Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Standing for Christmas

I got an mass email today stating that it was my responsibility as a follower of Jesus to 'take a stand' against all this 'Happy Holidays' sentiment that's going around rather than the specific 'Merry Christmas' of old. Evidently, Jesus is very upset that we are ruining his holiday that was created to celebrate his birth. With the continued secularization of the Christmas season from its Christ-birth theme to a more religiously general (or irreligious) tone, I see a lot of people getting really upset. And I certainly understand why. This Christmas tradition has gone on for millenia and has also been a central part of the American culture since the country's founding. By changing the meaning and focus of this season, we are, without a doubt, losing a treasured piece of our nation's heritage. This then explains why people are so upset when they attend a 'Holiday Party' or a retailer puts on their annual 'Winter Season Sale', for example.

I feel the discontent over this has taken on a new level of intensity over the past few years as followers of Jesus have taken personal offense to these changes and come to the conclusion that Jesus is not happy about this de-christianization. Combine this with the perception that America is losing its general Judeo-Christian morality to a new breed of moral ambiguity and one can feel a sense of urgency to 'take America back for Jesus' (a statement I find to be a joke on a thousand levels). That is undoubtedly what spurred on the email I received that challenged my Christian manhood on how well I am taking a stand against this building tide.

My problem here is twofold, and they both run to some deeper issues within the group that call themselves (ourselves) followers of Jesus. First, is the idea of 'taking a stand for something' and how that relates to the kingdom Jesus is trying to build. Aside from sounding noble, the idea that Jesus wants us to focus our efforts on ideals, and not people themselves, seems to be the opposite of how he calls us to live. I I see so much of our efforts as a body concentrated on confronting things that are immoral, or anti-Christian, or anti-Biblical in our society. I see protests against immoral TV shows, homosexual groups, and the removal of Christian symbols (i.e. The 10 Commandments) from public places. I hear Christians speak in disgust of the current state of moral affairs in our country. I listen as older followers speak of a day when things were so much better and sane. And from these experiences I can only conclude that there is a large group of us that thinks that Jesus is mad about these things and wants us to change them. Its almost as if we are saying "Jesus has these standards of morality, and if we don't take a hard line against those standards, the world will go to hell in a hand basket. We would be letting our Lord and Savior down." Therefore, we spend so much time and treasure trying to force our morality upon people who don't share the same belief, that there come some unintended consequences.

When I see 'you' doing something that I see as wrong, and I believe that it is my God-given responsibility to snuff out these things, it creates a difficult dynamic. My goal then becomes to communicate your wrongs to you, with the intent of backing them up with biblical proof as to their evil. This acts accomplishes two things. (1) It shows that I am committed to Jesus by standing for his moral principles, and (2) it creates a contrast in your world that shows how bad you are and how much you are in need of a Jesus who can forgive your badness. Two birds with one stone! Evangelism wrapped in valor! Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of people do not react with a 'see the light' moment and immediately make the choice to jettison their filthy old life and follow Jesus. In fact, it is human nature to resist someone telling you that you're bad and they are good. So people get upset. They reject the message on account of the messenger and get defensive. In some cases, they justifiably fight harder to validate their actions so as to maintain some sort of validity. After all, who welcomes criticism from another who obviously has no purpose other than criticism for shaming purposes? When this happens, there is an escalation in the interaction and each side digs in. The christian sees this refusal to accept and bow to the truth as a direct and hostile action towards God. If they were compelled to stand for the truth before, they must certainly see the fight to the end! After all, they are defending the creator of the universe against the forces of darkness that threaten the kingdom he has built! The wrongdoer also digs in to defend their own personhood that is under attack. And from there, things get ugly as both sides claim to fight on a righteous platform. I have even had people refer to these times as being 'persecuted for their faith', which makes them feel even more aligned with Jesus.

The second issue I have with this attitude is where it's roots lie. To have this attitude there must be some underlying beliefs that fuel them. In order to feel that it is our responsibility to vanquish immorality, and to keep it from making inroads into our society, we must feel that this is what Jesus wants. And with the fervor by which his followers execute this operation, it would seem that Jesus wants this more than almost anything else! However, I just don't see that in his Gospels. I don't see Jesus fighting to make his society moral. I don't see him using his perfection to point out other's imperfections with the intent of using contrast and shame as a kingdom-building tool. In fact, I see a real hypocrisy in the church in that we claim that the world is going to hell fast, and that Jesus will eventually have enough of it and return to slay all evildoers. We claim that we want this to happen soon so Jesus can come and finally deal with sin, once and for all. This is how 'kingdom' was explained to me. But on the other hand we feel the need to fight this tide and to complain endlessly as to how its ruining our society and our lifestyle. That just doesn't make sense to me. Also, to claim that we are 'losing our christian heritage' is insinuating that our society was once a good and decent place that God had obviously set up as his version of what his kingdom looks like. I hear so many comments that we are losing something that we had, and that losing it is not something that Jesus wants. In fact, keeping it is worth fighting for above all else. Its almost as if we lose this utopia that Jesus provided, we are slapping him in the face. I find this attitude to be extremely ignorant and self-serving. To honestly think that our country, and our society, had achieved something heavenly and now that heaven is being lost shows a real lack of vision. If we are saying that the world in the 1950's had less sex and less atheism than today, that is certainly correct. If things seemed more peaceful and respectful and honorable back then, I can't disagree. But to think that there was less sin in general is manifestly absurd. We overlooked things like racism and bigotry back then. We never think about how our 'manly' fathers and grandfather were, in addition to being the hardworking providers that we laud them for being, were also cold and unloving and judgemental. And what of the last century that saw the creation of an economic system that separates the rich from the poor further and further each day? Is that not against Jesus' calls to feed and clothe the poor?

I think that we've gotten our messages crossed a bit. The dynamic of 'fighting' for a cause is something that we are very familiar with in our culture. Our history is peppered with stories of valor and conquest in the pursuit of removing evil from the world (many of these are stories of war). And I believe that we've so bought into the goodness of those feats that we feel very free to assume that preparing for battle over a principle is something to be encouraged. Ever heard the saying "If you don't stand for anything, you'll fall for anything"? That speaks to our bent towards showing righteousness through the destruction of its adversaries. But again, I just don't see this in the scriptures. Jesus lived in incredibly immoral times. He lived under an oppression that would make any dictator today look small time and feeble. The leader of their occupiers ordered all people to call him 'lord' and ordered death upon any who refused. There was not a single element of life in Jesus' time that was not affected by the 'evil' of the Roman oppression. And Jesus came, as the rescuer of the entire created world, and yet never called his followers to 'stand' against these elements. He never insinuated that their allegiance to him would be measured by how well they kept their culture sinless; by how well they fended off sin. If that would have been the case, the book of Acts would have taken place in Israel with all his followers crusading against the evils of the empire. But instead, Jesus talked of something new called 'the Kingdom of heaven' and went to great lengths to show how that kingdom went against almost every instinct in the hearts of the people of his day. He talked of crazy things like loving your enemies and letting them beat on you. He talked about giving away the things that you feel you deserve for the benefit of people that don't have any claim to deserving them. He talked of bringing peace into conflict and spoke of living a life that would be a display of the love that God has for each of his children. He said that living this life would be very difficult, and through that difficulty he would show himself to be God. It was about serving all, endurance and sacrifice. And to finish it off, he said that his way of life may even cost you your life.

We in the 'christian' world talk a lot about trusting God and what that means. For us in America, that typically means believing that God will bring us through hard times. Sickness. Financial difficulties. Child troubles. I am in the insurance sales field, and I have been told that, when times get tough in my business, I can trust God to bring me through. That God is 'on my side' and that he 'wants the best for me'. The hope being that God will return me to my previous place of comfort and prosperity. I am on a email prayer chain that sends me at least 5 emails per week. Now I don't want to belittle any attempt to draw closer to Father, but this chain is 99.9% prayers for sickness. Almost every one asks for wisdom for the doctors and a quick recovery back to the way thing were before. Is this what it means to trust God? Are we trusting that God, in the end, wants us to be comfortable and to 'enjoy his blessings'. What if trusting God meant living the kingdom life he describes and trusting that Jesus is in control of the story? What if trusting God meant that when my school starts teaching that homosexuality as a viable life option, I don't respond with anger and judgement. I don't act disgusted and outraged. Instead, I continue to pour my life's energy into people; giving all I have mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially towards building this mysterious kingdom that Jesus seems so excited about. What if didn't judge the people who are 'ruining our schools' and 'corrupting our children' by crusading against their sinful message (its funny how Jesus didn't teach us to critique the sin of non-believers, but to hold fellow Christ-Followers to the highest of standards. We do the opposite) but instead focused our efforts on being the tireless advocate for people that Jesus was? That would be really tough because it would (1) take away the righteous feelings we get by fighting for the 'good side', and (2) force us to give up our securities and truly trust God to take care of our needs. The trust would be in God's ability to handle sin and sinful people (which he has shown he is eminently capable of ) and in his ability to sustain us as we do silly things like making sure our enemies are loved (not killed) and giving undeserving people the fruits of what we think we've 'earned'. Would we ever go so far as to say that our judgement of others sin, regardless of our intentions for that judgement, is every bit as evil and anti-kingdom as the sin that we are pointing out? That IS a message that I see Jesus preaching in the gospels, and the people were called Pharisees, remember?

So am I wrong this Christmas saga? When I say 'happy holidays' to my Muslim client instead of 'merry christmas' because I know that he's not a follower of Jesus, am I disgracing Christ? Have I let Jesus down. Should I not care about making making Muslims uncomfortable in favor of making SURE that he knows that I am a christian and this holiday is MINE? When my local government chooses to take down a nativity scene in the town square, is Jesus up there hoping that I speak for him in stating that our community will surely lose God's blessing for doing so? Am I wrong for thinking that all this is done to give the appearance of spirituality, but in fact is nothing more than a smokescreen over the foolish, painful, uncomfortable, dirty, unfair and gloriously beautiful life that we don't want to admit we're supposed to be living? When we complain that God is taking his hand of blessing off of America because of our lack of christian morals, are we not showing our true motivation, which is to stay comfortable, affluent and well-fed? If I choose to live the opposite life, will I be damned? If I choose to see the person behind the sin, and choose to build up the good in them without judgement, will I have to answer for that someday? Somehow I feel that I know Father well enough to say that I won't.

Its not about proving how noble and good we are. Its not about proving we are christians by standing for biblical truth. Its not about proving anything. Seek justice and trust God to provide for us. Sacrifice for others, show them lavish love, and trust God to keep you full. They will find Jesus through us showing them what he is really like. Jesus wan't about standing for things. He was about dying for us, and we should be about dying for others.

UPDATE: In an ironic twist, I just picked up a book this weekend that deals with many of the above issues. I'm about half-way through it, but its a great read. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dancing For King Herod

Check out a great talk from this Sunday (Dec. 7th) at Threads Church. A great comparison of the spell that our consumer culture puts on us and the bewitching dance that cost John The Baptist his life.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Be Like Bernie

I wanted to share a story with you all about my friend Bernie. I had a conversation with him recently about his encounter with a woman and her daughter in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in our city. Not your typical stage for Jesus to show us a glimpse of his kingdom.

Bernie was driving home from work when he went through the intersection of Oakland Dr and Milham Rd here in Portage. Because Bernie drives this same route every single day of his life, he is very familiar with this intersection. And he also knows how busy this intersection can be during rush hour, which is typically the time he is coming home from work. On this day, Bernie was stopped at the stoplight and noticed a woman pushing her car through the intersection. The reason he noticed was that a few cars honked at her because she was not able to get the vehicle through the intersection before the light went red. While watching her labor to get out of everyone's way, Bernie also noticed two younger gentlemen were jogging together along the sidewalk on the same side of the road as the woman. The two men didn't flinch as they ran right past this her and her daughter.

Now you have to understand that Bernie is just like the rest of us. He struggles with responding in situations like this, often convincing himself that his involvement wouldn't really help, or that there were other places that he had to be and he couldn't be late. We all do that. And so the light turned green and Bernie continued to follow the car in front of him. However, something in him made him stop and turn around. Bernie helped the woman push the vehicle to the nearest parking lot a few hundred feet down the road. When they stopped he began speaking with her and found out that she had just lost her job and her car had run out of gas. She was very emotional and began to cry and said that her phone had just been shut off as well. Bernie told her that he had a few gallons of gas at his home which was less than a mile away and offered to bring it back to help her get to a gas station. The woman was so thankful for him doing this. Then, when Bernie returned, he asked her if he could have the pleasure of filling up her tank for her! She was beside herself at his offer and took him up on it.

Now, this isn't life-changing stuff. It was just a few minutes of manual labor and $30 in gas. Not a huge deal; unless you are that woman. For her, it meant the world and gave a glimpse of hope in a real difficult time. To that woman, Bernie was a life-saver.

What if we all lived that way? What if we all were willing to respond to someone in need with the same active, intentional love that Bernie showed here? He never asked her why she had lost her job; she could have been a bad employee. He never asked why she hadn't saved enough money for times like this; she may have blown the money she had on useless things. He didn't worry that his money was going to be wasted, and he didn't look to evaluate how worthy she was to recieve his assistance. Instead, he responded to a need with no strings attached to his love. I think that this is what heaven will be like.

I just finished a conversation this morning with my friend Mike. Among many topics we discussed was the dynamic that Jesus alluded to with regards to his providing for our needs. It seems that the life he wants for us is one where we focus our efforts, time and assets 100% in the direction of others. Then, he promises, that he will meet our every need on the back end. Most times that provision comes through another of his followers that is looking out for others 100% and we just happen to be the recipient of that focus. That kind of life system leaves no room for pride or need for accomplishment, and I think that is why we resist it. I really can't find any place where Jesus says to 'balance' providing for ourselves and family, and also seeking that others are provided for. Its actually a complete lack of balance in favor of endless sacrifice. I give all to you, and trust that God will replenish what I have given. I think of the 12, and Jesus' specific instructions to take nothing with them as they went out. He instructed them to go out and love all with EVERYTHING they had, and to trust that they would never starve or be left naked without cover. And it was through this dynamic that the greatest revolution in the history of time began. How does this play itself out in this time and space? It probably looks like Bernie pushing a car down Milham Rd, dumping two gallons of gas into a tank that isn't his, and then filling it the rest of the way.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I have been thinking a lot lately about justice, what it means to Jesus, and what part I play in it. Its funny to think that, up until this summer, I thought that when the bible referred to justice, it meant making criminals pay for their crimes. When Jesus was preaching on the mount, he said "God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied." I thought that he was referring to people who really hate sin, and the coming day when Jesus will come back and judge those who hadn't prayed the prayer of salvation. Now, to come to read and learn that the justice Jesus speaks of is the justice for people that are held down and taken advantage of is an eye-opener. Its weird how I brought my own impressions of Jesus into the text and found a way for the words to fit my meaning. My mental imagery of justice was the scene in the last 'Left Behind' book where Jesus starts blowing people's heads off with his words as they scream in agony. That was justice to me. It made me feel good because there were people who had made the decision not to follow Jesus, and even worse, they said things that were blatantly AGAINST Jesus. And it was these people who would get their dose of Jesus' justice when He came back and went Delta Force on everyone.

So now justice is starting to look new to me, and its still forming itself in my mind. The scene that I am setting involves the three characters in the play; the oppressed, the oppressor, and me. How does Jesus' brand of justice play itself out on the stage of my mind? When I run through scenarios that I've been taught in my past, the characters don't end up looking like they are supposed to. For instance, the issue of poverty in the US. Who is playing each part? Who is the oppressed? That's easy; the person in poverty is the oppressed. The oppressor can be anything from government, to housing arrangements, to education, to employers, to culture. So, I must look at where I have interjected myself into this situation in the past. In the past, and still to this day, I find myself pointing the finger at the oppressed themselves as the culprit. That can't be right, can it? My response to poverty has been to accuse the impoverished of laziness, or assaulted their allegiance to certain type of clothing or music or language. I could also make a very convincing case as to why they were oppressed for a reason, and how their oppression could end if they would only do X, Y or Z. And, of course, the XYZ prescription for the healing of their poorness were things that I have done in my life to get me to where I am. "I went to college, I'm doing great. If they would just stop listening to that filthy _____ music and got a job they wouldn't be so poor. I did it, why can't they!" So my answer for their pain and oppression is to put an additional load atop what they already have. The oppressor, whoever or whatever it is, is never even identified, and I continue with my previous life, feeling much the better because of the confirmation that I have received about where I am in life. The burden has not been shifted at all.

Its not supposed to be this way, though. The story I read in the Gospels doesn't have the same ending and the attitudes and focus of the part played by 'me' is nothing like that. In my life, the part played by me is Jesus. I don't think that anyone would argue that Jesus has called us to be the representation of him on the planet earth. So how does he insert himself into the justice drama? Is there a story in Jesus' life that I can model?

Not surprisingly, Jesus' life is the perfect example of how this should play out down here. His entire existence is the screenplay of the infiltration of justice into the world of human oppression. The oppressor can be many things, but they all come from one thing. Jesus said that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. The great divide. The chasm between man and his creator. The ultimate oppression. Scripture alludes to the hold that sin has over humans, and how powerful that hold is. Sin is the oppressor and humanity is the oppressed. So how does Jesus respond as he comes into this dynamic as the third party?

The answer can best be described by following the burden; following the pain, heartache and dehumanization. In the story above, the pain and heartache start with the oppressed, just as it is here. However, the response by me, who is the Jesus in that play, is to keep the oppression right where it is. I believe that is because if we are to truly bring Jesus' brand of justice into the fold, we have to do what he did; take the pain, heartache and dehumanization onto ourselves. And that's really, really hard. The other response of judgement and finger-pointing is the common human response. And it can even be justified by reason and logic. But as we know, the kingdom that Jesus came to establish has nothing to do with reason or logic. He chose to take the burden of our oppression and take it completely on himself. Now I don't need to go into an atonement discussion, but you get the meaning. Jesus had every right and justification to point the finger of righteousness at us and say "get off your butt and get to work". But his revolution of love doesn't work that way. Thank god it doesn't work that way.

So what is justice starting to look like to me? Its starting to look like me, acting on Jesus' behalf, diving into the oppressor/oppressed standoff and changing the course of human history by taking the oppressed's pain upon myself. Its even more Jesus-like if I do this when the oppressed don't deserve my efforts. But there is also an interesting result to this action when it comes to the oppressor, and this, I believe, ties in to Jesus' ridiculous call to love our enemies. If I enter the oppressor/oppressed tension and choose to be a burden taker; if I invite the oppressed to hand his load over to me, I also must do this for the oppressor. And since the oppressor is the one with the power, I don't have anything to take from him other than future pain that would have been destined for the oppressed. And Jesus tells us that this is how we will bring heaven to earth. In stark contrast, my natural response to the oppressor is to get fired up and to try to destroy him. After all, the oppressor is evil, and Jesus definitely wants me to stand up to evil and defeat it, right? Not so fast. Once again Jesus starts talking silly and calls us to ""turn the other cheek" and to "pray for our enemies". This falls nicely into the above category of 'not reasonable and logical'. I had a short conversation last week with a friend about politics and world events. I brought up the fact that I had read a few articles suggesting that Israel was possibly getting ready to bomb Iran. His response was something to the effect of "Oh, I hope that they do, and I hope they bomb them off the map." I have been in this situation before and I have been the one calling for the death of millions of people in what I believed was a righteous act of acting on behalf of the oppressed.

Time and time again, Jesus insinuates that if we are to be part of his 'anti-world' and 'pro-kingdom' movement we are to follow his lead and take up our cross, even to the point of our own persecution and death. He never says that we must destroy or take vengeance. And somehow, Jesus says that our sacrifice and love for the oppressed will be honored and exalted in heaven. He says that when we take on these tribulations it will produce perseverance, character and hope, and that we should actually take joy in these trials instead of doing everything we can to avoid them. These ideas go against everything my heart desires, and that is why I know it is the right path.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I have this cell phone. It is a Nokia. I bought it because (1) it was little and could fit into my shirt pocket, and (2) it was $50 with a $50 rebate. Where I come from there is a name for that and its called FREE. I never regret paying free for something and its amazing how little buyer's remorse there is when you've paid $0 for something. Its a good little phone with all the basic features, and I could pay Texas Hold 'Em on it until the free trial period ended after 30 days. It sucks because I was up a ton of fake, cell-phone world fantasy cash before it went away. Oh well.

For every bit that I like my phone, I dislike worship music. Pause. Pause. Pause. I was just waiting to be struck by lightning or a Pontiac. My dislike for worship music is based in many things, most of which would require the GDP of a small African nation's worth of therapy to fully purge, but I think that it can be summarized in my inability to offer songs to my creator that lack fire, passion, beauty, or creativity. It like making a cheeseburger for Jesus and choosing to get one from McDonalds. I used to feel really guilty that I didn't like those songs because I thought that it was a vital part of being a christian. I go through periods where I think that I'm liking it, but that normally coincides with some other event in my life that has messed with my mind. Trust me in that I know this is my issue and many people are drawn into closer communion with God through signing worship songs, but I haven't found the place in scripture where singing songs with people is a real priority. So I take my leave to the coffee pot on many a Sunday. Ironically, my response to the coffee is to thank God for his goodness, but they tell me that doesn't count. I guess it was worth a shot.

The reason I bring up these two, seemingly unrelated topics, is that I have found a way to worship God through my cell phone! And no, I'm not talking about calling 1-888-WORSHIP and paying $1.99 per minute so I can sing to Jesus and have it recorded and looped all day every day so my worshipping gets 'maximum bang for the buck'. My cell phone was in my golf bag during a tournament earlier this fall, and I got caught in a downpour. The phone got wet in my bag and something got fried. Since then, my cell phone thinks that an earpiece is plugged in, thereby disengaging the phone's microphone. This makes it so the only possible way to use the phone is to use the speakerphone. Its really more of a walkie-talkie now than a cell phone. But it was free! So, how do I use this cell phone to worship the creator of the universe? Its simply actually; I use it.

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, and Peter responded three times to the affirmative, how did Jesus respond back? I can imagine being there with the others and Jesus starts talking crazy again. Three times Jesus? OK! We get it! IF WE LOVE YOU, WE SHOULD FEED YOUR SHEEP. Enough already! But this is a telling conversation because we know that when things are repeated three times in their world, it means that the thing being said is very important. I wonder if we surveyed each other and asked 1000 Christ-followers what they do to show God that they love him. I bet we'd get some crazy responses. But there is a theme throughout the gospels that links love of God to love for people. And more specifically, oppressed and hurting people. It starts at the greatest commandment to love others as we love ourselves (if we truly dig into how much we love ourselves, we'd read that verse with much more humility) and continues through his repeated references to preaching the 'good news to the poor'.

So when I look at my cell phone, and curse the fact that I have to talk on speakerphone in the library, I see an opportunity to worship God. I know that I have these resources that I have been blessed with. I know that there is a need for resources throughout the world. I know that there is a part of my mind that says "I need a new cell phone", but there's also a growing part of my mind that is starting say "you have no idea what real need is". So I make a counter-cultural choice; I'll just keep using it. Whenever I am spending money, I am starting to check myself with the question of my real need compared to what I know is going on out there. A new cell phone would probably cost me $50. That's $50 less in my pocket to pay my bills, and therefore, $50 less that I have to respond to a need. If I truly claim to follow Jesus, and I claim to love him more than life itself, I feel that I must look at things this way. And its far from perfect. But that doesn't mean that I don't start walking down that road. I want to be the real deal. I want to be genuine. I don't want to be an easily-labelled hypocrite. I want to learn to be ridiculously generous and selfless. I want to purge from my psyche the idea what a 'normal life' looks like. I want to love Jesus and bring his kingdom to earth. So I don't buy a new cell phone. When my car breaks down, I buy the most economical car I can find, completely void of any features or upgrades, because I want to feed Jesus' sheep. If I pay $3000 for a car instead of $20,000 for a car, I would save $17,000! That is an amount of money that can dig fresh water wells in Africa, help out a friend facing foreclosure, buy gas for the single mother at the gas station, tend to his sheep.

Do I sell everything and give it to the poor? My friend Mitchell and I had this conversation today. I don't know. But its one heck of a goal isn't it? What kind of character would you have to have to be willing to give it all away? Who would take everything they have, give it up, and become nothing? I know a dude who did that. And even further, he gave to the point of sacrifice. I get the idea that Jesus doesn't want us to seek comfort, and then give what we have in excess of that. He calls us to give till it hurts, just like he gave till it hurt. And out of that is where our character is grown and refined. So its not really about dollars paid; its about pain paid. Do I EVER really seek pain for myself so that another will benefit?

So every time I pick up that old Nokia, I resist the urge to start talking about my needs. I ask God for some of his true perspective and then start looking for some sheep to feed. That's the life man.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Before Tomorrow Comes

I couldn't sleep but had to listen
To a conscience knowing so well
That nothing comes from indifference
I look inside of myself
Will I find some kind of conviction?
Or will I bid the hero farewell?
Will i be defined by things I could have been?
I guess time will only tell
So don't let it be
Before tomorrow comes
Before you turn away
Take the hand in need
Before tomorrow comes
You could change everything
I curse my worth and every comfort
Its blinded me for way too long
Damn it all I'll make a difference from now on
Because I'm wide awake to it all
So don't let it be
Before tomorrow comes
Before you turn away
Take the hand in need
Before tomorrow comes
You could change everything
Does anyone care it ain't right what we're doing?
Does anyone care it ain't right where we're going?
Does anyone dare justify how we're living?
Does anyone here care at all?
We could be so much more than we are
Oh this much I know. . .
These are the lyrics from a song entitled Before Tomorrow Comes by Alter Bridge. They are a secular band. Why can't I find this kind of sentiment from people who claim to follow Jesus? Download the song, please.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mr. President

I wake up this morning to enless video clips of celebrations surrounding the election of Barack Obama as our new president. For millions of African Americans, this morning represents a new day and the fulfillment of a dream that was, until recently, only that. I can not help but smile as I see the joy on their faces and, at a minimum, I rejoice in the progress that America has made when it comes to the issue of race. I am so happy for all those people. I did not vote for Barack Obama, but he is my president-elect, and I will support him. I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and my goal is to unite people. I will not be grumpy or pessimistic. I will not look for any reason to bash him. I will not lament any loss of lifestyle that Mr. Obama's presidency may bring to me. That is not who I want to be. Instead, I will choose to focus on his positives and offer my service to him as he leads America in some very hard times. And now begin the days of Barack Obama; may they be blessed.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Not to continue to stoke the abortion issue, but I ran across a piece by Greg Boyd that brings the issue into the correct light. Check it out and let me know what you think!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Listen to John Ortberg's recent talk (October 19th) on responding during economic turmoil. Have we looked at recent economic events this way? Sweet stuff.

"Where is God During Financial Meltdown?"


Or, find it on iTunes by searching for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in their podcasts


I just got done checking my yahoo mail account for the first time in a few days. I had 14 new messages and 8 of them were anti-Obama links. A few of them made some really good points that I am still tossing around in my head. The other links were to angry sites where Obama is ripped apart in some fashion or another. I must admit that I'm still trying to figure out who I am voting for (McCain, Obama, someone else, not at all), but one thing that I'm really getting tired of is the anger associated with someone's opinion of Barack. I was sent a link to a christian music artist's website where he ripped into Obama for his stance on abortion, gay marriage, etc. He made the case that he can't vote for Obama because he is a Christian. He shares the same view that, I believe, an overwhelming majority of American christians believe; that we must 'stand against' things that Jesus said was sinful; like it's our patriotic duty. Its an odd thing to really ponder, but most of us take a huge amount of Jesus-pride in the fact that we're trying to make sure that our societies aren't overcome with our opinion of sin and filth. I agreed with this up until only a few months ago. One thing that makes me question my motives when I go on a conservative, political, Jesus-endorsed tirade is my glaring hypocrisy in light of what I claim to believe to be the truth.

The thing that sticks out is my anger towards the people that support these issues. I understand what happens during an abortion procedure, and it is horrific to say the least. But we use our opposition to that issue as a place to take a 'moral stand' and I just don't see Jesus doing this. Did He ever teach us to get really angry at people who are sinning, personally attack the individual who is perpetrating the sin, and, when that person retaliates with vigor, respond with all levels of condemnation and vitriol. Does Jesus tell us to be patient and longsuffering, until someone spits in your face, and then its time to 'take a stand for Jesus'? To the contrary! I think that Jesus wants us to be different from everyone else. I think that he wants us to, not only love this person who is pro-abortion, but to care about them personally. I think that Jesus wants us to change that person's attitude by showing them the ridiculous love of their creator. That love is NEVER shown through self-righteous anger and condemnation. In our current political scene, that ideal lived out would look like us 'christians' treating Barack Obama with dignity and respect.

If we truly believe in an issue with as much passion as we christians seem to have in the issue of abortion, that would certainly be shown in our lives, right? If the single greatest issue of this campaign, above the war, poverty, the economy, foreclosures, terrorism, etc., truly is the 'sanctity of human life' then it wouldn't take an outsider more than a few minutes of observation to see that we live our lives around this ideal. But I don't see it people! If those unborn babies are so important to me that I get this angry, I must be contributing to the solution to back up that passion. I must be doing everything that I can to care for the babies that are born, right? It has to show up in my checkbook too. How much have I given of myself to causes that promote that same 'sanctity of life' and help out the woman who has made this courageous choice not to abort, but to deliver? Little to none, I would guess. Do I even know a woman who is struggling with this decision? Have I taken even an hour in the past year to show a young, single mother with no money and no positive influence in her life that she is valued, loved and supported for her decision? I would have to say that I haven't spent one hour in my entire life with that focus.

So why do we get so passionate about changing a law, when we obviously don't care enough about the people to give of our time and our treasure? Christ called us to be like him, to take up our cross and follow him. He said numerous times that to show Him love and worship, we are to care about the poor and the sick. His entire life was an example of that God-type of love that we are to show, without precondition, to others. He never said to get angry and to condemn; quite to the contrary actually. He said that love for our enemies would change the world. He said to be patient and kind, and I assume that this meant even when someone was obviously 'wrong' and putting it in our face. We in American Christendom take so much of our worth in Christ from our being right and others being wrong. But Christ never made being 'right' the issue. He said that we are to love others the way that He loves them. I think that our passion in making abortion illegal and keep homosexuals out of our society is actually based in a confusion of what God's Kingdom looks like and what the American Dream looks like. I would argue that most of our seemingly righteous anger about something like the abortion issue makes us feel good, like we're on the right side of things. It makes us feel better about the fact that our pursuit of cultural things; an education, a good career, a nice house, that new car, our yearly vacation, a comfortable retirement, etc., are taking up an insane majority of our time and money. Just how much time is spent on things that have nothing to do with the Kingdom, and yet we act like God is completely behind it? "God obviously wants me to provide a 'good life' for my family, right?" "Jesus knows that if my kids don't get a college education they won't be able to compete in today's economy, right?" "I can't work my whole life when everyone else gets to retire, right?" Somewhere we got the idea that, at the core of everything, God wants us to 'do well' in our own individual economic and cultural situations. So when our time is scarce and our money is tied up somewhere else, it makes us feel good to do some old fashioned moral crusading. We feel empowered and righteous; filled with the surety that we are doing God's work, certain of God's desire to rid our society of this filth!

That brings me to another conclusion. Where did we get the idea that God wants our societies to be free of sinful things like abortion and homosexual marriage in the first place? I've been trying to find out where in scripture Jesus told us to put our heart and soul into making sure that everyone around us knows that God hates abortion and homosexuality and doesn't want it in our communities. I can't find it anywhere. I actually think that this also a self-serving attitude! It seems to me that Jesus wants us to pour our lives into others, especially the lives of sinners, so that they will know the love of the God that created them. If someone is pro-abortion, its really meaningless because God loves the most militant abortion-rights activist every bit as much as He loves you and me. Getting rid of abortion through legislation is only getting rid of a symptom of a bigger problem! But we can't ever admit this because that would require us to make choices that restrict our lifestyle. And that just can't happen. Its so much easier to talk big than it is to give big. Talking big makes us feel wonderfully righteous; giving big might make us have to forego the house in Florida. If we truly believed in solving the problem for the sake of people and sought to live a life based around this truth, we would have to make concessions on the cultural and economical end. We'd have to live sacrificially, not for our own comfort, but for the benefit of all others. That may result in a life that doesn't look like the others in our housing development. We may not be able to go on vacations, or buy that huge new SUV, or take that promotion that will involve an additional 10 hours per week in addition to the additional $20,000 of income. It may involve becoming people who don't need or don't care about having such things. It may involve people becoming something radically different, set aside from culture, that would shake up the entire planet. I have heard people, in attempt to refute this idea, claim that they have done some sort of community service act to show their care for others. But when challenged with the question of whether or not that act was sacrificial and based out of deep love, there is not an affirmative response. Sorry, three hours in a soup kitchen once a year isn't a sacrifice. We are so quick to give our churches a pass on developing this heart of true compassion. We say that we're 'working on it', or that 'things are slowly getting better'. But we extend none of this grace to the people who aren't followers of Jesus in the outside-church world. Didn't Jesus call us to be critical of ourselves, holding each other to a higher standard, while not judging the world around us? We've gotten this backwards and yet we're so sure that we're right.

This is the life that I see Jesus inviting us towards in the Gospels; one where our response to abortion is to become a countercultural, Jesus-like solution to the problem, or to shut up and reevaluate where our priorities are. One where we see how truly controlled we are by our own pursuits, and see how great we have been at creating a Jesus-America hybrid that allows us to seek comfort for ourselves while mostly ignoring the real call of the King. I, for one, am tired of being that American christian who act as though he wields the truth of God, and lives another life completely. Here's something that I think is true: If I've spent more money on a car this year than I have on direct assistance to the poor, I have no moral leg to stand on. If that is true, my life and my faith are not in sync, and any anger that I have for another individual for their particular views should be overshadowed by my disgust with myself.