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 …