Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Rock to the Rescue

I probably shouldn't be sitting here writing anything. I probably should be getting ready for bed. The reason for that is because I start a new job tomorrow. After over 2 years of no hits, I finally have a crack at another teaching job. It's not full-time, it's merely a 2 month long-term subbing job. But at least it's a foot in the door.

Turns out that I'll be shadowing the teacher for all of his classes tomorrow to make the transition easier on the students. These are not ordinary students. These are some very difficult kids. They come from some very difficult backgrounds, and simply do not fit well in a standard classroom. (Just picture your stereotypical "At-Risk" kid...and then hand them some brass knuckles.)

This is not a teaching job for everyone. But for me, in many respects it is absolutely perfect. Most of my teaching career has been spent with either "Special Needs" students, "At-Risk" students, or all of the above. I like to refer to my classroom as the "Island of Misfit Toys." Again, not for everyone, but I love it. (I must be a Masochist.)

These guys can cuss me out until the cows come home, and it really does nothing to me. I just see a kid that needs to have someone believe in them. They teach me a lot about God's kingdom..."F-Bombs" not included.

Perhaps this song will explain it better.

OK, now to be serious.

There is a reason that I like these kinds of people, students, kids. At my old job, I had more than one substitute teacher leave our area in tears, and ask me how I could possibly work with such devious teenage monsters. Well, I shall now attempt to explain.

At the end of Jesus' epic Sermon on the Mount, he makes a statement that I have found to be quite true over time.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matt. 7:24-17)

In my previous post, I mentioned how I had been badly burned by a church and by people who called themselves "Christians." I was hurt to such an extent that I went into a bad rebellion for quite some time. I HATED Christians...still not particularly fond of many of them. I was a strange type of atheist, I suppose. I still had a type of belief in Christianity, but I really didn't think that Christians actually existed. (If that makes sense.)

I went off on a bad spell for quite some time, until one day the pastor at my old, home church reached out to me. I have a story for another time, but essentially God himself reached out and spoke to me. He rescued me and called me back to him.

However, THIS TIME I decided that I had to be perfect for God. So I worked at it. I worked, worked, worked and worked myself...right into what I guess is called an "Anxiety Breakdown" and ended up on the therapist's couch for a few years. (In fact, I enjoyed the first breakdown so much, that I had another one a year later. AWESOME!)

During all of this, both during the rebellious phase, and the "Mr. Perfect" phase, I could not understand why God was allowing any of this to happen to me. I was very angry at him. There were times where I would scream at the top of my lungs at him. During this time, God rarely answered me. I was very frustrated.

However, what I learned was that my house had been built upon a rock. Even when I was very angry at God, I still understood on a deeply subconscious level that Christianity was the truth. I had studied other faiths. I had searched openly and honestly at other religions. But something always drew my back to Jesus. I simply couldn't let go of him...even when I really wanted to. He was my rock. He was the truth. It was more than an intellectual decision. (Yes, I new intellectually that Jesus' claims about himself were true, but...) It was deeply woven into my bones.

Jesus never sugar-coated anything. He said that in this life there would be trouble. He said there would be storms. He never pretended otherwise. However, if a person's life is built upon Jesus, then that person will ultimately survive the storms. And what I will argue is that they will be better for it. They certainly will have a better understanding of the God of the Bible, and a closer relationship with him.

Attention: Pay no heed what so ever to these preachers who promise you "Your Best Life Now," or that once you follow Jesus you will be trouble free, wealthy and healthy. They are lying to you. Jesus never promised any of that.

But he did promise that he would be there to give you strength.

It is precisely because I had to go through my own difficulties that I AM able to work with the types of students that I will meet tomorrow. Paul told the tiny church in Rome that "In ALL things God works for the good of those love him, who have been called according to his purpose." I have seen this come true in my own life. God took all of the difficult struggle, the depression, the self-destructive behavior, ALL of it and he recycled it. He remade me. I am convinced that I would not have the patience, the empathy, the humility, any of the tools required, to work with students like this, if I had not had my own downfall. (I'll find out for sure tomorrow, one way or the other.)

I have a wise friend who likes to say that she does not trust Christians who have not been broken. Often times it is quite easy to call yourself a "Christian" and to go through the Churchy motions, but still be quite dead inside. Often, it is easy to actually BE a Believer, but to never really get out of the boat.

God allows hard times to come our way because he seeks to refine us. He wants to break off the useless things. As in the military, the boot camp experience is necessary to break off the civilian mold so that you can be rebuilt as a suitable soldier, so too does God provide his own boot camp to those he wants to use. To be used for a task in the kingdom, you simply must be properly trained. It can be painful, brutal, and often without explanation, but it is ultimately worth it.

Also, it is most certainly the best way to find out where you really did build your house.

I am so thankful, when I look around at many of the families of students that I work with, and know that I was blessed with two godly & loving parents under one roof. They loved me unconditionally. They set an example of "Christ-Likeness" for me. They laid a foundation for me. I don't know exactly how God goes about his business of salvation, justification and sanctification, but I know that he has been faithful to me even when I was at my worst...probably even more faithful when I was at my worst. He never gave up on me.

I am so far from perfect in every way. I have so far to go to be more like Jesus. It is a long, long journey, and one that will be many years I think. But I know that I am on the "Rock," and that he will always rescue me. He rescues me every day.



P.S. Many years ago, when I began my healing process, I heard a song that has become my unofficial theme song. I still listen to it every time I go biking. Enjoy.

Speaking of the "Rock of Salvation," if you would like to enjoy a bit of Soul & Gospel music with White People vainly attempting a display a sense of rhythm, you should also enjoy the following video.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I like "Heretics."

A large chunk of me is telling me not to write this post. But I need to vent a little. So here goes...

(Be careful, this is a LONG post.)

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from an acquaintance of mine informing me that some of the preachers I enjoy are all a bunch of heretical, false teachers because they are some how associated with the whole "Emerging/Emergent Church" movement.

That took me back a bit, but it really didn't surprise me all that much considering this guys background. He comes out of the Catholic tradition, and is now "Born Again." He attends Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, which if you didn't know, is the home of John Piper and his "Hyper-Calvinist" strain of theology. (Which as we all know is the end-all & be-all of biblical truth. Anything else is heresy and must be killed!)

For the record, I used to attend Bethlehem Baptist back when I went to Bethel College. I have a true story for you about John Piper. Here it is:

I was sitting in a Sunday School class listening to one of the "Piperites" teach. (For some reason, many of his aids affect his dress, tone and mannerisms when they are at church...even the particular stoop that John Piper has when he stands. It was/is a running joke to those who attend. Check it out for yourself if you don't believe me.) And John comes into class with an absolutely WASTED & drunk Native American under his arms.

Piper sits down at the back of the class with this drunk indian under his arm and just listens to the class. When it is over, Piper got some of the elders to sit with this man as he got ready for the worship service. During the service, the drunk decides to ask questions to John...rather loudly, too. So what does Piper do? He simply answered the man and wove his questions into the sermon.

I should add that this drunk was sitting at least 20 yards behind me. But when his words & BREATH hit me, I just about puked! He WREAKED!!! His oder was simply disgusting! Yet, John Piper had gone out to the street and picked this man up and LOVED him in the name of Jesus. John Piper loves Jesus! I saw it with my own eyes.

So why do I mention that first? Because I am now going to tell you why I will no longer ever attend a service at Bethlehem Baptist and why I am so worked up this morning.

Far to often, some people elevate a particular strain of theology OVER Jesus. Theology IS very important. It is! It's how we try to understand the God of the bible, and try to make sense of this infinite our own finite way. However, ultimately it is NOT more important than a zealous, passionate love FOR, and relationship WITH Jesus. In fact, you can have all of the proper "Head-Knowledge" you want, and you can be very, very far from Christ. (Just ask Satan.)

I know this from personal experience. I once worked for a church in the north suburbs of Minneapolis that had all of the "Correct" theology. Piper would have approved of everything they taught. However, the lead pastor was having an adulterous affair with a woman in the church. Upon his leaving, he attempted to tear the church down around him. The people were angry and hurt. Me, being the new youth pastor, was a perfect foil for all of their rage. They took it all out on me and all the other supposed leaders. I left that place absolutely hating "Christians." It burned me so bad that I am still trying to heal all these years later.

SO, please don't spout doctrine at me. What I want to see in you and everyone else is the "Fruit of the Spirit." You can have all of the right theology you want, but if you don't display the fruit of the spirit then I think that you are just a phony. I don't believe for a second that you have to have God all figured out on a piece of some mathematical formula or recipe, to be a "Good & Orthodox" christian. I will know that you are a christian because I can see Christ in you. If not, you can just shut the hell up!!!!! (Yeah, I said that...but it might be the coffee talking.)

The last time I went to Bethlehem Baptist, I brought a friend from work along. He wasn't a Believer. As is often the case, Piper went on and on about how bad people are. (I prefer the term "Sinful." "Bad," to me at least, implies a scale of behavior...and that implies "Works.") He also spoke about how God has predestined everything we do, but what ever we do is still our own fault...even though God predestined us to do it. (Which implies that there is no reason to do anything anyway, since God predestined me to pick my nose this morning.) He finished by saying that we really need to support missions. (Which is kind of funny, since God has already predestined those who will be saved, and those who will burn.)

So on the way home, my friend asks me; "What kind of sick & twisted God do you guys believe in?"

I don't think I'll be going back to Bethlehem Baptist anytime soon. (If someone develops a strong relationship with Jesus through that style of preaching, then excellent...seriously. But it's simply not my cup of tea.)

ANYWAY, I happen to like a guy named Rob Bell. He's controversial. But he also happens to love Jesus very much. At least as much as John Piper. I've seen the fruit.

Unfortunately, Bell is associated with the "Emergent" movement. To Hyper-Calvinists, the "Emergent" movement is all a bunch of heresy, due to the fact that many of them are not hyper-calvinists. (I mean seriously, if you can't reduce the God of the bible to a one page, written statement, you simply MUST be a heretic.)

The fact of the matter is that you can't simply label the "Emergent Movement" down to a single statement of beliefs. You have guys like Mark Driscoll & Francis Chan on one end, and Tony Jones on the other. It's like asking someone what they think about the "Protestant Movement." "Well, do you mean the crazies who roll around on the floor drinking arsenic and handling snakes, the "Name it & Claim it" frauds, or the Southern Baptists down the street?" It's simply too big to make a blanket statement.

I'll be the first to admit that there is plenty in this movement that I question. There are some real weirdos out there. But there are also some really good people who love the orthodox Jesus of the bible very passionately. (Oddly enough, the same could be said of the "Great Awakening" and the "Reformation"...even the early church.) There will always be crazies in any movement. But that doesn't mean that you throw the baby out with the bath water.

The fact of the matter is that you have to take each person, each idea, individually. You had also better look for the "Fruit of the Spirit" in the process. I have seen Rob Bell's words taken completely out of context over & over again. Frankly, I'm sick of it.

If you are looking for perfection in a preacher or anyone else, you will be sorely disappointed. For example, John Piper can be, and has been, extremely mean-spirited towards other Believers. Way back in the day, there was a war in my denomination over Greg Boyd and his "Open Theism." (A theological strain I do not agree with, but do not consider it a matter of salvation or piety.) John Piper actually tried to black-mail an old professor of mine to get what he wanted...i.e. Boyd fired from Bethel College.

Don't believe me? Read this.---> So tell me, how "Christ-like" is THAT?!?!?! To my knowledge, Piper has never repented of this sin to my old professor.

What I find most ironic is that while a guy like Piper...and Mark Driscoll (Another Hyper-Calvinist that has a very good ministry in Seattle) would just as soon burn Believers at the stake for disagreeing with their narrow strain of doctrine, a guy like Rob Bell actually recommends reading EVERYTHING that John Piper has ever written.

I am just so damn tired of Believers spitting in the face of other Believers because their theologies don't match up hook, line & sinker with the other person's. In fact, it's getting to the point with me where I look at theology as a new form of "Idolatry." (Again, theology IS important. But you simply cannot elevate it over Jesus, which some people DEED if not in WORD.)

The early church didn't even have a New Testament to work with. The first book of the N.T., written by Paul, (Galatians) probably wasn't written until sometime around 45A.D. What they DID have was a passionate love for the resurrected Jesus, and the Holy Spirit guiding them. I think it would be very wise indeed to keep that in mind. We need to be very humble when we look at the Scriptures. We also need to diligently look for the "Fruit of the Spirit." Without that, everything else means nothing.



P.S. A couple of other thoughts about John Piper.

#1. I know for a fact that he loves Jesus. As I stated above, I've seen the fruit that God has produced in his life. (I just wish he wouldn't be so mean towards other Believers.)

#2. A friend of mine was at a church conference last year. A bunch of folks from Piper's church were there. (And I do mean HIS church.) They told him that they were really worried about Piper's retirement. They said that the church would probably collapse in a few years after Piper left. No one else could fill his shoes.

That's what happens when a group of folks get so wrapped up in a single person...even the most godly of men. It ultimately becomes a "Cult of Personality." So don't be surprised if Bethlehem Baptist no longer exists with in 5 years of Piper's retirement.

#3. Watch this video. It was sent to me this morning. It kind of makes me angry. Frankly, and I say this with some trepidation, Piper comes off as rather arrogant. Also, I am actually surprised at how ignorant he seems to be. He makes such broad and blanket statements about that movement that it is simply ridiculous. I love how at the end he mentions that "Black folks are stable enough" not to get caught up in all of this. Nothing condescending about that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

God is "Right-Brained."

Have I got a story for you!

But first, let's put a little context on this before I tell you the tale.

"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness... So God created man is his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Gen. 1)

Now it's pretty clear that we do not look like God physically, since he is a spirit & such. So what does it mean to look like God?

Most would argue that humanity has god-like attributes, and that we were given responsibility to be his representatives and caretakers of his creation. I would agree with this. But I would also go farther. Since through out this first creation story/poem, we see God being an extremely generous creator, I would argue that it is only natural that humans are creative too. AND that when we are creating things, we are simply doing what God hard-wired us to do. (Wether we give God the credit for it or not.)

OK, on to the story.

So this past Saturday I went to my friend's art gallery. They were holding their annual "Monster Drawing Rally." They bring in a bunch of artists from around the State & country. Some are famous, some are new to the scene. They get in groups, and for an hour one group will do their artsy thing and create. Once they are done, and the creation is hung on the wall, you can purchase it for $35. (If more than one person wants it, then you have to draw a card for it. No haggling allowed. Personally, I think a fight to the death would be more engaging.)

A gal I know who works there told me that her friend bought a piece two years ago for $35. It's now worth $10,000. (Yeah, I know what you're thinking.)

The artists love it. The onlookers love it. Everyone gets to do their thing and also chat with all the folks there. It's win-win.

I had never been before, but I'll ever miss it from now on. There was a lot of energy in the air, and I got to meet some very interesting people. To be honest, I don't really "Get" a lot of art stuff. A good deal of the time I will look at a painting by some modern artist and wonder if they might actually have it hung upside down. Still, it's not often that I get to be in a room with a couple hundred people and know that I could whoop the butt of 90% of the guys there.

So ANYWAY, I'm wandering around looking at all of the stuff, and this one painter catches my eye. (And it wasn't just because she was really cute...but that didn't hurt either.) It was a gal named Melissa Loop. She was using very bright & vivid water colors to create "Islands of Utopias" her words. I watched and spoke with her for a long time. I really liked the colors. (Especially since January in Minnesota is a big pile of frozen gloominess.) So I made up my mind to buy the piece she was working on.

Turns out, I couldn't buy a thing until it was put on the wall. So I would just have to be patient, which is not my strong suit. I ended up staking out a place near the framing wall in the thought that this would most likely be the spot where it would be hung. I was ready to tackle any & all who might desire said object of my affection. (Violence & Art often go hand in hand, you know.)

Well, it turns out that while I was waiting and waiting...for 45 minutes, I began to look at the other stuff on the wall. I kept glancing back at one picture in particular. My eyes kept looking over at it for some reason.

The picture was a pencil drawing of what looked like a table. It had hymnals placed neatly across it. The entire piece was black & white, except for one hymnal with a red stripe in the pages. I couldn't keep my eyes off it. What did this one bit of color on a black & white drawing signify?

So I looked down at the very tiny printing at the bottom of he picture. It said "Process of selecting Elders, Mennonite church, hymn w/slip of paper." Art & Church on the same page...and in a secular, bohemian setting with bolted & pierced people in birkenstocks smoking?!?!?! (Blasphemy!) OK, that hooked me. I really, really had to meet the artist so I could understand this piece.

Her name is Emily Atchison. She looks a lot like Elvis Presley...except for more tattoos. I found her to be extremely interesting.

It turns out that Emily had grown up in the Mennonite church. She explained to me that when it is time to pick new Elders, they believe strongly in the providence of God. Someone in the church will set out bible or hymnals in the pews. One of these books will contain a colored slip of paper. The folks up for being an elder have no idea which book has this slip. They will simply have a seat. When it is time, they all open their hymnals. Whoever has the hymnal with the slip of paper is the one that God has chosen to be an Elder.

It's kind of like the whole "Urim & Thummim" thing from the Old Testament. For more on that, click here. )

Well, I certainly didn't miss the irony that this whole time I had been desiring a different painting. I wanted Melissa's. I had picked THAT painting. But THIS picture of Emily's chose ME. Honestly, I almost teared up on the spot.

I talked to Emily about her spirituality. She said that she no longer practices, but that her Mennonite upbringing is still very central to her. I asked her how she was treated when she would visit her old church, with all her tattoos and "Alternative Lifestyle" thing going on. She told me that they make no judgments, but just accept her. That was when I DID start tearing up.

I looked around the room. I could feel the presence of the Creator God in that room. I could see God blessing what was going on. That doesn't mean that most of the folks there cared about God one way or the other. But it was clear to me that God cared very deeply about them. As his image bearers, they were creating...just like they were supposed to. He was blessing them. He was testifying to them through their creativity. He was calling to them. He was telling them how much he loves them and wants them to be in harmony with him. (Call me crazy...which is probably rather accurate, but that IS what I saw and felt.)

I don't ultimately know what will be Emily's relationship to Jesus. I can see that a foundation has been laid. I know that most churches would not be very comfortable with a person with her appearance walking in the door. That is truly a shame. But there is one church that will still love her.

I met some artists that night who are Believers. I found it interesting that every one of them almost seemed apologetic that they were both Believers AND artists. That's kind of a sad indictment of the American church that they should feel that way. God is an artist after all.

Right-Brained people are creative types. Sometimes art can confuse people. Often times it offends people. Americans love to be offended. "Christians" seem to specialize in getting offended. "Religious" people prefer to have everything neat & tidy. (That seems to give them more time to judge others.)

Many years ago, I went to the Sonshine Music Festival. Me and a bud went into one of the tents that sold souvenir thingys. We saw that they were selling some artists' rendering of a very "Caucasian Jesus" with a big grin on his face and tears streaming from his eyes. We both ran out of the tent with the dry-heaves. We looked for a garbage can, but when we did, Jesus was already there barfing uncontrollably into it after having viewed the same drawing. (Yes, sometimes art can be VERY offensive indeed.)

How come I can see & hear the presence of God in piece by Mozart, a guitar riff by Neil Young, or in that drawing by Emily? Could it be that God simply can't be contained by the little boxes that we try to stuff him into?

God is a creative TYPE. Sometimes he can confuse people. Often times he offends people. YHWH is the Creator. He is an amazing artist. He must be Right-Brained.



P.S. In case you get curious, the picture at the top of the post is the actual drawing I bought. (And NO, you can't have it! :P But you can come with me next year to the Monster Drawing Rally.)

This is a link to my buddies' gallery.

This is a link to the artist whose painting I originally wanted to buy.

This is a link to artist whose picture I actually did buy. To see her works, click on the links to the left on her page. (Warning!!! There ARE some "Nekked" pictures in there.)

This is a link to an artist that I had a very cool conversation with.

I'm gonna go get my coloring book out now. I'm almost able to stay inside the lines.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Helen has a "Reputation"...and I want the same.

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Matt. 7:12 (NIV)

"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for THEM. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get."
Matt. 7:12 (The Message)

There is an older lady that shops at my store. I see her almost every time I work. Now I see her at the gym I go to almost every time I am there. She always has her baseball hat with the logo for "Dockers" on it. She must be somewhere in her 70s, but she is one of the busiest bees I've ever seen. She walks so much that I think she could out pace a squad of Army Rangers.

A few years back she came up to me in the green house and just started talking to me. She never told me her name, but thanks in large part to her disposition and attitude, I gave her the nick-name of Sunny. She always seems to brighten my day, and it was/is as if she purposely tries to seek me out just so she can say something uplifting to me.

It turns out that her name is Helen. (I finally got around to asking her last month.) Helen loves Jesus...and it shows. I say this not because she is "Religious." If she were a "Religious" person, then she probably wouldn't be so friendly, sweet, nice, or uplifting. The majority of "Religious" people I know seem to have a perpetually sour expression on their faces due to the long broom handle of legalism & judgment stuck deeply where it should not be. So, I will simply say that Helen loves Jesus.

Paul wrote that "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control." (Gal. 5:22) Jesus talked about good trees producing good fruit, and that was how you could tell who was truly his follower. Helen follows Jesus. I can tell because she makes a habit of giving me some of the fruit that the Spirit has produced in her every time she sees me.

I gave Helen some podcasts last week from Rob Bell & Rick McKinley. I didn't see her at the gym today, so I couldn't ask what she thought of them. (Hopefully tomorrow.) I like to listen to sermon podcasts while I bike at the gym. When it is time to hit the weights, I put on all of the sinful, evil music, secular music that "Religious" people would not listen Black Sabbath, Lady Ga Ga...and worst of all, ABBA!

I like to talk to Helen about things that I learn when I listen to these various preachers. Helen is studying the book of Isaiah, so she likes to tell me about her lessons. Maybe I will make a CD for Helen that has Black Sabbath, Lady Ga Ga...and worst of all, ABBA! on it. Then Helen will get really "Buff" and scare any potential Jehovah's Witnesses that might come to her door.

The way we treat other people is extremely important to Jesus. When God looks at a human, he sees a being that bears his image. (You don't have to even believe in God for this to be true.) All people everywhere bear God's image. The way we treat those image bearers is a reflection on how we show God respect.

Along time ago, after I had popped a bolt and had gone into therapy, my Shrink (Who was also a very godly man from my old church.) told me that what ever we keep in the forefront of our minds TOWARDS another person will be picked up BY that person. He taught me to look for whatever tiny scraps that were positive & beautiful in another, and to focus on that. This took some doing on my part, but I can honestly say that it was the best help that I had when I spent all those years in a classroom with "At-Risk" students. It helped to look for the image of God in them.

My friend Deb, said that when I am out, I have a funny habit of always trying to engage the people behind the counter, the waiters & waitresses, and to make them laugh. I hadn't really thought about that, but I think (I HOPE) that it's true. It's a win-win situation for everyone. It's fun to make people laugh. They feel good. You feel good. Ain't nuttin' wrong wit dat!

A friend of mine at work a few months ago gave me a side-ways compliment. He was frustrated with another worker who is often difficult. I told him that I didn't really have a problem with this person. So he says to me, "Yeah, but you don't count. You get along with EVERYONE!"
I can't honestly say that this is true. But I liked it never the less.

The fact of the matter is that I can be the biggest prick in the world when I choose to be. I am also certain that I offend more than my share of people on a daily basis. (Call it a hobby.) There is also the simple fact that no matter what you do, there will always be people out there who are determined to be miserable. I know of numerous customers who, when my darker nature swims in my brain, I fantasize about chasing down the street with a snow plow.

Still, it honestly is a lot of fun to joke around with most of them.

The thing is, you never know the context of a person that you just happen to run into. So you don't really know WHY they may be in the mood that they are in. A few weeks ago, my Mom & I were out eating. The waitress did a really poor job. She messed up everything. So much so that she even mentioned what a bad job she was doing. We had the right to complain about it all to the management. Instead, I decided to talk to her about it afterwards. I told her that everyone gets a "Mulligan" from time to time, so it was OK. At that point, she started to tear up and told me that her Grandmother's wake had been the previous day. I think you get the idea...

Anyway, let's say you are having a great day. You're out doing whatever. Some guy comes along and informs you that you have bad hair, you're fat, makes a mean joke. How's your day going now?

Let's say you are having a lousy day. You're out doing whatever. Some guy comes along and tells you, "Hey, cool shoes!...I just wanted to say that you have a great smile," or makes you laugh while you are stuck in a long line. How's your day going now?

It doesn't take much either way.

Naughty, bad, sinful, wicked people really liked Jesus a lot. They loved being around him. They heard him speak very clearly & absolutely about judgment and the wages of sin, and how we all need to repent. They also heard him speak about his Father's love for them, and about mercy & grace. More than that, they watched him live it out in their midst by giving himself away. Did I mention that naughty, bad, sinful, wicked people really liked Jesus a lot?

So essentially, Jesus said "Show some initiative, people. Treat others the way YOU want to be treated...regardless of how they treat you." Again, I don't know if I am doing a decent job on this most of the time. I can say this though, I really DO want to look more like Jesus. (Not the beard. It's too itchy in the summers around here.) If there are things that I am doing right, I can't claim that this is/was something that it came naturally or easily. (Trust me on that one.) I fully believe that it is just Jesus doing his thing in me.

I'm a little dubious of some theologians who think that they can explain exactly how the Holy Spirit does what he does in the life of a Believer. What I do know is that any "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc..." doesn't come to me naturally. It's just Jesus working on my tree.

He's been working on Helen's tree for a long, long time...and it shows.


P.S. Since Helen's nick-name is "Sunny," a couple of songs popped into my head when I was thinking about her. Enjoy!

First up, June Carter Cash.

Next up, Shane McGowan of the Pogues. He was blessed with quite possibly the worst smile in the history of Man. But the song is still fun. (It may help to have ingested a couple of pints before staring at his image for too long)

OK, as a reward for viewing that picture for almost three minutes, you get to go back to the Carter Family and enjoy Mother Maybelle. (Great harmonies.) Seriously, this one will get stuck in your head...and I dare you not to smile. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011


"God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:24

So if God is a spirit being, this means that God is not limited by physical form. This would also mean that God has no gender. God is neither male nor female, because that would be a limitation.

But for some reason, God chose a male pronoun to describe "Himself." Why? Why did the God of the Bible chose the term "Father" as a designation? The Bible never gives any specific reason for this. So it's a rather intriguing mystery, I think.

BTW: This post is kind of a companion to an earlier post I wrote.

Hopefully, I will actually get some responses to this one.

I DO have a theory as to why God may have chosen a masculine title for himself. And I think that the Bible drops clues along the way as to why this may be.

So yesterday, after worship, the ladies of Living Waters had a big meeting. So, all the married guys grabbed the kids and headed over to White Castle. Even us single guys were allowed to tag along. I end up sitting with my buddy, Zach, and this came up in conversation.

BTW: On behalf of all of the men from our church, I offer a heartfelt apology to all who stand downwind from us today due to the usual result of a White Castle feast.

ANYWAY, I am of the opinion that YHWH chose a masculine title for himself because he knew what a lousy job so many men would do in trying to "Be A Man." God chose the term "Father," because he foreknew that there were going to be so many awful Dads out there. He wanted to demonstrate what a GOOD Father would look like.

Think about it, we live in a society where men are often dominating, hyper-patriarchal, OR they are down-right misogynistic. (Think of far too many rap songs.) Further more, think of how many so-called "Dads" out there get a gal pregnant and then split.

If you think the ability to have sex...unprotected at that, and get some girl pregnant, makes you a man, you are a joke. In fact, if you ARE that type of guy, and you bail on that mother & child, I personally do not think you are a man at all. A two-legged dog perhaps, but certainly not a MAN.

When you look through the story of the Bible, you will see a very patriarchal culture. At the same time, you will see that women tend to fair better than the men. In Judges, the only decent Judge is the Prophetess Deborah. Who comes to the rescue in Esther, Esther...a woman. Ruth is the heroin of the book named after her. Who seem to be the most faithful followers of Jesus in the Gospels? Women! They were with him at the crucifixion after the men had pretty much bailed, and they were the first to head over to the tomb.

To me, it's kind of like a diving poke in the eye of men on the part of God.

I guess that I just think that God knew how much we dudes would blow it. That's why he chose the title of "Father" for himself. He knew that someone had to set a proper example of what a real man should act like.

I'm very curious to hear what anyone else has to say on this subject.



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wisdom & the Fear of Big Daddy

"The FEAR of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom." Prov. 1:7

But before I go on, how about a true & really gory tale?

About a thousand years ago, when I was a Sophomore in High School, I had a friend named Gary. One day Gary was at his friend's fathers warehouse. They decided to take a ride on the front forks of a forklift as it was rolling down the aisles. Oops! Gary fell off and the 2-ton machine ran over his left leg. Gary spent most of his Sophomore year in the hospital with two steel bolts sticking through his calf & thigh as the bones began to return from the powder-like substance the forklift had turned them into, and back into a substance that one could actually use to walk with.


Ever since that day, I've had a very healthy sense of respect for forklifts.

Years ago, I was working at a local High School with "Special Needs" kids. I was helping one of the boys in his wood shop class. On the year first day, the instructor took a frozen hot dog over to one of the machines. (It was some type of machine that carved a block of wood into a bat-like form.) He told the class that he wanted them to think of the hot dog as one of their fingers. So he drops the hot dog onto the machine while it was on. "Grrrrrzzzztttch," there goes the hot dog.

The kids got the point. They had better understand what they are dealing with. They had better have a healthy sense of fear & respect for the equipment that they would be using...or else.

So this morning at Living Waters, Pastor Scott was preaching on "The Fear of God." Most of us at Living Waters tend not to emphasize the wrathful aspects of God too often. It's not that we don't know about it. It's just that so many people have had that stuff beaten over their heads for so long...and usually by others who don't really understand the concept properly, that they are more than a little put off by it.

But at the same time, this IS an issue that should be brought up to have a fuller understanding of the God of the Bible. Some folks think that God is this perpetually angry deity that is just waiting for an excuse to bring the pain. Others often treat God as if he were just a cosmic marshmallow that is tolerant of almost anything. Both concepts are completely wrong, and does a great disservice to the portrait of the God shown in scripture.

When the writer of Proverbs makes the statement that the "Fear of God" is where wisdom begins, he is making a very basic observation about humans and our tendency to think more of ourselves then we often should. The original sin in the third creation story is about us wanting to BE God...and we're NOT. Simple as that. The writer of that proverb is pointing out that if we want to actually understand the world around us, we had better start by knowing who we are NOT, and who God IS. (Our general place in the scheme of the universe.)

So Moses is sitting in the Tent of Meeting with YHWH one day. Moses says to God, "So, I know that we are friends & all. I was wondering if maybe I could see what your glory looks like?" To sum up God's response in brief, YHWH says to Moses, "Sorry, no one can see my face and live."

Interesting choice of words, I think. Moses wants to see god's GLORY. God responds by saying that no one can see his FACE. (Could they be one and the same?) The Bible points out that God is Spirit, so it would be a bit difficult for a human's physical eyes to see a spirit being in the first place.

All of that being said, there are times where folks do get a glimpse of God. You can read Isaiah, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc. You get the picture that at the briefest sign of YHWH showing up on the scene, it causes the human viewing this appearance to just about go into cardiac arrest. It's NOT that God is a big, mean monster. It is because this God is HOLY. When a sinful human gets a glimpse of the Holy God, it REALLY puts things in perspective.

On a side note: I get more than a little frustrated with folks who talk down to God, or treat him like one of their "Homies." I hear people say, "I want to find God...I want to get to own way." Really?!?!?

So if you wanted to meet the President, you would just pull up in front of the White House, lay on the horn, and shout for him to get his butt out to the car right now...and bring a six-pack? You think that would work, do you?

So if you wouldn't try that with the President, who is just a mortal, why would you try that with God? Don't you think you should approach God on his terms?

My friend learned the hard way that you had better treat that forklift with respect. It might be a good idea to do the same with God. If you can wrap your selfish & sinful brain around that truth...and accept it, then you just might be ready for what comes next.

God is Holy. Were are not. However, rather than keeping his distance, THIS GOD draws near to us. Jesus came and broke down the barrier between the Father and all of us. Jesus often liked to refer to the Father as ABBA, which is the Aramaic version of "Dad," or even "Daddy." He invites us to do the same. Anyone who is willing to turn their life over to Jesus is now a child of the Holy One.

"But you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." Romans 8:15

"Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a SON; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." Galatians 4: 6&7

Anyone who is in Jesus can now call the God of the universe, the creator, the Holy One "Daddy." Not to be flippant, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

God isn't scary, but he isn't safe either. He took on human form and was crucified & resurrected. He says that we are to pick up our own cross on a daily basis. Does that sound safe??? But he is also LOVE...and he loves us. He invites us into a relationship with him. Relationships are always messy, and God seems to be fine with the messiness of it all.

When I was a little boy, my dad loved to watch me play. He would just sit there with a big smile on his face. I could crawl up into his lap anytime I pleased, and he loved it. If I did that today, it might be a painful experience for my Dad's lap. But my Dad still loves to be with me. Today, my Dad is elderly, but I still have a fearful respect for him. That is how our healthy relationship was built.

I need to do the same for my other Father, the Holy One whose child I am. I am his son. He is my Daddy. I'll never be able to love him as much as he loves me. But knowing that he DOES love me more than I can comprehend gives me great pause. It's a perfect love, "and perfect love drives out fear." 1 John 4:18

So what should I do? I'll sing this song to my Daddy, because he loves me.



Thursday, January 6, 2011

But give me only my daily bread.

So a few days ago my pastor asked me to do a little digging into a preacher named Francis Chan. Both of us are only mildly familiar with him. But a dude at Living Waters was recommending his books and such. So Pastor Scott was curious.

So I DID do some digging and was very disappointed to see that no one called him a heretic. I prefer my "Christians" to rock the boat a bit, because that's how you know that they are on to something.

Anyway, for a guy who has had way too many tragedies in his life, Mr. Chan certainly adores Jesus. In fact, what I found most compelling...and convicting, is his approach towards money. I had seen a variety of videos with him speaking, but I stumbled across one that really hit me. (This is in light of that fact that Mr. Chan has a rotten habit of giving most of his money away.) Take a look.

"Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty not riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and
disown you
and say, "Who is the Lord?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God."
Prov. 30:7-9

Wow! I don't hear a lot of people praying prayers like that...myself included.

More often than not, I hear messages like this.

Copeland also believes that Jesus and the Disciples were independently wealthy business men, and that's why they were able to travel around Israel without having to work. The proof text that they use is that they had a treasurer...Judas. (GREAAAAAT!)

Anyway, I was really convicted by what I heard Francis Chan say. I realize more and more how selfish I am with my money. I don't have much, but I could certainly do a better job of honoring God with the way I use it.

I've been stubbornly refusing to write God a "New Years" letter for days now. I think of it as a written prayer for the year a head. I need to get off my lazy butt and do it. One of the items weighing on my heart now is the whole money thing. I need Jesus to by my LORD, and not just my Savior. And that means turning everything over to him....the way I use my money, too.

On a side note, I find it interesting that the writer of that proverb ties "Falsehood & Lies" into the whole money issue. They do seem to feed off each other plenty of the time. Something for me to think about for a while.



P.S. A song just popped into my head as I was writing this, and I think it's appropriate for this post.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sailing the Seas of Hypocrisy with Captain Honors.

There is a large element of irony in this post thanks to the one that that I put up earlier this morning. Earlier today I wrote about my frustration with the way that many christians treat people who are gay.

No sooner did I finish that, then a certain story seemed to blanket the news.

Since the weather outside is getting horrible again, and it's my day off, I think I'll have some fun.

Well, it turns out that the former Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier, the Enterprise, made some videos for the entire crew to watch that were less than civil or polite. (One could argue that the videos in question were "Mature," not not in the positive sense.) This man is now the captain of the Enterprise. (It would appear that his tenure as captain will most likely be rather short lived.)

For the record, I have never served in the military. So I understand that there is only so much that I can say on this subject. However, I have worked in both the Public & Private sectors. With that in mind, I can state with out hesitation that if one of my school administrators, or one of my corporate higher-ups, had made a video for all of us to watch with the type of subject matter that Captain Honors made for his sailors, their butt would have been tossed so fast & far from our offices that they would have landed in Wisconsin.

On a personal note: If someone in authority made a son or daughter of mine watch nasty stuff like this, I would punch him solidly in the nose. Furthermore, I find a massive irony in the very name of Captain "Honors." To me, it's a bit like the owner of a porno shop having the last name of "Chastity."

I find all of this fascinating in light of over turning of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" this past month.

Now this is merely my opinion, but it just seems to me that I do not have to agree with all of an individuals activities & choices to allow them to have a job. In particular, if that person wishes to take a position where they are fully aware that their life may be put on the line for my protection, who am I to tell them that they cannot?

Admittedly, my thoughts on this have been evolving over time. The biggest change came after the 9/11 attacks. I read a news story about over a dozen service people being thrown out of the militaries' language school out in Monterey, California, because they were gay. Apparently they had been studying the various language of the very people who sought to murder as many Americans as possible...but that wasn't good enough. This struck me as a brilliant way to blow your own foot off with a shotgun.

I have a friend of mine who is ex-Navy. He is proud of his service to our country, and despite having been in the Navy...which is the sissiest of all the services, he was a very good sailor.

It should be noted that along with the normal drills that military people go through, he told me that the Navy also requires a great deal of musical acuem and dance skills. Often, he has regaled me with stories of his time at sea, where the Skipper would order the men to simply break out into song.

The following is a video he sent me from the day that his ship was about to set sail from Dubai.

He also happens to be a guy who likes other guys.

I little while ago, I wrote a response to something he had posted on his own blog about the whole "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" situation. It went like this:

"Once upon a time, my family's house caught on fire. When the fire fighters showed up to put out the blaze, I discovered that two of them were Lesbians and another guy was Gay. I told them that they were unfit to help. A forth guy told me that from time to time he was a little Bi-curious. I allowed him spray his hose on the garage. The last guy told me that he had spent the previous evening at a strip joint getting dances from "Hootchies." He went on to assure me that he had then gone home and spent the rest of the night viewing Straight pornography. I told him that he was perfectly fit to put out the blaze.

Unfortunately, by that point the house was consumed by the flames and my family was dead.

But at least I stuck to my principles!"

I think you get the idea.

Again, I have never served in the military. I can only say so much on the subject. This is merely my opinion, so feel free to disagree.



P.S. There is a potential up-side to having more members of the armed forces "Out." For instance, precision drill may have a whole new flourish to it.

Of course, if we had lost the War for Independence, the Air Force might have an entirely different style to it.

Mercy Me...and everyone else.

This is for "D" and all of my "so-called" GAY friends.

A good deal of this post will simply be me politely venting over some stuff that has been building up in me for a while now. I suppose it crystalized in me yesterday morning before worship when I read a post from an acquaintance of mine on FaceBook. He linked me to an interview in The Huffington Post with an artist who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, Derek Webb.

Back in late November, I got to see Mr. Webb and a few other artists perform. I was impressed. I discovered that Derek Webb tends to be a thorn in the side of standard American Evangelicalism. This caused me to like him almost immediately! (Kind of Christianity's Angry Young Man.) He also performed his song"Wedding Dress," which I had never heard being late to the party as usual. At this point, I think that song is the theme for my life.

You can read the interview for yourself if you desire. Just click on this link.

Suffice it to say that in the interview, Derek Webb took to task the way that many people who call themselves "Christians," treat people who are attracted to others of the same sex. Webb has a new song out that pretty much nails this issue to the wall. Enjoy it, wont you?

YES, he actually drops some "Swear Words" in that song. Not that I encourage people to cuss all that much. But at the same time, there often is room & reason to use that language to make a point.

That picture at the top of the blog is from a sign that seems to have been put up in numerous American cities. The one below here is of a boy named Justin Aaberg. He's a cute kid. Great smile. (I'm seriously jealous of his hair now that I'm losing mine.) Seems like he had a decent family. I live in the Twin Cities. Justin went to a school in the northern suburbs here. Seems like he had a good future for himself.

Justin was 15 this past summer. He was gay. He hung himself this past July because he was bullied & tormented at school so much. Did I mention that he was only 15?

15...and he hung himself.

A True Story:
Many, many years ago, I was at work one night and a bunch of us were yakking away because everything had slowed down and we were willfully wasting time. Somehow the subject of gays came up. I was still very much in my rebellious phase at that point, and had every reason not to like Christians. That night, I was blessed with another very good reason why I should despise people who call themselves "Christians."

I remember this gal that I nick-named "Judgmental Jamie" having this visceral reaction to any of us actually knowing someone who is a homosexual. "You know gay people?!?!" she yelled at us. "Well, yeah," we all said, "we know lots of different people."

"WELL, the REPUBLICAN is leaving the room!" And with that indictment, she stormed out of our area.

Now, as ridiculous as such behavior is, it also pre-supposes a rather difficult standard for me to live by. You see now, before I can say "Hello" to any stranger on the street, I must first solicit a resume' of their personality. This way, I can ascertain if they are decent enough for me to wish a good morning to. Apparently, I must have this knowledge so that I do not offer any unwarranted salutations to not only gays...Bi-Curious would be included in that catagory, but also to Wiccans, Unitarians, Animal Rights activists, Democrats & Independents, Non-Calvinists, the Left-handed, and certainly not to foreigners from non-European countries. (Russians not included. They are Slavs, breed like rabbits, and their cooking smells.)

Yep, beware the Left-Handed, kids.

And now a word about "TOLERANCE":
For the record, "Tolerance" actually means to tolerate something. (Crazy, I know!) It does NOT mean to endorse, condone or agree with something or someone. This term is more often mis-used by Americans to mean that you think something is hunky-dory, but that is incorrect. As an example, I shall use a co-worker of mine.

This un-named person is a Nazi. Yes, an actual Nazi-Nazi. He denies the Holocaust, but wishes it had happened. He hates Jews and thinks that they control the weather from some hideout in Alaska. He believes that he is a part of the "Master Race." (All of which is very impressive coming from a person who's brain is damaged from drug abuse, barely graduated H.S., will never move beyond the most menial of jobs, and now lives on welfare.)

I TOLERATE this guy and the words that come out of his mouth. There is no way in heaven or hell that I will EVER agree, condone or endorse a single thing he says or believes.

For the record, I do have opinions about Homosexuality that are based on Scripture. I try to base my life on what I read in the Bible. It's a part of following Jesus into his kingdom, you know. So with that in mind, let's take a look at just a few snippets of how God expects his followers to treat other people that they meet...this would include any & everyone we meet, be they gay, straight, somewhere in between, and even the Left-Handed.

"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice..." I.E. "WORKS" (Hosea 6:6)
"This is the Lord Almighty says: Administer true justice; show mercy & compassion to one another." (Zec. 7:9)
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

That's just from the Old Testament. Try reading for yourself what Jesus had to say about the subject of mercy. Matt. 9:12 & 13, 12:7 & 18:33 Of course, all of these are just tiny bits on the subject of mercy. Still, you get the idea fairly quickly that "Mercy" is an important issue for God. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it very clear that he expects his followers to show mercy towards others if they expect any for themselves. (Matt. 5:7)

Also, for the record, I AM a very sinful guy. I can't seem to go more than 5 minutes without some sinful thought entering my head. I am in need a savior who will extend a massive amount of mercy to me. Perhaps I should do the same for others.

It really kills me the way many "Christians" treat people who define themselves as gay. I remember after the 9/11 attacks when Jerry Falwell blamed it on gay folks. (Because brain-washed Islamic psychos obviously had nothing what so ever to do with it.) I'm old enough to remember when AIDS first became a big deal, and many preachers called it God's divine retribution. It made me wonder what they would say to promiscuous "Straight" people if they contracted AIDS or some other nasty STD.

Everything I heard & saw from these preachers made me question if they had really read any of the Gospel accounts.

The way a Believer interacts with others is important to Jesus because we are called to reflect his kingdom in our lives. In many respects we ARE the Gospel, because we are the living, breathing evidence of what Christ can do in a person's life. So why in the world would I treat a gay person any different than I would anyone else?

I have a really cool friend who defines himself as "Gay." He also desires to follow Jesus. Needless to say, there is a struggle there. I have learned so much from him. He has taught and continues to teach me more than he will ever know. One of the first things he taught me is to shut up & listen. And out of that comes a relationship. Once the relationship is there we can talk to each other about our struggles, and lift each other up. Relationship is almost everything. With out it, we might as well just be standing on street corners holding up damning signs and screaming at each other. (Always the most effective means of changing a behavior or position, don't you agree?)

The longer I live, the more I realize how little I actually know. This causes me to look to Jesus a lot more than I used to, because I desperately need a savior to rescue me and make sense of everything around me. Life & the world are BIG, and I have such a limited understanding of most of it. For example, I will never in a million years understand how my friend can't find women interesting and attractive.

My friend truly does not give a hoot about the "Babes." I, on the other hand, cannot walk past the pharmacy at our store without having my heart go pitter-patter when I see the strawberry blond gal with the killer smile, standing behind the counter. I just don't get it. But I'm willing to listen, because I grow closer to Jesus when we talk...and I hope he does too.

I mentioned towards the top about another song by Derek Webb called "Wedding Dress." (My personal theme song.) He sings about the way he often treats God and his grace & mercy. I can't help but identify with the lyrics, because I am so extremely un-faithful towards the one who died and was resurrected for me. It causes me to remember something Jesus said on a mountain side many, many ages ago.

"God is on the side of the Merciful,
for they shall receive mercy."