Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Impressively impressed by their impressive impressiveness."

I'm still thinking a bit about the Jason Gray concert from this past Friday. All of us were talking about it at Living Waters on Sunday, and most of us are still yakking away about it this week. Jason seems to be talking about it too, cause he wrote about it in his own blog and used one of the photos I took in it. (Woot!)

It wasn't just that it was fun to get together with a bunch of your friends and listen to live music. And it wasn't just that Jason is a great singer/songwriter...which he is. And it wasn't even that this whole event was the culmination of Tom & Deb's water project. It just felt like it was more than that for some reason, and I'm not quite sure I can put it into words.

A lot of people who call themselves "Christians" make me itch. They seem to have a special language that they use to point out their religious credentials and such. They use a lot of "Churchy" words. One of the things that I enjoyed about the show last Friday is that Jason never used any of those types of words. (I was talking with Deb this morning, and she brought that up too.) For me, it's refreshing to just be around people who "Get it," and don't use silly words and phrases to make themselves appear worthy to other folks.

One thing that Jason Gray said that stuck in my head like a nice, gentle sliver under a fingernail went something like this; "There are people I have met that have impressed me. Mostly, I was impressed by their impressiveness. But when I meet broken people, I am impressed by what God is doing in them." Pretty cool I thought.

More Thoughts on Brokeness.

One thing I should state off the bat is that when I speak of brokeness, I am NOT trying to emphasize what vile turds we all are, or that you ought to go around beating yourself up for not being able to be perfect. What I want to emphasize is that embracing brokeness is simply embracing reality. (Unfortunately, most people...including many who are "In Christ," never embrace it.) But to be honest, for most of us it usually isn't until something really difficult happens that we realize that we can't handle it on their own...and then turn to God.

Rick McKinley from the Imago Dei Community had a great way to put this into perspective. Essentially, he said that to feel sorrow over sin is appropriate, but to feel guilty is not. He said that if you are in Christ, then feeling guilty over sin is simply devaluing Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross. First off, God isn't surprised by any sin that we have committed or will commit...he already knows. Second, Jesus dealt with all sin, past, present and future on the cross. His death was sufficient for everyone's sin, period! So, in some way, when you mope and feel like a turd because of sin, you are saying that Christ's atonement wasn't sufficient for you. And that is simply not the case. So ultimately, to be broken is just to understand all of the above and then to stand in awe...or "Ahhhhhhhhhh!" of what Christ has done for us.

When I talk about brokeness, I am speaking about the reality of life. God is perfect. We are not. We need God. And God, by dying on a cross for us, paved the way for a proper relationship with him. That simple truth, and the embrace there of, is embracing reality. That is embracing your brokeness.

Christian "Posers."

Years ago in college, my friend Scott and I got into a discussion. Scott is an amazing artist. Seriously, he is very good. The first two pictures on this post are his, and they deal with what I am about to say. Those pictures are about the masks and "Happy Faces" that Christians often put on when in the presence of others.

Scott and I talked about how all of us ware masks. We know that we are waring them. We also know that everyone else knows that we are waring them. We also know that everyone else is waring masks too, and that they know it. But all of us continue this costume drama anyway. WHY?

My own theory is that people who call themselves Christians have been duped into thinking that they have to put on some type of flawless front to present to the world. OR, that to be accepted in Religious circles they have to put on some type of uniform. Ultimately, this all smacks of "Works" to me. (Because it is taking our eyes off of Jesus and the truth that he has done ALL of the work for us.)

I don't want a fellow Believer to try and impress me with their impressive testimony and all of the impressive ways that they are busy for God. I've said this before, I don't believe in "Good Christians." There is no such thing!!! You are either struggling or not struggling. If you are not struggling, then please get away from me. You can't help me in my journey, and you are of little use to God.

To be sure, if we/I/you take our masks off our faces and open up about how finite we are, we are opening ourselves up for pot-shots and grief from others. (Usually, fellow Christians, sad to say.) But we also open ourselves up to reveal what Christ is doing in our lives. Remember, it isn't about us. If you claim to follow Jesus, then it was, is and always will be about HIM!

I would bet that the very people who are most likely to take a shot at other Christians who drop all the religious pretense and their masks, are the most frightened of dropping their own. Maybe that is all the more reason to drop a mask in front of them. They need to see that it can be done. I don't know.

What I DO know, is that last Friday was a good time. And I think that perhaps it was as good as it was because no one wore any impressive masks. We just enjoyed what Jesus was doing with all, and in all, of us for one night.



Saturday, February 20, 2010

Your Political Compass

(This post is purely Secular. But you get to take a fun quiz...for your "Enlightenment." So you got that going for you.)

#1. I no longer affiliate myself with any party or label. I have learned the hard way that to be Biblically Consistent, I have to be Politically In-Consistent.

#2. I want to state for the record that when it comes to politics these days, while I still truly love to watch the game being played, I am pretty disillusioned with the over all state of things. I get the dry-heaves anytime I hear any sort of "Political Talk Radio" being played...wether it's on the Right of the Left, and I cannot stomach the mean-spirited, over-simplified, self-serving, egotistical, gloriously ignorant, verbal farts that come flying out of the mouths of these talking heads who simply love to stir the pot for money.

#3. On a personal note, what troubles me the most is how so many of my fellow Believers are routinely...and sometimes willingly, deceived, by secular politicians and those same talking heads, into thinking that Jesus is on their particular side. (I had no idea that the Kingdom of Heaven was a Democratic Republic.) Honestly, where is a Believer's allegiance supposed to be first & foremost?

Right now on NPR there is a discussion going on about what defines someone as a "Conservative." So far, only people who would define themselves as being aligned with the Right, and the new Tea Party movement, have been interviewed. Anyway, it's funny that such a thing should come up, because this was something that I have been thinking about since yesterday...well, more like politics in general I suppose.

In a discussion the other day, I heard a commentator bring up the idea that perhaps defining people by the terms Liberal or Conservative no longer properly applies. The commentator pointed out correctly that, under George Bush's first term with a complete Republican lock on both houses, he/they spent money like a drunken sailors. In fact, not since the LBJ administration, has anyone caused the government to grow as much as the Republicans did under Bush. (I mean, these guys actually out-spent their arch-rival, Bill Clinton, by almost 2-1)

Yet, for some reason beyond all logic, Bush is held up as a model Conservative. Personally, I find it hysterical that all of the Republicans were Born-Again as being fiscally conservative with in 5 minutes of Obama being elected. I mean, where were these people while Bush was in charge? Oh wait...they were there with him helping to balloon our National debt. (Wait, wait, don't say that out loud. Glen Beck and Limbaugh won't like it. Let's all blame it on the new administration instead, and pretend we didn't actually do it ourselves.) Technically, all of that reckless spending & growth of government makes Republicans & Conservatives to actually be incredibly Liberal fiscally. (And now they want me to believe them?)

At the same time, Obama is held out as some evil, socialist, Neo-Communist, who bleeds daily from his left-wing heart. Never mind the fact that in his first year in office, Obama has launched more missiles into Pakistan to hit Al-Quaida than Bush did in 7 years. Technically, this would make the Obama administration rather Hawkish...i.e. Conservative.

There is a website that I really like called "The Political Compass." I used to use it in my classroom when I taught Civics. It's out of the U.K., so some of the wording is slightly different from the U.S. If you go to it, you can take a very cool test that lets you know where you sit politically compared to the likes of Gandhi, Hitler, Reagan, Milton Friedman, Stalin, etc.

The point of this website is to show that since the end of the Cold War with the communist empire of the Soviet Union, the old labels that we use no longer apply. I mean, what makes someone a Conservative anyway? What if he/she favors guns, legalized pot & gay marriage, but no abortions what so he/she a Conservative? What if someone believes that a government should support the arts at over-all tax-payer expense for a particular neighborhood, but also insists on tax-breaks for all of the local businesses in that same neighborhood, so as to stimulate economic development...are they a Liberal?

PLEASE do not buy the easy & simplistic answers that the various talking heads on the radio vomit out. Remember, these folks make their livings stirring the pot and getting you all worked up. I may be wrong, but I am of the opinion that most of them would say whatever they could to get you to buy their books and support their sponsors.

One in particular always gets me going. He is the Father of the whole radio flatulence movement. I won't say his name, but you can probably guess. I used to listen to him A LOT...until I realized a couple of things about him. #1. He is a military Hawk, which is interesting since he really & truly is a draft-dodger from the Vietnam Era. (Fine, when it's someone else's kids on the lines.) #2. He preaches against drugs, while he himself is an active addict. (Don't kid yourself that he beat Oxycontin with one moth of rehab...NO ONE does that!) #3. He wants to defend marriage in the U.S. against gays, while he is either on his 2nd or 3rd...I can't keep track anymore. #4. He once tried to explain the whole Israeli/Palestinian situation to me over the radio by saying, and I quote..."People! It's all there in the Book of Acts." (Wow! That was the moment I shut the radio off.)

The point I want to make is that people need to understand that there is a whole lot of nuance to this life. Politicians very often try to make everything Black & White so as to get your vote. People on the radio will say even more outrageous things if it will help get them ratings. Instead of being a sheep, think for yourself...which MEANS actually listening to the viewpoints of others who disagree with you. You will never know where you truly stand until you listen to those you disagree with.

So, go to this site and take the test. (Just go to the top where it says "Take the Test.") In fact, lets have some fun. Send me your results. I think you can even do this over Face Book. Until you do, please shut your pie-hole about you being such & such. I will just assume that you are an ignorant cow, grazing in the pasture of the extreme politics you have decided to let lead you.

How's that for a challenge?


P.S. If you want to know where I stood after taking the test, I am in the second photo. (It's weird. My answers change every time I take this thing.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

All the Lovely Losers at the Well

I went to a concert tonight in my friend's living room. There were about 70 of us there. It was a celebration of sorts. You see, today is the anniversary of their sons death, at age 7 from a brain tumor. It is a painful time for all concerned. Yet it was a celebration too. We were celebrating what God had done through this tragedy. My friends truly believe "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him."

The concert was kind of a closure to a project that they have been working on. In the aftermath of their son's death, God laid something on their hearts. So for a few months now, they have been raising money to purchase a well that will provide clean drinking water for 150 people through World Vision. Guess what? They now have enough funds to purchase 3 wells...and more funds are still coming in. (Feel free to donate because there is still time. Just click on that link.)

450 people at least, will now have access to clean water on a daily basis.

That might sound odd to you at first glance, but consider the following facts. #1. 1 out of 6 people on this planet...that would be one BILLION people do not have access to clean water everyday. #2. Every 15 seconds, a child somewhere dies because of that lack of clean water. #3. 800,000,000 people go to bed hungry ever night.

(Joseph Stalin, the worlds second greatest mass-murderer once said that one death is a tragedy, but one million deaths is just a statistic. That's a sad statement. But too often it is true.)

The fellow who performed tonight is a guy named Jason Gray. Three things you should know about Jason Gray. #1. He is a REALLY good guitar player & singer. #2. He is REALLY funny. #3. He is REALLY tall. I think that my favorite song of his is titled "Blessed Be."

"Losers. All the lovely losers.
Who never thought you'd hear their name.
Outside. Always on the outside.
Empty at the wishing well.
But time will tell.

Blessed be
the ones who know that they are weak.
They shall see
the kingdom come to the broken ones.
Blessed be.

Thirsty, like you're drinking from a salt sea.
But one day you'll be satisfied.
Hungry, for the taste of mercy.
If you could have your fill,
and one day you will.

Not for the strong,
the beautiful,
the brave.
Not for the ones who think they got it made.

It's for the poor, the broken, and the meek.
It's for the ones who look a lot like you and me."

What does it mean to be Broken anyway?

Well, it's two-fold. Essentially it has to do with a person coming face to face with their own flaws, sins and imperfections and understanding beyond a shadow of a doubt that, try as they might, there is nothing that they can do to fix it. The second part of being broken is understanding that if someone wants to remedy this situation, they have to turn their life over to Jesus. "For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

There is no point in trying to earn God's favor or grace. You can't do it. And if you could, it wouldn't be GRACE anyway.

Here's the point. It really isn't about YOU. (Shocking, I know.) It's really about GOD. You can read any story in the Bible anywhere, and you will always find extremely flawed and imperfect people being used by God to bring him glory. The only hero in the Bible is God.

You might balk at that. But it's true. (Mostly, folks get irritated by that truth because deep down inside, we all wish that WE were God.) But if you can embrace that truth, it ends up being a very beautiful thing because all of a sudden there is a lot less weight on your back. You will feel much lighter and can probably stop stooping since you no longer feel the need to carry the world around on your shoulders. You can't really carry it anyway. So stop wasting time and just hand it all over to God.

ANYWAY, when and if you do get around to embracing your own brokeness, you might find that you now have time to partner with God, and advance his kingdom...and that feels really good, actually.

That's what tonight was all about. My friends, Tom & Deb, partnered with God on a project that God had laid on their hearts. This whole well project was done as a way to honor God for his mercy and love through this difficult time. Numerous people heard the Gospel for the first time and began to participate also. Not to mention the folks who now have access to clean water.

Tom & Deb did not do any of this as a way to curry or bargain favor from God. They didn't do it to earn Brownie Points. (Although, they did serve some delicious brownies and other treats at the show.) Nope, they just did this out of a thankful heart.

Only a broken person can shine. You shine by exhibiting the incomprehensible love of Jesus in your life...and that means in how you live out his love for you on a daily basis. (Don't worry about being perfect. You are not perfect even if you are in Christ. HE IS, you got that covered. You and I are just works in progress.) Tom and Deb shine because they rejoice in their brokeness, and can then partner with God to do this good work...and it happens in that order only. You shine because God is polishing you, and he can't polish you until you turn you AND your crap over to him.

I suppose that sounds counter-intuitive to a culture that celebrates folks who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But when you are talking about the situation between you and God, your bootstrap ain't gonna cut it. Why would you want to struggle like that anyway, considering how God has already provided a perfect and painless way for you to be embraced by him?

The thing is, the folks who think they have it all together...and that includes the "Very Religious," don't really get it. They can't see or hear it, because they are so full of themselves that they have no room for God. That's why when Jesus began his epic "Sermon on the Mount" he opened with an announcement that God was on the side of all of the losers and sinners...the Poor in Spirit. Because they would be the only ones who could actually be able to hear God.

God was on the side of those people long before they even understood it. The Rich is Spirit, those who are very, very Religious, and those who think that they can do it all by themselves, can't hear Jesus' announcement because their brains are too stuffed with all their own striving and efforts.

Following Jesus is not some kind of "To-Do" list, or a ritual or formula that you check off. It's an actual relationship. A relationship where the creator of the universe asks you to give yourself over to him in trust, and embrace his love. When you do that, he will heal you, he will tend to your hurts, pains, guilt and shame. He will polish you until you shine. Then he will take your hand and make you his partner in redeeming a fallen world that he still loves, and bringing a message of hope to a humanity that he longs to save.

If that makes me a loser, then that is a title I will gladly embrace. Because I sure as hell wasn't winning much on my own.



P.S. There is more that I would like to say about the Jason Gray concert tonight. However, I am really, really pooped. Maybe tomorrow. In the mean time, here is another song of his. It's about falling in love with Jesus.

You should buy a couple of his Cds. I now have a signed copy of his newest one "Everything sad is coming untrue"...and you can't borrow it. :P

Monday, February 15, 2010

Putting it in Context

Have you ever read something and asked yourself, "Well, what the heck does THAT mean?" The words are confusing. The text doesn't seem to make sense...something like that. I use the two pictures above to illustrate my point about something written that can at first appear a bit odd, shall we say.

I took those two shots on a trip to China with my school a few years ago. The first is from the Terracotta Warriors museum outside Xian. The second shot is from outside our hotel in Shanghai, with the ever awesome "Cash-Money" Andy giving the thumbs up. "Friend-making clubhouse at half past eight." I mean, why can't it be half past seven, or quarter to nine?

The point being that sometimes things can get a bit Lost in Translation. Heck, even something written in plain English can often come off as confusing...especially if it is being IMed or texted. (Is that a word yet?)

(This is another long one, but it's worth it to watch the videos at the end)

SO, where does the meaning of something come from?
We live in a Post-Modern world, in which almost everything is relative. People will argue that there is no final say to anything. It is what you want it to be, and that is good enough. I would like to posit an argument against that. In fact, I would like to take a look at the three different ways that that people will argue over how something comes to mean ANYTHING.

I make this argument in particular because it has to do with how people read the Bible. I think that a huge amount of the nonsense that some people say, could be done away with if they would read Scripture properly.

My weapon of choice will be E.D. Hirsch, the brilliant, and now retired, former professor from the University of Virginia.,_Jr. When I attended Bethel Seminary, our first semester was used to cram, beat & stuff us with his book "Validity in Interpretation." I don't say that in a bad way, because I thought that he was spot on with his argument. I'll break it down into three basic points. Then, you tell me if he is right or wrong.

Meaning #1: Meaning is found strictly and only in what is written on the page. In other words, there is no greater meaning or intention...strictly the letter of the law. This is often a favorite argument of lawyers and explains some of the outrageous warning labels on products. As if McDonald's really needs a "Warning, product may be hot!" on it's coffee cups, before you set it on your crotch as you pull out of the drive-through. (You might recall the woman who sued and got 6.5 million dollars out of them for that very situation.)

Case in point from Ephesians 5:18. "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Now, according to this first view, Paul is strictly talking about getting drunk on wine. So, since he says nothing about beer, let's bust out a keg of Liennies and party down until we all pass out.

You would most likely say something along the lines of "PUH-lease! That is not what Paul is getting on about." You would be correct...unless you are a lawyer. But if you think this argument doesn't hold water for some, I invite you to take a trip to the country of Azerbaijan. It is an Islamic country, but also a former member of the Russian empire. Now, the Koran strictly forbids the drinking of wine...but it says nothing about vodka. So, many Azeri's use this interpretation to justify their consumption of alcohol.

Meaning #2: Meaning is relative, and can be what ever you interpret it to be. This one is perfect for our post modern age. Someone can ask you what the song "Baby got Back!" means to you, and you can say, "Well, to me it is about my girlfriend returning home after a long day of shopping," instead of the rapper's meaning of the that he enjoys large behinds. Charles Manson certainly embraced this view when he believed that the Beatle's song "Helter Skelter" told him that he was supposed to start a Race War. You can see the obvious problem.

I once worked with a fellow who was quite the Pot-Head. He told me that he was only doping up because it was God's desire that he do so. He pointed out that in the first creation story in Genesis 1, God made all of the plants and God saw that it was good. And that is why he chose to is why he doped up. It was God's desire after all.

Well, gosh golly gee, lets all roll another one for Jesus. (Yeah, I can hear what you are thinking about his point. Me too.)

Let's say you write your sweetie a nice love poem. In it you describe her as a red rose. Her response is the following; "You mean to tell me that you think I smell, am a thorny person, and that I attract aphids?!?!?!?!" To which you would most likely respond, "But Angel Dimples, that's not what I MEANT!" Ta da, and there is your answer.

Meaning #3: Meaning comes from what the author INTENDS for it to say. This is where E.D. Hirsch comes down, and I completely agree with him. When I write a letter to someone, I am the one putting all of the thought and effort into it. You can't take my words and get them to fit some other way. It can only & ever mean EXACTLY what I want it to mean. Most people would simply say, "DUH, that's just common sense!" Yeah, well, common sense is not so common.

I bring all of this up because I am constantly worried about how so many people take passages from the Bible and twist them to fit their pre-conceived ideas. You will only be able to understand the Bible when you look at it from the various writer's points of views & perspectives. You will only figure this out when you try to find the CONTEXT of any given portion of the Bible.

Context is the over-all perspective of a work. What was the situation culturally & historically when this piece was written? Who was the author writing it to and for? What is the big picture, etc? With out attempting to understand that, you are most likely to miss the point of anything that you read in the Bible.

It's not that everyone out there has to be fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc...or that you need a Masters in Biblical History. No one ever gets it %100. But anyone would be wise to do their homework before assuming that they have it all figured out.

A Purely Secular Example of taking things out of Context: (I've been waiting for an excuse to use something like this in a post, and I finally found it)

Christopher Walken is one of the most recognizable actors in the world...and one of the most imitated. My favorite scene of his acting ability comes from True Romance, where he and Dennis Hopper spar off while being informed where Sicilians come from. (I won't play that clip, cause it is pretty strong.) Here is his famous scene from Pulp Fiction. He is only in the movie for a few minutes, but he steals the show.

Lady Gaga is a Neo-Disco singer. She tends to be a bit of a "Hoochie Mamma," as the kids would say. Still, her tunes are good to work out to. Don't feel that you need to play more than a minute of this clip. But do pay attention for at least that long. Trust me, there is method to my madness. (Sorry, but you may have to put up with a brief commercial for a few seconds.)

NOW, both of these people have their place in the grand scheme of things. Walken does his acting stuff. Gaga does her Hoochie stuff. However, combine the two together and you get THIS!

Pretty bloody funny, don't you think? (I've been waiting to use this bit.) The reason that it is so funny, though, is because both of these people and their work are being taken out of context. Heck, it's funny...but it is hardly accurate.

You see my point? Keep it in context folks, keep it in context.



Sunday, February 14, 2010

Front to Back at the Peace Table

"Nothing ever seems to happen by coincidence at Living Waters." That's the running joke at any rate. And so it would seem.

This morning, Pastor Scott was preaching on "The Promise of God's Protection," and using largely Psalm 91 as the main text. Two of the verses caught my attention, because they made me think about a talk I heard from another pastor from one of the zillions of podcasts I seem to listen to.

Pastor Scott talked about how the vast, vast majority of God's promises are Un-Conditional, because they are based in who God is...and NOT in something we do or earn. However, in some instances, at least in the case of God's protection, there are certain conditions that we have to live up to.

In Psalm 91: 9-11 it says that "IF you make the Most High your dwelling - even the Lord, who is my refuge - THEN no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angles concerning you to guard you in all your ways."

In other words, you have to choose to stick close to God if you expect him to keep you safe. I figure that is pretty much a No-Brainer, because why would God be obligated to protect anyone who willingly enjoys running into the on-coming traffic after being warned not to?

Front to Back:
All this week I have been listening over & over to a sermon titled "Reconciled with God" by a guy named Rick McKinley from the Imago Dei Community out in Portland, Oregon. Pastor Rick is an interesting guy. He looks a lot like Norm from the old Cheers T.V. show...if Norm had kind of gone Grunge. He has an interesting way of speaking too...a very dry sense of humor.

The text he used were Romans 5:8-11 & 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. The whole point Rick was trying to make was that we can have peace with God. (Not much new in that idea if you have heard the Gospel explained properly before) But there were some thoughts that popped into my head as I listened that both challenged, scared and confronted me at the same time.

Before I go on, I will use the main illustration that Rick used to get his teaching across: Sin is the problem that separates humans from God. Feel free to define sin anyway you see fit, but in essence it is our willful rebellion against God's desires & intentions. Or, another one that I really like is, any behavior & mindset that disturbs the "Shalom (Peace) of God."

We turn our backs away from God when we sin, and it used to be that God would turn his back from us too. However, what Paul was saying in both of these letters that he wrote, was that because Jesus' death on the cross satisfied God's wrath & justice, his back is no longer turned. In fact, NOW his back is NEVER turned. God is always facing us, even if our backs are still turned away. Pastor Rick pointed out that all of the verbs that Paul uses in these passages are past-tense. In other words, what happened on the cross is a done deal. The funny, interesting and amazing part is that Paul says that God did all of this while we were still his enemies.

We tend, in our "Religiousness," to always want to be able to bring something to the table when it comes to if it were a peace negotiation. We give a little, then God gives a little, and so on. Finally, we sign a piece of paper...and then get the Nobel Peace Prize. But what Paul points out is that God already did everything. (Not that there would be much to do for, or give to, God with which we could impress him.) The only thing God wants us to bring to the table is ourselves. He already did all of the work of reconciliation. The question is wether or not we will embrace it.

Some thoughts that hit me:

#1. I often think that God still turns his back on me when I sin. However, that is not the case. "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled (Past-Tense) to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled (Past-Tense), shall we be saved through his life!" The point is that even when I blow it, God is still reconciled to me. He took care of's over, it's done. I might have turned my back...AGAIN! But God is still facing me waiting for me to turn around again.

Pastor Rick used the idea of Divine Favor from God being directed towards us...even when are being idiots. God pursues us even when we are not pursuing him. He desires to embrace us in a divine, cosmic bear hug. He never, ever, ever stops the pursuit. When we turn back towards God, he shows the favor that a loving parent would show towards their child, their beloved.

True Story:
As I was listening to Rick talk about the kind of hug that God desires to give us, it made me remember a kid I used to work with at St. Louis Park H.S. She was a Special Needs kid. She had severe M.S. and used a very cool motorized wheel chair to get around. She liked me a lot I guess, because I was the only person she would let ride the back of her wheel chair. (Not my idea...she would insist on it!!!) Holy cow, she would go tearing around the gym with me clinging on the back for dear life. I have no idea how we both didn't tip that thing over. (Typical woman driver, ya know.)

So anyway, The following year I was assigned to the Junior High. But one of the teachers asked me to come back for a visit later that Spring to the High School. So I did. When that student saw me she said she wanted a hug. I leaned over her chair for the basic "Buddy Hug," and she rapped her arms around my neck so tight I thought my head would pop off like a champagne cork...she didn't particularly seem to want to let go either. When she finally did, my entire head and face were purple for about 5 minutes.

So, thats kind of the type of joyful hug God wants to impart to us when we turn around and face him...albeit much less painful...and with more oxygen available.

#2. Pastor Rick brought up an idea that kind of scared me a little. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote that "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them."

It reminded me of another verse in Colossians 1:19 & 20, "For God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile (Past-Tense) to himself ALL THINGS, whether on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." In other words, God has made peace with all of creation...including all of humanity.
To me, this smacked of "Universalism," the idea that everyone has been saved and that all is well, and that everyone will end up in heaven regardless of their relationship with Jesus. So I balked at embracing those verses. Not everyone will be saved. That much is clear from the scriptures. I wish that were not the case, but it is.

The obvious point that I was missing was this: Yeah, it is true God HAS made peace with everyone because of what he accomplished on the cross. He HAS turned his face towards all of creation, all of humanity. He did all of the work. There is nothing what so ever that we could, can or will be able to do about making peace with him...because he already did all that there was to do. If there WAS something that we could do to establish peace with God, it would no longer be Grace. The real question is this: Have YOU turned around and embraced it?

Based merely on John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8 & 16, I believe that God loves everyone. (Feel free to disagree with me if you are a Hyper-Calvinist.) That includes Hitler, Stalin, Mao...and even Osama bin Laden. God had and has his face towards them. The question is not about God's ability to love the unlovable. (He loves me, after all.) And it certainly has nothing to do with whether or not anyone somehow deserves his love. The question is whether or not any sinner will turn around to face God and stand in awe of all that God has done? Or better put, will we stand in "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!" of it?

I don't know what were in the minds of the world's 3 greatest mass-murderers before they bit the dust. However, I am inclined to say they probably didn't repent and turn towards Jesus. But, there is still hope for Osama bin Laden. (Jesus did tell us to pray for our enemies, folks.) Even with his twisted and sick view of God, God still loved Osama and wants him to turn around. It would really be something if he did, you have to admit.

(On a total aside: I heard on "Wait, wait...don't tell me," the MPR news quiz today, that at one point Osama wanted to make Whitney Houston one of his wives. Wow, the only guy on the planet worse than Bobby Brown that she could have married.)

#3. Back to Living Waters this morning: there are still a few areas of my life that I stubbornly refuse to hand over to God. I want to make God my refuge, my shelter. But there are some aspects of his promise of protection that are conditional. I know that he is facing me, even when I am being stubborn like this. Why is it so hard to simply hand these things over in exchange for his Divine Favor and galactic bear-hug? Perhaps that is just a part of the human condition.

Believe me, I am praying for all sorts of divine intervention to get me to let go and hand it over to Jesus. In the mean time, it is immensely comforting to know that he is always facing me...always pursuing me.

There is a poem by Francis Thompson that was published after his death titled "The Hound of Heaven." The poem refers to a man running away from God, and God as this relentless hound chasing after the man. I like the thought that God never gives up & quits the chase, but is relentless in his pursuit of fallen people...and even those already his children who insert their heads up their butts from time to time.

"I fled Him down the nights and down the days.
I fled Him down the arches of the years.
I fled Him don the labyrinthine ways.
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated.
Adown titanic glooms of chasme d hears.
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed d pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
they beat, and a Voice beat,
more instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betray me."

All the stupid things that I stubbornly hold onto will ultimately betray me, but God will not. He stand with his face towards me, and his arms outstretched. He invites me to his table. He asks me to lay all my crap onto just let it go. If I do, then my hands will be free to put my arms around him and hug back.

I can feel him looking at me even now.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My "Schooled" Project

First things first: A friend of mine is having surgery today. She has breast cancer. Apparently they found it fast, so it should be OK. Never the less, all prayers would be appreciated for sure.

Well, I got "Schooled" by a friend at work last night. Not in a bad way. But she opened my eyes to something I hadn't thought about.

She had commented on my post bemoaning my state of existence from the other day. She told me that I do have a purpose right where I am at. I asked her at work if she really thought that was true, or if all I was doing is smiling and being nice to people, and making their day better for 5 minutes? She said that I was making a difference and pointed out a specific example in how I had impacted her.

So, a bit later as I was wandering about in the parking lot, trying to avoid being run over by customers talking and texting on their phones while attempting truly awful parking jobs, I thought about a chapter in one of our Focus of a Warrior books that I am reading. It talked about being faithful with what ever & where ever God has placed you.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told a parable of a master leaving on a journey. Before he heads off, the master gives differing amounts of money/talents to his servants and tells them to make use of them. When the master returns he rewards the servants based on how well they had used the talents he had given them. The point of the story was NOT the amount they had been given. The point of the story was wether or not the servants had bothered to even try using them at all.

So, it dawned on me that where I am at the moment is largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. (I'll be dead in a few decades anyway. Then I have all of eternity to chill with Jesus.) What I need to think about is how faithful I am being with the few talents that God has placed before me. If I am being faithful & responsible with them, then God will give me more responsibility because I have demonstrated a basic level of maturity and trust. (Maturity...not my best quality...cause I don't wanna grow up. I'm a Toys-R-Us kid.)

Yeah, so...I didn't even realize that I AM having a positive impact on some folks. My friend was right. God so often speaks through other people. Duh! It was right there in front of my face. You would think that coming out of an educational background I would learn these lessons a little quicker. So I got "Schooled." Thanks Yvonne...and thank you Jesus!

And now for some theme music.

My Project:
There is a person at my job who is a bit of a pill. She can be very difficult to be around. I have been thinking about her a lot, so I have decided to make her my project. But before I explain further, let me set some context.

So, first a word about Living Waters, the place I go for corporate worship.

If you are a Stuffed Shirt, we would welcome you...but I don't think you would enjoy yourself very much. If you are very "Religious" and think that the Pharisees were really on to something back in the day, we would still welcome you...but I think you might get very itchy after a bit. But then again, maybe that would be just the thing for you.

I have been to many "Churches", but Living Waters is the very first place where I felt I could be open about my own brokeness. The people there are very Real, very down to earth...just regular people. There may be some folks who think they are All that and a Bag of Chips, but I haven't met them yet. (Perhaps Andy & Zach)

I have been reading a book by Mark Atteberry titled "The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do." In the second chapter he talks about how people will brag about their churches in unhealthy if their particular church was the source of salvation, and how much better it is than other churches. So I don't want to give the impression that where I attend is the right fit for everyone, or that it is "Our way or the Highway." (That would just be dumb & arrogant.) If you find a body of Believers that truly help you on your journey to walk with Jesus, then stick with them. That is the way it is supposed to be.

That having been said, I do want to brag a little bit...hopefully in a healthy manner, about what I love about Living Waters.

#1. I have never been to a worship service where people laugh so much. Seriously, people crack up all the time during the singing, the preaching...even the ushering. The people there are funny...and not just in the looks department.

#2. I have never been to a worship service where people cry so much. Sounds like a contradiction, I know. To be fair, it is normally tears of joy, thanksgiving & gratitude for what Jesus has done and is doing.

#3. Pastor Scott. I won't say more then that, cause he may get annoyed if I do. (But I will mention that he is an outstanding dancer with amazing skills at choreography. HA!)

#4. The service is very participatory. We are trying our best to have worship be as similar to the first century model as you can in this modern age. Believe it or not, you can actually stand up and ask questions, or make comments, in the middle of the sermon. (As long as they are relevant, obviously.) More often then not, Scott will simply ask us questions and for examples.

I should say that once Pastor Scott got a beach ball going around the place for the last 5 minutes of a service to illustrate a point. (And you wonder why we laugh so much.)

#5. The people I have met have never pretended to be anything other then who they are. If life has crapped all over that week, they will listen to you and pray with you. I have noticed a great deal of love, grace and mercy growing on many of the trees who attend this body.

OK, I will shut up about that for now. The reason that I brought it up is because of my to speak. A while back, I wrote about She-who-shall-not-be-named. Well, she told me that she has been reading the copy of "The Ragamuffin Gospel" that I loaned her. (She may be yanking my chain, but you never know)

So last night at work I asked her if she would be interested in listening to some of the podcasts from the Mars Hill series on the "Beatitudes." She said to me, "Joe, I can't listen to that. I would fall asleep. That's why I don't go to church. I would fall asleep."

My jaw just about hit the floor!!!

Considering how she tells everyone that she works for God, and not the store...wether people want to know that or not...and how judgmental & legalistic she can often be, I thought for sure she went to a church somewhere. Most likely a very fundamentalist church where crew cuts & polyester suits are still all the rage.

So I have decided to make She-who-shall-not-be-named my project.

Now I don't want anyone to think I am making light of this. I admit that I do find the circumstances funny. But I am taking this seriously. I think she is one of the loneliest & most un-happy people I have ever met, and I feel sad for her.

I can't judge another person's's not my place even if I could. She says that she loves Jesus. However, based on a complete absence of any type of Fruit of the Spirit, and the less-than-rosy disposition that she has, I have my doubts. Anyone can talk about "God," but that hardly means that they have a proper relationship with Him.

So, I will be praying about her in ways that I have yet to do. I will pray that I see her through the eyes of Jesus. I will pray that she will open herself up to Him. I will pray that my mind and heart will lean towards her to see what I need to see to help her. I will pray that God will work His perfect will in her life. I will also pray that she will NOT be run over by a bus. (Inside joke for a friend :P)

I will give her copies of that podcast series anyway. I will not make snide comments at her expense behind her back. (I can easily find others at work to fill that void.) Plus, even though she is already making excuses for why she can't come, I will continue to invite her to Living Waters. Maybe she will eventually come. I don't know. But I think it would be wonderful for her to see what happens to a group of people who actually understand that Jesus really does love them.

I can't very well sit around complaining about her, and not try to make the situation better. That would not be very Christlike, and I have enough of a problem with that already.

You know, it would be an amazing transformation if she ever does hand all of her crap over to Jesus. He would resurrect her right in the here & now. It would truly be like night & day to everyone who knows her. What a powerful witness for the kingdom that would be.

I certainly would appreciate your prayers about this situation. It's OK if you are not a very Religious person...I don't much like religious people anyway. (They give me hives.) It's not like God is deaf. He hears everyone's prayers...even Atheists! (And they think & pray about God probably more than anyone I know.)

You know, I have been inviting a lot of people to come to Living Waters. Most of the time it is for the right reasons...maybe someone is looking for a church to connect to, things like that. But I also invite people for selfish reasons. I like my friends at work. It would be fun to hang out outside of work. Plus, after church we could all go out and eat like pigs. You can come to if you want.



OK, one more song by Robbie Seay.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Just a thought

Father, talk to me. I need to feel your presence. Be near me tonight and bring me peace.

I still want you to talk to me. But more than anything, I want your Peace that surpasses all Understanding. I need that plenty.

I want to dance with you. I want to feel your joy. I know that you are far more real than many will say. I see the work of your hands all over this world. We are corrupted because of our choices that damaged your Shalom. Bring me back to your Shalom. Give me peace once again.
I need your divine hug and mercy. Please talk to me.


Friday, February 5, 2010

An Open Letter to God

"My Father, who is in heaven,
You & your name are Holy.
Please bring your kingdom,
and make your will done,
in my life...just like it is in heaven.
Give me what I need to get by for today.
Protect me from myself & Satan.
Please forgive me.
And help me to be able to forgive myself & others."

I am mad at you. Why do you refuse to answer me? You never seem to talk to me at all. You want to know why I don't like to talk to you? Because you never say anything back. When I pray, I might as well be talking to a brick wall.

You say that you want to have a relationship with me. A relationship that is more powerful than I could have with even my best friends. The difference is that when I talk to my friends, they actually talk back to me. If I ask them a question, they can give me a straight answer. You could...but you don't. What kind of relationship is that?

There have been times in the past where I felt you next to me. I felt your presence so close and more real than flesh. I could hear you speak to my heart. What happened? Is my heart and mind so far away and cold that you don't care anymore?

How come all of those crazy T.V. preachers say that you talk to them when they are shaving in the mirror? How come they claim that they can hear your voice on a daily, if not hourly, basis? I want to hear your voice. Why won't you talk to me?

Don't misunderstand me. I know that I have all kinds of crap on my plate. I know how dark my heart is. I know the sin that lives there. I know that Dan Allender is right...and I WILL name my brokeness and admit that at heart I am a Killer and a Whore. I know that RIGHT NOW I am still refusing to give everything into your hands. I am selfish & willful. I am also a hypocritical, fearful coward. I want to be in control. And I am afraid of you and what will happen if I did give everything over to you.

I don't trust you. You scare me. Maybe if I could hear your voice, I wouldn't be scared. Maybe if you talked to me just like my friends do, I would trust you. I want you to do what I want, even though I do not have the right to ask. Talk to me, DAMN IT!!!!!!!

There, I said it.

Do you think I like being in this condition? (Actually, YES, a part of my DOES like it. It is the Way of Death, but it is what I I wrap it around me like a dirty, itchy blanket.) Do you think I like doing what I am doing, my job, my pointless existence, the garbage that drips in my mind & thoughts? I hate it!

You could fix it. I have asked over and over for you to take certain temptations away from me. I have asked for you to make me forget all about them. You could change my brain with out even blinking. Why do you let certain things remain? Why won't you just save me from myself? What are you trying to teach me?

You know that I want to work for your kingdom. You have given me so many good gifts to use. You have given me a good mind which loves to learn. You have given me a good voice that can speak to people. You know that I want to use all of the gifts you gave me to serve the kingdom.

All I do now is work in a grocery store. I am a grunt, nothing more. Is my lot in life to be a guy that can cheer a few people up from time to time, and then just dig trash out of carts? What are you trying to teach me?

Is there a magic phrase I need to speak? Is there some pill or potion I need to swallow? Is there some button I need to push? What do I have to do to get out of my circumstances?

I don't want to be powerful, or famous, or even rich. (I would like to make a decent living, though. Poverty sucks!) You know full well that I don't really care about any of that. You know that I know it is empty. I want more than that. I want purpose. I want meaning to my life. That can only come through YOU!

So me what I have to do. Stop being silent! Talk to me! Assume I am a complete idiot (Which is not far from the truth.) and spell it out clearly for me. Show me what it is you want me to do. It cannot be what it is now. If this is it, you can give me a massive heart attack and get me out of here.

Pastor Rob says that you want partners in this world. He says that you want me to help you as an agent as you redeem this world that you made and still love. Pastor Rob said that I will find you if I go into the mud, blood and grime of this world and proclaim the Good News of your Kingdom. Well, here I am. I have been stuck in this crap for a long, long time...and I don't like it very much.

I don't feel like I am moving at all. It feels more like I am either sinking, or walking backwards. Can't you help me? I know you have the power to make all things new. I know you have the ability to pull me up. Why won't you do it?

I am convinced that you have something for me to accomplish in this life. I do not want your wrath, your Desire mixed with Grief to be. I want to participate in your inheritance. Help me please! Show me! Tell me! What is your will for my life?

Talk to me...PLEASE!