Saturday, April 28, 2012

"...the kindness..."


<--- This would be me this morning.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice & envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
Titus 3:3 & 4


I can't say that I am in the best mood this morning.  After 3 days of dealing with absolutely ridiculous  problems at school, and no seeming end in sight, I am simply worn out.  I love teaching and being a teacher.  But this is not what I seem to be doing at the moment.  I am a teacher, NOT an animal trainer! If that were my job, I would have been given whips, collars, tranquilizers and some treats to feed the beasts.  I have none of this equipment, yet I am expected to train the lions & tigers to sit.

I work with extremely difficult students.  I am not certain that I want to do this anymore.  I know that being a very young teenager is difficult at best.  I know that I was a difficult when I was that age.  However, I do not recall EVER behaving the way that I see these kids behaving.  I am not sure that I want to deal with this anymore.

I simply do not enjoy seeing the results of sin.

____________________

While trying to cheer my crabby self up this morning, I stumbled across a song.  The video illustrates almost perfectly what is on my mind.  Watch it.  Pay careful attention to the ending.  Then continue reading.



That's a lot of X's on the road.


When it comes to human nature, I tend to prefer the term "Broken."  For my tastes, there are far too many preachers out there who seem to love harping on how "Sinful" we are.  So often they seem to speak of the sinfulness, wickedness & evil of "Those."  They might throw in a bit about the fact that they are sinners, too.  But then they jump right back in to speaking about "Those."  Odds are that you know exactly what I am talking about.  I get a little tired of it.  I'd bet that you do too.

Yet, I can't escape the fact that we really and truly ARE sinful.  Sure, we are broken creatures.  But it is that very brokenness that leads us to be evil & sinful.  My friends on the Religious Left tend to be uncomfortable with that fact.  It is a natural reaction to the pounding that they receive from the other side so often.  Still, you can't exactly faithfully read the bible and come to other conclusions...unless you willfully choose to.  We are sinful.  We are evil.

____________________


Everyday I get the privilege of seeing what sin can do to humanity. ("Yay" for me!) Frankly, anyone who keeps their eyeballs open can see this too.  I think it is because we get so used to it that we tend to ignore it.  However, the school I work at is for kids that come from extremely difficult backgrounds.  So you get to see the result of sin in the world in all it's extremes.  There is plenty of poverty involved, homelessness, abuse, etc.  I can't speak of poverty in other countries, but in America...it can turn you into an animal.

I wont go into detail as to events of the last few days, but suffice it to say that every part of my being is sore.  And by that I mean mentally, spiritually AND physically. (Who needs to hit the gym when you can carry 14yr olds on your shoulders?) Every day is difficult there.  But it seems that they save their most outrageous behavior for the beginning of the weekend.  Yesterday was particularly bad.

I was left fuming at my door by one student in particular.  I had visions of a tall cliff, assorted sharks, wolves, alligators and other man-eating creatures below, and me happily throwing said student off and to these hungry creatures...with a joyous smile on my face.  And then I was approached by my Principle with a word/question of encouragement; "And yet, brother, we are here."

He is a Believer from Africa, so he has that unusual, yet slightly sage-sounding accent. "Ahnd yit, Broddah, wee ah Heeyah."

I hate it when he does that.

____________________


I do not understand the patience of God.  If I were God, I would institute another flood.  I would not show much mercy.  If I were Ron Paul & Ayn Rand, I would institute a Libertarian government and allow Social Darwinism to wipe out most of humanity.  I would not show much mercy.  It is good that I am neither God, Ron Paul or Ayn Rand.  But I still do not understand God's patience.

God's love is not like our concept of love.  My concept of love is tied to my earthly experience of being a middle-class white guy living in the mid-west of America.  I have a friend who seems to fall in love with a couple dozen different guys every year.  His concept of love is very different than mine.  I would imagine that both of our concepts of love are very different than some farmer in India living 300 years ago.  God's love is not like our concept of love.  This is probably for the best.

Neither is God's kindness like our concept of kindness.  I am kind to those who have earned it.  So is my mercy.

I need to be mindful of that.

____________________


The particular student who really got me fuming yesterday was homeless.  She lived on the streets after leaving her family.  That student has been abused in every manner.  Her parents were the first to instruct her in the joys of alcohol & narcotics.  She had been prostituted for them.  She has been taken in by a woman who showed mercy to her.  That woman sat crying in our office yesterday after this event.  So did that student.

I do not like to see this.

There are a lot of X's on her road...and on mine.

____________________


I sin.  I am capable of great evil.  I need to remember this.  I have been abducted by sin.  I am held captive in the trunk of it's car.  Yet, when I am freed, I will so often turn around and put someone else in that trunk.  In fact, we will both take turns doing this to each other.  Best of all, we will turn around and do it to everyone we see...and they to us in return.

This is the result of living in a world soaked in sin.

Do not deny this.  This IS the result of sin in this world.  I don't know why it takes the majority of us to fall flat on our faces, or to hit a wall to admit it, but this is who we are.  Do not deny it.

There are a lot of X's on the road already


"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared..." 


I do not understand the kindness or patience of God.


"...he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, 
but because of his mercy."

I do not understand the mercy of God.

I am thankful I am not God.

There are enough X's on the road.



Peace

Joe

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"I won't let you go."


YHWH said to Joshua, son of Nun, Moses aide:"...As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you...Have I not commanded you?  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for YHWH your God will be with you where ever you go."
Joshua 1:2 & 5

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy & blameless in his sight.  In love he he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure & will....Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance..."
Eph. 1:4 & 5, 13 & 14

Open up.
Open up your heart to me now.
Let it all come pouring out.
There's nothing I can't take.

And if you feel the fading of the light.
And you're too weak to carry on the fight.
And all your friends that you count on have disappeared.
I'll be here not gone, forever holding on.  

If your sky is falling, just take my hand and hold it.
You don't have to be alone, alone yeah.
I won't let you go.
James Morrison

I can't say that I understand the whole concept of Predestination.  I'm not sure I really want to, either.  I mean, I believe in it.  I'm just not sure how it works.  Hard core Calvinists will argue that there is no such thing as free-will, and that God just predetermines everything from catastrophes to nose pickings AND including your salvation...or lack there of.  Arminians will argue that predestination is based on God's foreknowledge of your choices.

My own thought on this came from something I heard Rick Mckinley say about it once; "God has the first word.  God has the last word."  Once upon a time in college, a Professor said to me on the above portions from Ephesians; "What God starts, he finishes."  I think I'll stick with those two.

The point is that God is faithful and he wont let you go.

____________________


So this morning I was talking via the internet with a buddy who is off in Afghanistan.  He is busy with war, reading Sun Tzu and growing a mustache that looks like something from an Adult movie of the mid-70s.  You can see a portion of his leg in the above photo.  You can also see another friend of ours attempting his amazing B-Boy moves in a basement.

I care a lot about both of those two and pray that God will do his thing in their lives every time I think of them.  My friend & I both care a lot about the second guy in that photo.  He is in a lot of pain.  While it is true that our friend has awesome hair and a freakishly perfect butt (I think he models it for manufacturers of earth globes.), he also has issues with Jesus, is lonely, and engages in things that I know only hurt him more.


The odd thing is that I can see the hand of God on both of them.


The older I get the easier it is for me to read people.  I hardly think that one needs to be Sigmund Freud or Sherlock Holmes to do that.  It is simply that I have seen these movies before.  I know how they go.  "There is nothing new under the sun."  It's a skill that develops over time, like a mother being able to know what her child is thinking.

I can read my friends.

____________________

Maybe there have been times in your life where you have known a person who went to church with you.  Maybe they went to every bible study, church camp, youth event, etc.  Yet, you got a vibe off of them that gave you pause.  A few years later they walk away from Jesus and tell him to get screwed...or worse.  And you think to yourself; "Ya know, I always wondered if they were actually ever a Believer?"

Maybe there have been times in your life where you knew someone who was not a Christian, but you got a different vibe off of them.  They were very happy sinners.  They reveled in all sorts of stuff that just breaks God's heart.  And they did it with gusto.  A few years later they walk up and tell you that they have repented and now follow Jesus.  And you think to yourself; "Ya know, I always wondered if God wasn't doing something in their life even in the midst of their evil?"

Maybe there have been times in your own life where you, yourself, have walked away from God.  You knew the truth in your heart, but for whatever reason you walked away.  You engaged in all sorts of stuff that you never should have, and it really felt great at the time.  But maybe years later you feel that emptiness that now exists, and then you recall the lover of your soul, your first love.  And you think to yourself...

____________________


I do not understand how God works.  It is probably for the best that I do not.  I hate having a really good surprise spoiled.  I do know that he is faithful.  He finishes what he starts.  When you are in his hands, he does not let you go.

I am amazed at his patients.  Unless you are really big into the Calvinist version of Predestination it would appear that God is rarely pushy.  Sometimes he IS! (I.e. Paul on his way to Damascus.  That'll wake you up better than a cup of coffee.) But most of the time it is as if he is just standing there tapping his toe, waiting for you to pull your head out.  But he IS there, and I'm always puzzled as to what he is doing exactly. (He's always up to something.)


But how does one get into God's hands in the first place?  Does he pick you, or do you pick him...or is it a combo?  I really don't know.


The foul & vile heretic known as Rob Bell says that when the question is "Free-Will vs. Predestination," the answer is simply "Yep!"  The tall & not-yet-branded-a-heretic by the "Discermentalists," Chip Ingram (Shout out to my buddy, Ben Currin.), says that it is both...and that since the Apostle Paul didn't have a problem with that apparent contradiction, neither should we. (I don't think that Jesus loses much sleep over it either.)

Like I said, I don't really know how God does what he does, and I'm perfectly fine embracing my finitude on this subject.  I do know that God is faithful and that he will not let you go.

____________________

My friend in Afghanistan is becoming more and more curious about Jesus.  I believe that Jesus must reveal himself to him in some interesting fashions to seal the deal.  I have faith that he will do exactly that.  I believe that there may be pain involved in some form or other, but that this will be to the good and to his glory.  I believe that it is only a matter of time before my friend's heart is in Jesus' hands, and then he will never let go.

Perhaps it is already there and neither of us realize it yet.

I do not understand how God works...but I like surprises.


Our mutual friend who despises God, wants nothing to do with Jesus.  "Jesus doesn't pay my bills!"  Well yes, yes he does.  But we are often far to selfish & sinful to recognize the provision of God.  But we will all recognize it someday.

I believe that Jesus will reveal himself to our mutual friend.  In this case, I know that pain will be involved...because it is already present.  But this will be to the good and to his glory.  I believe it is only a matter of time before our mutual friend's heart is in Jesus' hands, and then he will never let go.

Perhaps it is already there and the only one who realizes it is God.

I do not understand how God works.

____________________


"I am with you where ever you go.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  These are all themes throughout the bible.  God speaks these things to his people over & over in one form or another.  God is faithful because he is.

Another of the themes in the bible is how UN-faithful we are.  God's people blow it over & over.  I can't go more than a few minutes without some sinful thought creeping in.  "I am a whore, I do confess.  I put you on like a wedding dress.  And I run down the aisle to you," wrote the song writer Derek Webb.  And this is true, we are unfaithful.  But God is very faithful.  He never lets us go.

I have rebelled from pain caused me by those who called themselves "Christians."  I use that as my handy excuse to do things that breaks God's heart.  I do not need that as my excuse.  I will sin anyway. I am very good at it.  I am not very faithful.  But I am thankful that God never lets go of me.

My friends will come to place their hearts in Jesus' hands.  I cannot give a satisfactory answer as to how I know this, but I do.  I know this of some others, too.  I hate to say this, but I am fairly certain that I know of some who never will.  Thankfully, most of the time I don't "know" much at all in this area, nor can I ever say that anyone is beyond redemption and the power of God.  I am very thankful for that.


I do not understand how God works.  I am quite happy with that mystery.  Please do not try to give me a thorough theological explanation as to the intricate details.  It would be the intellectual equivalent of making sausage.  Also, despite your potential PhD, you are not as clever as you think...plus you would spoil the surprise for me.

I take my rest in the following thoughts: 
God is faithful because he IS.  
Also, when Jesus has you he will never let you go.

____________________


After I spoke with my friend this morning, I drove over to pick up my sister for lunch.  I had told my friend that our discussion had sparked a blog post...and this would be it.  In the car I turned on the radio and heard this song immediately.  Some seem to think that YHWH does not have a sense of humor.  I would counter and say that it is they who do not have the sense of humor.


Talk about a perfect ending, especially since it is a "Soul" song.



I seriously need to talk to the folks at Living Waters to get that put into our worship service.

Peace

Joe

P.S. Does this mean that if I ever write my book, I will have to include Jesus as the co-author for giving me such awesome songs to illustrate my points?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When God sings in the Shower.


"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy."
Isa: 65:17 & 18

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."
1 Cor. 2:9

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy music. I've tried to learn 3 different instruments, and failed spectacularly. I can't really sing, so I limit that to the shower and the car...when no one else is around. In fact, I can't sing, play an instrument, and I can't dance. But never the less, I love music.

So I figured I would write about some musical stuff that I came across recently. I want to start with the following video. You certainly do not have to watch the whole thing. Just be sure to watch at least halfway through to see the reaction of the elderly man who isn't even remotely lucid. Observe his reaction to hearing music from his youth.


That is some very powerful stuff! This is how powerful music can be.

When you think about it for a while, it is amazing what music can do. It would also appear to be universal, regardless of place or culture. Music has the power to inspire, provoke and enliven. In my own opinion, music is one of the languages that God uses to communicate to people through.



Now, odds are that you may have seen the next video. It went semi-viral on FaceBook for a bit. You might have to suffer through some of the froo-froo bits to get to the meat, but it is worth it. Take a good look at the reaction of the crowd to this duo as they walk on stage, then wait until the 2:05 mark when that young man opens his mouth.


Again, very powerful and very beautiful! (Yeah, I'm a sucker. I tear up every time.) I just love how the most amazing beauty can come from the most unusual sources.

____________________

So anyway, when I was a kid "Christian Rock" was just kind of coming into existence. It was still considered by many to be evil because it actually had a beat that did NOT resemble a funeral dirge. The most frustrating part was that by the time I got to college, young Believers were so hungry for something with a beat that actually talked about Jesus, they would buy almost anything. In fact, the joke with my friends was that if you barfed on vinyl and then slapped a "Sparrow" or "Myrrh" label on it, it would sell. (Those were two record labels back in the day.)

One of the pioneers of Jesus Rock was a fellow named Phil Keaggy. I'm not sure if he came out of the Jesus People's movement of the late 60s & early 70s, but it was certainly around that time. Keaggy is considered one of the greatest guitarists to ever live. This means that he actually knows how to play an instrument...which is saying something considering what passed for music back at that time and even today.

BTW: It is purely a myth that Jimi Hendrix ever proclaimed Phil Keaggy to be the greatest guitarist. Sorry. Still, his ability to play is even more impressive since he lost one of his picking fingers as a kid in a well accident.

Anyhoo, Phil is one of the nicest, friendliest and funniest folks you could ever meet. He is also amazingly good at what he does, and has never ceased to amaze me in concert. He is also a huge fan of Paul McCartney and will sometimes play his tunes in concerts. This is good, because for being such a fan, Phil actually has a voice extremely similar to Paul's...minus the Liverpuddlian accent.

So I came across this interview a week or so ago. Take a listen and hear what Phil has to say about music and God. It's very interesting.



"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

Could it be that heaven is full of music...the music of God? I love that idea.

I hate the idea that we are nothing more than a collection of accidental atoms in a heartless, soulless, uncaring universe, and that our reaction to beauty is nothing more than a chemical reaction derived from the happy chance of random evolution.

No. Our reaction to beauty, in this case music, is because we bear the image of God. God is a creator, and he creates all sorts of beautiful things, music included. As being image bearers, we are also endowed with the ability to create. One of the things that some (Not me, obviously) are able to create is music. Those musicians who either reject, or merely ignore or do not recognize God, still create music that stems first & foremost from the creator.

Sure, you can create all sorts of music and art that is not God-Honoring. Just look at some of the filthy stuff out there. But for that matter, a healthy chunk of what passes for "Christian" music could be said to be not exactly God-Honoring because it is so often nothing more than a mediocre fart recorded to digital. But that initial impulse comes from the creator, imparted to his created beings, which results in further creativity. And I fully believe that this is one of the ways that God testifies to himself.

Phil Keaggy has embraced this understanding of his gift in his relationship to his creator. Not only does this bring him peace, it also enhances everything his creates. He worships YHWH with the music he creates. In turn, YHWH speaks to Phil through this amazing gift.


____________________


Someday there will be a new heaven & earth. Scripture is clear that at that time, the Living God will dwell with all humanity on that earth. It is mind bending to read the various imagery that the prophets have recorded as to what this will look like. The words and imagery that the prophets use do not do justice. The words they write fail them because it is too amazing & beautiful to comprehend. The mind simply cannot comprehend it all.

I will take a leap and say that there will be amazing music in that place. King David will jam on his harp with Phil. Each will take his turn playing lead. Countless other musical types will each get their turn through out eternity. I am uncertain as to which instrument Jesus has been practicing on for all of this time, but odds are that he is fairly accomplished at this point. The tuba, perhaps. (Although that seems like something Peter would be more adept at.) Whatever, it will certainly be amazing.

Being one who can't play an instrument, I will be satisfied making popcorn for the audience. Upon completion of that task, I shall join the divine mosh pit. It will be a very amazing, a very great day.

What a day that will be.


Peace

Joe

P.S. Another pioneer from these early days was Keith Green. He died in a plane crash back in the 80s. Still, he has an amazing story to tell, and his music has held up after all of this time. I still tear up at this song.



Friday, April 13, 2012

God at the movies


Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.
James 1:17


So tonight, after a long week of working 2 jobs, my sister & I went to see the opening of "Blue Like Jazz." I have been waiting to see this film for a long, long time now. I think I read the book about 4 years ago. I heard well over a year ago that they were finally going to get it on film, and my belly button has been puckering & un-puckering ever since. Do yourself a favor, go see this film!


____________________



Back in the late 70s, Bob Dylan decided to follow Jesus. It is hard to say if he is still following him. I know that he has never recanted his faith. I can't judge his heart. I will say that for a while, he put out some amazing albums that dealt with his epiphany.

Oddly enough, the album apparently got a comment from the late Francis Shaeffer. (At least this is the story I've been told.)

After listening to Dylan's first album since his conversion, Shaeffer is said to have declared that this was the ONLY Christian album he had ever heard. In many respects, his comment was a dig at what passed for "Christian" music at the time.

With that in mind, I will say the following about Blue Like Jazz; "I have seen many, many, many movies that have called themselves "Christian." This is the only movie I have ever seen that actually looked like the Gospel."

_____________________


Following Jesus is a very messy business. Since we are extremely messy people, this would make sense. And yet, the church in America loves to put on it's masks. We so often love to be "Religious." We have such a hard time just sitting still to simply "Be" and let Jesus do his job in our lives.

The fact is that in some respects it would be better for many to never choose to follow Jesus in the first place. If you have a great life in the here & now and you choose to follow him, he will truly mess you up. The whole process of sanctification can often be very painful, and Jesus gets water and soap suds all over the floor & walls while scrubbing you down. If you are one who doesn't like to be confronted with just how messed up you truly are, then stay away from Jesus.

But if you want something more than the fleeting creature comforts of this world, if you want to go deeper, to get a glimpse beyond a world of credit cards, malls and the latest fad...



Your life is not G-rated. In fact, if you take a good look, it probably isn't even PG13. It's probably rated a tad higher than that.

______________________

My sister and I watched the movie in a theater tonight, and we both laughed and cried because we saw ourselves. It is rated PG13, and I enjoyed that. It earned that rating because of some of the themes, and also because there was a good deal of cussing in it. You have no idea how much I appreciated that, because for once this "Christian" film actually felt REAL!

Steve Taylor, the film's director, is fond of quoting some movie reviewers comment about what passes for "Christian" films. This reviewer said, "Christian movies are like porn. They are poorly lit, poorly acted, and you always know what the ending will be."

I have watched many of Kirk Cameron's films. Growing up, I saw many other films that wore the label "Christian." Sadly, the comment about porn is spot on.


Don't get me wrong, I believe that there is a place for Kirk Cameron's films, and I am not trying to pick on him. I do think that there is a place for numerous genres of film. Kirk Cameron, and others who make movies like his have their place, and I still have a weak spot for "A Thief in the Night." (Look that one up if you want a sentimental snicker.) Their place (Maybe) is for people who already follow Jesus, because they tend to preach to the choir. It is for people who do not need...or at least do not think they need, to be challenged, because they are a lot like that comment about porn...minus the sex.

Blue Like Jazz is not a movie for Christians. At least not those types of Christians. Blue Like Jazz is the Gospel, because it is for those outside the church and those who have been burned by it. As such, I am more than happy that both Don Miller & Steve Taylor do not desire the "Christian" label for their film.

It has been interesting to see that there are many "Christian" film makers out there who are not at all happy with Blue Like Jazz. Quite a few have criticized the movie without even having seen it. (Which always demonstrates amazing metal skills.) They do not like movie because it is so messy, and not sanitized...and we can't have that!!!

I read something Steve Taylor, the director, had to say about all the fuss.

"We’re in this sort of strange age where faith-based filmmaking or filmmaking done by Christians is supposedly synonymous with family-friendly. We certainly don’t see that in the stories of the parables of Christ and even in the Old Testament prophets and how they communicated. …I don’t know what it is. It’s almost like … we’re defenders of the faith, like Christianity is going to come falling down unless we’re careful with how we present it. That’s not really how it works, you know? In fact, that’s really kind of arrogant. So yeah, we can afford to create movies that ask questions and certainly don’t have all the answers and use satire and all the different communication tools at our disposal."

____________________


Following Jesus is messy. The film is messy. People cuss. They get drunk. They talk about sex..."Lesbian" sex at that. The people in the film lie, deceive, are destructive to themselves and others. The characters struggle with doubt. Not everyone comes to Jesus at the end and lives happily ever after like a Disney movie written by someone in a bubble. In other words, the film is actually about real life...this life...this messy, messy world and what it is like to actually live in it.

This is something the church in America seems to have a very difficult time handling, to say the least.
____________________


When I first read Blue Like Jazz all those years ago, it had such and impact on me. Up to that point, I had thought that I was very much alone, that no one else thought the thoughts that I did. It is good to know that I am not alone.



Tonight, when I dropped off my sister, my Dad asked me what the movie was like. This is what I told him:

"Dad, it was REAL!!!! It was real! It was messy, not all clean cut. It was real!

Then I began to scrunch down as I kept talking, like I was trying to squeeze myself into a box. And I said; "It was not like a Kirk Cameron movie, where there is no real challenge, no real messes, no real pain & reality. There was cussing, like in real life! Two of the four main characters didn't end up even becoming Christians. They just learned to respect some of his followers. They didn't all end up being happy, little Christians with the American Jesus riding in on horse back to turn them all into white, conservative Republics who follow the sacred teachings of John MacArthur. It did not resolve into a nice package. It was messy, confusing, confronting, beautiful. It was like real life. It was like it really is when you want to follow Jesus!"


I have seen many, many movies that have called themselves "Christian." This is the only movie I have ever seen that actually looked like the Gospel.


Speaking of messy...



Peace

Joe

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's gonna be OK


So Abraham called that place "The Lord will Provide."
Gen. 22:14

There above it stood the Lord, and he said: "I am YHWH, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Issac...I am with you and will watch over you where ever you go...I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Gen. 28:13-15

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matt. 28:20

"There are two kinds of simplicity; simplicity on the first side of complexity, and simplicity on the far side of complexity. Simplicity on the first side of complexity is when a teenager says "God loves you, everything will be OK." Simplicity on the far side of complexity is when my 90 year old grandmother, who has lived through the Great Depression and has lost her husband, and illness and disease and danger says, "God loves you, everything is going to be OK."
Shane Hipps

"Simplicity comes after Complexity
Some idiot named "Joe."


So Abraham is ordered by YHWH to sacrifice his son to him. In this story found in Genesis, the word "Love" is used for the very first time; "Take your son, your only son...whom you love..." And God tells Abraham to kill him to show his faithfulness.

You can debate all you want the various odds & ends of this story. You may very well wish to have been able to call child protective services. I don't know. It is a strange story, to say the least.

I have two observations: #1. Apparently, this did not come as a shock to Abraham. Child sacrifice was hardly uncommon during this time. In fact, Abraham never asks how to do it. He seems to have understood the ritual. Perhaps because he had seen it performed.

But more importantly...#2. While on the way to do the deed, Isaac asks his Dad where the sacrificial offering was. (Apparently not realizing that HE was supposed to be IT.) Abraham replied that YHWH would supply the sacrifice. Say what you will about this story, it would appear to me that Abraham had learned something about his God, and had come to understand that this God would provide.

God loves you.
It's gonna be OK

____________________

I saw this video posted by Shane Hipps a while back. He has taken over the main preaching duties at Mars Hill in Michigan since Rob Bell left. Since Rob is a heretic, Shane must be one too. As such, I like Shane because he must be on to something. Anyway, pay attention to the main thrust of what he has to say...



God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________

Many months ago at my job, while I was in the midst of expressing my numerous existential doubts & frustrations about my existence, a friend of mine reacted with quite a bit of surprise. She told me that I always seem to be very confident & collected. (Then it was my turn to react with surprise.)

The fact of the matter is that I have very little confidence in myself. I do not just second guess myself, I quadruple guess. I don't trust myself very much. When I get a spiritual inclination, I quite often worry that it is simply a reaction to something I ate.

My friend's comment caught me off guard, but it did make me think. Aside from causing a bit of smoke to wisp from my ears as my brain processed, it made me realize something that I have come to understand and trust in for quite some time now. This understanding & trust that has developed is not on a cognitive level, no. It is more of a gut/soul understanding that has taken a long time to develop. I can also assure you that it is not of my own doing.

I have very little confidence in myself. I am a man...a very, very sinful, finite, flawed man. I have very little confidence in myself. And I rather hope it stays that way.

I do, however, have a greater & greater confidence in my God.

God loves me.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________


A friend of mine just came home from the hospital a couple of weeks ago. She had to have a couple of surgeries to remove a tumor from behind her eye. Her family was frightened. There was a great deal of prayer. My friend knew something about her God. The surgery was a success. She survived.

God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.


Many years ago, I attended Bethel College (Now Bethel University) and Bethel Theological Seminary. One of the "Greatest" men in our denomination at the time was Carl H. Lundquist. He had been the President of our institution for a long time, and has left a significant mark on both schools.

Dr. Lundquist died in 1991 after a long and painful battle with a vicious form of T-cell lymphoma. I saw him only once during this time while he was visiting the seminary. It did truly horrible things to his skin. Before he died he said something that I'm sure I will not repeat with complete accuracy, but was along the following lines; "I consider it such a blessing to suffer like this, because it gives me a taste of what my savior suffered on the cross." There was much prayer, but Dr. Lundquist did not survive. But he knew something about his God.


God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I was handed another teaching job. I was not looking for one. In fact, I still feel that God may be calling me away from a career as a public school teacher. However, for now, this is where God wants me to be. To be honest, I really needed the money. This job came completely out of the blue. This God provides.

To be honest, I really didn't want this teaching job at first. Last year the Middle School students were almost the death of me. This school caters to a rather difficult clientele. As a courtesy to the Principle who I respect a great deal, I visited the school before I was going to tell him "No." When I entered the school, I did not hear the usual screaming & cursing. I was stunned! It turned out that the new C.E.O. of this organization backed up the Principle for some serious house-cleaning. My fears were laid to rest. This God provides. I took the job.

God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________

I was driving home from school today. My mind began to reflect on how faithful God has been to me. I am rarely faithful. I am a weasel more often than not. But God is faithful because he IS.

My life has been rather interesting...very complicated & complex. It certainly was not what I expected it to be. Frankly, I do not know what to expect next. But I have seen God be extremely faithful to me.

I live in the midst of confusion. My teaching license is up this June and I do not have the large sum of money needed to take take the classes to renew it. With or without this teaching job, I generally live pay check to pay check. Even so, God has provided every step of the way.

A large part of me would like to be a professional writer. I love writing. I don't really know if I am all that good at it, but I feel very much alive when I do so. Maybe God wants me to be a writer. I don't know. Maybe God wants me to be a teacher. I don't know. Maybe God wants me to work in a grocery store, or dig ditches, or do voice-overs for commercials & cartoons. I don't know. Maybe God wants my life to end tomorrow. I don't know.

God will provide for me, that I DO know.

It has taken me almost 40 years to be able to say that last phrase and actually mean it.

God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________

We try to cling to our certainties. We try to control as much of life as we can. We try to see into and plan for the future. We place our faith in politicians, our savings & I.R.A.s, our strength, our youth, our wisdom. We try to control...

We are not very good at it.


God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

It is said that the kingdom is like a mustard seed. It is tiny, but when it creeps into the cracks of life it shatters walls built by man until it is so large that birds can nest in it's branches.

The king loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________

I would still love to get married, have children, teach them to fish, retire with a good plan and live to a ripe old age. I still desire that. I do not believe that such a desire is wrong in any way.

I like to tell God all of my desires and to ask him to help me with them. I could commit the sin of presumption and write a letter to God telling him just how my life should be.

The kingdom is like a mustard seed. When it breaks in to this world, it is rarely what we expected or thought it should be. But it is beautiful when it does, even though it was not what we were expecting.

I would still love to get married, have children, teach them to fish, retire with a good plan and live to a ripe old age. I still desire that. I do not believe that such a desire is wrong in any way.

But at the same time; "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

I also want that.

God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.

____________________


I live in the midst of confusion. I do not know what the future holds. I can answer a few questions, but most I cannot. I do not second guess myself, I quadruple guess. I struggle with doubt and faithlessness. More often than not, I am a weasel. I worry because I am good at it.

However, I can also turn around and see something. I can see that this God has protected me from myself and this world over and over and over. I can also see that this God has provided for me over and over and over. Has has been faithful even when I was not. He will be faithful even though I am not. He will be faithful because he IS.

I am certain that I will be a faithless, little weasel full of doubts tomorrow, and next week, and next month. I know I will! However...


"I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

For I am YHWH, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do-not-fear."
Isa. 41:10-13



I will turn 48 next month. (That's a bit of a shock to me since I feel about 34, and have the maturity of a teenager riddled with angst.)

I will be 48 years old on this very day next month. (Ouch!) It has taken me that long to honestly say and mean from my heart...

God loves you.
It's gonna be OK.




Peace

Joe

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Some Mornings are better than others.


After the Sabbath, as the first light of a new week dawned. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God's angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightening blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn't move.

The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed."

"Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, "He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there." That's the message."
...

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshipped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far & near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age."
Matt. 28: 1 - 20 (Message Bible)


"Faith" is natural, but it is not always easy.

I sat in my chair this morning in faith. Yes, I did.

I did not look at the blueprint of the chair to see the schematics and determine if the chair was safe. I just sat. That is blind faith. We do this all the time. So yes, most of life is based on faith of some type.

"Faith" is natural, but it is not always easy.

Some of the time, faith is rather difficult.



Some mornings I am like this...





But other mornings I am like this...




"Faith" is natural, but it is not always easy.


I am confused a good deal of the time. When I read the bible, I am easily confused. There is much that I cannot explain, nor understand.

A man swallowed by a fish/whale, yet he lives to tell the tale. Three men tossed into a burning furnace, but they live to tell the tale. A man beheaded because he told truth to a king. A man who wrestles with God and then walks with a limp for the rest of his life. A woman who watches her son turn 180 gallons of water into the finest of wines.

A man watches his friend die in his place, and yet later goes fishing with that same man.


All because there is a God who can do things like this?


Hard for me to rap my mind around that, because I was not there to see any of it. Something like that is difficult to "Believe." Even if you did, it is difficult to place your faith & life in that and to live it out.


"Faith" is natural, but it is not always easy.

But if it is true...



Some mornings I am like this. Other mornings I am like that.


This morning, I am like this...



Peace

Joe

Friday, April 6, 2012

Who are you?


I know you inside & out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot--far better to be either cold cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, "I'm rich, I've got it made, I need nothing from anyone," oblivious to the fact you're pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.
Rev. 4:15-17 (Message Bible)

"God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidently found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic -- what a find! -- and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. Or, God's kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.
Matt. 13:44-46 (Message Bible)


So a few nights ago I was at the men's bible study. I made the comment that I do not believe for a second that Fred Phelps is a Christian. (You know who he is. He's the crazy man who leads the Westboro Baptist Church that goes around to funerals of soldiers saying that God killed them because of gays in America.) Some of the folks at the study said that I should be careful saying that because ultimately only God can know a person's heart. None of the people there were defending Phelp's actions in any way, shape or form. It was more of a caution to me to not presume things that only God can know.

There is truth in that. In fact, just recently I got into a conversation at work with a customer who I got a vibe off of that made me think he was a Believer. I found out I was right. However, I was totally stunned when I learned what church he attends. It is one of those "Health & Wealth/Name-it-and-claim-It" churches that I think are about one step away from total apostasy. I have an extremely difficult time with that sort of theology, because it strikes me as almost as foreign to the Gospels as Mormonism or Islam.

I guess it is just further proof that God can use what ever he wants for his kingdom & glory. I should not jump to conclusions just because I am put off by it.

However...

____________________

Most people who know me will say that I am a rather tolerant and not an easily offended person. In fact, some will say that I am often TOO tolerant for my own good. (This could be true, because I enjoy really disgusting jokes.) However, there are three basic areas that I do take great offense to. Often, I will get on my soap box immediately upon having that line crossed and need to be pepper sprayed to get down.

The first area is anyone or anything that takes the Jesus of the Gospels and distorts him for whatever reason. The second area is the bible. People who yank the bible out of context for whatever reason, OR do not take it seriously, really make me irate.

It is one thing to have legitimate disagreements over nuance, context and such. But before you can do that, you have to take the bible as being inspired by God. If you can't do that, why are you even bothering with it?!?!?! This issue allows me to be irate with both "Christians" who take the bible as word-for-word literal...which will take huge swaths completely out of context, AND with those who simply look at Scripture as being nice, moral fairy tales.

The third & final area that drives me crazy is the very use of the word CHRISTIAN. I find it fascinating that this term began as an insult by the pagan Romans, and has come full circle to be a bit of an insult all over again. (Although this time well earned and self-imposed in many respects.)

You see, the word "Christian" really doesn't mean all that much to me anymore. This is because it is thrown around so loosely.

Examples: Allow me to be truly judgmental and say; that idiot, Bishop Shelby Spong denies the resurrection, yet still wants to call himself a Christian. Hitler called himself a Christian from time to time. He used that term to justify his persecution of Jews. My Dad & I were at a hunting show once where Ted Nugent ("The Motor City Mad Man") was speaking. Ted referred to himself as a Christian to justify hunting and eating red meat. (Personally, I do not think this is an issue that Jesus loses much sleep over one way or the other.) In America, people will refer to themselves as Christians by default, because we live in a "Christian" country. (It says so on our money.) So no, that term doesn't necessarily mean all that much.

However, I still understand the root definition. So it does annoy me when people use it for what I would consider to be selfish ends...like a slimey politician. Plus, call me crazy, but when you wear Jesus as a label for whatever goals you are pursuing, I think that judgment could follow...and rightly so.

____________________

So this morning I was talking to a friend. He had made a statement using Jesus as a label to try and make a point a few days ago. He stated to his readers that he was a Christian. I was curious (And hopeful) about this because he had never said that before, and in fact, had repeatedly...and I do mean repeatedly, stated that he was certainly NOT a Christian. So it caught me off guard.

To be honest, I was not looking forward to asking him about this because I felt I might make him upset. Apparently I did. In fact, I guess I must have pressed a couple of those big red buttons on the console of his soul during our conversation.

You see, while he offered a "Retraction" of sorts, he then strongly encouraged me to cannibalize a particular part of another man's anatomy!

I thought about such a meal for a time. However, I had recently returned from a breakfast with the guys from Living Waters and so had already eaten. (My meal had already consisted of sausage, so...) Plus, I was getting ready to go to the gym, and you really don't want to do that on a full stomach. I declined this encouragement.


This surprised me. I was not offended in anyway. I prefer the truth. If you are a Christian, fine. Be one. If you are not, I'm fine with that too. Be one. On the Day of Judgement, no one will stand before me, nor is your argument with me. I will be standing in line with all of the other folks telling the Father that I am a desperate sinner who put my hope in his promise. That's about it.

____________________

I like to call myself a Communist, but I actually enjoy the Free-Enterprise System and am a stock trader on Wall Street.

I call myself a Hipster, but I only wear "Goth" clothing.

I tell everyone I am Jewish, but I am uncircumcised, eat pork & wear a Swastika.

I tell people that I am a Vegan...while I am eating a Big Mac.



I can wear plenty of labels when I think they are convenient, make a point, gain acceptance, etc.

But I prefer that people simply state who they are and live it out, come what may. I might not be happy with it, but such is life. I am inclined to think that YHWH feels the same way.

____________________

I cannot answer every question that a person has. I do not have an answer for all of the "Doubts" that people have. The bible is full of numerous passages that I cannot explain. They confuse me. I do not understand them.

However, I DO understand that a good deal of the time when these questions are raised, they are NOT legitimate. They are instead excuses. They are raised the same way that someone attempts to throw a wrench in the spokes of a bike. They are thrown out there because the person raising them has become uncomfortable with that little twinge they feel in their heart.

I have plenty of unanswered questions. I do not understand why I cannot get my checkbook to balance at the end of every month. I do not understand how Michelle Bachmann can keep getting re-elected to Congress. I have plenty of unanswered questions.

I have enough problems with much of the bible on my own. I do not wish to answer yours...especially when they are disingenuous. I cannot give a person an answer when they actually do not want one.

I do not have many answers. So I will simply trust that Jesus-guy. He is all I have. That is good enough.

____________________


Jesus used a lot of parables. He told his disciples that he often did this on purpose purely to confuse many of his listeners. If you had ears & eyes to hear & see, you could and would. If you couldn't & wouldn't, well...

He said that his kingdom was like a treasure hidden in a field. When a random person accidently found it, it was of such an amazing value that the dude sold every single thing he had to buy that field so the treasure would be his. That is how much the kingdom is worth.

Same for the pearl. It was of such value that nothing else mattered. Nothing else could compare to it.

Apparently, the kingdom is worth quite a bit.

Nothing else matters.


But there is also another interpretation of these parables.


Maybe the treasure in the field, and the pearl...is YOU.

Jesus found a treasure of such value, and a pearl of such beauty that he gave up everything he had to purchase it. He gave up his place in heaven to come to this stink-hole of a planet. He became flesh so that he could sweat, pee, have morning breath, eat, ache & suffer. He gave up his sinlessness to become sin itself. He let himself be killed...for YOU!

"For the joy set before him..."

But better than that. He was resurrected...for YOU!

Apparently, you are worth quite a bit.

So much so that nothing else mattered to Jesus.

Nothing else matters. Not your guilt, your shame, your addictions, your sex, your sex life, your lust, your politics, your money, your selfishness, your pride, your family & friends, your career. Nothing else matters.

But it will cost you everything.

Because it cost him everything.

But I think it just might be worth it.

Nothing else matters.



So, who are you?




I love the expressions on Keith Moon's face.

Peace

Joe

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Maybe it's a "Guy" thing.


Humble yourselves, therefor, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares about you. Be self-controlled & alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:6-8

...there should be no division in the body, but that it's parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Cor. 12:25 & 26


You may have heard the old saying; "The greatest trick the devil ever played on people was not in getting them to believe that God does not exist...but that he doesn't."

Spiritual Warfare is a strange thing. Most Believers will say that it is real, but they actually pay little mind to it. I have also heard some Christians say that it isn't real at all, or that at best it is a minor thing that isn't spoken of much in the bible.

To the later viewer I would ask exactly what bible they have been reading? To the former I would explain that it is very real indeed...and that it is messy and not very pretty. Do not EVER think that Satan is not a brilliant tactician. He is the "god of this age," and should never, ever be underestimated. No, there are not little demons hiding behind every shrub. But if you truly desire to follow Jesus, Satan will hate you more than he hates those who don't, and he will look for any & all chances to trip you up.


_____________________


I've been told that one of my spiritual gifts is "Discernment." I really don't think that is a big deal. I personally believe that all Believers have access to all of the spiritual gifts if the need arises. We don't own them. They belong to God. If he wants you to have one for a particular task at hand, that is his business and his right. (So there!)

N-E-Way...So yeah, there are times where I pick up on stuff on a spiritual level that others miss. Again, I don't think that is a big deal or surprising in any way. A minor one just happened a few weeks ago. A dude who comes into my store caught me right away. I could just sense the presence of Jesus in his life. (Honestly, that HAS to have happened to you a couple of times.) After talking to him two weeks ago I found out I was correct.

The two freakiest times I have gotten a "Bad" vibe in my spirit was many years back. I was driving out to California to see some friends. I was passing through Salt Lake City and decided to see the big Mormon temple there. I wasn't really sure where it was, so I just figured I would drive to what I thought was the center of town because it would probably be in that area.

Holy moly, I didn't need a map to find it! I didn't even realize how close I was getting to it, but the hair on my neck began to stand straight up as I was driving. I just began to get the most evil feeling all over me...like the feeling of darkness. Next thing I knew, I was right next to that temple. I could not get out of there fast enough!


I'm sure that those words might sound a bit harsh & shocking to some. I am not one that believes that Mormonism is a "Cult," because it does not fit that definition properly. However, I am absolutely convinced that it is as far from the Jesus of the Gospels as Islam is. It's absolute false teaching. Say what you will about me, I felt the presence of demons near that thing.


The other time I got a powerful vibe was after I got to the town in California where I was to visit my friends. (Davis, California, to be exact.) Of all things, I just felt an overpowering sense of loneliness & emptiness. I couldn't shake it from the moment I got there, but I couldn't figure out what was up.

Turns out, this city of over 30,000 people, this University town...has no churches. (This was back in the 90s, so I don't know if that is still the case.) I'm sure there must have been a handful of Believers around there, but there was no designated place for people to meet. I can only surmise that this sad fact was what was triggering my spirit to feel the way it did. Seriously, emptiness & loneliness. A very sad state of affairs...but a fantastic church planting opportunity.

____________________


Being a man, I like to pretend that I am an island. I am all I need. Well, me and God anyway. Just us two buddies taking on the world. When I am having a rough time, I just lean in to Jesus and all is well... NOT!

What I learned today...which I should have known a long time ago...and actually did know, but chose to ignore it, is that Jesus never set up the church as a solo performance.


I've been having a rough couple of days. Among other things, I feel a nice reserve of stress pilling up. This coming Monday after Easter I begin a new teaching job. I'll be working at the same school from last year for it's 4th quarter. This means that I will be working two jobs at the same time, with only one day off a week. It just about killed me last year.

So yeah, stress.

Certain stressors I can handle really well. This one I guess I can't. These are tough students. I have some tough memories from last year.

So this morning it kind of came to a head. I just felt squished. When I get that feeling I just kind of freeze in place. It literally gets hard for me to actually move. Plus, the way the enemy works with me is to immediately pile on even more negative memories, mistakes, character flaws, etc. ("Thank you, Sir. May I have another?")

This morning I was sitting in my chair reading the bible & doing a little praying. It didn't help. Later, I even got down on my knees and cried while praying. "Please Father! Help me! I can't handle this." It didn't help.

Then I did something I should have done all along. I called my Dad and told him a bit of this and asked him to pray for me. Then, I e-mailed my pastor and a couple of friends. I told them how I was feeling and asked for prayer. One of them responded immediately. (Thanks Dan!) Boo-ya!!!!! I began to feel the weight lift.



Why is it so bloody hard for me to ask for help from other Believers? I don't think there is a book in the New Testament that doesn't encourage Believers to help each other, be there for each other, OR to ask for help from others. But for some reason I refuse.

I could say that it is because I do not wish to be a burden, and there is some truth in that. I could also say that I don't always enjoy going into detail about what I might be going through at a particular time. Potential confession & embarrassment are never pleasant. So there is some truth to that, I suppose.

Really though, it is just me being stubborn and prideful...at least the majority of the time. I'm a "Guy." We don't ask for help. I have no problem crying openly, because a "Real Man" is strong enough to do that. But to ask for help? Sissy-Boy!

If you think that's bad. Imagine me actually being willing to receive help.

"Such A Girl!"


____________________

I had a long time at work tonight to run the events of today around this mellon filled with cottage cheese that I call my head. So this was God's little lesson plan for the day. Me pulling my head out and humbling myself. No, not humbling myself before God. My need to humble myself before God's people and asking for their help. Because the church does not exist for itself, but for others...including the others in that very body.

Hopefully, the next time I will be quicker to look for the immediate resources that God has provided. Hopefully, I will realize that I am not an island, but instead merely one more part of a body that is very big.

"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;
if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."


I need to be a bit more humble and be ready to ask. Because sometimes you can't make it on your own...and you were never meant to.




Peace

Joe