Thursday, July 29, 2010

Along for the Ride



So I've been on vacation for a few days now. I wanted to spend this time getting closer to God, and having him enlighten me as to what I ought to do with my future. (I also want to send out a huge load of resume's & applications.)

I tend to beat myself up a lot over my mistakes, and for what I perceive as a lack of progress in my spiritual growth. I am certain that Satan can use that as a weapon against me. Still, since I already have a mild chemical imbalance that can trigger a form of depression, it's an easy state to find myself in. I have to be mindful of that.

I am reading through Brennan Manning's "Ruthless Trust." This morning I read a chapter called The Way of Gratefulness. He states that being grateful is a foremost quality of trusting disciple. For those who have sincerely repented now have what they lack - a deep gratitude to God for his mercy and goodness.

He ends that chapter with something that struck me. "To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in darkness." It certainly is a different way of viewing the world, that's for sure.


A few hours ago I went to the gym. I like to bike for 30 minutes to start out the whole routine. I normally listen to a podcast while I do this. Today I listened to a sermon on Matthew from Rick McKinley. (Seriously, you should subscribe to their podcasts.) Rick was speaking on the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Last year, the folks at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids covered this sermon. So it's always fun to compare the way different people view Jesus' teachings.

When Jesus made his grand announcement about the kingdom drawing near, he began by telling everyone the opposite of the way the world sees things.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

The world doesn't work that way. The world tells you that if you have a problem, you should pull yourself up and fix it. The meek will get run over by the "Go-Getters." We might hang out with people in mourning, but after a while it feels rather uncomfortable and we want to move away from them. When you really hunger for righteousness, you realize how far off the mark you are. No one wants to be any of the things that Jesus said are being blessed.

The term "Blessed" that Jesus uses has a huge connotation to it. It's like a giant, cosmic "God is on the Side of" kind of thing. Rick used the word "Congratulations." "Congratulations to the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

But no one wants to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to be in a situation where they have to mourn, etc. In many respects, it means you're a loser. Who wants that?

But the more I learn about Jesus and try to hold his hand, the more I understand that he is merely stating reality. I can't fix my own problems...not the ones that really matter, at any rate. Jesus knows that. He tells me that I am blessed because of it.

You would think that when the call came out to follow Jesus into his kingdom, all of the Religious people with good pedigrees and proper performance would have jumped at the chance. Not many of them did. Instead, it always seemed to be hooker, bums, traitors...and losers from all walks of life who ran to him. And Jesus really seemed to have a deep, compassionate heart for those people.

What Jesus points to again and again is for us to cease our striving and just trust him. We can't fix ourselves. We can't DO anything for God. (And I'm not so sure I would want to follow a god who needed me, of all people, to do things for him.) What Jesus points out over and over again, is that it ultimately is all about him. (That's a poke in my ego.)

Jesus did all the heavy lifting for humanity. He accomplished everything through his death and resurrection. He is God, we are not. God longs to be with us, but to do so requires one very uncomfortable admission on our part...that we are not him.

When Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God, he never talks about us advancing it, working, striving, etc. for it. He said the kingdom IS. All he seems to do is invite us to participate with him and what his father is doing.

Pastor Scott says that I see the kingdom breaking into this world more and more every day. I hope so. I want him to be right. I do want to see the kingdom and to participate in it. I am grateful for the journey that God put me on many years ago. I am grateful that I am not the man I used to be. And I hope that tomorrow I will not be the same man I am today. I hope that God will cause me to be a faithful signpost for his kingdom. That's really all I ultimately want out of this life.

It's hard to give up the driver's seat, though. But I'm grateful for that struggle, too.


Speaking of seeing the kingdom breaking into our world, here a link to a news story my friend Andy sent me today. http://www.twoharborsmn.com/event/article/id/20680/ A church in a bar. Go figure. But I can totally see Jesus doing something like this. That is what his kingdom looks like.


Tomorrow I'm going out to the cabin for a few days. It's fun to walk along the winding road there and talk to God. I often feel closer to God when I am out in nature. I figure it's fairly normal to feel that way since I am out in his creation. It's easy to see the kingdom in those circumstances.

There are many people I am praying for at the moment. (You can feel free to pray for me too.) I can see the kingdom crashing into their worlds. I hope they will respond positively. I want them to see that in fact they, we, I, me, them...are all Poor in Spirit, and that Jesus looks at us and says "Congratulations, because of it, I am on your side."

Peace

Joe
P.S. Since I tend to use a video to help illustrate my posts, I thought I would find one that fits this one. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one suitable. However, since I am on vacation, I did find a good one for that.

Ladies & gentlemen...Lyndsay Buckingham.



Monday, July 26, 2010

"I'm not Religious."






"Then Man said, "Let us make God in our image, in our likeness." So Man created God in his own image, in the image of Man he created them; male and female...works and pursuits and pleasures and selfishness and hedonism, sports, money, knowledge, ego...and empty loneliness."

I spent time with some friends that I really, really care a lot about a few nights ago. Neither of them are Believers...yet. It was was fun to hang out with them. The pizza was great.

One of the guys swears up & down that he is not "Religious."

Just so you know, I'm not religious either. In fact, I HATE "Religion." Religion is humanities pursuit of the divine. Jesus, on the other hand, is God's pursuit of humanity.

My friend swears up & down that he is not religious. It says so on his Face Book page. He has no religious beliefs of any kind.

It was fun to hang out with him, because as I watched him it dawned on me...it dawned on me that he is one of the most "Religious" people I have ever met. You see, EVERYONE is "Religious." Oh yeah...definitely. We are all very religious by nature. Don't lie to yourself, YOU are a VERY "Religious" person.

My friend is extremely religious. He bows before his god all day along. He worships at the altar of his god. He makes sacrifices to his god multiple times through out his day. His god torments him with long-term pain for short-term gain, but he grovels at this god's feet. (My friend, who my heart has been crying out for, for over 3 years, should not play poker. As I watched my friend, he dropped "Tells" right & left as to what was going on in his life. He WANTS me to know what is going on in his life, but he is in too much pain to come right out and say it.) His god mocks him and laughs at the pain he inflicts, but my friend still bows before him. My friend HATES his god, but he stills bows down and worships him. My friend is very, very, very "Religious."

His god is himself.

I'll give him credit for at least being a Monotheist. He really has only one god. Although, as I watched him, I would guess that his god is not doing a very good job satisfying him.

I have some other friends who are Polytheists. They bow before many gods. Sometimes, the god they worship is their penis. Sometimes it is their bodies. Often, their god lives in a bottle of beer.

Recently, I have noticed that the worship of Ba'al is coming back more & more into fashion. The worshipers of Ba'al would cut themselves to bleed for their god. I don't know why, but I see more people with more tattoos then ever before. I'm not saying that a tattoo is evil. But it does strike me that if you have to cut into your own flesh to be "Cool" in your own eyes, or the eyes of others...something is very wrong.

I am often a Polytheist. I forget about the one who saved me from myself, and redeemed me. I put him back in the box I made, even though he doesn't fit very well in there. I jump up & down on the box to stuff him in there. That way I can go and worship my ego, my knowledge, my creativity...my what ever.



Peter Gabriel is one of my all time favorite musicians. (Yeah, I know I post a lot of his videos on my blog.) He has a song titled "Lovetown." The song is about facing up to painful experiences from the past, including the dangers and emptiness of sexual hedonism.

"Who's lonely lips will find these hidden scars?
Who's out in the streets looking for love like ours?

Have you got what you want?
Said have you got what you need?
With what you did and what you saw,
Did you find you needed more?
Have you got what you came for?
Are you really so sure?"



I dig the tune because the guitar riff is kind of creepy...
but then again, so is the subject matter.

It makes you think about what we bow down to. Don't kid yourself that you're not religious. You may very well have many, many gods that you plant your face before. You just call them by different names. Perhaps you should ask yourself if those gods satisfy you, or do you just need more and more of what ever it is that you bow down to?

I am a guilty, guilty man when it comes to being faithful to Jesus. But what is really, really nice about Jesus is that he is faithful to me even when I am not.

I don't have to STRIVE...to WORK...to EARN. He did all the heavy lifting. His kingdom IS. He simply invites me to participate in what he is already doing. When I blow it, he is not surprised. When I muff it up, he is not shocked.

When I turn my face back towards the one who loves me unconditionally, I find him there with his arms open wide. So I don't have to be "Religious."

Ask yourself what god you bow to, because you DO bow down...often to many.

"Have you got what you want?
Said have you got what you need?
Did you find you needed more?
Have you got what you came for?
Are you really so sure?"

Peace

Joe

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Grieve




I'm up early again because I have more "Stuff" on my mind.

The last few days I have had a lot of "Stuff" running around in my head.


What if... what if you had a man walk up to you and say, "Return to where you were supposed to be all along, because the kingdom of heaven is coming very close to you?"


The other night at work, I decided to educate myself on break by borrowing one of those gossip rags from the magazine rack. (Don't worry, I always put them back when I'm finished.) I think it was US, or Okay...one of those magazines that have more pictures than words, and all of people who are famous for being famous.

I looked through the pictures to see what it is that I am supposed to do to be cool. I saw photos of people that I am supposed to model myself after to be considered acceptable in the eyes of others. I saw pictures of women in dresses that were compared to other women in other dresses, and I was told which outfits were kosher, and which were not. I saw a picture of a man with large muscles and the makings of a future melanoma condition. I was told that I should be like him because he is from the Jersey Shore, so I should be too.

The last few days I have had some interactions with people I care about a great deal. Some are Believers, some are not. They told me that the temporal pursuits of this life are extremely important to them. I saw, and still see, that these pursuits inflict great pain on them. I saw that these pursuits fill them with a great emptiness. I also saw that they were not willing to give them up for something better. To give them up and let go of the things that were hurting them would require an admission that they were not God...and that was unacceptable to them.


What if...what if a man walked up to you with a very confident smile on his face and said, "Turn around so you don't miss it. Open your eyes to see that the Kingdom of God is drawing very, very close to you."


I have a bed-time story for you. It is the story of Don Rabbit, from Donald Miller's book, Blue like Jazz. Click on the link to see & read the story. Don't worry, it's short.

"Sometimes the things we want most in life are the things that will kill us."

I see a lot of hurting people in this world. I see people who are unable to put a name to the thing that they bow down to, the very thing that will kill them. I see people who are unwilling to lay their pain and emptiness at the feet of the one who loves them...the only one who can fill them and heal their pain, because to do so would be to admit that they are not God, but that he IS.

To often, we wrap our agony around us like an itchy, filthy blanket on a hot & humid day. We wrap it tight, even though it wreaks of sweat and itches like crazy. It is what we know, and the pain we know is easier to accept than the unknown freedom & peace that is waiting for us. (I know that for a fact, because I lived it.)


What if...what if a man came up to you with confidence and love in his eyes, and a welcoming smile on his face, and he said "Come back to where you belong, because the renewal of all things is crashing into this fallen world and your broken life." And the man then said, "Blessed are the losers, the morally bankrupt, those with out a wisp of Religion, the helpless, the shattered and broken, the addicted, the girl who just had an abortion, the faggots, the thieves, and those who couldn't tell the truth if a gun was pointed to their heads...because God is on your side and he wants to make you whole again."

What would you say to that man?




For more on Donald Miller's Blue like Jazz, which will be coming out in movie form in a bit, click here.

Peace

Joe

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Insomnia, Skeptisism & Creationists































Yeah, so it's almost 4am...and I can't sleep. Naturally, when this happens, I start poking around the internet. This time I found some stuff that I really like.

A few days ago, I was hanging out with my friend Brian. Brian is an "Honest" skeptic. By that I mean that he is actually searching for the truth. Most people I know who call themselves Skeptics, Free-Thinkers, whatever...are anything but that. They claim that they want to know the truth, but they really don't. They just throw out objections to whatever is talked about with out ever being willing to honestly dive deeper into the issues. In fact, in most instances, they just want to give license to whatever behavior they are involved in. (I know, because I have been there.)

Sad to say, some people who call themselves "Christians" do much of the same.

Anyway, Brian & I were talking about Jesus. Brian kind of likes Jesus, but he has trouble with religion and religious people. (Now who could possibly imagine that scenario?!?!?!) In particular, Brian has trouble reconciling Religion with science. Brian is big on science. I tend to be an idiot when it comes to that sort of thing. I can do biology, but physics and that sort of thing is way out of my league.

So Brian & I were talking about how the three creation stories of Genesis square up with science & evolution. For some odd reason, many Christians in America are big on taking the first creation story word-for-word literal. This is NOT something that is an issue for other Believers around the world...nor has it being an issue historically. (They also fail to note that if it is all taken word-for-word literal, the second creation story contradicts the first...and then you have REAL issues.) In America, we have even produced all sorts of really bad science to further this literal idea, which makes us look really ignorant and dumb....not that we needed much help in that area.

So this morning, thanks to the blessings of insomnia, I stumbled across the BioLogos Forum. http://biologos.org/ It was started by Francis Collins, the head of the National Institute of Health. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioLogos_Foundation Dr. Collins loves Jesus very much, and also believes in evolution. Dr. Collins does not see a contradiction between science and the bible. In fact, many who love Jesus do not see a problem with science and the bible. Many who love Jesus think that there may just be more to the story than a literal word-for-word interpretation of Genesis 1.

I should state for the record that I AM a Creationist, in the sense that I fully believe that God was & is at work in this universe, and that he caused it all to come together. The world, and you & I, are not a result of a random accident of the cosmos. How God went about it all is not an issue for me. I just can't figure out why so many American Christians get their underwear in a bunch over this issue.

Take a look. The videos are fairly short.



N.T. Wright is a very gifted Apologist for Christianity. I first heard of him through Lee Stroble'sThe Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. I think he is on to something.

I love how he talks about smacking the first creation story down flat and leaving it there. It's a really bad idea, because you miss so much of the bigger story.

BTW: If you take every word of the bible word-for-word literal, then I would ask you to take a look at Psalm 50. In it, God says that he own the cattle on a thousand hill sides. Does this mean that God can't get cows on 1001 hills...only 1000? What happens if God has a BBQ? Does he only have cows on 999 hills now?

Maybe there is more to the story.
Maybe there is a bigger picture unfolding.




I'll just let the videos tell their own story.








Finally, Os Guinness. Yes, he is a member of the family that established the delicious stout known as Guinness beer. ("Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Ben Franklin.) I think he is spot on.



If science, a book, a CD, a movie, a controversial idea or notion threatens to destroy your faith...then it wasn't much of a faith to begin with.

ALL truth is God's truth.


Peace

Joe

P.S. If there really were dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, I think that taking a T-Rex for a ride would be a particularly bad idea.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jesus loves pushy little kids.


That would be me at about age 1. That would also be my awesome Mom & Dad. Bellow, keeping an ever watchful eye, would be Molly our Vizsla. We are all in front of our house in Sacramento, CA. I am most likely filling my diaper while the picture is being taken. (It was my first hobby.)

I have asked Dad to see if he can find another photo from that era. It's of him with his arm outstretched. I am standing calmly in the palm of his hand eating a cracker. I have no fear and no "Trust" issues. I am perfectly content to stand there 6 feet above the floor in his hand, and to enjoy that cracker. I am in my father's hand and all is right with the world.


My friend Damon, says that I can be a bit pushy at times. I prefer to think of it as being Progressively Generous. If there is something that I stumble across that I think is really cool, I like to share it...maybe sometimes a bit aggressively. But none the less, if it's something that I think has real value, I want others to experience it too.

(Case in point: I make salsa in the summer time. I have recently made two different varieties and they are both "Da Bomb!" I will share these jars with friends, especially at birthdays and Christmas. Why? Because I want others share in the joy of my creation because I think it has real value.

However, I will NOT be sharing any with Damon. I do not wish to be Pushy. Plus, he lives a long ways away, and it is expensive to mail these things. Sorry Buddy. BAH-hahahahahaha.)

With that in mind, I want to Aggressively recommend a book to you. It's called "This Beautiful Mess" by Rick McKinley. In fact, I will shamelessly plug it with this advertisement.



Rick is a pastor at Imago Dei Community out in Portland, OR. You can find out more about these guys by clicking here. http://www.imagodeicommunity.com/blog/category/rick-mckinley/ The point of the book is about practicing and participating in the Kingdom of God. I don't think "Religious" people would like it very much, but if you are one who is curious about what following Jesus is really like, then you would really enjoy it.

The 8th chapter in "This Beautiful Mess" is called "Welcome the Child." Rick goes over the various interactions that Jesus has with little kids. He tells the story of his neighbor's kid, Joseph, who is about a year & a half. Apparently Joseph likes to go running outside, naked, after his mother bathes him. (I see a commonality between people named Joe.) Joseph is innocent and filled with joy, so why not go streaking?


At Living Waters, there is a family who felt God calling them to an unusual ministry. They have adopted a sizable chunk of children all with Special Needs. There is one little girl who is Autistic. She wears head phones because of the music. Yet she simply has to get up and dance during every service. Many times I have seen the Holy Spirit dance through her.

The Amish have a saying that "God brings people with Special Needs
into our lives to teach us how to love."


A few weeks back, Pastor Scott asked the kids to come up front for a children's service of sorts. Towards the end, he told them it was O.K. if they just hung around and danced for the last few songs. My friend Dan has a boy named Alex. Alex decided that doing the Walk like an Egyptian dance would be a great way to "bust a move," so he did...for the entire song. Honestly, I pictured Jesus sitting on his throne, choking on a Pepsi, and shooting it out his nose in laughter & joy.

I think children understand at an instinctive level what we adults too easily forget.


I personally do not believe that there will be a single child in hell. I can't exactly prove that scripturally, but that is what my heart tells me. Based on the character displayed by Jesus during his earthly ministry, I would say it is a very safe bet to make. Hell seems to be reserved for far too many adults.

Jesus had a real soft spot for kids. Probably because they counted for very little in the society at that time. Jesus has a major soft spot for the marginalized & overlooked.

In that 8th chapter, Rick points out something that I hadn't noticed before. It all takes place in Matthew 19. "Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.""

Most of the time, children have a naive, innocent trust...like me standing in my Dad's palm, eating that cracker. (At least if they have come from a relatively decent home life.) They are not particularly complicated, and their needs & desires are met rather easily.

Pastor Rick points out what happens right after Jesus interacted with the children. A rich, young ruler with an excellent religious pedigree asks Jesus what he has to do to get eternal life. The guy has kept all the commandments. He pretty much has everything going for him. Jesus looks at him towards the end of their conversation and tells him to sell all his goodies, give the money to the poor..."Then come, follow me." And the guy walks away depressed.

The little kids Get It. That rich adult didn't.


I remember an episode of the Simpsons from way back. It had something to do with Bart running for class President, or something like that. Homer looks at the enthusiasm that Bart is displaying. He sees how happy Bart is in working for a higher purpose. Then Homer says, "I remember that joy. Feeling like I could do anything...before the weight of the world crushed it out of me."

Pastor Rick is right. We can learn a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven from children. When I watch that little girl dance every Sunday morning, I do see the Spirit moving in her. I don't see any embarrassment or self-consciousness on the faces of those kids. I just see simple joy.

Along with picking up my cross every morning, I also need to remind myself to do quite a bit of regressing. I need to remember what it was like to stand in the palm of my Dad's hand and eat that cracker. Simple trust that everything is O.K. I need to stand in the palm of my heavenly father's hand like that too. It feels really good when I do.

He likes me.

He loves me.

My Dads love their little boy, "for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Peace

Joe

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where I want to be right NOW!




I admit it, I am helpless. Jesus, will you help me?



Cause this is what I'm searching for, but your "Religion" let me down...So I was hoping I could just trust you! Is that O.K.? "Religion" deceived me. I just like you. So cleanse me, O.K., cause I need it.



Is my VERY imperfect heart O.K????, cause that's all I got. (It isn't a heart of gold...it is sinful...but I still love you in my own imperfect way...is that enough to let you redeem me?) Please let me and the other sinners know.


Peace


Joe
P.S. Dude, I KNOW you love me...it's just hard to feel it sometimes.


American Idol




So I was up early this morning because I was having trouble sleeping. There was/is some stuff on my mind that I have been wrestling with. Naturally, I start poking around the internet. Oddly enough, I tripped over some stuff that got me thinking...and I'll use a recent news event as an analogy.

Lebron James signs with the Miami Heat over his old team back in Cleveland. In the city of Cleveland, they burn effigies of Lebron. At a wedding party in New York City, Lebron is booed. Apparently, people don't like it when their god betrays them.

I could actually care less about Lebron James, and basketball in general. He's going to make millions upon millions of dollars, but he still can't pronounce the word "Sword" without emphasizing the "W" in it. But there sure are a lot of people who worship him.

A little over a year ago, Michael Jackson died. And there was much weeping & gnashing of teeth. Just the other day, Colton Harris-Moore, the "Barefoot Bandit" was finally caught in the Bahamas after being on the run for 2 years. He has a FaceBook fan page with tens of thousands of followers. (Apparently, the ability to cleverly break into people's houses and steal things is cause for celebration.)

What all of those guys have in common is that other than being entertaining, they haven't really done much for society or the world. They didn't cure cancer. They didn't find a vaccine for AIDS. They didn't end world hunger. But in many ways, we treat them as gods.


America is a very Religious country. It says so on our money.


Mark Driscoll is a pastor out in Seattle. Many of the things he says drive me crazy. But I give him a lot of credit for being an effective minister in one of the least Churched cities in the U.S.
As I was poking around the internet, I came across this. Take a look.



We often treat celebrities like idols, but I hadn't quite thought of a Bass Pro Shop being a potential god.

I think Pastor Mark is on to something.

Sometimes, the gods we worship are external, like celebrities and sports teams. Sometimes, the gods we worship are internal, more of a cerebral thing, like success, fame, advancement.

In the Old Testament, the three most common gods that the Israelites were always up against were Ba'al, his wife Ashera, and Chemosh/Molek. Ba'al was kind of rural god, a god of agriculture. His priests would cut themselves to awaken him. (I guess that made Ba'al the originator of the whole "Emo" trend.) Ashera was a sex goddess. You would go to one of her temples and shtoop the priest or priestess in return for good harvests and lots of kids. (The Madonna, or Lady Ga Ga, of the ancient world I suppose.) Chemosh/Molek was more of an urban god. You would sacrifice your first born child in return for business success.


Now watch this video clip.



I think that Pastor Rob is on to something too.

I taught for 3 years in a very wealthy school district. I saw that many parents worshipped Chemosh/Molek there.


An idol is anything that we put before the one true God, and that is what I am struggling with this morning. The idol that I am worshipping is me.

In the third Creation story, it says that the fall of humanity came about because we wanted to be "Just like God." It was not taking a bite from what ever that fruit was. It was that first impulse to reach for it and replace YHWH with ourselves.

Why is it so hard to give some areas of my life over to God? Why am I so willful and selfish? As a god, I do a terrible job. Forget controlling external things. I can't even control myself. Yet, my very nature is to strive for control, and to NOT hand over everything to Jesus.

When I sit down and spend time with God it feels really good. But getting me to sit down with God is difficult. Why is that? I hate my old nature. I try to take captive every though, but I can't seem to do it.

I don't know. I guess I'm just a little frustrated this morning.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15 & 16)

Whatever else I may think or do, I can say this: My God can look at me and say "I know how you feel." Ba'al can't say that.

Peace

Joe.

P.S. Just for the heck of it, take a look at this video too. It does make you think about how Religious we are as a people.



"What has been will be again, what has been will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Proverbs 1:9)



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bobby Hill has his Father's eyes.






















A little over a week ago, I and my friend Zach went out to the cabin to go fishing. I always enjoy doing this because of the various conversations that arise on the way to the cabin, and then when you are in a boat out on the water.

Ooo, before I continue I have to tell you that my friend Zach is veteran of the War in Afghanistan, has a degree in Israeli Martial Arts, has a "Conceal & Carry" permit for his pistol, specializes in Counter Terrorism...and gets Sea-Sick really, really, really easy. As such, his new nick-name at Living Waters is "Chowda." Watch this next video and you'll get an idea of what Zach was like on the ride home in the car. BAH-hahahahahahaha.



Since he will probably beat me up for this, I'll make it worth my while by adding one more video. You see, while Zach was turning greener & greener in the car, we were closing in on the France Ave. exit from Hwy. 494. I looked at him, grinned and yelled "Who wants Chowda?" His immediate reaction was to tell me to pull off the freeway. So I jumped the curb. He opened the door just in time. SPLASH! (This is for you, Zach.)



Sorry folks, I just can't let go of my inner-child. (Don't pretend you weren't giggling, either.) But now you know how Zach got his nick-name.


ANYWAY, as part of the conversations we had out at the cabin, a fellow from Living Waters, our church, came up. This guy's name is Bobby Hill, and he is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. (Yes, that's his real name. But I don't think Hank is his Dad.) He has a real heart for the people of Nepal & Tibet, and he spends quite a bit of time in ministry to these people.

We were in the cabin with my folks when Bobby came up. Zach mentioned something about Bobby doing some missionary work in Iran...something like that. My Dad made the comment that doing that was really dangerous. "They'll kill you for that over there," said my Dad. Zach and I both responded that Bobby has no fear when it comes to telling others about the Good News of the Kingdom of God. It was true, but it also seemed a little easy to toss out at the time. But that thought stuck with me up till today.

This morning at church, Bobby spoke to us about what God has been doing in Nepal, and how he provides for the Believers over there. I don't know why, but when I hear stories about how the kingdom breaks into our fallen world, I tend to spring a leak. So I was teary eyed most of the service. Still, I could listen to Bobby talk about Jesus for hours & hours and never get bored.


I had lunch with Bobby many months ago. I told him about how I had engaged in some very stupid behavior the night before. The look on his face was very interesting. There was no "Judgment" in his eyes...none. (I can't say that I am used to NOT getting THAT look when it comes to many who call themselves Christians.) The look on his face was more like an "And?"
Almost a "Yeah, we all sin. Jesus isn't suddenly surprised by it, sooooo..." kind of thing.


In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul tells them about a vision he had. In it, Paul says that he saw heaven and spoke with God. Of course, Paul spoke with God on his way to Damascus too. Jesus kind of ambushed him actually. (God's funny that way sometimes.) As a result of these things, Paul never showed any fear to anyone about preaching the Gospel. Even when you read Paul's letters from prison in Rome, when he knew for a fact that he was going to die, he shows no fear.

Paul understood something very clearly. I think Bobby understands it too. When Jesus was getting ready to send out his 12 disciples, amidst all of the stuff he was telling them, he tells them not to be afraid. He goes on to say this: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

What both Paul and Bobby understand is that there IS nothing to fear. God is on their side. If God is for Paul and Bobby, then who & what can stand against them? If there would be a person who would tell Bobby, "I will kill you if you talk about that Jesus of yours," I get the feeling that Bobby would respond with something of the following. "O.K., if that is all you can do to me, go ahead. But I will still love you, because Jesus loves you too."

Bobby understands something deep in his bones that I am still learning to accept. God loves him totally and completely. As such, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear." (1 John 4:18) So Bobby has no fear. I can accept this concept intellectually, but I am still along way from letting it seep into my very essence.

This is what Brennan Manning would call Ruthless Trust, and I want it for myself. The ability to see through the fog and man-made illusions of this world, and see kingdom breaking in. To see God at work everyday and in every way. To have the knowledge at a instinctive and gut level that there is MORE, and to know and breath in what that MORE is! To have the knowledge of the reality of Christ's kingdom moving forward at all times, knowing what awaits you is a loving relationship not only in the hear & now, but a perfected one for all eternity. Bobby has that, and it shows every time I watch him. (He doesn't know that one of my hobbies is stalking people when I am at Living Waters.)

Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of trust...yet. I know that it isn't something that I should strive for. It's just one of those things that I have to allow Jesus to teach me. My selfishness tends to get in the way of that, but I think Jesus is working on that too.

One of the gifts that God has given me, or taught to me...whatever...is the ability to empathize deeply with others. I feel other people's pain very easily...even when they don't see their situation that way. Often, I'm not so sure it's a great gift to have. The urge to burst out in tears when I see and hear about some people can be a real hindrance when driving.


Hhmmm, maybe this would help. http://trippingstumblingwhilefollowingjesus.blogspot.com/2010/05/see.html Read it, because it really happened.

At any rate, I do see God doing a work in my life. These past 2 & 1/2 years has been very difficult for me. But I will say that they have not been a waste at all. I am not even close to being the man I was all that while back. For one thing, and maybe this is the most important, I am actually keenly aware of my sins. Ages ago, when I was in full-tilt rebellion, I knew about my sins, but I didn't care. So they never made much of an impact on me. Now, I really care about them, and how they keep me from having the kind of relationship with Jesus that I really want to have.

I am coming to understand something that Rick McKinley preached on a few weeks ago. He said that what God wants from each of us is a "Broken & Contrite heart so he can fix it." I am understanding that deeper & deeper in my bones, and it's beautiful.


Bobby sees the world the way Jesus sees the world. He sees the awesome majesty of God on the move. He is deeply tuned in to the Reconciliation of All Things, and that the "The Kingdom IS," and that he is participating in it. He is no fan of "Religion," but loves that God is pursuing us. (That probably makes him a heretic, too...which is pretty awesome.)

Bobby will probably feel a little embarrassed when & if he ever reads this. He would probably be the first to say that there is no such thing as a "Good Christian," or that anyone is a "Great man or woman of God." But I think he would also say that loving & trusting Jesus is the best bet a person could make, and also that he really wants to hear the phrase "Well done, my good & faithful servant."

Bobby sees the world through the Father's eyes and it shows. He is just a regular dude in every way, but his faith and ruthless trust is very evident. He has this matter-of-fact way of talking about Jesus the way some people talk about the weather. Because of this, he has a been a great blessing and inspiration to me and many others. It is not because he is great, but because he has allowed himself to be a very useful tool in the hands of the Master.



On the way to Living Waters this morning, I heard a song on the radio by Chris Tomlin. If Bobby had a theme song, I think this would it. Bobby has his Father's eyes.




Peace

Joe
P.S. Bobby, you have beautiful feet. :) (Romans 10:15)

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Mentoring Project




It's always just so enjoyable when you wake up in the morning and one eye won't pop open because of "Night Frosting." Ick. So I really hadn't planed on writing anything.

HOWEVER, I happened to take a quick look at Donald Miller's blog. So now I sit here typing

Out in Portland, OR, Miller has been working with a ministry called "The Mentoring Project." The goal of this project is to set up ministry franchises with local churches around the country to provide Mentors for boys with absentee fathers. Miller has a heart for this since his own father ditched out on his family when he was just a kid.

For those of you who don't know, Donald Miller is a writer of some of my favorite books. Blue like Jazz had me laughing so hard, and now it is being turned into a movie. I have also read Searching for God knows What, and have A Million miles in a Thousand Years sitting on my table.

I won't go into much detail about this project, because you can click on the link to Miller's blog and read all about it yourself. If you wouldn't mind though, assuming you DO click on the link, please go and do the whole voting thing. (It's all there and costs you nothing.) It's a fairly easy way to help a non-profit get some money from a large contributer.

Thanks

Joe

P.S. Check out those books, too.



Sunday, July 4, 2010

In Defense of Monarchy
















234 years ago a new country was born, and it's been an interesting ride ever since.

America is a great country, but I've never been a huge fan of people...usually politicians, saying that America is the "Greatest country in the world." First off, they tend to do that only to score political points. Secondly, they never define what Greatest is supposed to mean. Are one of my friends from Canada supposed to say, "Yeah dude. Canada sucks! Your country is so much better."?

What I will say is that America is the most Unique country in the world...and that's pretty special. Think about it. To my knowledge, we were the first country that was an IDEA before it was an actual country. Germany is full of Germans. France is full of Frenchies. Japan is full of Japanese people. In other words, most countries are defined by their ethnic make up. We, on the other hand, were defined by our ideas & ideals. We were the first modern country to come into being over how a people wished to be ruled by it's own government. We are an ongoing experiment in self-government, and that definitely makes unique.

America is certainly not a perfect country. But, by in large, thanks to an undercurrent in our culture that says "Mind your own business" and "Don't pester people," for the most part we are able to resolve our problems with out resorting to violent revolution. It doesn't mean that we all have to adore each other, or hold hands while we walk. It just means co-existing in a relatively polite manner. (Yeah, yeah, I know we have had some serious problems in this area.)

One of the things I love to watch at the store are immigrants interacting with each other. One of the store managers is Vietnamese. One of our butchers is Bulgarian. Listening to them talk via the radio is hysterical. Yet, that points out the obvious that we are a nation of immigrants who come here with a variety of world views, and can still get along. (When they can understand each other.)


All that praise having been said, I would like to state for the record that I am a "Monarchist." My ultimate loyalty does not lay with the United States. My loyalty is to a King.

O.K., before you throw tomatoes at me, allow me to explain. (But first, CONTEXT.)

There is a monstrous form of idolatry at work in the institutional church in the U.S. That idolatry is that America is a "Christian" country. Biblically, that is simply not true. In fact, Biblically, NO country is a "Christian" country...except for one.

Does that make America bad? Nope. Biblically speaking, the U.S., Canada, China, Togo, and all the nations of the earth, are, well...nations of the earth. This means that every country is made up of flawed, sinful people. As such, every country is capable of doing some good stuff, but also some truly terrible stuff.

It makes me itch to no end when I hear people say that a country is doing something in the name of God. Way too much blood has been spilled, and is still being spilled, over this idea. (Think back to the Crusades, folks.) When a political leader claims to act in the name of God, he/she better be really careful. If they blow it, or something evil results from it, they have just splashed mud all over God.

By the way, I'm NOT a pacifist. You don't negotiate with people like Hitler or Osama bin Laden. (But if you are a Believer, you are still supposed to pray for your enemies.) I have to much respect for people who wear a uniform to disparage them. But I have to admit that I am usually disappointed in the way they are used by political leaders to solve problems. Frankly, I think that if you are willing to put your life on the line for the country, that country ought to treat you like gold.

At any rate, ultimately, no matter how good or bad this country or any other is, it will still have to face judgment...just like I will. Actually, to quote Billy Graham; "If God doesn't judge America, He's going to have to apologize to Sodom & Gomorrah."


O.K., so you can ask yourself about where my ultimate allegiance lays. (I should qualify this by saying that I am not a very good subject, or servant, of this king. But I'm trying to let him make me a better one.) Well, maybe this will help explain my position...



The only "Christian" country that will ever exist is the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus is the King. It is not a Republic or a Confederacy. It isn't even a Constitutional Monarchy. It is a Divine-Right, Absolute Monarchy.

It is both Present, and yet Still Coming...and it is also eternal.

Some day, some day, it will be here in full. There will be no more pain or sorrow, and no more injustice. It's advance has nothing to do with my efforts or will. It simple IS.


And on the day that it is revealed in full, it will look something like this...

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live WITH them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or morning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away."
Rev. 21:3 & 4

"They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads...
And they will REIGN (Participate with God) for ever and ever."
Rev. 22: 4 & 5

Take a gander back at Genesis 1 & 2. Folks, it ends just like it began.

Now do you understand why I am a Monarchist?

Peace

Joe

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Long distance relationships with the Divine







That there picture is of the lovely & talented K.T. Tunstall. She is a singer/songwriter from Scotland. ("Aye, she can make a kilt look good.")

I bring her up because of something that occurred to me a few days ago, and was then reinforced again yesterday while talking with a friend.

Tuesday I was mowing the lawn for my folks because I am such an awesome son. Naturally, I have my Ipod blasting in my ears. I put on a mix that I hadn't listened to before. Low and behold, K.T.'s song "The Other Side of the World" comes on. I hadn't really listened to the lyrics before, but this time I did. Smack! I had another one of those God using the ordinary & mundane to speak to you again things happen.

But before I continue, perhaps you should hear the song for yourself.



I think you probably know what I am going to write from here on out simply from having heard her explanation of the song.

"The Fire fades away.
Most of everyday is full of tired excuses.
But it's too hard to say.
I wish it were simple. But we give up easily.
You're close enough to see.
You're on the other side of the world to me.

Can you help me?
Can you let me go?
And can you still love me
when you can't see me anymore?"

That pretty much sums up where many of us...me in particular, are when it comes to our walk with Jesus.

The God portrayed in the Bible is highly relational. He desires a real & vibrant relationship with people. Yet even Believers are subject to wander away all the time. We allow all kinds of things to distract us from having that type of relationship. In fact, I often wonder if this whole blogging thing is a way to distract myself from that relationship.

A person's "Religion" is what ever is the most important to their lives. The idols we bow down to can be anything from a football game on T.V. to our cell phones. What ever we put in front of us and hold as central...that is our god.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who is engaged in something that he knows deep in his bones is not pleasing to Jesus. I asked him a question. "If God asked you to give it up, would you do it?" He replied that God is not asking him, only his pastor is...and only for one month. (Kind of a dry run, I guess.) But then he said something that really caught me. He said that what he was doing was like eating or breathing. In other words, it is not only natural, but absolutely necessary. (He is gonna be so mad at me when he reads this.)

Needless to say, if any of us finds ourselves in a situation where some behavior or habit that keeps us alienated from God is as natural as breathing, we have a problem. In fact, it is an idol that we are bowing down to. If something we embrace is keeping us from the relationship that Jesus desires to have with us, it is undeniably our new god.

By the way, the only finger I am pointing is directed right at myself.

I wake up in the morning with my head full of cobwebs and the first thing I do is sit down and check my e-mail and Face Book. I am terrible at any kind of Morning Devotions. I usually start to fall asleep, or pray fairly incoherently. I'm also terrible at any type of midday devotions, afternoon devotions, and evening & night devotions. My prayer life sucks most of the time.

I often feel like I am supposed to pray in King James english, or have something flowery & profound to say when I meditate. But even that thought is bullshit! My gut tells me that God doesn't care at all about anything that I have to say. "Abba is just happy that I show up" to quote Brennan Manning.

Maybe the analogy that I need to embrace is the one that Rick McKinley talks about in his sermons. It's like a little kid climbing up into their parent's lap. Mom or Dad doesn't care all that much about what the kid has to say. They just want to embrace and enjoy the moment.

How come my dog will take the chance to climb up and sit on my lap any chance she gets, but I can't even make much of an attempt to do that with God at least once a day?

My fire fades away. I'm full of all kinds of excuses. I give up easily. I keep Jesus on the other side of the world so I can't see him.


I went to a debate years ago over which day is the Sabbath. Some people seem to think that it's Sunday. It's actually Friday evening until Saturday evening if you look in the Bible. Anyway, the guy arguing for the whole Friday to Saturday thing went on to say that THAT was the day to "Worship the Lord." It struck me that such an idea is a load of crap. Call me crazy, but I thought we were supposed to "Pray with out ceasing."

Along time ago I heard a song by Keith Green written from the perspective of God to his followers. In it he has a line that goes like this; "To obey is better than sacrifice. I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights. Because if you can't come to me everyday, then don't bother coming at all."

I guess that sounds like I am trying to Guilt Trip everyone, including myself. But I'm not. Maybe I am just thinking...or in this case writing, out loud.

Jesus isn't stupid. He knows that I, you, we have issues. He isn't the least bit surprised that we are, and continue to be, a mess. (I just picked up Rick McKinley's book, This Beautiful Mess, yesterday. I'll let you know how it goes.) When I read through the gospels, I don't find Jesus being very big on long distance relationships. But that doesn't mean he want us to strive in our walk with him. I think he is just happy to have us show up.

So yeah, that's what I think I'll go do for a while.

Peace

Joe

P.S. Here's a live version of that Keith Green song.