Saturday, December 25, 2010

Simeon and the Second Christmas Carol

It's a beautiful Christmas morning in Minnesota...God's country. (I've listened to the news, and as I understand it, we broke our record for a December snowfall this year.) I'm sitting here feeling rather relaxed, with my nice warm cup of coffee. I'm remembering last night with my family, and how good it felt for all of us to be together.

Obviously, everything Christmas is on my mind. But not in the way that I think most people in the U.S. think about Christmas. I'm thinking back to last Sunday when Pastor Scott was preaching in Luke 2.

Christmas is odd enough when you really dig into it. There are only two accounts of it in the bible. Two different versions, with two different perspectives dealing with the same occurrence. And then you throw in all of the secular cultural baggage that has high-jacked Christmas. Odd stuff indeed.

No one really knows what date Jesus was born on. The early Mediaeval church chose December 25th as a way to witness to the pagans of northern Europe because it coincided with the winter solstice. (The Christmas tree is an evergreen, which symbolizes eternal life.) Still, I think that most folks get the basic idea...even if it is often lost in the rush to maximize credit card debt.

On whatever date Jesus was actually born, the story doesn't end there. It goes on, even though it is so easily lost.

Over a month after Jesus was born, his folks had to take him up to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice of purification in the temple. I've been thinking a lot about what happened when they did this.

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous & devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ (Messiah). Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling & rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many heart will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Luke 2:25-35

You could meditate on that passage for a long, long time, because it is heavy with massive implications. But I'll save that for some other day.

"Religion" makes a lot of sense. Religion is humanities' attempt to reach God. It is under our control. We get to call the shots and be the boss. Religion is also the enemy of the gospel, and doomed to fail. But it explains a great deal as to why Christmas is the way that it is.

"Religion" is people making sacrifices to the great pagan deities of Macy's, Target, Best Buy and Bank of America. "Religion" is pastors & preachers in fancy robes on the T.V. telling you how to vote to please God, what books you can't read, movies you can't see, and telling you to give them money so that God will make you rich. "Religion" is confusing America, or any other "Kingdom of Man," with actually being the "Kingdom of God" and putting cute & empty sayings like "In gOD we trust" on the sacrifices we offer. "Religion" is "God in a Box" stuffed down deep so that we can control him like a genie.

It makes a lot of sense, because we get to create God in our image.

And then there is Jesus and his way, his kingdom...or what is often referred to as Christianity. (I still have a hard time with the word "Christianity" due to all of the negative images that pop up when you use that term. Still...)

The way of Jesus really doesn't make much sense at all. An unwed teen mom gives birth to a baby boy and sets him in a feed trough? God takes on human form and introduces himself in that manner? A helpless baby needing breast-milk just to survive, and filling his diaper...or what ever they used way back then?

When Jesus showed up on the scene, his very entrance is very resistant to the norms of the kingdoms of that day...and he still is. No grand entrance with bands and parades. No mighty armies conquering everything in it's path in his name. No uniforms, crowns, or fireworks. No. Just after-birth, blood, sweat and the smell of animals and their feces. And as this boy grows up, he proceeds to give himself away at every turn, until the only thing left to give is his very life. A God isn't supposed to do that, you know. That doesn't make mush sense at all if you are going to be the King of kings.

Jesus is still resistant to what people think "Religion" ought to be. You don't need to be religious to follow Jesus. In fact, doing so is a really bad idea. There are no hoops to jump through to please God and become acceptable to fact, you can't become acceptable to God through your own efforts. So maybe this year, stop trying so hard to please whatever gods you bow down to. (You might not call them gods, but you still treat certain things that way and your actions betray you.) Instead, just recognize yourself for what you are...a fallen, broken, flawed human. Embrace that. Cease your striving and just embrace the grace that God extends to you thanks to everything he accomplished when he gave himself away.

I wont kid you that everything is hunky-dory after that. But I can promise you that it will be an adventure you wont regret. Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving.

One day, along time ago, a very old man is in the temple and he sees. He sees a couple with a baby. The Spirit promised him that this day would come, and now it is here. And that old man sings the second Christmas Carol ever heard because he knows what this is really all about. It isn't about money, power, expensive presents and an "Americanized" faith, stripped of it's majesty & mystery. It is about hope and salvation for both Jews and Gentiles, God keeping his word, and this very God drawing near to a humanity who are such a mess that they can't even walk straight. Simeon recognizes God.

"Because God loved the world, he demonstrated it in this way; he gave his one & only son, that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did NOT send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
John 3:16 & 17

That's what Simeon saw on that day long, long ago. No wonder he burst out singing.

"The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into our neighborhood."
John 1:14 (The Message)

Happy Christmas


Friday, December 17, 2010

Jingle Dog and other Christmas songs.

I jut got back from my folks place. I've been making trips to drop off the various presents that I have been wrapping. It would appear that I might be overdoing it as usual.

I don't know why, but I really do enjoy wrapping gifts. I can't say that I am all that talented in most areas of life. However, it would appear that I do have a knack for wrapping things. I can make a box of dead squirrels look awesome. (Perhaps I shouldn't have written that, because if my Dad reads this he'll know what he's getting on Christmas Eve.)

Anyway, one of the funnier things about Christmas for our family is how much the dog gets into it. Seriously, Rika absolutely loves Christmas. She has more fun than the rest of us combined. She even knows which packages are hers. She will go up to them during the day and sniff at them. When it comes time to open them, she pretty much freaks out. She also has the amusing habit of trying to stuff her mouth with as much wrapping paper as possible, and then prancing around the living room showing off for everyone.

Perhaps I should have gotten a prescription of Ritalin for her.

Well, my sister & I went out on a big hunt yesterday for presents. Honestly, we don't really spend all that much. But we both try to find one gift of significance for each family member. The rest are just fun odds & ends...which are then wrapped up in an incredibly awesome manner by me.

Needless to say, there is a huge load of various christmas carols being played where ever you go. Most of the songs are incredibly annoying. However, we had lunch at Ikea, and they were playing some of the strangest christmas tunes I'd ever heard. That was actually rather refreshing. That got me thinking. (Always a danger in that.)

I felt like posting something today. But since I have to head to work in less than an hour, I thought I would sort of cheat. The following are some of my favorite Christmas tunes, along with commentary by yours truly. Enjoy. (And if you're lucky, at least one of them will get lodged in your brain like a Yuletide sliver.)

First up, Sarah McLachlan

Oddly enough, of all of the "Secular" christmas tunes out there, I really think that this one could easily be sung in church. For a Believer, the war really is over. Jesus won. It's as simple as that.

Strange, but this song has been stuck in my head for over a day now. I was singing it at work last night. Also, if you check it out on YouTube, you will see that John Lennon's tune has been re-recorded by more folks than almost any other christmas song. The Three Tenors even have a version out there. (Weird!)

Back after Rattle & Hum came out, I sort of thought that U2 had forgotten how to Rock n' Roll. Turns out I was wrong...thankfully.

Next up, the Ronnettes. The video is actually quite horrible. However, the song is great. Back in 63', crazy Phil Spector produced the album, "A Christmas Gift for You." It's still a classic, and the Wall of Sound is always excellent.

And now for a flashback to my childhood. I think that this is proof that the Brits will always be better at music than most Americans. (Sorry, but that's just a fact.) Sad to say, the message is still relevant.

Early on, back when 60s Rock was getting mixed with "Progressive" music, Jethro Tull came out with an interesting take on the christmas story. I've always loved this neo-medieval style. (The message is a good one, too.)

Finally, every year David Letterman has Darlene Love on to sing her hit from that Phil Spector album I mentioned earlier. You get can mighty cynical about the season. You can get hugely annoyed by the horrible music and rampant consumerism that is in your face...and entertain thoughts on all of the people who really ought to get nothing but lumps of coal this year. However, unless you are a heartless, puppy & bunny eating, card-carrying member of the communist party, there is no way that you can't get a smile on your face and enjoy this song. (That's a fact, kids.)

Merry Christmas


Monday, December 13, 2010

1 Timothy & Advent thoughts.

Immanuel. Imm - Anu - El = "With us God."

The Hebrew language flip-flops nouns & verbs, so for those of us who speak English, we translate Immanuel as "God with us." Works either way. God IS with us. God is FOR us.

I was thinking about church yesterday as I was getting ready to write this. I went back into the Gospel of Luke to look some stuff up and noticed something I hadn't thought of before. It has to do with how much God actually likes us. (So I would like the following to be a nice, big, painful poke in the eye to all who believe that God hates sinners...because you will need to find a different version of the Bible to prove that nonsense.)

When Gabriel visits this young, unmarried teen girl named Mary to tell her that she will give birth to the promised Messiah, twice he tells her that she has found "Favor" in God's eyes. Later in Bethlehem, when the shepherds are sung to by heaven's choir, the lyrics include "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

I'm not a scholar. At best, I am just a layman. But it seems to me that unless you embrace the idea of "Works" as a way to gain God's favor, then it seems to me that God really likes/favors/LOVES people...even when they/we/I are in full-tilt rebellion and sin. And because God is proactive, while we are depraved, he starts the ball rolling.

Because of our fallen nature, we turn our backs and run from him. So what does God do? He pursues us. He draws near to us. He comes along side us. Immanuel. "God WITH us."

If you pay attention to Scripture, you will see that YHWH does that a lot.

So anyway, yesterday at Living Waters, Pastor Scott preached a sermon called "Christmas Deliveries," using 1 Timothy 1:15-17. Paul is writing to his buddy Tim, and he sums up rather neatly what exactly Jesus came to do.

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: The Messiah Jesus, came into the world to save sinners - of which I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, the Messiah Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."

I think that parallels nicely with John 3:17; "For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

Jesus' purpose for coming here = To save sinners. To show mercy. To give eternal life.

How's all that for a Christmas gift?

The question remains as to wether or not individuals will actually open the present that God offers them? It would certainly be a pity for those who choose not to.

Yesterday the children of Living Waters put on their Christmas show for us. Jana, who runs the children's ministries, rocked the house. The kids were great.

They came back up at the end of the service and sang us out. One of the songs that was chosen was My Deliverer by Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band. It never really occurred to me before, but that song really ought to be included in the traditional Christmas Canon of songs that are sung during the holidays. It makes perfect sense if you listen to the lyrics.

Once again, the video is pretty lame, but the message is spot on. Enjoy

Peace & Merry Christmas.


P.S. Here is another song by Rich Mullins. What I would recommend is that you pay close attention to what Rich says before the song begins. I found it to be very intriguing. "If you want a religion that makes sense, I suggest something other than Christianity. But if you want a religion that makes life, then I think this is the one."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Advent of Justin Bieber as a Chewy Toy...with a moral to the story.

This post might seem a bit odd at first. Not that there is anything new about that coming from me. However, please do watch the video at the end of this piece. This all may make more sense then.

This past Friday was "Black Friday." The day in which the average retailer hopes to turn a profit after selling stuff all year.

I didn't go to the malls to buy anything. I did, however, go to one place just to watch everyone else going crazy. I have a sadistic streak in me that must be satisfied I suppose. So I went to a local shopping center and watched the suffering of others. It was least to me.

Americans are addicted to commercialism. Our nation's economy depends upon people going out and buying things we don't really need. It's a strange situation to find yourself in. It's not as if we are lacking for food, clothing or comfort. But that kid working at American Eagle needs you to buy another sweatshirt so they can pay for their college.

I have no answer for how we can get out of this.

I need to see that movie.

I like to give presents. I really do. However, I am trying very hard to give gifts that have a good deal of significance to them. It's pretty easy to spend a lot of money on something that is nice, but will easily be forgotten in short order. So I like to make things to give to people. I created 5 varieties of salsa over the summer that I will package up and give to my friends and family. It's practical and tasty...and will be remembered.

When I give out Christmas cards, they are either gross & mildly obscene, or they deal with Hannukah, Kwanza and Tet. Again, my stuff will be remembered for quite some time.

My dog thoroughly enjoys Christmas. She loves the wrapping paper because it makes an excellent chewy toy. (It's funny, but messy.) She goes nuts opening her gifts, and the whole family enjoys the spectacle.

This year, I decided to be truly goofy. I purchased for the dog a Justin Beiber doll. I thought that the site of the dog chewing the snot out of that thing would be rather amusing, and would make for great pictures on FaceBook. As it turns out, I was correct.

I had to take the little Bieber doll out of the plastic package so that the dog would be able to open in properly and not choke on the accessories. In the process, my weird brain decided to have some fun. The following is a story book of sorts. 18 photos that tell a Christmas tale for the whole family. Enjoy!

Little Bieber has a new home, and he was very, very happy. "I'mma tell you one time. Please take me out of this package so I can play with you," he said.

"I will help you decorate your house for Christmas," said little Bieber.

So little Bieber climbed the ladder to put up the big, green light above the garage. "This is difficult for me because I am so tiny," said he.

After he installed the pretty light, little Bieber put the top back on the lamp. "There will now be one less lonely lamp," said he.

Oops! Little Bieber slipped off the light and missed the ladder. "Baby, baby, NO!" cried little Bieber.

Little Bieber was in a pickle. Because he was a tiny, little midget, he could not get back to the ladder. "I know I said I will never let you go, but I must do so and jump to the pavement from here," said little Bieber.

Oops! Poor little Bieber fell right onto the mouse traps that mean old Joey had strewn about the garage floor. "Ow, ow, ow!" squealed little Bieber. "I will never make it to puberty at this rate."

Little Bieber freed himself from the mouse traps and sulked back into the house. "I need an Usher to open these doors for me," said little Bieber.

Little Bieber was very sad as he climbed the stairs.

Little Bieber sat at the top of the stairs and cried. "Boo-Hoo," he sniffed. "I only wanted to help make Christmas special before the dog starts chewing on me."

Then along came Smeagol who asked, "What's Christmas, Precious?!?!"

Little Bieber said, "It's when Jesus gave birth to Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It's a tradition to go deep into debt to buy items that will be quickly forgotten, and give them to people that you often can barely tolerate in a vain attempt to win their affection."

"Okie dokie," said Smeagol to little Bieber. "I will give you this microphone as a present. Then you can sing to me for my present."

Little Bieber went into the bathroom and cleaned himself up for his big performance for Smeagol. "Now I will be one less lonely girl," said little Bieber.

So little Bieber sang and sang and sang all night long. Mostly he covered ballads by Marty Robbins and Hank Williams.

Smeagol was mildly disappointed that little Bieber did not sing the "Flower Duet" from Delibes' opera "Lakme." However, he thoroughly enjoyed the fan magazine that he purchased at the concession stand. "My precious!" said Smeagol as he perused the weighty tome of literature.

Little Bieber's performance at the Bloomington "Fish" Bowl was a big success. (The guppies were very happy too.)

After the show, Smeagol helped little Bieber put up a Christmas tree. "This will be the best Christmas EVER!" squealed little Bieber.

"I am glad that we are friends," said Smeagol to little Bieber. "I have another friend in Mordor that I would like you to meet."

"Oh BOY! This really IS the best Christmas ever," said little Bieber as they both walked off, hand in hand, to the Black Gate together.

And may all your Christmases be just as merry.

The irony of the above story is that I really do not need to comment upon it at all. Look around yourself the next time you're at the mall, watching TV commercials, listening to the Christmas ads on the radio. You understand instinctively the absurdity of the above story in relation to what Christmas is really supposed to be about. You could be an islamic covert to atheism and still get the point.

So as a counter point, I give you Rick McKinley.

God gave himself as a gift. Give yourself away. Spend less. Worship more.

It's just a thought.



Saturday, November 27, 2010

Squishy & the eternal "Crisis of Faith."

Anyone who thinks that following Jesus is easy truly has no idea what they are talking about. Anyone who claims to follow Jesus and then acts like everything is settled, perfect, over & done is either wearing a mask to cover up the internal conflict that rages in every one of us, or is merely a shallow, vacuous turd.

In light of what Jesus had to say about himself, the previous statement may come off as a bit odd. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matt. 11:28-30

Maybe though, what we are talking about are two different things. On one hand, following Jesus provides for an Objective peace with God. On the other hand, Subjectively it doesn't always feel like that.

The bible speaks of our "Old Nature," i.e. the sinful nature that we all carry around with us even after we have committed our lives to Christ. Through Jesus we have been made righteous in the eyes of God, thanks to what his crucifixion & resurrection accomplished. Yet, on any given day, we can feel like crap inside.

I guess that what I would argue is that this feeling of Less-than-Swell is a very, very good thing ultimately. It means that you are actually wrestling with God. Why should a person wrestle with God? Because there is a LOT more to this life than the mundane, everyday pursuit of material things. (Despite what advertisers try to tell you.)

I have a friend. She used to be a student of mine. I gave her the nick-name of "Squishy." (This is due to the fact that she is pliable, can be stretched to a length of at least 10 feet, and when mooshed into a palm-sized ball, she can be rolled onto newspaper and absorb the print ink.) OK, maybe not.

I like teenagers a lot because they provide a great deal of entertainment. They seem to have all the energy & enthusiasm in the world, while simultaneously possessing a large lump of cottage cheese between their ears. The world of teens is full of all types of drama. You get more confusing emotions in those short years then at any other time in your life. Toss in being an actual christian, and it gets really tough.

I met Squishy when she was 14. She is a good kid. She is also a proud Lakota/Dakota warrior woman who can ride a horse bare-back, kill a deer with her bare hands...and then sit down and eat it raw on the South Dakota prairie, and scalp naughty teachers who get on her nerves. (This is why I CHOSE to lose most of my hair.)

Squishy is frustrated with her faith at the moment, and she feels bad about it. What I would say to Squishy is that God is probably closer to her at the moment than he is to those who think they have the whole thing figured out. A "Crisis of Faith" is as natural & normal to our walk with Jesus as is the high points of faith. Jesus never, ever said that everything would be hunky-dorry after we commit to following him. What he did promise us is that he would be there for us to help us through it all.

Faith is not an easy thing. By its very name, Faith is putting your trust in something that we can't see...most of the time, anyway. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1 This is difficult in a world where science and so-called reason rule the day. Yet, every day we live by faith even if we have rejected God. (Notice the chair you are sitting in at the moment: Odds are that you didn't examine the blue prints for it before you sat down. You just had faith that it would support your big butt.)

But what do you say to someone who is honestly struggling with their faith and is feeling skeptical?

CAVEAT: There are folks out there who call themselves "Skeptics," and are anything BUT. A proper skeptic will honestly question things in search of an honest answer. They would be open and fair to hearing numerous ideas & thoughts. In that sense, I am a skeptic. I seriously want to know! Unfortunately, the vast majority of people I have met who call themselves a skeptic have already made up their minds...especially about matters of Faith.

This is what I would say to Squishy.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything." James 1:2-4

This what a "Crisis of Faith" is. It is a trial. It is one of the boot camps that God makes every Believer go through from time to time. It is painful, frustrating, discouraging, even devastating at times. However, when you come out the other end, you find yourself closer to God. That might not mean much to someone who is in the middle of it, but it really is true.

I feel that most people who call themselves "Christians" are not nearly as honest as they should be. So with that in mind, I will open up a bit about my frustrations with my own faith. I am deeply frustrated with some stuff in my life that I can't seem to find resolution to. Wether it is my search for another teaching job, some personal behaviors, or my prayer life. I am deeply frustrated. Also, at the moment I have an issue with a family member that deeply troubles me. (An excellent problem to have at the beginning of the Holidays.) I have almost no answers to any of these problems.

But I am relying on faith that there will be a resolution to them. As difficult as they are, I can see that God has caused all things to work together for my good in the past, and will do so again.

There have been times where I have screamed and cursed at God. In particular, I can remember one night many years ago, screaming at the top of my lungs in a parking lot. I called God just about ever name in the book, and accused him of every crime imaginable. I was very angry at God. (I see no reason to hide your emotions & thoughts from God when you are talking to him. Since he already knows what you're thinking, you might as well be open about it. He's a big boy and can take what ever you throw at him.)

God still loved me...and still does.

What I can also say to Squishy is that when it was all over, I could look behind me and see a straight path that God had lead me on the entire time. I found that I was closer to him and could feel his presence in ways that I could not have before all of the difficulties. It was all a trial that helped me develop more perseverance and a tiny bit more of maturity. (Boy, have I got a long way to go in the maturity department. I can only imagine the boot camps to come.)

A long time ago, God took on human flesh. One day he walked up on the side of a mountain with his students. There was a huge crowd of all types of messy, sinful, unclean people who had followed him there. They were very curious as to what he might say to them. So Jesus made an announcement. He said; "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

That has to go down in history as one of the
most ridiculous announcements ever said.

Blessed = God is on the side of

Poor in Spirit = LOSERS, the empty, the morally bankrupt, the non-religious, the dirty & polluted

"...and he began to teach them, saying; God is already on the side of the LOSERS, the addicted, the girl who just had an abortion, the freaks, the queers, the whores, those who couldn't tell the truth if you put a gun to their head, and all of the other really dirty & sinful people, because the kingdom of heaven was made for people exactly this!"

The crowd that listened to all of this was a little surprised by what they heard, to say the least. And every time I read through that announcement and the teachings that follow, I am always surprised too.

Sometime later, this God-in-the-Flesh went to Jerusalem and allowed himself to be murdered for me. He became my sin and paid the price that I should pay. A few days later he was resurrected and offered me a chance to come into his kingdom here & now, and also someday when it comes in it's fullness. I am very puzzled as to why he would do that for me, because I honestly do not think that I am worth any of it...certainly not all of that bother.

But maybe, in some respects, he actually did it for himself.

The author of Hebrews wrote that letter in an attempt to encourage some of the early christians. In an attempt to encourage Squishy, I would ask her to consider what the author wrote.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

I do consider that. So I still have faith...even on my bad days.

Luv ya, Squishy!



Friday, November 19, 2010

Work out your God's gym.

How are those for pictures of feast or famine when it comes to exercising? Perhaps a bit too much one way or the other, huh? I'm not sure how the guy on the right manages to even pick his nose when the need arises. Sad, so sad. (Kind of resembles Laura when she is working out, though.)

I used to be quite the athlete. In fact, gymnastics was my favorite sport. Unfortunately most gymnasts need to be approximately hobbit-sized to be successful at their craft. I, being almost 7 feet tall, had difficulties. The following is actual footage of me.

As you can see, my career was sad and short lived. But from time to time, I still enjoy a good leap through the air and onto tables with people seated, just to bring back the old memories.

These days I go to Planet Fitness. For $10 a month I can work up a vigorous stink with out having to pay for all of the froo-froo amenities that I wouldn't use in the first place. Also, since this particular gym caters to folks who are not career athletes and "Beautiful People," but instead just regular types, for once in my life I am actually in better shape than most people in a given situation. This makes me feel superior, and my fragile ego receives a much needed boost. (I also enjoy lording it over the Grannies that I can bench more than they and their flying-squirrel arms can.)

There is a guy named Dan who is the main personal trainer. If he isn't cleaning something, he is usually with a customer teaching them the proper way to work a machine so that an arm or leg doesn't snap off and flop around on the carpet. Apparently I have asked for his advice enough that he now feels comfortable to give me advice wether I want to hear it or not.

I can't speak for women, but as a "GUY," we generally do not like to be told how to do things properly...especially when it comes to working out. It's probably a testosterone thing, but there is something about men that make them competitive in the strangest ways. Dan will come up to me and correct my method of doing what ever I am doing, and I always seem to feel a small sting of pride.

Once I correct my use of a machine or weight, I always seem to have to drop about 30lbs. Then it takes me a week to get back to the level I was at when I was doing it wrong. (Frustrating!) Still, I have learned to keep my mouth shut and listen to Dan's instructions. Long term, the result is always better.

"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but no much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life." Phil. 2:12-16

I had a long talk yesterday with a friend of mine. I had called to apologize for accidently hurting her feelings. It was purely one of those situations where everyone misunderstood the situation, so it was easily resolved. However, it made both of us talk about how each individual has buttons and triggers that can accidently be pushed or pulled by others unknowingly. Those buttons are unique to each person, and they come about over a lifetime of experiences both good and bad. Hence, the need for extending grace to others...and often to ourselves.

Many American churches are notorious for being places where masks are worn and a performance is put on. We do this because as "Christians" were are supposed to be perfect, you know. Now that Jesus has come into our lives, we are all just happy little sanitized robots with no problems what so ever.

If someone in that body has a struggle or issue, a happy & sanitized robot may offer them some unsolicited advice. My friend says that she hates the word "Ought." "You OUGHT to do this if you are struggling with that." The person offering the advice may mean well, but that often doesn't help.

Advice is best served after a relationship is established. If a stranger walked up to me in the gym and told me I was doing something wrong, I might choose to drop the weight on his foot. However, since I have already established a rapport with Dan, if he walks up and tells me something, I will listen. Dan is a little like the Apostle Paul in the passage above.

Paul was always a very clever writer. He uses interesting phrases to get folks to act. In those few sentences, he is complimenting, encouraging and essentially ORDERING the christians in Philippi to live a certain way. But he's so kind about it...makes you want to sign up.

I highlighted one phrase in there because it fascinates me. "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Theologians who emphasize "Free Will" (Arminians) love the first half of that sentence because it emphasizes human responsibility. Theologians who emphasize "Predestination" (Calvinists) love the second half because it emphasizes God's responsibility.

Chip Ingram has a book out titled "God, as he longs for you to see him." In it, he correctly points out that somehow, in God's infinite sovereignty, it's BOTH! Seriously, sometimes theologians & philosophers will get into nit-picking debates that don't really serve the church much. Often, it seems like you have to throw out half of the New Testament to reach their conclusions.

The idea that Paul saw both human freedom and God's hand working together in what would almost seem like a contradiction, didn't seem to bother him in the least. I don't see why it should bother us then.

Anyway, each of us has our uniquely weird issues. We desperately need God to repair our brokeness. (You may have been made righteous in God's eyes through Christ, but you still carry your old, nasty nature around with you.) We need to come along side others and be an encouragement to them, with the full understanding of our own struggles.

I don't see Jesus as being terribly pushy. Often, like me at the gym going up and asking Dan for advice, people would come to Jesus and ask him questions. Other times, Jesus would establish a relationship with someone and THEN offer his thoughts.

Believers need to act like that towards each other. We need to extend grace and mercy to one another in our churches...and towards those outside the body. I am a messy, messy guy. I can't say that I am successful most of the time, but I do try to keep my messiness in the front of my mind before I offer someone else an "Ought."

Anyway, it's just a thought.



P.S. Now that I am thinking about the gym and such, I shall freely offer advice on my favorite workout tune. It's funny how habits form, but I absolutely have certain songs that I use for certain routines. Perhaps you OUGHT to put these on your Ipod and give them a try for yourself.

One of my favorite exercises is the fly-press. Essentially you flap your arms in front of you and try to join your elbows. If you are successful like myself, you will soon have a chest so sexily-massive that sparrows will build nests in the shade of your pectorals.

I like to like to finish my day at the gym with this routine. I put on a lighter weight and these three this order, and just go until the music is done. (Ask me what my record is and I'll tell you. If you can beat it, I'll buy you some ice cream. That way you will get fat and not be able to top me again.)

Ah yes, "Big Hair" and a driving beat.

I know what you're thinking. Kevin Cronin should probably hit the gym himself. I'm surprised he can even lift that guitar.

BLACK SABBATH?!?!?!?!...on a CHRISTIAN blog?!?!?!?!?! Oh pipe down. It's a great, driving beat. (Besides, it could be worse. It could be Ozzie with his god-awful voice.)

OK, so maybe you like to do a pull-down for your triceps. Seriously, if you want to avoid the whole flying squirrel syndrome on your arms as you get older, this is a must. You know what I'm talking about. You've seen your aunt in short-sleeves.

My Grandmother refused to listen to me on this issue. She ended up leaping from branch to branch in tall trees. We needed a long-handled butterfly net to get her down. Don't let that happen to you or your loved ones.

Anyway, nothing can hypnotize you better than a long, live song from Neil Young...with all of his strange instrumental stuff thrown in for good measure. The weird ambiance of sound that he creates helps to block out the pain for me. This allows me to do numerous sets of ten because my brain has gone numb and I no longer notice that my arms are in burning agony. (You should hear me screaming & crying in the locker room after I pull the ear-buds out, though.)

If this song doesn't work for you, I also recommend "Cowgirl in the sand" or "All along the watchtower." All of Neil's songs must be live versions or you are an Apostate. The last of these really ought to be the one from his concert at Red Rocks with Chrissie Hynde on backing vocals to achieve the maximum effect.

Have fun exercising. :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Adoption and the Art of Salsa Making

I'm adopted. I was adopted when I was only a few weeks old. (This means that I was hand-picked! Look what you're parents got.) I just so happened to be adopted by the two best parents that anyone could ask for.

I am no fan of abortion. However, I fully understand that it will never be criminalized again. Plus, even if it was, it simply wouldn't work. Anyone with means would make their way to Canada or Mexico and just give a boost to their medical economies. The rest would go into the back alleys where nothing good would result.

I am a BIG fan of adoption. (More on this is a bit.)

Last night I was given an early Christmas present. I went to a concert of sorts. At Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, the "Love tells the Story" tour was stopping by. The author, Donald Miller, came with a group of his musician friends to speak and play. Miller told some stories about his book, Blue Like Jazz, being turned into a movie. He also spoke on the story of God's love for people...and how most people sadly reject that love.

The musicians were Sandra McCracken, who reminds me of Emmy Lou Harris. The second was her husband, Derek Webb, who was about as avant guard as you could get. Then the Robbie Seay band led worship. It was like a strange combination of U2 meets Alt-Country with Techno thrown in for good measure. (For those who assume that church & worship should be hushed and somber affairs with dour & serious expressions plastered upon the faces of the parishioners, you would have been quite disappointed.)

There was a mother not to far from my seat who had a new born with her. The music was LOUD! The baby smiled the whole time. After the show, I informed the woman that she was the coolest Mom in the whole world. (Not counting my Mom.)

One of my hobbies is making salsa. In case you are curious, I am exceptionally good at it. (That's not bragging. It's merely an objective fact.) Normally when I make a large batch of salsa to can, I will name it after students of mine...and put a super-cool, neato, "Boss," groovy label on it, complete with their picture. Since I am not teaching at the moment, I decided to make batches in honor of my favorite Christian thinkers & philosophers. I have Rob Bell's Raspberry Chipotle, Rick McKinely's Cigar Roasted and Donald Miller's Sexy Carrot Salsas...and I DID manage to make cool labels for them. (I have 3 other styles, but I haven't decided who to name them after just yet.)

I had planned on mailing some of the jars off to these folks. However, Don Miller attends Imago Dei out in Portland, where Rick McKinley preaches. So why not kill two birds with one stone? I brought a jar for Miller and another for McKinley. I wasn't able to deliver them personally. But I was able to attach a note explaining the whole thing, and it was given to him by the staff.

If he ever figures out that it was me, that's fine. If not, that's fine too. My Christmas presents for friends and family are covered. Woot!

Donald Miller and his family were abandoned by their Father when he was a child. In effect, that would make him one out of 27,000,000 other kids in the U.S. who are growing up without a Dad around. That is a very vulgar statistic. But the sad fact is that there are a huge group of men out there who are not even remotely living up to their responsibilities as men. (In my biased opinion, a man that walks away from the family that he helped to create is not a man at all.) However, instead of playing the role of perpetual victim, Miller decided to do something about this situation. This organization works with numerous churches across the country to place MEN with boys who have been abandoned by their own Fathers to act as mentors. (Not so different from the Big Brothers/Sisters outfit.) In this particular instance though, it is a Faith-Based organization. They wish to take seriously God's command & insistence that HIS people, who are called by HIS name are to care for the widows and orphans.

Yesterday morning at Living Waters, we had some folks from the Minnesota Heart Gallery come and make a presentation before the service. This is another Faith-Based organization who works to find decent families to match with older kids for adoption. You can go to their website to find out more information.

The statistics for older kids up for adoption are not pretty. First off, you have to understand that most of these kids have been removed from their biological families by the courts. (I can only imagine what the home situation was like for this to be the result.) There are over 300 teens in Minnesota up for adoption every year. Those who are not adopted face incredibly stiff odds for success later in life. It makes you pause to think about how a society achieved a situation like this.

Adoption is a beautiful thing.
I am a testament to what a loving family can do for an adopted baby.

In the world in which Jesus had his earthly ministry, the less-than-gentle hand of the Roman Empire ruled everything. 9 out of 10 people were essentially day to day, hand to mouth. The early church made a name for itself by caring for the poor & marginalized in very difficult circumstances. It was not unusual for infants, especially baby girls, to be abandoned in dumps, garbage heaps or by the side of he road. The first Christians demonstrated their belief in the power of Jesus' resurrection by actually practicing it for themselves. They had the peculiar habit of rescuing these abandoned babies and taking them home to raise them.

The Romans had an interesting concept on adoption. It was not unusual for adults to be adopted. (At least with in the ranks of the well to do.) With the adoption came all of the prestige, power and wealth of the adopting family. Needless to say, the poor were rarely adopted.

"Praise be to the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy & blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be ADOPTED as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." Ephesians 1:3-6

"And you also were included IN Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel (Good News) of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory." Eph. 1: 13 & 14

Can you imagine what it must have been like for a poor, everyday, working man or woman to hear that such an option was freely available to them? What must it have been like for someone to realize that they could be adopted and made a son/daughter of the most powerful being in the universe...with all of the prestige that went with it? Furthermore, they would have understood that once you said "Yes" to this deal, you would never, ever be abandoned. Once you are in THAT family, you will NEVER be pushed out.

This is the story of God's love towards the humanity that he created. It is Grace...a completely undeserved gift that he chooses to offer to anyone willing to take it. You DID & DO nothing to earn such a gift. It is freely offered to you because Jesus did all the work to make it possible. He offers it to you through his blood. The Triune God, the creator of all thing seen & unseen, the Holy One, desires and aches with all his heart to have you as his child for ever and ever. No wonder the word "Gospel" actually means "Good News."

I told you, adoption is a beautiful thing.
It's even better than Salsa.

Last night at the show, I heard a couple of artists I had not known before. The first is a woman from Tennessee named Sandra McCraken. She's a bit on the Folky side. She had a female guitarist with her that I can't recall. She used some good echo & reverb on her instrument that made me think of Emmy Lou Harris being backed up by Buddy Miller. Here is an acoustic version of a song she played.

Her husband is Derek Webb. He is a bit of thorn in the side of the Christian establishment. (Which certainly makes me a fan.) He was pretty "Out There" as far as music goes. He likes to use abstract art & photography to illustrate his music. He sang a song titled "Wedding Dress." In it, he blasts himself for the cheap way that he often treats Jesus. I found myself identifying a good deal with this song.

He also has a purely instrumental CD out that he wrote for each verse of "The Lord's Prayer." Very interesting stuff.

The guy leading all the music acts & such was Robbie Seay. You might be familiar with his song, "Rise," which was used for a time as the American Idol intro. He's always good.

Anyway, on a side note; He had this little guy as his lead guitarists that night with this really big beard. Honestly, I thought it was a fake beard at first like one from "Oh Brother, where art thou?" He made me think of what Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top would look like after a wash and then a long spin in the dryer.

The video is just a slide show, but the music is good.