Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the side of the road.


The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident...I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27)

Lions make you brave. Giants give you faith. Death is a charade. You don't have to be safe to feel unafraid. ("Lions" by Lights)


A few years back I was up in the offices at our store. We used to have a "Wall of Shame" up there of all of the shoplifters we had busted. We would enjoy a good laugh at their expense. Some of the mug shots looked pretty bad. Others looked incredibly clueless.

I remember a photo of one of the newer folks we had caught. She was this blond girl who went to the nearest High School. The look on her face caught me. She looked very empty. I didn't want to laugh at her because of that look. I dunno. There was just something about it.

A few days later after work, I swung by McDonald's to grab something to eat before I drove out to the cabin. There was that same girl! She was sitting all by herself with that same empty & lost expression on her face. I recall very clearly that I felt a tug on my heart, BIG TIME, to go over and ask her if everything was OK. I was in a hurry, so instead, I took my food and left for the cabin.

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This past Sunday at Living Waters, Pastor Scott got off on a bit of a tangent. Most of us enjoy it when he does this. What "Free-Flow" is to Rappers, the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit is to good pastors. (Like "Ants-in-the-Pants" from on high.) Scott began to get a bit worked up about Believers not being involved enough in the day to day hurts of people and social injustice. He decried the situation in Florida about Trayvon Martin being killed among a variety of other current issues. "Why don't we run to the rescue when we are able," he asked? "Why do we look the other way?"

Earlier in that week, Scott had asked me to write something about this issue. Partly out of curiosity I suppose, but also because he wanted me to get something up that took away from the attention of a post I had written about him. This one here, in fact ---> http://www.trippingandstumbling.com/2012/03/putt-putt.html Scott has a very small ego and gets embarrassed by too much attention. So what ever you do, do NOT click on that link.

Anyway, here is my take on that horrible event in Florida.

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Plenty of opinions have been given by numerous folks about the death of Trayvon Martin. Numerous politicians have tried to make political hay out of this issue. You have the Tighty-Righties on FOX making their complaints. Then you have opportunistic lefties like Jesse Jackson & Rev. Al Sharpton weighing in. Great! (Isn't this a beautiful country?!?!)

I wasn't sure what to think when the story first broke. And now both sides are slinging even more mud and hoping to gain the moral high ground by digging a ditch.

I'll say this much: If you see someone suspicious, inform the police, and they then tell you to back off & stand down...DO IT! What you do NOT do is follow that person in your car down the road, confront them out in full view of the public, provoke them into a fight and then shoot them...and then claim self-defense!!!!

I simply do not understand the concept of disobeying a direct order from the police. (Particularly if you claim to be some kind of neighborhood watch leader) In a nut shell, that's all I really have to say about this issue.


Actually, there have been some very thoughtful articles written about this horrible event. Here are a couple that I thought well written. They are certainly better than anything I can write. Peruse them as you see fit.




Oh wait, there was one other thing I wanted to say; WHAT WAS ANY & EVERYONE ELSE WHO SAW THIS HAPPENING DOING DURING ALL OF THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

WHERE WERE THEY?

____________________


Most folks believe that Psalm 27 was written by David during one of the times that King Saul was trying to kill him. It's an amazing Psalm written from a very heartfelt position. You can hear David's pain in it. Yet, you can also hear his hope in the faithfulness of YHWH.

David had his faults. He would be the first to admit them. So his faith had little to do with himself. It had a great deal to do with who he knew his God was. David was not in a safe place, per say. He was in great physical danger. Yet, whatever legitimate fears he had, he placed them in the hands of the Living God.

There is freedom in that.
David certainly had his fears,
but he was unafraid.

____________________


America has a great deal of fear. In some respects we were founded on fear. Some of us fear our government. Others fear corporations. Some fear their neighbors. Many fear strangers. Apparently, many, many Americans fear all the new Muslims that have moved here. Some make up their own fears and call them conspiracies. We seem to love our fears.

People who call themselves "Christians" certainly seem to have plenty of strange fears, too.

Personally, I fear strawberries with hair on them.

"God is love...There is no fear in love.
But perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:16-18)

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Many years ago I lived in the Czech Republic for a while, teaching English. (Awesome beer, by the way.) In Prague there was a notorious gang of pick-pockets. They were five fat brothers. They would surround a tourist with their girth, then one of their fat children would reach in and grab a wallet. (I'm not making that up.)

I knew who these guys were, and they almost made me wish for the good old days of Communism where the police could just drag you away and give you a handy beating for no apparent reason.

So I was at the Metro station with a student. I see this elderly lady standing on the platform by herself...her purse barely dangling from her wrist. I see that "Weeble" family spot her from a distance. One of them moved in towards this lady.

It amazed me that so many people saw what was about to happen, but no one did a thing. To be honest, I'm not actually very brave. I don't like confrontation. But for some reason I was so offended by ALL of what I saw that I got up and stood behind that old lady and stared fatty down. (My student just sat there staring at me. Thanks buddy!)

So when the train got there, the rest of the Weebles kind of moved in towards me. Apparently I had ruined their plans for supper or something. 5 on 1 is not the best odds regardless of who you are. I remember that I thought I was going to wet my pants...seriously! (I also remembered that keys in a pocket can make an excellent slashing weapon.) Thankfully, my menacing stare and the Czech cultural instinct to quickly knuckle under to all invaders seemed to have done the trick. Nothing happened other than curse words I could not translate.

The irony is that the old lady never knew that any of it had happened. (Maybe Jesus will give me a happy-face sticker when I see him face to face.)

____________________

Believers are in a bind when it comes to situations like these. On the one hand, we are told by Jesus to turn the other cheek when we are persecuted. Yet, at the same time there is not one book from any of the Prophets where we are NOT told to vigorously defend the weak at all times.

I can't speak for the great theologians. I can only speak for myself. So my thought is that if you want to attack me because of my faith, OK. I wont raise a fist. I might mock you and call into question your own blatantly obvious insecurities, but that would be about it.


But on the other hand...


There is a lady named Helen whom I love a great deal. I have written about her once, a long time ago. http://www.trippingandstumbling.com/2011/01/helen-has-reputationand-i-want-same.html Helen is 84 years old, a widow, and one of the great delights of my life. Apparently Helen prays for me every day. Every time she sees me she attempts to be a blessing. Generally speaking, she succeeds.

I knew her for years by the nick-name I gave her, Sunny. That was always her disposition. Every time she see me she has uplifting words & encouragement for me. In fact, it has gotten to the point that every time I see her in the gym (Yes, she is a busy bee.) I start to get a little teary-eyed.

I love Helen very much. If I ever saw a person attempt to hurt her in any way, shape or form, I would do my best to hurt them. I really don't care how big that person is. I would hurt them. I would not kill them, but when I were finished they may have wished that I had. And I do mean that!

Now, magnify that attitude with a member of my family being hurt.

I wrestle with this impulse. I am not convinced that it is the most Christ-like. But the nucleus of it might be...the concept of righteous indignation & such. I hope for everyone's sake that I am never put in this particular position.

____________________


The fact of the matter is that the average Believer is rarely, if ever, put into life or death decisions of that type. But there is hardly a day that goes by where we are not faced with injustices of some sort. Whether it is office trash-talking, bullying, or most commonly simple indifference to suffering, we see it all the time.

In fact, we are very good at being indifferent to others.


So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. A bunch of "Religious" leaders walk by and see a wounded man on the side of the road. They do nothing. They were indifferent, and we don't really know why.

But this is so often us. We are very good at being indifferent.

Maybe it's fear. Maybe we are afraid of looking like a fool for getting involved. Maybe we are afraid that the others in a group will laugh at us if we stand up for another person. Maybe we are rightfully afraid of being physically hurt in some circumstance. (Most people have a cell phone though. 911 is not difficult to remember.)

Most of the time, though, I think we are indifferent simply because we don't care. Most of the time, the people we see on the side of the road in life, are simply hurting people. They are not dangerous. We see hurting people at work everyday. We see hurting neighbors, acquaintances, people on sidewalks, people in restaurants, bars, shopping malls. Sometimes we see them in McDonald's.

We are good at being indifferent. At least I am.

____________________

I never did find out what happened to that blond girl who we caught shoplifting at our store. This girl with an empty & lost look on her face. I have no idea what became of her. I cannot forget the pull I felt on my heart to simply sit down and ask her if everything was OK. It still nags at me after all this time.

I admit, a part of me felt rather weird thinking of sitting down with her. I mean, what if she thought I was some freak. I could get in trouble. So there was a bit of fear in me. But the fact remains that the cabin is an hour and a half away. I really wanted to get out there to enjoy a day off. I was in a hurry.

She was on the side of the road.
I can use my fear as an excuse.

Father, please forgive me.
I was indifferent.


Peace

Joe

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Grace of Eli & The Thief


YHWH said to Samuel, "Listen carefully. I'm getting ready to do something in Israel that is going to shake everyone up & down and get their attention. The time has come for me to bring down on Eli's family everything I warned him of, every last word of it"...

..Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then rose early and went about his duties, opening the doors to the sanctuary, but he dreaded having to tell the vision it Eli. But then Eli summoned Samuel: "Samuel, my son!" Samuel came running; "Yes? What can I do for you?"

"What did he say? Tell it to me, all of it. Don't suppress or soften one word, as YHWH is your judge! I want it all, word for word as he said it to you." So Samuel told him, word for word. He held nothing back.

Eli said, "He is God. Let him do what ever he thinks is best."
1 Sam. 3:11-18 (Message Bible version)


The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: "So you're the King of the Jews! Save yourself!" Printed over him was a sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals hanging along side cursed him: "Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!" But the other one made him shut up: "Have you no fear of God? You're getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him -- he did nothing to deserve this." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom."

Jesus said, "Don't worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise."
Luke 23:36-43 (Message Bible version)



This past Tuesday at our men's group we were going through chapter 10 of The Story, on the rise of Samuel and King Saul. Samuel was an interesting guy. He began serving YHWH when he was still a toddler. For all intents & purposes, Eli the Priest was his surrogate father. It's probably a good thing that YHWH revealed himself to Sam as a young kid. Eli was not a good father.

Eli had been serving the Lord for ages. He knew who YHWH was. But it seems he did not impart that to his kids, Hophni & Phinehas. Apparently he tried to intervene and warm them not to be corrupt bums. Apparently they did not listen. Hophni & Phinenas were not just corrupt bums, they were stupid, corrupt bums.

When YHWH was finally fed up with Eli's family, he told Sam what he was going to do. Sam had to tell Eli the extremely bad news. I thought Eli's response was honest and brilliant! Eli's response was acknowledgment and acceptance. There are consequences to the life you live. Eli accepted this. Eli knew who YHWH was.

There is grace in that acceptance.


Where as Eli had a relationship with God all his life, the thief next to Jesus apparently did not. If he had, he probably would not have been living a life of crime that resulted in execution. Where as the first thief made fun of Jesus, the second thief accepted his fate and acknowledged who he was and who Jesus was. It would appear that the second thief had a relationship with God for only a few minutes. Still, he acknowledged his situation. He accepted his fate.

There is grace in that acceptance.


____________________


I have issues with God. God has numerous issues with me. I do not think that God can love me. I do not deserve love. I am a sinner. At one point or another, I have had multiple opportunities to commit multiple sins. I'm really good at it.

Not that I have been able to accomplish every sin I've wished to, but I have certainly thought about most of them. It is good that most of these wishes stay only in my head. I would be a murderer of the highest order. The lust that lurks in the corners of my mind make me an adulterous whore. My greed would put me in a cell with Bernie Madoff. My lack of compassion makes me appear as a Vulcan. My selfishness would cause Galileo to recalculate so that the universe revolved around me.

I am a sinner. I'm really good at it. I do not deserve love.

___________________


I have heard people call jewish folks "Christ-Killers." I have heard people blame the Jews for this. They say that the Jews killed Jesus. They are wrong.

I killed Jesus.


We have a problem with both of the above. Jesus claimed to be God. If that is true, then how do you kill God? Do you hit him with a bat? Do you stick him with a wooden stake? Do you slip salmonella in his lunch? How do you kill God?

I suppose you can't, really, unless...


In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus said that no one could take his life. (See, I told you couldn't kill God.) Instead, Jesus said that he was giving up his life voluntarily.

Crucifixion was a nasty death. Romans were really good at two things; building roads and finding ways to kill people painfully & slowly. You hang there, naked, and slowly suffocate to death.

If that wasn't bad enough, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus actually became sin itself while on that cross. It doesn't say "SinS," plural...it says SIN. "God made him who had no sin to BE SIN."


Why would you volunteer for something like that?


"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY SET BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING IT'S SHAME, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2 & 3

There is JOY in something like that?


I am a sinner. I am really good at it. Jesus became all of my sins on that cross. He took my punishment...and I don't understand why. I am not worth it. God cannot love me.

____________________


I prefer the term "Broken" over sinner. It is a little bit more palatable. There are many people out there who like to tell you how much God hates you because you sin. There are many people out there who like to tell and remind you of what a sinner you are. When you get most people to a safe place, they will admit how wicked they can be. They do not need to be told that they are turds in the eyes of the divine.

Still, I am a sinner.
I need to acknowledge that.
I am not just broken.


There are other people who do not admit that they are sinful. They will admit that they are not perfect, "But that's not the same as being sinful." They will equate sin with evil. "I'm not an evil person! Most people are not evil, are they?"

Have you driven on the freeway recently?????

Now ask that question again.


David Brooks wrote a great op-ed piece for the N.Y. Times the other day about the American soldier who went on a rampage in Afghanistan recently. This soldier is responsible for the deaths of innocent people. He may well be responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in revenge killings too.

"Any of us would be shocked if someone we knew and admired killed children. But these days it’s especially hard to think through these situations because of the worldview that prevails in our culture.

According to this view, most people are naturally good, because nature is good. The monstrosities of the world are caused by the few people (like Hitler or Idi Amin) who are fundamentally warped and evil.

This worldview gives us an easy conscience, because we don’t have to contemplate the evil in ourselves. But when somebody who seems mostly good does something completely awful, we’re rendered mute or confused.

But of course it happens all the time. That’s because even people who contain reservoirs of compassion and neighborliness also possess a latent potential to commit murder."


I didn't know until I read this article that the most violent age for people was age 2. That kind of explains a lot...in a creepy way.

However long human beings have been on this planet, we have about 5000 years of recorded history. Once you have taken a decent look at that history, it is difficult to argue that we are basically good at heart. Sure, we can do plenty of good things...but take a good look in your heart. You know what is living in there.

BTW: When I take a good look at recorded history, I am often left speechless that most of us have learned to tie our own shoes, let alone walk and chew gum at the same time. Again, have you driven on the roads recently???

We are sinful. We are good at it. We do not deserve love. God cannot love us.


"...For the JOY set before him, endured the cross..."

____________________


It is said that Grace is amazing. This is true. Because grace is not deserved or earned.

If I collect all of my dog's numerous steamy piles and place them on your porch. If I enjoy spinning the tires of my SUV upon your lawn. If I dump my trash and recyclables in your back yard. If I think it's funny to relieve myself in your gas tank so you always think it's full. If I do these things, I should also expect a punch in the mouth...or two...or a dozen. (Not to fret. I haven't done those things in a couple of weeks, at least.)

I do not deserve that you should go out and pay of my mortgage and purchase me a porsche.

If you think what I could potentially do to my neighbors...and my dog leaves plenty of piles, think about the way I treat Jesus, my God.

I am a sinner. I am good at it. I do not deserve love. God cannot love me.


____________________


I do not think that anyone can truly comprehend how amazing grace is until they take a good look in their hearts. Yes, I am broken. I am imperfect. I am also truly evil and sinful. I AM! I cannot deny it. You should not deny it either. If you do, you will never understand how amazing grace truly is.

Accept it. Acknowledge it. Eli and the Thief did.

There is grace in that.

I am a sinner. I am good at it. I do not deserve love. God cannot love me.

But he loves me anyway.




Peace

Joe

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Putt Putt


It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors & teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
Eph. 4:11-12

"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easy-going formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life -- to God! -- is vigorous and requires total attention.

Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or the other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preacher ARE is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or you pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned."
Matt. 17:13-20 (Message Bible version)


Every other Tuesday, a group of guys from Living Waters get together at the church office to go through a chapter of The Story. It's usually the same group of guys, give or take. I really enjoy these times. It gives me a chance to get to know the individual stories of the people there.

One guy in particular that I always appreciate is our Pastor, Scott. (His nick-name from his kid years is "Putt." I have yet to hear how he earned that.) I have known Scott for many years. He was my Youth Pastor back when I was a teen. Other than getting gray, he looks exactly the same. So does his wife...although she has not gone gray yet...only Scott. (And this gives me great amusement.)

When my family first moved to Minnesota, we began attending Bloomington Baptist church. BBC did a church plant in a suburb to the south called Berean Baptist. Berean planted another church farther south in Lakeville, called Living Waters. We meet in a middle school. Scott is our shepherd. It must be destiny at work.


____________________


My natural inclination is to be suspicious of other people who call themselves "Christians." I'm not proud of that, per say. But it does sometimes save me from being duped. It is something that has developed over the course of negative experiences to numerous to count. Even more so the many preachers I see on the T.V., hear on the radio, and the ones I read and hear about in the news. I often wonder if there are any actual followers of Jesus out there, or if preachers are simply out there to gain power and/or money buy saying things that have some Jesus-sauce dripping off whatever it is they are peddling.

It gets even creepier when there are preachers out there who actually believe much of what they say. Especially the ones who have looney followers, and seem to angle for the nearest niche-market power base.

Scott is not one of these.

_____________________


Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his followers to look for the fruit that the various trees produced. I used the Message Bible's version, so it's worded differently, but I still like it.

So many people use the label of "Christian" to describe themselves. The simple fact is that for me, the word means almost nothing anymore. To me, you had better look an awful lot like the character that Jesus displayed, and concern yourself primarily with the things he concerned himself with, or I will quickly come to doubt you.

Apple tree produce apples. If you call yourself an apple tree, and then I see avocados blooming, we may have some issues. It's even worse when the supposed apple tree actually looks and behaves like a thorn bush.

I am not talking about "Legalism." I don't much care if you have a couple of beers. I am not all that offended to hear some cuss words...depending on the context. I'm strictly independent, so if you want to vote for someone other than the Republican, I will not call your salvation into question. In fact, if you are really squeaky clean, my mind starts seeing more red-flags than the May Day parade in Beijing.

However, if you call yourself a "Christian," a Believer, etc., and I begin to see how messy you are, but also with a desire for repentance and a contrite heart, then we got game.


____________________


Pastor Scott has issues. I like that. I have about 5 times as many issues as the next guy, so it is good for me to have someone who can empathize with me. I have noticed that Scott often has as many, if not more, questions than he does answers. In fact, unless it is on some very basic and central tenants of the faith, Scott will often use a variation on the following phrases; "Well, I think that..." Or, "Well my opinion is..." And then often end it with, "What's your thoughts on this?"

This is good. It's healthy. It's right. It also shows that his heart is in the right place, and not assuming to have YHWH all figured out and reduced.


Scott is not afraid to talk about what ever might be troubling him on a personal level from the pulpit. I have heard that he has been criticized for this by other pastors. I do not understand this.

In the days of the early church, there was not this black & white division between the professional clergy and the rest of the church body. Near as I can tell, in cities and towns back in those days, everyone knew everyone else's business...both good and bad. Hiding behind a robe and a degree would not have cut it. You could not put a mask on in a little house church and pretend that everything was hunky-dory.

Scott is not afraid to be open about stuff that might be bugging him. That gives the rest of us the strength to be honest, too.



Scott is a good father. He has two adopted kids. I am adopted. This is important to me. He and his wife also have some foster kids. One of them recently became a man because he learned how to change diapers on the grandchild. I would wager that Scott has made everyone mow the lawn at some point and clean up the dog poo. Scott is a good father.

I like to talk to Scott. I'm never sure if he likes to listen to me. But he does nod and smile when I open my mouth for long periods. This is good for me and my fragile self-esteem.

Scott knows almost all of my dirty, little secrets. He never uses them against me. Sometimes he will turn them around so that I can see how God has used them to strengthen me. We all have our guilts, fears and weaknesses. We try to hide them. They get worse when we do that, and people seem to find out anyway. I don't have to hide anything around Scott.

Be very careful of any pastor that looks polished. Be wary of any pastor that always has an answer for everything. Be nervous around a pastor who is a control freak. Run away from a pastor that hesitates to admit their own imperfections and limits. (And I ain't talking lip-service admissions.)

Scott is not one of these.

____________________


Often times, I do not think that pastors get enough compliments and encouragement. The big & famous preachers do. They have numerous sycophants that live vicariously through them. The normal, everyday pastor spends most of his time in the trenches with messy people. It's my opinion that, if anything, spending time with people like me would make a pastor want to go in to some other line of work. They do not get enough encouragement.

Scott is a good man. He is a good man not because he is naturally good. Scott is a sinner...like me. Scott is a good man because his faith is in the only one who ever lived the perfect life for the sinners who could not. Scott knows what is deep in his heart that needs redeeming, and he does not shy away from acknowledging how much he has to depend upon Jesus to get him through his life. That is why Scott is a good man. I am glad that he is my pastor.


I see his faith and the fruit the Spirit produces in Scott. Perhaps Scott is an apple tree that produces good apples for making pies. Sometimes though, I do not think this illustration by Jesus applies to all Believers. Perhaps Scott is not a fruit tree. Perhaps he is bush, and his heart is a flower.

Scott's flower is good, and so is the aroma that it gives off.




Peace

Joe

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Family man



While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, "Your mothers and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you." Jesus didn't respond directly, but he said, "Who do you think my mother and brothers are?" He then stretched out his hand towards his disciples. "Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Matt. 12:46-50

"This is my command: Love one another the way I have loved you. This is the best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father."
John 15:12-15



<--- I'm throwing in this particular family portrait for two reasons: #1. Like it or not, Pres. Obama is an outstanding family man. He is the kind of role model that many, many men in our society need, both as a man, husband & father. #2. I know that a picture of Obama will drive many of my friends absolutely nuts. So how can I resist something like that?

On this topic, it's a good thing that Presidents continue to get Secret Service protection after they leave the office. His two daughters are incredibly cute kids, and are most likely going to break numerous hearts of numerous boys. Having men with Uzis around the house will do wonders deterring unsuitable potential dates.

Should make "Break-ups" more interesting, too.



N-E-WAY...

Yesterday I was at the gym doing my thing. I always hit the bike first for about 20 minutes so that I am properly sweaty, stinky and stretched out before I hit the weights. (More on this after the post proper.) I also always listen to various podcasts while doing so. Yesterday, the Imago Dei Community was preaching through Matthew 12. Jesus is kind of dropping the bomb on hard-hearted "Religious" people...as usual. But then his family shows up.

Church history says that Jesus had an odd relationship with his brothers. James, his kid brother seemed to be a particular problem. Turned out OK in the end if you bother to read the book of James. But I can imagine at the time, most of his family had thought that Jesus had lost it. If you were his Mom, you would be concerned too.

So when told that his relatives were outside wanting to chat, Jesus uses that as a metaphor for a much bigger family. He points to his disciples...all men, and says that these guys are his sisters and mom. (Which probably caused a bit of squirming with Peter and Andrew, since both looked awkward in a skirt.) Still, point being that there is more to a family than DNA.

So this Jesus guy, this guy who claims to be God-in-the-flesh, this visible image of the invisible God, makes the statement that anyone who follows him is now his sibling, his kin, his family. Later in the New Testament, the statement is made that as such, all of these family members are Joint-Heirs to everything that belongs to Jesus. Pretty freakin' amazing if you stop to actually think about that for more than a moment.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers that they are now his friends, his buds, his BFFs. I can handle that a little easier than I can the idea of actually being his brother for some reason. Perhaps that's just me and my normal insecurities doing their thing. Either way, still freakin' amazing.

I don't think that I, or most Believers dwell and meditate on that truth enough. A friend of God? A mother, brother, sister to Jesus? Truly hard to contemplate. It sounds too intimate. Maybe that's the point. I like it that it should make me feel uncomfortable.



Forgive the blasphemy, but perhaps from now on I should begin my prayers with "S'up Bro?!?!"


It's just a thought.



Peace

Joe


P.S. As an added bonus, I now offer you some gym advice and tunes for your work-out. Please take these next two songs and put them on repeat. (I use these two for free-weight curls.) Use a 10lb barbell, which isn't very heavy, and simply do sets of ten on each arm until the songs are finished. Seriously, you gotta try this sometime. It only hurts a little because the feeling in your fingers go numb after a while.

For this one, set the repeat for two times...



For this next one, set the repeat for three times...
(It's also extremely important that you get these funky-sweet dance moves down, too. You never can tell when they might come in handy.)


Seriously, try curling through either song for the required period of time. You might feel like not lifting anything heavier than a sock for a few hours afterwards, but it's worth it.

:) :) :) :) :)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

little gods


"But you are my witnesses," YHWH's Decree. "You're my handpicked servant. So that you'll come to know me and trust me, understand both that I am and who I am. Previous to me there was no such thing as a "god," nor will there be after me.

I, yes I, am YHWH. I am the only Savior there is. I spoke, I saved, I told you what existed long before these upstart gods appeared on the scene. And you know it, you're my witnesses, you're the evidence." YHWH's Decree. Yes, I am God. I've always been God and I will always be God. No one can take anything from me. I make; who can unmake it?"
Is. 43:10-13 The Message Bible)


At least once a week, I have a brother/sister date with my younger sibling. Our normal routine is to head over to Ikea for breakfast or lunch, and then go across the street to the Mall of America. While my sister always gets the chicken fingers at Ikea, I almost always get the Swedish meatballs. There is just something about meatballs that are good for the soul.

Neither of us have a lot of money to spare, so we have learned how to hunt for bargains if we feel the need to buy a T-shirt. We are the king & queen of the coupon. We are also good at people watching...which provides excellent low-cost entertainment.

For those unfamiliar with Ikea and the M.O.A., I shall educate you. Ikea is a giant box store from Sweden that provides a ton of strange furniture at low costs that you then put together yourself. (I feel worthwhile, reasonably manly and semi-productive when I am able to put something together that I can then sit upon.) Ikea also has a giant cafeteria which serves only a handful of food selections. Personally, I don't think you need much variety when you have Swedish meatballs available.

The Mall of America is the biggest Mall in the U.S. It is four stories high, and has an amusement park in the middle of it. It is also located across the highway from the airport. This makes it a handy spot for emergency landings upon the roof should such a need arise. It is also large enough to handle all manner of personality disorders that feel the need to venture out in public in whatever manner of dress & behavior they deem appropriate without the Bloomington police, Hennepin County Sheriff, or large men in white coats with straight jackets descending. It is good for people watching...which provides excellent low-cost entertainment.



So Friday, my sister and I headed over to the mall after lunch. We were not aware that the cast of the new movie, "The Hunger Games," was going to be there. The rotunda of the mall was encircled by teenagers all the way up to the 4th floor. The police were there and had shut down the escalators in that area. As I tried to maneuver through this mass of teen angst, I could feel a fresh wave of acne desiring to break out upon my face and the urge to say sentences that began with "Like" a lot. It was unsettling...but provided excellent low-cost entertainment.

(I rarely feel the need to carry a stink bomb or similar device with me anymore. This was a missed opportunity that I shall regret.)

That having been said, once you were safely away from the mass of anxious puberty you had the mall all to yourself.

BTW: I have noticed something about the newest generation of Hollywood gods. Before one can be put on a pedestal for worship, this generation apparently can only attain such a state if their names are Tyler, Taylor or Josh. Maybe that's just me...

____________________



I have a friend who is a Believer. He says he follows Jesus. I don't get to talk with him as much as I'd like anymore. When we do talk, he talks of politics a lot. He is very informed on his political opinions. He talks about how this country is doomed. He says that Ron Paul is the only one who can save this country. He seems to have this issue on his mind a great deal...a GREAT deal.

I have another friend who I think & hope is desiring to follow Jesus. He says he loves God, but seems to spend most of his time looking at conspiracy theory websites. He talks about how the government is hiding the truth about aliens from us. He talks about how Obama is out to get everyone who knows these dangerous little secrets, and that we live in a semi-dictatorship. (I recall hearing the same things when Bush was in office.) My friend needs a job, but he spends a lot of time researching secrets. My friend says he believes that God loves him, but he spends a lot of time worrying about conspiracies.

I have a lot of friends who talk about God-this and God-that, but then they talk more about the importance of sports, politics of various types, entertainment gossip, etc, etc, etc.


Many people call themselves Christians. But they often seem to concern themselves with things that Jesus didn't seem to care all that much about. People can talk a lot about "God," but I often wonder if they are really talking about "god."

____________________


When I am at the the giant mall and want to buy a new shirt, I go to Express. (I know how to milk the discounts.) Generally speaking, I feel that I resemble Shrek. I also know that I am a vacuum when it comes to taste or fashion sense. So I bring my sister with me for guidance. She keeps me from buying something that will cause wild birds to peck at me. I shop at Express not because I am "Cool," because I doubt that I am, but because with my looks I will not be mocked...as much.

The M.O.A. has many stores that can cater to your tribal identification. If I did not like my parents, and existential angst had a sizable grip on my soul, I would shop at Hot Topix. I like my parents, have no piercings in my face, so I do not shop there.

If I were young, preppy/surfy, and desperately wanted strangers to tell me I am cool...AND were a semi-closeted, Bi-curious college student, I would shop at Hollister or Abercrombie. I do not have a 6-pack stomach, so I do not shop there.

If I were on the cutting edge of trends, could fit into skinny jeans and liked Bud Light, I would shop at Urban Outfitters. I do not wear stocking caps, so I do not shop there. (I did buy a T-shirt there recently, though. It was on sale.)

If I had the thighs for it, was truly starved for attention and didn't mind being pepper-sprayed, I would shop at Victoria's Secret. For various reasons, I do not shop there.



I like to watch and observe the people at the mall. If you keep your eyes open you can see many things when you do this. This includes the people who shop in these stores. It makes me feel old sometimes, so perhaps this is not always a good idea. However, when I watch these people I see other things as well. Each store sells a worldview, an identity...a religion. I will watch people go into these stores, make a sacrifice in the form of green pieces of paper or the swiping of a plastic card, and then come out with a new uniform that shows what god they belong to.


If I am hungry, there are many places at the mall I could go to. There are two different food courts which cater to any & all needs. You can actually buy healthy food in these courts. Most of them are not so healthy, but they taste good because of the extra salt that is added. There are also many, many restaurants on every level. If I needed a sugar rush, there is even a new Peeps store that sells nothing but Easter Candy. If Peeps tasted like salsa, I would shop there. They do not. I do not.


Sometimes your god gets hungry. Sometimes your god wants an Orange Julius or maybe some Peeps. Sometimes your god wants a new pair of pants. Your god gets lonely. Your god needs the approval of others.


____________________


About a week ago, there were tornados down south. People were injured. People were killed. Shortly after those tornados, Dr. John Piper preached that those tornados were the fingers of God. He did not elaborate on wether or not these fingers were God's judgment.

Last year there were tornados in north Minneapolis. Dr. Piper said that it was God's judgement on the Lutherans of the ELCA who were meeting that week to decide if "Gay is OK" for their denomination. (I have my opinions on this, but you can ask me some other time.) Piper's God is a lousy shot. Yes, he hit the convention center where the Lutherans were meeting and knocked things over. Unfortunately, he also hit the neighborhood, miles away, that I was working in that WAS home to the poorest of the poor in Minneapolis. It has been almost a year since the tornado. The homes have not been rebuilt. Many of the families are still homeless. I do not think many of those poor families were Lutherans.


A couple of years ago, the I35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. This bridge is directly across the street from Bethlehem Baptist church...where John Piper preaches. Dr. Piper said it was God's will that the bridge collapsed. He did not say if it was his churches' fault.


When your concept of God's Sovereignty is such that nothing...nothing what so ever, happens without it being pre-ordained by God's will, you get some strange results. God wills tornados & earthquakes for what ever reason, and I believe he can do that and has the right. But this view believes that God wills ALL, and this includes all human actions. This includes all of MY actions. I brushed my teeth because God had preordained it. If I kill my neighbor, God has pre-ordained that too. (But it is still my fault.)

This God seems strange to me. He seems small in a way, because he can be reduced to a theological formula. He seems more like a computer algorithm. I don't think I could actually have a relationship with this god...unless he has programmed me to do so.


My old professor wrote down some great thoughts on this topic. You can read them here.

____________________


I am a "Second Class" Christian. I do not embrace Piper's type of Calvinism, so I am told that I walk with a spiritual limp. I do not speak in tongues, so I have been told that I am missing out by those who do. I have been told that since I am a Protestant, and have forsaken the true, Catholic church that I am in danger of the fires of hell. I have never been "Baptized in the Spirit," so I am told that I am being disobedient. I am a second class Christian.

____________________


Sometimes your god gets hungry. Sometimes your god wants an Orange Julius or maybe some Peeps. Sometimes your god wants a new pair of pants. Your god gets lonely. Your god needs the approval of others.

Sometimes your god wants you to elect him to office. Sometimes your god wants you to elect someone else. Sometimes your god wants you and many others to all run for the same political office at the same time. (Maybe that god likes to watch human pinatas.) Sometimes your god likes to sit in a dark room and watch poorly done conspiracy videos and silly lectures so you are too distracted to have a life.

Sometimes your god demands that you reduce him to a page in a book, or a formula on a piece of paper. Sometimes your god demands that you go through a physical ritual to make him smile. Sometimes your god wants you to make him so tiny that he can be reduced to some knowledge and correct theology in your head. Sometimes your god sits on the table and pouts that you do not "Get" him. He gets mad that you do not have the proper check list so as to be able to carry him in your pocket and point to the list when you need to correct others.

Sometimes your god gets so mad that you don't have the right shirt, pants, Peeps and doctrinal statement & confession that he will close his eyes and hold his breath until he turns blue and passes out. That will teach you!

Your god is very little.


"Little girls shouldn't treat
little boys they happen to meet
like little gods."

And neither should you.




Peace

Joe

Sunday, March 4, 2012

For such a time as this



This coming Wednesday is the beginning of Purim. It commemorates the events that happened in the book of Esther. For some reason I always figured that Queen Esther looked a lot like the Italian actress, Sofia Loren. Now I have the pictures to prove it.

N-E-Way, Purim is not one of the major jewish holidays that YHWH set out for the people when they were under Moses' leadership. It's a secondary holiday like Hanukkah, and the big sale at Bloomingdale's. When I was living in Israel, I viewed it as sort of their version of Halloween. There is a lot of candy and costumes, and kids totally dig it. If you are familiar at all with the book of Esther, it tells the story of how she saved the Jews from a genocide after they had been exiled.

It's a rather tense short-story, but one with a lot of humor in it too. For starters, King Xerxes comes off as the stereotypical "Dumb Jock." The story opens with the Persian version of a Frat party, where the king is showing off all of his bling. The bling apparently included his wife at the time, Queen Vashti. (Which is an awesome name that I hope to use someday.)

Xerxes wants her to come out to where the boys are and show off her hotness. The queen refuses, sending the king into one of his many, and easily achieved temper-tantrums. Long story short, he gets a new queen.

Throughout the book you see the character of Xerxes as one who thinks so highly of himself that he is willing to let all sorts of stupid promises come out. This ends up being very good, indeed, for the Jews.

Another comical fellow is Haman. His ego is at least as large as Rush Limbaugh's, and it ends up getting him in similar trouble. You know what they say about Karma? Well...

At Living Waters, we have been going through The Story, which is the bible slightly reorganized so as to read more like a proper narrative. Today Scott preached on Esther. Since this year, Purim will fall on this Wednesday, the 7th, it seemed only fitting to write a little bit about it too.

___________________


I've never understood "Anti-Semitism." I'm decent with history, and to my knowledge I can't think of any other ethnic group that has been persecuted more than the Jews. At my current job there is a guy who is a Nazi. (And I do mean a Nazi! "Seig Heil, Aryans are the greatest. We need to kill the Jews." All of that crap.) When I have to talk to him, and refrain from hitting him repeatedly about the head and neck with a 2x4, I ask him what any given Jew ever did to him. He never seems to have a coherent answer...which really comes as no surprise to me.

I've heard him and others say that the Jews control the media. I had thought that Rupert Murdoch was Anglican. I've heard him and others say that the Jews control the weather. (I guess they have a semi-secret base up in Alaska.) I know many Jews who live in Minnesota. If they really controlled the weather, our climate would be considerably different, I can assure you.

My own theory is that anti-semitism is satanic in origin. God picked Abraham and his offspring to begin to reveal himself to humanity through. Jesus is jewish, which means that God is jewish. Satan has a rather distant and troubled relationship with YHWH. So I imagine that Satan has a particular disdain for Jews. Ta Da!


Any time I've spoken to someone who is anti-semitic, they can never give me a logical answer to their hate. It is always emotional. "I had a pastrami sandwich in a New York deli that had too much fat on it. Plus, the spices gave me heartburn. I hate those Jews!" And that's about as logical as it gets.

I dunno, maybe Satan doesn't like hummus. He never did strike me as a guy who enjoyed enough fiber.

____________________


Back to Esther.

One interesting fact about this short story, is that God is never, ever directly mentioned. Yet the book made it into the Old Testament cannon. God is never mentioned, but his fingerprints are everywhere. Go figure.

What is interesting about the story is how you see the divine providence of YHWH behind the scenes at all times. He is at work. He is being faithful. He is setting pieces on the board and always ready to make his move. But none of this is overt. It is more of a quiet faithfulness that can only be seen by those whose hearts have the eyes to see and ears to hear.


At this point, the kingdom of Judah had been exiled long ago. The Babylonians had been replaced by the Persians. The great & kind emperors, Darius & Cyrus, have long since passed away. Now the throne of Persia is seated with a fellow who is not particularly bright.

Mordecai, one of the descendants of the exiles, is a minor official in the government. He has been raising his younger cousin, Esther, since she had been orphaned. So right off the bat, you see a man who has remained faithful to YHWH despite the exile. He is doing the right thing with members of his extended family. Ultimately, this shows that God was putting Mordecai in a strategic position without his knowing.

It is from that position that Esther gets the attention of the royal staff. This in turn leads to her becoming Queen. This in turn leads to her being able to intervene at just the right time to avert a slaughter of the Jews.

For those who don't know, Haman, who appears to be a sort of Prime Minister for he empire, gets a bit miffed that Mordecai doesn't grovel in his presence on a regular basis. Naturally, the only logical thing to do for Haman is to enact a genocide on all of Mordecai's extended ethnic group. (Perfectly logical with no hint of overkill, don't you agree?)

However, due to the strategic placement of Mordecai and then Esther in their positions, God prevents this act from taking place. It also helps that God made sure a dimwit was on the throne, and that Haman was a man with a zeal that far out stripped his amazing ability to tie his own shoes.



For me, the central point of this story comes in Chapter 4, when Mordecai confronts Queen Esther with the stark choice that she needs to consider. I also believe it is one that confronts all people, and Believers in particular.

After Mordecai sends word to Esther that a decree has been issued to exterminate all of the Jews in the empire, he ads this statement:

"Don't think that just because you live in the king's house you're the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this." (Esther 4:12-14)


Apparently, Mordecai knew who his God was and what he could do. He also saw that this God puts people where they are for reasons that we do not always see at the time.


____________________


I am not a big believer in Great Men & Women of God. Those who seem to consider themselves to be great for God, generally seem to me to be great big poofs.

What I do believe in is average, everyday people with messy hearts and a humility to realize their situation. I also believe in a great & mighty God who will use people exactly like that to do great things by his strength.

I am generally unconvinced that God spends much time worrying about the great & mighty folks. They are usually too busy being great & mighty, and making sure you know just how great & mighty they happen to be, to give God the opportunity to actually use them for his kingdom.


Generally speaking, you can tell the Great Men & Women of God by their earthly success. They create Universities, and have really awful shows on T.V., cable and radio. They often have large churches in which they guard the pulpit most vigorously, lest someone with a less-than-their-version-of-proper-theological-orthodoxy steps in for a few words. Many of them say things like "God told me to run for this political office." To which God will often reply, "Oh sorry, I was out refilling the bird feeder. What were you saying again?"

I am of the opinion that YHWH scratches his head over these people and utters thoughts along the line of, "Well, good luck with all that. But thanks for the thumbs up, bro." I also recall Jesus saying something along the lines of, "I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."

____________________

Question: Who is the greater man, Billy Graham, the man who led Billy Graham to faith, or the man who led that man to faith?

I think you get the point.

I doubt very much that Mordecai thought he was particularly special. I doubt very much that most of the "Heros" of the bible thought they were very special at the time. Those who did always ended up in trouble. Look at Paul. He expressed the opinion that deep down inside, he was little more than a dirty little rat bastard. It was this realization that, even as such, he was deeply loved and redeemed by Christ that changed his life forever.



Obviously, my Grandmother does not count in this. Obviously, my Grandmother was beyond awesome in all manner of things. But I doubt you could have told her that. My Grandmother began her teaching career in a one room school house in N. Dakota. Later she taught for the Minneapolis Public Schools.

It was during this time that she had a student who shall remain nameless. (His first name is Paul, and I'll leave it at that.) He came from an alcoholic family that was rather poor. He would come to school with neither a jacket nor gloves in the winter time. My Grandmother took that little boy under her wing and provided him with clothes and such. She took special care of him. She loved that little boy because Jesus loved her.

That little boy grew up. He became a millionaire. He became very active in the Democratic Party here in Minnesota. He also became a follower of Jesus. He is very concerned about poverty, and fights against it. To my knowledge, to this day he attends a local Salvation Army church. He honored my Grandmother in public before she died that she was the one who made the difference in his life. She told him about Jesus through her words and deeds.

Because she was faithful and knew who her God was, in turn God used her for his kingdom.

My Grandmother was an average, everyday person with a messy heart. She did not think she was anything special. (Obviously, I would disagree with her.) She was "Last," but she will be "First." When the kingdom is here in full, she will be called "Great" before that king.


And so it is with us.


It is easy for me to discount where I am presently. It is easy for all of us to wonder why God has allowed us to be where we are and what we are doing. Is it his sovereign will at work? Is it his permissive will letting us do as we please? I don't know.

I suppose that what matters is where our hearts are during any and all of these times. I read a post by Dr. Russ Moore a while ago. http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/01/02/the-next-billy-graham-might-be-drunk-right-now/ He posits that the next Billy Graham might be passed out on the floor of some Frat house right now, and doesn't even realize it. Since YHWH has a divine sense of humor, such a thing would not surprise me. (Jesus might even accidently turn up the stereo in the morning to wake him up with a live version of AC/DC's "Hells Bells.")

Maybe you are the guy or gal there, right now, looking at that college kid with the beer dripping out his nose. Perhaps you should get him a bucket.

Perhaps you are digging a ditch and your co-digger is needing to vent about the problems with his wife. Maybe you are the big kid who sees a smaller kid getting bullied. Maybe you are the corporate executive who feels it is immoral to take that bonus while your company is laying people off. Maybe you are the candidate for office who feels that running a campaign that uses a lot of Jesus language ought to actually resemble Jesus instead of using rancid attack ads. Maybe you are the girl who just heard the most devastating piece of truthful gossip that would destroy your rival if properly placed on Facebook. Maybe you are the High School Jock who just had the offer of a lifetime from the hottest girl in school. And perhaps you are simply working at the most boring, dead end occupation you can think of, but a hurting customer just happened to walk in the door.



"Who knows? Perhaps you were made for just such a time as this."




Peace

Joe

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Simplicity of Shorty



On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Matt. 10:19 & 20


Every Friday morning, a group of guys from Living Waters meets at a Perkin's in Lakeville for breakfast. We meet at 6AM, which means that I have to get up around 5AM. Since after a night at work, I can't fall asleep until about 11-11:30, this can be most brutal for me. At least now that the Winter sun is beginning to give way to an earlier sunrise, I feel a tad more alert on my drive down...but only a tad.

BTW: I always have the Pigs in a Blanket w/hash browns & eggs scrambled...just in case you were curious.

So anyway, one guy who always shows up is a fellow named Shorty. He lives up to his name. He may be part-hobbit, minus the hairy feet. (I'm uncertain, since I have yet to see him in flip-flops.) He is one of the most up-beat and genuinely friendliest people you will ever meet.

Shorty has a faith based on many years of experience. It is tested, secure and true. Apparently there have been people who have questioned his joy, because in this cynical world, people who appear perpetually happy can often be faking it. However, if you spend any consistent period of time with Shorty, you will conclude that his joy comes from a long experience of the faithfulness of YHWH. This has given him a peace & joy that is solid despite his circumstances.

Still, like any person of honest faith, Shorty often has questions. (I really don't understand how one can have faith without keeping the questions coming. It's how you grow in your relationship with Jesus.) This morning Shorty made a comment over breakfast about how he gets a little frustrated because he doesn't think he has enough "Answers" to people's questions about Christianity. Apparently he does not feel especially qualified as an expert on the bible, or on all aspects of faith.

"Thank you, Jesus!"

Beware of those "Christians" who either believe that they do have the God of the bible all figured out, or who feel the need to have a pat answer at the ready, or to make one up on the fly.



I think that there is something very powerful about the phrase, "I don't really know." There is a power in it because it is honest. And honesty often takes much more strength than pretending. I find it very beautiful when I can hear a Believer say that phrase.

I have no idea when we began to think that followers of Jesus needed a PhD. or such to be faithful to Christ. Instead, since we believe that "Jesus IS the answer," it is often best to simply leave it at that.

Now this does not mean that Christians shouldn't be diligent in their faith. Studying the bible is a very important thing to do. It's the easiest access that we have to God's revelation. We are encouraged to have an answer/explanation for our faith when ever asked. But that hardly means that we have to be able to parse every Greek or Hebrew word. So often we can fall into the trap that our head knowledge is central to our faith. This so easily leads to a false pride. We begin to rely more on our own mental strength, and less on Jesus.


____________________


When Jesus was sending out his followers on one of their first mission trips, he knew full well that they were still largely clueless about most of his teaching. He just told them to go into the various towns in Israel and say that "the kingdom of heaven was near." (Which doesn't sound terribly difficult. A bit confusing maybe, but hardly a difficult phrase to memorize.)

And then he tells them not to get all hot & bothered about the explanation when the powers that be ask for one. He tells them that when the times comes to explain the situation, the Spirit would be there to do it for them. I don't think it takes Sherlock Holmes to figure out that what Jesus was telling his followers was that they should depend on HIM...on YHWH...on the Spirit...and NOT on their own abilities.

That's kind of a scary place to be. We love to be in control of any given situation. I know for myself, I love to have a handy argument and rebuttal. (I dig verbal combat.) I try to be clever, to use my knowledge base as a weapon. I also know from experience how amazingly gifted I am at inserting both size 11s deeply into my mouth, and I do so on a regular basis. (It is truly a beauty to behold and leaves witnesses with a sense of awe and wonder.) I find that I can get into trouble so easily when I depend on myself for answers, even with a decent knowledge base. Mostly because I am depending upon my own cleverness, and not on the one I desire to follow.

Unfortunately, this superpower of mine does not qualify for superhero status. Which is really a pity. Seriously, it's almost like I am an X-Man when it comes to this stuffing-of-mouth-with- feet ability.

I think that when push comes to shove, it would be better for me to let Shorty speak in a conversation on faith with others. I have a long way to go to learn the things he has learned...about dependence on God in various matters, and things of that nature. I can speak from my acquired head knowledge. There is a place for that. But Shorty can speak from his heart, because it is far more open than mine to hear the words of the Spirit.


____________________


In Matthew 11, after Jesus speaks about John the Baptist, he delivers a brief sermon blasting the "Religious" people who had seen his miracles and yet refused to repent. The cities of Korazin, Bathsaida and Capernaum were all very good, religious cities. Jesus had performed many miracles & done much teaching in these places. Yet they all refused to repent.

This used to amaze me. However, as I have grown older I can now see how easily "Religion" can poison the heart of people and fill them with pride and self-righteousness. This is particularly true when it comes to being able to quote Scripture.

Jesus compares them with the pagan cities of Tyre & Sidon, and says that these pagan cities would have repented quickly if they had seen him in action, be it word or deed. At the end of this brief tirade, Jesus even slams his home base which was the town of Capernaum and says that it will be easier for the city of SODOM on judgment day than for that town. Again, Capernaum was where Jesus appears to have taken residence during most of his earthly ministry, so the people of that place were extremely familiar with all that Jesus had done and said. Yet Jesus speaks of it's doom for not repenting, despite how much they "Knew" about him.

Anyone who knows the story of Sodom & Gomorrah knows that these were not places that one would desire to be compared to.

Right after that verbal blast which was specifically directed at very "Religious" people, Jesus prays in front of everyone a prayer that I find most interesting. (I'll give the cliff notes version, because I am saving the rest for another post.)

"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven & earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise & learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." Matt. 11:25 & 26

What is it about little kids and their simplicity that allows them to "Get It," when we who are adults can be so very dense?


____________________


Shorty is far from being a little kid anymore, but he gets it. He gets it because his faith is not complicated. Theology, apologetics, various christian-based philosophies and such, are all great, and they do have their place. But nothing substitutes for the relationship that a heartfelt experience of & with YHWH as revealed in Jesus will bring a person. Nothing!

Shorty has walked with Jesus for a long time. He has seen the faithfulness of God. He might wish to acquire more head-knowledge, but I don't think he really needs a whole lot more per say. His experience can & does speak for itself. He simply trusts.



It simply is that simple. The simplicity of a heart that is open to Christ will open up a person to all of the answers that they lack. Probably not all at once. But the promise remains that when it is time to give an account for who you are and who you follow, God will be faithful.

Your mouth will not be empty. Hopefully, your head will be. But it appears that this is exactly what Jesus is looking for. That way, when he does what he promised, the glory is all his. In the end, it really & truly IS that simple.

May the God of the bible richly continue to bless Shorty and his simple faith. And may I continue to learn from and through him.



Peace.

Joe