Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Beginnings ...

New Year’s Eve: Just the mere phase conjures up questions on what the New Year will hold for us or perhaps what our resolutions may be. The completion of a year on our calendar is a worldwide event of note. It is celebrated in every country and culture. Some mark the occasion with fireworks, or dropping balls and apples, with parties and concerts; most stay home and watch all these events on their televisions. Families may get together to just “be together” to mark the occasion. What is it about annual advancement that seems to stimulate within us the idea that somehow tomorrow is substantially different that yesterday?

It is interesting to me that our culture embraces the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions” as if they had any merit at all. A careful self examination of any past self-declared resolution, would likely find it was abandoned within the first few weeks of the new year itself. A few last through the first quarter. Some diehards make it into the 2nd or 3rd quarter. But almost no-one on New Year’s Eve can categorically state strict adherence to last year’s resolution. In fact, most people can hardly remember last year’s resolution, unless they intend to use it again this coming year. But despite the facts, we continue to embrace the process over and over and over again.

The funny thing about a New Year’s resolution is that once you blow it, you’ve blown it. The calendar date only moves forward one day in 365, so if you give up on a resolution, it takes quite a few days before you can make another New Year’s declaration. And that is pretty much how society treats these statements. I think they are meant to inspire us, to try harder to improve ourselves or our community in the coming year; or perhaps to remind us of what we did not finish in the last year. I guess the feelings are positive while we make them. The intentions seem to be affirmative.

But isn’t that all a load of hooey (note the extreme language – hooey being heretofore defined as cattle excrement in large quantity)? We all know full well, we are not going to end the year having kept our resolution. We may not enjoy admitting it, but history is prologue. Our record on keeping promises and resolutions is dim at best. Dads try real hard to keep a promise to their children, but sometimes life or a boss has other plans. Moms try real hard to keep promises to their families, but the unexpected can certainly throw a wrench into that process. Even special occasions like New Years do not impact our ability to follow through on our promises.

Is it that we over-commit perhaps? We pledge more than we expect to be able to perform (again in order to inspire us to shoot for the stars). Or do we consider “circumstances” as viable disclaimers to our intentions of good will? And yet what is the impact of our lack of follow through on the resolutions we declare? The world does not stop revolving. Life goes on. The planets align as they should. No cataclysm. No catastrophe. Nothing really bad happens when we do not actually follow through on the good works we planned to do. But then again, nothing gets better either. It is the lack of improvement that is the invisible catastrophe in our inevitable malaise. We do not realize what it is we are missing. Poor, blind, naked … comes to mind.

But if our intentions are truly good, and motivated to do good, then isn’t that in itself enough? Isn’t the point of this process to inspire good thoughts within us, and to help us to look for things that could be improved? But if so, then seeing without doing is of what value? Yet none of us seems to languish in guilt over broken annual commitments to make our world a better place. I never hear a single person making a new resolution, consumed in guilt over losing the last one. It is rarer still to hear a success story of a resolution either. Does this make us sociopaths? I doubt it. But it does give a clear indication of how much we expect the success we are willing to commit to. And rightly so.

Christ said it best. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’.” The idea of making verbal commitments beyond a simple answer is meaningless. If you do not have absolute control, you cannot make absolute commitments. Since almost every bit of life is beyond your control, your promises of any kind are simple vanity. You commit to mark your intentions, but not your reality. And yes, this affects a great many things beyond simple New Year’s resolutions. It includes the promises we make to our children; the promises we make to each other, like a marital vow for instance; and even more disturbing the promises we make to ourselves.

So does this mean we should not swear to anything, or make any promises or verbal commitments? Sounds like it, but if you look closely enough there is more the story. Take a marriage vow for example; we make all these commitments to each other, yet 50% of us end our marriages completely, and even those who survive often do so because of forgiving the breakage of vows of our partners. Not promising, and not committing, does not lessen our obligations or more importantly our intentions in the process, so what is the answer? How about recognizing what does last? How about seeing what is eternal and unchanging and making commitments based on Him.

What if the promise I made to my wife began as follows: “It is my clear intention to honor you as my wife, to love and serve only you for the remainder of my life, to be with you both in this world and the world to come – so I recommit myself to my Lord and Savior, and I trust to His strength to see my intentions become reality. I pledge now and always to take our struggles to Him, to employ His forgiveness when we both fall, and to embrace His redemptive power to change what must be changed within me to truly be your husband.” In so humbling myself before my wife and my God, I place my words in His hands for fulfillment – A God who has NEVER failed me or anyone I know. My commitment now extends beyond the boundaries of even our life on this planet, as God is eternal, so is the intention of my marriage. If I am looking for death to cut my bonds, I must ask myself why. When we say we want to be together forever, do we truly mean it? This kind of vow has that potential.

My promise only has merit when based on my humility in accepting God as my guarantor. Where my words cannot be backed with control, His grace is able to overcome any obstacle the world may present. Even my commitment to my God, must be backed with the strength of my God to see it last and not rely on me in any way. All my promises must be made this way. Some have shortened this idea to the phrase “God willing”. But this over-simplifies what it is we are saying and negates what we should truly feel when committing before God. It is not God’s willingness that affects our abilities to keep our commitments, it is our trust in Him that does so. Letting God lead. Allowing God to change us, mold us, and recreate our very thoughts in His own image. This rebirth is our only surety. It does not make our words any stronger. It does not make us more faithful. It acknowledges that He alone is faithful. It is a testament to all who know us, and who hear us commit in this way, that we know our own unworthiness and therefore trust completely in the faithfulness of our God. His strength. His ability. His love.

When we learn to think this way, New Beginnings can happen all the time. We do not need to wait for New Year’s Eve, a birthday, or some other special occasion in order to mark what our lives will be like going forward. And what is more, when commitments are made in this way, they last. For it is not us that sees to their fulfillment, it is our God that does. We are effectively giving God the carte blanche He needs in our lives to keep us moving forward. He is able to remind us, to inspire us, to alter our perceptions, increase our abilities, and provide us with the motivation we need to complete the works He sets before us.

As this process increases, we promise less and less. It is not our fear of commitment that deters us, but the realization that God must lead and not us. We become more content to follow than to strike out on our own. This is how it should be. It is our pride that must be killed in order for humility to truly be born in us. As our own self interest disintegrates, selfless service is put in its place. Becoming changed is a process that begins as soon as we let it. It was designed this way. No need to wait for heaven to start. No need to postpone freedom from the self-inflicted-pain we call evil. The time to begin is now. Success is not in our hands, and so therefore is a surety from our God. Will you join me in humbly accepting His gift to us? …

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unwrapping Ecstasy ...

Tis the season one more time! Oh I know the purists out there realize this is not the actual date of birth of Jesus Christ, in point of fact this date has clearly pagan origins. And I know the politically correct crowd would wish me a Happy Holidays rather than a Merry Christmas, after all I may celebrate Hanukah or Cuanza as well. And still the militant Christians are careful to remind me that the only reason for the season is still Jesus. But this year, none of that matters, I finally unwrapped ecstasy and my world may never be the same.

I often wonder where the custom of exchanging gifts came from as it is tied to the celebration of the Birth of Christ. Maybe in honor of the greatest gift ever given to the world, we make a pitiful attempt of our own to commemorate it? Or perhaps since Jesus is no longer available in the flesh to us, we give gifts to each other in His place? But if this is so, then perhaps we should not give to those we know, but to those in need – that would seem to be more Christian than the current practice. Nonetheless, it cannot take away from the present I was given this year. Ecstasy wrapped in a rather plain wrapper, a no frills packaging, I guess you could call it.

The present was not even kept under our tree this year. Strangely it was kept in the bathroom, my bathroom to be precise. Strange place for a gift I imagine; particularly since I do tend to be spending more and more time in there these days as I get older. The wrapping paper was red and black, with gold trim, but there was no bow to speak of. And no really clear tag of who it was from, it seems as though several folks who care about me got together on this gift and each made their own contribution.

Most guys I know would love a HUGE flat screen TV in full 1080p high definition, with a surround sound BluRay player to go with it. My gift was better than that. Other folks I know would love a new computer with dual quad processors and 20 terabytes of hard disk storage running a 64 bit OS. My gift contained more capability, more speed, and is more reliable than that. Some guys I know would settle for something ornate to wear on their wrists, a new Rolex or Omega perhaps with rose colored gold bracelet, and a meteorite face place. My gift is more accurate than that, and worth far more.

When you think about all the things you have collected and received in your life, you can conjure up some fond memories. But most of the things in your life tend to get old, fade, and ultimately lose their value. I’ll grant you it takes much longer for a watch to lose utility than a new computer, but the truism still holds. The relationships you have in your life can be much longer lasting, and more rewarding, but they too are impacted by the effects of evil and self interest. Some relationships expire due to these two inexorably bound concepts; so even memories of people and of your interactions are sometimes limited in scope and length.

There is however a gift that can last a lifetime and more. It comes like everything else of an infinite nature from the source of all infinite gifts. Beyond the gift of Salvation, which is our only road home; beyond the gift of our Savior’s birth, which was the miracle that began the enactment of our Salvation is a gift of truth in a world of half-lies, darkness, deception, and despair. The present I unwrapped was packaged in my Bible, it’s now faded red cover, gold trim, and black ink reached out and took hold of my heart. A common text, a common memory verse every child learns, a billboard held up at NFL football games by a clown in a brightly colored wig – John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son …”

So many new truths jumped out at me from this old text of scripture. First, was WHO God loved. It says God loved the “world”; NOT God loved those who professed faith in Him. God does not love ONLY those who say they love Him, He loved every single life on planet earth, every single human who has ever lived regardless of their status in the faith. The world is God’s enemy and yet God follows His own advice and truly loves His enemy. The world takes from God without so much as a thank you. And God’s response was to give it more and more, and finally everything in the form of His Son.

I cannot even begin to imagine, WHY God loves the world. It is certainly NOT because the world deserves His love. We have done nothing to earn love, rather we have done much to earn punishment and contempt. We are known for our hatred of each other, more than our generosity. We do little to honor our example of love and much to destroy it completely. So the question of WHY God loves His enemy must be answered only in the definition of love itself. Perhaps as a parent loves a child because they are biologically connected. Even when the child has mis-behaved, or like in our case, has contracted a fatal debilitating disease that impairs judgment and inflicts pain on everyone around. Maybe only in this was can we begin to comprehend WHY.

Regardless of WHY remains the FACT that God does love us. Love that holds nothing back. Love that defines happiness. Love that is eternal. We have been looking through blinded eyes, at blurry images, with distorted sound for so so long. Our vision is worse that our old TV’s not even the black and whites were this badly deformed. But for so long the devil has made us think that God had nothing good to offer us; and sin and evil were the fun things, the cool things, the only things were having. He was putting poop on our plates and calling it caviar. And like idiots we were eating it by the handful. But when our vision is corrected, when we open our eyes for the first time without our disease impacting our sight, the truth becomes clear.

We have relied on the wisdom of men, and on our technological prowess, substituting the simple wisdom of God, for the complex situational ethics of evil. We hope for Google to have our answers, and our hard drives to have the capacity to store them. But the simplest of people, the lowest of IQ’s is able to grasp the simple concept in action of love. It is God’s love for us His enemy that can boggle the mind, and make meaningless our technical accomplishments. We need no answers beyond a love that would give us EVERYTHING. We need no search engine to define the meaning of sacrifice that would offer us EVERYTHING and demand in exchange nothing. God offers us complete release from our pain, and our evil, as nothing more than a gift.

This truth is ecstasy. It cannot be taken away. It cannot be changed. It cannot dull over the years but in fact only gain in strength over the years. It’s meaning and its definition only continue to become clearer and more in focus as we experience the transformational love of our Savior. To realize that God only ever wishes to offer us ecstasy on a level we are hardly ready to experience; there is nothing more under my tree that can move me like this. There is nothing under heaven as important or meaningful to me as this. Truth is worth more than any lie ever told. It is worth more than the entirety of man’s ‘wisdom’. It is not just a matter of faith to me, but a matter of fact to me. For I can see no other transformational power in all the universe, that is at work in the lives of men to redeem them from the pain they are diseased with, than that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy birthday to our God [belated as it may be] and thank YOU for a gift of sheer ecstasy that continues to warm my very soul.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cussing My Head Off ...

“I’m pissed off, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Was that one strong enough? How about – “I’m mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Any better? Maybe better to be more simplistic, something on the order of just plain old – “damn it”. Have I communicated my frustration effectively yet? Do you get it that I am mad? And being a follower of our Creator God, does my choice of language seem contradictory to you? Most Christians I know think that cussing, or swear words, are evil and in fact a sin. I say they are wrong, here’s why …

Ironically, my thinking on this topic has been heavily influenced by two figures, George Carlin and Jesus Christ. Find that hard to believe? But they seem to agree on this topic. George points out that when you examine our language, our speaking, and our communication in a deeper thoughtful manner – you realize that all we have is words. Some words are spoken to generate an emotional response, some are considered slang or having multiple meanings, some are considered guttural in nature and are used mostly for shock value. It is the last category that tends to comprise what we now call swear words, cursing, or like they say it down south – cussing.

But any modern curse word you can think of is really only a word. No different than any other word, except in its commonly held definition and purpose. A highly derogatory word for a woman’s genitalia for example, is often used to describe a particularly objectionable woman herself. Also used, is a technical reference to the female of the canine species or perhaps references to general sexual promiscuity. You see, I have just called to mind three words in your head without actually spelling them out for you. But everyone knows what I am talking about. It is the application of these three words that conjures up the “shock value” of the speech itself. And thus, three words with only slightly relevant associations, become swear words in the English vernacular.

George Carlin nearly pioneered this thinking in his now infamous bit entitled “Seven words you cannot say on television”. I love that one. What’s more I used to play his CD of it, in my car on family vacations with my young teenagers in the car. Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. George merely makes the point that our language is a product of our thinking, and our association of words is largely dictated to us. We rarely think independently from the masses, and therefore we deserve what we get, be it in politics, language or society in general. My intention was not to teach my children “how” to swear effectively – they would learn that really well in school. My intention was to teach them something much deeper – how we speak is an indication of how we think, and what we value.

This is where Jesus continues the lesson. In His day, swearing had a bit different meaning than ours. Swearing or vowing in His day, was language used to commit oneself to a binding agreement or contract between two people. If you swore to provide 2 cows to your neighbor by the 25th of the month, on the head of your first born daughter – then you better fulfill the contract, or your daughter’s head would literally be cut off. It was no light matter. The words were strictly and literally enforced. Christ pointed out the fallacy of this thinking by advising we “simply let our yes be yes and our no mean no”. He further pointed out that we “control” nothing. “Leopards cannot change their spots.” “We cannot add one day to our lives by simply wanting it”. In effect we can’t control anything, so it is pointless to swear before God, or before each other as to the validity of our commitments.

But Christ had more to witness on the topic. James and John a couple of His first picks for disciples were known throughout their home geography as “sons of thunder”. The literal meaning of this meant – they swore like sailors – conjure up an image of a Marine with Terets. And these 2 were the first representatives of the meek, mild, savior. Peter went off half-cocked all the time, and had no formal education; you can only imagine the choice of words these “fishermen” were used to saying prior to really knowing Jesus. Yet there is no written reprimand of Christ to correct the language of any of His disciples in the entire New Testament. And in my reading, I have not found the use of curse words in what they said.

Christ too got angry more than once, when he saw how His temple was being treated by the folks who were supposed to be ministering to their fellow believers. The level of apostasy that turns true religion into a purely financial industry made Christ very angry. Enough for Him to take physical action and “cleanse” the temple by overturning the tables setup for money making, and scaring the money changers out of the place. But nowhere in scripture was there recorded a tirade of curse words during the process. Nor are the pictures of Christ using a horse whip accurate. For a brief moment, divinity simply flashed through His humanity, and when the money changers looked at Him their own sinfulness was revealed. This image was too intense for them, and they fled on their own from the revelation. The witness to this truth, is the fact that immediately after the “cleansing”, Christ ministered to the children and believers who had come to the temple. If you run screaming swear words, and cracking a horse whip, into a room of children they will be the first ones out the door (and you should prepare for a heavy lawsuit and criminal penalty).

More important to Christ than your ability to speak, or your choice of words, was the thoughts behind them. Using appropriate legal language to break the commitment to honor their parents, was deemed wrong by Christ in His time. Christ saw that commitment as binding for life. Every time local leaders tried to trick Christ with no-win questions, he would confound them by revealing their motives, and showing them what was really important. Using religion to justify murder was how our Savior was killed on this earth. Upright, believers, who professed a lifelong belief in the coming Messiah, refused to accept the truth when they heard it, and using proper language and horrific motives, crucified the very Messiah they should have worshipped.

And we have still REFUSED to learn this lesson in Christianity. Christian beliefs are SO often associated with hate speech. Christians carrying signs at protest to offer death to homosexuals. Christians who take it upon themselves to reason they should kill abortion doctors in order spare the “innocent”. Christians who devoutly support a death penalty in spite of evidence that many “innocents” have been wrongly executed, and even those who are guilty are offered hope through a plan of salvation by God. Christians, content to sit in judgment of others, while full of sin in their own lives. Complete hypocrites. Complete abomination – liars, whoremongers, adulterers and these are those who profess to serve our God. And you worry about cussing?

Shock jocks, use language to achieve the exact same result as those who swear. But they do it for money. Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern to name a few. Ironically, I hear less condemnation on Howard’s show than on Rush’s. But then I hear no hope on Howard or Rush. I am angry because I want the hate speech to stop where Christians are concerned. Angrier still because I know the hate speech comes from a heart diseased with the same condition. Words do reflect our motives, and our attitudes. When our minds are occupied by love, and by the transforming power of our Creator God, we do NOT condemn our brothers. Instead we see our own need of Christ, and simply love our brother unconditionally. His need of Christ and reform of his life, is exactly like our own. We are all THE SAME. We all desperately need Christ. We all radically need a change in our thinking and our motives, that will lead to a much better level of spoken words.

Christ focused on the motives of what we say, not on the particular words. He sought to correct problems where they originate, not just superficial symptoms of much larger problems that lay underneath. I can politely, in the sweetest of words, declare my absolute apathy for your life and your problems. More to the point, I can lie and fake a superficial interest in you as a person, and have no real underlying interest in you. In this, I reveal the absolute lack of God in me, and overabundance of evil. Better I tell you how fricking much I love you and mean it; than use extravagant words to convey no real emotion and leave you alone. I wish Christian’s would get pissed off, at hypocrisy in their own lives. I wish they would get a passion for love back in their hearts. I wish they would hate seeing their religion turned into a simple financial enterprise. If enough of us did, we would not have to worry about cussing, we would be too busy loving, and the whole world would change for the better …

Friday, December 11, 2009

Barefoot, Pregnant, & in the Kitchen

Who comes up with these sayings? More to the point, whoever believed this was an expected role for a woman? I have heard of cultural disparities but even against some of those, this tag-line seems extreme. In “traditional” Japan, for instance, women walked several paces behind their husbands as a sign of respect. But even more than 50 years ago when this might have been more normal in Japan, women always wore shoes, were frequently out of the home itself, and child rearing was still an important decision – note that not many Japanese families had 10 or 12 siblings. So where does this stuff come from?

The sad part about tag-lines like this; is that some folks believe this to be the ONLY expected role of a woman, and that somehow God set it up that way. Of course this is yet another lie spread by the master of lies who often blames God for the things he initiates. But while most Christians will dismiss this idea of a role as the poop-factory it is, they still cling to a few preconceived ideas about roles we take on in our marriages and the church; i.e. who should have them; and in general our attitude about them.

For instance, the text advising “wives to submit to your own husband’s” is now completely out of favor; mostly because it has been overused, and is rarely quoted completely. Most preachers stop at Ephesians 5:22 and do not continue the thought all the way to verse 25. If they did, they would get a better picture of the kind of “submission” the inspired author (Paul) intended. But in these texts is a key point that has been largely missed by greater Christianity, the role of submission to God. Even the council to wives to submit to their husbands is followed by saying “as unto the Lord”. We tend to ZOOM in on the submission part related to the husband, and forget totally the submission part related to God.

This is our human weakness showing. Men like the idea of a woman having to “give in” to their final authority under the auspices of marriage so this is the part of the text that gets the most attention. But I submit, the first part is null and void without considering the entirety of the advice. Submission to God MUST preempt even the thought of submission to men. Until we are willing to want what God wants, need what God needs, and love how God loves – we are in no position, i.e. we have no ability to submit to each other. Submission of our will to God is the beginning of Salvation. It is the mechanism of our freedom from sin, and our entrance into enlightenment.

Through submitting our will to God, we humble ourselves, and accept His gift – the gift of Salvation – of being saved from our sins and ourselves. This is what God has been longing to give us. It is NOT about going to heaven. It is about being made free from the bondage of sin. To be made free, someone has to do the work, and that someone is NOT you. You cannot. More to the point, you WILL not. Your entire life is proof positive of this. Humans do not have the will to become perfect, let alone the inclination. Most of us are content in the evil we hurt ourselves with. It is a rare thing that the evil produces enough pain in our lives to make us truly crave change. But were we to see evil as it truly is, were we to understand its horrific affects in our lives, in the lives of those we hurt, in the lives of those who care about us and our victims, we would crave to be freed from the evil we are slave to commit.

And this is the gift of Salvation, a freedom from the bondage of sin, that only Christ can create in the human heart and mind. We must allow Him to do so. In order for that to occur, we must submit or yield our evil, carnal, nature, our natural decisions up to God and let Him decide for us, sometimes in spite of us. If we try to keep control over our decisions, we end up making the wrong ones over and over and over again. In order for us to achieve Salvation from evil we must learn to submit. This is our weapon. It is not our strength of character that frees us from sin, but the recognition of our only hope in God. It is His strength, made perfect through our weakness, through our submission. It is His work to eliminate sin in us. We must let Him and stay out of the way.

But the entire process of Salvation depends on our willingness to submit. So of course, the devil targets submission and packages it as the worst of all crimes to commit. Rather than put God in the picture, the devil has only to use the truthful argument that women should NOT be submitting to men. That is actually true, and even Biblical. The text does not say for women to submit to men, it says “to their own husbands”. But it is easy to forget this distinction and maintain the original premise that women should not submit to any man. The devil fosters a spirit of independence in each of us. His intent is not to insure we do not submit to each other, but to make sure we forget to submit to God. Submission to God changes lives.

To further inflame the process, the devil invents tag-lines like the title of this BLOG entry, and then throws it out there as if it were from the Bible itself. He attacks weak minded men who are already prone to chauvinism and gets them to start misusing scripture to beat women over the head with. He tries to associate the first part of the text with the tag-line above and blend them together. But this is all lies, told by the father of lies, intended to keep us ALL from submitting to God. Submission to God brings about the enactment of Salvation in our lives right here and right now.

After yielding up our will to the Lord, we become changed. We begin to see things differently. Where once was arrogance, now we see the wisdom of humility. Where once was only self-interest, we see now the wisdom of truly loving another – to sacrifice at all costs for the happiness of another without any thought of our own gain in the process. This wisdom can only come to the changed heart, to the heart that has been literally re-created by our Creator God. This is what being Born Again truly means. It is not uttering silly sounds that masquerade as a ‘divine’ language while gyrating across the floor claiming to feel the Holy Spirit. That chaos is not a sign of redemption, it is a sign of anarchy. Being Born Again is the process of submitting our will to God, of trusting in Him to save us like a baby must trust its parent to keep it alive. All of our thoughts, all of our desires, all of our habits must be reborn with a new insight. That is being Born Again.

But nothing comes to those who strive to maintain control, which is only an illusion anyway. Women who will NOT submit to their husbands, usually will NOT submit to God either. But the danger is not just for women. Men are counseled in that same text to “love their wives as God loves the church”. Hello!!! Christ literally died a tortured death to redeem His church. He loves it more than His own life. He gave EVERYTHING to it, and for it. But again men are NOT capable of this kind of love, until they too learn to submit their own wills to God. Men cannot understand the beauty of this sacrifice, and the deep fulfillment of the gift of loving someone, until their own minds have been freed of the bondage of evil. Men too must submit, before they are truly capable of loving. But too many men have ignored this prerequisite and defined “loving their wives” to suit their own self interest. In this we miss the blessing the Lord intended, and again misuse His word.

Men want to win the arguments with their wives focusing on the idea that their wives should be submitting, without asking themselves first – why is there an argument in the first place? Is it over money, career, friends, food, or household items? Then no argument could exist, if like Christ did for His church, the husband simply demonstrated His own love for his wife. Where men were meant to lead, was in the spiritual matters of the home. In this area, they were “supposed” to be the authority. Men were to set the example of submission to God, before expecting their wives to see the wisdom of submission to them. It is easy to love a man who submits himself wholly to God, as it easy to love a woman who does the same. But again it is submission to God that BEGINS this process, and for that matter completes it. Without submitting to God first, failure is sure to result.

Once we accept the humility of submission to God, we are far more willing to accept His council in whatever format it comes. The roles we take on in the church can come without expectation if we look first through humbled eyes. When we accept our condition, and our healing, we are thankful for God’s guidance whether it comes from the mouth of a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a stranger, or even an atheist. God can send us guidance through anyone. He is not constricted by prejudices against sex, or age, or race, or even orientation or beliefs systems. He is willing to work for ALL men, and through ANY who are willing to be used. We should not judge the truth by the package it comes in. We should accept the truth and adhere to the council without glorifying the messenger, only the message. Were we to see this, our lives would be so much more full, so much better …

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tall Pointy Hats ...

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of headwear came from? After all covering our heads in the cold seems like a good idea, but when practicality is no longer the goal, it seems being ornate takes over. You used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in a western by the color of their hats – good guys wore white, bad guys wore black. But color has long since lost any value in this regard; John Travolta made wearing black cowboy hats a fad after the movie Urban Cowboy; and as I recall the KKK prefers wearing white sheets on their heads. So color does not mean anything anymore.

In times of wars past, a helmet protected the head, and generally identified which side you were fighting for. Not anymore; these days it looks more like those in a uniform and those who are not. Berets were worn at one time by elite fighting forces, we even named one of them “Green Berets” but I am not certain the name has remained in effect, it seems to have been subsumed by the terms “Special Forces” or “Rangers” today. In any case headgear seems to have always had a role in military activities.

I guess the most identifiable place where “hats” make the biggest difference is related to royalty. Crowns and tiara’s are where the big money lies. The more ornate the crown of course, the more valuable. Crowns were meant to be rare, generally only the King ever wore a crown. Peasants would not dream of such a thing. But peasants were meant to take pride in the audacity and beauty of the crowns belonging to King and country where they were from. Adding jewels, adding artistic carvings, constructing them of complex design – all of these considerations go in to the making of a crown that is “fit for a king”. But then, who wears crowns anymore? Most are now found on display in Museums.

You could argue that due to the invention of democracy, people think differently about crowns now. No one would dare to wear a crown anymore, either for fear of it getting stolen, or for ridicule in implying they were somehow superior to their peers. As I stated above, it is not as though practicality is the goal of headwear anymore. But there is one trait in ornate headwear that seems to have survived the ages; it seems the taller the hat, the more regal, or more important must be its wearer. Look at the head-dress of American Indian tribes, the chief has many many feathers, the braves have a few depending on age, and skill. The crowns of the Pharoah’s of Eqypt were tall for the Royal couple, much less so for any other positions. Even the grand dragon of the KKK has a more ornate Sheet than his co-conspirators. And one last place I can think of off-hand, within the Catholic church, the Pope alone wears the most ornate of head-gear left on the planet. Do you ever wonder why this trait has endured?

I have a theory about it. I believe the premise was derived from Heaven itself. I imagine that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has a crown fit for His position in the Universe. I can imagine it is taller and more elaborate than any the world could ever imagine. I imagine that He sits at the right hand of His Father, who sits on the Throne at the highest pinnacle, or highest point within the city of Heaven itself. A brilliant shining beacon of light that emanates to the entire Universe. So if the most important guy gets the tallest most important hat, then it stands to reason that our God probably has the tallest, nicest one ever conceived.

My guess is that in an effort to foster vanity and inequality in our perceptions of our fellow man, Satan polluted the idea of crowns and introduced them into our various cultures with as much negative baggage as possible. Examine the contrast for a second; God our Father, despite whatever head-gear He prefers, is willing to give us any good thing at a moment’s notice – He spends His time trying to think of things to do FOR His creation, not what He can get FROM it. Yet when an earthly king puts on his elaborate crown, he very rarely puts it aside to do the work of a servant. More often, he gets caught up in the perceptions of superiority that accompany a crown, and does only the work he believes is worthy of him or his position. When we put on a crown, we become the object of service, not the instrument or the tool of it.

Yet the Old Testament of the Bible outlines very clearly the idea that NO man is superior to another in any way shape or form. Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, Elijah, and many others refused to bow themselves down in the presence of earthly kings or warlords. It was not the humility they were supposed to lose, but even the remote idea of worshipping anything other than God. To bow ONLY before God, was to show the proper respect to the proper source that alone deserved it. Bowing down before idols was considered a major affront to our Creator God. Sticks, stones, sculptures and our fellow man were not to warrant the same respect as that given to our Lord in Heaven. Many times Biblical patriarchs refused to bow themselves down to powerful earthly Kings, and risked their very lives in this seeming act of defiance. Not so with us.

When you consider the Bible’s view that indeed ALL men are created equal, and are equally flawed, it seems the teaching of bowing in submission only to God to be another reinforcement of the gospel itself. In order to be saved, we must humble ourselves only to God, accept only His gift, and submit our will ONLY to Him. It is God alone who can change us; not our pastor, or our parents, or our therapists. It is God alone who can redefine the creation of a man. It is in God alone we can be born again through the miracle of His redemptive power.

This should be a liberating concept particularly to our pastors and spiritual leaders. Those who take up the work of the Lord to spread His word, and His gospel, should be freed by not carrying the burden of undo respect or homage by their brothers in Christ. Pastors are NOT our role models, Christ alone can fulfill this calling. Pastors are NOT expected to be perfect anymore than the man in my mirror is. If I seek perfection, I should look to Christ, not to those who try to teach me. This is a liberating idea that maintains the equality of our humanity, no matter what role He chooses for us in fulfilling His good purposes and work. All the glory, all the honor, all the respect, can go to Christ – we can save the humility for each other.

As I thought about this, the concept of the pointy hat began to eat at me. Not only is the papal headwear ornate, taller than almost any other hat on planet earth, it is inscribed with the latin words – Vicarious Filii Dei – meaning ‘replacement for the Son of God’. Catholic tradition is built on the idea that the Apostle Peter was named the first Pope of the church. That Christ’s statement regarding building His church “upon a rock” was meant to mean Peter. Subsequent interpretations of this same scripture have alternate meanings, in that Peter was referred to as a Stone compared to Christ alone referred to as “the Rock” upon which the church would be built. This has been a point of contention between Catholics and Protestants for years.

But looking past which side of the interpretation you subscribe to, there is a much larger issue at hand. Where in the Bible anywhere does it recommend that any church leader should put on a tall, ornate, pointy hat? You see what happens to men in politics when they wear a crown, happens to men in religion as well. The idea of being servant of all, is replaced by becoming the object of all service. Men bow before the Pope, kiss a ring he wears on his hands. Men humble themselves before the Pope and the entire world covers him extensively in their news media. Why? ALL men are created equal, and are equally flawed. It occurs to me, the Pope must suffer much by carrying the undo burden of men bowing to his frailty. Yet I have never heard of a Pope asking believers to show homage only to Christ. Should not the greatest teacher of all direct all to the source of love, and true source of worship? Isn’t that what the original Christ did?

Throughout the life of Christ on earth He wore no kingly robes. He wore no crown, except one made of thorns to mock Him at His death. He who should have been King of all, was in fact, servant of all. Christ served us. He served the poor in person, with kindness, with healing, with truth taught in gentle humility and love. He did not command throngs to serve Him, but instead served them all Himself. Our example, was the Son of Man, the true leader of our faith, of our religion, who dressed modestly, who acted incessantly, and who loved as no other ever could or will. He wore no pointy hat in our world. He showed us what to aspire to. I wonder if there will ever be a Pope of the Catholic faith, who foregoes the pomp and circumstance, who casts down the hat in humility, and directs all those who follow him to follow Christ. I wonder if other Christians, and leaders of the faith in other churches, will ever cast aside their wealth, put aside their fame, and direct others to follow only Christ. The danger in our leaders is their belief that they in fact lead, when the truth is that only Christ can lead. We are ALL only His humble servants …

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mosaic ...

Have you ever seen a painting or photo from a distance that upon closer inspection was actually constructed from a series of little tiny images forming a Mosaic? When you stand very close to the art, you can see each little picture, and can make out the detail of each life. But when you stand back at a comfortable distance the “big picture” emerges and tiny unique images seem to fade into the master design. Facts do not change, distance does.

Those who reject a God of any kind must believe there is no grand design in life, no master plan, that everything that occurs is simply a matter of random chance and the decisions of others. The consequence of believing in evolution and random chance as our genesis denies us purpose and meaning in our lives. If your existence is merely random, your consequence cannot be significant.

You could argue that even under a random genesis people like Hitler and Gandhi both impacted our world, one for good, and one for evil. But if both are a product of mere chance, why is either significant? Either one could have not ever existed, or once coming into existence, either one could have made different choices that radically altered the course of our history. And now that they are both clearly dead, if only a product of mere chance, their legacy is negligible at best. Evil remains in the hearts of Neo-Nazi’s, and many other hate groups who use Hitler as their motto or hero. And pacificism is all but dead in the world, leaving Gandhi’s legacy in steep decline at best. In another 2000 or 3000 years their memories may be long forgotten; perhaps like king Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian empire from long ago.

But with belief in our Creator God, both purpose and meaning return to our lives in concert with a master plan, not just for our world or our existence, but with the existence of all life in the universe. This is where the concept of a Mosaic best fits the pictures of our lives today. On ABC’s new hit series “Flash Forward”, the central plot premise is that the entire world passes-out for 2 minutes 17 seconds and each person has a vision of themselves in the future. The global fainting causes much death and destruction, and the US agency investigating the phenomenon, creates an online project called “Mosaic” where anyone can post their stories or visions online and check them against others to form an overall picture of this time in the future.

The beauty of a Mosaic is that you cannot get the big picture without enough of the little tiny images that comprise it. Pull out 30% of the pieces and the grand design fades. Nor can any small tiny image claim to be a representation of the overall big picture, it takes many small images in order to construct the bigger one. It is a balance that you find in all of God’s created works. Each image is important to the overall creation, but only as it sits in harmony with the others. The beauty of how our God creates is the level of uniqueness He incorporates in each tiny piece. Each of us is unique in our appearance, DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans, and frankly in our characters. Each person created to be a part of his master Mosaic design. Each person a tiny representation of the whole. Each person, needed to fit in a particular place, a particular role, in order for the master design to take shape.

So what happens to God’s master plan when those He created refuse to be a part of his Mosaic? I believe He raises another, or gives another person an opportunity to take up the missing role. But even in this, He does not simply create a replica of the last person who rejected His calling. He does not deny our individuality simply because we refuse to play in His symphony. The uniqueness of the person who rejects His calling perishes with that person. But the role they were meant to fill, might go to another. The new person who accepts this calling will not accomplish it in the same way as the one who rejected it. Our differences prevent this. But the overall mission, the overall design, will go forward.

In Adventism, in our early church history, God saw the need to make a personal connection with a believer to relay His guidance to the specific questions of the day. It was His intention to guide and affirm our beliefs through His miraculous power, and through an expression of His love through volumes of written testimony. The first two people He called on for this responsibility both rejected the calling, though they remained believers. I imagine they feared the ridicule that always accompanies anyone who dares to testify for God. I imagine they both had lives they did not want to give up or put away in favor of writing, witnessing, and counseling those in desperate need. I imagine they had many “good” reasons to refuse God’s work. And so they did.

Had the first person accepted the call, our church would have a different Patriarch than the one we remember today. The style would have been different. The language may have been different. He may have accomplished more than his counterpart, or perhaps less as men died generally earlier than women overall. But he did not accept this calling. Perhaps he did not even believe it to be real. Until at a meeting a young 16 year old girl stands up and states that God has given her a message to relay to the world. Then the first man called realizes the reality of his calling, and so does the second. They both stood and testified as such. And God’s purpose went forward in the least likely of vessels – a girl – with only a sixth grade education and significant physical health problems from her youth. But most Adventists today know the name of Ellen G. White, formerly Ellen Harmon.

God’s plan will go forward, the only question is what role we play within it. The story of Ellen White illustrates that no role is dictated by God, it is only offered by Him. We must accept what He offers in order to do the work He would have us to do. Jonah chose to run away from His calling, but Nineveh needed to be saved. Eventually Jonah changed his mind. Moses ran away too. He tended sheep for forty years, but eventually returned to the role God had in mind for him. Sometimes God pursues those who at first reject His calling. Sometimes He does not. But each one is offered a role, and each one must make a decision of what they will do with the offer. Have you thought about your own? What role do you play in God’s Mosaic?

God is not one dimensional either. As God exists on many levels, perhaps more than our finite minds are capable of understanding, so His purposes for us extend to many different areas of our lives. He may have a role for us to play within His church, within our community, within our immediate families, and within the brotherhood of man for centuries to come in His perfect kingdom we call heaven. Just like you are capable of more than one emotion, God may have designed you with more than one purpose in mind for His Mosaic. But it is the whole of your life He is looking to affect, to make better, to free from pain, and to fit in His unique designs.

Those that have no purpose, have no hope. For your life to have meaning, it is necessary to understand the intent behind your genesis. You became a living soul because God decided to breathe one into you. Forgetting the conditions of your birth, your existence upon entering the world marks a new opportunity in the Mosaic God has designed, one in which you can play a vital role. Not everyone need be recognized as a hero, to impact our world. Some folks will take on enormous public responsibility (pray for those folks), some will live only quiet lives of selfless service (pray to be those folks), but all carry a purpose within our Mosaic.

If you don’t know yet where you fit into God’s plan, perhaps you should start asking Him. However one thing I have learned in my own life, and from seeing the lives of Moses, Jonah, and many others – it is always better to be following the will of the Lord, than trying to do your “own thing”. I do not know what ever happened to the first two men who rejected God’s call in our early church history, but I will bet they regretted that decision for many years. I will bet they went to their graves wondering “what if”. It is one thing not to know what God wants for us yet, it is another to know it, and refuse it. I pray we all accept whatever God intends for us, and even more that we begin to want what He wants, and learn to see His Mosaic through His eyes …

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks ...

Ceremony and gratitude are not the same. Because a custom is repeated, even remembered, does not necessarily engender the feelings of those who started it. Often those who believe in our Creator God replace meaning in their words with mere repetition of their words. This becomes evident just prior to meal times, and sometimes just prior to going to sleep at night. Times like this recent holiday when we pause for a moment to give thanks.

Gratitude, as feelings go, seems like a foreign concept in this world of ours. No matter what the achievement, there is always something more to chase after, and rarely a moment is spent in thanks for the journey thus far. People are amazed that even life changing events do not always warrant thanks. Take the story of the 10 Lepers that Christ healed in His journeys between Samaria and Galilee. Ten men with a fatal disease call for mercy. All ten called out. All ten needed healing. All ten were doomed to die. All ten were healed. Only one came back to give thanks.

Were the other guys just too happy to think about giving thanks right away? Were they so overcome by the miracle they experienced that they needed to get home and tell their families and friends all the great deeds the Master had just done, for them personally? Was time of the essence? Perhaps they were so lonely from being kept away from former friends and family that every second counted in getting back to them. They needed to prove they were healed. They needed the fellowship of those who cared about them. They were excited. They were happy. They were on a clock. For everyone, and everything perhaps, except to make time to thank the one who had literally given them their lives back.

Christians ironically, are the most guilty of this. The immense life changing blessings that Christians are so often given, have become so common-place in our own eyes, we fail to thank the One who sends them all to us free of charge. Those who have been forgiven much … perhaps should take a minute and realize just HOW much, and how often, and how far, they have been brought. Those who have been forgiven much … should remember that they are not the judge of others, as they would not have wanted others to judge them. Those who have been forgiven much … as they begin to see Christ more clearly, will immediately see their own corruption more vividly and realize how much more they require forgiveness and reform.

Christians have come to prize ceremony more than meaning. The pre-meal blessing is a good example. Those who are faithful to ask God for His blessing on the food they are about to eat; do they know ‘why’ they pray what they do? Do they take the time to vary the words, or do they fall into a trap of saying the same 4 or 5 prayers over and over and over again? Ceremony, with hollow sentiment. Why do we ask God to bless food He has provided for us? Is it to remember He is the one who created all food in the first place? Is it to remember that without His providence we might actually be going hungry? Are we saying God loves us more, because we eat, and there are those that do not? Are we saying that without His blessing the food will not “nourish our bodies”? If in fact we are actually grateful for the food, why not offer thanks at the end of a fine meal, rather than before we know if we like it or not?

When Christ blessed the food, he fed 5,000 men, plus women and children with 2 small fish and a few loaves of bread. Enough food for everyone with much left over. That was a blessing on food. He took everything the young boy had to eat, and made it enough for everyone listening to his words to be completely full. Thousands fed from the meal of one. That was a blessing. What is our intent? Can we call it gratitude if we don’t really mean it?

This is what happens when manna falls from the sky every morning, enough for the day alone. Twice the ration on Friday so that no work will be required on Sabbath to prepare it. A daily miracle. Bread, falling from heaven in the middle of an otherwise horrific place known as the desert. Add to this daily miracle, another daily miracle of perfect weather. No scorching sun by day, as a cloud overshadowed the entire camp and provided both shade and moderate cool temperatures. At night, no biting cold, as the cloud became a pillar of fire, providing both light, and warmth, for the entire camp. Literally no one suffered. Not a single poisonous snake, spider, or scorpion came out to bite anyone. Every need was met. Every day for forty years. No lack of water (short one significant incident). No normal problems of living in the desert, their clothes were maintained like new. Nothing wore out. No sickness, no disease. Every need met, with every day miracles, and was gratitude the response – Nope. They complained about what they did not have.

We marvel at the stiff necked Israelites and then turn around and mimic their every action. God puts food on our tables, enough for the day, and we worry and fret about whether we will eat again tomorrow. Or perhaps, we are so secure in knowing where our next meal is coming from, that Publix, Safeway, or Albertsons are conveniences that have completely replaced manna. We take our ability to bring home food and put it on our tables so much for granted that we dare not give it even a second thought. Are we really grateful, every time we eat, I doubt it. I think just like the Israelites, we focus our attentions on the things we do not have just yet. Better food, better things, better jobs, more money, more popularity, more, more more…

When you lack the motive to pray, your prayers become empty words. If you do not know why you are asking for God’s blessing on your food, what do you say? There is a simple way of reminding yourself why you are grateful for food you eat each day. Skip a meal. Go without. Not forever, don’t plan on starving yourself, just miss a meal you were looking forward to. That irresistible urge you have to find something to eat, that overwhelming focus your mind has on all things food; those are signs of just how grateful you should be. If those Israelites had not had food every day, they might not have taken it for granted how good it really was under God’ care. Just like you. If you missed meals you really wanted from time to time you might remember more often how good you have it under God’s care.

But herein is the beauty of our God, He knows all this and could easily inflict it on us, to teach us this lesson, yet He does not. Whether we thank Him or not, He provides, every day, every need. That whole Israelite camp was fed every day, not one person went hungry. Zero hunger for forty years. And yes, He even responded to their complaining about a lack of meat and provided quail. Enough of it for it to be coming out of their ears. They got the message. Just like with you. God does not stop providing for you whether you thank Him or not. He makes sure you are fed every day. He takes care of your physical needs consistently. He does not stop feeding you to teach you gratitude. He could, but just like with Israel of old, He doesn’t punish you by taking things away to make you grateful. He just keeps on giving, faithfully. God does not provide for you to find your gratitude, He cares for you because He loves you.

A screaming 2yr old, spoiled by a constant series of gifts, does not engender feelings of generosity. This is so often the image Christians portray to both God and the world around them. They complain incessantly about the things they lack, the more they want, and the time it takes to get them. Just like the 2yr old they do not take time to recall all the things they have been given, how their care is guaranteed, how much love and forgiveness they receive every day, how someone changes those dirty diapers despite what an ugly job it may be. But that is what our God does for us each day, He removes the filth of our sins from us, cleaning us up again, feeding us, clothing us, and getting us ready for the world each day. We would do well to remember why we pray, remember why we are thankful. When we do, our words will carry meaning. Our prayers will actually have something to say. Ceremony disappears, and meaning emerges…

Friday, November 20, 2009

Used Cars and Junk Food ...

Hey buddy, wanna buy some snake oil for what ails ya? In the late 1800’s a new miracle cure was “discovered” in the form of snake oil. Its actual ingredients were mostly a toxic blend of chemicals with the exception of the large amount of opiates in the mix. The liquid heroine did as promised in so much as it made you forget whatever symptoms you were suffering from for a while. Then it gave you something not printed in the fine print (lawyers had not invented fine print yet), it gave you worse problems than you had before. I sometimes wonder why our society will accept second rate goods that satisfy the short term needs, at the entire expense of the long term.

Its like the prayer you hear so often … “Lord, give me patience, NOW!!!!” We want everything we want, and we want it now. But like the hard lesson to learn - “there is no free lunch”; we realize there is a cost to everything we want. But we prefer to pay our costs on credit rather than in cash. Credit hurts less, at least until the bill comes in. Then when in panic from what we have spent, we remember our get-out-of-jail-free-card – the minimum monthly payment – a mere fraction of what we owe (by my calculations that fraction would be multiplied over 10 years to pay the debt). Give me now, pay you later; and then it mystifies us as a nation when our national debt gets out of hand.

What is it about instant gratification that so entangles us? This idea permeates our culture. You can find it everywhere from how we shop, to how we eat, to how we travel to our needed destinations. Some call it convenience, others call it how a society advances, I just call it – “the gimmee’s”. With the notion of “instant”, we sacrifice most of the things that lend actual value to something. Think about it. How good are instant friends? How long lasting are instant romances? How well constructed are homes made instantly? I’ll give you instant messaging, and instant coffee; but my point is the same – cutting down the time it takes to build something – has an almost proportionate adverse affect on the quality of that something.

Allow me to demonstrate my premise. If I could offer you a dining experience at the nations favorite McDonald’s for some “grade A, prime USDA, beef”; or offer you the same worded menu from a much lesser known, smaller chain of restaurants called “The Palm” located in most major cities, catering to a gourmet steak crowd. Where would you prefer to dine? Depends on the time you have perhaps? Depends on how you are dressed perhaps? Can’t say money, cause it is my treat. If you have a little more time, and are not still dressed in your pajamas, The Palm offers a substantially better meal.

And here is the kicker; it is not just that you can hardly compare the quality of the taste of the food between the two restaurants. It is that the quality of the nutritional value is extraordinarily better at The Palm, than at McDonalds. A film-maker made a documentary called “Supersize Me” where he ate nothing but McDonalds food, supersized whenever offered by the employee behind the counter for 30 days. He nearly died. You could not only eat at the Palm for 30 days, if you balanced your selections, and insured you ate vegetables as well as the meats there, you could probably improve your overall state of health after eating nothing but their menu for 30 days. Their selection includes the finest foods from many food groups, and is prepared very well.

But in fairness, you just can’t make food that good in less than 5 minutes. You can’t have it sitting in a warmer waiting to be eaten for an hour and achieve the same quality control. The only way to consistently deliver food fast and cheap is to streamline the menu, and the cooking process, until what is left, looks just like McDonalds. It takes time to properly age, cut, and barbeque over an open flame, a filet mignon steak. A frozen pre-prepared burger patty made of mysterious ingredients purported to be pure beef, cooked in a friar and microwave is done in seconds. Arguably they will both kill you over time if that is all you eat, but you can see how the effects of time and effort make a difference in the end product of what you consume.

But our learned behavior of instant gratification goes well beyond how we eat and where we dine, it infects how we shop and what we buy. The cardinal sin for a vendor is to be out of stock on an item. This is the primary driving condition to move your customer to another vendor. Even a higher price will not drive customers away as quickly as being out of stock. People will pay more, if they can still get it now. If they have to wait, they are likely to look elsewhere. So once the shelves are properly stocked, the attention moves to the consumer. Everything is ready to be taken home now, but the consumer may not have the funds to cover ALL the items they have been trained to want by a barrage of media advertising targeting their demographics. This is why credit was invented. People get to buy, stores make money, banks make a fortune, the rich get richer, they pay for more advertising, and the cycle repeats over and over and over again.

OK fine instant gratification is part of our society or culture; surely it is not a part of our religion is it? Yup. We look at God as “instant Santa”. We look to prayer for “instant healing”. We like our religious ceremonies to start on time and more importantly to finish on time so we can get to lunch as our hunger arises. Even in our religion we carry over our attitudes of give it to me now. Why can’t I be perfect now? Why can’t God come now? Why isn’t my marriage or my family perfect already? The idea of long-suffering is about as foreign to us as is the Quran to a Christian. Indeed we know nothing of “long-suffering”, our entire society and governmental structures are designed to keep us from knowing anything about the word.

But how long did the world suffer in the agony of extreme evil before the flood washed it away the first time? How long did Abraham wait for his promised son and promised land? How long did Israel toil in slavery waiting for a deliverer before Moses arrived in the court of Pharaoh? How long did we await the Messiah the first time? And since then, how long? Nothing of extraordinary value comes in an instant; it comes in time frames sometimes beyond our boundaries of mortality. And during all this time of waiting, it is our Lord who suffers the most. It is He who is most pure who misses the companionship of His children who refuse to come home. It is His heart that breaks waiting for us to discover what He longs to offer us – an real and immediate escape from the pain that infects our lives.

But even accepting His gift takes us time to get used to. It too is a process of change, not the work of an instant as yet. Our humanity is simply not equipped to deal with it all at once. It is like taking a starving African child from his desert home where he has not eaten in weeks and then feeding him a feast all at once – it would kill him. He must eat slowly, with small quantities at first, until his digestive system has time to repair and rebuild. It takes time to enter a condition of starvation; it takes time to exit it. Were we to see all the evil that infects our lives at one time, the revelation would kill us. It would literally break our diseased hearts. This is why Moses could not look on the face of God. In that glance Moses would see purity and by definition would reveal in himself the evil that still plagued his life and soul. Evil cannot stand in the presence of God and so Moses would have fallen. It was enough to see the back of God.

It is the work of the evil one, to convince us to take less than we deserve. He packages it well. He is a master marketer. He makes the counterfeits sound better than their originals, but they are always lacking. Who would rather have a used Ford, when they could own a new Mercedes? Who would rather choose a Big Mac over a Filet Mignon? Who would rather have a dresser from Rooms to Go, or a hand carved Italian Armoire with designs from an artist of the Renaissance? It is not about finer things as much as it is about how we have been trained to want less than what God offers. We are trained to take the quick, the fast, and the cheap. How disappointing to a God who would create nothing less than perfection for us to occupy for eternity.

Next time you are confronted with the temptations to accept a cheap satanic counterfeit for something God would have you really enjoy, why not go for the gold standard. Marriage, unity, intimacy, and vulnerability beat any kind of cheap sexual thrill that destroys relationships and ruins a body before it has a chance to experience what divinity intended. Gourmet foods of a balanced nature are far better for mind and body, than the fast crap you can pick up from an open car window. Mild repetitive exercise is so much better than perpetual couch potato. Waiting for an item you cannot now afford, keeps your precious cash in the bank, and may teach you to prioritize your wants, your needs, and perhaps forego what is merely learned marketing behavior …

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Heart Is Shattered ...

The pain that evil has brought with it into this world feels sometimes simply unbearable. When feeling the sting of love that is NOT returned our hearts melt, our tears flow, and our understanding is often baffled. When the object of our love is no longer on this earth and therefore unable to return our love for now, we feel a loss akin to no other. But when we choose to love and are plainly rejected it is our thinking that takes the hit. We wrestle with questions that have no answers. Why would the person of our affections not want to bathe in the love we would offer? Why are our motives questioned? Why are our deeds ignored? What did we do to cause this?

When I think of the sadness that has directly impacted my own life from evil, I am astounded that often I have been the center of it all. I have been the reason for my own pain. Bad choices. Gratifying short term desires while truly killing long term fundamentals. Treating others as objects of conquest rather than precious treasure of association. My apathy and simple disinterest in the pain of others has led me to a very narrow self interested set of priorities, and my friendships with others suffer as a result. Cherishing privacy is tantamount to avoiding the world and its need. But see for a minute through His eyes, and the revelations about my own deficiencies spring forth off the map.

And that is when it hit me like never before … see the effects of evil for just a minute through His eyes. Imagine the pain our Lord must feel as He watches the events of our lives unfold. Forget for a minute that He longs to help us avoid causing ourselves such horror; He must deal with our constant rejection of His love as well. He must ask all the same questions we ponder, and be even more mystified by the lack of real answers for our rejection. I cannot imagine what it must be like for a parent to personally witness the murder of one of his children by another. I cannot imagine what it must be like to see the raping and torture that one brother does to another, or one brother does to his very own sister. Yet God can, because He sees it every day.

And who is He supposed to love? Just the victims of evil? The murdered, the raped, the abused? For are we ALL not equally victims of evil, as well as the perpetrators of these crimes? Is not our hate just as painful to Him. Is not our rejection of His constant offers to solve our problems supremely more painful to Him, as He truly is the ONLY one with real solutions for us? To grieve as He grieves is more than the human heart can bear. To see the effects of evil, the insidious disease that kills good as its primary goal, to witness it spread and take root, even in the hearts of those who call themselves His servants, His followers, that take on His very name – Christ-ians. It must be so much more sadness than we can even begin to measure.

We think we know something of rejection. Most of us have experienced it at least romantically. But He experiences it as way more than a mere jilted lover or spouse. He experiences it as our Father, our Family, our Brother, our Savior, and our Friend. We turn Him away though He gives us the life we have, the very air we breathe. He must watch us, as we direct our will into the evil it seeks, and then suffer with us as the effects of evil wreak their toll. To grieve as He grieves is more than humanity was meant to know. It is what broke the very heart of Christ while on the cross of our redemption.

But it is not empathy with God for the sadness He feels that truly shatters my heart. It is not the pain I have endured, or more often caused myself, that was capable of breaking this heart of stone. More recently I have discovered a new phenomenon in Christianity and in myself that broke me and my heart on the rock of the Lord. Not to grieve as He grieves, but to glimpse love as He loves. More than all the effects of evil combined with all the sadness it brings, it was a brief glance at love through pure eyes that shattered my cemented heart. To watch what love can do for another, is to bring my pride to tears.

I have lived my life for years following the edicts of society that men rarely if ever show great sadness. To see a man cry is debilitating at best, to see it in the mirror is dumbfounding. And even more astounding, is to see it in the eyes, and in the hearts, of other Christian men who appear to be discovering the same phenomenon the same way at the same time. Not only is my own heart shattered, and now I am moved to tears when I see His love enacted or reflected in the world around me; I see the same response from those “strong” souls I am acquainted with in the church.

Men who have no reason to break. Men who have no history of demonstrating deep emotion. Men, and yes some women as well, are responding the impact of the love of Christ is a completely vulnerable way. It is deeply humiliating to shed tears in front of another, let alone in front of those who you barely know. And it is even harder to explain when the cause for tears is not based in depression, circumstances, or the infliction of pain by another – against these conditions I and those around me seem to remain as stalwart and composed as Winston Churchill. But up against the demonstrated love of Christ at work in the life of another, there is no defense, there is no composure, there is only real naked emotional response. Against this there is only tears.

To be so deeply moved from love I must believe is a side-effect of submitting the will to Christ. It must be part of the process He is enacting in our lives as we allow Him – to mold our hearts, to realign our priorities, to see with His eyes rather than our own. I did not expect this work to have the effects it has. I did not expect to find it so difficult to maintain my own composure when sighting the examples of His great love for us. A year ago I would have labeled this behavior as some form of mass psychosis. I would have used logic to attribute it to real issues such as long term unemployment or under-employment; economic hardship; political turmoil. There are a myriad of real stressors in the world that one could blame for men breaking down.

But living inside this experience I can attest to none of these reasons. The timing does not work, for it is not when hardship presses in that the tears begin to flow. It is the gentleness, the beauty, the intimacy, the care, and the life altering effects of His love demonstrated in the life of another, or even in my own, that moves me beyond my composure. I am becoming a small child once again, perhaps too small. I thought the council Christ gave about becoming a little child to enter into Heaven meant the average mental age might be 7 or 8. For me it appears to be more like 2 or 3. Fully dependent, fully vulnerable, fully trusting – perhaps one must be younger in order to truly achieve these conditions.

For so many years we are taught to rely on ourselves. We are taught to look out for number one, as nobody else will. But these teachings run counter to the wisdom of scripture which offers us a completely different view of the world. Don’t worry about what you wear, eat, or need - seek Christ first. Do not carry your own burdens – give them to Christ so He can carry them FOR you. You need merely accept the GIFT of salvation, there is nothing for you to earn or do to be saved from evil accept allowing God to save you from it. Submission of the will, is the start of the real change in your life. But now I realize it is not just behavior that He intends to change. It is the vision we see life by. It is how we see things like grief and love. And in so doing, the unexpected becomes the norm.

We do not know, what we do not know, but our gentle Lord does. As He continues to mold our hearts, I pray for the humility to accept the changes He proposes and enacts. I pray for the humility to see myself as a mere toddler in His world, and extend my arms outstretched to Him in response. For I can think of no better place than to be carried in the arms of our Savior; and I can think of no better way to see purest love than through the eyes of its originator …

Friday, November 6, 2009

Building Community ...

One of the distinct advantages (or disadvantages if you prefer) to all of our modern technology and conveniences is our ability to accomplish a wide variety of tasks in fairly short order. We can get a new recipe from the internet, shop and have the contents delivered, microwave cook our new food adventure, and sit down to eat it in front of a large flat screen TV – all in record time, all by ourselves. We save countless hours relying on our technical abilities, but at what price to our humanity?

“Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together.” This council was given in the time of Christ, and has been used recently to reinforce the idea of attending a formal church service. But I suspect the meaning (and value) of these words is far greater than we have applied them to date. Our very nature is not one that aspires to loneliness and isolation. While there are times we crave “some alone time”, the key word there is “some”. In truth what we usually mean by those words is simply that we crave a “relief” from the stressors that surround us. In general, humans have always been social creatures.

Clear back to the Garden of Eden, man exercised a unique particularity of his consciousness, and despite God’s original design – man was unsatisfied. Man became aware of his own isolation, by witnessing the pairing of every other animal species he encountered as he named them all. He saw firsthand the reliance on one from the other, he witnessed intimacy even if only rudimentary in its definition, and he wanted what he saw. Adam might have been less lonely had he been in direct contact with God all of the time, but this was reserved more for evening walks than minute to minute socialization. Adam saw the work of creation as missing one important element.

The genesis of Eve into the world met the need Adam had identified. As a part of him, she would be his helper, his heart, and more to his need – a constant companion. Even as Eve entered the world, the new council from God was to stay together to avoid the pitfalls that must be placed in perfection. In order that humanity be given a true choice, Satan would be allowed a small representation in their garden home to offer his own – “alternatives”. God’s original council of defense against this danger was to stay together to meet it. It was the first casualty in a series of decisions that resulted in our condition we face today.

The simple truth is that groups of people are harder to defeat than single individuals. There can be greater strength in numbers when in humility all are willing to listen and learn from each other. We are told we represent the “body” of the church. Each member has a unique function relative to the body’s whole. Those who represent the “eyes” of the body can perhaps see truth others might miss, but they are ill-prepared to take the action that those who represent the “hands” might be able to do. One identifies, another responds, still another offers a different type of assistance based on their role in the body. None are greater than the other. None can exist well without the other. None was ever told they represented the entire picture themselves alone. It takes more than one to represent the church, it takes community.

The problem with modern technology that ever pushes us into further and further independence is that the subtle message we adopt becomes that we “need” no-one else to survive. Our communal body starts reacting like the patient who refuses an organ donation. We reject our brothers, because they do not fit well with our view of the body. If I were an “arm” for example, I might not like what the “leg” looked like. It is too long, too thick, not as nimble as I am, and therefore judge its value as minimal at best. So we look around us devoid of humility, and from our singular perspectives, we use our truth to drive others away from us – leaving our body crippled and near death. This is the reason why churches look the way they do today.

The message of self-help, self-awareness, self-discovery does not lend itself to socialization or dependence on the whole for results. No just the opposite, it focuses the eyes in the mirror to find all the answers, and ignores the council of groups. Our greatest enemy “self” is bolstered by modern thinking that praises individuals above community. It destroys within us even the desire to be around others, unless to further reinforce our ego by demonstrating our superiority in one form or another. This thinking is the hallmark of all evil, and runs completely counter to the clear word of God on this topic. Leaders who encourage their flocks to “try harder” to defeat evil only leave them frustrated and still wanting.

Whether we like it or not, we are not as independent as we think. We need others. We need God. As each of us is incapable of permanently vanquishing evil from our hearts, our minds, and our desires; we must DEPEND on God to do this work FOR us. In this matter God works alone. But as His work is invisible, God recognizes our continued need for socialization and reminds us not to forsake getting together. The work of Salvation, that is, the work of saving us from sin and evil itself, is done by God alone, for each of us, in a one on one setting. It is highly personal and private. But the results could no more be kept secret than trying to hide a brilliant light in the darkness.

As we become changed we begin to offer help and hope in a world with little of either. Though the victories are not really “ours” as we do not do the work – we certainly benefit from the gift we are given. Freedom! Freedom to think, to love, and to share unburdened by the former evil that held us back. Evil holds us down, poisons our minds, and paralyzes our will to act. But freedom from evil as brought and wrought by our Savior has an exact opposite effect. It is invigorating. It is inspiring. It causes us not to accept the status-quo any more. It makes us Brave. It drives us with energy to move forward. This is something the world lacks. And when they see it, they will be curious about it, after all those in darkness will respond when they see a great light. Too few of us have discovered the light of reliance on God to be able to share it thus far, but the kindling is catching on.

There is wisdom in the minds of others. God speaks to each of us in the ways we understand. And if we are willing in humility to hear it, we can learn His lessons in the mouths and lives of those who surround us daily. Not everyone who offers us council speaks for God, but everyone who loves has something of value to offer. Carry important questions and decisions back to God in prayer, but do not blind yourself to the answers you seek in the lives of others. Think drinking alcohol to be a good idea? Consider the life of the alcoholic closely and learn what is possible for those that drink. Think helping out a homeless shelter is a good idea? Consider the life of those who help, and find out what makes them do it. Try it out for yourself. Make a difference to someone else, and then come tell me if you can beat that feeling some other way.

Remember your role in humility. If I am to be the “eyes” of the body of Christ, then I am probably ill-suited to speak as His “mouth”. I am not the best at running as His “legs”, nor do I hear as well as His “ears”. Do not be overwhelmed by allowing others to ask you to do more than your role would provide. You are not supposed to be every vital organ in the body, just the one you’re suited to. If your body lacks a “mouth”, then seek one out, don’t try to simply “add” it to your list. We are supposed to be a community. Our community is supposed to look out for one another, even when it is not so convenient to do so. We are to gather together to draw strength from each other’s strength, and cloth the weaknesses in each other.

In practical terms, this may mean you help someone out changing a car tire when you see them in need. No-one enjoys changing a tire, but everyone appreciates help when they need it. It may mean you do the dishes and clean the kitchen up for your family. Again this is a thankless job, but it has meaning for someone, especially if you’re not the one who usually does it. It may mean you click on the advertisements on my WEB site or my BLOG that Google provides as this is how I make a living right now. No, you don’t need to actually buy anything, I get paid per click not per purchase :)  But more importantly, it means you recognize your need of the rest of His body to make you the stronger person you can be. It is our community that makes us His body …

Monday, November 2, 2009

Credit Where Credit Is Due ...

There is new competition in the fight against additions and addictive disorders. Instead of your traditional 12-step programs, now enters the age of self-help once again. A recent media personality on CNN requested for viewers to email her with stories of addictions they have overcome, presumably to use on-air while discussing this topic. It raises an interesting question: Can you truly and permanently overcome addiction by yourself?

If the answer to this question is yes, then those who continue to suffer with addiction do so from weak minds, or rather weak wills. It implies that the addict deserves his condition, is ultimately responsible for his condition, and could at will (perhaps guided by the new onslaught of self-help books in this area), just say no. Nancy Reagan was widely ridiculed for this proposal some time ago, but current thinking has once again broached the subject.

But to isolate your thinking around just the question of self-victory or not, is a bit too limited for those who accept the premise of a loving creator God. For if again the answer is yes, you can indeed overcome addiction by yourself, does it not raise some other interesting questions. For example, can you truly love someone without knowing our Creator God? Many around the world profess love for each other, who do not believe in any god, let alone our God. Do their professions of love ring true?

I guess the answer to that question goes back to how you define love in the first place. If you define love by the example our God has given us, then our very basic picture of love would include … self sacrifice, serving others with no thought of reward or gain of any kind, humility, forgiveness, unconditional acceptance, mercy to those without, giving more to enemies than they would take, offering kind words to everyone, finding the value in each individual. These are just a few of the very demonstrable traits of love our Creator God has personally shown us. Do those unconnected with our God use this definition of the feelings they call love? Or is love-apart-from-God really only an internal feeling of euphoria brought on by chemical reactions in the brain when attracted to another individual. These feelings are often intense, but seldom last life times, and in point of fact, are very self serving in nature. In fairness, they were only meant to establish connections, not prolong them.

But if you accept that you can conquer your own addictions by sheer force of will, and that anyone can love even if they are unacquainted with our God, then perhaps you might also accept that if you can perfectly keep the law of God, you would then be worthy of heaven itself? It is surprising how closely the answers to these 3 questions can be linked. Why can’t man save himself, if he has the power of will to overcome his evil addictions, and apparently the internal ability to perfectly create love for others within himself? Is not perfect love, and perfect adherence to the law, the two conditions we expect to see in heaven when we get there?

All this kind of thinking is designed for one thing: to focus attention on self and away from our Savior. It is easier sometimes to talk about our Creator God, than our Savior God (even though they are same being). Creator refers to an event long ago and merely establishes ownership or dominance; whereas “Savior” defines our weakness and need of salvation in present terms. This entire line of thinking that focus’ on self-reliance and independence is designed for nothing more than diverting the mind and eyes away from Jesus Christ. While we do not look to our true Savior, we replace Him with a more popular alternative – ourselves. We like the idea of earning heaven more than inheriting it as a gift. We like the idea that we could by force of will, learn to belong in heaven, rather than have to admit our complete inability to change, and our desperate need of a Savior. In short we like the illusion of control.

But control is no more than illusion. When gathered many years from now on streets of gold with no names, the redeemed throngs will have one thing in common in the personal stories of their salvation from evil – Jesus Christ. Jesus will be the hero of every single story. No man will stand and say he is there by might, by sheer force of will, or through his stringent ability to keep the law. Everyone will acknowledge they are there through the mercy, love, and forgiveness of a God who alone is worthy of praise. In humility we will recognize our former conditions as addicts of evil, hooked on the junk we call “fun” in our lives, powerless to overcome the self inflicted pain and evil that masquerades as requirements. Christ alone could save us. And when there, Christ alone will have saved us. For without a savior there can be no salvation.

Our society is bent around the notion of insuring we get the proper credit for our accomplishments. We consider it a form of severe betrayal for someone else to “grab” the credit for our own good works. When this occurs, we pursue the truth to vindicate our good names, and insure the credit-grabber is rightfully derided and cast down. But to what purpose? Ego perhaps. We feed the engine of self aggrandizement by assuming we could accomplish anything on our own in the first place.

In truth you cannot name one single accomplishment in your life that was not aided or influenced by others. Your childhood teachers, both parents, family, and professionals, had much to do with any mental, or physical ability you tout today. Genetics play a role in your aptitudes and abilities. Efforts at work often rely on the tools and work of others. For instance a brilliant never-seen-before all-encompassing financial spreadsheet analysis, required the software tool Excel, a working PC computer, a working operating system (haha), and countless other inventions before your masterpiece could be constructed. You drive to work in a car you did not invent, you eat food you did not grow, and rely on currency you do not control. In short your life builds on the work and accomplishments of almost everyone around you. No man is an island, is more true than you realize. Therefore “your” accomplishments can hardly be called “solo” or independent efforts. Yet the craving for credit remains.

The concept of dependence however runs exactly opposite of growing or feeding our ego’s. We wish to find self-worth from within, but it cannot be measured there, for the measuring scale is simply too small. In truth, our worth is beyond measure, but is derived from the mystery of why our Savior God would yield up His perfect life, to spare only me. Our Savior defines love in a way we wish to know more about, and will require an infinite amount of time to really understand. Our dependence, our weakness, does not diminish our self-worth. It acknowledges the truth about where our worth originates from. All credit is due to our Creator who Redeemed us and recreated the new creatures we are to become.

It is in our weakness that His strength is made perfect. This sentiment of scripture was not merely to point out our physical frailty, but to reinforce our need of a Savior of our characters, our souls. We are not designed for fighting evil, we are sheep in need of a shepherd, not a wolf contending against another for food. We are to be as innocent as lambs, and harmless as doves, but wise as serpents. Discerning evil allows us to call out for the help that will save us, it does not prepare us for battle. We need not surrender to evil, but to call the only force capable of defeating it into our lives, our minds, our hearts, and our hands. We yield up our wills to the One who saves us from ourselves.

Instead of buying into the lie of self-control and self-reliance; why not accept the truth that His gift is enough to save even you. Why not place your burden of evil, your heaviness of soul, your guilt of conscience and your need for change on the shoulders of He who can bare this burden, and return to you rest. Trade your anxiety for peace. Trade your worry for absolute assurance. Trade your fear for trust. And live a life where credit just does not seem to matter anymore …