a family, community or nation. Martin Luther King Jr. had “a dream.” So did Nero. They employed their God-given power to imagine - to form mental images of what was not present. This is what faith does too; “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
With our imaginations we stress about the future, lust after other people and wealth, come up with good and bad innovations and ideas, and visualize bringing harm or help to others. We nurture and harbor kindness and meanness with our imaginations. We love and hate, judge and accept people with them. Naturally, our imaginative thoughts effect the way we treat people and live our lives. A redeemed imagination is as capable of good as an unredeemed one is bad.
So, our imaginations are powerful and worth pondering.
Sadly, I think we tend to associate imagination with fairy tales and fiction. We might think imagining things has more to do with fantasy than reality. But, our imaginations can be deeply rooted in (spiritual) reality. Reality should match up with our imagination and vice versa, because it is rooted in reality. Paul says, “Fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) think this also includes seeing what is behind and in the unseen.
“My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled.” (Psalm 119:123) A big part of the Christian’s life is to imagine their promises, wealth, position, hope, rescue and blessings which they cannot see yet. We have to be able to imagine things are, at their deepest level, different than they seem. For instance, it seems like death wins. This is what it means to live by faith. (All of us live by faith in something particular. Even the atheist believes sight unseen because our origin is unobservable, it just happens the Christian lives by faith in Jesus.)
In Celebration of Disciple Richard Foster wrote, “Our imagination, like all our faculties, has participated in the Fall. But just as we can believe that God can take our reason (fallen as it is) and sanctify and use it for his good purpose, we believe he can sanctify the imagination…God created us with an imagination, and as Lord of his creation he can and does redeem it and use it for the work of the Kingdom of God. The more we seek to think God’s thoughts after Him the more God utilizes our imagination for his good purposes.” The power of forming mental images of what is not present is a power from God for good. In our imaginations we see what should be - what can be. We see the reality behind things and can then act accordingly.
Perhaps, we make the mistake of thinking God appeals mainly to our reason and intellect. If you go to an Evangelical church your pastor probably quotes Timothy Keller more than Thomas Merton. (Keller tends to be intellectual, Merton imaginative.) Yes, God redeems our reason and intellect. He communes with us and communicates to us there. Yet, foolishly we might remain suspect of our imaginations, as if they belonged to the devil. But, God communes with us and communicates to us in our imaginations too.
God doesn’t just appeal to our intellect and reason and leave our imaginations to run wild. He appeals and appears to our imagination. When we are made whole, our imaginations are not eliminated, but healed. In working order and full throttle. Our imaginations are not to be thought of as childish, but part of the whole God has redeemed, is redeeming and will redeem. Take Jesus, the complete person. He had the perfect imagination. He fantasized about God’s promises, deeds and hopes with His imagination. No doubt Jesus formed mental images of what was not present when He prayed and meditated.
One perk of being made like God is having an imagination. We can imitate God by creating new ideas with them. We can seek God, love others and pray for the world with them.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our Companion when we are Mistreated

I suppose many Jesus-following African Americans have found companionship in the betrayed, slandered, vilified and crucified Jesus over the years. All of us, when we are done wrong, when someone is mean to us or hates us, can.
When we are talked and thought of badly for no reason we have a companion in Galilee. Jesus. When we are called guilty or made to feel guilty though we are not we have a companion who felt the same. Jesus. When we are made to be monsters when we are not we have a companion in Gethsemane. Jesus. When we are assaulted and slandered we have a companion who got the same treatment. Jesus. When we are betrayed we have a companion who was also betrayed. Jesus. When we are treated unjustly and cruelly we have a companion with us. Jesus. When we are emotionally and physically captured and beaten we have a companion at Calvary. Jesus.
When we are treated as if we are evil when we are not we have a companion nailed to a cross. Jesus. When we are treated barbarically we have a companion bleeding from his scourging. Jesus. Even when we have been murdered we have a friend who is also dead awaiting the third day. Jesus. Jesus is well acquainted with the worst of human conditions.
Our companion bids we die a love death like him – a death of love – not counting the wrongs against our betrayers and haters, but setting them inside God’s cavernous love. Not excluding them because of their hatred for us, but including them despite it.
When I am vilified and done wrong I want to hate back - to bark back. This is our natural reaction. Jesus showed us a better way though.


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Case of the Range and the Datsun

I was at a stoplight on 56th and Highway 2 and a sexy Range Rover pulled up next to my old, sun beaten, dented Honda. As my Accord stood still the RPM’s bounced between 400 and 1,000. I peeked over at the commander enthroned in the sleek Range. He looked so cool. I was suddenly aware I was probably not cool to him. Nonetheless, I acted happy so he might learn someone as unsuccessful as me could still be happy.
Then I thought, “What is my definition of cool and sexy?” Have I been more influenced by Teacher Jay-Z than Teacher Jesus? In some ways, sadly, yes. I wondered if what is sexy in the world is sometimes not sexy in the kingdom, and what is sexy in the kingdom is sometimes not sexy in the world.
I imagined a rusted out ’81 Datsun pulling next to me at a stoplight and looking over to see the driver. I might think he is out of touch with reality – a loser of sorts. I would not think his car or life is attractive – certainly nothing to aspire to. But, let’s say the guy in the Datsun gave $80,000 (enough to buy a Range) in the last five years to those in need and the guy with the Range gave $0 (enough to buy an ’81 Datsun.)
This occurrence makes me realize I have a lot to learn about God’s Kingdom. It makes me wonder how many times we, like the guy in the Range, choose status over usefulness. It makes me wonder why I think it’s dorky to wear $12 velcro shoes. It makes me wonder why I’m afraid to wear 15 year old clothes that aren’t worn out. It makes me wonder why I sometimes think I need a sexier car. It makes me wonder how often our lust for new items, possessions and status means the poverty of others.
After reflection, we realize the guy in the Datsun is the one we should aspire to be like.




Friday, December 19, 2014

Creative Family or Rigid Task Force?

Jesus used the employer, employee (landowner, slave) relationship to teach about the kingdom of God. I’m going to do that today.

Imagine an employer who says things like, “If you don’t do this then that will happen.” Let’s say this employer is also a micromanager. They watch you over your shoulder. (I had a manager like this in Colorado.) This approach creates resentment in employees. They are worried about doing something wrong and they do their tasks with trepidation. They fear they will mess up and be reprimanded. The employee senses the bottom line is more important than them. They don't feel cared for or treated like a valuable, cherished person...

The employee tries to appease their manager instead of “doing all things for the Lord.” The employee goes into rule following mode. They work out of compulsion, not freedom. Measureable production might boost, but not real growth. Employees feel stifled and smothered. They feel like they are part of a rigid task force, rather than part of a dynamic creative family. We see this in countries that have oppressive rulers - rulers who probably project their own anxieties and insecurities on their people. Their obsession with control hampers their ability to sympathize with the weaknesses of others. They are either incapable or don’t care how their policies and procedures effect the emotions and spirits of those they lead.

God is not like the employer who watches and waits for us to do something wrong. God does not use His power and position to control us. He uses His power and position to build us up – even “raise us up with Christ.” Since God adopts us there is no need to be insecure- we are His children - adoption alleviates fear. We are God's and He is ours. God does not project his own insecurities on us. He does not stifle our freedom. God does not provoke us to mere rule following (or killing others.) God leads in love. So we can thrive. And be creative partners in a global timeless family.

Painting is The Giudecca, Venice by David Roberts



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bigtime Love Syndrome

Imagine a Dad who wants to throw a huge party for his daughter’s birthday. He gets a new playground put in the backyard. He caters an impressive meal, hires a decorator and invites fifty people. There’s a piƱata. The girls Dad feels really good about it. His love for his daughter is on display to the public. He likes that.
But, this Dad is rarely home. Instead of changing his daughter’s diaper and playing and talking with her he often does something else.
This Dad has bigtime love syndrome and so do all of us. Bigtime love syndrome errs in thinking it’s the big things that matter most. (The Pharisees specialized in this.) When we have this syndrome we think our love for someone is proportionate to the size of our acts for them. For instance, if I buy my wife a $2,000 necklace my love for her must be enormous. Right? But, what if I suck at behind the scenes love for her? Frankly, it’s much easier to buy my wife an $800 necklace than have an infinitely courteous and patient spirit for her that bears all slights and doesn’t hold one against her. To really love someone is harder than going to the jewelry store and costs us a lot more than $800.
“Do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa
We can call small things in great love “small potatoes love.” Small potatoes love is more about the recipient than the giver. Remember how the Dad felt good about the party he threw? It was less about his daughter and more about himself. He was trying to make up for a lack of small potato love with a big time act. We all do this. All of us are probably all better at public love than private love. I was told by a woman how badly her husband treated her at home, but I had no idea because he was so kind to her in public.
Jesus displayed love privately and publicly. He loved people in both big and small acts, but He never neglected small potato love. He died on the cross publicly for all of us, but He also touched people’s eyes in narrow streets when no one was looking on. Jesus' private acts are like a lineman who thanklessly blocks for his running back who scores four touchdowns.
Observe yourself today. If you are perceptive you’ll probably observe yourself neglecting small potato love at least twice. If you think your love is perfectly on track ponder this: There may be no greater sign we are like the Pharisees than if we think we are not.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Decaffeinated Spirits

Do you remember the commercial where a man lumbered sleepily on the sidewalk in the morning, but when he got coffee he perked up? Not only did his outward appearance change, how he saw others changed too. He was nicer to them. He looked them in the eye.
We can relate, right? Even if we don’t drink coffee or take some kind of stimulant, some days we see better, don’t we? Some days our energy is better, we aren’t as irritable, the world looks brighter and things seem more positive. On Tuesday we may love our life and the people in it. On Wednesday those feelings might not be there. It is not that things became worse overnight, but that our vision is dimmed and our feelings are susceptible to ebbs and flows.
With a newborn at home my energy is down a little. Let me be honest. When I have low energy I don’t feel as spiritual as I do when I have high energy. This makes me wonder how often I mistake feeling good for the Holy Spirit. Apparently, I confuse being invigorated by sleep, caffeine and endorphins with spiritual energy. Don’t hear me wrong, sleep, coffee and endorphins are glorious gifts from God. Thank God they can help us walk in His ways. But, I have to believe energy from God’s Spirit is not dependent on them. The morning Jesus rose from the grave it’s doubtful He had Starbucks. And take Paul. He had a ton of spiritual energy and he never mentioned driving through Scooter’s or chugging an energy drink to get it.
There is a kind of vigorous energy that works in us even when we are hungry, thirsty, tired, cold and uncomfortable. Imagine being a first century Christian with none of our modern amenities and look how much Christianity thrived. Look at the strength in Jesus’ weakness when He was tempted in the desert and was starving. Jesus told His disciples He was sustained by a kind of food they didn't know about. He said His food was doing the will of God. That's right we don't know about it, because it doesn't have carbohydrates. Look at all the stories, ancient and modern, where hungry, lonely and decaffeinated people, who don’t have controlled climates, soft beds and Mr. Coffee makers, display vigor and heart. 

I hate to feel low energy. I hate to be hungry. I hate feel like God is not right here. But, that doesn’t mean He and His power are not nearer than ever. Just because we feel tired doesn't mean the Holy Spirit got up and went. Remember that whole "where we are weak we are strong" thing, and that "God's power works in our weakness?" Those are hard concepts. Too often I'd rather feel good and strong and not bear fruit than feel bad and weak and bear fruit.

God, give us the courage to be weak so we can be strong.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our Perfect Lives

When you reminisce about your life do you think more of positive or negative things? I gravitate toward the imperfections, regrets and losses. But, recalling pains and slights is not the healthy way to participate in remembrance. Remembrance done right should evoke awe and gratitude.
“Lord, it was enough,” kept running though my head Saturday morning as I ran through my life in a few minutes. I thought of the schools and churches I have attended. The teachers and pastors. The houses and towns I’ve lived in. My injury-plagued basketball career. The jobs, bosses and friends I’ve had. My parents, my wife, my daughter, my family and my wife’s family. My ceiling at home with smudges of wall paint on it. My past. None of them perfect. I could nitpick and find things wrong about everything. But, it has all been enough. Even better than enough - they have been good gifts. All of them.
We read “whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father.” I’ve received good gifts, but it seems I’m yet to receive a “perfect” gift, except God and maybe that’s what James was talking about. Or maybe James meant we, like God, have the power to present imperfect people and things to us as perfect. Maybe we can do this because God “gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) Paul may have been referring particularly to “God in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” yet I think, as partakers in reconciliation, we are able to accept what is adequate, but not perfect, as perfect because it has been swallowed up in God’s perfect love.
Our lives could have been better. We can nitpick all day about how different things could have been. We can find 40 things wrong with our jobs and loved ones. (At least I can.) But, then there is the way of grace, God’s way, the way of reconciliation.
The world could have been better. If we can nitpick all day imagine how much more God could about how things could have been. Nonetheless, God makes good on us. To God, our imperfections thrust us in the category of redeemable - not disposable. God reconciled the imperfect world to Himself through Jesus. It follows then Jesus, not manufactured utopia, is the key to making sense of and embracing our imperfect, perfect lives. I need this message so imperfections don't eat me alive.


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Nonlinear Journey of Growth as a Human on Planet Earth

How do I know God has transformed my attitudes and my life? Can I chart growth in my love for God and others? Though I certain God changed the trajectory of my life in the fall of 2004, some days I wonder if I have attributed “spiritual growth” to the normal aging process – to the natural maturation humans experience. But, then I imagine an entirely untransformed version of myself – a version of myself unmoved and uncalled by God - and I can see it is more than my imagination or merely growing up.
Perhaps, one of the best ways to see the power of God at work in your life is to imagine an untransformed you - a version of you left to yourself. Dig back years ago, or minutes ago, and recall the specific untransformed thoughts you had (or have) about money, popularity, looks, women, men, nature, bodies, sex, the poor, marriage, the church, clothes, the environment and government. We should see changes in our thoughts about those things, because “We cannot burn the eternal flame of the inner sanctuary and remain the same, for the Divine Fire will consume everything that is impure.” (Richard Foster)
If you have experienced metamorphosis, and are experiencing metamorphosis, you not only see how God renews our minds toward those things listed above, you see how far short you fall. Part of growing is seeing how short you are. This is frustrating. Perhaps, if we weren’t frustrated it would mean we didn’t care to be renewed, thus weren’t actually being transformed.
Perhaps, another sign of spiritual growth is not realizing we are growing. C.S. Lewis was surprised how little his life changed after he became Christian. Say what? Don’t we rave how dramatically our lives changed on our Damascus Road? (Pictured.) Lewis said his life, after he became Christian, consisted of the same daily tasks it did before he was Christian. He was right. We still drive cars, work, buy groceries and have to deal with our damaged temperaments. Perhaps, it is not the things in our lives that change so much as our attitude (and actions) toward them. It’s not like God sucks us into a UFO, makes us drones and sets us back on an entirely different planet. No, perhaps undergoing metamorphosis (growing) simply means we are on an arduous journey like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. And journeys are never linear. Life could be called a "straight line" if it was linear.
One constant on our journey is the love of God.  He simply won't be deterred. He endures our insults, slights, slanders and neglects. This is what love does.
It is God who set us on this journey and God who carries us through it. Perhaps, “spiritual growth” is nothing more than journeying – than being chosen to journey... in the context of a human on planet Earth.  




Wednesday, December 10, 2014


There is a “Jesus Saves” sign like this on the Denver City Mission. You may have heard someone say “I’m saved.” Someone may have asked you “Are you saved?” Someone may have told you what you "need to do to be saved." I don't like those phrases, but I wonder if it's because the term "saved" has been misused by American Evangelicals. Or maybe it calls to mind mean street preachers and sweating Baptists preachers.
I just saved this word document so it wouldn’t be lost - so I could go back to it and revise it. If I didn’t save it I wouldn’t be able to recover it. I wonder if we have little to no idea what we mean when we say “I’m saved” or “Jesus Saves.” I wonder if we think it has some special religious or spiritual meaning that "the world" doesn't understand. It may. But, I wonder if it's this straightforward: "God saves" means he doesn’t throw away. When we say “Jesus Saves” I wonder if all we mean is Jesus does not discard.
A few antonyms for save are discard, abandon, dispose of, and ditch. A few synonyms for save are salvage, liberate and redeem. When my friend who is Muslim talks about "the Savior" it sounds like he says “saver.” I love that. Though it’s probably me misunderstanding him, I roll with it because I like to think he's referring to God as “Saver,” the ultimate thrift store shopper.
My wife and I might get new iphones. Amazon will buy our old ones for $57. I think they buy them to refurbish them. This is what God does. Instead of tossing away the old God refurbishes. He fashions anew. He recyles. He redeems. He recovers. He will not abandon us to the grave. This is what we mean when we say "He saves."


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Group Victory

EPSN’s Sportscenter has probably shown more highlights this season of the Philadelphia 76’ers, the team with the worst record in the NBA, than the Warriors, the team with the best record in the NBA. I like to watch the 76’ers highlights. I want to see if they had 45 turnovers or if they shot 9% on their field goal attempts. I can relate to them. We can relate to them. Why? Because we too have lost. Sometimes we feel like losers. Why else would songs like "I'm a loser," "Lost Cause," and "I'm a Creep" get written? Why else would so many commit suicide?

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel defeated. I’m losing time, my youth, my hair and maybe opportunities. Maybe you lost a court case, a job or your phone. Maybe we feel defeated by our sins, the world’s state, or the general heft of life. Maybe we walk a little slower and heavier and put our head down because we feel defeated. Triumph and victory may not even be on our radar sometimes, but they always should be because they are a bigger part of our lives than defeat.
Perhaps, in our culture, because we are highly individualized, we have a hard time comprehending corporate, or group, victory. If we believe we are the one and only captain of our ship we probably believe how we steer is of maximum importance. But, we are not the captain of our ship or master of our fate. God is. Christianity says this: Despite our individual failures, we have group victory in Jesus. Also, we are successful only because Jesus was on our behalf. Neither our victory or defeat depend on us.

Group victory means we are triumphant because God is. This is this a hard message for people who believe they are independent. But, we need this message badly. I am tired of feeling defeated. I need to know in my bones I have been incorporated into Jesus who is victor in all things. Even the tiny things that ruin our days can’t defeat us. Even when we lose, we win, because we won - we win no matter what because The Son does.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Blankety-Blank Concrete World

When Paul was in Athens he spoke to a group of “Athenians and foreigners in Athens who seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas…and he debated with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.” Minds are stimulated, refined and reformed when we discuss ideas. It is wonderful…
But, discussing ideas is the beginning of knowledge, not the end of it. My Buddhist friend in Colorado, Alex, meditated several times a day and religiously read about peace, kindness and transcendence, but he slept with a lot of girls and sometimes spent thousands of dollars a weekend at strip clubs and parties. One time I had a self-proclaimed “Gnostic” client, Todd. He “had the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive means.” But, that knowledge had him leave his wife and daughter because he wanted to drink more and watch more movies.
Those guys are easy targets, but like them I wish head knowledge and ecstatic, spiritual experiences were the end of it all. Not because I excel at them, but because they are easier than living in a real world. I wish, like in some Eastern religions, the physical, concrete world was devalued, because doing the truth is much harder than having a rendezvous with it in our heads. But, Christianity is not merely about “being in the know” and euphoric insights. "If I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge...but didn't love others, I would be nothing," wrote Paul. Christianity is about doing what we know, wrote James. For this reason, Christianity poses a threat to the concrete world Buddhism and Gnosticism do not. Christianity says matter matters immensely. It impinges on how we live and how we love.
Following Jesus is hard. If I got to make it up I would make it different.
“God, I love how we care for orphans, but when the rubber hits the road I like the idea a lot better than the reality. I’d rather discuss how right it is to adopt a homeless 8 year-old than actually do it. God, I am enthralled when I sit down and study love in 1 Corinthians - I get so high! But, when the Lowe’s employee coughs on me and I want to give her a piece of my mind I hate what I learned because it only highlights my inability to live it." "Moments of clarity get tossed away by the wind," rapped Muad'Dib, but "love lasts forever," said Paul. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
When I was a boy playing basketball on the driveway I imagined I was Jordan when I dunked and Reggie Miller when I shot threes. Sometimes, from the court my Dad summoned me a place I despised- under the hood of the car, to a world of gears and apparatuses. This is what following Jesus feels like sometimes – being called from my imaginative happy place into a world of toil and oil. Just being honest.
God wants us to integrate in the valley with our hands what we learned on the mountaintop in our heads. Arm-chair revelations mean nothing unless they seep into space and matter. In the words of Christian Wiman we must, “get off our mystified asses and do something.”

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Leading Affection of our Soul

…is love. Strange isn’t it that jealousy and greed are products of love - love of bad and wrong things - nonetheless love? Even envy is a product of love because, as Matthew Henry put it, “love is the leading affection of the soul.” When Daniel Pantaleo put a chokehold on Eric Garner it was love of hatred and injustice that moved him to act. When Martin Luther King Jr. led peaceful protests it was a love of peace and justice that moved him. Osama Bin Laden was full of love – love of war and murder. If we are lovers of war, we will hate peace. If we are haters of war, we will love peace. Love can be positive or negative. Naturally, we are outraged and hurt when love of negative things prevails and encouraged when love of positive things prevails.
Love literally moves us. Like our legs it takes us places. Negative love takes us bad places and into bad thoughts. Positive love takes us good place and into good thoughts.
Divine love is responsible for the existence of humans. Creation is a product of love. We, like our Creator are designed to run on love. There is no escaping it. We are always loving something. We love various things: God, power, sex, toughness, apathy, video games, revenge, self, righteousness, hatred and money. Yet, all of it is love, because love is the leading affection of our soul.
God in us gets us to love right things more and wrong things less. Matthew Henry wrote, “Where love is the commanding principle in the soul, there is a disposition to every other good duty.” All good things come under the heading of positive love. All bad things come under the heading of negative love. Love is the leading affection of our soul.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Portals to Good Works

I often walk by numerous people and don’t offer myself to them. Tuesday morning was different. I had numerous fertile conversations in only two hours. Why? Because I was intentional about it. I had a talk with myself before I went to work and told myself to not withhold myself, but share myself freely. Afterward, this reality came to mind, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us in advance to do.”

After the flurry of heart-warming conversations that genuinely helped and encouraged people, I fretted..."How many times do I walk by people and ignore the portal to good works (in Jesus which God prepared for me to do) on my way to something less important?” A lot. Others miss out when we don’t share ourselves freely and so do we. Instead of being on the playing field that is the kingdom of God we sit on the bench.

Can we say the good works we walk past were not the ones God prepared in advance and that’s why we didn’t do them? I don’t know. But, I do know these disconerting verses: “The harvest is many, but the workers are few,” and “too whom much is given, much is expected.” I wonder how often I (we) am like the guy Jesus talks about who wasn't a wise steward of what he was given. All of us are sometimes the like the wise investor and other times like the foolish investor.

When we are like the wise investor it is a win, win, win. The receiver wins, the giver wins and the kingdom wins. But, with the guy who buried his cash it was a lose, lose, lose. (He was probably controlled by fear instead of love.) This calls to mind a chilling paradox that always comes up in our bible: “What is not lost cannot be gained.”

To even have (perpetual) portals available to good works is a gift. What!? Yes. Some of us don’t have those portals available to us for various reasons. Maybe an illness or another circumstance keeps us on the sidelines and there’s not much we can do. I often don’t think of the ability and present environment to do good works as privileges, but they are. Woe to me. Probably, Woe to you.

Jesus, you give all things freely, yet you expect us to be wise and make your kingdom high on our priority list. We are accountable people because we are blessed people and that is an honor. Help us lives our lives in ways that honor you. Let us experience the joy of thinking about ourselves less and others more.

(Our good works are not limited to human interaction, but include our thought and prayer lives and more.)



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Are Captivity and Rigor compatible with Grace and Freedom?

We might cite Paul and say captivity to a law is incompatible with grace. We might discard the law because it couldn’t do what the promised Spirit does; impart spiritual life. But, if we discard God’s law, saying we are “free from it,” and don’t mention we are captive to a (new) law, are we missing Paul’s point when he said, “I do not ignore the law of God. I obey the law of Christ...Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to Christ?”
Paul wrote, “I discipline my body like an athlete training it to do what it should.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Is the rigorous training, captivity and adherence to a law Paul writes about compatible with the message of grace? Yes, here’s why…
Paul knew he was a sinner and under grace. He knew he was justified freely - apart from his adherence to any behavioral standards. This newfound freedom lead him to a life-giving type of captivity.
When first century Jews (and perhaps Gentiles) heard the word “captivity” it probably reminded them of being under the brutal rule of idol-worshipping empires. To be “captive” meant to be “subjugated unto – to be brought under the control of.” When Paul used the word “slavery” it probably brought negative feelings, to Jews and Gentiles alike. So, the words “captivity” and “slavery” had a negative connotation, but Paul flipped them upside down, or actually right side up. Instead of negative, they became positive. Instead of limiting, they became freeing. We have been exalted to crazy-high status under a kind and caring King, not oppressed by a mean one.
In our churches we preach freedom and grace, but freedom and grace without positive captivity, discipline and training are not freedom.
Maybe, if we are grace heavy we tend to be too light on captivity and rigor. Maybe, if we are law heavy tend to be too light on freedom and grace. But, we need all of the above...Even, “God’s law, though not the source of rightness, is forever the course of rightness…Naturally, then it is good. For a time will come when human beings will follow the Ten Commandments.” (Dallas Willard)
Grace, law, spiritual disciplines, love, freedom, rigor and transformation not only co-exist - they are interdependent.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Monasteries and Walmart

“Highly personal forms of writing are the best gifts a writer can give.” –William Zinsser
Even though I was well liked in high school I hid in the computer lab every morning before the first bell. I was not able to handle the large, loud gathering near the lockers where everyone congregated. I felt like an anomaly. I wondered what was wrong with me.
Some of us are overstimulated or overwhelmed by people, activates, and situations where others are perfectly comfortable. The term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) can help us understand why some us avoid certain situations. I was reminded of my tendencies yesterday when we arrived at a relative’s house for a family picture. It was hard to get out of the car. It reminded me when I was a boy and sometimes refused to come out of the car when my family went someone. I often sat there for hours. It wasn’t fun but it seemed like a better option than fielding questions, making small talk and being drawn out. (That has to do with preferring introversion too.)
HSP’s may feel like they “absorb” everything around them, from noises to other’s emotions, and are unable to shut it out. They then cognitively process the various stimulation they receive in detail – more so than most people. So, hearing more than one conversation at a time can overwhelm them. In my experience, the scarcer social interaction is the more it can be cognitively processed and reflected upon, therefore, better understood. (I consider myself an HSP, but I love NYC, go figure.)
HSP's are probably more senstive in general (to others comments for example) and have probably never been told they have thick skin. One website mentions, “HSP’s are known to have deep reactions to music, art, nature and beauty because of their ability to take it all in in detail, and process it cognitively.” I can vouch for that, though it doesn’t mean people who don’t have HSP tendencies are not moved by music, nature and beauty too.
If you have HSP tendencies I bet you have felt like an anomaly to yourself and others. That is a bad feeling. Some of that is because our culture is not contemplative. We might fit in fine in a monastery or quiet room, but Walmart and social gatherings will be hard. But, God does not want to take us out of the world, though sometimes we might prefer it. We have to deal with it, and offer up what we have contemplated because, I assume, that’s why God made us this way.