Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ideas from a manger


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

It's been almost 3 months since I've written anything.  I haven't worked much on my book, and I've barely posted anything on this blog.

I just really haven't been inspired about much of anything. (However, some thoughts have been brewing in my head about the link between the Prophet Daniel and the birth of Christ, so you never know.)

The Holidays don't help either.  Don't get me wrong.  I love everything from Halloween through New Years.  It's just that they distract me rather easily.

So today is Christmas, so I have a moment to breath.  I also have a quick story to tell you before the main point.  I got two new pillows for christmas, and they are most awesome.  And here's why I like that gift so much...

On Thanksgiving Eve I took a little tumble down the stairs.  It had been a brutal few days at the store, so I was exhausted.  The problem is that sometimes I get so tired I can't sleep.  So I popped a couple of (over the counter) sleeping pills.  I should have gone to bed right away.  Instead I stayed up putzing on the computer.  When I finally left for bed i was half-zombie.  As I closed in on the last 2 steps, my slipper came off, I tripped and then went face-first into a door frame.

It didn't hurt!  My ARM hurt!  It got a juicy rug burn on it.  It was dark, I knew my head was bleeding, but it was my arm that bugged me.  So I put a towel on my face and went to bed.  I was out cold in about a minute.

THE NEXT DAY I pulled the towel of my face to notice that it looked like a ritual sacrifice all over my bed.  Two pillows completely soaked in sticky blood...never mind the sheets.

Being a guy, I took a shower, got cleaned up and put a band aid on my gapping wound and thought, "Well, that'll heal in a few days."  Later that day, I went to my folk's for Thanksgiving.  They took one look at me and freaked out.  6 hours and a hospital visit later, I have 11 stitches in my head and 2 in my lip.  And after all was said & done, my arm still hurt more than all the rest.

I'm used to getting interesting looks from people by now.  Four weeks later, I still have some swelling in my face.  Honestly though, while I will have some amount of a scar, it's gonna be sexy!

...and now on to the post, proper.

____________________

Yesterday I read a piece by Ross Douthat from the New York Times.  I thought it was a fairly brilliant critique of an aspect of modern American culture.  So being lazy, I'm just going to re-post it and let you decide for yourself.

Ta da!


"PAUSE for a moment, in the last leg of your holiday shopping, to glance at one of the manger scenes you pass along the way. Cast your eyes across the shepherds and animals, the infant and the kings. Then try to see the scene this way: not just as a pious set-piece, but as a complete world picture — intimate, miniature and comprehensive.


Because that’s what the Christmas story really is — an entire worldview in a compact narrative, a depiction of how human beings relate to the universe and to one another. It’s about the vertical link between God and man — the angels, the star, the creator stooping to enter his creation. But it’s also about the horizontal relationships of society, because it locates transcendence in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low.
It’s easy in our own democratic era to forget how revolutionary the latter idea was. But the biblical narrative, the great critic Erich Auerbach wrote, depicted “something which neither the poets nor the historians of antiquity ever set out to portray: the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of contemporary life.”
And because that egalitarian idea is so powerful today, one useful — and seasonally appropriate — way to look at our divided culture’s competing worldviews is to see what each one takes from the crèche in Bethlehem.
Many Americans still take everything: They accept the New Testament as factual, believe God came in the flesh, and endorse the creeds that explain how and why that happened. And then alongside traditional Christians, there are observant Jews and Muslims who believe the same God revealed himself directly in some other historical and binding form.

But this biblical world picture is increasingly losing market share to what you might call the spiritual world picture, which keeps the theological outlines suggested by the manger scene — the divine is active in human affairs, every person is precious in God’s sight — but doesn’t sweat the details.

This is the world picture that red-staters get from Joel Osteen, blue-staters from Oprah, and everybody gets from our “God bless America” civic religion. It’s Christian-ish but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian. It doesn’t care whether the angel really appeared to Mary: the important thing is that a spiritual version of that visitation could happen to anyone — including you.

Then, finally, there’s the secular world picture, relatively rare among the general public but dominant within the intelligentsia. This worldview keeps the horizontal message of the Christmas story but eliminates the vertical entirely. The stars and angels disappear: There is no God, no miracles, no incarnation. But the egalitarian message — the common person as the center of creation’s drama — remains intact, and with it the doctrines of liberty, fraternity and human rights.
As these world pictures jostle and compete, their strengths and weaknesses emerge. The biblical picture has the weight of tradition going for it, the glory of centuries of Western art, the richness of millenniums’ worth of theological speculation. But its specificity creates specific problems: how to remain loyal to biblical ethics in a commercial, sexually liberated society.
The spiritual picture lacks the biblical picture’s resources and rigor, but it makes up for them in flexibility. A doctrine challenged by science can be abandoned; a commandment that clashes with modern attitudes ignored; the problem of evil washed away in a New Age bath.
The secular picture, meanwhile, seems to have the rigor of the scientific method behind it. But it actually suffers from a deeper intellectual incoherence than either of its rivals, because its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture.
In essence, it proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory. And yet it then continues to insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th-century New England preacher. And the rope bridges flung across this chasm — the scientific-sounding logic of utilitarianism, the Darwinian justifications for altruism — tend to waft, gently, into a logical abyss.
So there are two interesting religious questions that will probably face Americans for many Christmases to come. The first is whether biblical religion can regain some of the ground it has lost, or whether the spiritual worldview will continue to carry all before it.
The second is whether the intelligentsia’s fusion of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism — the crèche without the star, the shepherds’ importance without the angels’ blessing — will eventually crack up and give way to something new.
The cracks are visible, in philosophy and science alike. But the alternative is not. One can imagine possibilities: a deist revival or a pantheist turn, a new respect for biblical religion, a rebirth of the 20th century’s utopianism and will-to-power cruelty.
But for now, though a few intellectuals scan the heavens, they have yet to find their star."

Merry Christmas everyone.


Peace

Joe







Saturday, October 12, 2013

Overture



"Gather all you who will, hear of the God, slain for his children’s sin.  Come the story recall, all he has done, to bring his family home."
Matthew Clark

So tonight I went to a house concert.  I wasn't able to stay for the whole thing because I have to be up early for work.

My friends have held a few concerts at their house to raise money for various ministry projects.  At present, they are raising money for an adoption.

My friend has this weird ability to meet interesting musicians who agree to do things like this.  Works for me.

The funny thing is that the four musicians who played tonight aren't even a real band.  They're just a group of friends who get together to play with each other.  I didn't even know their last names.  There was Jeff (Maybe Geoff.) on drums, Brian on bass, Abby on guitar and piano, and Matthew of guitar.  I had to poke around with the lyrics to find out who any of them were.

Anyway, the first song that they sang was by Matthew (Clark), who made this CD.  It's called "Overture," and it is the first of a whole slew of songs that go over the entire bible.  So maybe you want to check him out.

http://matthewclarkmusic.bandcamp.com/track/overture

http://luaphacim.blogspot.com/2012/11/album-review-matthew-clarks-bright-came.html

I thought the song was beautiful and it made me tear up. (Which happens to me more than I wish.) I just wish I could have stayed longer to hear the whole thing, but I had to get home to let the sleeping pills kick in. (Stupid insomnia!) My friend certainly meets some interesting artists.  It also made me realize that beards are all the rage these days.

Enjoy!

Peace

Joe

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tender Mercies



"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bare.  But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13


Ever have one of those days where life just seems to drops it's drawers and take big dump all over you?  Yeah, me too.  Today as a matter of fact.

For the record, I do not get angry very easily.  I get annoyed easily, but not angry.  Getting angry is a waste of my time, energy and usually result in something bad.

Want to make me angry?  Here are a few things you can do: #1. Be stoned or intoxicated in public, and act like an absolute jerk.  #2. Do #1, but also throw in yelling and being jerk to my friends.  #3. Do parts 1 & 2 and then do it to a female friend of mine.  #4. Do 1 through 3 and make it multiple female friends of mine. (I'll come back to this.)


Now allow me to set the stage.

I'm nearing the end of my 2-week vacation.  It's been pretty good, and I really needed it.  I've been making progress on my book, and that feels really good.  So I was all set to come out to the cabin and keep writing today.  All I had to do was go and get my check from work...

Some genius level I.Q. higher up the corporate food chain decided to buy a robot to write the schedules for us at work.  The robot would also take care of our time off requests, and any pay for those days off. That robot has yet to make one correct schedule for any department since it was installed 3 months ago.  Today I went in to get my check and SURPRISE, the robot had screwed that up too.

No check for me.  No managers at work who could correct that.  And I have bills due in 2 days with $85 in my account.  Happy, happy, joy, joy.


So now you have an idea of how I was feeling for what happened next.


I decided, "Screw it.  I'm going to the cabin anyway."  So I was going to buy a bag of chips and be on my way.  While standing in line, a fellow about 5 feet away from me started yelling at one of my co-workers.  He was drunk (At 12:30 in the afternoon) and being rude and obnoxious to her.  It didn't take long for other co-worker, lady-friends of mine to come over...and naturally he was rude to them, too.

It was at that moment that I realized how much I was shaking.  Trust me, that is a very bad sign if I start to shake.  It means that I am getting seriously pissed off.  It is usually only a few minutes, or about 2 buttons to be pushed later, that I get tunnel vision.  Most of the world goes black, and all I see is a white circle with a target in it.  Thankfully, this rarely ever happens, because when it does, things get truly ugly really, really fast.

I have never considered myself a "Tough-Guy" or a mean person.  However, when a flash fantasy of grabbing that drunk, worthless piece of crap by his pony-tail and smashing his upper-pallet into the railing near the register 5 or 6 times popped in my head, I knew I was in a bad spot.

BTW: Like I said, I am not a tough guy or a mean person.  But I am fully aware of what my wicked heart is capable of.  I also know what I am very physically capable of...and I can't say that I like it very much.

If you are wise, you will take a good look into your own heart.  Odds are that there is plenty you need to be aware of that should be given over to Jesus.

I was just standing there shaking more and more, and beginning to sweat while watching this pig of a man, when I squeaked out in my head, "Help me Father."  It was about a split second later that I heard a voice say, "You need to go write."

And about 30 seconds later some security guys showed up.

So here I am at the cabin, instead of jail and awaiting a law suit.

Thank you, Jesus.

Peace.

Joe

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Kingdom of Weakness.


For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.
Phil. 1:29

...To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Cor. 12:7-10 


While I have grown to understand that in God's kingdom, everything is upside down compared to this world, I still need reminding of that almost every single day.


So last week, I had a very interesting day.  One that I doubt I'll ever forget.  I have a younger friend who is addicted to heroin.  You wouldn't guess it by looking at him.  When I think of heroin junkies, I normally think of skinny, little folks who look like they just got out of a concentration camp.  Not so with this guy.  He is a big, muscle-dude, who could maybe beat me up.

He avoided me for a long time because of his problem.  However, we re-connected after he got himself back into treatment.  Last week I took him out for coffee.  He was in the process of moving from one treatment facility to another.  After coffee I was going to drop him off at his friend's, who was then going to move him.

Well, while I was driving him to his friend's place, he asks if I wouldn't mind driving him to the methadone clinic so he can get his daily dose?  His buddy was supposed to drive him there during the move.  So I asked what was up? (During most of this trip, he was texting back and forth.) Turns out his buddy was busy shooting up, and was thus unavailable.


SO, I drive my friend to the clinic.  He was inside for about 15 minutes.  During that time I saw SO MANY people go in there!  Taxis coming and going.  All sorts of different types going in there to get the one thing that seems to be able to stop the cravings that heroin can give you.  It was simply horrible to sit there and watch it.

My friend gave me the phone # of his buddy who had been shooting up.  After I dropped my friend off, I called his buddy.  He answered.  We talked.  I told him that he was still my brother in Christ no matter what evil shit he was struggling with.  He cried.  I cried.  I told him he could call me any time if he needed to.  He thanked me.  We said goodbye.

I sat in my car and cried and cried like a little girl for so long.


I don't understand heroin.  My friend says that you fall in love with it.  You want it more than anything...even air.

I don't understand heroin, but I do understand addiction.  I have an addictive personality.  I am addicted to chewing tobacco.

I do not love the chew.  I hate it.  It's not the nicotine that has me hooked...although I'm sure that doesn't help.  I have tried Nicorette gum.  It didn't work.  I have tried Chantix.  It worked to a degree, but would make me barf my guts out about 30 minutes after taking the pill. (Not much fun there.)

I do not love the chew.  I do not love the nicotine.  I do not love the flavor.  What I love is that feeling of a pinch in the cheek.  It is my security blanket.  It is what I run to when I am stressed.  It is that simple, physical sensation.  It calms me.

I absolutely hate it!

Some days, it is not a problem.  Other days it is a big problem.  For the past many weeks, it has been a HUGE problem.  Not because I do it all the time.  I don't.  It is a huge problem because it is a "Known  IDOL" that I run to when stressed.  I run to the chew instead of Jesus.  I worship the created, rather than the creator.  And then I beat myself for it like nobodies business.  I trash myself, judge myself, kick myself.

It is this re-enforcing cycle where I do all of Satan's work for him.  All he has to do is give me a little poke of guilt, and then I get spinning about how stupid and worthless I am.  Meanwhile, he's kicking back in a lawn chair sipping a pina-colada thinking, "Gosh, I love the way that boy does my job almost as well as me."

I have begged God repeatedly to take the temptation away.  He has refused every time.  I get very angry with God because of this.  However, I have been trying to understand the "Why" of all of this.  In  the mean time, I still beat myself up.

This tirade of guilt and shame cripples me mentally.

But since that day at the clinic, things have begun to change.



In America, you are a self-made man.  A man must be strong.  He must be able to pull himself together.  We worship the individual above all else.  If you work hard enough, you can achieve virtually anything.

Most men, especially if they are late-teens and 20-somethings, believe that they are just a few good "Workouts" away from being unstoppable.  If you don't believe me, take a look at all of your buddies' "Selfies" on Facebook.  I have sooooooooooo many friends who can't resist posting pics of themselves in the gym, or showing off their abs of steel.  We are a nation of Peacocks.

A real man will not admit his weakness.  He will suck it up and stuff it deep down inside until it blooms again as a beautiful ulcer.

Sad to say, this is rife through out the church in the U.S.  I really think Satan loves that, too.


"Blessed are Zeros, the losers, the addicted, the girl who just had an abortion, the failures, those who struggle with all sorts of sexual issues, those who can't do the right thing even with a gun to their head, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those in grief, in agony, in tears, in pain.  Because they/you are never more Human then when you realize you are ultimately a frail, mortal being...and it is at that point that you are honest with God and He can comfort you.

Blessed are the meek, the ignored and overlooked, those who never made it off the bench and on to the field, the not even close to being famous, those who never even went to prom.  The entrepreneur and the revolutionary will hand you the keys to the earth, because God says "It's all mine to give, and I give it to these simple, humble people."

Blessed are those who are dehydrated and starving for righteousness, because they know they have none of their own.  It is the "Righteousness of Christ" that will satisfy you."
 (Matt. 5:3-6 My translation)



Has YHWH been telling me this entire time, "No.  I will not take the temptation away from you!  You must be totally honest and embrace your weakness."?

I don't like being honest about my weaknesses.  It's too easy to get judged that way...especially by other "Christians."  I know that from very intimate experience.

All this time, has God simply being saying to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."?

After seeing all those poor people walking in and out of that methadone clinic, I'm simply tired of being strong.  And that acknowledgement has helped a great deal.


I think I need to spend a good deal of time boasting of my weaknesses.



Peace

Joe

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The American "Race."


"A fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"
Psalm 53:1

At first glance, that might be an odd verse considering the picture that it is next to.  But hang on.  Allow me to explain before I get going.

People say that they believe facts, figures, etc.  I don't think that is true.  Yes, we do hold to some facts that back up our presuppositions, but from a biblical perspective, all of us...including myself, tend to believe what ever our heart wants to believe. (Hey, I work with a Neo-Nazi.  No matter how much evidence you pile in front of him, he refuses to believe that the Holocaust ever happened..."But it should have," he'll say.  He's quite a charming fellow.)

We like to think that we are rational actors.  We like to think that we know what we know because of the evidence.  That little bit of pop psychology from the Psalms knocks that idea to the floor.  We believe what we want to believe.  And if the bible is correct, then the human heart is deceitful above all things.  We need to be very careful about what we think we know.



So the jury is in.  George Zimmerman was found not guilty of shooting Trayvon Martin.  Now that the trial is over, it would appear that the gloves are coming off.  Black people are screaming about rights being violated, and Zimmerman supporters are countering with their own spin. (And it certainly doesn't help when you have folks on either extreme stirring the pot.)



I got into a discussion about all of this the day after the verdict was in.  My take was a little different than what most folks want to talk about.  But the very fact that people don't want to talk about it this way is what truly bothers me.

But first, a story to illustrate the point I will make:
Last summer I drove to the post office to drop off some mail.  While there, I saw two "Crazy" people arguing in the street.  I was concerned about this, so I followed them and parked near by.  I then called 911 and told the contact person about the situation.  The dispatcher gave me instructions, and I waited for the cops to show up.

Oh, I guess I should elaborate.  Specifically, the dispatcher told me to stay in my car and not get involved.

I obeyed.  As a result, the cops showed up, the problem was solved.  No one got hurt.  Why?  Because I obeyed the dispatcher.



I have been hearing that Trayvon Martin was a pot smoking little snot bag.  I've also been hearing that he was an angel.  I've been hearing that George Zimmerman was a profiling, racist vigilante...or that he is a saint.

I guess we'll never know who started the fight that got Trayvon killed.  What I do know is this; When Zimmerman called 911, the dispatcher told him not to get involved...just like they did with me last summer.  George decided not to listen.  Now, a boy is dead and George will have this haunt him until the day he dies.  And all of this because George decided not to listen to the dispatcher. (Hey, what he did wasn't illegal...but it was pretty damn stupid.)

And in it's purest form, that is what I see this to be all about.  A disregard for authority and a willfulness  to do what you want to do.

Americans.  We love our "Rights."  We hate our "Responsibilities."

Anytime someone tries to hold us accountable, we scream about our rights being violated.

"Listen, Porky.  You can't buy a 2 gallon soda because your weight and diabetes is costing our health care system to much."

"NANNY STATE!"

"Hey Moron!  From now on you have to wear a helmet when you ride your crotch rocket."

"You're a communist taking away my rights!"

"Listen Mr. Zimmerman.  Stay in your car, do not get involved.  The police will be there shortly."

"These punks..."


So this morning, a friend of mine posted the above picture.  He, like many others has a hatred of President Obama that is not based on logic.  It is based on the heart.  Now I should state for the record that I have done this too.  Back in the day, I hated President Clinton.  I had no logical reason to hate him.  I just did so because that is what a good Republican was supposed to do.  We hated him because he was not on our side.

I have since distanced myself from any political ideology because I am convinced that none of them have the interests of Jesus at their core.  At any given time one party may be a little more Christ-like than the other.  But none of them are perfect, and I'm fine with that.



What I find most interesting about the whole Zimmerman case is the aspect of "Race."  Personally, I do not believe in "Race."  You wont find our concept of it in the bible.  There are not separate species of humans.  There are only humans.

That having been said, there are various ethnic groups.  My ethnic group happens to be American, mid-west Minnesotan, Scandinavian, Suburban white male. (I doubt that I'll have a race card to play any time soon.)

The other day, the President made some remarks about the Trayvon Martin case.  Naturally, he comes at this issue as a black man growing up in America. (Or as a secret Muslim from Kenya as many weirdos want to believe.)
http://m.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/07/19/remarks-president-trayvon-martin

Apparently, according to some, this was "Race Baiting."  I really don't understand how that could be the case.  I also do not understand how that links up with decades of terrible management by the mayors and city councilpeople of Detroit, as the above picture would imply.

The fact is that racism is one of the great sins of America.  And it will be around to haunt us for a long time.  The other sad fact is that very few people want to talk about it, unless it is to call each other names.

Personally, I do not see one shred of evidence that George Zimmerman did what he did out of racial animosity.  Maybe he did "Profile" Trayvon, but it didn't help that, according to the police, the burglaries that had been committed in that neighborhood were done by young, black men. (Was George supposed to be keeping an eye out for Asian females?) And it would have helped if people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton had been down there earlier telling them to knock that off.

But I also understand that I come at this perspective from a white man's view.

I found it very refreshing to hear what the President had to say.

Odds are that I will have disagreements with many African Americans on this subject.  But it would be nice to sit down and talk.

This country needs a massive dose of repentance.

It would also be nice if we actually believed in personal responsibility and did what we were told by a police dispatcher.

Peace

Joe



Friday, July 12, 2013

My book series, "Jesus in Minnesota"


TA DA!!!!!!

Yeah, yeah, it's been almost 3 months without a blog post.  I've been a little pre-occupied.  Not to fret, all is well, and here's why...

That picture to the left is the cover to the story series I've been working on.  And it is now available on Amazon!!!!!!  Just click on the link below to have a look see.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=jesus+in+minnesota

I suppose some explanation is in order, so here goes.

"Jesus in Minnesota" is the story of what happened to me in May of 2012.  Believe it or not, the Messiah actually called me up and asked me to go shopping with him at The Mall of America.  While I have to admit that I was more than a bit skeptical, I did get a pair of Vans out of the deal.  From that point on, every other week or so, Jesus seemed to delight in simply showing up...usually unannounced, and going various places with me.

For the record, he doesn't actually look like the guy on the cover.  He's shorter, darker, and has curly hair. (He does have a beard, though.  And from time to time, he would wear a Twins ball cap.)

Part 1 includes my initial, and very skeptical, first meeting with him.  Jesus convinced me that he was who he said he was.  He also explained why he doesn't believe in Atheists, why no one theology or denomination ever "Gets" him %100...but that he's cool with that, and that he enjoys Minnesota's "Indie-Rock" scene.  The second half was the beginning of a road trip we took to south eastern Minnesota.  Along the way, he explains the true meaning of the three different creation stories in Genesis, and how all human creativity is a part of what being made in the image of God is all about.  He also accidently causes a minor curfluffle at the National Eagle Sanctuary in Wabasha.

Part 2 includes the continuation of our road trip.  Along the way, Jesus takes me to L.A.R.K. Toys outside of Kellogg, MN.  While driving, Jesus taught me about human value and worth, and how it is all tied into that whole "Image Bearing" thing.  I have to say that I had no idea that when it came to singing, he is an Alto, or that he knew so much about really good fudge.  The second half takes place at St. Paul's Farmer's Market.  Jesus answered some questions on what prayer is all about, what love really is, and is of the opinion that Americans eat way too much salt.

Part 3 begins in Minneapolis.  I had scored free tickets to see Foster the People, and Jesus decided to tag along.  This happened to be the weekend of Gay Pride in Minnesota, so we ended up having a discussion about human sexuality.  Turns out that while Jesus is a big believer in sexual purity, he is a lot more gracious and merciful than a certain protest group he had a run in with. (BTW: If he ever tells you to "Pull my finger," plug your ears first.) He also doesn't like labels for people very much.  The final half takes place at my families' cabin on the 4th of July.  Turns out that America actually isn't Jesus' favorite county.  He also is not a big fan of the rampant idolatry he sees in the U.S.  On the bright side, he did have some very interesting discussions with my dog, and sang his own special version of "Soul Man."


Jesus warned me ahead of time that if I wrote about any of this, I would probably get into some hot water.  So be it.  The fact is that May through early September of last year was the most interesting and entertaining time I've ever had.  I just can't resist sharing something like that, even if some Fundie tries to beat me up.


I'm still writing about all of this.  Hopefully the next two parts will be up in a few weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.



I normally end each post with a song.  Since Part 3 of the book takes place at a Foster the People concert, I might as well use them.


Peace

Joe

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Perspective.


Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.  EVERY good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.
James 1:16-18

Yeah, yeah, I know.  It's been almost two months since I've written anything in this blog.  When I have free time to write anything my book takes precedence. (I'll try and do a post simply about that one of these days.)

The good news is that the first 3 sections are ready to launch on Amazon as soon as my illustrator finish the intro. cartoons.  The stuff he's shown me is amazing!  I knew he was good, but I didn't realize just how good.


So anyway...

The news has been rather ugly of late, hasn't it?  "If it bleeds, it leads."

We've had bombings in Boston, a fire and explosion in Texas.  A few days ago a building collapsed in Bangladesh killing over 200 people.  We've had mass shootings a few months back, and our congress didn't have the testicles to pass a universal background check to try and stop a crazy person from buying a gun over the counter. (Even though 90% of the public support that.) And then you have a chubby little fellow over in N. Korea rattling his saber to compensate for his inadequacies.  And now I just heard on the radio a few minutes ago that the Taliban is preparing to launch its annual Spring offensive, and have promised many deaths.

I like that word, Annual.  It's like the annual fishing opener in Minnesota.  Or perhaps like the annual Spring training for baseball.

Oh the Joy in all of that.

I snort every time I hear someone say that people are basically good at heart.  A Believer should never use that phrase because it simply isn't biblical.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9

Now that's not to say that people can't do good things, or be a decent person.  But think about it for a moment.  Think about how relative the concept of Good and Bad are.

You can be a good person, a really good person, or even just a kinda-good person.  You can do many good things for really bad reasons.  Just think of the guy who uses all sorts of moves and lines to woo the girl at the bar into the sack.

When I hear someone talk about the goodness of people, it is largely an irrelevant term for me.  It means nothing.

What human beings are is sinful.  It's a condition.  It's not something you work at.  You just are.

On the other hand, God is Holy.

Sinful & Holy are like being pregnant.  Science has yet to achieve the ability to make a woman only sort-of pregnant.  You either are or you are not.

Now, since I've just sounded like a Negative-Nancy, let me pivot a bit.  There is, indeed, plenty of goodness in the world.  Biblically speaking, all of that goodness comes from God.  Christians like to use the term, Grace, and that's what I believe it to be.  God's grace is massive!  And I also believe that it is generally hard to comprehend.

I am fully convinced that when a militant Atheist who despises Jesus, acts with compassion & mercy and does something good, that good act was enabled by God's grace as a testament to himself.

So in that sense, yes, there is plenty of goodness in the world.  And I truly believe that the good we see should be celebrated, enjoyed and encouraged.  I think it is a healthy antidote to ugliness we see so often, that garners advertising revenue for the press.  And maybe, just maybe, when we see this goodness, we might think about praising our Father of the heavenly lights for all the amazing grace he extends so freely.



Yesterday, Rick McKinley (One of my heros in the faith) posted the following video on Face Book.  I re-posted it, and then it sort of went viral.  As far as viruses go, I could think of worse.  It actually made me cry.

Enjoy...and maybe tear up a bit.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.
Phil. 4:8 & 9

Peace

Joe

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Outcasts


As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth.  "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and "sinners?"

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means; "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Matt. 9:9-13


So this past Friday I drove down to Mankato and New Ulm.  Two towns south west of the Twin Cities.  I have been thinking ahead to chapter 8 of my book, which I will title, "Jesus climbs Herman the German."


<--- font="">That's what Herman the German looks like, in case you were curious.  It's a big statue on a pillar in a park that overlooks the extremely ethnically German town of New Ulm.  New Ulm also happens to be the home of Schell's Brewery, which we took a tour of and will also probably end up in this chapter.

I had a great time with my friends, and to be honest, the jokes for the story pretty much just wrote themselves.  Those tend to be the best kinds of jokes.

____________________


This morning at Living Waters, I was sitting with my friend Zach.  He told me that my ministry is to outcasts.  If you follow Jesus, he makes you salt & light in this world.  You don't work at it, you just are because he says so.  Your only job is to stay salty.  Let him worry about where you will be placed.

Each person who follows Jesus is unique.  As such, one size does not fit all.  Some people are put in particular places because Jesus knows that this is where they/you/me will be most affective for his kingdom. (Don't tell him where to put you.  He'll probably do the opposite just to make a point.  He knows best.)

Anyway, Zach says that I am for the outcasts.

I am not sure if that exact title fits my friends or the people I hang out with, but it certainly fits me.  I am the original Square Peg.  I have never felt like I totally belonged anywhere.  Seriously, I never have.  Still, I understood what Zach was trying to say.  I know some rather "Original" people, shall we say.  I don't really go out and look for them.  I either find myself in the middle of them, or they are drawn to me. (Another thing that Zach said to me.) I suppose its a bit out of the ordinary, but I admit that I like it...and it keeps from being bored.

I like unusual people.

____________________


The first miracle that is recorded in John's Gospel is Jesus turning 180 gallons of water into fine wine.  If Jesus could do that, then I can use a free beer tasting at the brewery tour for the Gospel, too.  So there!

The cute, short one is Aaron, who had not bothered to shower before he got in my VUE, and explains why his normally perfect hair is a mess.  I had a great desire to drive with the windows rolled down even though it is February.  Aaron is a Square Peg like me.

The other guy is Sam.  Sam is not a Square Peg.  Sam is a Sergeant in the Army Reserve.  He just got back from a tour in Afghanistan.  He had some interesting stories to tell.  Sam really likes his beer.

Neither of these guys follow Jesus...yet.  I am not a Calvinist.  I am not an Armenian, either.  I just embrace the mystery because I am too dumb to understand heavy duty theology.  Even though I am not a Calvinist, I do believe that it is inevitable that both of these guys will follow Jesus.  I can't explain why I am convinced of this, but it gives me great peace.  As such, I do not feel the need to beat either of them over the head with a bible, or shove one down their throats.

Sam lives with his cousin in Mankato.  Sam also had a friend over when we got there Friday morning who looks like he eats a horse for breakfast...maybe two.  That guy's arm could feed a village for a week.  I would prefer not to get into a fist fight with any of them.

These guys are soldiers. (Except for Aaron, who is a tiny little girl.) They like to chew tobacco.  They like to drink beer.  Actually, they like to drink A LOT of beer...among other, stronger beverages.  They like to use words and tell stories that most "Christians" would not like to hear.  I am good at using Blue words, even though I try not to.  These guys impressed me with their interesting vocabulary.

I have learned that just because people fit into a certain mold with certain habits, that does not mean that they are ignorant.  Sam had told his giant friend and his cousin who I was and that I was writing a book that has Jesus in it.  They asked me some interesting questions about Jesus.  I was happy that they felt comfortable asking me these questions in between spitting tobacco into cups, glasses and bottles.

The truth is that I absolutely loved every single minute of it!

I'm not exactly sure why that was the case.  I will confess that when those topics come up, and that it comes from a heart that in genuinely curious, I feel very much alive.  I do not enjoy it when questions come from a heart that is simply cynical and is only asking them to stir the pot and be a snot about it.  But in that kitchen, while Aaron & Sam played "Magic: The Gathering," (Which is essentially Pokemon for adults.) I felt very much alive and at peace.

I did not feel the need to become religious.  I did not feel the need to demand repentance immediately.  I did not feel the need to say the phrase, "Turn or BURN!"  The only thing I felt was that I was simple to "Be."  It felt very peaceful, and yet fulfilling...I felt like I belonged.



I will never save anyone.  No one will.  Only Jesus saves.  He has been teaching me for a long, long time that this is his job, not mine.  All he asks is that I stay salty where ever he puts me at the moment.  Sometimes that is easier than others.  It is a matter of faith, because it requires that I let go and just trust that he knows what he is doing.  Like I said, sometimes that is easier than others.

But when it happens, I feel like I finally belong.


Peace

Joe

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Closer


1 Kings 19
And the word of YHWH came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

He replied, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

YHWH said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of me, for I am about to pass by."

I am incredibly good at pushing God away.  It's as if it is a gift.  For a big fellow, he certainly gets shoved easily.

I say that I want to hear God's voice.  I want a revelation.  I want the spectacular.  I demand it.

And that's the problem.  I want it all on my terms.

____________________


Last Sunday, Scott was preaching on the Sabbath in Mark 2 & 3.  We have been going through the Gospel according to Mark for a about two months now and we still haven't gotten past the third chapter.

I find Jesus behavior and words fascinating.  He really wasn't complicated at all.  He actually was very stripped down and basic.  We have a bizarre tendency to make his words complicated, usually to justify an action or attitude that we want to have, but they really aren't complicated.

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  What's complicated about that?  "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: To do good or do evil, to save a life or to kill?"  What's complicated about that? Apparently, it is lawful to plot murder on the Sabbath, because that is what the good, religious folks did right after Jesus healed a man in the synagogue.  Perhaps Jesus didn't ask a question complicated enough to satisfy them.

Why won't God do things the way we want him to?  What is wrong with him?  Doesn't he know which way is up?  

Honestly, he can be such a pain.

____________________


I don't know who made this picture, but it is a quote that Scott made in the service this past Sunday.  Feel free to make it a meme.  It would be good to have that quote pasted across numerous pictures.

Jesus, as the incarnate form of the Almighty One, humbled himself and entered into the chaos of this fallen world to show mercy.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  He began his ministry in the water being baptized next to sinners.  He ended is ministry between two criminals on a cross.  He came closer.

____________________

Personal space.  Mine is about 3 to 4 feet. (More, if you haven't showered yet or have been enjoying garlic.) Some people have less.  Others have more.  I was in Norway visiting relatives a long time ago.  My family said good morning to a man about 20 feet away, and he just about jumped out of his skin.  As I understand it, Scandinavians require A LOT of personal space.

I think we require personal space because of our insecurities.

One thing I have noticed about Jesus is his lack of personal space.  He had no insecurities.  He certainly wasn't arrogant, but he was very self-assured.  He was very comfortable in his own skin.  I think that gave him the ability to do things that often make us feel uncomfortable.

He seemed to like to touch people a lot.  Sometimes he liked to make mud pies and rub it in blind people's eyes.  Other times he liked to hold people's hands or wash their feet.  He even liked it when bad people washed his own feet with their hair.  He certainly had a thing for kids and seemed to enjoy them crawling all over him regardless of how stinky they may have been.  So much for personal space.  He liked to get closer.

____________________

Pastor Scott told a story from a conference he had been to quite recently.  There was an elderly pastor who was very well respected.  He was known for his humility, gentleness and being a man after God's own heart.  A younger pastor wanted to learn from the older how he had gained his knowledge and grown so faithful.  How had this older man learned to hear the voice of God in such an intimate way?

The older pastor told the younger pastor to come over to him.  So the young guy did.

YHWH said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in my presence, 
for I am about to pass by."


A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before YHWH, 
but YHWH was not in the wind.


The older pastor told the younger pastor to come much closer to him than he had, very close.

After the wind there was an earthquake, 
but YHWH was not in the earthquake.

The young pastor stood next to the older, but the older told him to move in closer.

After the earthquake came a fire, 
but YHWH was not in the fire.

The older pastor leaned his body into the younger.  He violated his personal space.  He leaned his face into the young man's face.  It looked very uncomfortable to those around them.  I'm sure it was very awkward for the young pastor, too.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.


Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"


In a very soft voice, the older pastor said into the ear of the younger... 
"God doesn't shout."



Randy Stonehill, "Still Small Voice."


Peace

Joe