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.



Friday, November 12, 2010

"KRINO" yourself there, Pretty Boy.

I actually started writing this one on Wednesday, because that's when this true story happened. But didn't get around to posting it until today. I was a bit self-conscious about a lot of it, so I thought I would run it by some people first. At work, Terry said I should post it. So here goes.

I had one of the most amusing and entertaining days ever. I particularly appreciated it due to the last few rather stressful weeks that I have had to endure. The icing on the cake was what happened on my way home from downtown.

I was semi-stuck in traffic coming south on 35W, when I got neck & neck with a fellow to my left. I looked over at him and noticed that he was pretty much oblivious to everything around him. How can I state this as a fact? Well, because as I watched him I noticed that he was dancing in his Toyota and singing along at the the top of his lungs to Journey's "Any way you want it." Now THAT'S funny!!!

Naturally, what immediately popped into my head was a scene from one of my favorite movies.

I'll tell you why I was so entertained this morning in a little bit, but first I should put some context on it. So, let's begin on the exercise bike at the gym this morning...

I was listening to another one of my podcasts as I worked my way into a beautiful stink of sweat. Rick McKinley was preaching through Matthew 7: 1-6, which is all about how we have to be so careful about judging other people when we usually have so many issues on our own plates. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measures you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?...You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye..."

A couple of quick thoughts on that:
#1. The Greek word for "Judge" being used here is the word "Krino." It can be used in a few different ways. One way to use it is in a legal matter, i.e. as in rendering decision as to wether an action was legal or illegal. Another way to use it is as making a decision, i.e. "I'd like the Big & Tasty, and not the Quarter Pounder, thank you very much." The last way is to look at a person and make a value judgment on their very essence of their being.

It's should come as no surprise that Jesus uses "Krino" in the context of the last of those three uses. Jesus doesn't particularly like it when we make value judgments about others for three my opinion. First off, when it comes to rendering a Final Judgment on anyone, that would be HIS job, and no one else's. Second, no person on the planet is above his redeeming power. (We might not like it, but he can redeem the worst, sickening and depraved murderer there is if that person is willing to repent...even in his/her last dying moments.) Finally, when we make such deep judgments about others, we are actually setting ourselves up as gods. That was the original sin...wanting to be just like God. It's probably a good idea to stay away from that scenario.

BTW: I tend to be very guilty of this third one. I can be a brutally judgmental person at times.(Drive with me some time. You'll see.)

#2. Jesus never tells us NOT to judge. He tells us not to do it hypocritically.

Obviously there are times where you need to state plainly that something is wrong. When you know that someone desires to steal from someone or someplace, you have a responsibility to tell them it is wrong to do so. When you see someone hurting someone else, you simply must intervene and stop it.

Also rather obvious, it would seem silly to tell your friend not to get stoned or sleep around if you are doing the very same thing.

#3. For Believers, judging is ultimately NOT about punishment. It is actually about HEALING. When someone is caught up in a sinful situation, they do not need someone to mercilessly beat them over the head. What they need is someone to come along side them, correct them, and then help them get out of that situation and back on track with God's preferred will.

Jesus understands that the best folks to help someone stuck in sin are those who have been honest about their own struggles. A Believer who is honest enough to acknowledge that they have some serious messes in their own life are good at helping others. This is the principle of any type of Alcoholics Anonymous style program. They won't claim any type of superiority over the other. They know that their doo-doo stinks.

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? "I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."" Jeremiah 17:9 & 10

"Examine yourselves to see wether you are in the faith: test yourselves. You you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?" 2 Corinthians 13:5

That's pretty good advice from a Prophet and Paul. We should examine ourselves. I can't speak for anyone else, but thanks to the freakish way my brain is wired, I am constantly thinking & re-thinking my actions and motives. Some people use the phrase, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." I actually heard another one that I like even better; "Love the sinner, hate your OWN sin." I REALLY hate my sins. More to the point, I hate my sinful nature. No matter what I do, I can't get rid of my propensity for sin. What I have concluded is that I am a big ol' mess, and that I need a massive savior to rescue me.

I am firmly convinced that Jesus did exactly that for me. As such, I can get a better view of the big perspective on things. Because of this I can honestly say in all comfort & security that I am just a better or worse than anyone else...just a guy. Life is too short to be a stuffed shirt, and no person who follows Jesus has any business thinking or acting like they are "All that & a bag of Chips." I take myself Serious, but not SeriousLY...if that makes any sense.

Thanks to that, I had a lot of fun this morning.

So why did I have such an entertaining time this morning?
Well, and I write this with some hesitation, my Dad pushed me into "Modeling" this summer.(Yeah, shocking I know.) Now listen, I am in no way saying this to brag. And as you read on, you'll know why I mean that.

First off, my Dad is a model. He's a handsome guy, but he's no Brad Pitt. Apparently he looks like a doctor or a lawyer, so he gets a couple of gigs a year posing as one. He has been pestering me for ages to do try this. I've resisted because I HATE pictures of myself and didn't want to be embarrassed. But at this point, I'd sell myself for medical experiments if it helped me pay the bills. So.............

Second, I am no Brad Pitt either. In fact, I think I look like Shrek...with slightly better ears and a tad more hair. However, as I explained to the photographer today, "If you need someone who looks like they could hold a plunger or be comfortable next to a grill, I'M YOUR GUY!" Someone has to unclog the biffy and look realistic while doing so. I'll never get rich. But I still have a credit card to pay off.

So you understand, modeling has virtually NOTHING to do with what you think it is. Firstly, it has almost nothing to do with fashion or walking about on a runway in your underwear. It's actually nothing more than advertisements for every day products. Those TV shows about models are a pipe dream because they are selling a fantasy. The average advertiser wants someone who looks like a regular person and would use the product that they are selling.

The truth is that LOOKS MEAN VIRTUALLY NOTHING! (I should be proof of that.) What any photographer is looking for is someone who looks like they would fit a part. You might be butt-ugly, but you would be perfect in an advertisement as a dude working the hog barn at the State Fair. Maybe you're a gangly, skinny 13 yr old boy...but you look exactly like a Skater Kid for a new line of boards that Target is selling. That's really what it is all about. I can promise you that you will not be hanging out with Tyra Banks any time soon. (This also means that you ought to give it a try. The worst that could happen is that they laugh at and mock you...and make you cry)

So anyway, I was asked to go to a casting call Wednesday morning. Because of the way I view myself and the world, I could barely stop giggling the entire time. I simply couldn't take any of it very seriously. I'm still brand-spankin' new to all of this anyway, so that probably makes it much more of an adventure, too.

I pulled up in the parking lot, and next to me was a guy who was at least 50lbs over weight...and HE'S a model. (I saw his resume'. Dude gets a lot of gigs.) I went in to the waiting area where everyone else was and got a good look at everything. There were all sorts of people being photographed.

It appeared to me that the folks there seemed to break down into three basic types. 1) I was amazed at how nervous so many people were. One dude, who would have qualified as a "Beautiful Person," was practically sweating buckets. 2) Then there were the folks who were very into themselves. Posh people who really thought that their essence should grace every perfume bottle and bag of potato chips. (I know what you're thinking. YES, I did want to dump a bucket of cottage cheese over their heads.) 3) The "Moms." Ladies who seemed to understand that this was all just a just a lark to make a few extra bucks, and that after it was over they needed to purchase some lunch meat on the way home. (I liked them.)

As I said before, it was all just an amusing adventure for me. I had a great time talking to the lady who took the pictures. I told her a bunch of my incredibly stupid jokes, and we were both cracking up. It was all just so funny to me.

Seriously, the idea that at some point down the road, someone might give me a couple of bucks to have a picture of my ear...or of me sneezing for some tissue box, is absurdly funny to me. How could anyone not be entertained by such a thought?

More to the point, because of my understanding of where my position is in the universe thanks to what Jesus did for me and is still doing, I view all of that as what it really is; a brief moment of fun...nothing more and nothing less. Every single person in that photographer's studio will age, get wrinkles, have moments of delight & despair, and eventually pass away. They can't do much about youthful looks withering away. It happens to us all, and every day I see the evidence when I look in the mirror.

Seems to me that it is wiser to enjoy moments like that on Wednesday, but to invest in things that can last. God cares very deeply about the inside of a person. That much is very clear from scripture. He sees right through the exterior facades that we put up. It's better to examine ourselves and cling to things that really matter. We need to take a deep long look and judge our insides. Turn over the garbage that we try to hide to the one who can heal us. Jesus longs to do exactly that. The question we need to answer on a daily basis is whether or not we will give our junk to him.

It's just a thought.



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Genesis of the WHOLE Person

In the book of Exodus towards the end, we are given a glimpse of what it was like for God & Moses to hang out. Moses would go out to the Tent of Meeting most days, and the presence of YHWH would go in there with him. "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." (Ex. 33:11)

I often wonder what that must have been like.

The first 5 books of scripture were codified under the authority of Moses. In particular, Genesis, which pretty much summed up everything that had happened prior to Exodus, was compiled & finalized by Moses. This means that the three creation stories had their final edit by Moses himself. I can only imagine what God & Moses talked about as Moses scribbled away in that tent.

I would wager that Moses was the first human to have a full grasp of how God caused all things to come together. God probably told Moses about atoms & molecules, the speed of light, the invention of cheese, and ultimately how Satan would curse humanity with the creation of the cell phone. I would further guess that both YHWH & Moses decided that there would be no way that the ancient Hebrews would ever be able to comprehend any of it at that time. So, my thought is that the two of them figured "Well, let's just stick with a modified version of a poem and two parables to explain the creation of everything. They will certainly have a lot of depth, insight, beauty and deeper meaning to them. AND they will be a lot less boring than some technical manuel fit for Popular Mechanics."

God probably added; "Ya know, somewhere along the line there will be a few knuckleheads that want to take all three of these tales literally and miss the whole point." To which Moses may have said; "Naw, nobodies that dumb." God, who always gets the last word, snorts and snickers; "Ohhhhhhhhhh, just you wait."

And the modern world has screwed that whole thing up ever since.

Anyway, I thought that I would expand a bit on a paper that I wrote for a prospective employer recently. I'll edit it, but the gist of the whole thing revolves around an argument that can be made from the 3 creation stories found in Genesis 1 through 3. What I wrote in the paper will be in green lettering. I'll editorialize as I go along. The main point that I am trying make is we, as humans, are a special creation. Nothing else in all of the universe can lay the claim that it bares the image of God. Humans ARE "Image Bearers" of the creator, and that has connotations that can simply blow your mind. (It's quite a compliment, really.)

I apologize, because this will tend to be a bit long. Still, it's easy enough to read. Plus, I think it's worth my biased opinion.

"...I want to take a look at three areas of education through the lens of the first two creation accounts in Genesis. I will touch on the areas of Civics, Ecology/Biology, and Art.

Civics: Where does the concept of basic human rights come from?

A Secular Humanist would argue that humans are basically good at heart, and therefore deserve human rights & protection. I would argue that from a biblical perspective, while human beings are neither good nor bad but sinful, we have great value in the eyes of God because we bare his image. Therefore human rights should be based on that concept.

  • In Gen. 1:26 & 27 God creates humanity in his image.
  • In Gen 9:4-6, even after the fall of humanity, the image of God is still to be found in all human beings, and therefore all human life is precious in God’s eyes. (To the point that according to Ex. 21:28, even animals who kill humans must be put to death.)
  • This is further reinforced by Jesus in Matt. 5:21-30 & 38-48. It can be rightly said that where as the O.T. prohibition against murder was to protect human life, the statements of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount were designed to protect human dignity.
  • Jesus states that we who get & stay angry towards another human, or dismiss them as either intellectually or morally inferior, are actually worthy of judgment and hell. (This encompasses all people, whether Believers or non-believers.)
  • Finally, New Testament writers reinforce this idea, such as in James 3:9, where James points out that it is wrong to trash-talk another man because he bares the image of God.

I would argue that this is a radical departure from the Social Darwinist approach of secular society, where human value is based on what you can produce and/or your position in societies’ pecking order. Finally, and I’m very serious when I state that this biblical perspective should cause all Believers to regard the homeless man, in all his ruin, as being more beautiful & valued in the eyes of God than Lake Superior on a summer’s day.

Needless to say, everything I just wrote is very convicting to me. I constantly seem to find ways to trash other people. Our recent congressional election is a perfect example of the ways in which we can rip each other to shreds verbally. I got caught up in making fun of a rather famous Congresswoman from my State who I have a hard time respecting...or thinking that she should NOT be put in a rubber room with other crazy people.

My friend pointed out to me that she is a Christian. (She says so, anyway.) He also pointed out that the way I was talking about her was not very Christ-like. And he was correct. I should not speak that way of someone who bares God's image...even if they drive me nuts.

Ecology/Biology: How should Christians approach the environment?

Many in the environmental movement argue along an almost “Pantheistic” line of “Caring for Mother Earth.” (And it’s a sad fact that there are statistically more Atheists involved in serious environmentalism than people who identify themselves as Christians.) I have no idea how this area became so politicized, because I would argue that “Creation Care” is a divine mandate that should be taken seriously.

  • A part of being made in the image of God is that humans were given responsibility & stewardship for God’s creation. Specifically, this can be seen in Gen. 1:28. The Hebrew words speak of acting as God’s representatives in his creation.
  • God’s creation was never intended to be static and unchanging. Instead, his creation would continue to create more of itself.
  • In Gen. 2:5 & 15, humanity is given responsibility to participate as God’s co-workers in his creation. In fact, the Hebrew words in verse 15 Avadh (“To dress.”) and Shamar (“To keep, guard & protect.”) reflect that precisely.
  • Through out both Leviticus & Deuteronomy, God ordains various ways in which animals and plants…and the earth in general, are to be respected and protected. Humans were placed at the top of the created order, but that is because we bare responsibility towards creation because we bare God’s image.

To sum it up, I will shamelessly steal a quote from Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention in his biblical response to Earth Day from April 23rd, 2010. In his treatise he wrote; “The creation belongs to God. As stewards of His property, human beings are responsible to him for developing and protecting His creation. Furthermore, while God clearly grants preeminence to human beings in His creation and human life demands reverence as created in His image (Genesis 1:26), all life deserves respect. We have the right to use animals and plants for human good. We do not have the right to disregard living things or to treat them as inanimate objects. We have the right to domesticate and raise cattle and other livestock for human sustenance. We do not have the right to act in a callous, cruel or cavalier manner toward any living creature.”

Art & Human Creativity: I know that much of this will be a bit of a stretch theologically, but I truly believe that in a “General Revelation” sort of way, humanities’ desire for creative expression can be rooted in being an “Image Barer” of God. (I’m not sure if there actually is much in the way of purely secular arguments for where our desire to create comes from.)

  • Going back to Genesis 1 & 2, humans are made in the image of God. We obviously do not look like God. (I would hope that God is considerably better looking than I am, at any rate.) But a part of being an image barer is that we have many of his attributes.
  • What is one of the very first attributes that we can see in the God of the Bible? He is a generous creator. In fact, it appears that he enjoys creating so much that he keeps telling everyone how good the things he creates are.
  • When he creates humans, he instructs them to go out and not only re-create themselves, but “to take care of/DO SOMETHING” with his creation. In fact, the very reason that he creates humanity in the second creation story is so that we would be gardeners & farmers.
  • This leads me to believe that all those folks who can’t wait for Spring to show up so that they can putter around in their gardens, growing all sorts of odds & ends, sculpting various designs in flower beds & shrubs, are merely doing what God hard-wired us to do. We desire to create!
  • If this is true, then it would explain why humans desire to be creative in all aspects of life. It isn’t enough for us to merely recreate ourselves by having babies, or by growing flowers. There is a deep impulse to express ourselves, and our individuality.
  • This would lead me to understand why I can see the hand of God behind not just a tree, but also in a painting by Monet, a sculpture by da Vinci, or sometimes even a Beatles song...or Neil Young... actually, especially Neil Young!

While it is certainly true that much of what people create is not very God-honoring, the artistic expression that stems from God should not be dismissed out of hand. I am more and more convinced that when a person, even a non-believer, is being creative, that it is God who is knocking on the door of their hearts. And I am further convinced that those who reject Jesus will have their very creativity stand as a testament against them on judgment day.

Well anyway, that's a big chunk of what I wrote. I would really enjoy any comments that a reader could give.

The point that I am trying to make is that you & I, and every single person that walks the planet was created in the image of God. You are not a random accident of the cosmos. You are made with a purpose and deeply loved by the God who made you. You carry his imprint with you where ever you go. You don't deserve his love or favor, and you could never, ever earn it. But he loves you regardless because you carry his likeness deep within your very essence.

All the running around that we do, trying to fill a hole in ourselves that only he can. Let all of that go and just return to where you were supposed to be all along. Let him worry about the details. He can handle what ever embarrassing junk you bring to him. God is the only one who can help you live up to the potential that he has put in you long, long ago. It's an adventure that you won't regret.

It's just a thought.



Friday, November 5, 2010

Laura and the Million Watt Smile

I have a friend at work who has been having a tough couple of days. Normally, she looks a lot like the picture on the right. However, for a few days now, she has looked a lot more like the picture on the left. This travesty simply cannot stand. Something must be done about this situation. This is my vain attempt at making her smile again.

I shall now endeavor to tell all the readers of this post a few stories about my friend Laura...and ALL of them are completely accurate & true. (I would lie to you, but I would never, ever kid you about something this serious.)

The first thing that everyone should know about Laura is that she normally smiles A LOT. Her her smile tends to be so bright that many people need to visit the opthamologist after receiving it's full force. In fact, when ever there is a power outage at the store, the management will simply ask Laura to stand on a rotating pedestal in the main aisle and grin. The glow from her pearly whites illuminates every corner, from the dairy to the produce department and all points in between.

At the moment, her smile is dimmed. She told me today that she may have the first lovely strains of strep throat. This would be most unfortunate due to the fact that the other day I watched as she meticulously licked every coffee cup in the department manager's offices. (I inquired as to why she was licking all those mugs. Her only explanation, in between dousing cups with copious amounts of saliva, was that it was just one of those OCD kind of things. Sad, so sad.)

Speaking of OCD, another thing that you should know about Laura is her tendency to play practical jokes on customers in the Deli. As you can see from the second photograph, Laura likes to camouflage herself and then hide in piles of freshly sliced meats. (She says that the blood from the roast beef only accentuates her cologne, and the ensuing mess doesn't bother her since she rarely showers after leaving the gym to come to work anyway.)

Once she has squirreled herself deeply inside I pile of of meat...sometimes a bowl of potato salad or Asian coleslaw, she will simply wait for an unsuspecting customer. Once said customer has approached the deli counter to request prompt and friendly service from our eternally vigilant and never-overworked staff, she will plot her next move.

The circumstance may vary, but they often play out along the following lines: A customer will ask if the meat is fresh or something like that. Laura will then spring forth from the pile of food and shout, "You BET it's fresh! JUST LIKE MEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!" The outcomes can vary also, but they tend to involve cardiac arrests, a sizable mess on the floor in need of a quick cleaning...and me getting a call to head on over. (Thank you for that, Laura.)

A third thing you should know about Laura is that she played hockey in High School. She was a goalie. In fact, Laura was interviewed by the local Bloomington cable access channel once due to her amazing skills. It took me some time to dig it up, but here is the actual clip from that interview. Pay no heed to the beard. Laura had been using a good deal of growth hormones at the time to make her a more menacing opponent.

Most people do not know that she spent many of the years of her youth in Montreal. Hence the accent.

I'll bet you didn't know either that when she played hockey, Laura earned the nickname of "Sniper" for her amazing aim. Don't believe me? Well, check out this footage that her Dad took of a practice down at Running Park from her Sophomore year of school.

Speaking of nicknames!!!! Laura and I workout at the same gym. She routinely enjoys mocking & teasing me for my wimpishness. I am certain that if sand were available, she would kick it in my face. This is because she is a fiend in the gym. Where as I am more of the "I'll just stand around talking to people and pretend I am actually doing something" kind of exerciser. As such, she impresses all passers-by. She impressed one gentleman so much that he approached and proclaimed loudly to her "Say Bay-bay. Yo body be Bangin'!" (I'm sure that despite the obvious display of a wedding ring on Laura's part could simply not thwart the need for such a fine gentleman to state the obvious for all to hear.)

At any rate, Laura now wears the moniker of "Bangin'" proudly, and it has become a catch-all phrase for all things lovely, joyous and wonderful at our store. If we see an employee with a pile of deli pans in the sink, one might ask the individual how the washing is progressing. The appropriate response would be, "The dishes are just BANGIN!" If someone cuts open a finger on the meat slicer, causing a spewm of steaming red offal to usher forth, it is not uncommon for them to yell out "BANGIN!" in leu of a stream of Blue words. If I call goes out for someone (i.e. ME) to unclog a toilet that has been filled by someone who has ingested far to much meat & cheese, and not nearly enough fiber, it would be perfectly natural for me to utter something along the lines of, "Well, isn't that just BANGIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Oddly enough, many years ago a song was written for Laura by a Canadian band in honor of her youth in Quebec. She has since embraced this brand of Old-School rock n roll and made it her gym anthem. She keeps it handy when ever she seeks to do one of her famous "Burn-out" sets on the Fly machine. (I believe that her record is 517 reps at 6olbs.)

Most impressive! But then again, so is she. :) And I hope that she feels better very soon.


P.S. Stop licking those coffee mugs!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Up-Side of Depression

I should begin this post with an apology. My last post was written when I was in the midst of a bout of depression. I wrote it as a way to work through that episode. Unfortunately, when you are in the midst of something like that, the words, images & videos that you choose may not ultimately be the wisest or convey the bigger picture of what you are trying to get across.

I caused more than a bit of worry for many people, and that was certainly never my intent. On the good side of all of that concern was & is the fact that there really are quite a few people in my life who care a lot about me, and are willing to show it. So I thank you all for that.

With that having been said, I want to write a bit about the Up-Side of having depression. That may sound odd, but it's true. Sometimes my depression is a bit like a teeter-totter, and I'm the fat kid choosing where to sit on a particular day. I do believe that there are a number of good things that can result from having depression...or any variety of difficulties. (I should state that this is just my opinion, AND that I can only speak ultimately about my own struggle. You have to examine your own situation to see if & what can be positively gleaned?)

The fact of the matter is that everyone walking the planet has struggles in common with everyone else. They also have personal struggles that are unique unto them. I have some friends who have some very serious struggles with issues that I will never fully understand. I would suppose that for those who have never and will never struggle with bouts of depression, my own frustration with it will seem rather foreign and incomprehensible. (Either way, I am thankful that I only seem to get hit two or three times a year.)

Still, there is a good side to my struggle, from time to time, with depression, and it works like this: As I stated in my previous post, I always seem to have a large does of self-doubt running around right below my surface. It seeks to make me believe that I am a phony and a fraud.

Now, when an episode hits, those feelings come racing out full blown and I think even more negative thoughts about myself. (And there is not fun in any of that.) However, when I am in my usual place of existence, i.e feeling fine, those feelings of self-doubt actually serve a good purpose. They keep me in check. Yes, they can cause me to over-think and continuously re-evaluate things. (Took me almost 4 hour to write a 3 page position piece for a perspective employer this morning.) But that serves the purpose of me making sure that I have my ducks in a row before I state an opinion. I really do want to make sure I am correct when I evaluate a situation, an idea or a theological position.

You see, I have a real problem with certain folks...especially with certain preachers, teachers and theologians who are so firmly convinced that they have it all figured out. I see a large degree of over-confidence and arrogance in the way they present their facts. More often then not, I would wish them to make the following statement at the beginning and end of their presentation; "I am pretty darn sure that this is the way it is...the way God goes about doing such & such...that this is the truth. However, I am willing to concede that I am finite & limited, so I could be wrong." Something like that would be very helpful, and I certainly think a more humble approach than I see many use.

Listen, I can be as arrogant, stuck-up and stubborn as anyone. But absolutes and rigid doctrinal statements about the inner-workings & minute details of the sovereign God of the universe is beyond my temptation, thanks in large part to my nagging self-doubt. (So I got THAT going for me.)

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Ultimately, I suppose that I would hope that what ever personal struggles you may have, allow God...who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love show you how that frustration can also be a blessing. You might as well, since you'll be stuck with it until the day of our ultimate redemption. If he can make decent use of me and all of my weirdness, he can probably get even more milage out of you.

During this past Sunday morning, when I was at my worst, I decided to skip church and take a drive. I just didn't want to be around anyone else. Plus, driving around helps me to clear my head. So I headed east towards the St. Croix River.

Along the way I turned on the radio. On Being, NPR's show about faith, meaning & ethics was on. The title of that days show was "Pursuing Happiness," and it was a panel discussion with the Dalai Lama, an Episcopal Bishop, a Muslim scholar and the Chief Rabbi of the U.K., Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Of all of the people on that panel, I was most impressed by and identified strongest with the Rabbi. The host put it to the Rabbi that the Hebrew Bible, and the Psalms in particular, delved quite deeply into the sadness of the human experience, and that their writings were a way through those difficulties.

Rabbi Sacks responded; "It is true that if you read the Jewish literature, and you read Jewish history, "Happiness" is not the first word that comes to mind." Needless to say that in the state of mind I was in at the moment, I was hooked.

He also went on to say something that I found very profound. I think it is extremely important for the church in America to consider. Rabbi Sacks spoke of Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis 32. It was at this point that God changed Jacob's name to Israel, because Jacob "struggled with God and with men and had over come."

The rabbi said that he viewed suffering in this same way. Suffering in many ways is wrestling with God. Jacob wrestled the angel all night until day break, and he told the angel; "I will not let you go until you bless me." Rabbi Sacks said that when something bad happens to him, he will not let go of it until he finds the blessing in it. It was at that point that I first began to feel better.

Rabbi Sacks said something interesting towards the end of the panel discussion, which I think could be applied to all of us who go through tough times and come out the other side. He said that the way that many Jews can sum up their faith, and all of the trials that they have had to suffer through, come down to three sentences. "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat."

Whatever frustration I have to go through, either external, or in the case of depression from time to time, internal, I think that I should wrestle with it until I find God's blessing in it. I'm pretty convinced that it is there somewhere.

For what it's worth, I hope that you can too. If you are reading this, you go eat.



P.S. If you wish to hear the full panel discussion from "Pursuing Happiness," click on the following link.