Friday, May 30, 2008


Time has a way of changing history...or at least leaving out some extremely important facts about history. I think people and events become larger than life and as we attempt to explain to the next generations how amazing certain people or things were...well, we leave out the parts that may cast a shadow on the greatness. For example, did you know that there really was an Old MacDonald? That's right...E-I-E-I-O...he really existed. However, the next time my kids sing about his animals and the sounds they make I will remember that Old MacDonald lived in the 19th Century...right up until he murdered his wife and then killed himself. Don't forget, "Old MacDonald killed his wife, E-I-E-I-O. And then he decided to kill himself, E-I-E-I-O. With Bang! Bang! here and a....OK, you get the idea.
Old MacDonald, the psychopath, isn't the only person who has greatly benefited from the passage of time...what about Helen Keller (I happen to share a hometown with her. Hello Tuscumbia, AL). We all remember the Miracle Worker and how this deaf, dumb and blind little girl overcame amazing odds to be relatively normal. But did you know that she was a militant communist? I assure you that her political preference isn't plastered on the City Limit sign that proudly proclaims, "Tuscumbia, The Birth Place of Helen Keller". Another person that people have no clue about is Daniel Boone. Check this out, you know those stupid "coon skin hats"? He never wore one of those. That's not even the shocking part. Daniel Boone, the man's man, the outdoors man of the century, the man that makes today's Man vs Wild star, Bear Grylls, look like a scared Girl Scout...he had a medical condition that caused his breast to lactate! I'm freaking serious! Daniel Boone had active mammary glands that produced some liquid that actually leaked out his man teats...who knew? If I was Daniel Boone I would have come up with the whole coon skin hat too. That's way better than a man's man having the physical capabilities to breast feed a baby. What next? Rambo had regular menstrual cycles? John Wayne waxed his "bikini area"? General Patton wore lingerie under his battle dress uniform?

What else have we missed in history? I mean, I think we all know that India has gotten the ole' screw job on several bagpipes were invented in India, not Scotland and the Hope Diamond was smuggled out of India to France in the rectum of a horse. I think we are all aware that Susan B. Anthony was a Santerian High Preistess. It is just common knowledge that Galileo drank a warm glass of blood every night before he went to bed. I am talking about the discovery of something weird...something obscure...some esoteric piece of trivia that would make Alex Trebek blush with shame.

I think it is weird that we never think of the Grandmother's of Jesus as being sexual deviants...but the were. Look at the list in Matthew 1. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. You have an unwed, prego teenager, a prostitute, an incestuous woman and a manipulative girl who uses sex to influence....sounds like a bunch of freaks to me. But Jesus is the Master bringing about purity from the impure.

I wonder why Vacation Bible School didn't tell us the rest of the story about Lot and his crazy daughters. It would be all over FoxNews today if some girls got the great idea to get their father tanked and then slept with him in an attempt to become prego. Maury, Springer and Montel have made huge careers out of less. How would that story look on the Sunday School "flannel board"?

Moses and David have been blessed with a similar plight as Helen Keller. Everyone remembers the good but few really focus on the fact that they were both murderers. That doesn't play well in the baby moses in the basket story...I mean, I bet the guy he killed wishes baby Moses would have hit some rapids just right and flipped over in some whitewater. How about Uriah's family? You think they thought baby Solomon was just precious? My better judgement tells me that baby Solomon made them want to vomit up their own toenails.

What about Oholah and Oholibah? They were sisters and you can read about them in Ezekial 23. I will save you some time and tell you that these women craved men "whose genitals were like that of a donkey and emissions were like that of horses". Enough said...I guess.

Ehud did something not too many people have done...or at least it hasn't been written down too often. In Judges 3 Ehud stabs a king in the wait, it gets better. This King, Eglon, was so fat that the fat closed over Ehud's hand and actually swallowed the handle of the wait, it gets better. You know what King Eglon was doing when he was stabbed? In my home we would say he is going to the potty. And I know what you all must be thinking...number1 or number 2? Oh, it was definitely NUMBER 2!

I don't know why I wanted to get knee deep in obscure Biblical facts...or any other kind of facts for that matter. I suppose I just think the Bible is pretty cool. It certainly isn't the sanitized, crusty, outdated book many think it is. It is funny, sad, violent, sexual and witty. I mean Jesus even gets sarcastic from time to time. Who can't love a Creator with a sense of humor and occasionally a wild streak?

A few other weird things in life that you may otherwise never know? Earwax and orange peel have equal amounts of vitamin C. Grizzly Bears can go for up to 3 weeks without urinating (too bad my wife doesn't exhibit the same control on long trips). Think you are busy? The majority of American Sign Language was invented by a man with only one arm...I can't do it with two. Martin Luther King, Jr. lip-synched much of his "I Have a Dream" speech. Julius Caesar had 12 toes...he was probably an excellent swimmer. Abraham Lincoln was arrested at age 17 for defecating in public. Field mice always sleep facing Northwest. King Tutankhamen was a I guess he introduced himself as King T-T-Tut. The Amarekaire cannibals of Peru have 17 distinct recipes to cook the human head. And I knew I hated Chihuahuas for a reason...under extreme stress they have been known to eat their young. Stupid, ankle-biting morons.

One final thought...I think Daniel Boone should have been around for the birth of Wilbur Wright. You see, Wilbur was born with a full set of teeth...I'd like to see that little fellow clamp on to the leaky man-teat of Boone. That's funny and I don't care how much crap I take over writing is still hysterical.

And with that, I am off to have an awesome weekend...hope you do the same!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Slaves and Sons

Yesterday I listened to the commencement address Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, delivered to Stanford University. (By the way, if you ever get a chance to listen to his address I think you will be better for it ). One of Steve's talking points in that commencement deals with his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the prognosis he received. Initially he was told that he had a few months to live. So in discussing this topic last night with my amazing wife...which by the way, we have had 2 dates in the past 2 nights which is unbelievable...I told her what my greatest fear would be if I received that diagnosis today.

My entire being focuses instantly on my sons. They are so young and have so much of life's journey ahead of them. I really would only want to focus on one thing. I would want them to KNOW...not hear, not think, not have the opinion of a portion of my love...but to absolutely, beyond a doubt, without question understand and accept the vastness of my love for them. I want them to be affected in every fiber of their being the depth of my love. I want them to be forever changed as they accept the blessing of their daddy's love. I want them to walk boldly through this world confident in their acceptance, worth and love that I feel and extend to them every second of every day. And I know that they do not yet have a clue how much my soul, body mind and spirit daily, even minute by minute, longs for them to understand the degree to which they are loved.

I try to tell them directly and they smile and I can tell they feel special. I tell them indirectly when I pray over them and tell God from the deepest, most sincere portals of my heart how wonderful they are and how much God has blessed us with by creating them and allowing us to be their mom and dad. Brook and I show them with our actions too. We do the big things but also the smaller things that may be more meaningful. We read to them, play with them, allow them to work with us even though it slows us up and really hinders our work. We take them places and we provide them with the things we think they need and a lot of what they want. With all of that said, I still don't know if they get it.

They still sometimes act as though they are afraid to come to us with their mistakes. They often fear discipline and punishment so from time to time they have lied about their actions. They act like their acceptance and our love is somehow dependent on performance. Sometimes I sense that they believe that they think they can be good enough to be loved more or that if they are bad enough they will somehow be loved less. Obviously neither of those are possibilities because we can't love them more and could never love them less. I suppose in time they will understand that and live life more and more like the sons they are. Perfect love casts out fear and that love flows from our "Heavenly Daddy".

Jehovah, Adonai, Yahweh, Elohim, Abhir, Kadosh, Yeshah or I AM are names for God listed in the Bible. I am cool with those names and I recognize that often the name of God implies an aspect of God that seems particularly salient to the given situation. Like Jehovah-Rohi is "The God our Shepherd" and that obviously plays well with David as he too shepherds and really understands what that could mean to him. Or Ruth refers to El-Shaddai because that means "God All Sufficient" and she obviously relied on God to meet her needs. But something really amazing and really strange happens with Jesus. God is no longer one who does something for us but from a distance. God is no longer one who is visited by the priests alone...God becomes DADDY. Of course scripture uses the word, Abba.

We have all heard of that, though I would suggest that "Abba" largely remains an intellectual concept for us and has not yet made the all important 12 inch trip from our heads to our hearts. I have that opinion because too often I find myself and others acting more like slaves and sons and daughters. Slaves worry over performance and the repercussions and punishment handed out when performance is lacking. Additionally, slaves know that better performance insures better treatment and more acceptance. Why do we so often shy away from God in the midst of giving in to temptation? Why do we proclaim, "I'm Blessed!" when we have been performing well before our "Master". Why do we look at those prone to failure with contempt all the while giving the seat of honor to those who look good and act like they have it all together? For the same reasons my sons present half-truths when they have made a mistake and point out the fault in their brothers when they haven't given in to temptation. Because they do not yet totally grasp the love their Daddy has for them.

Galatians 4: 4-7 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

How amazing is this? Jesus came not only to save us from our sins but to also make us literal children of God. Because of the "Spirit of his Son" we now can cry out with confidence "Daddy". The greatest story in the world has been written and it goes something like this. As a poor child playing in the street sees the King pass by with His entourage and incredible wealth, majesty and compassion he secretively longs for what can never be. He wishes that he could be the Prince. He doesn't desire the power or even the wealth but he does desire a close, intimate relationship with the King. He longs for the acceptance, confidence and freedom that is only found in the love of the King. Sure the King already has children but this boy just wants to be one too. To the boys great surprise one day he is found by the oldest son of the King. At first he is scared that the Prince would know his name and seek him out on the street...especially in his dirty and poor condition. The Prince leads the boy back to the castle where he is allowed to bathe and put on a special robe. Eventually the boy is lead to the throne room of the King and at last he stands face to face with the King. The King smiles and says "Son I have been waiting for you to come home". This must be a mistake but as the boy looks for answers in the face of the Prince he only finds tears of joy flowing down the cheeks of the Prince. The boy, not quite sure of what is happening begin to cry and The King tells him that he too is a Prince. Apparently the boy was stolen years before and the King has searched the world over trying to find him. The King has never rested and and has never given up His last the boy is back home. He no longer lives in the streets and no longer has to wish he was a Prince. He is a Prince and is loved and accepted by the King. But a problem still exists. The boy has been told for so long that he isn't loved, isn't good and isn't worthy that he has a difficult time understanding and accepting the goodness and love of his Father, his Daddy, the King. The King longs for His son to understand his love and knows that in time He will. Perhaps when the boy first stares into the eyes of his own son, he will get just a taste of what the King has been telling him all along.

Until that time comes the King simply has a desire that is best stated by the King's servant, Paul, in Ephesians 3 and the message is for all of us who are now called "child of God". Having been freed from slavery may we all know the love of our "Daddy":
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Community is the Best!!!

The past two nights have been really cool...and have given me some insight to the idea of community and "church".

Monday was Memorial Day and that night we ate dinner, let the kids play and had great conversation with some great friends. In the past we have attended a church with these people and though we no longer see them on Sunday mornings, it is a huge blessing to be with them and continue friendships based on genuine love, respect and concern.

Tuesday night we met with the Emergent Cohort group. Spending time with friends and family and discussing varying topics helps relationships develop and builds community. Our actions and our communities the past two nights haven't included us "going to church". I feel strongly though that we have been functioning as church.

We haven't praised God in song...but we have certainly praised God with how we love one another. We haven't had a period of prayer...but I feel certain that God has heard our conversations and has responded to every word. None of us have preached or endured a sermon...instead we have been living, breathing sermons as we have cared for our children, listened to others with genuine concern and simply spent time together as family should.

I love the fact that God has given us communities in which to live and grow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ezekiel and the Scroll Snack

Ezekiel 3:1 And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel."

While I do not pretend to be Ezekiel but this morning I do feel the need to speak to a particular "house" of believers who have been insulted and patronized in the name of religion.

A letter was mailed out to members of a church my family attended a little over a year ago recently and with great wisdom my wife threw it in the garbage before I had the chance to read it. However, last night a great buddy of mine shared with me the content of the letter and it really chapped my it has others. In short, the letter reminded people who are prone to travel during the summer months to remember that they should still send money to the church. To make it easier for people to make sure their money ends up at the church even when they are not, the people may opt to have the money automatically withdrawn from their accounts or in some way direct deposited into the church account. (I think I just threw up a little in my mouth from just typing such swill). In my satirical and at times cynical mind I can just hear people in the meeting as they decide to send out the letter..."money always decreases in the summer because people travel and when they aren't here we can't guilt them into giving us money to further our organization so maybe we should find another way in which to guilt people into giving. I know how about a good reminder that we mail out. We can tell them that it is sinful should they not continue to give money so we can have a nice building to use 2 days per week and many full time staff...some of whom can't tell you exactly what they do for 40 hours per week to save their lives."

I am afraid if I was asked to eat that letter like Ezekiel was instructed to eat the scroll I would gag and probably develop some obscure gastrointestinal disease that would eventually lead to some level of disability or death. I have thought and prayed since last night about my attitude regarding such displays of institutionalized pretension. I have considered calling someone at the church to request my name be removed from the mailing list so I never get such disgustingly shameful crap again or perhaps I should ignore it and realize that the influx of numbers or cash or both is simply intoxicating and dangerous to most people. Well, I decided to pen another letter to the people who received the insulting garbage. Perhaps another letter can salve my harsh feelings and help others who were offended by the initial letter focus on something more pleasant than Ecclesiastical here it is. I hope it helps us all.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Summer time is here and we rejoice in the fact that many of you will have the opportunity to travel and enjoy God's creation with your friends and family. The leadership here would like for you to be aware of several things as you are away.
Please know that we will pray specifically for everyone to have safe travels and to return to us safely. Additionally, we will be praying specifically that God reveals to you his boundless love for you and others as you explore his creation this summer. We will also pray that the Light of Jesus will flow from you and that your presence in various places will make a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God as you strive in everything you do to carry out the Mission of God to seek, save and serve the lost.
May we suggest that you view your travels this year in a new and inviting light. That is to ask that as you travel perhaps you can pray about visiting other fellowships of Jesus. You will be blessed by the diversity and perhaps can bring back with you interesting experiences and ideas to bless others. Perhaps you may want to plan your trips in ways that will allow your family to spend some time serving the poor, homeless and otherwise unfortunate people in the cities you explore. Your family will be blessed by serving others and your children will especially benefit from seeing that God's work is needed everywhere we go.
If you are away from our gatherings this summer we will miss you greatly and anxiously await your return. Rest assured that we will continue the work God has put before us and will press on to the goal of the upward call of Christ. Go in peace and live an abundant life!

Grace and Peace,
Your Servants of the Good News

OK, I feel better now. If God leads you out of town or if you hangout around your house all the time, never feel obligated to be yoked to traditions, organizations or institutionalized churches. Instead, be yoked to the Messiah and operate in the extreme freedom granted us by the One who was, is and is to come.

Monday, May 26, 2008

HODO...My Hero

Happy Memorial Day to you all.

In the spirit of Memorial Day I continue to think of the families who have lost their sons, fathers, cousins, etc. My heart aches for them and I can't express my sadness and appreciation enough. I also think of and pray for the families and the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who are away from home serving this country and people in far away places. Having had the honor to walk and serve among you all in the past, I salute you and honor you for your sacrifices and for the sacrifices your families continue to make. God Bless You All.

Today I am thinking a lot about my buddy Howard...more affectionately known to many as "Hodo". Howard is in Kuwait serving as a commander in the Navy. Howard is quite an amazing man. In fact, if I can borrow Gordon Dalbey's definition of a man, I can with great certainty say that Howard is "a real man because he is a man that is real"

Howard is honest, humble and courageous enough to avoid being pigeon-holed in preconceived expectations, and labels. He thinks for himself and his genuine character and integrity are revealed in each thing he does. He is selfless, thoughtful and generous beyond measure. He isn't afraid to show appropriate emotions even when doing so creates uncomfortable feelings for himself or others.

The best thing I can say about Howard...or anyone for that that he is one "who follows hard after God". He seeks God passionately and is driven by his desire for righteousness. He is a man of prayer and conviction. He has a deep desire to display the love, mercy and goodness of God to his wife and children and he allows the light of the Creator to shine on all of us who know him.

For all of the above and so much more, today I salute Howard. Here's an Irish Blessing for you my friend, my brother and a hero of faith. (I know Dodson is an English surname but I don't like any "English Blessings" so today you get an Irish Blessing)

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Come home soon dear Brother! We all love and miss you.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How Far Will You Go?

Jesus, how far into the darkness can I wander? How far can I stray and you still find me? If I dip into the vast darkness who all I am...if I find myself in addiction, if I journey into lands void of morality, if I mistreat the very people you served, if I trod through the desert of despair...Jesus, simply put, how far will you go with me?

Lord, will you soil your radiant garments to find me in the swamps of life? Will you swim through the predatory streams of the wasteland of my brokenness? Will the muck and mire of my own making produce too much of a stench for you to stay around? Will the nails I sharpen with continuous weakness drive too deeply into your flesh for you to find value in this vessel? Going the distance with me is one thing...digging me out of my own slop is a messy proposition and is quite another thing.

Luke 15: 1-4 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

It seems that Jesus was well aware of the impurity he would encounter and he never backed away. It also seems that Jesus more closely associated with the "have-nots" and the dirty and that he only became nauseated by the arrogance of the "religious".

It is easy to assume that the holiness of the Messiah elevates him to a position of isolation. But not our Messiah. Too often we mistakenly treat our relationship with the Son of God as a a fragile one. Do we have any reason to think that Jesus isn't into isolation and is in no way fragile? Sure, Luke 15 tells us that if he has to he will go looking for us. I will go look for my things when lost as well, but I don't like it and hold grudges over it. I get angry, I pout and I remind anyone who will listen how inconvenient it is for me to find something or someone who has been lost. But not Jesus. Jesus actually asks for more...check this out.

Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus is standing at someones door and must be the door of the lost soul who doesn't know Jesus, right? Or perhaps Jesus is talking to entire countries, regions or people groups who are doomed to hell since they don't know Jesus, right? Absolutely not. Jesus is talking to churches. The knock isn't at someone else's door...he is knocking at our door. The church at Laodicea is receiving the knock...and so are we.

Jesus continues to knock because his work is undone. Sure, he has wandered to the depths of the Earth to find us. Of course he has given himself for us. There is more though. Our transformation isn't complete when we are saved. Our maturity is far from completed and our journey isn't fact it has only just begun. The dark places we are scared to go...the stench that only is acceptable to us...the pile that we hide from others by closing the door to that area of our lives...that's the very door on which Jesus knocks. Jesus isn't afraid of our piles and he doesn't back down from any perversion.

The next time we are tempted to open those doors and wander into the void...perhaps we can take Jesus with us...he wants to go there with us and he died in order to clean it clean us up. Isn't Jesus Amazing?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jesus and Symbolism...Bread

Bread is one of the most basic foods in the world. I may have mentioned this before, but in case I didn't let me state for the record that I love process...any process to me is amazingly interesting. Bread is a process...more so for those in Biblical times than for us. Bread didn't begin by opening a bag of flour and mixing it with water from the tap. Bread began months before by saving enough seeds to plant and with the right weather conditions harvest grain. The grain was then ground and used to make the bread...a lengthy and important process. It involved prior planning to not eat all the grain from the previous year, nurturing seedlings, dependence on God for the proper amount of rain and to limit insects and flooding, harvesting at the proper time, separating the grain from the chaff, grinding the grain and finally baking bread.

I typically relate better to God as "Father", "Creator" or "Lord" and I usually think of Jesus in terms of "Messiah", "Son of God" or "Immanuel". I tend to get those analogies because they are relevant to me. Making bread, grinding grain and to some degree even planting and harvesting isn't really in my world to the degree it was with previous generations. I have gained a great deal of appreciation and insight into the whole idea of "the Bread of Life"...check this out.

In Exodus 25 God orders his people to put "the Bread of Presence" before Him at all times. That bread is for God and therefore is holy. For some reason, bread is important to God. In Leviticus 24 God gives instructions on this bread and it is of interest that the bread is to be made of "the finest flour"...remember Jesus making "the best wine"?... and is to be "baked in twelve loaves". The number twelve will come up again, no? Leviticus 24 also outlines that only the Priests are to ever eat of this consecrated bread...that is important to because this rule is given by God and then will be broken by David, the "man after God's own heart", in I Samuel 21 and sanctioned through example and referencing by Jesus in Luke 6.

We know in the "Exodus" God fed his people with bread or manna falling from heaven. That is symbolic of the provisions for the journey and also symbolic of life. Without God's provisions in the desert, the Promised Land could have never become a reality.
Jesus said in John 6 Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
The Bread of Life gives us life. As we become in Him and like Him we experience His life and can even extend that life to others through administering His Grace, Love and Mercy to others.

Most Christians agree that we need the Bread of Life for salvation and for our sustenance in this life but is there something else? I think so. Where was Jesus born? Bethlehem. Since I don't think places, names and facts in scripture are accidental, maybe it is important to think about what "Bethlehem" means in the Hebrew language. It means, "the house of bread". Tommy Tenney in his book, God Chasers implies that the Bread of Life was born in the house of bread because the bread of God...i.e. the sustenance, provisions, etc....had long ago vanished. I would agree with that today as well. The people of God IN GENERAL and churches IN GENERAL have no bread to offer this world. We have little or no sustaining or nurturing actions or attitudes that could distinguish us from any other group with any other belief. But there is an answer...

I am positive that the more we are in the midst of "The Bread of Presence", the more that Bread influences us, sustains us and nurtures us. In our spiritual and emotional health we are then free to (and I usually hate cliches) "show other beggars where to find some bread". We don't need more programs, we don't need more doctrine and we certainly don't need larger assemblies...we just need more Bread.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jesus and Symbolism

Symbols are really cool to me. Sometimes I even find hidden meaning in things that maybe were not even intended. I think the Bible is really cool for a number of reasons but I do particularly love the symbolism in it. The more I read and the more I contemplate meaning the more confident I am in at least two things. First, I don't think words are wasted in scripture. I am convinced that the VAST majority of scripture is there for a reason. Even if I don't know why it is there or I don't understand the cultural or religious implications, I know the language is intentional. The other thing I am sure about is that symbols are used many times for many reasons in scripture. I love some recent symbols I have seen...maybe others will see the same things. And by the way...I doubt I can type it all in one installment.

I have admittedly gotten a ton of mileage and sinful enjoyment out of the "water-to-wine miracle". It seems that my more fundamentalist minded brothers and sisters have trouble fitting the Jesus that would furnish wine for people when they were already drunk in their theology that strictly forbids the consumption of alcohol. Knowing that they face that theological impasse
I have been known to refer to less sensitive things like "the Hebrew Beer Run". I probably shouldn't do that but I have fun with it and it actually is in scripture.

Enough about my more sadistic side...why did scripture record this? What about water to wine is important? Why is it the first recorded miracle? What would you want to imply, directly or indirectly, at the beginning of your public ministry? You don't have to agree with me but here's my take on it.

Isaiah is a remarkable book for more reasons than I pretend to know. One thing that seems cool is that in many ways it seems to be SYMBOLIC of scripture as a whole...66 chapters compared to 66 books in the Bible is just the easiest comparison to make. Since I believe all of scripture points to Jesus and the redemption of creation, with what does Isaiah begin?

Isaiah 1:21-23:
See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them.

The problem with creation placing us in great need of a Messiah is that our goodness, Godly image and compassion has been watered down. We serve others when we want to or when serving them serves us as well. We are tainted with the ethics, morals and behaviors of the world and that isn't the plan God had in mind. So being saved from that and being redeemed to live a life like God intended means purifying the things we have made impure and making "concentrate", if you will, the "choice wine" God created us to be. Remember the whole idea of putting new wine in old wineskins? It makes sense right?

So Jesus comes along and his first miracle is what? Taking not just diluted wine and making it "the best wine"...but taking water itself, the very things that spoils the best wine and making it pure and whole and enjoyable. How cool is that?

The meanings in that are huge and numerous but for the sake of time let me just marinate on the idea that God is willing to take my broken containers, tainted with all I have been and have done in rebellion to my true calling and he makes "the best wine". He doesn't kind of make it tolerable or maybe, begrudgingly make it safe to consume...Jesus only makes one kind of wine...the best.

It seems overplayed but maybe we just aren't living it out so we need to overplay it...God is in the business of re-creating, purifying, making new and loving on us in ways that are amazing and beyond anything we can even imagine. So as much fun as I have had torturing the fundamentalist in my life, the wine was much more about God recreating me to a point that I no longer get great pleasure in tormenting people. It kind of gives new meaning to the whole idea of being drunk in the Spirit, no?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

God, Nature, Miracles and Accomplishment

Last night Jon Lester pitched a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox. No-hitters are special and rare. This one is a bit more unusual because Lester is the first left handed pitcher to do this in over 50 years. The real story here is the fact that Jon Lester has fought and defeated lymphoma in the past couple of years and in addition to being alive, he is alive and performing feats few ever have.

I think great victory in the face of cancer, serious injury or tragedy is why America fell in love with Lance Armstrong. Lance won the Tour De France 7 consecutive years. That is 2 more times than anyone has ever won it. While that is a great story and legacy the more amazing feat is that he did so after surviving, no...defeating testicular cancer. His testicular cancer was a germ cell cancer that had already aggressively spread to his brain and lungs, but it didn't prevent him from being a champion.

You may be asking yourself if Blake is in a sports mood. I always love sports but today I am thinking about fantastic achievement in the face of cancer, injury or some other tragedy. You see, my first cousin Lori has a daughter and twin sons. One of the twins, Rick, was participating in spring training football practice 11 days ago when a simple slip changed his world and the world of everyone around him forever. Rather than tackling with proper technique like he has done well for years, he slipped and made contact with his head. He initially thought the radiating pain in neck and arm was a simple, yet painful "stinger" or pinched nerve. His opinion instantly changed when he lost all sensation and ability to move on his right side. Every football players worst fear had just come true. Rick played his last down of football and was now paralyzed. A short time later he was being life-flighted in a helicopter to Huntsville so he could receive better medical care than was afforded him in our smaller hometown.

Rick isn't ordinary and shouldn't be underestimated. Despite the negative prognosis, Rick began to erase his probable fate of using a wheelchair as his determination and grit lead him to fight back and not accept life with a handicap. Feeling began to return as his family prayed. As Rick would have sensation return, he would work diligently...and people would pray. The cycle continued until he and God turned what should have been months of rehabilitation and a lifetime of disabilities into 5 days of treatment and 3 days of rehabilitation. Thankfully and with great praise I can now report that he is home and compared to his earlier condition, he is doing just fine.

Rick's mother, Lori, said something when I saw her in the rehabilitation facility that really hit home for me. She said that she just kept praying and reading scripture even when she didn't feel like it and even when God didn't seem near. I instantly thought, "YES!"...that's exactly the point of faith and an intimate walk with the Father. Lori experienced true faith, actual intimacy and displayed a level of maturity few ever will at the bedside of her son. For example, am I only married when marriage is fun, easy or comfortable? Of course not. I am married every minute of every hour. When it is easy and when all hell breaks loose. I can't escape my marriage when it is fulfilling nor when it is lacking...I am married. In the same way, God is God all the time. When God blesses us with life and when God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, God is relevant and God is real. Did Lori just arrive at this place of faith? Was this lone event the only catalyst in her life to produce such mature faith? No. She has walked with God and spent time with her Father long before this event...and that made all the difference.

I would also suggest that other family members have modeled for Lori maturation and faith. Lori has two aunts, my mother being one of them, that have sat at the bedside of their children with very different outcomes. Lori has attended funerals of her cousins, knowing that their mother's prayed and fought with all they had...seemingly in vain. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that the thoughts crossed Lori's mind of the times prayer didn't lead to life. If they did cross her mind I pray she also saw the continuation and growth of faith in those moments by her aunts.

Lori also has an even closer example of grit, determination and the transformation of a Godly woman. Lori's mother and my aunt, Lynda, was diagnosed a few years back with colon cancer. She has had a reprieve at one point but today continues to battle cancer with great boldness, courage and zeal. Lynda has allowed her diagnosis to focus her eyes with more clarity on her Father and has fought the temptation to allow her diagnosis to define or limit her. Recently her youngest child told me, "she does what she wants to". Knowing Lynda, I am encouraged and incredibly proud of her for that attitude and fight but I would be lying if I said I was surprised.

C.S. Lewis said the primary difference in "nature" and "miracles" is the amount of time involved. If I plant a seed and months later I pick a vegetable from a plant, I call it nature. If I put a seed in the ground and instantly a bush forms and a vegetable is produced, it is a miracle. In the case of Rick's recovery, Lori's faith, My mom and Sue's loss and Lynda's continuing battle it seems that time is everything. Rick exceeded time expectations, Lori's faith wasn't confined to the times she "felt like it", time continues to heal the families broken by loss and Lynda daily lives life, fully enjoying time with friends and family.

God is real, prayer is powerful and the drive and determination of the people of God makes all the difference in the world. May we continue to be challenged to walk more intimately with God, to love others more passionately and to fulfill a mission of Jesus by living more abundantly. I personally thank God for allowing me to witness those around me who abide in Him. God is really good!!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Beaten and Winning?

At first today I thought I would write about the church that has filed a restraining order to keep someone with autism out of their church. I'm afraid though that my writings about that would contain massive amounts of profanity and could possible incite riots. I will simply state about that moronic church...what the hell!!! (literally)

What I will really write about today is the ways in which we typically label "victory", "success", and even "abundant life". Anyone that has spent any time at all in a church knows that Jesus came to give us abundant life...but what does that mean? I think we typically think less as a realist and more as a hedonist. Hedonism is when people seek pleasure and avoid pain. Christianity for many people is a shame reducer, guilt deflector and an overall license for hedonism to the name of Jesus, of course.

What I mean by that is that if I am not dead or dying, I haven't had a diagnosis of cancer, I am not sad, depressed, lonely, hungry, etc...then I am victorious, successful and obviously being blessed by God. However, if people are treating me poorly, I don't have enough money, I am sick, I hate my job, it is raining outside or my kids are acting like they have no discipline (they are 2, 3 and 5 years old), well then I have to ask "where is God?"..."Why am I suffering so?"..."I thought if I tithed, prayed, went to church and am nice to people, life would be easy, fun and well, can I say easy again?"

That sounds silly when I read it and though we may never admit that we feel that way...don't we? I know at times in my life I have been a bold, prophetic warrior when things were going well but, add the case of the flu, marital conflict or money crunches and it becomes so easy to climb into a corner and retreat. I assume others have been there too.

And what about something beyond behavior? What about how I feel and how near I think God is? I think this is where we believe the great lie of "perception is reality". Perception is just that, perception. My perception isn't reality and in fact my perception usually just reveals my skewed theology, pet sins or areas of insecurity. The great people in the Bible reveal that their perception is as skewed as mine. David asks "How long will you forget me Lord, forever?"...and what about Jeremiah accusing God of seducing him and raping him? Are those cases of accurate perceptions?

So what does it mean if life really sucks right now...for whatever reason? It means I am still alive. It means I continue to make this journey and it means that God is still God. I am convinced that God is utterly unconcerned about my comfort but his is obsessive about my transformation.

I have a friend who is currently going through a tough time. She has endured radiation, surgery, procedures and she feels worn down, beaten up and defeated. Is she defeated...even if she feels that she is? No. Is she doing something wrong and being punished? No. Is she human, alive and continuing to grow in her walk with God? Yes. The point about growth with God is that my growth or her growth or your growth is a process. As a process the growth or progress can't be measured in feelings or even behavior. God uses the things in our lives, whether good or bad, for his glory. Even our sin, gives God the avenue through which to glorify himself and accentuate his mercy, grace and boundless love.

In a recent message my friend said she has even allowed her condition to limit her writing. I smiled when I read that...for two reasons. First, because I greatly understand where she is coming from. Second, because I thought to myself, "your words are still being read by all those who know you and are coming in loud and clear". God is not far off, God is not finished and neither are we. "Keep pressing on toward the upward call of Christ" (Philippians 3). And smile!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Days That Never Happened

Have you ever had a day that you wish never occurred? Me too. Even in the Bible you can find people cursing the day they were born. Do you have any idea what happened October 4-October 15, 1582? Go ahead, try to find any event listed on those dates...try to find someone born won't find anything because those days never happened. No, I'm serious, those days don't exist.

How did that many days never happen? Where did they go? Well, those days were wiped away and technically never happened. That is when the Western world transitioned to the Gregorian Calendar and to make it all fit some days had to be erased. I think that's really cool. If you met someone on October 3rd, 1582 the very next day you could proclaim, accurately be the way, that you had known them almost 2 weeks.

So what of the days before the Gregorian Calendar? Should one use the Julian Calendar to mark events prior to October 1582...which is what was changed to the Gregorian? If you run the Gregorian Calendar in reverse it is referred to as the Proleptic Gregorian Calendar. What is really neat and really insightful to me is that this one event...that occurred relatively recently in the scope of world that it has become accepted. No one even speaks in terms of Gregorian Calendar as compared to the Julian, ISO, Unix, Mayan, Persian, Islamic or Hebrew Calendars. We just accept that today is May 16th, 2008. If I implied that today is May 3rd, 2008 (Julian) I would be right...but not according to everyone around me. If I proclaimed today is 11 Iyyar 5768 (Hebrew) I wouldn't be wrong. I am wishing you Happy 1429 Jumada I-Ula 10 (Islamic) and you shouldn't technically be confused by this. When it is all said and done though, today isn't any day other than May 16th, 2008. So what?

What else do we accept as law, fact, or truth that in reality has not always been? What Biblical "truth" do we accept without realizing that a time existed when our assumptions would seem silly or even irreverent? I suppose many such assumptions exist...but here's a few I can think of:

Church: Today we ask people where they go to church. That kind of language isn't found in the Bible and it would have been a strange question to anyone in the first 300-400 years (at least) of Christianity. We are asking in effect, "when you go to a place to fulfill your religious obligations, where is it?". The first, and arguably most fundamentally sound followers of Jesus knew nothing of that kind of talk. They were followers of Jesus and if you lumped them together they were an Ecclesia or church...not based on location, creed or doctrine, but because they had exchanged their former lives for the life God had for them.

Morals/Ethics: This one is simple. How many things do we accept today that were never accepted just a few years back? My grandmother was for all practical purposes an atheist. However, I knew that "trashy shows" like Three's Company were not to be viewed at her house. She couldn't believe that men and women would live together unmarried...even if they had separate rooms. Of course that's just one example but you get the idea.

Alcohol: I remember being amazed as a child when I heard a missionary from Germany discussing that his entire congregation would go to a local pub for lunch after church each Sunday. I thought it was weird that christians would even attend a bar...and then he mentioned his congregation drinking beer and toasting one another while at the pub. AMAZING!
Now as an adult I think it isn't amazing at all. What is amazing is the hypersensitivity we have in the Bible-belt regarding alcohol. The truth is, Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton for a reason. Jesus made wine for people who were already drunk yet he never sinned. The founding fathers of this country who many like to insist were christian men (and I suppose they were) spent on average 20% of their yearly income on Rum...RUM for goodness sakes...and Benjamin Franklin made a really cool statement: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy". Enjoy a nice pint of brew or your favorite libation and isn't the faith issue we have assumed it to be.

Sex: Good Lord (literally) where to start? The hypersensitivity we have in this area makes the sensitivity we have regarding alcohol look minuscule. Simply put, God created is good. When christians learn to live out a more Biblical worldview regarding sexuality, perhaps the world will be more willing to hear other things we say. As long as we allow the world to dominate and define a creation of God I think we will continue to miss the blessing of sexuality and disappoint God.

I could go on but it would be better if I didn't type from now until May 4th or 5th...which would be one or two days from now had things never changed. I guess the point is for us all to put down our preconceived notions, traditions and prejudices and FREAKIN' THINK! That would be really nice and that would lead to great freedom for us all.

Have a great 1387 Ordibehesht 28...that's tomorrow for those of you not familiar with the Persian Calendar

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sissy Adventures

I am prone to the radical. I am likely to do temporary things like shave my head or grow a beard but am also likely to do lasting things like marry a woman I had known for only 8 months, 6 months if you count my time out of the country. I may go live among African tribes and I might even do it twice. I may get bored one summer and enlist in the U.S. Army for 6 years. I may take a strange Alabama Co-Ed to the 2000 Orange Bowl (I can't overstate how completely platonic it was and how the use of the word "strange" is not an accident). I may embarrass my wife by correcting a note my son's teacher sends home and writing on the note "-4" and sending it did contain a dangling participle and I hate it when flighty women with a degree in elementary education pretend they are the absolute authority on raising children. I may fake a car wreck to get my wife to her Birthday Surprise party. I may be found at a Jewish Sabbat service. I have attended an exorcism and I have done CPR on 3 different people...for the record I am 1 for 3 though my lone positive outcome was in 12 different newspapers and one national magazine. I may speak on a panel of "medical experts" (which was laughable on many levels) for the Alabama Department of Public Health's nationwide CME program one day and be invited to be on an MTV documentary on prescription drug abuse the next. I have attended AA meetings though I am not an alcoholic and I was once honored by the Huntsville Chapter of the Civitans Club for simply cooking chicken over an open fire...which by the way lead to one of the two times I endured Salmonella. Which leads to another thing...I have had salmonella, giardia and malaria so I feel as though I am a walking petri dish. I once provided marital counseling to a couple-he had only one arm and was a crack addict but she was cheating on him so I feel as though it kind of averaged the way, they divorced. I have been bitten by a poisonous snake, I have seen a black Mamba..though thankfully that wasn't the snake that bit me. A baboon tried to get into my car once and I was once being tracked by a cheetah...a real one. I was sexually harassed by a "Cougar" boss I once had and I once had a breast biopsy with no anesthesia.
The more I write the more I feel like Forrest Gump so that's enough about me for now.

While I have had to settle down a bit since getting married and having children I still have thoughts about taking my family to some far away place to live off the land, be a farmer or even take the CIA up on their offer from several years back (It's amazing what a security clearance can get you down the road). I love the thought of doing something radical, something outside of the box and something adventurous. I was daydreaming about something cool to do today and it hit me that the most spontaneous, weird or unorthodox things I have done isn't adventurous enough. I can pretend that I have lived a wild life but it will be just that...pretending.

I did indeed do all of the things above...and those are just the tip of the iceberg...but from a spiritual place I find something saying, "so what". I hear that some people try to live a life to compensate for ego issues, insecurities or something else...and maybe I have. Maybe rock climbing up the face of a cliff is crazy but it is nothing compared to the ultimate adventure. Perhaps people applaud those who stare death in the face and smile...personally I sweat and become really mean and judgemental when that has happened to me...but death doesn't hold a candle to real adventure. Just like everything else in this world, the best adventure I can conjure up is a Sissy Adventure compared to the adventure of following God with no regard for personal safety or personal advancement.

Not a single great character in the Bible became great without a period of time in the wilderness...usually alone and usually in less than ideal circumstances. Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Jacob, Joseph, David, Paul, John and even Jesus had wilderness experiences.

Joshua, once he entered the Promised Land...a land that was full of people who wanted to kill him and his people was ordered by God to do something crazy...and arguably adventurous..."circumcise yourself". Now I have been in some fights in my life and I don't think one of them would have ended well if I had been circumcised just prior to the fight.

The relatively young disciples are just getting the hang of being around Jesus and who does he end up dealing with? A naked, demon possessed about your crazy friends. And what of the sleep habits of Jesus? He sleeps when all hell is breaking loose in a storm at sea but doesn't sleep during calm nights because he wishes to pray. And what about the value system of Jesus? He came to set the captive free and did for the woman with bleeding, the woman caught in adultery and many blind people...but his cousin, John, was beheaded and Jesus never went to set him free...he just sent what amounted to a postcard..."The blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk". If I am John I am thinking, "and what about those who are to be beheaded?"

Maybe our desire for mountain climbing, mountain biking, skydiving and other forms of adventure are just attempts to fill the gaping void left by not having true adventure with God. The idea of fasting for 40 days is scary to me...but isn't real adventure found when confronting fear and overcoming the natural tendency to avoid pain? Leading my wife and sons spiritually is a hard task..but adventure by design isn't supposed to be easy. Selling out to God and submitting my agenda to His will is uncomfortable...but adventure isn't for the faint hearted...and passionately following God, recklessly following Jesus and blindly opening ourselves to His Spirit isn't for the faint hearted either.

May we all choose God and the amazing adventure he makes available to us...if we do, jumping from a plane, volunteering for Ranger School or eating rotten fish in a West African village will be no big deal.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Yesterday my dad went to visit his mother. She lives in a nursing home and has for several years now. She went to live in a nursing home after having many strokes that erased her memory to a degree that she was a threat to herself. She has dementia but there is no difference in her and a usual Alzheimer's patient.

I haven't been to see her in a few years. That sounds cruel and harsh and perhaps it is. I last saw her at Christmas time when she still lived at home. She answered the door that day and had no clue who I was. I was already married and had 2 of my three sons at that point but she didn't know she was looking at her only son's son (me), nor did she know that she was in the presence of her great-grandsons. My grandfather invited me in and while we sat around and visited for a bit my grandmother continued to watch us with some degree of skepticism. It was like she didn't trust who we were or thought we might steal something. Though I spent some time with my dad's parents as a child, they were never really close to me and never made it a point to be in my life to any significant degree. With that said, I must sadly admit that my main concern regarding that aspect of my life is for my dad and the emotions he must feel as he asked his mother yesterday if she knew who he was and her simply, yet sure reply was, "No".

It has to be a massive hit to hear what you thought to be true...your mother isn't capable of recognizing you. In so many ways that moment may mark for him her death. In my twisted sense of reality I no longer thought of her as being alive in my world when she didn't know me. Relationships exist on the continuation of knowing one another.

My thoughts instantly go to Jesus possibly saying to me at the culmination of the ages, "Depart from me, I never knew you"...but initial thoughts aren't always the ones to write about.

My second thought turns toward the utter pain that Jesus must experience in that very moment. Let's face it, while it is horrific for the family, my grandmother is feeling no emotional pain from her current state. Jesus on the other hand must hate the idea that one day he must announce the truth and culmination of one's life to that person.

That makes me want to live better...and I don't mean just morality to the extreme...I mean live life in love with God. It also makes me want to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Obviously the shell of my grandmother lives on but it is absent of what does it matter. In the same way, what does it matter if I know about God and even read the Bible and even live according to some rules I read about in the Bible if there is never a relationship? If you think about it, isn't it the religious that Jesus tells he didn't know? They did things in His name...but no relationship. He was there at their creation...but no relationship. Why not get to know Jesus on a deep, intimate level? Otherwise we soon realize that life void of relationship is no life at all.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"One Particular Harbour" and Clarity

One Particular Harbour (by Jimmy Buffett)
I know I don't get there often enough
But God knows I surely try
It's a magic kind of medicine
That no doctor could prescribe
I used to rule my world from a pay phone
And ships out on the sea
But now times are rough
And I got too much stuff
Can't explain the likes of me
But there's this one particular harbour
So far but yet so near
Where I see the days as they fade away
And finally disappear
But now I think about the good times
Down in the Caribbean sunshine
In my younger days I was so bad
Laughin' about all the fun we had
Lakes below the mountains
Flow into the sea
Like oils applied to canvas
They permeate through me
And there's that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
Most mysterious calling harbour
So far but yet so near
I can see the day when my hair's full gray
And I finally disappear
Some people like the beat of music...and that's OK with me, but if I can have my choice I will take great lyrics any day over any musical aspect of a song. My tastes in music are as eclectic as most every aspect of my life. I enjoy everything from the William Tell Overture composed by Gioachino Rossini to Detroit Rock City by Kiss. I love U2, Take 6, Hank Williams, Jr., Ricky Skaggs, Lynard Skynard, Fairfield 4, Byron Cage and The B52's. Believe it or not I once actually dabbled in The Dead Kennedys and The Butthole Surfers...that was a fun time in life and interesting to say the least. When it is all said and done though I go back to the lyrics. To me the best lyrics come from people like Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson and even Billy Joel.
One Particular Harbour was my late brother's favorite song by Buffett and I really wanted to hear that today for some reason. Those lyrics really touch me because Jimmy is singing about a comforting place in life that is often just our of reach. Things, schedules and stuff continue to be obstacles to that one particular harbour. It's as though the place he really wants to be is hidden from him by the life he is living.
For me, the place where I long to be and the place where I often find myself are so different. Why? Is it the difference between my stated beliefs and my core beliefs? Is it the fact that I just don't exercise the discipline to produce the outcome I desire? Do I really not long to be in that good place? Maybe the simple truth is hidden by the complex perception?
Maybe I am exactly in that one particular harbour and I just don't know it. Maybe I wake up daily in that Harbour and despite how far I walk and how much I doubt, I never leave that Harbour. There is so much comfort in that thought...I hope it's true. I think God speaks about a Harbour through David in Psalm 139.
Psalm 139:1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.
It seems that when we go to sleep, when we wake and when go about our lives God is there, present and paying attention. The Creator of Peace walks with us. The Inventor of Life is near. The Designer of Grace hovers about us, extending all we need. Still that One Particular Harbour of God is hidden by the dense fog we allow to settle in our lives. That's how God can be so close, yet seem so far. Maybe the Harbour isn't about a place because maybe it is so much more simple than that. Maybe the Harbour is about vision and that vision affecting our attitudes. I can allow bitterness, resentment, guilt and shame to cloud my vision of the Harbour to the degree that I even deny the existence of the Harbour or I can see clearly.
Jesus once spit in the eyes of a blind man and it only partially healed him. He could see but not with any great degree of clarity. So he did it again and the man was completely healed. I don't think Jesus misjudged the amount of blindness the man had and I don't think he just botched it. I think Jesus was showing us that even though we have been saved, maybe we need another touch. Maybe we need to have another touch so we can clearly see the Harbour in which we live and maybe seeing that Harbour will allow us to rest in Him. When we see with His clarity we can stop searching for our Harbour and begin to live for others in hope that they also will join us in God's One Particular Harbour..."Then I see the day when my hair's full gray and I finally disappear". May it be so...and soon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wealthy Swingers and the Amish

My wife recently shared some shocking news with me. Maybe I shouldn't have been shocked when considering the duplicity and multiplicity of life as most of us know it. Apparently the two most affluent areas in Birmingham have rather large swinging groups. Now for those of you who have been living under a rock, swinging is the practice of "non-monogamous sexual activity". That definition seems a bit sanitized so let's just say it is the practice of couples, usually married, participating in sexual activity with other couples or groups..."wife-swapping".

Now for the record and to be "fair and balanced" I must give you some stats on swingers/swinging.
1. 60% said that swinging improved their relationship; 1.7% said swinging made their relationship less happy. Approximately 50% of those who rated their relationship "very happy" before becoming swingers maintained their relationship had become happier.
2. 90% of those with less happy relationships said swinging improved them.
3. Swingers rate themselves happier ("very happy": 59% of swingers compared to 32% of non-swingers) and their lives more "exciting" (76% of swingers compared to 54% of non-swingers) than non-swingers, by significantly large margins.
4. And for those who claim this "lifestyle" is androcentric, There was no significant difference between responses of men and women, although more males (70%) than females completed the survey.
In an ABC Investigative Report about swinging not one of the 12 marriage counselors interviewed advised couples not to swing. They stated that swinging typically increases intimacy and dramatically increases levels of confidence for the women involved as they feel a sense of control.
The problem with stats produced by swingers is the people who don't answer the questionnaires. People who have divorced after entering the lifestyle or the people who have left the lifestyle after intense jealousy or acquiring a disease aren't polled. The overly positive stats are skewed at best and most likely should be considered confounded in the truest sense of the word.

So what has lead the presumably wealthy people to be attracted to a lifestyle of swinging? They have money, status, family, luxuries...the things most people strive for their entire lives. Yet they want more. What about sex with a single spouse isn't enough? What about a lifestyle of relative ease and financial security leaves some lacking?

The polar opposite of the affluent swingers may well be the Amish. They are more than content with modest homes, outdated farming methods and one wife. They mostly live off the land and are so "plain" they even avoid having "fancy" things like electricity, cars and clothing with buttons (zippers apparently are fine). On the surface it would seem the lives of the wealthy people of status would be much preferred to that of the simpletons. However...and of course there is always a "however"...

I have had the absolute honor to befriend an Amish community in East Tennessee. They are calm, relaxed and devout. I envy their simple lives, simple aspirations and utter reliance on God. The community I have met is the lone open Amish community in the world. That is to mean that they are not "ordnung"...they speak English in their services and invite non-Amish to their services. Interestingly enough they have to find a new farm to hold their converts...that's right, Amish conversions.

Last October Brook and I were blessed by riding our Mountain Bikes through their community. We met several rather delightful people. One woman was new to the community. She had a simple beauty and a great spirit about her. She and her husband converted in 2007. They have a son serving in the Army as a helicopter pilot and her husband was a computer programmer and Baptist Pastor for 16 years. They had enough of the "I need more lifestyle". They were finished with the complexity of life and the struggles we all face as we attempt to live out our faith in such a complex culture. So they exchanged the lives focused on acquiring, obtaining and expanding for a life that is content. Content with what? Just content.

Here's the crux of the matter for me. My life, of course absent of the sexual aspect, looks a lot more like that of the wealthy swingers than that of the simple Amish. My aspirations often include extravagance rather than the plain. Living an abundant life for me includes things that are not abundant nor life giving. Admittedly, if my current lifestyle was played out to its logical conclusion, it would be much more of a stretch to live like the Amish than like the Swingers. Of course these two lifestyles are not the only options but often the extreme, absurd or grotesque are valuable in being made aware of ones brokenness and need of God's grace. Some know this as an aspect of via negativa (see previous post).

I pray that as Brook and I continue to make plans in life for our families that the only swinging we will be doing is swinging toward a life of simplicity and the only thing we will be seeking more of is more of God in our lives. Anything less will be futile, banal and disappointing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Church-enstein and Croatians That Convict

"Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so reapid, the overthrow so complete." (from Frankenstein By Mary Shelley)

Jesus came to set the captive free but my personal religious experiences have not at all lead to freedom. In fact, I often feel shackled by "church-ianity" and the ways in which I have experienced the more institutionalized faith of today. It seems that the typical current model of American church doesn't function unless fear and spiritual slavery is added to the mix in healthy measures.

I often have to remind myself of the sentiments of the Croatian Theologian, Miroslav Volf. I take from his book, Exclusion and Embrace, the timely and convicting message that my reaction to evil, abuse or injustice can be just as evil and ungodly as the initial offense. If I am honest I must report that often the anger and sarcasm I direct toward "church" is rooted in the expectations and dreams I once held for "church". There is a word used to describe such expectations and dreams...idolatry.

Attributing saving power or absurdly high hope to anyone or anything other than God is idolatry. I have mistakenly used "church" and "God" or "Jesus" interchangeably. Why else would it be necessary for one to attend church? Whether we admit it or not, we believe that is where we encounter, commune and experience God. Why else would it so wound when ministers and pastors cheat, lie and steal? We elevate them as "super-christians" and we even compensate them as "professional-christians"...don't we all make a living with work we are gifted, experienced or educated to do? Why else would church doctrine increasingly stray with scripture over time? Why else would people blend preference and scripture to a degree that canonizes preferences? I just feel that we ascribe a worth, a holiness and a necessity to the institution of church and the nominalization of "christians" that isn't in step with God's intent for His people and His church.

It is just so easy to protect our positions. It is so easy to have an opinion that can be substantiated by a Bible verse. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to other verses not as clear cut or not in favor of our positions. It is so hard to wrestle with scripture...its meaning, its intent and the ways in which we can live faithfully according to scripture.

Mark Twain wrote, "men and rivers both become crooked when the easy way is taken". In my opinion, the easy way has been taken by the people of God and churches in general for far too long. I can't change that fact, I am not capable of something that huge. What I can do though is to continue to humbly put my frustration, anger and hopes at the foot of the Cross. I can be an agent of change through proactive behavior and attitudes. I can assure that my reaction to what I consider to be a hijacking of faith and gross injustice in the name of God does not lead me into a place of impurity, harshness or any place void of the grace of the whom and for whom it is all about anyway.

Maybe one day the "bitterness of disappointment" and dreams that have become a hell for me will only refer to the disappointment and shattered dreams known outside the embrace and presence of God. I pray that the "overthrow so complete" will only refer to the degree to which I have yielded to the agenda set before me by God and God alone. May it be so.

Mother's Day

I know typically Mother's Day is a day when women are honored for their goodness, kindness, sacrifices and love. The tendency seems to be to honor all women for all things, but today I feel like really writing about my wife. I can say a million things about her in general...but what about her as a mother to our 3 boys?

Brook has a strength and endurance any Kenyan marathon runner would envy. When sleep has been little and work has been plentiful she keeps going...well, that actually isn't enough of the truth. She keeps going with grace and that grace makes all the difference in the world. Even during the most difficult days she pauses to kiss a scraped knee or put a Band-Aid on a "wound" that isn't even bleeding. When she faces the choice of self or the boys (or me for that matter) she chooses to be self-sacrificial and daily shines the very light of Jesus into our home and into the lives of the boys. She is up early 7 days a week preparing herself through journaling and reading for the day that is ahead of her. She plans events for the boys that will be very difficult for her and her only compensation are happy boys, smiles, hugs and kisses...and with her gentle and transformed heart, that is enough for her.

I wonder if she even realizes what she is doing and what she has created in the long term? I wonder how often she pauses, or is even able to pause, to think about the character, integrity and Godliness she is displaying and instilling in our sons? Does God ever allow her a glimpse of the well adjusted husbands and fathers that lead their families and others in a way that honors God and her? I pray that she knows that her daily tasks, though they seem mundane and void of lasting value, impact me, her sons and their future generations. Brook radiates too brightly, influences so positively and loves too exhaustively to not impact, influence and forever change everyone she touches. Our sons are forever blessed and much better than they otherwise would be because God saw fit to place them in the love and care of their Mom. That single fact alone has made and will continue to make all the difference in the world...literally.

My quandary isn't how wonderful Brook is or how great she is as a mother. My greatest difficulty is deciding what to get her for Mother's Day. I have no clue what to get her and I now only have 4 days to figure it out. If she were average, usual or typical my decision would be so much easier. But she isn't average in any way. She doesn't know the definition of the word, "usual" and "typical" has never accurately described Brook. Regardless of what I get her I am sure of one will in no way appropriately reflect her worth, her radiance or the love felt for her by the 4 boys she blesses every day. Knowing Brook though, she will smile and be gracious no matter how short my efforts fall. That's just another reason why I fall in love with her all over again each day.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Expectations of Process

I am 32 years old. I am certainly not an old man but I am too old to ever use youth, immaturity or inexperience as a viable excuse for a major mistake. Last night I went with a friend of mine to the local minor league baseball game. These kids were walking around with beers and I had to face the harsh reality that these "kids" were of legal age and therefore had to be at least 21 years old. These "kids" can legally vote, carry a weapon, drink alcohol and sign contracts. So to say the least, I felt dated.

So the next logical step for me is self evaluation. Where am I in life? How am I doing in my walk with God? My marriage? What kind of father am I? The only measuring stick I have in these areas is to think about what I always wanted to be and to look around me at how others are doing. But there is a huge problem with these attempts to measure. My expectations were formed without the benefit of experience and the opinions I have of others is based on extremely limited information about them. Not to mention, without the benefit of seeing how the lives of others turn out, I am still dealing with a lack of experience. So where do I turn?

In order to best determine if I am on the right path I think it is best to go to the One who created the path and created me to walk on the path. My natural tendancy would be to get a check list together, compose a list a Bible verses through which I can compare my life or to conjure up a great program to work in order to land at some favorable place. As comfortable, predictable and challenging as that may be I can't bring myself to do it.

While God is a God or order and while I know He has certain expectations of me, I know that God's goal for me is a process. It isn't a program, schedule or mandated is process. How else could the murdering Moses lead the people of God? How else could the murdering, cheating David be "a man after God's own heart"? How else could the denial of Peter be understood by Jesus? How else could James deny his brother's diety early in life only to lead others to him later in life? Process.
Why else would we be referred to as God's children? Do children grow, change, make mistakes? Sure they do and in fact, we expect them to. Why else would we be referred to as the bride of Christ? I know my wife and I are better to one another than we were, more in love than ever and enjoy a depth that wasn't possible when she was first my "bride". With all of that stated, the Bible seems to teach about a faith in a God that is all about process.

So am I in the process of "becoming"? Sure I am. Is right now a particularly high or low point in my walk with God, my marriage or as a father? It doesn't matter. Process implies the horrible and the fantastic, the slow and the fast, the hurt and the healing. Perhaps we are vulnerable to our over correction leading to mistakes, guilt and shame when we focus too much on the here and now or when we try to grade ourselves on today...or even on this week or this month.

Luther said, "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly still". Amen.
May we all live boldly in faith, in our relationships and even in our failures...but live out the boldness of the absurdity revealed to us on the Cross of Jesus in all aspects of the Process.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Church, Money and Giving the Church your Money

“They just want your money”. That can be said about several groups. Politicians, people who ask for money downtown and even corporate America. Unfortunately one other group says this and they often get away with it…church!

Why does the church need our money? The usual argument is so that the work of the Lord can be done. There are expenses incurred by churches. Typically, and I am aware of some exceptions, the actual church building, staff salaries and operating expenses take up the lion’s share of the money. No wonder we only equate the work of the Lord with things that happen at church buildings and with “church people”. No wonder the average Christian doesn’t lead any significant charge into the enemy’s camp or even feel that they have a responsibility to do so. We have been trained to financially support the professional Christians we label “pastor”, “preacher”, “reverend”, “priest” or “minister” through our secular jobs and the money we earn there.

Why do we even need a “church building”? The early church didn’t have buildings and frankly didn’t need them. They met in homes and in public places. Church buildings and properties were unheard of prior to Constantine adopting Christianity as the official religion of his empire. Yet we have them today and they cost a lot of money. If we are honest though, we must admit that the church building has little or no impact on “the Lord’s work”…especially on days other than Sundays. I would even argue the buildings that cost so much are detrimental to the work people claim to be about…but they do look nice.

Now to church staff…in my opinion the idea of an official minister is also a detriment to the Lord’s work. Let me add that I tread lightly here since some great friends of mine are ministers that are not typical and are not parasites, but with that said…if churches and Christian in general lived as they should professional ministers wouldn’t be needed. I said that I have friends who are ministers and from hearing about their ministries I can say with certainty that their job mostly entails “babysitting” Christians who should NOT require babysitting. Which came first? The baby Christians who never grew up spiritually or the professional ministers who continue to baby the spiritual infants and never hold them responsible or accountable for their own walk with God? Who knows…but I do know that the expense of mostly overpaid ministers is laughable at best and an abomination at worst.

So what does the New Testament say about giving money to the church organization? Nothing! In case you missed that or misunderstood let me state that again. NOTHING! The N.T. does provide an example of those who gave as they had the ability to give. (2 Cor. 8). We also read of the early church practicing of giving to people in need (Acts 2 and Acts 4). We are told that we are to give whatever we do in secret (Matt 6). We are told to give whatever we give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9). With all of that I still can’t find that we are commanded to give to a church organizational structure. Nor can I find that we are to support a building fund, staff salaries or any other things we typically hear that we should support.

So what does the Old Testament say about giving to God? God outlines well for us what His people should do in Deuteronomy 14. Let’s look closely for a minute…
Deuteronomy 14:
22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.
ok, so 10%...that’s easy, what’s next

23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. Wait a minute…we are to save a tenth of our production and then eat it as long as we do so in the presence of the Lord? What does that do? Oh, it teaches us to revere the Lord…got it

24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. so if I can’t get to the Temple I am to exchange my production for money, which the bank has already done for us…then what? I can use the money to buy WHATEVER I WANT? Sweet!!! Then we just enjoy what we purchase in the presence of the Lord and rejoice…got it

27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. Ok, Levites…are these not what we may today call ministers and therefore we have to give them money? NO NO NO. The Levites had no way in which to make money and never had an inheritance…ministers have plenty of other ways to make money and they are left an inheritance if their family has the financial means to do so…so this doesn’t count today.

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. every three years it sounds like the rules change a bit…how so? Well, apparently we are to use our tithe in the third year to care for the foreigners, fatherless and the widows. That sounds very Christ-like and very near the heart of scripture as a whole

So what about paying the mortgage on church buildings, paying staff salaries and making sure our pet “religious” projects happen? Nope. Nothing. It’s not in there…so then why in the hell do we do it and why in the hell are we asked to? I have an idea…let’s just say I intentionally used the word hell…but that’s just my opinion.