Monday, December 22, 2008

A great quote

In today's Monday Morning Memo from Roy Williams in Austin, he quotes a young rabbi about storms:

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

That is a great thought.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

AIDS orphan tree


Here's the mural painted on the hall at the AIDS home in San Pedro Sula.


Honduras, Hope and Home

Sorry to the 3.5 faithful--I came home with a bad sinus infection and have pretty much done nothing since arriving home from Honduras late Thursday night. I did watch the Steelers clinch the division this afternoon though...

I think I left off on Tuesday morning. We went to two homes that day, both of them large. The first was Emanuel, with about 120 kids. It was actually a pretty nice place for a group that size, and the children were very excited to see us. I spent most of that trip organizing shoes with Ruth Kramer. The leadership in Honduras had actually taken the time to put each child's name on a shoe that was--at least when they drew the outline of their foot--the right size. And probably 80% of the time it was great. It was that other 20 that would get chaotic. The last thing anyone wanted to do was to disappoint these kids, but when you had to say "espera" (wait) you could see the downcast eyes. Fortunately I think we were able to get shoes for everyone there.

Tuesday afternoon we went to the most challenging house of the trip for most of the group. Nueva Esperanza is a government home with almost 180 kids. 35 of them were babies in a nursery with only 2 adults supervising much of the time. Some cribs had 2 babies in them. It's a heartbreaking scenario, and you can't help but want to bring them all home with you. And it doesn't help at all when the orphanage is right next to a juvenile detention home with teenage boys in the trees shouting obscenities at the American women in our group. But the impact was so profound, that many of the group were considering giving up their recreation time on Friday to go back to Nueva Esperanza.

I actually spent a good part of that afternoon at the warehouse trying to get shoes together for the next day's 1.5 hour trip to Tela. I met Linda, a city councilwoman in San Pedro Sula, and she showed me much that their little NGO does there with 19 different orphanages, including gathering them all each May for a day in the park. 700 orphans in one park--that's got to be a fun day! We left the warehouse at 5:30 to pick up the group from Nueva Esperanza, and the trip that had taken 35 minutes a couple hours earlier now took an hour and a half, and ended with Manuel the bus driver backing the bus up a 200 meter dirt road to get to the orphanage. What fun!

Wednesday was a stop on the way out of town at a teen girls home, then we drove to Tela, another resort-ish community on northern shores. In fact, we had lunch at a resort, and walked on the beach a little. Then we drove to a home/school/community center where hundreds of kids had gathered. There was no time here for the VBS stuff, just handing out shoes and candy and love. We also spent some time with some foster parents in a program there. Several ladies keep multiple foster kids in their homes, one had 12!

A part of that foster meeting were 3 new friends from Shohanna's Hope, an organization that provides grants to adoptive families among other things. They had joined us--along with Buckner staff Randy Daniels, Leslie Chace and our director in Tegucigalpa, Yaneth--on Tuesday after touring several sites in Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras. I had actually been on the flight from Dallas to Houston with them on Saturday. Wonderful people.

Wednesday night I stayed up late again with my new friends Jim and Susan Gray. I watched their kids show them the snow from Houston on Video Chat--amazing. The next day though I hated that snow when our plane from Houston was delayed almost 2 hours, making us 2 hours late getting there, and having to catch a later flight home. But that was better than Nick and Wendy from Shohanna's Hope; I think they had to spend the night in Houston.

I finally made it home around 11pm. Everyone was already asleep, but I gave kisses all around and went to bed myself. This was an incredible experience. Extreme poverty, disease, loneliness--all things to destroy hope. And yet hope was there. As we lifted through the clouds over San Pedro Sula and began our return home, I asked our Maker to not let these kids fade from my memory the way the city was fading from view. But I also ask that I see the same issues all around me here in the States, that I learn more how to identify the poor, to serve them, to learn from them. To see Jesus in them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

HIV/AIDS in Honduras

Ruth Kramer from Mission Network News is on our trip with us, and she's posted a great article about the HIV/AIDS problem in Honduras here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

San Pedro Sula Day 3

Today was long. And still full of worship and awe.

We went to 2 orphanages today, both about a 90 minute bus ride north of San Pedro Sula, on the northern coast of the country. The trip was beautiful as we went along the mountains, then saw the Atlantic ocean come into view.

The first orphanage was a girls home run by an evangelical organization and church. There were 25 or so young ladies in the home, and they were an incredible group. Excited to see us, they were grateful for the shoes and the play. Less rambuctious than the kids the day before (I guess that's a testimony to leaving testosterone somewhere else), they nonetheless pursued us with gusto in the games and stories and bad Spanish. We had lunch with them (the traditional Honduran meal from...wait for it...Wendy's) and then were on the road for 20 minutes to the boys home.

The boys home (Hogar San Ramon) was run by a nun and several volunteers, and had another 20 or 25 boys in it. They too pursued us with passion--and testosterone--and for another 3 hours we played and loved. It was tough to leave. My new friend Jair began to cry after our goodbyes started, and he cried as I held him in my arms and told him God loves him and I do too. I told him we were friends. Jair's mom is a prostitute in the city there, and comes to visit him once a month. I cannot imagine his life (he's 4 right now--I'll have a great picture up soon of the 2 of us standing beside each other) but I pray that it is full of grace, and that the love of God overcomes the evil he's experienced.

The most amazing thing about these 2 places is the sense of contentment we found there. The volunteers and staff in both places do a great job loving these kids, and it was obvious. They knew grace, they knew love. We were not giving them something they weren't getting, even if they weren't getting it from their birth parents. That won't be the case tomorrow as we visit a couple of government-run orphanages, with 4 and 5 times the number of kids.

But the privates homes we visited today were as good as you can imagine an orphanage being. In fact, I often wonder if those Honduran saints that serve these children don't pull them in before we arrive and say, "now you know those needy Americans are about to be here. Their culture is a little funny, and they don't exactly know about love and grace the way we do, so we're going to show it to them. You love those American real hard."

And they did.

San Pedro Sula Day 2

Sunday was a day of worship.



We began by joining a community of internationals that meets here at our hotel every Sunday morning for worship and relationship and Bible study. It was refreshing to be in a service where people are people and worship isn't scripted. Where sound reverb just happens, and where the Spirit just shows up even though he might not have been in the plans. Praying for those kidnapped and those far from home and those without homes. I'm thankful for the biography of Rich Mullins (An Arrow Pointing Toward Heaven) for always coming to mind. Rich loved the church in all her lack of [current] glory.



Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at an AIDS orphanage. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it didn't matter what I expected I would have had something new. These kids were full of life, full of "live for now" kind of passion. They mobbed us as we went in and didn't let go for 4 hours. We sang, played games, ate candy--all the good things of life. I--as is usually the case with kids--served as the human jungle jim. For much of the time I had one kid on each foot and one on my back, serving as the carnival entertainment. I wouldn't trade for anything.



As we left I saw more closely the mural in the hallway, and was painfully reminded of why these little ones were there. [Sorry I don't have a picture of this, but it's on my camera and as soon as I can figure out how to get it to my computer I will post it.] In the hallway is a tree, and decorating the tree are the hands and feet prints of the children who live there. And in some of the hand prints there is a cross. Those that have gone to be with Jesus at an early age through no fault of their own. Heartbreaking sin in the world, sin without preferential treatment in its impact on life. But praise Jesus that he has overcome sin, and grace can much more abound.



I closed the night hanging way too late with my new friends Jim and Susan, singing La Bomba and Weird Al songs and playing the guitar. You need to go to www.susangray.com and buy her new Christmas CD.

Tonight I hope to go to sleep much earlier than last night's midnight, but first I have to tell you about today.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

San Pedro Sula

It's moving day for me. Left the house at dark-thirty, flew to Houston, then to San Pedro Sula, in the north of Honduras. There were about 10 of us flying from Houston, then another 10 or so come from points further east so they had changed in Atlanta. We all met up in Honduras, got everyone through customs without too much trouble, and were met by Buckner's staff person here, Frances. Everyone was crammed into a bus made for just the right number of people we had, the luggage strapped to the top, and off we went.

I've always been amazed at the home security systems in Central America. You've got the low end (nails and glass stuck on top of the cinderblock fence), middle tech (razor wire), high tech (electric fencing) and REALLY high tech (men with automatic weapons). We saw them all on the trip to the hotel.

It's a beautiful place, mountains, clouds, trees. Incredible old buildings. I can't wait to get going tomorrow.

Tonight I lead the first devotion for the group. I've chose to use Isaiah 49.6 as my launch pad. "It is too small a thing..." Boy if we could just get that phrase in our heads. Isaiah over and over says that the love of God and his ways is NOT just a blessing for Israel. That is too small a thing. He also wants the chose one to be a light to the Gentiles, so that they may turn to God and know life.

What in your life has gotten too small? What people have you written off as beyond grace, beyond redemption? Who have you said is outside the circle of the love of God?

It's too small a thing.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Those of us who grew up in the "low church" traditions are not usually too aware of Advent. Christmas I've heard of, but Advent--what is that?

One of the great things I've discovered about the community of saints historically is the whole idea of life rhythms. The so-called Christian calendar is one way of expressing those rhythms. Advent started on Dec 1 and counts down to our celebration of Emmanuel, the God who broke through and is now with us.

Buckner has created an Advent guide with daily devotionals. You can read it online, get a daily email, or listen to an audio download (I do voiceovers on a few of them--got that face for radio thing working). All of that is available here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Slavery isn't over

We USAmericans tend to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Not true. Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Here's a great place to start the conversation...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Check your kids' homework BEFORE they turn it in...

You may have seen this piece of artwork turned in by a little girl...scroll down to see Mommy's job title...







































Mommy works at Home Depot and was selling shovels. What did you think?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stewarding Family

Yesterday the pastor at the church where we're attending (yes, we still are "attending"; not yet "joining"--darn that church-shopping) did a great job unpacking the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16. This is by far the most challenging-to-understand piece of teaching Jesus ever did. [NOTE: I've always thought the easy-to-understand teachings of Jesus were the most challenging to follow, but this one is tough to even know what he was teaching.] Here's the basic story: a steward, responsible for managing the master's business affairs, is accused of wrongdoing. The master calls him in and fires him, once he gives a report on his accounts. As Matt said, this was not a matter of pulling up an Excel spreadsheet or a Quickbooks report. This was a process that would take weeks to pull together.

The steward was your typical metrosexual. He knew he couldn't do manual labor, and he wasn't about to start begging. So he developed a plan. And that plan involved stewarding relationships. In a nutshell, he calls in several wealthy people who owe his master some money, writes down their debts, and makes them much more likely to help him when he and his family are out of a job and income.

The master hears all that, and "commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness." Then Jesus says the challenging comment and command: "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."

As Matt shared, the point of this parable is that the steward was given a gift by his master, the gift of seeing that someday soon he would give an account for his work. Jesus says that you and I will have to give an account too, but we "sons of light" don't live like we know we will give an account. We don't steward our relationships in light of the Master's examination near the way the "sons of this world" do when their bosses ask them for an account.

We are saved by grace, but we do give an account for what we have done with what God gave us to steward in this life. If we are faithful in little things, we will be faithful in much, and God will make us faithful in much.

So this morning my daughter is a little sick, and we kept her home from school and I'm gonna take her to the doctor in a few minutes. This whole conversation of how I steward relationships hits me hard lately, especially as I steward my own family relationships. I'm in a new job, I'm traveling a ton, and my wife is working full-time in a paid job for the first time in 10 years. The stewardship of our relationships has gotten a lot harder. Or at least more complex. And if I had a "regular" job maybe it would be different, but I think it's even more challenging when your work is "ministry."

I'm planning to take some serious time over this holiday season to evaluate my family relationships, and think about how I have to one day give an account for how I steward them. Let's hope that my account is worthy of the gospel.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Combining for better impact

The organization I work for, Buckner International, announced today our alignment with Dillon International, another adoption and humanitarian aid ministry. This is an incredible partnership working to improve the lives of orphans and at-risk kids around the world. Mission Network News has the article here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why vote?

There has been a great discussion between my friend Keith Giles and some of his friends about politics and where our hope is placed. Check it out here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Civil Civilations

I have long liked Dave Barry.

I even like the television show where the judge from night court played Dave on his days off.

This article is awesome. And like my friend Texas in Africa, I agree with everything he says.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Foot in mouth disease

Do you ever have one of those moments when something starts to come out of your mouth and mid-sentence you realize there just isn't a graceful way to finish what you started?

I had one of those today.

When I got on the plane to Pittsburgh, there was a woman in my seat. Now I'm not usually a big rule-follower, so it wasn't going to be a big deal if we had to switch seats. Since it was just 2 seats on each side, no biggie. Or so I first thought...

When I asked her if she was in the right seat, turns out she was supposed to be in the seat one row further back. And in the window seat already was...well...a good-sized woman. Good as in large.

At the risk of the pot calling the kettle black, I'm a big guy, and I'm overweight.

But no 2 seat row needs both of us fighting for armrest space.

So the lady in my seat is asking me if I mind just sitting in her seat, and I'm looking at the other lady there, and I'm trying hard to formulate a coherent and graceful word to say. Here's what came out in response to her question:

"Well, uh, you know, with two people as wide-shouldered as we are, we should probably sit in different rows. How about I just take the seat I was assigned?"

I felt terrible the whole flight.

But I did have plenty of shoulder space.

Faith and Evolution


I found this book review for "Nature's Witness: How Evolution can Inspire Faith" by Daniel Harrell in an email from Emergent today. I have not yet read the book, but I like the things the reviewer had to say about his own journey.


Check it out here. We have often tried to say on this blog that there is a beauty to much of science that points to a Creator if we let it. We cannot allow our ties to an interpretation of Genesis 1-11 become our Ptolemic, earth-is-the-center-of-the-universe belief--the white whale of our modern church--that ultimately destroys our credibility and points people away from the very God we are intending to support.


I especially like the quote the reviewer quotes about our real problem is not with evolution, but with what some scientists do with evolution to interpret the rest of the world (e.g. there isn't a God).

Friday, October 24, 2008

More politics--I'm really gonna get in trouble

In another conversation I had yesterday with a friend talking about biblical values in politics I made this point: there is a philosophical difference between four points of view on abortion. I'm sure there's really more than 4, but these 4 stick out to me: pro-life, anti-choice, pro-choice, pro-abortion.

Now no one I know calls themselves anti-choice or pro-abortion. However that is exactly how those who see themselves as either pro-life or pro-choice define the opposite viewpoint. I do think that there are those in the world who are pro-abortion. They identify abortion directly with feminism, and therefore have the philosophy that the greater number of abortions there are, the greater freedom is being exercised by women. But I think these people are extremely rare (not to mention dead wrong).

There are also people who are anti-choice. These are people who I think are really bothered by other people's sins, so they want laws that keep sin out of our society (forget that those same people can't even keep sin out of their own lives). These are the fundamentalists that want to enforce whatever brand of outward holiness that they deem appropriate. Unfortunately, while not the majority, I do think that there are way too many Christians in this category.

But the vast majority of people are either pro-life or pro-choice. Those who are pro-choice are often uncomfortable with abortion, but ultimately come to see it as a woman's choice in consultation with her important relationship. Those who are pro-life are also uncomfortable with abortion, and see it as a part of their calling to represent these unborn children since they have no advocation of their own.

Is there a way that everyone who is uncomfortable with abortion can come together and figure out the best way to reduce the number of unborn children who are killed? I think there is. I certainly don't think it can be found in exclusively overturning Roe v Wade or any other laws. Anyone who thinks that there were not abortions when they were illegal needs to read more history. Or at least watch "The Cidar House Rules." But there has to be a way that we can stop arguing philosophical underpinnings long enough to agree that abortion is tragic, and come up with ways to lessen the societal impact it has?

Voting biblical values

I had a recent conversation with a friend about politics. And of course I can't help myself with the whole idea of "stimulating" different thoughts than the ones currently rolling around in someone's head. My close friends never know if I'm advocating a position I really believe or just in the stimulation mode...

But the conversation made me think about the phrase "voting biblical values."

I know what they mean when they say it--two values in particular--life and marriage.

Now I don't by any means intend to downplay those two things. They are biblical values, and very important ones.

But just not the only ones.

So I usually say something like "which biblical values are you suggesting I vote for? Forgiveness of enemies, turning the other cheek, justice for the oppressed, rescuing the impoverished, caring for orphans and widows, or what?"

There are more than 2 biblical values.

Eliminating suffering

I have often recommended Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green. Her book "The Illuminated Heart" remains one of my favorites on the topic of maturing in Christ. Here's an essay she recently wrote on suffering--it's so good I thought I would just copy it here but I hope you'll go to beliefnet and her site and sign up to get it yourself.

****Begin****

This essay just went live on Beliefnet.com. I wrote it a couple of months ago, after reading an essay along the now-familiar lines of "The existence of suffering proves there is no god; if there is a god, he's stupid and incompetent; we could have done a better job than he did." Here's the link on Beliefnet: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2008/10/Lets-Create-A-Perfect-World.aspxand on my website: http://www.frederica.com/writings/lets-create-a-perfect-world.html#entry2454289and I'll paste in the text, below. BTW, Beliefnet won't allow any reprints for 120 days, which would be mid-January I think. In other news, I've been having my podcasts transcribed and am posting them on my website too, so there are a lot of "new" items there, not always grammatically correct, but at least present in readable form. I had been asked about some of my podcasts if there was a print version, but there hasn't been till now. I hope to get them all posted in the next few months. ***

Let's Create a Perfect World
A world without suffering is literally unimaginable. Try it.

Beliefnet.com , October 21, 2008

So you think that the existence of suffering proves that there is no God. But can I ask a question? How would you eliminate suffering? What would a world without suffering look like? You have free rein-make it any way you like.

Why don't we start with something specific. People often cite the story told by the character Ivan in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov: parents punished their little daughter for bedwetting by locking her in a frozen outhouse. Ivan cannot accept a God who would let that happen.

OK, how would you prevent it? Can you imagine a world where there is no child abuse? Not just that one awful case-there's no point in stopping only one act of abuse. How would you stop child abuse entirely? Would you make it so that an angry parent could not think of any way to hurt a child?

Could a parent imagine striking a child, but be paralyzed and unable to raise an arm?

Could he strike at the child, but the blow would not land?

The blow would land, but the child would not feel it as painful?

Maybe you could make it so that parents could not get angry in the first place-how about that?
Would that mean that no one, anywhere, could get angry? Why stop with parents?

(We'll get to earthquakes and tsunamis later. One thing at a time.)

How about making it powerfully instinctive to protect children, but with some small room for evil people to do wrong? Child abuse would be so contrary to normal human nature that people would recoil in horror, as they do to Ivan's story.

Wait-that's the system we have now.

OK, let's try something simpler. What about a boy who loves his dog? The dog grows old and sick. The boy is worried. Would you make it so that no beloved pet dies?

Or does a bittersweet thought arise that, even though such a loss is painful, it will help the boy grow in maturity and compassion? But you can't allow that, really. We're trying to make a world without suffering, not one where suffering has hidden meaning. Besides, if the boy is going to live in a world without suffering, he won't ever need to feel compassion.

All right, the boy loves the dog, so you won't let it die. What if the next year he discovers girls? Would you let the dog die then?

In a perfect world, would staying alive be based on whether someone loves you? Can you foresee that causing any kind of suffering?

What about dislike, in general? Racism, for example: would you eliminate it by making everyone look the same? Or would you eliminate our ability to notice differences? Or could we notice differences, but be unable to have negative thoughts? Would you create humans who love everybody and hate nobody, and have no choice about it?

You have to change *something*. The way things are now, there's a lot of suffering.

Maybe you don't expect to eliminate suffering entirely-you just want to set some limits. But there already are limits. A bad guy can't kill you and dig you up and kill you again. He can't kill children you haven't had yet. Even if he holds you captive, your thoughts are still free. And scientists don't struggle to cure that terrible disease where your skin suddenly melts away in the shower; there are lots of diseases that don't exist.

There are limits, but you think they should be in different places. Let's keep trying to do that.

OK, earthquakes. Would you have constructed the world some other way, without plate tectonics? Great! That was an easy one.

But if "Earthquake" was the worst kind of natural disaster, whatever was number two now automatically becomes number one--tidal waves, maybe, or volcanoes. People won't be grateful for the non-existence of earthquakes, like they're not grateful for the non-existence of Skin Melt Disease. As long as there are any natural disasters, something's going to be worst.

And, yes, it's unfair that some victims of disaster are miraculously saved, while others die. How do you want to make it fair? Nobody gets miracles, or everybody does?

Let's just go ahead and eliminate all natural disasters, anything caused by changes in weather, earth, or sea. But even stuff that's just sitting there can kill you. You can fall into a pool of water and drown.

Would you make it so that couldn't happen? Would you do that by changing the nature of water, or changing the nature of lungs?

Maybe water would have a tough skin, so you'd hit the surface and bounce. But how would we drink it? Would you change the way our bodies take in water? Or maybe we wouldn't need water? Would we need something else instead?

Don't forget gravity. We've eliminated earthquakes, but what kills people in earthquakes is being crushed by things that fall on them. Stuff can fall, even without an earthquake. Would you make it so gravity doesn't pull things down on people? ...No, that whole train of thought is problematic.

When you say that if there was a truly omnipotent God, he could have prevented suffering, do you mean that God could have made things differently? Sure, that's what we're trying to visualize now. But if you mean that he could have made a world that was illogical, I'm going to have trouble following you.

I don't expect you to actually build this perfect world, but it does seem like you should at least be able to *imagine* it.

And here's a factor we haven't talked about yet: subjectivity. People can respond to the same thing in different ways, and interpret it as suffering or not, depending on the context. A hangnail can be unbearable when you're trying to sleep, but twelve hours of childbirth is worth it when you hold that new little baby. Losing a pint of blood in a Red Cross clinic is not like losing one in a car accident.

What's more, different people have different responses to suffering overall. Some make a big fuss over nothing, while others endure terrible things without blame or complaining. Though people can't control what happens to them, they seem to have some control over their response.
Would you make that part of the human mind stronger, and diminish suffering that way? Actually, a number of religions have made significant breakthroughs in that area.

I'm not mocking your desire to create a world without suffering. If we didn't grieve at suffering and urgently want to end it, we would be less than human. Your desire to do so springs from a strong, sincere love for humankind. But accomplishing it requires major changes in what humankind is like.

You can prevent interpersonal pain by making people who give and receive the same amount of love, without bias or personal preferences. You can standardize physical appearances, so no one would suffer from feeling inadequate or ugly, and no one could choose to love one person and reject someone else. Personalities would have to be standardized too, for the same reason. Old people would be as attractive as young people, and I guess they might as well continue to look young, since nobody is going to die anyway. You can reorganize the natural world, too, so that it is predictable and never dangerous.

This world you're creating certainly is beautiful; it's elegant and serene. It's also a lot simpler. Nothing there can change, because change would mean a fall from perfect bliss. The people living there are simpler too, untroubled and uniformly beautiful, like marble statues in a quiet garden.

In comparison, the world we've got now is just so *odd*, isn't it? It's far more complex than seems strictly necessary. Why make such wildly differing landscapes? Why bother with color? Fish are great, but 20,000 species? The more you think about it, the more eccentric, even comical, our world appears.

If you were designing humans for your perfect world, you probably wouldn't have them digest food the way we do. When you planned how they reproduce, you'd come up with something more dignified. Flatulence has been making humans laugh since the dawn of time, but it just wouldn't belong in a perfect world. (Besides, laughter can lead to teasing).

The world we've got is far from quiet and unchanging. It changes constantly, vigorously, and yet remains the same, like an ocean, like a forest. God doesn't sit afar off, watching us "from a distance," as the dumb song has it. There's no distance. His life permeates creation, filling every bug and every blade of grass, sustaining every molecule. "'Do I not fill heaven and earth?' says the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24), and Isaiah heard the angels agree, "The world is full of the glory of God" (Isaiah 6:3).

Yet there is, undoubtedly, suffering. Behind every overt experience of suffering, there is a gray-noise static of isolation, even loneliness, and the edgy necessity of self-protection. It is easy to spend most of our lives in the dry attic of the mind, worrying and pondering. We retain a sense that we are cut off from something important, something beautiful, and that is surely the tragedy reigning behind all others.

No one knows why things are this way. (A factor we usually disregard, but one assumed by people in most times and places, is that it's not just us and God here in the universe. There are spiritual forces that are not benign. You laugh, but it might turn out they're right. They make up a mighty big vote.)

The God who made such a world, and who continued to love his lost children, would try to call them back into communion with him. He would want them to dwell in innermost security and peace, because then nothing they could face would be perceived as suffering. Even when they were hurt and hated, they would give love in return. But how would he go about reaching them?

This entire Planet Earth project is eccentric, so God's approach to this problem is likely to be unexpected too. What we would expect is for him to try to make contact by speaking in the hearts of some people in every generation, and giving those prophets a message designed to draw his beloved home. Most religions preserve such books.

But we Christians believe that he did something else, something extremely odd: he became a baby. Holy books are one thing, but what humans really need is love. So he started out as a baby and walked, day by day, through a specific, earthy human life. The things he did and said during that life are still compelling, two thousand years later. The force of his personality reverberates through the ages.

At the end he went through terrible suffering. It was as if he was saying, "Look, this is how you do it," and then he did it with courage, love, and, most amazing, forgiveness.

But that wasn't the end. On the third day he rose again from the dead, trampling down death by death, and smashing the forces that wound and tear us. He demonstrated that the final victory belongs to him.

If you believe this happened, it's the definition of "good news." If the fear of death is shattered, everything is changed. Our lives are not free of trouble, but we can look at trouble in a different way, because the conqueror is with us. "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

This story might sound crazy, but it's not any crazier than the world itself; in that context, it's strangely fitting. But what about your perfect world, so beautiful and unchanging? Can you honestly say that you love it? Would anyone die for your marble men?
********Frederica Mathewes-Greenwww.frederica.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ortberg on the gospel

I first remember really liking John Ortberg when he wrote in the forward to "You Gotta Get Out of the Boat" that he was trying to write "Dallas for dummies" referencing Dallas Willard.

I resonated with that cuz it took me a year and a half to read "The Divine Conspiracy" the first time.

This morning I read another article, this one about what "the gospel" is. Ortberg is once again right on. The 3.5 regular readers of this blog know that I do not care for the question, "if you were to die tonight, do you know for certain where you'd spend eternity?" Here's what Ortberg says:

Maybe the "if you were to die tonight" version of the gospel falls victim to the happiness paradox. If "heaven" is understood as "ultimate happiness," then I can seek to obtain it while remaining trapped in my self-centeredness. If "heaven" is understood as the eternal pleasure factory, then obtaining it has no intrinsic relationship to transformation, therefore no intrinsic relationship to discipleship.
But if the gospel really is the announcement of the availability, through Jesus, of the "with-God life," then things begin to fall into place. Grace is not just the forgiveness of sin, it is the power to live the with-God life from one moment to the next. Heaven is not a pleasure factory that an angry God chooses to shut some people out of because they don't pass a theology test; it is a community of servanthood that can only be enjoyed by a certain kind of character.
Discipleship or obedience is not something we have to cajole people into by obligation or gratitude ("after all, Jesus died for you; the least you can do is deny yourself happiness for a while on earth"), it is simply the process of learning to enter into the good, with-God life. The gospel becomes social as well as personal—not because individuals don't matter, but because to be "saved" means (among other things) to be delivered from the chronic selfishness that contributes to the world's hurt and to my misery.


Yes!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Following the rules

I love the Spanish card game Truco. I learned it from my wife's Argentine family--it's a popular game there. Without going into too much detail, Truco is a combination of poker and spades, probably my two favorite card games previous to learning it. It involves the strategy of catching tricks (trucos) PLUS the skill of bluffing to win tricks. And cheating is built into the rules, because there is a standard set of signs you can flash your partner to let him know what cards you have. I guess it's not really cheating because if your opponents see your sign-flash, they know what you have too. It's a great game.

I may have written before about my wife's uncle David. Their family background is Jewish--they emigrated to Argentina from Turkey in the early 20th century--and David is the epitome of Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof." He is the best Truco player in the family (at least in his own mind). But the first time we played together he said a phrase that has stuck with me for almost 20 years now. Since I was just learning, I slid the pad and paper for scorekeeping toward him. He took it, but declared, "You need to know my philosophy: if you can't win when you're keeping score, you don't deserve to play."

I kept score.

I've now used that phrase hundreds of times since then, mostly on the golf course when someone asks if I'm writing the scores on the card. And it came to mind again this morning as I read Proverbs 11.1:

"A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight."

Two things come to mind here. First, God does not like those who cheat. How often do we bend the rules of whatever we're doing in our own favor? We think of ourselves as deserving of the best, so we take advantage of whatever situation to make it come out for our benefit. And honestly, we don't often see this as cheating, but just as "ambition" or "the way the cookie crumbles." I'm reminded of an old Chuck Swindoll story where he and his son were rafting in Colorado, and as the head guide was explaining all that would happen, Chuck was eyeing what looked to be the best raft and saltiest guide, and starting maneuvering he and his son that direction. Was he cheating? Of course he was, just in a socially acceptable way. All the others, who were following the rules by listening to instruction, were being cheated out of what might have been their raft and guide. Big deal? Probably not.

The one place I hate cheaters is on the highway. On my commute home there is one place that during rush hour traffic the lane for exiting the highway backs up probably a 1/2 mile. I dutifully wait it out in that lane for 10 or 15 minutes, because I think it's clear that is the right thing to do. [I know it's like the only rules I tend to follow. I'm full of hypocricy.] It ticks me off to no end those people who think they are better and smarter than the rest of us who pass us all in the left lane then force their way into the right lane closer to the exit, making those of us who are following the rules wait an extra 15 seconds. That's not the way it should work; those who follow the rules should be rewarded, not those who break the rules.

And I think this proverb says that eventually those who cheat will be seen and caught by God.

But here's the second thought I had from this wise saying. Who is it that gets cheated the most in areas of "false balance"? It's the poor and marginalized. It's those who have no voice of their own, no place to get justice. It is those who cannot speak up against unjust scales and rules and economic systems.

Last night we watched "Speed Racer" with the kids. It was a fun movie, and in the end the marginalized guys won. The business guy who had the clout to make the rules always work in his favor went to jail. It was a picture of a world that I think God delights in, where the kid slays the giant, where the slaves win over the powerful government, where the baby born in a barn is the greatest king of all time. God is the champion of those who have no champions, and any system--political, economic, organizational or otherwise--that cheats those who have no voice is an abomination to him.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Where does wisdom come from?

I'm not a biblical scholar, but I play one on TV.

Proverbs 8 is a great example of how many people misinterpret the Bible. The chapter is usually subtitled something like "The blessings of wisdom" or the like. In it, wisdom is personified, or given human characteristics, a common literary tool in the poetic passages of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs; plus many specific passages within lots of other books).

Now any normal person knows that you say stuff in poems that you would never say in real life. Remember the first time you were in love, and you thought about writing that special someone a poem? You promised the moon, eternal love, and carrying books home from school forever. You exaggerated for effect (hyperbole). You gave your love a voice, and turned the nebulous, mysterious, unexplainable love from an "it" into something much more tangible.

The proverb writer here does that with wisdom. But there are some people that just don't get it.

For instance, there are those who point to this chapter as promoting the female deity, whether it be God's feminine side or a separate person (wife? sister?). All the personification here is feminine in nature. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think God is male or female. He's in touch with his divine side, and since we were made in his image, that divine side has feminine and masculine qualities in abundance.

Or there are those that say this somehow refers to Jesus as the preincarnate (before he was born) personification of wisdom. The help in creating the world, the design of the earth--it makes those who don't see Jesus as God justify their placing him as the chief of all created beings, based on misinterpretations of John 1.1 and Colossians 1.16. In this view Jesus was created first, then helped God the Father create the rest of the world.

Finally there is the Sophia-worship group. In Greek, wisdom is "sophia." And while these proverbs were orginally written in Hebrew, for much of history they have been read in Greek in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible popular from before Jesus was born throughout much of the Roman Empire times). Sophia worshipers--similar to the first mistake--see "Sophia" as a real person, equal to God. Some feminists have latched onto this belief and formed a religious structure around Sophia-worship.

But to me the truth seems very obvious. The writer of the proverb wants us to see that we should be in love with wisdom. We should be passionate about pleasing her, knowing her. We should want to spend our time with her.

At the core, wisdom comes from fear of the LORD and a passionate pursuit of wisdom.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A paper from 1783


The Onion, one of my favorite parody rags, has this "archived" issue from 1783...I especially love the best-seller list on p. 2...


Economy focus

The Pope and I agree on the economy. Here's what he said yesterday.

"He who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand."

Medical procedures...

Today I have to go for a sonogram.

Apparently I'm pregnant.

Okay, well not really. But my doc wants a closer look at my kidneys. So I drank my 32 oz of water and in a little while I'll head to the imaging place and get scanned. As long as no one tries to copy or fax me...

It has reminded me of the times I've had other medical procedures done. Everyone's favorite is probably the surgery around getting my toe cut off in a tragic lawnmower accident when I was 16. No one should ever have to get surgery done in Borger, Texas from a Filipino doctor.

My personal favorite is the scoping of my bladder a couple of years ago. There is a tool called a flexible cystoscopy, inveneted for use in the torturing of heretics in the 17th century but now a doctor's tool for looking in a bladder. Yes, there is only one passageway into my bladder. And even though WebMD says a flexible cystoscopy is "pencil thick" I swear it was at least a 1/2 inch.

But the truth is, I want to be healthy. I want to hang out with my kids for many more years to come. I want to make sure I do what I can to keep myself fit. I've typically been one of those kinds of people that sees the cynical side of health--work out, lose weight, eat wheat germ or whatever, then get hit by a bus leaving the gym. But really, I'm going to do something about it. I've already gone 5 days without a soda, and don't plan to ever have one again. I went to a burger place in the Houston airport last night and had a salad. I did indulge in a couple of things at the state fair on Sunday--corn dogs and chicken fried bacon--but those will now be the exception to the rule. I hope to start working out.

Anything to avoid the flexible cystoscopy...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Church and State

Let's be clear--churches and believers should speak prophetically to their communities and cultures. We should be speaking to our parishioners about a follower of Jesus' role in shaping political leadership, in influencing culture, etc.

But there is no way this is a good idea. As I think has been attributed to Tony Campolo, mixing manure and ice cream might be really good for the manure, but it doesn't do much for the ice cream. I am not sure it's a good idea for churches to be tax exempt even, although all nonprofits are tax exempt, not just religious ones. Churches should be speaking on behalf of God when it comes to biblical truth and kingdom issues, but I don't believe we should endorse candidates either way. And I definitely don't think we should be connected to any one group or party. Anything that compromises the prophetic edge should be wisely considered and probably avoided altogether.

Feet problems

I have a thing about feet.

I don't know what it is, but feet have always been the ickiest part of the body for me. Maybe it stems from sticking my foot under a lawnmower when I was 16 and losing a toe, or maybe it's something psychological hidden within me--who knows. But I don't like feet.

Like Adrian Monk there are days where I work to overcome this icky feeling. I have grown to the point of being able to give my wife a foot massage. Sometimes. Of course there's then the alcohol rub, bleach bath and disinfectant use afterwords, but I'm progressing...

A couple of weekends ago I needed to take San's van to the shop for a new tire. She had taken my truck and gone shopping, and I didn't really want to wait, so I walked the mile or so from the tire place back to our house. It was a nice Saturday morning stroll.

Until I got to our neighbors' house. The kids were playing on the sidwalk, I was watching them, and totally forgot about the little raised bump in the sidewalk. I kicked it straight on, and stubbed my toe. I nearly fell down. Don't you love that feeling of "How can I regain my balance and not look like an idiot?"

The only real problem is that I was wearing flip-flops (no mom, no one calls them "thongs" anymore, that means something else now). As I kept walking up the driveway, I felt a little liquid on my foot, looked down and...well, let's just say it suddenly hurt more. I came inside, cleaned it up, bandaged it, made sure it didn't need stitches (it was more of a filet than a gash), then limped around for a couple of days.

So today I read Proverbs 3. There's lots of stuff in there about wisdom, including this:

"My son, do not lose sight of these--keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble." Pr 3.21-23

It is easy to get distracted from wisdom and slice open a toe. (Maybe wisdom is to stop wearing flip-flops...really mom, Google "thong" and see if any flip-flops come up.) We need to keep our focus on the wisdom of God, and not be distracted by the alternative voices begging for our attention. Jesus said to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Sometimes, he says, "what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Lk 16.15b).

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Some new demotivators


In case the 3.5 of you have forgotten, I LOVE http://www.despair.com/. If I could, I would put the full repertoire of posters up in my office.


Some new ones are out, and hey, I thought this one fit.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You can't fix politicians either

I have wanted to blog on the economy, but to be honest, I only know enough about it to be dangerous. I don't know whether or not the bailout plan was right, but here's what I know: politicians practice CYA decision-making, and care more about getting elected than getting it right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You can't fix stupid

"When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan." Pr 29.2

I think that sometimes we Christians have an equation like this one:

Persecution/negative comments = What the Bible says about righteous living being persecuted.

But the reality is this:

Persecution/negative comments = Natural consequences of doing something stupid.

When believers do something stupid, the critique we get IS NOT persecution. If we offer bad leadership, bad politics, bad thinking, bad philosophy, bad and/or stupid [fill in the blank], the critique we get is deserved.

This proverb seems to say that wicked leadership will be obviously bad to people, but when there is an increase in righteousness, the people will like it. That is not to take away anything from real persecution--it exists and should be pointed out for what it is. But when we are obnoxious instead of graceful, judgmental instead of loving, shouting from a distance instead of building relationships, we are being stupid, and the critique is deserved.

As my friend says, "you can't fix stupid."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some fun, some serious...

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." Pr 27.2

This is great advice. It's always better for others to sing your praises, cuz then you don't look arrogant or prideful. There's only one thing wrong with following this proverb:

What if no one says anything good about you?

I guess then you can go back to Pr 17.8 and offer someone a bribe to praise you in public...

"...do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity." Pr 27.10b

Hmm, should I have turned my brother away during Hurrican Ike? No, of course not. This is a great example of missing the point of the proverb. I deliberately skipped the first half of the verse, which says "Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend..." The thought I have is this--we should work to be the kind of people who help in troubled times. We will all need other's help in times of calamity, and when we need help we should seek it. But as followers of Jesus we can make a difference in the world when we are individually and collectively ready to help in times of trouble.

One of my favorite proverbs: "Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing." 27.14. Can I get an "amen" from you non-morning folks?

Whoops, I guess the bribe thing won't work. 27.21 says "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise." It seems that praise for us--or the lack thereof--are parts of the refining process God has. Hmm, I guess that means I should not take praise or the lack of praise personally. It has nothing to do with my identity. It is something God uses to shape me into a better man.

Finally, on the economy:

"Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever, and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls." 27.23-27

I have two or three times sat down to blog about the economic situation in the US. The truth is I have no idea what is right. I feel like some bailout is necessary, but giving carte blanche to this administration is still a bad idea. It's a bad idea for any administration, because power does corrupt. It's why the leadership style of Jesus-followers is about service and sacrifice, not power and authority. But I digress.

The ecomony breathes, just like the cycle of grass disappearing then the new growth appears. We have staved off any significant downturns for nearly 30 years. We have almost no one left who lived through the Great Depression. Maybe we're near another significantly difficult time. Maybe not. I have no idea. But I know that God is on his throne and cares deeply for all of us, especially the poor. So we should prepare for difficult times, but never hoard away from the poor. There will always be enough for "the maintenance of your girls."

And as you know if you have daughters, that is plenty.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fools and sluggards are bad--but there are worse things

I have always loves Proverbs 26. It's a great example of setting someone up for conviction, just luring them into a trap to see their own sin. The first 11 verses are all these statements about a fool--purposeless, loveless, moralless; they are just worthless people. We shouldn't honor them, shouldn't listen to them, shouldn't give them the time of day. And as you read them you think, "man, I'm glad I'm not a fool. I'm a lot better than that. I think I'm wiser than that."

Then you get to verse 12: "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him."

Yikes! Didn't see that coming...

I just think the word sluggard is cool. When was the last time you used that in casual conversation?

And finally, for a jokester like me, the proverb that squelches the fun: "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, 'I am only joking!'" So should I give up trying to trick people for fun?

Or is this more about trying to get out of bad behavior? When we get caught in something that looks bad, we like to play it off somehow. A good way is to say, "I was just foolin'. Didn't really mean that." As I'm trying to teach my children, our first response when we're in a situation where there is any chance we had some shortcoming in responsibility, we should own up to it immediately. No excuses, no playing it off. Just an honest, "You know, maybe I didn't think that through, and I'm sorry."

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The ol' switcharoo

I read Proverbs 24 before going to sleep tonight, and came across a good thought in verse 17:

"Do not rejoice when an enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles..."

Yes, I thought. This is good. The counter-cultural message of Jesus. Nonviolence, love for everyone, even enemies. We should all practice this.

Then I read verse 18:

"...lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him."

Okay, so let's see. If I want REALLY bad things to happen to my enemy, I should not be happy when they begin, cuz if I'm happy then God may think he's been too hard on the poor soul.

The proverbs really mess with me sometimes...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

God politics

Here's another CT article--this one a conversation between Chuck Colson, Shane Claiborne, and Greg Boyd about a Christian's approach to political engagement. Great stuff.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/003/19.18.html

In the moment.

I just thought this was a great article. John Ortberg is awesome. From CT Online:

Redeemed Time, Lightened BurdensOur work is transformed by the way we approach it.by John Ortberg

"Redeem the time," Paul says, "for the days are evil."

Or maybe it's me.

I have been thinking a lot about two of Jesus' agricultural metaphors regarding ministry over the past few years.

First, "Put your hand to the plow and don't look back." And I have been doing that in my ministry. I have had an extremely strong conviction that I am to follow my calling in the place where I am and not waste energy thinking about other possibilities. I'm convinced I will grow in ways I would not otherwise if I put my hand to the plow and don't look back.

Second, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." This one has been harder. I have faced difficult staff transitions and change navigation and new multi-site planting and fund-raising and often felt in over my head. I have often felt myself preoccupied and weighted down, and yet I feel as deeply called to what I'm doing as I ever have.

How do I put my hand to the plow but live with the easy yoke?

Several weeks ago my wife pulled me into the bedroom, closed the door, and said there were a few things she wanted to talk about. She said she was kind of afraid to bring them up. She had a list.

I was not happy that she had a list.

She began: "When our marriage is at its best, we are sharing it together. We share division of labor stuff. We partner together around the house;”our kids see this. We each know and care about details in each other's life and work. To be honest: it feels like that's been slipping. It feels like you have been becoming so preoccupied by all the things you have to do, by all the demands you think are on your shoulders, I'm kind of missing the you I most want."

Then she reminded me of a moment when we were dating. It was our second date. We went to "Dancing Waters," a little fountain outside Disneyland where the water jumps up and they shine colored lights on it. She chose because it was free, and I had no money.

At one point we were in the lobby in the Disneyland hotel. I was waiting for her to come out of the rest room. When she returned I said real loud: "I can't believe you kept me waiting here for two hours."

Her immediate comeback: "I wouldn't have to keep you waiting if you didn't insist on having your mother living with us all these years so I have to wait on her hand and foot..."

The whole lobby is listening now. It was better than Dancing Waters.

My immediate thought was: I like this girl...

Nanc reminded me of that moment.

She said: "When you are fully present like that, light, breezy, spontaneous, fun, ready to listen, alive to joy;I love that man. I need that man. I haven't seen that man around much lately."

It took me a couple days to process this talk, because pouting is more or less my spiritual gift, and I had to get that out of my system first.

But I thought about the kind of life she was describing. I know that life.

It's like I've been waiting for circumstances to change so I can live that kind of life.

I'm not waiting any more.

I started praying. God, I need some help. Ideas started to come. I need some wisdom, some accountability; and I watched God start to bring some of that into my life. I knew I needed either a therapist, a spiritual director, or an executive coach. And I finally landed on the best choice and started moving forward.

Mostly, though, it's a kind of inner adventure. The process looked like this:

I know the kind of life she's describing.

I want that life. It's painful to not live it.

I have been waiting for external circumstances to change, under the illusion that will usher me in to that kind of life.

I'm not helping anyone when I get weighted down. I will actually lead better when I do it with "lightness of being." It's how I was wired up.

And then, this thought: I can do this. I can set aside the weight of unfinished tasks and unsolved problems when I come home. I can be fully present and alive even though everything around me is not settled down. Each moment I can choose this; I can ask God's help with it.

And it's been like a mini-revival. I find myself thinking, when problems arise, bring it on. Each problem is, among other things, an opportunity to exercise this muscle, to make it stronger. And if I forget in one moment, I can begin again with God the next.

I've been struck by how this can be done by anyone, anywhere.

I was on a shuttle bus at the airport. And I noticed the driver for the car rental company. That can be a stressful, thankless task.

But this guy was a delight. He would be scanning curbside, looking for whoever needed a ride. He told those of us in the shuttle: "I'm always looking; looking for eyes; sometimes people are running late; I want to get them. Hup, there's another one!"

We were cheering him on when he'd pick up another customer. He would hop out and grab people's luggage before they could lift it. He was like the Michael Phelps of shuttle drivers. Then he'd say: "Well, we're off. I'm going to get you to your cars as soon as I can."

He created such a little community of joy on that bus, people didn't want to get off. We wanted to ride to the terminal a second time just to be treated that way.

I realized I have my own little bus to drive. And I want to drive it like him.

I want to live with my hand on the plow.

I want to live under the easy yoke.

I want to redeem the time.

John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership and pastor of Menlo Park (California) Presbyterian Church.
To respond to this article, write to Newsletter@LeadershipJournal.net.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.Click here for reprint information on Leadership Journal.September 22, 2008

A hot commodity

"Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction and understanding." Pr 23.23

Truth and wisdom, instruction and understanding--these are the commodities worth investing in! Today's market fluctuations and economic uncertainties don't affect what is wise, what is worth knowing and doing. These "stocks" do not decrease in value--there are no downturns in the wisdom market.

A man once found a treasure in a field...

Monday, September 22, 2008

The friend of kings

"He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend." Proverbs 22.11

I have read and practiced this verse for years. It seems to be the biblical version of "how to win friends and influence people." Two things are listed--purity of heart, graciousness of speech.

Purity of heart is about focus, about the "one thing." Remember in "City Slickers" when Billy Crystal asks Jack Palance what the secret of life was, the crusty cowboy called "Curly" holds up his finger. "Your finger?" asks Crystal? "No, find one thing, and do it well."

When our heart if focused on the "one thing" of the kingdom of heaven, it stands out. People take note.

Graciousness of speech is about valuing the people you talk to, and treating them as more important than yourself. It is about eye contact, listening, and genuine concern. It is never about shouting from a distance, the characteristic of all too much of today's Christian leadership in the US.

In short, being the friend of kings is about relationship. Being the kind of person, day in and out, whose heart is focused on the kingdom and who speech reflects concern for the other person.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finally!

The Americans won back the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999. The young guys led the way, with Anthonly Kim beating Sergio Garcia 5&4 in the 1st match, Hunter Mahan holing a huge putt on 17 to take a 1up lead (even though in his excitement he hit it in the water and lost 18 to halve the match. The point that sealed it was long-knocking J.B. Holmes, who consistently drove it over 350 yards.

But my favorite was definitely Boo Weekley, who was also everyone else's favorite. The down home southerner who would rather hunt than golf golfed his ball like no one's business.

The only real disappointment was Phil Mickelson's poor play at another Ryder Cup. Can't wait until Celtic Manor in Wales in October of 2010 to see if we can repeat.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting in a hurry

I am notorious for getting in a hurry to get certain things done. But there is something to be said for doing it right:

"Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way." Pr 19.2

The young are full of passion, ready to change the world. But passion alone can't do it. Knowledge is required. The knowledge on where to go is of primary value--it comes before the passion to go. Passion is vital, but subservient to knowledge.

Another of today's proverbs is about not getting in a hurry to be mad:

"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." 19.11

I hope I have good sense. It's not a personality trait, although I'm sure some people are naturally less likely to get angry than others. Good sense is learned behavior. It has to be practiced. Maybe that's why those people that drive you crazy are still in your life--God's growing your good sense muscles...

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed." 19.17

We are just stewards of our stuff, God is the Owner. However God looks at our generosity to those in need as lending to him money. Amazing. We get "double credit" by giving to the poor--once from the experience with them and once from God. And God pays us back.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The power of relationship

You know relationship makes the world go 'round. But today's proverb has this gem:

"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." Pr 18.1

You cannot serve God alone. To be alone is to seek your own desire, and eventually your judgments will fail. That's not to say you don't need alone time--we do just like Jesus did. But our alone time recharges us to be with people; reconnects us to the still small voice of God. It is not an end to itself. Life is lived only in community.

"A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating." Pr 18.6

This verse would have been helpful for me to have memorized as a kid. "Really mom, I was only following the biblical mandate when I hit Johnny..."

Finally, another relationship thought: "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Pr 18.13

Abba, may I be a hearer and a listener to my neighbor, and a doer to meet his needs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Better at positive deviation


I finally took some time to read lately, and finished up BETTER: A SURGEON'S NOTES ON PERFORMANCE by Atul Gawande. I really recommend this book as a good read on how we all might improve performance in what we do. It's different from the typical business book, mostly cuz it's about medical stuff.

It's divided into 3 sections on 3 topics: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity. Each section has chapters filled with real life medical stories; some that will amaze you, and some that will scare you! Like, why did doctors in the 19th century resist the idea that washing your hands between patients was a good thing? And why aren't they better at doing it today? Gawande is a good writer and researched his stories well, going from historical situations to medicine in the Iraq war to doctors helping with executions to dramatic improvements in treating cystic fibrosis.

The overarching concept is the idea of becoming a positive deviant, and the book ends with 5 suggestions for becoming one:

1. Ask an unscripted question. Make a connection, a humanity touch.

2. Don't complain.

3. Count something. If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting.

4. Write something. Choose your audience and write something.

5. Change.

Here's to positive deviants everywhere!

Burning, bribes and bubbling over

A few thoughts from Proverbs 17:

"The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts." (3)

Don't you just love tests? Tests of the heart burn; they refine. They bring into the light the junk that doesn't belong, so they embarrass us. They make us feel guilty. But they are a necessary part of the purification process.

"A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers." (8) Hmm. This is one of those proverbs that I wonder about. Is the writer promoting the use of bribes? Did bribes have both positive and negative connotations in those days? Verse 23 talks about accepting a "bribe from the bosom" or a bribe given in secret--are bribes okay if they are done with full disclosure?

And finally, this gem for personal obedience: "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out." (13) We have seen in the past few years what damage water can do when it gets let out of its boundaries. Just ask folks in New Orleans or Galveston (actually, don't ask them. Just pray for them and serve their needs!) Quarreling has similar effects on relationships. So I'm making a resolution today--I don't need to win arguments, especially with my wife. And I don't even need to always feel the need to make a point. Or to rub in a point. Or to hammer in a point until those with lesser points agree with me.

Yikes, the proverbs can be convicting...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ordinary people

Earlier I was reading the Leadership Weekly online newsletter. Marshall Shelley (who by the way wrote a book EVERY pastor and leader should read called "Well Intentioned Dragons") mentioned how amazed he was at Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt--weren't we all! He asks a great question though--do we let amazing standouts in the kingdom keep us ordinary people from stepping up?

Then I read my Monday Morning Memo from Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads. Yes, I know it's Thursday. So I'm a slow reader sometimes.

Here's something from that:

I’ve encountered dozens of business owners who believed in their hearts they had extraordinary employees.

None of them ever did.

"Properly enforced systems, methods, policies and procedures allow a company to get exceptional actions from ordinary people. If your business requires you to attract and retain extraordinary people, you’ve got a dangerous business model."

I think he's right. You don't have to be extraordinary to do amazing things.

In fact, if you read the Bible, extraordinary often just gets in the way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thanks.

I am not a military man.

My dad served in the Army. He is one of the most patriotic men I know, even though we don't always agree on politics.

I believe in peace and want to pursue it with all my heart. Jesus called us to be peacemakers in the world.

I live in a place where peace has been bought and paid for. A friend recently put a quote on his Facebook page that waging war to make peace is like having sex to save virginity. And while it's a pithy quote, I can't totally buy into it the way he apparently does. As I've written about before, I don't think that peacemaker necessarily means pacifist. Too often some fall into the trip of doing nothing to stop evil. While Jesus may not have made war, he definitely did not do nothing.

I struggle with war and violence and their outbreaks in our fallen world. I like living in a free country. But I don't want to fall into the opposite trap either, the trap that places God in a patriotic box and believes that war is justifiable to protect that which is a luxury. No, freedom is not a luxury, it is a privilege. But let's be honest, lots of wars have been fought over, well, stuff.

But in the midst of my own nonunderstanding of where Jesus wants me to be, I love and respect those who have sacrificed for the sake of freedom. They were and are a great generation. And today I watched this video and cried in gratitude.

So, thanks.

Church and Politics Quiz

A few months ago CT did a Hermenuetics Quiz to help you see what you really think about the Bible.

Today I took the Church and Politics Quiz. I found it really interesting. It takes a few minutes, but take the quiz and see where you might fall.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shopping for churches

Having now gone through our 2nd move in 5 years, we're church-shopping again. Fortunately, we're not the kind of people who church shop without moving (that's a whole 'nother thing, the sheep-swapping that goes on between today's consumer-driven congregations), but still, when you move to another town 350 miles away, it's hard to stay connected with the same church community.

So, we've been visiting churches. Evaluating worship styles (I'm a rock-n-roll kinda guy, but not so much the 100% energetic positive pump-you-up-before-preaching kind; prefering instead the acoustic authentic kind), critiquing preachers (I prefer a guy who says it like it is but with good communication skills), people attending (I'm telling you, it's tough after 20 years in El Paso and 5 years in San Antonio to be in the same room with SO MANY white people), youth groups, children's ministries, etc.

Throw in the mix that I work for a denominationally founded ministry that would strongly prefer I attend a church in that tradition. Finding a church is tough.

So I posted on my Facebook page that I thought there should be a better way. Someone asked me what I meant. So I'm thinking through the options. Since it's never sufficient to just curse the darkness, here's some potential candlelighting ideas...

1. Automatically attend the nearest congregation to our house. We Americans love choice, so this doesn't necessarily sound like a great option. Sort of has the feel of an arranged marriage (what if we're not compatible?). But let's be honest. Do our choices typically work out that well? My cynical side says just look at the people we elect to office and you can figure out we don't choose well. Even something as important as marriage still ends in divorce almost half the time. Surely leaving the choice to chance or Providence or God or whatever can do at least that well. I could even factor in the tradition and say that I will go to the closest [insert denomination here] church. Period. It's an option.

2. Go the route of my friend Keith Giles (click the link at left to see his blog--well worth reading) and live out my ecclesiology. Whether you call them house churches, small groups, life groups, whatever, I believe these communities of people who actually know each other and live out life together are churches. Most of what we call churches are actually just collections of churches at best, and just gatherings of unconnected people at worst. Neither is technically a church. But a few things keep me from doing this. One, I'm not sure my family is ready to make the leap. Youth and children's ministries that are hopping with activity are exciting. And they can make a great impact on kids. That's definitely something to consider. Two, I'm naturally lazy. The habits I've developed are comfortable, and doing some sort of house church thing would mean changing some of those habits.

3. So we're left with church shopping. I'm thinking of developing some sort of matrix that maps out our criteria and an evaluation of each area, so that we can see each place compared to the others. My wife would love that (not). And I think we'll pray about it all too...

Monday, August 18, 2008

One of my favorite Christian songs

We've had lots of discussions here about what defines art as somehow being Christian. I was reminded today of one of my favorite Christian songs. I really think this is a great song.

I've Never Been To Me ( Charlene )

Hey lady, you lady, cursing at your life. You're a discontented mother and a regimented wife. I've no doubt you dream about the things you'll never do. But, I wish someone had talked to me Like I wanna talk to you.....

Oh, I've been to Georgia and California and anywhere I could run. I took the hand of a preacher man and we made love in the sun. But I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free.

I've been to paradise but I've never been to me

Please lady, please lady, don't just walk away. 'Cause I have this need to tell you why I'm all alone today. I can see so much of me still living in your eyes. Won't you share a part of a weary heart that has lived million lies....

Oh, I've been to Niece and the Isle of Greece while I've sipped champagne on a yacht. I've moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed 'em what I've got. I've been undressed by kings and I've seen some things that a woman ain't supposed to see. I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me

[spoken]Hey, you know what paradise is? It's a lie, a fantasy we create about people and places as we'd like them to be. But you know what truth is? It's that little baby you're holding, it's that man you fought with this morning. The same one you're going to make love with tonight. That's truth, that's love......

Sometimes I've been to crying for unborn children that might have made me complete. But I took the sweet life, I never knew I'd be bitter from the sweet. I've spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that costs too much to be free. Hey lady......I've been to paradise, (I've been to paradise)

But I've never been to me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ooh, my first post from Today's Christian Woman...

I didn't notice until I copied the link--really it was in the CT summary I get. Really.

Anyway, this was a great article. The writer, Holly, calls Christian trinkets "secondhand witnessing" and makes a great case that uhm, it doesn't work. Maybe even turns people away. I am much more crass and cynical and say that most Christian trinkets are scams to make money for somebody. Okay, probably not most.

I think I want a t-shirt that says "Shirts can't be Christian, only people can."

Here's the link to the article.

I have loved despair.com since I first saw them years ago


Here's the latest...


The subversive Jesus

My friend Keith has done it again. Written some challenging and maybe provocative things, but some things that imho are spot-on. We have domesticated Jesus and made him into the Jesus of Bible stories for 4 year olds (come to think of it we've done that for the whole Bible, but I'm repeating myself.

The article is so good I asked Keith if I could reprint the whole thing here, and he agreed, as long as I linked back to the original and said nice things about him. Of course, when I think of Keith I can't get too far into it without remembering how he and I parodied a ventriloquist one night at a park revival, where I pretended Keith was the dummy. The wooden kind. And he was hysterically funny.

But I digress. Here's the article, and click on Keith's link to the left to see some other great thoughts from him. And don't forget to answer his question for reflection at the end.

[Subversive Underground] "My Subversive Jesus" by Keith Giles

This Sunday morning I was very challenged to read about how Jesus very directly and intentionally confronted the empty traditions of the Pharisees by what He said and did.

HEALING WITH MUD AND SPITTLE In John chapter 9, Jesus sees a man born blind. His disciples ask if this blindness is due to sin from his parents or his own sin. Jesus responds by saying that it is not because of anyone's sin but so that God's power may be displayed in his life. What Jesus does next is very subversive. He spits on the ground, makes a cake of mud and smears it on the man's eyes and tells him to wash his face in the pool of Siloam. When he does the man is healed. If you're like me you've probably always wondered why Jesus healed this man in such an unusual way. We know he could have simply spoken to him and restored his blindness, yet for some strange reason he performs this miracle in a very weird and, frankly, disgusting way. Want to know why? The answer reveals some of the intentionally subversive methods of Jesus. In the Mishnah, the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism, it says "To heal a blind man on the Sabbath it is prohibited to make mud with spittle and smear it on his eyes." (Shabbat 108:20) When Jesus decided to heal this man, on the Sabbath, using this exact same method prohibited by the Mishnah, he was publicly opposing this section of the Rabbinic Law and making a statement about the foolishness of a rule which prohibits healing someone from blindness. His actions are a deliberate attack on the established religious system of the day. If you read the entire passage in John 9 you'll see that this healing prompted an investigative tribunal by the Pharisees to determine how this person was healed, by whom and why. "They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." - John 9:13-16 Clearly the Pharisees were upset over this and did all they could to undermine the miracle and to condemn Jesus for his actions.

NEGLECTING TO WASH HANDS In Luke chapter 11 we read of another direct encounter with the Pharisees where Jesus publicly opposed their teachings by his acts of subversion. "When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you." - Luke 11:37-41 Again, the Mishnah clearly says, "One should be willing to walk four miles to water in order to wash your hands rather than to eat with unwashed hands" (Sotah, 4b) and "He who neglects hand washing is as he who is a murderer" (Challan, J, 58:3). Jesus knew he was breaking this rabbinical law when he and his disciples ate without washing their hands. He didn't forget to wash his hands, he intentionally walked past the line of people who were engaged in the religious hand washing ceremony and went over to the table and started to eat. Jesus pointed out how foolish it is to go through an outward ceremony of cleanliness when inside our hearts we are filthy. Jesus urged the Pharisees to give what they had to the poor rather than engage in outward displays of holiness.

WHY SO SUBVERSIVE? Jesus could easily have healed on another day of the week, and he could have easily healed without the spittle and mud cakes, and he probably should have washed his hands before he ate, but these were opportunities to demonstrate how foolish these laws were and how much more God cares for people than he does for rules and laws.

MY TURN NOW It made me wonder, what are the modern traditions that I need to oppose by my actions? How can I follow Jesus by standing against the ways of man and, at the same time, declare my allegiance to the things of the Kingdom? Quite honestly I haven't yet worked this all out, but I do feel that there may be a short list of things that I could do and say in my every day life that could condemn the empty religious rules of men in favor of the values of the Kingdom of God. Can you think of anything? -kg

** NOTE: Many thanks to Frank Viola for enlightening me on the Mishnah teachings in his excellent book, "Pagan Christianity".

** GREAT CONVERSATIONS Over at my main blog there are some pretty cool conversations going on. You should take a peek HERE

Monday, August 04, 2008

First blog in 3 weeks--let's call it the whiner edition

Hey, greetings to the 3.5 of you out there, waiting on pins and needles for me to get off whatever island I've been on and write something. Anything. Well, hold on, here goes. As much as I hate whining, this might just fit that category.

About a month ago we decided that if we could find a house in Flower Mound we would go ahead and move, even though we haven't sold the house in San Antonio. So after 3 days of looking we found what we were looking for, well, almost what we were looking for. It's a great house in the sought after Wellington subdivision (that's what they say, I guess I have to get my snobby going), and we close this Thursday (yeah!).

We went with Pods for moving our stuff. No, we're not heading to Mars, as one friend asked. Pods parked 2 giant containers on our driveway and 5 guys came, packed up the house and loaded the pods. This is definitely the way to go. It took them 5 hours what would have taken San and I 5 days. Well worth it.

What? Oh, this doesn't sound like whining? Hang on, we'll get there.

So on Friday the 26th of July we had 2 packed pods. Only one problem. All our stuff wasn't inside. So, we rented a 10 foot UHaul to take the rest. After what turned out to be a short detour back to the UHaul place to fix a tie-down on the auto trailer (I pulled a trailer with my little SUV on it), we made it to Arlington around dinnertime.

Yes, Arlington. My in-laws had just closed on a house here that they will move into when they retire. Only one, small problem. The A/C wasn't working. We called the warranty place, they couldn't get someone out til Monday, whoops, that turned into Tuesday. Then the contractor and the warranty company started arguing over which one made us wait longer. Well, today is the NEXT Monday, 10 days later, and here I am sweating in the kitchen of that house.

We decided we couldn't sweat here all last week though, so God bless our friends in Flower Mound, they took us in. 4 adults and 6 kids. Fun, fun fun, fun fun. Actually it went pretty well, except for displaced sleeping children...while there on Friday their neighbor backed out of his driveway into our van. Same neighbor that has backed into two--count 'em--of our neighbors cars since they moved in a few years ago.

Then came the call from our realtor's assistant in San Antonio. She had gone to check on the house and the connection where our washer hooked up to water was leaking! Water on carpets and through the walls. Can I get an 'amen'!?! It all made me post on my Facebook page that I wondered if Job ever cussed. Even under his breath?

So we went to the weekend retreat on my parents' farm in Oklahoma, where I hauled hay for the first time since I was 17. That is a job every person should have in their lives. But only when they are teenagers.

This morning we left there at 4:45am to get here in Arlington in time for the A/C fixer people to do their work. They are halfway finished. I'm still all the way sweaty.

But, the good news is we're pretty much in the metroplex now. Should all go well--and really, what reason do I have to think it won't"--we will close on Thursday, fully fund Thursday afternoon and get the keys, and have our Pods delivered to our driveway on Friday. (Won't that Wellington HOA love that sight!). So make your plans now to come see us in Dallas. Just don't park in the street across from our friends' house...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The gift of opposition

John Ortberg has long been a fave writer and teacher. Great wit. Here's a short article at CT that talks about opposition in churches.

I especially love the "deacons vote for your speedy recovery 13-12" comment...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Christian "PC" might be even worse than the worldly kind...

Okay, so somehow this is okay? It seems that the American Family Association has software technology on it's website that scans press releases and then changes certain words to be more in line with their version of "christian" values. For example, they replace the word "gay" with "homosexual", which I guess is perceived to be more biblical somehow.

So you can imagine the headlines and stories during the Olympic trials this week when sprinter Tyson Gay was running. Okay, so don't imagine--here's a site with the list. (Thanks TIA)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hmm, The Happening doesn't really happen

Okay, I posted the other day about M. Night Shyamalan and how "I am Legend" reminded me of his movies. So today, with nothing to do and the family at the in-laws, I decided to go see "The Happening", Shyamalan's newest flick. Written, directed and produced by him. I was disappointed.

The plot just never got into rhythm. It was choppy and some things were totally left undealtwith or just thrown in without seeming to make sense to the overall plot. And it was if he said to his critics "Fine, you think I am addicted to the weird twist at the end? Well in this movie I will just make it obvious from the beginning." And it was.

Don't get me wrong, it had a little thriller in it. There were definitely times I was waiting for the scare, a feeling I enjoy. But nothing like "Sixth Sense" or "Signs". And he threw in more gore in this one, which is what gave it the "R" rating. As a side note, I cannot understand for the life of me how parents can take their kids to a movie like this. But today there was a 4 year old wandering the theater jumping every time something gory showed up on screen.

I have decided that for me, I know when Shyamalan lost it. It was the scene in "Signs" where he showed the alien at the end. It took the thrill away, and I haven't gotten it back fully in one of his films yet. I agree with something I read on Wikipedia--Shyamalan seemed to have done his best work when he focused on directing, and less when he's also the writer.

A conservative response to Dobson vs Obama

Thanks to Texas in Africa I read this excellent article this morning from the Washington Post on James Dobson's comments about Barak Obama.

Modern Church Translation

This is pretty funny. And then again not so much. Here's an excerpt:

James 4:17
17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.-New Living Translation

17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. Unless, of course, you instead give money to some type of organization that will do it for you. In this way you will be absolved from all responsibility to do anything and can sleep at night with a clean conscience.- Modern Church Translation

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Light up the darkness."

This week I finally watched "I am Legend" with Will Smith. Great movie. I didn't know it was based on a 1954 science fiction novel by Richard Matheson, or that other movies had already been made from that book. Which is amazing since I'm typically up on vampire-related genres. I've always been fascinated with vampires, and some of you know that my only recurring nightmare involves fighting vampires a la Blade (not Buffy). See an article about the history of the book and movies here.

***Movie Synopsis--if you haven't seen it and plan to, stop reading***

This 2007 version is set in 2012. A cure for cancer was created in 2009 by manipulating a virus and injecting into humans. Unfortunately, it apparently mutates and wipes out 98% of the world's population. In the remaining 2%, most become zombie/vampires, only coming out at night and feeding on blood. But a few, less than 1%, are immune to the effects.

Army doctor Robert Neville is the last human living in New York City. But rather than leave, he spends his days trying to find a cure, trying to adapt his own immune blood into a serum that will restore the vampires to humans. We learn through flashbacks about various events surrounding the cutting off of NYC from the rest of the world in 09, hoping to stem the virus outbreak. As a comment on the movie itself, it is a true thriller. Very little gore, lots of hair standing on end. Lots of waiting for the vampires to appear, then forgetting your waiting, then jumping when they do. That alone is worth the watch.

But the movie also reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan's films, which I really like. There is a string of Providence that winds through the movie. American Christians have almost forgotten about Providence. We have worked so hard to understand God as our friend (not a bad thing) that we forget about God as the Writer of a cosmic story. Plus we're pretty big into free will, and unless we're calvinistic in our theology, we don't like the idea of God somehow manipulating our lives in this story. Unless of course it keeps us healthy and wealthy, but that's another post.

Through the movie you see these little "signs" that you don't know are signs until the end of the movie. And isn't that just the way life is? Like Jacob, we "wake up" and say "God was here and I flat out missed it." These signs are given to light our way in a dark world and help us see that while all kinds of things happen that seem evil and chaotic and totally out of control the threads of Providence are weaving their way to the conclusion of the story that the Writer has in mind. His dreams will come true, his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When we begin to see these signs, we believe. We become participants in the story's outcome, characters used by the Writer to bring about the conclusion.

We begin to light up the darkness.