Monday, October 26, 2009

Greg Boyd gets it right ... again

A great sermon from my boy Greg Boyd up in Minneapolis. He talks about our Christian propensity to default to 'getting people saved' while ignoring issues of justice and hurt. Also, challenges us to realize that anything that divides us as humans is the enemy controlling us. The results being animosity, blame, war, etc. Also a fantastic challenge for us to vacate the idea that 'helping the poor' means giving them the American dream. Check it out.

-Click on "God's Heart for the Poor" on 10/11/2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10 Years Gone

I spent the fall of 1999 on an internship in Washington, DC. Somehow I'd managed to fall into a posh gig at the world-renowned Congressional Country Club; a club that had hosted multiple major championships and boasted of a membership overflowing with politicians, lobbyists, dignitaries and the occasional celebrity. My job was to take the crappy shifts in the golf shop so the staff of golf professionals could oversleep in the mornings or play golf in the afternoons. I was only 20 at the time (I actually turned 21 while in DC and I will always be thankful for my friend Jim Schouller, an assistant pro at the time, who took it upon himself to make sure I had a birthday to remember. Two days filled with golf, casinos and a few too many watered-down house drinks in Atlantic City gave me a good '21st' story to carry with me for my life) and was still in the fast lane of growing up that had started the previous summer while on my first internship on Long Island. DC, and the months soon after, would be the some of the best and worst times of my life.

I'll never forget the day of October 25th, 1999. I was working a mid-day shift in the golf shop. The season was in full wind-down mode as the temperatures dropped and members kids had to go back to private school. Autumn in DC is truly something to behold. Such massive trees, bunched to tightly that the roads of the northwest beltway turn into tunnels of electric yellows, oranges and reds. After the brutal heat and humidity of summer, the cool temperatures seems to put everyone at ease to the point that even the traffic seems to be lighter.

One of the best things about the shop at Congressional was that it had three huge TV's for members to catch up on the latest news. So many members were deeply involved in the political system that we always had one TV tuned to CSPAN, which we would mute whenever the member would leave the shop. In addition to news, we always had a TV tuned to The Golf Channel. The network was still relatively new in 1999. Most cable systems didn't carry it. But the deep pockets on a country club with over 1,500 members allowed us the satellite access to pick it up. This was a glorious perk for us shop hands working for $8 an hour. It was on the golf channel some time late that morning that I first heard the news about Payne Stewart. The regular programming was interrupted by a news flash. A private jet believed to be carrying a PGA Tour player from Orlando to Dallas had veered hundreds of miles off course and there was no contact with the pilot. Initially, the name of the PGA Tour player was not know, but it was quickly learned that it was Payne Stewart. Over the next few hours there were additional reports that military aircraft had been scrambled to intercept the plane, and that the windows of the jet were frosted over; a sure sign of loss of cabin pressure. Analysts were interview as to the fuel capacity of this type of plane and there was speculation over how long it could stay in the air. It was also reported that the military was considering shooting the plane down if it looked like it could crash into a populated area. Then, sometime later in the day, the news came down that the plane had crashed in Mina, SD after an swift dive.

For me, the events of that day were surreal. The previous four months had been something out of a fairy tale for Payne. In June, he had won his second US Open title defeating both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson down the stretch. The win was made even more improbable due to Payne's meltdown at the previous year's US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Payne had led that tournament from the outstart, and seemed to be cruising to victory when a final round of miscues and bad luck allowed Lee Janzen to catch and pass him late in the round. Losses of that variety would typically spell the end of a career, especially for a professional golfer in his early 40's; an age when the eyesight begins to blurr and the once-steely nerve of youth gives way to the shaky hands of middle age. So, when Payne rolled in a 15-foot par putt in the drizzle of a summer Sunday in Pinehurst, NC, the golf world had a new hero.

Three months later Payne would play a part in another major event in golf history when he was part of the victorious US Ryder Cup team. The victory itself was not anything of legend. The US team was heavily favored to win. But the way that they won, a dramatic final day comeback from a seemingly insurmountable 10-6 deficit, is what put that team into the history books forever. All this said, I couldn't believe that he was gone. Death had always been a deep fear of mine that I had done well to keep out of my conscious, but now I was forced to stare it right in the face. A major name in the sport that I loved had been taken from the world at the cruelest and most unlikely of times. It didn't make sense. It seemed unfair. The world recoiled from the same sentiments.

It was during the coming weeks and months that I would be forced to stare my fears of death, as well as many other deeply troubling questions about the nature of life, in the face. First, I had to go through the Y2K fears that were building leading up to the millennium celebration. I returned home from DC in early December and had a good month to relax before returning to college for the winter semester. I spent the majority of that time watching television and I was able to hear hundreds of 'experts' speculating as to the effects of the Y2K programming issue on our society. Most analysis was subdued and cautious over and kind of overreaction, but there were still some individuals who were saying the world was going to change forever. They warned of our communications systems being crippled, causing a halt to our economy, causing mass hysteria and panic. My father, in what he called an attempt to be 'prepared', bought into much of this and spend thousands of dollars on preparations for an upcoming disaster. I remember the night of New Year's Eve. I had been invited to a big party hosted by some friends. There was a girl from my high school days that was supposed to be there and I was really excited to see her. However as the ball dropped in NYC that night, I was at my mother's side, ready to carry out my family's doomsday action plan. As the countdown reached single digits, I remember being confident that the world was not about to come to an end, but there was a part of me that felt a deep panic that there was a chance I could lose the lifestyle that I was used to. I believe it was about eight seconds after midnight, with the world spared from meltdown, that I was in my car on the way to the party to see a girl.

Three months later, March of 2000, I accompanied my best friend Ben on an educational sabbatical to the world epicenter of knowledge and thought: Cancun, Mexico. We had been planning this trip for about a year, and to be truthful I was not nearly as excited as Ben was. I had fears about being in a foreign country; fears that were exacerbated by the understanding that I would spend most of my time intoxicated in that foreign country. I did my best to conjure up the "Whoo Hoo!" excitement that a college junior should have when he's young and free and heading to a tropical paradise filled with drunken young women. I even made a vow to myself that I would use this opportunity to overcome my fear of women and take the big step into manhood. Of course that never happened, but it was a fun trip aside from the times I had to bribe the Mexican police to get them to release one of my friends who had been arrested for urinating in public; twice.

I came home from Cancun recharged and ready for spring in Michigan. I was overjoyed to be back on US soil where I felt safe and protected by the generally-honorable society around me. I walked in the door of my parent's house, fresh off the plane, when my life took an amazing and unexpected turn. My mother greeted me in the kitchen, and after a good hug she pulled away I could see she'd been crying. It wasn't the "I missed you so much" crying, although I'm sure she had missed me and was happy that I hadn't been abducted by Mexican warlords. Her tears belied a deeper regret and I knew she had to tell me something. She sat me down on the couch and began to tell me that the muscle tightness in her thigh that she has been dealing with for a few months was actually not muscle tightness at all. It was cancer; the bad kind. She needed surgery and the doctors weren't sure of the chances of her recovery. The tumor was huge and surrounded a nerve. There was talk of amputation; disability at a the least. As I sat there crying with my mom, the person who meant more to me than anyone, the phone rang. That phone call would prove to be the turning point in my life.

The story is long, amazing and beautiful from there. The phone call was from an old friend from college who I hadn't seen in over a year. Her name was Brandy, a sweet and beautiful girl I had met during my first semester on campus. I had always had a crush on her, but our relationship was one of fun friendship. Nothing more. Over the next weeks I found myself taking daily trips to the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit to see mom through her cancer surgery. I would spend an hour or so with her and then make the 2 hour trip back to Kalamazoo to spend time with a girl that I was fast falling for. Less than a month after learning of my mom's cancer, she was pronounced cancer-free. The surgeon had managed to remove the tumor while sparing the nerve in her thigh. Since the tumor was encapsulated, there was no risk of it having spread, and there was a strong likelihood that it would never come back. To add to the miracle, mom returned to her true love, running, within a few months. Today there are no effects from the surgery that removed two of her three hamstring muscles. Also within a month, I had found my missing piece. Not Brandy, although she remains to this day my best friend and a wife I could only dream of, but something much more astonishing. In my having to deal with so many core fears of death and abandonment, I had started to investigate the claims of Jesus. A Jewish Rabbi from 2000 years ago who had made some remarkable claims to go along with his revolutionary teaching. I didn't know it at the time, but I had begun the journey of the age, and I would never be the same.

This Sunday will be a bittersweet day. I will be up north at my parents house on the lake. I will be there with my wife and my sweet baby son. I will wake up with the knowledge that I have nothing to fear, and I will spend another day searching out the wonders of a god who loves me with a consuming fire. I will enjoy every breath. And I will think of Payne Stewart. Ten years gone.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jacko Gots Me Thinkin'

Insanity. That's about all you can say about the past week since the revelation of the death of Michael Jackson. Tributes, remembrances, and the like have filled almost every TV station on my Dish Network, and I'd had my fill of all things Jacko by last Friday to be honest. But now that things are starting to wind down, last night I found myself in a moment of deep sadness. Michael Jackson is gone. And its a tragedy. It has absolutely nothing to do with his accomplishments or the adoration of the millions (billions?); nothing to do with his stature or place in history. My feeling was linked to the reality that death is coming for each of us, and it wasn't supposed to be this way. We spend our lives going from stimulation to stimulation. We assign importance to things that will surely fall away and be forgotten. We act as though our lives have purpose and that our actions are for an honorable purpose. But if we are to be truly honest, we have to admit the truth that we will all end up in the same place. All of our stories, regardless of their magnificence and splendor, will all end in tragedy. It will all end up as disaster in the end and none of us can escape it.

That is why I was sad. Michael is gone and he's never coming back. It wasn't supposed to be like this. The deep purpose I feel in my soul will someday become nothing more than a sick joke, and a forgotten joke at that. If I am destined to become forgotten, how can I live with ANY real hope. How can I find ANY real purpose for anything? I know it sounds cliche, but my only hope rests with Jesus of Nazareth. Say what you want about religion and whether you believe in a God or not, but the single greatest reality of my existence is my impending doom that I cannot avoid. I must admit that my silly and foolish belief that my life could be anything other than a cosmic folly is that greatest evidence that I have no idea what I'm doing or talking about. I'm a fool. So I find myself looking at all things through that lens, as it is the greatest common truth of my life. And the only way that I can find a reason to get out of bed in the morning is that about 2000 years ago, a group of a few hundred Jews laid their eyes and hands on a living, breathing man who had been dead only a few dozen hours earlier. It sounds insane, I know. But acting like Jacko was anything really special, or that you and I are anything special, is the greatest insanity I can imagine.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Greg Boyd Sermon

A great talk from Greg Boyd on how we present ourselves, and Jesus, to others. Check it out.

Search Itunes PODCASTS for "Woodland Hills Church Sermon Podcast"

Download the 6/28/2009 sermon entitled "Gatekeepers of the Royal Son"

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Little Lost

How is it possible that its already June? I knew that I hadn't written anything for a while, but seven weeks? For many, seven weeks is not long enough! Sorry to disappoint.

The past few months have been really odd in my life and I'm still in the middle of trying to find myself in it all. I think that all the drama involving my church family has finally passed, and I'm very thankful that its over. I've come to terms with the fact that things will never be the same as before, and I've even come to understand that it is for the best that they never will be. I just hate to see people at odds with one another and not totally committed to reconciliation. As much as I'd like to think that the church is different from society, I have to understand that the common denominator in both cases is the human condition, and therefore they will always look alike in many ways.

Coming out of that cloud I've found myself in a strange place. I feel very alone. I'm spending some time with a few friends to dig into why I'm feeling alone, and I think I'm on the right track. But, like my old church family, nothing will be the same. I'm starting to realize how unhealthy it is for me to put so much stock in my relationships with others. Not to say that relationships aren't important, but I've come to realize that I substitute my relationships with people for the relationship I should have with Jesus. I had a friend (courageous is he) recently ask me if I get any degree if comfort or peace from the knowledge that the god that created me loves me deeply. And after some thought I had to be honest and say that I do not. You see, the idea of Jesus is something I love, and his mission is one that I willingly participate in, but Jesus himself has always been distant. To say that I have any sort of relationship or interaction with him would be stretching it. More like I know OF him and am down with his cause. But do I really know him? No. Instead, I've looked for my own identity in my relationships with others, assuming that I would be on the right path if I was cool with everyone around me. Unfortunately, I've found this to be a painful path. I know that my predisposition to love people is a gift from Father, and I love the life that it brings. However, its gotten so difficult to juggle it all that I'm starting to let things fall. This scares the crap out of me. I guess that my deepest fear is to have all the people I care about turn on me and leave me. Being alone is how I would describe hell in its most cruel form. So, when a relationship goes bad, or even begins to fade, I get anxious and fear my whole life is about to fall down. My days are then full of avoiding disaster and trying to keep everything in order so that chaos can't ruin my little world. My life becomes all about protecting and maintaining. I can't live this way any more.

The challenge now is to dive right into the problem. How do I re-center myself around the identity that I was created for? How do I anchor my whole being around a god that I can't see, hear or touch, when everything that I CAN see, hear or touch tries to pull me back towards my old ways? Well, its taking a lot of time. I'm only starting to realize the level to which I am trying to keep my deck of cards from falling down. I'm learning to be joyful regardless of the situation. I'm learning what it truly means to be loved by god, and what unconditional love looks like. I've held on to so many lies for so long that its going to take a while to identify all of them and kick them out of my mind. If I lose my job, my house and all my stuff; I am loved and everything will be OK. If I lose all my friends and my reputation; I am still loved and everything is going to be OK. If I lose my baby boy and my wife; I will still be loved and everything is going to be OK. It's scary to even type those words because I still don't really believe them. I know that God loves me, but I still need to protect what I have because losing what I have will end me. That's how I really feel. But Jesus tells me that if I ingest what he says about me; that I'm precious to him and nothing I can do will change that, I will never be alone and I have nothing to fear. That sounds too good to be true. Maybe I'm scared of what will happen if I live as though it is true. Probably.

My biggest challenge in this new way of thinking is coming up soon. I will have to make some difficult choices that may rub some people the wrong way. People may become upset, or some may not understand. And I have to look beyond that and do what I feel is my destiny. Regardless. I can't tell you how much that scares me. But I have to remind myself. I am loved and everything is going to be OK. These coming weeks will put that to the test. Exhale.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Great insight from Greg Boyd

Here's a link to a good article about two other articles! I think Greg Boyd has his head screwed on right. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On Easter

I'm sitting here in my home office after putting Bauer down for a nap. Brandy is off with some friends so I have a few quiet moments a home to myself. I'm looking out my window over the front field of my property; the sun is shining and my dog is asleep on the driveway. This is my element. Peace and serenity.

Is it just me or is the world getting noticeably noisier lately? I swear that the TV stations are cranking up the volume an extra notch when commercials come on. The main street in my town is more clogged than ever. More businesses with bigger signs that are all vying for my attention and discretionary dollar. The voices on the radio seem to be barking more than talking these days. When combined, they make this loud hum that serves as a backdrop for my every day. I really do hate it. But out here in the country, I feel a release; an exhale. Out here I am forgotten, and that's just fine with me.

Tomorrow is Easter. My church is planning a special event, as are thousands of other churches around the world. This is a special week for us and we certainly give it its due time and effort. I'm waiting for the annual news report of the group in Asia (I believe) that actually crucifies one of its members to show solidarity with the crucified Jesus of Nazareth of ancient Israel. Most churches in my town have some sort of special message on their sign announcing the times of their special gatherings. Its a big deal.

What my mind is chewing on this year at this time is the scene itself. The moment, 2000 years ago, when everything changed. We speak of the resurrection more often around Easter, but seldom to we really dig into it. What it really meant and the magnitude of its influence over human history. To summarize it as we sometimes do ("Jesus died and rose again for your sins") leaves out so much of the wonder and amazement of it all. Here we have Jesus, who had done a great job of stirring the pot, meeting an end that nobody could have guessed. Three years of time in the countryside, teaching about a kingdom that in many ways was opposite of what the people had been told. Their culture and history had been preparing them for someone to come and rescue them, but the one who claimed to be that person was nothing like they had expected. He told them that God's way of living included ridiculous things like loving your enemy, thinking of others as better than your self, and forgiving everyone who wronged you. He didn't speak of war, revolt, or revolution; instead he spoke of gentleness and being like a child. When he talked of power, he said that power was in giving of yourself for other and not using it for your own gain. Everything they had believed was being turned on its head. And many wanted nothing of it. Many wanted bloodshed and revenge. Others wanted political power and influence. And other still wanted a return to religious tradition. What Jesus had, they wanted nothing of it.

And over time the few that DID follow him began to fade. The utter lunacy of this man's speech and actions had held the attention of some, but the noise of the world around them was too much to endure. And they left him. I would have left him too. The voices of the religious leaders ringing in my ears, screaming of blasphemy and punishment. The voices of the mockers, who were so quick to point out the seeming foolishness of such a message. The voices of family, friends, culture and tradition all with the same message of condemnation. I would have left him too. The noise would have been too loud to ignore. And so what started as a revolution filled with life and truth and all things pure, would slowly dissipate into a few cowardly friends watching a bloodied Jesus carry cross up steep hill. The noise of the people's rage and malice was too much to even attempt to overcome.

So they, and I, would have stood there and watched him stumble to a tragic and humiliating end. The proof hung there in front of everyone. This was no revolution. This was no kingdom. What kind of king hangs from three nails looking more like an animal than a human? What kind of king screams in pain and in helplessness? This was no king. The world had shown his message and life to be that of a fool; purposeless and impotent. This is because in their world, the world around them and all they had ever known, he had failed. Hanging on a hill, he had failed to gain any of the things that the world would consider necessary to win. He had no friends and had been given up by one of his own. He had no power, as the establishment considered him cursed and had struck him down. He had no money or pedigree that gave him any standing or reputation in society. He had nothing in their eyes, and now they were slowly and tortuously taking away the very life in him. The only thing he had left.

The noise of that day would fade away rather quickly. I doubt there were many in Jerusalem who woke up two days later and had even a fleeting though of Jesus. I'm sure they'd seen things like that before, and with the way he ended, he wasn't worth even a moment of thought. And the world went on about its business.

And here is where my mind has been. There is a tomb on the countryside that holds the body of a nobody. A nobody destined to join billions of other nobodies that will be forgotten in short time. The noise has left this place and the air is calm. Sometime during that day the entire universe was split in two. Something happened that would shake the foundation of existence and literally transform the world forever. Not a speech or celebrity. Not a war or coup. Not a revolution or revolt. Sometime that day, with nobody watching, a human being that had been killed two days earlier took a breath; and then another breath. A step was taken. A blink of an eye, and a swallow. And just that fast the moment was over. The most astounding, significant, victorious and triumphant event that had ever happened, or will ever happen, occurred without even the faintest shout. No noise. And somehow that first breath that Jesus took in that tomb back then, had made my life worth living today. Millenia later, I live my life with the greatest knowledge that any man can ever carry; everything is going to be alright. I'm going to be OK. And that brings tears to my eyes even as I type this. Everything to going to be OK......

The people who had the power to kill Jesus had earned that power. They had intentionally made decisions to gain for themselves the wealth, influence, or whatever was needed to become someone who can choose to have another person killed. And once that kind of power is attained it must be protected. It must be sustained. Nobody stays in power forever as others will always strive to take that power away for themselves. This is the game we've created as humans. We seek to be able to control the game and make the up our own rules to benefit ourselves. And, of course, others wish to have that same power and will some day find a way to take it away. The cycle is as old as time and is showing no signs of going away any time soon. It was through this lens that Pilate, the crowds and the Pharisees viewed Jesus. He was a threat to each of them; a different threat for each but a threat still. In their attempts to keep their power they had Jesus put to death. And how did they get that done? They made noise. The crowds used their mob power to influence Pilate. The Pharisees used their religious status to make the public allegations against Jesus. Pilate used the grand stage he was given as governor to deliver the speech that would result in the sentence of Crucifixion. And isn't it just beautiful, and just like Jesus, to overthrow them all with the simplest of bodily functions in a cave with nobody watching. That's real power. That's power that doesn't need to dethrone the powers that be in order to gain influence. Its the kind of power that authored the very idea of influence and, ironically, controls who gets to sit in the world's thrones. And to see such a power revealed in such a soft and serene place, in a way that would seem silly to the powers this world, gives great testimony to the character of the being who wields that power.

So tomorrow I'll go to my church and participate in Easter service. But sitting here looking out over my field I think I get it. The true essential power of all things, the God of the universe, has made himself known to us. He taught us what his kingdom is like and what he is like. He suggested the craziest of things that would make even the most gullible person question. And later, with that breath, he showed that he can be trusted. His power will never fade and nobody will unseat him from his throne. He's looking out for me and I know that I'm going to be OK. And for that, he has my love.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No More Gymnastics

"How do I reconcile that in my mind?" is a question I've been asking myself a lot recently. To systematically and regularly be forced to reevaluate many things in my life that I have long placed in the "untouchable" has been painful and lonely. How can anyone honestly enjoy that sort of thing? I think that much of my life has been spent trying to analyze my surroundings in a continual effort to come up with things that are true and will always be true. In a world and in a psyche that are ever-changing, I look for something to be my bedrock, my base of operations. I thought that I had already done this back in 2000-2003 when I first began to investigate the claims of Jesus. It was a long and arduous road that left me exhausted and confused more than it left me enlightened or content. But I did find what I was looking for. So the bedrock of my life became these things of church, Christianity, conservatism and occasionally Jesus. They were settled and untouchable.

Now I find myself in that old mode of asking lots of questions and getting torn in two directions between what I know to be true and the exposure of that truth to be something much more debatable. It feels like I'm on a waterbed and no matter what I do, I can't get things to settle down. I've lost my base of operations and it feels like life is taking me on a ride that I have no control over. I can't reconcile some things in my mind and its forcing me AWAY from many things that I have known and have held dear for many years now.

I can't reconcile my own zealousness for scriptures, and my claim to live by them, when my life does not look like the one shown in the scriptures. For claiming to be Jesus' follower, I find very little of my life that parallels the lives of the 12 or of the young church. If I were to list the traits of Jesus and his early followers I would come up with words like compassionate, selfless, giving and patient, or phrases like 'willing to suffer for others who don't deserve it' or 'thinks of others as more important than self'. But I don't live in a world like that, and I am certainly not like that. My life as a follower is defined by things like 'outwardly moral', 'opposed to this or that', or 'doctrinally sound'. There's nothing in there that suggest I am anything revolutionary or world-changing. My life does not bear witness to the limitless love of our creator and it certainly does not communicate that love in the way the master showed us. His love is shown by giving his life for those that he loved. And those that he loved included those that hated and murdered him. On the other hand I show his love by telling people about his love in story form and retreating to my comfort zones. How can I reconcile this in my mind? How can I conclude anything other than the fact that I am unwilling to live the radical life that Jesus calls me to? I am unwilling to jettison the comforts and general easy-living of my culture in order to show Christ's love by giving of myself for them. Now I know many will say that we have the opportunity to spread God's kingdom in our everyday lives, but I just don't get that from the scriptures. The book of Acts shows a group of people that lived for others and each other. Did they have jobs? Sure. Were they concerned with the lifestyle of their family? I don't see any evidence of that. Did they intentionally set up their lives where they never had to be confronted with the true plight of the poor and oppressed (white suburbs)? To the contrary! It looks as thought they took great joy in announcing Jesus' good news to the poor and marginalized. They sought out the poor and gleefully gave all they had in an effort to show the hurting and suffering people in the world that God cared about them in an amazing, counter-cultural way. But not me. I'll go to certain lengths to 'share the gospel', but any analysis of my time, thoughts, finances and plans shows a life that is 99% dictated by the culture around me and the demands that it puts on me, and 1% devoted to a Jesus that I've 'worked in'. I am being controlled by things that have nothing to do with Jesus.

When I go to church on Sunday, I can no longer reconcile what I see. How much of our effort is spent on Sunday mornings! Is it too much to say that 90% of church activity is related to the show we put on Sundays at 9:00 am and 11:00 am? It may be even higher than that! We put all this time into 'church' and we assume that this is how god's kingdom is advanced. Where did we get that idea?!? When I read of early Christ followers, I see people going out into the cities and pouring themselves into their communities. We, on the other hand, set up shop and invite others to come to us. Jesus came to the sick and the poor, but we ask the sick and the poor to come to us! We 'serve God' by opening a door for someone as they come into church on Sunday, or by mowing a church lawn. How is God being served? He is very clear that serving him done by serving the least of peoples! But we see serving God as serving other people in our 'club'. How backwards! I sometimes wonder if we would even know if Jesus came back. Because there is no doubt that he would be in the darkest places of our world, and us Christians have set up our lives to avoid such places all together! Who knows, he may already be here. What a tragedy it would be to find out that the King of Kings had returned and was in a place where we had never been! Doing things that we had never done!

The scriptures tell of the first Christians and how they gave all that they had away and took great joy in leaning on God for their every need. They left nothing for themselves because they knew that God had given everything for them. The writings tell us that the people loved them! The poor loved them! People had never seen love like this; so selfless, so unbelievably pure. This was the earthly representation of the love of God, and it was beautiful. But I don't see that in my church today. We are not loved by the people. We speak of the love of god in one breath, and then completely invalidate that love when it ends with words only. We tithe, give to causes and contribute to things, but do we ever really sacrifice? Do we even look at our homes, our cars, our stuff and even take a moment to think of what those resources could ahve done for the poor and the oppressed? Instead we talk of hard work and how we've 'earned' these things. I cannot find precident in the life of Jesus where he tells us to work hard and enjoy the rewards that come with it. This is an idea of our culture and not of the kingdom. But I live it every day.

We have become 'morality police', patrolling our country for anything that god would call sin, with the insane assumption that god wants us to rid our world of the sinful and the perverse by overcoming it with laws and restrictions. Where we stand on certain 'issues' has become the mark that allows us to identify each other as Christians. How can I reconcile this in my mind with the fact that the world around the time of Christ was every bit as perverse and evil as today? Jesus lived in the midst of some of the most savage barbarism known to man, and yet he never made it an issue. GETTING RID OF IT WAS NOT HOW THE KINGDOM WAS TO BE ADVANCED. It seemed as though he was more concerned with people understanding the kingdom of god, how they each had a place in it, and how it was the complete opposite of the system of life going on around them. We have been given this through the scriptures, and yet we go as far as DEFINE ourselves by our opposition to immorality. When I hear of a christian leader fighting for more morality in schools, the marketplace and society in general, I can't see where Jesus calls us to build his kingdom this way. How does this show the love of god? It doesn't. Jesus wants people to know that he is FOR them, and we show that by dying for people. The removal of sinful things from their lives comes AFTER they experience God's love. I can only surmise that the reason we don't do this is because it gives us the feeling of righteousness but without the need for sacrifice. We get to feel like we're on 'god's side' while spending the majority of our time seeking the progress, success and comfort of our society. I feel like I've had it all wrong for all these years. I've been unbelievable selfish, and I can reconcile it with what I know to be true.

Is it possible that we are hurting the cause of Christ? Is it possible that we feel like we've got it all figured out, but in reality we're taking the kingdom backwards with our version of the good news? That we're reproducing Christian who are terrible representatives of Christ? I can't reconcile it any longer. I can come up with a thousand excuses why I shouldn't live the radical life of a Christ Follower, and I can probably even find some vague biblical references to back up my assertion. But I can't read the gospels, the words of Jesus, the stories of the first Christians, and the letters of Paul, and say that my life looks anything like what I read. And so, I am blowing up these things and starting over. I can't think of anything worse than coming face to face with my maker and knowing that my life was more about me than about him and his kingdom. And sadly, that is exactly what I would feel if I met him today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It was good to see you again my friend

Hello old friend,

I can't tell you how good it was to see you again this morning. Has it been five months since the last leaves fell from the trees, the days became too short, and we last walked the ground together? Has it been that long? I've missed it; more so this year than any I can remember. It's been both a winter to remember and a winter to be forgotten, and I'm more tired than excited this time; which is not the way it should be. Looking back to October its a wonder that you even recognize me. I feel like I've grow old while I was away. I'm learning that its not the toils of life that take their toll, but rather the endurance of the transitions; effervescent high to desperate low to high again. Sometimes I think that I'd prefer a life of the mundane, if for no other reason than to spare my heart the grind of changing direction so suddenly.

I've had a son since our last time together, and he has brought a new definition of joy to my senses. The very thought of his smile can bring me to my knees in an instant. Its wonderful and frightening at the same time. To know that the whole of my existence lies in the breath of a 13-week old, and to know that I have only a fool's control over that breath's continuance, reminds me that I am truly helpless in all things. There are days where I only get to hold him for a fleeting moment; before work, before bedtime. And those days add up quickly. And in the blink of an eye a month has passed, and I have missed it entirely.

My family, somehow, self-destructed in front of my eyes this winter. And I could do nothing about it. Something happened, and then some people got mad, and then some people decided that it wasn't worth it, and then it was over. People who seemed to be at home in the core of my being, are now unfamiliar faces and occasional emails. Those of us who are left are holding on by a thread. We're hurting because some people decided, for this reason or another, that we weren't enough to keep the family together. That is a rejection that I've never felt before. And to make it worse, I don't think we ever crossed their minds. The issues and discontent were the only dynamics to be considered; the rest of the family and their feelings were overlooked. And now those left behind look at each other and wonder what the hell just happened.

Business was good while I was away. Remember how I'd go on and on about my dreams of being something big in the office? Remember how down I was at this time last year? Well, it all turned around. That big case went through, and a few other good things went my way and I made it! I actually made it! Brandy is so proud of me, and the company is so proud of me, and I am proud of me too. But I never thought that there would be a day when I leaned on my career accomplishments to get me through a day. There are some days that I've felt so alone that I would cling to my recent successes as though they were all I had. That, my friend, is a scary place to be. And so I feel a certain sort of resentment because I got exactly what I wanted, and it turned out not to be what I had hoped for.

Of course there are other things that have taken place, like my Dad almost dying in front of my eyes, that have added to my weariness. My faith in people is almost gone. My desire to passionately pursue anything is dwindling by the day. I don't know why. And just when I was settling nicely into my melancholy, you showed up again. Or, should I say I came back and you were still there. In all the insanity of things, I must be honest, I had forgotten about you. So, to run into you so unexpectedly this morning was a shock to the system. But it was good. I shouldn't be surprised, really. You've always shown up; each and every year about this time. And you're just the same as when I left you. You started with me in the manic days of my youth, when each day was a struggle for identity and validation. In those days you were my safe haven. You were my only true friend as we walked the ground. Later, I found you in all parts of the country, showing yourself in different forms and lessons, but always the same at the core: dependable, soothing, personal and grand. It has always been as though you were there for just me, as though you needed me, or as though I was needed to be part of something much bigger. I tried to make you something else for a while there, and I hope you know that my intentions were pure. I had taken so much refuge in our time together over the years that my idea of making you my nine-to-five seemed logical, but it didn't work out that way, did it? And I'm happy it didn't. The way our relationship works in relation to seasons and time is what makes it special, and I needed to try to make it something more than that to understand you better. And now, in my imitations of maturity and adulthood, we've come full circle. I found refuge in you again this morning, like I used to as a boy. But different. I've learned so much from you and you've been such a big part of my life that its almost as if we've come to our final resting place. We've seen it all together and you've proven that there will always be a place for you in my life.

So now we meet with something approaching transcendence. There's safety and familiarity and predictability there. It feels good. And I need it. I'm tired my old friend; really tired. I'm going to need your uplifting and calming ways more than ever this summer. I hope that you won't mind meeting every once and while to continue our conversation; a conversation that moves toward no end, but fits its purpose in its very existence. Is that OK? I'll see you next time, out in that fresh air. We'll walk the ground again together, just like old times.


Monday, February 9, 2009


We've all heard the sayings "nothing comes for free" or "there's no such thing as a free lunch" used to convey the idea that there is an ulterior motive behind every good thing in this world. Lately, I have found this to be so true; and now more than ever.

Now, normally this is the place where I, as a follower of Jesus, should go on a rant about how dishonest our culture has become and how the world around us is nothing more than a bunch of liars, cheats and swindlers. Regardless of how true that statement is, I'm going to spare everyone from the morally self-righteous pig out that such discussions inevitably come to. Instead, I'm going to tell you why I'm GLAD that the world is out for themselves. I've actually come to this cool place where I see the Jesus-like response to a society of selffulness. And its not waht you'd expect.

I recently got referred to a couple that needed some financial guidance. I, for a reason I have yet to nail down, have become a counselor for people in financial crisis. Its a long story to how I got in such a business, but somehow I miraculously find myself as a guru in this area. And, since I am a man who enjoys being know as good at things, I gladly take the label.

In any case, I was given the phone number of this couple who were in financial dire straits. I called them to set up an appointment to meet, and I encountered an attitude that had never entered my ears before. The story goes, I briefly told the gentleman what I do, how I do it, and then I offered a few options of times that I would be open to an appointment. Rather than give me dates, he replied with a warning. It seems that his wife had not wanted him to get a hold of me, because they had no money to pay me for my services. And therefore, the gentlemen continued, they would have to set up a payment plan if we were to go ahead with our meeting. My response was only partly genuine when I said "pay me for what?". He replied with "you know; pay for your services".

When I communicated to him that my services were not tied to any cost, he immediately asked what was in it for me. To him, there had to be some catch involved; some ulterior motive that brought my own interests into the equation. Was there some budgeting software to buy? A fee to help him consolidate debt? Some loan program that I could get him into? After testing all the angles, and fully expecting one of them to lead to his preconceived notion, it finally hit him like a ton of bricks. He actually began to weep on the phone. "You mean to tell me that you just do this to help out other people? That there's nothing in it for you?" he sniffled. I told him that there was something in it for me, that being the hope that I could help him and his wife get out of a bind. The ironic thing was that he and his wife had just been talking the day before about how there's no place to go in the world to get help without some sort of string attached! How true! Suddenly, I found myself in a moment of complete clarity on so many things.

The lesson here is that there is a great opportunity to show people what the real love of God is like. And, since the world does such a crappy job of showing any REAL love, service and long suffering, it really gives us a great gift. The gift of contrast. In my situation, the contrast between the cynical, underhanded world and my simple offer of true help was like the difference between night and day. A beacon on a hill, ya know?

Since that interaction, I've had a few other similar situations where people are quick to get skeptical, and slow to believe that anything can be truly altruistic and pure. To be honest, I like it. I like using the darkness of the world to show an unfamiliar light. And isn't that all Jesus calls us to do? In fact, I guess that I DO have ulterior motives in these things. Only my ulterior motive is to show the world what love looks like. That can't be a bad thing, can it?

So the world around us is sick and dying. So people are less caring and more devious. So it seems that its all going to hell in a hurry. Perfect. That way, any showing of loving service, in the way of Christ, will stand out even more. If we're looking for ways to show Jesus to the world; there you go.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Be Kind To My Friend

The inauguration of Barack Obama yesterday proved to be an important moment in my life, but not for the reasons you would probably expect. You see, I was able to watch the President's speech and his subsequent parade through the streets of DC with nothing but joy in my heart. Instead of the Dan of the past, who would have gotten all riled up over all those millions of people going crazy over a 'socialist' and a 'baby killer', I was joyful and optimistic. Jesus said that there would be evidence of his presence in my life. He used the analogy of a plant that is rooted in him producing good fruit. I always assumed that 'fruit' meant that I would not sin as much and I would vote Republican. But now I can see a much more beautiful fruit being produced by Jesus growing me into the person he wants me to be.

I now know that my participation in the kingdom has NOTHING to do with politics. It is not my duty to crusade against Barack Obama for his views on the economy or his stance on abortion. I am IN NO WAY representing Jesus when I get angry about "where our country is going" or when I talk with others about the end of the American lifestyle as we know it. The greatest liberation that I have found in Jesus is the freedom to freely love others without judgement; to love my neighbor and my enemy as myself, and to look at EVERY human being as a brother. And so it looks like this, when I hear someone taking Barack to task for all the evils that he is sure to bring on us, I get a weird feeling inside. Its the same feeling I'd get if I heard someone railing against one of my friends or family members. It hurts to hear people say such things about Obama. And after weeks of sorting out these feelings, I think I've come to an amazing conclusion: I LOVE BARACK OBAMA! I think that he's a good man with great potential. I love seeing how his girls adore him. I love his wife and the marriage they have together. I have nothing but the highest hopes for him both personally and as our 44th President. And when I see all those throngs of people so excited and full of adoration, I get excited. I get excited that there is something out there that is making people happy and gathering them together.

Do I agree with Barack Obama about many things? Certainly not. Do I think that abortion is a terrible and evil thing? Yes I do. But Jesus calls me to transform the world by loving the world, not by crusading against its evils. Jesus lived in times infinitely more barbaric than today and he never once got involved the political game. He didn't play on that playing field. Instead he created this 'kingdom of god' thing, where people are transformed by experiencing true, sacrificial and unearned love. THAT is what will change the world. Thank god that's the way it works! How joyous and free! I can love Jesus by unconditionally loving others just like he did. And miraculously, Jesus says that THIS WAY of living will be the revolution the world needs. My role in the abortion debate is to love the doctors performing the abortions just as much as I love the babies being aborted. I am to serve all without pretense and people will be saved. Unreal.

Do I agree with Barack Obama's economic plans? No I do not. Do I think that it will hurt the fundamental economic structure of America, that being the free market? Yes I do. However, I have a new angle on the issue: I DON'T CARE! I don't care if our economy goes bad. I don't care if we lose our status as a economic power. I don't care if we all lose the comforts and conveniences of our lifestyle. I just don't care. I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and, therefore, am bound to his kingdom way of life. I am not bound to my lifestyle and my prosperity. I am bound to Christ and his revolution of 'less for me so you can have more'. If Obama's economic plan gives more money to poor people and to those who don't have much, I'm fine with it; it isn't really my concern. If my destiny is to work hard my whole life and have it taken away by the government, so be it. Its not about me. It is such a privilege to live in Jesus' kingdom where I don't have to give ANY of my heart and focus towards 'building a life for my family' or anything else lifestyle related. Jesus had a right to EVERYTHING and yet gave it ALL up for us, and to think that we are called to place any limitations on our sacrifice for other's benefit in order to advance our own lifestyle is simply absurd. Its self-serving and anti-Jesus. I can almost hear Jesus, responding to someone complaining about paying taxes and having their 'hard-earned' money given to someone who is 'lazy' and 'won't get off their butt and work', saying "Where do you get the right? I gave my life for you, and now you're complaining about what you DESERVE? Do you really want to go there?"

The kingdom of god looks like this: I give all for you and you give all for me. We sustain each other by our sacrificing for one another. We give all and trust god to provide for us. THAT is crazy, illogical and an absolute freaking blast! In my life, I would hope that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I would hope that I look for the best in everyone else regardless of its impact on me. And I would most certainly hope that Jesus' love would shine through me into even the darkest places. And so, I wish you well Mr. President. I am on your side; I am with you; and I truly hope for nothing but the best for you my friend. You are valuable beyond measure in the eyes of god, and you are the same in mine. Let me know if I can do anything for you, sir.