Sunday, June 29, 2008

10 years...and yet

June 29th is one of those days that stand out on my calendar. I don't have to circle many ways this day is circled for me. It is etched forever into the granite of my being. June 29, 1998 at 10:27pm Andy died at the age of 29 and many lives were forever changed.

Many of you don't know who Andy is so I consider it an honor to offer you an introduction...though you will have to understand that my words won't suffice and really will fall short in every way. Andy was my best friend, my buddy, my encouragement and my inspiration for the first 22 years of my life...and in so many ways that continues still. Andy was a cowboy...sure he rode bulls, broncs and roped some steers but what made him a cowboy was his free spirit. Andy did the right things regardless of cost. He was a man of integrity, always giving and serving beyond what others could ever repay. Andy knew God on levels that would make the most spiritual person envious...there just seemed to be a special bond between them. Andy is still so much to me and so much of an influence in my world...he is my big brother.

I miss him terribly and though today stands out more than others because of it being the day he walked the path we will all one day walk toward God, I don't miss him worse today than I did yesterday or than I will tomorrow. Loss is always loss and though time is used by God to redeem, God sometimes chooses not to ever completely heal the wounds left in the wake of loss. Even though my loss is profound I don't cry today for me.

The tears forming pools in my eyelids fall for others. I met my wife after his death so Andy isn't someone she was ever impacted by...personally anyway. My sons would have been Andy's delight. Children always flocked to him and he loved them...I know mine would have been priceless to him. I also know that when Andy took his last breath my children were robbed of his personal influence, of his insight, his unique smirky smile and of his goodness. My sons must wait until they see God to see Andy and for them I grieve intensely.

Of course my mom and dad will never be the same. On this day I remember mom's strength as she trusted God with the son he had entrusted to her just 29 short years before. Despite that strength I realize her eyes glisten and turn red still when she shares the story of her loss to be a blessing to others. On this day I remember how Dad and I were the last two to leave the hospital room and how we held each other, tears flowing freely, after his death...neither of us wanting to leave, but knowing we had no reason to stay. I remember how symbolic it was that I turned off the light in the room because life seemed over in more ways than one...and Dad, rightly so, calmly walked over and turned on a lamp...both of us knew Andy's light would live with us until we too drew our final breath.

Of course, the shadow cast by Andy's death wasn't and isn't too dark for God to see and work. Everything about Andy's life and death was really about God. Andy's final words were scripture...and to this day bring comfort. Countless prayers were lifted up for him and for us. Once Andy died, without prior thought or planning I ripped the Oxygen mask off his face, angry that it had needed to be there and longing to see his face without the earthly shackles once more I broke into to song...a praise of thanksgiving that God had delivered my big brother safely home. By the third or fourth word, as if it were rehearsed my Dad joined in and harmonized beautifully..."My Jesus I love Thee. I know Thou art mine. For Thee all the folly of sin I resign. My gracious Redeemer, my Saviour art Thou. If ever I love Thee, my saviour tis now". And I meant it...still do.

I little over a year ago my wife, boys, mom and I all went to the cemetery where my Brother's body is buried. We had all wandered off to look at other stones of people we knew or were related to when I noticed my oldest son Elijah had stayed behind. Though he never met Andy in this life, he has heard countless stories and feels as though he knows him. Elijah was kneeling at the grave of Andy and seemed to be praying. He had no clue I was behind him to hear his words. He so sweetly and so innocently asked, "Why you had to die so soon". I lost it because my 4 year old son had put into simple words the complex emotions with which I still wrestle. Elijah nor I have yet to receive an adequate answer and perhaps we never will in this life.

But God...aren't those two words powerful? I mean...we were all lost and headed to hell...but God. We would have never known real peace, joy or love...but God. And in the same way I am uplifted today by the same words. My brother is dead and gone forever...but God. But God. But God. God didn't cause my brother to die but God did take him to be forever in a place where sickness never comes and death is simply a thing of the past. God didn't cause our pain and God didn't sentence my sons to a life without an awesome uncle...but God knows my pain and knows that my sons don't have him in their lives. Life is not fair, justice is not always readily available and experiences often hurt...but God is good. I don't know the depth of his goodness but as I drop a proverbial rock off the cliff attempting to gauge the bottom...the very limits of God's goodness...I haven't heard the rock hit bottom yet. Because God is good I can trust him and because I can trust God I can love Him and because I can love Him I know that one day I too will join God...and Andy.

It has been 10 years...and yet...God's words, uttered as Andy's final ones continue to bring hope, comfort and courage...I leave you with them...from I Thess 4:13-18

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Beaten the House of God?

I am sad. I am always sad when I hear or read about people being stifled, faith being hindered or freedom being denied. My sadness often turns to anger when those things happen to followers of Jesus at the hands of others who claim to follow Jesus.

I just read an email from a friend. No matter how much this friend and their spouse (I'm being intentionally vague) invest in ministry, no matter how often they go above and beyond and no matter what God directs them to do...the church and in particularly the leadership of said church continues to degrade, belittle and discourage. I wish I had the words to say or the actions to display to them my love for them and my appreciation for how they answer the call of God and serve the Kingdom daily. I think any words I offer will fall short and any thing I do will in no way be adequate.

As I think back over history it seems that the primary obstacle for people freely following God has not been persecution, beatings or threats from the "world". A majority of killings, threats, beatings and even discouragement has and apparently continues to come from "church". "Church" seems to have ways of keeping you in line, making sure you don't challenge authority and insulating itself from people calling others back to intimacy with God. Sadly enough, the world of corporate church looks too much like a corporation...and operates like one too.

God, today I lift up all of the "prophets" following you and inviting others to do the same. Please protect them from the "priests" in your house...the ones who strive to complete daily, mundane tasks saturated with perfunctory duties, void of your Spirit. Let you light shine and please prevent those who claim to be your church from hiding, ignoring or quenching your light.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

In 1964 a mental hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan had 3 patients in their facility that claimed to be Jesus. Milton Rokeach, a staff member at the hospital, had a brilliant idea of how these three schizophrenic patients may assist in one another's treatment. His hypothesis went something like this...if we can put these three men together they will see the absurdity in their claims and essentially will assist one another in their healing. Rokeach thought that the worst case scenario might be for one of the men to have a more dominant personality and convince the other two men of his deity status and even that would be acceptable because then they would only have one patient with a "savior complex" rather than three. Had this experiment in treatment worked it would have been groundbreaking and could have revolutionized the ways in which the mentally ill are treated...but guess, what? Rokeach never could have imagined what happened next.

It seems that these three "Christs" did not cure one another. In fact, their kindness, willingness to compromise and creativity lead to additional issues for them. Rather than coming to the conclusion that none of them were Jesus or one of them convincing the other two that they were not Jesus, the three men decided that the Christ-like thing to do would be to divide up the responsibilities of Jesus so they could all effectively "co-reign" as the Messiah. I think one decided to be the Christ of Salvation while another took the role of the Christ of Miracles and the last was deemed to be the Christ of Service...I think its really nice for these men to share...something I try to teach my sons daily.

The complications from this were alarming. The three were not only mentally ill and sure that they were Jesus, but now they were also interwoven with the illnesses of others which makes any steps toward recovery much more difficult.

As weird as this sounds, I think it is not totally an unbiblical idea. Obviously, claiming to be Jesus is not a biblical idea but acting like Jesus is. Now I can't argue effectively that I should look like or be anyone who "saves" the traditional sense of the word, but I think being a Christ-like servant or a Christ-like giver or a Christ-like lover...absolutely.

Paul spends time writing about something on which I haven't heard a huge amount of teaching. Spiritual Gifts! This topic usually stays in the realm of speaking in tongues, prophesy and healing. That debate seems to have been run into the ground and people on neither side of that argument seem to have budged in any large numbers. What about the other gifts though?

1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

It seems that God does not intend for us all to hold and operate in every gift. For example, we all have the responsibility to love but some are especially gifted for teaching, administration and helping others. That's really cool because for me anyway, that removes a ton of pressure. All I have to do...and all you have to do, is live, behave and serve in the way(s) in which God intends...the ways God has already gifted us to do. But now comes a difficult part of that...

What are your gifts? In what spiritual gift(s) are you called to operate? In which ways has God created you to serve? Sadly, many of us have no clue about how we were made to best how do we find out? I don't know every way but I know that prayer isn't a bad place to start. And perhaps living sacrificially would be a good step. I might also suggest that we intentionally keep from conforming to the patterns, institutions, expectations, systems and attitudes of the world...look to God for those things as we ask God to conform us...or perhaps form us to what He has in mind for us. Why do I say that? Well, check out what Paul wrote in Romans 12...

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

There seems to be a causal effect between transformation by God and the renewing of our minds with being able to test and approve God's will. I ask you to join me this weekend as I focus more than usual on God's will and seeking God's transforming hand for my family. May God bless us all in our search for Him. Let's rest in the assurance offered by Jeremiah.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I bid happy seeking!!!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Racism...Regardless of Skin Color

Not all of my opinions are popular. In fact, some of my opinions flop like a joke I emailed my friend Howard. My attempt to provide some comic relief for him while in Kuwait went over like a pregnant pole vaulter. Some of my least politically correct opinions are in the area of race. I have really tried to stay away from some topics but with the current political pseudo-options we are facing and with the proverbial "race card" being played within said political BS, I figure now is a good time to say a few words.

The joke I sent Howard was about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I think these two guys in and of themselves are gigantic jokes...except their level of racism and elitism is no laughing matter. I have heard before that minorities can't be racist but that is one of the more absurd statements in the entire English language. Chris Rock, one of the funniest comedians I have seen in the past 10 years, makes this point for me in one of his acts. He asks the crowd, "Who is more people or white people?" He then answers his own question...and by the way, Chris Rock is black. "Black people are more racist because black people hate black people too". The crowd, which is largely black, laughs and the camera even scans the crowd as black people are laughing and nodding as if to say, "that's true Chris".

So imagine this, as a white guy I drive to a poor, black, neighborhood and stand in the street or in a some public forum and proclaim to the black people the following:
"Look, let's be honest with one another. You are for the most part stupid, uneducated and incapable of doing anything for yourself to better your situation. If you were like me, you would be smart, capable and educated but you aren't and that really sucks for you. But never fear, I have decided in the midst of my most benevolent soul to bless you and your poor, inept community with my talents. Since you aren't smart enough or articulate enough to speak for yourself...because you are black and we know black people just don't speak very well...I will go to Washington and talk to the other smart people for you. When I can get some publicity I will show up to lead a march, say a speech or do a TV interview...for you. I owe you nothing but for my kindness and for lending to you my time and talents I am going to need all of you to write a check or better yet, since we know blacks don't do well in the area of finances, just give me cash. I know you are on welfare and I flew in on my private plane but I still need your money if you want me to talk for you. I know you don't have a car and I just pulled up in my limo but pay that no mind. I know you have nothing and I have everything but who else can I live off of in some crazy parasitic relationship that you will not only allow...but welcome and even applaud."

I doubt that I would get through my little speech before being beaten, shot or stabbed...and rightfully so. Yet the "Reverends" Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton show up and say essentially the same things but they are applauded as heroes. It is racism in it most despicable form. As black men they should know better yet they continue to insure that future generations of poor, uneducated, black people remain poor and largely uneducated. May God have mercy on these racist men and the people they continue to royally screw.

OK, enough for now. I actually have a job and I actually have to do things because of said employment. Have a fun Thursday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crabs and Barnacles

I haven't typed anything...on here anyway, for several days now. Most people don't write because they have nothing to say. My most recent writing drought is because I have had too much to say. Thoughts have been flooding my mind at an alarming rate. The flooding aspect isn't new but when these thoughts seem to conflict with the other thoughts fighting for space in my brain it can all get a little weird and confusing.

Did you know that crabs avoid barnacles...and I don't mean that crabs kind of hope that they don't get barnacles...this is serious. It seems that barnacles absolutely love to eat the testes of crabs. Since the crabs tend to want to keep all of their 2000 parts they avoid barnacles and I can't say that I blame them. So what does that have to do with internal conflict? Glad you asked...

It seems that internal conflict for me often stems from the underlying issue of control and control is something that seems to stem from an underlying issue of trust. And who to trust? I am sure that at some point in history a crab thought the barnacle looked rather harmless, small and innocent so why not let the little guy hitch a ride...until, "CHOMP!" How many times did crabs have to experience an unexpected neutering at the hands...or mouth as it is in this case...of a seemingly harmless critter for them to learn not to trust the barnacle? From the word on the street, some crabs still trust and those unfortunate crustaceans now sing soprano.

Why in the world would anyone trust science...just in the last couple hundred years we have been absolutely positive about so many things that only later are proven to be absurd. We have "Known" all kinds of things. For example, Aristotle knew the Earth was the epicenter of the Universe, Ptolemy went on in the 2nd Century to improve on the Aristotelian Model by including the perfectly circular orbits the Sun and all FIVE planets took as they revolved around the Earth. Then this Polish Priest we know simply as Copernicus comes along in the 1500's and knows that Sun is the center of the Universe rather than the Earth. One hundred years later these two nerds decided to publically discuss some of Copernicus' ideas and somehow figured out that we could all rest assured in knowing that planets didn't revolve around the Sun in a circular silly...they really revolve around the Sun in a more elliptical pattern. Duh!

By the way, Copernicus didn't talk about his theories because he knew that he would labeled a "heretic" and the church would do to him what barnacles do to crabs...and no one wins in that case...well, maybe the barnacles win a little.

Speaking of seems that we have "known" all kinds of things spiritually as well. How many movements, revivals and rewrites have we had? I would argue we have had enough to muddy the waters for the rest of time and in effect it is now nearly impossible to even know the right questions to ask, much less the right answers to the right questions. To many, the fact that I might assume a "right" question could be asked is indicative of my opinions about faith. To further think a "right" answer could be given to any question among the world of ambiguity and experiential faith is as crazy as a crab inviting a bunch of barnacles over for dinner.

I may have found one thing to say, "Peace. Be Still" to my raging waves of thoughts, opinions and questions. 1 John 2:27.
"As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him."

As my mind has searched and searched for solutions to my most problematic theological issues God has once again used His Word to resolve not issues or the questions...but the anxiety over having something unresolved. I still don't have theodicy figured out. Eschatological manifestations still give me some trouble. Soteriological processes are confusing at best. I don't even know for certain that the planets move in elliptical orbit since I have never seen it happen. Finally, I don't have a clue why barnacles eat the testes off of crabs.

What I do know is Christ and Him Crucified. I also so that anything God wants me to "KNOW" will be taught to me or given to me by the very Spirit of God...and that's enough for now. Maybe the eunuch crabs walking around on the beach can take some solace in that as well....but I don't "know" if they will or not.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Greatest Love Affair

Memories, exhilarating ones flood her mind and in fact her spirit as she lives the moment a thousand times deep within her being. Deep within her being had never been touched, affected or torn apart in the ways he would have his way with her. How can one let go so much and be so reckless as to allow him the passage to her very heart. How can she hate herself so much for her childish vulnerability while loving so much his touch, his scent and even his wild heart? She should have never been able to return to her usual lover, her usual life…not once she had tasted passion, her new drug…the opium for her soul…but she did.
She returned and she paid the price…she still pays the price. Her husband can’t hold her without the overwhelming insecurity of another holding her tighter, ravaging her in new ways, better ways, ways she prefers to him. Her church can’t accept her, at least completely…hey will never forget-really forget how she lost her bearing and escaped to an irresponsible life, a wild love affair. Her family reaches out, but with fear and trepidation…never fully reaching her. How could one they have known for so long drifted so far from their teachings…even their examples? She is a woman without a secure home, an open church or a trusting culture…she is flawed, marked, soiled…and forever will be.
She has received her scarlet letter. She walks through her life now…desperately wanting to return to her life before her affair, desperately desiring her lover…how all else disappeared for a brief moment when he made love to her…real love, for the first time. She had been intimate with others…how utterly unfulfilling. It really made no sense to engage in something that left her more empty after an encounter…she looked in all the wrong places. With so much hurt and with such an incredible void…who could blame her for giving up? Who could point a finger at her…the whole world. Doesn’t anyone understand that she was simply refusing to be a misfit, a sheep-wandering through life without purpose, without intention…she isn’t one to give up, she is a fighter and she wouldn’t take her previous answers to be the truth. She couldn’t accept this world as it appeared to be and she would rather bear her scarlet “A” for the world to see and condemn than to die without ever having lived. But no party is held in her honor, no parade, not even a pat on the back. In truth, we don’t like people like that much because they serve…she serves as a reminder of what we want to be as she lives the life we want with a passion we only dream of…she is the thorn in the flesh of her marriage, her church. She is the fly in the ointment of her community…she is flawed.
She often loses sight of her heart, her dreams and her true desire. But her desires are kindled by an occasional landscape of an autumn day, a roaring fire on a cold night, the scent of blooms in spring or the collage of colors the sunrise presents on an early summer morning. The memories cast in her mind by her senses build to the point of climax, but continuing to exist seems safer, more responsible, more acceptable…what if she returned…she must not, what if she reach out to him and he returned to her…she can not…what if, what if, what if? That question often rolls down her cheek and finds a home on her pillow long after her current lover falls asleep…him fulfilled, her empty again, him selfish, her selfless, him on the throne of her mind but her knowing no one will ever recapture the throne of her heart…and the guilt that knowledge brings.
She occasionally lives without the constant weight of her guilt…but inevitably something happens, a movie, a conversation or maybe a story takes her back, reminds her of her scarlet mark and puts her in her proper place. She tries to rationalize her behavior by comparing it to others…but to no avail. Obviously, not all sin is equal…not in the eyes of men anyway. Even her attempts to rehabilitate, forget about her affair and loudly proclaim her redemption and restored soul…well, they fall short in light of her past and the apparent loudspeaker that announces her presence as the social leper she is…”Unclean, Unclean” the people proclaim. Now, they are never so bold as to use their voices to proclaim what she knows to be true…their eyes and secret thoughts are the weapons they choose anytime she wishes to escape her past, rekindle her flame for her current life and shed the gown of disgrace she is forced to wear daily.
Her path was straight for years…in the opinion of others anyway. Though she struggled with getting lost with her lover at times, she gradually would go a day without thinking of him…that would stretch to several days, a week, and even months would go by with his absence in abundance. But he was never dead…not really, not completely, not forever. Occasionally he would appear in her dreams or he would show up in a movie. A good book would bear his name, his personality or his words…eventually his call again grew louder, to the point she could no longer deny herself life, real life, a life of passion and a life of purpose.
One night after waking from a dream of him she flew silently from her bed and ran down her steps while putting on her robe. Responsible or not, wise or not, vulnerable or not…she must have him. The words of her husband, the opinion of the church and the gown bearing her “A” all combined weren’t powerful enough to keep her away from him…so she ran, she ran fast, until she could run no more and she continued still. Her chest heaving, her eyes moist, her mind raising and her intentions sure, she ran to his arms. So strong, so firm yet so safe and so tender. He held her tight, not saying a word at first. She wanted to assure him of her real feelings, but her sobbing in relief said more than her words could ever say. His eyes, burning with the hottest fire met hers and she knew his heart never changed, he was always there, always waiting, always longing…for her. His words of assurance were few but powerful, his touch was quenching her desire deep within her and his future for her was clear…her future was with him, forever. Her thoughts of the others and what they would say and think seemed less than important…he was the focus, he was the prize and he was the delayed gratification. Being with him again only caused her one doubt…what took so long?
She wanted to remove her gown, to strip herself of the “A”, the very letter and the very color that marked her for years. The tools of grief, embarrassment and guilt…the very emblems used to shame her, control her and remind her often of him…the very thing they wanted. The very poison she was forced to drink by her world only further substantiated her need for him and now she had to strip this from her…she could finally be whole, she could finally be free from labels and prejudices…but he said she couldn’t and that she must keep it on, she must continue to wear her “A”…her heart sank, no, it shattered into a thousand pieces. Was he no different, was he concerned with keeping her down and reminding her of her past? Reading her mind lead to his heartfelt words to her:

“My lover, you have borne this letter because of me, actually at my direction and at my command. It wasn’t to curse you or cause you pain…though I know it did. It was to remind you of me. When your world became too comfortable…you would think of me. When your world became to uncomfortable…you would think of me. I gave you sunrises and sunsets. I came to you in your dreams…so you would think of me. I never let you go, not really, but I let you go far enough to remind you of me, and how much you want me, need me…how much you love me and how much I love you. While what you called your scarlet letter was there for anyone to see, I took pride in what is really my crimson mark on you because it always assured me of your eventual return. I am strong enough for you to leave and I am strong enough to call you back. You can do it again…though I beg you not to…I am strong enough for us both in your weakness and in your forgetfulness. What you have to know, what knowledge will be come wisdom and even allow you to lead others who bear the same crimson stain is that your “A” has never stood for adultery…not since I rolled the stone away. You are not an adulterer…you are accepted, able, acknowledged, approved and will live always…that is your “A”, given to you by me. Because you sought deeper, you sought me and I am always found by those who seek me. Because you did, you are mine forever and we will live out the greatest love affair of all. “

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Jar Beneath the Apple Tree

Persecution, tragedy and trials are an ebony canvases on which the bright light of goodness shines so brightly. It is often through the worst of times that the best in people is illuminated and through the goodness of God poured through human action, lives are changed and eternities are altered.

Humanity was somewhat arrogant in the early 20th Century. Through Enlightenment and The Scientific Revolution we were very sure that we had progressed beyond more barbaric practices. Pride always comes before the fall and such is our story. Our foundation built firmly upon progression, idealism and great thought crumbled beneath the weight of the Holocaust. How could so many otherwise decent people murder 6 million Jews? How could otherwise educated and intelligent people remove the skin from other humans and use their skin to make lamp shades and watch bands? When humans are singled out, tortured, starved and executed,the stories left in the wake of those horrific events often inspire and challenge us.

Irena Sendler was a Polish Social Worker in Warsaw. She was a follower of Jesus and her faith would not allow her to stand by as Jews were being killed...isn't that a great thought all by leads to action. Anyway, Irena risked her life daily by smuggling 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. She would hide the children in caskets, sacks, luggage...anything that she could and anything that would allow her to get past the German soldiers. She even went so far as to train a dog to bark without stopping any time she was being questioned by guards or soldiers so they couldn't hear the children move about in the automobile or sack or whatever.

Once Irena had the children away from danger she would place them with Christian families, give them new names with new paperwork to properly hide their identity so the children could be in a family environment of love and provision. Irena also knew that the kids needed to know where they were from and who their parents were so she recorded all the names on paper and buried the papers in jars beneath an apple tree in her yard.

In 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo and after being severely tortured she was sentenced to death. While in route to her execution she bribed a security guard and instead of death, she was left in the woods, unconscious and with fractured arms, legs and even feet. Officially she was listed among those who had been executed and she lived in hiding for the remainder of the war. Even in hiding she continued to work on behalf of the children...her beatings, torture and near death experience didn't cause her to waiver in her faith or conviction.

Once the war ended she returned to her apple tree and removed the jars from the ground. She immediately tried to reunite the children with their parents. Unfortunately the majority of the parents had been killed in the Treblinka extermination camp. The work of God through Irena saved thousands of children...what an amazing story.

The life and story of Irena Sendler stands alone and in no way needs my comments. However, that story leaves me with so many thoughts about the children with their new families and the thoughts of the parents who were killed by the Nazis. I think about how fortunate the children must have felt and how their gratitude was certainly mingled with great sadness over their lost. I imagine the parents had final thoughts about their children and again, they must have been relieved not to be dying beside their kids but their sense of separation and loss had to be more grave than death itself.

Irena Sendler died May 12, 2008. in her final days she lived in a nursing home and the woman that cared for her. That woman had been carried out of the Warsaw Ghetto in a tool box many years before by Irena. How fitting that Irena died being loved by someone who would have been killed had it not been for Irena's love of God and God's children.

Today Irena is with the parents of the children she saved and with so many others who I am sure applauded her as she entered the City of God. With all of the reasons they had to cry, laugh, cheer and celebrate, if God's word is true, The Father was the one who began the celebration and danced the most. I imagine a sign above the entry to God's throne room that said, "Welcome Home Irena". Perhaps that day God danced his first dance with Irena and she twirled like she hadn't in years...her feet no longer hurting from the fractures she endured being about her Father's business. As God smiled and laughed I am sure he took one somber moment to whisper into Irena's ear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant".

May we all join that dance in God's time...and until then perhaps we can live a life measured not in days or years, but in love. And may our love for the Father and His children lead to us helping others leave the place of danger for a home with their new family. May it be so.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

MEN...Being Men

I happen to love the song by Brad Paisley, "I'm Still a Guy".

"I can hear you now talkin' to your friends Sayin' yeah girls he’s come a long way From draggin' his knuckles and carryin' a club And buildin' a fire in a cave But when you say a backrub means only a backrub Then you swat my hand when I try Well now what can I say at the end of the day Honey, I’m still a guy"

It is funny to me because I think it is how men are viewed and in some ways, how we really a satirical sort of way. There seems to be a notion that guys are idiots and that we need women to make sure we "Neanderthals" don't crank our lawnmower with our heads under the deck or to make sure we don't forget to do things like bathe and brush our teeth. I am really proud of my wife because she seems to be more sensitive than I am to the commercials or movies or whatever that show brilliant, gorgeous women having to put up with some balding, undeserving and moronic man. I admit that some of the stereotyping has been propagated because of the behavior and attitudes of men. But in the same way not all women should be considered Gold-Diggers because Anna Nicole happen to fall in love with a man that was close to 187 years old...oh, that happened to be CRAZY RICH...not all men are the simpletons control only by their hunger and lust.

Last night I had the honor of spending time with a couple of guys. Of course, I refuse to go into detail about the conversations, prayers and concerns, but I will say that last night some men of God came together and discussed, prayed and did some amazing spiritual battle on behalf of themselves, their wives and their children. I could not be more proud to be a part of that group and I look forward to many more times together.

What is a forceful man? Probably if someone asked me that I might think of a bully...someone using force to take from others that to which they are not entitled. I think "Date Rape" certainly falls into that category. I think a man who screws over his coworkers in order to "get ahead" could also fall in to that listing. But what about a forceful man that is a positive thing?

Last night God lead me to read from Matthew 11:12-14. Jesus says something really amazing about the Kingdom of God.

"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come."

I firmly believe that in the same way that it is wrong for a "forceful man" to take what isn't his, it is equally wrong for someone to not be forceful when it comes to taking what is rightfully theirs. This verse really hit me yesterday because as a man of God I have to realize that my wife will not find a spiritual leader for her among her friends, with our sons or on TV. Her spiritual leader...whether I am a horrible or awesome the one that lays down beside her every night. The spiritual leader for my sons will not come from school, the Cub Scouts or their Karate is my job and I think God has called and continues to call God men of God to forcefully take from the world and from our enemy what is rightfully ours.

And what happens if men of God are "willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come"? That was answered for me yesterday as well as God lead me to Malachi 4:5-6...which happens to be the final verse of the Old Testament.

"See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction."

When we forcefully lay hold to the Messiah, the new life we now live will lead to men being real men and men who have children being real Dads. If as men are not forceful when it comes to the spiritual, emotional and physical provisions and protection of our families, we have denied the power found in Jesus and according to God's words in Malachi, our land will be cursed.

What does being forceful look like for men of God? Perhaps it looks like last, tired from a long Monday coming together to go before the Thrown of God on behalf of their families. Maybe it looks like a husband fasting regularly to focus in prayer for his wife and children. Being a forceful man of God may look like a number of things. Regardless of what form it may take or how it may be carried, I know it must be...and I am proud to be with a group of men who are.
May the Father and Love of Our Souls continue to show us how to father and love.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Answered Prayers...several of them

I am excited today. I don't always wake up excited on Mondays but today is different from the usual Monday.

Yesterday was Father's Day. Last week I prayed that this Father's Day would be a FATHER'S in our Heavenly Father. My prayer was heard and answered in some great ways.

Yesterday began with me sleeping in. That may be no big deal for the average person but with my typical performance driven/acceptance seeking perspective, sleeping in to any great degree is a huge victory. From there my family went to breakfast and breakfast had everything I love in breakfast...ZERO wait, all-you-can-eat, actual hot food (no bird seed with milk that my wife calls cereal or cold pastries), serve yourself buffet and a reasonable price.

From there we went to the lake at Oak Mountain State Park to have "church". We all threw rocks in the lake...probably pissing off anyone who had plans of fishing and then we sat and I tried to explain the last of Ephesians 3 to the boys. I explained the dimensions of God's love by placing the boys in certain positions. Elijah is the oldest and tallest so he was the height, Zion is the youngest and lightest for me to lift so I picked him up and held him horizontal to be the depth of God's love and Judah, my middle son held his arms out to be the length of God's love. They were really distracted by the lake, the wind, the water, the dirt, the rocks, the signs, the cars driving past, the other family that pulled up and pretty much any other thought that popped in their head. I doubt we will "be church" again by a lake. In the midst of our closing prayer we had to momentarily pause and continue it in the car after Brook found what to her is far more terrifying than a cobra, lion or black widow...a tick.

Yesterday afternoon Greg Newton and I met at Trade Towers for the 3rd week..2nd week with the residents there. I found myself really looking forward to seeing the people we met the previous week and realizing that I had prayed for them and their concerns throughout the week. We met 3 new men and it was an interesting time to say the least. We are still in the infant stages with the church plant but it is exciting to me to see what God has done and will continue to do. I pray that God continues to open hearts and minds of the people at Trade Towers to hear and receive His Message. I further pray that God will allow Greg and me to deliver His Message in a way that His consistent with His will and mission.

After the meeting at Trade Towers I drove faster than the police would probably like for me to in order to make it to a small group. I was there for the final 15 minutes of a 2 hour session but that time was for sure used by God. Jeff, who leads the group along with his wife, Rachel, suggested the men and women pray in separate from one another. It was kind of funny to me because that brought back memories from my "old school" church of Christ days. In the time we spent together it was obvious to me that the men need more time together. We need a chance to be real with God and one another and we need it urgently. After our brief prayer time I suggested to Jeff we kick off such a group tonight and he was ready to start this new chapter of "The Holy Library". THL was a men's group that I was part of and my time in that group was used in amazing ways by God to work in me. I have already been praying for our time tonight and for God to be present, real and powerful. I can't wait.

May God reign in us at and in it all!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Late Apologies, Greenland and Skepticism

Before the birth of our first son, my wife, Brook, and I signed up for some routine parenting class. They discussed how to give an infant a bath, how to change diapers and some other good advice. The class began with some nurse...who always seemed to be very happy but very condescending...asking what one thing we wanted to instill in our children. I only remember one person's answer and that answer isn't mine and it isn't Brook's.

This one guy had so many piercings that it looked like he just climbed out of a tackle box and some weird facial hair thing that looked way more like modern art than facial hair. The thing he said he most wanted to teach his child was "to question authority". When he said that I commented under my breath, "what a jackass". To me, at the time anyway, his comments were reckless, irresponsible and rebellious. Now, over 6 years have past and I now know I owe some guy in this world an apology. Not just because I called him a jackass, but because today I find that my walk with God has lead me to think in ways I didn't then. In fact, today I think much more like that guy than I do the "old Blake".

I don't have any piercings and my wife strictly forbids facial hair...well, that's not true. My wife will not kiss me if I have facial hair so I shave due to my desire to kiss her rather than her rules about my hair. But anyway, I now very much want my boys to question authority, be skeptical of institutions, investigate unintended consequences, contemplate motives (their own and others) and to always think deeply. I don't want them to rebel for the sake of rebellion or be anarchist. However, I also don't want them to accept the operation definitions handed out by this world as definitive. I don't want them to participate in some matrix that only exists for the lone purpose of self-perpetuation. I will be disappointed if my sons ever blindly follow leadership. Submit to authority? Sure...when it is right to do so. Lend their resources to some institution of commerce, government or religion? Sure...but only after they have thought deeply about what they are apart of and only if in so doing they are following the call God has for their lives.

I am almost daily discovering some belief that I have accepted as truth is far from true. At times I find it comical that so many people, myself included, could fall for something so blatantly stupid. Other times I get pissed off and remain angry for a period of time over being a fool. One of my absolute favorite quotes is from a former European leader. He said, "how fortunate for those in leadership that the average man doesn't think". That leader was Adolf Hitler. It is one of the few things he said that I can reply to with a hearty "Amen".

I am afraid that if my boys don't learn to question things they could end up being duped...kind of like some people of Iceland over a thousand years ago. Erik the Red was apparently quite the salesman. Did you ever wonder how Greenland got its name...even though it is largely a white sheet of ice and bitter cold misery? Erik the Red was kicked off Iceland for manslaughter back in the late 900's. He was exiled to the icy island now known as Greenland and he became very lonely. So he sent word to people back in Iceland that he was in a better place than them. He reported that the lush vegetation and plentiful harvests left him with only a single choice when it came time to name his new home...Greenland! So many with great hope loaded up ships and moved to this new land. You know what I bet the people said when they arrived in the new land to find the frosty conditions instead of the bounty they expected?

What a Jackass!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What Will You Require of Me?

I am so thankful to walk with you and know you and know those who know you. As I walk the journey on which you have set my feet I sense that you have more. You have more for me, more for my family and more for others. I know you are not like a cosmic lottery, or a divine thrift store in that something of value will be given away or cheapened by the ease through which it is obtained. I believe that intimacy with you will come through the thing it always does...conflict. Intimacy with you is my desire. Conflict is an obstacle.

I think any conflict I experience will be more like dissonance. I will experience dissonance as the template of your call is so much larger than the pattern of my life. Dissonance will flow when submission and service to you will take more than I feel I have to give. As difficult as those thoughts are to me, I anticipate that dissonance will become excruciating when you ask me to sacrifice my comfort and maybe even my families well being through the call to suffer for you Kingdom.

I haven't always considered suffering for You to be part of the call of Christ. My eyes read and my mind accepts the stories and quotes of Job, Stephen, Justin Martyr and Bonhoeffer...but somehow my heart has always missed the message that suffering may well be required of all who call on the name of Jesus. So as I desire closeness with You and for my heart to beat in rhythm with Yours, I find myself asking, "what will you require of me?"

I would love to be a visionary in your Kingdom, but will you ask me to suffer the ridicule and loneliness of Noah? I would love to lead your people but will you ask me to suffer the anguish and frustration of Moses? I would love to speak prophetically for your name sake, but would that require me to suffer threats and even death? Maybe I could just love people and serve others in Your Name...but even those noble tasks lead Jesus to a cross. Would evangelism along the lines of Peter lead me to a cross too? If I had the zeal and devotion of John would I be thrown into a vat of boiling oil? God, what will you require of me?

There was only one Abraham, one Malachi and one Timothy. In the same way I know there is only one Blake, but I also know that the unique gifts given to each person in no way negates Your call of complete surrender, absolute submission and living as though I am already dead.

God, I find the very words I speak haunting and constantly lingering in the background of fun family outings, in the silence of the black morning and in hustle of the daily grind. Could I sacrifice myself on the Your alter, God?. I could. Would I be willing to risk the life of my wife in service to You? Yes, but only because I know her heart's desire is the same as mine. Will I risk money, comfort, career and friendships? Yes, Lord. But, could I place my sons on Your slab of sacrifice? I don't want to answer that question and I don't even want to ever ask that question. But I sense from You that I must.

God, I ask that you facilitate my maturation to a point that my grip will never be firm on anyone or anything other than You. I will only be able to lead my sons to Your Throne in so far as I have released them to You, their Creator...the Author of their faith, as well as mine. My paradoxical realization even as I seek your guidance is that my tight grip on them doesn't protect them, it only strangles them and their potential to seek You. Perhaps this Father's Day will stand as a landmark in their history and mine as we all celebrate our freedom to seek You and to live and suffer in Your abundance and love. God. I want this Father's Day to be your FATHER'S DAY.

Father, plant my feet firmly in a faith that does not waiver in the face of circumstances. Set me on a path that is not decided by convenience, comfort or preference. Give me sight that is blind to the things you would not have me see and allow me to only follow Your voice as I tune my ears to hear my Shepherd. Father, I trust you to lead me in ways that advance your Kingdom, display Your love and glorify You. May it be so. Amen

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Acceptable Religious Taxonomy...But Say "Yes"

Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. This practice helps us label, identify and therefore classify things in our worlds. Most of us remember these..., Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species...The Hierarchy of Biological Classification's Major 8 Taxonomic Ranks. Most of us learned these is science class. I have found it increasingly difficult to label some things in life....simply put, taxonomy has become taxing.

One such area is the area of faith. As I seek God and seek to be in community with the people of God I have found it difficult to identify to any specific degree a box or category to which I belong. I have also found it difficult to label others. Now, let me say that I don't think it is wise to always label everyone on every single issue. As a matter of decency though I try to avoid certain topics with some people who may not hold similar beliefs or experiences as me. I have gotten into tight relational spots before when assuming someone else had a specific belief or adhered to a specific doctrine.

So anyway, I tend to identify with some aspects of many thoughts...but I can't find any single doctrine, denomination or theology I fully support or adopt. In some ways I am extremely liberal and in others I would be considered a radical fundamentalist. I don't know if others are this way or not. At the end of the day it only matters to the degree that my being a religious collage, or faith mutt becomes prohibitive to relationships or the Kingdom of God in general.

My wife has been after me lately about something and I hate to admit how right she is. First she right about the mind set and she is also right about my dire need to adjust my perspective. Here is her point..."look for a way to say yes". I tend to say "no" to many things. From, "can we paint the house green" to "can my less-than-responsible sister keep her untrained puppy at our house for a while"...which has been a goat roping to say the least...I often say no, only later to agree to the idea. I don't know why I do that. I typically play those situations like a chess player or like a crash test analyst...what could possibly go wrong, what would be the situation if the worst possible scenario actually occurs and thousands of other calculations and critical analyses. When I imagine my sister-in-law's puppy pissing on our new hardwood floors, taking a squishy dump on our new rug or chewing chunks of wood off the legs of our kitchen table...I say "no". More importantly, when I think of my wife being in a horrible mood when I get home because of the mess and work associated with a puppy that isn't even ours...I say "no". For what it is worth, the puppy has been an unmitigated disaster and my wife probably wishes I had stood firm on my original answer of "no".

But in the world or faith I think my wife is really on to something. Why should any difference in experience or variations in the minutia of doctrine be an impasse for a relationship? I don't think it should. In fact, I think there is something significant about the prayer of Jesus, "that they may all be one". Did Jesus know that people would differ in their theology? Sure. Did Jesus expect His words to be debated and would Jesus reasonably conclude that people would come to differing understandings regarding His teachings? Sure. As a Jew, Jesus was well aware of factions and divisions that existed between the children of God. Jesus dealt with the Herodians, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc. As God on earth...Jesus knew we would differ. Yet he prayed for us to be one. I don't think His prayer was that we wouldn't disagree or that everyone would be a clone of some specific theological school. I think Jesus was intent on love, unity and community in spite of or perhaps because of our diversity. I don't think it is unrealistic to think that Jesus was telling us to look for a way to say "yes".

How might the world look if, as followers of Jesus, we looked for ways to say "yes" to one another? How might we begin to be "yes" people in the area of diversity? How might we move toward being "yes" people in the realm of service to those around us? What is required for us to be "yes" people to benefit the Kingdom of God? I have more questions...and am lacking many answers. But I want to begin to say "yes" to beginning the search for those answers. I am also willing to say "yes" if God chooses to leave me in a state of wandering and mystery long as I am "following hard after Thee".

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Thou Shall Commit Adultery"

Have you ever heard of "The Sinner's Bible"? I mean, in theory every Bible is a Sinner's Bible in that only sinners read it and are hopefully transformed by the reading and hearing of God's word, but there was a Bible printed in 1631 that has been labeled as "The Sinner's Bible. That Bible is much like every other Bible. It tells of the same story of creation. One can read it in about a coming Messiah and then can read about that Messiah who has come...and will come again. With all of the similarities and with the overall theme being the same, you can't purchase a Sinner's Bible today...all because of one word.

It seems that those responsible for editing that version omitted a single word in Exodus 20. Apparently, one of the Ten Commandments about adultery was forever changed when the word "not" wasn't printed. Instead of the text forbidding adultery, the Sinner's Bible states, "Thou Shall Commit Adultery". Anyone who thinks a small omission or incidental change doesn't matter never omitted the word "not". The Government of England was even involved in outrage over the mistake as the two men who printed the Sinner's Bible were fined 300 pounds.

That story caused me to think about other changes in scripture that perhaps we wouldn't write or even speak but that we live out daily. I guess with time I could come up with tons but in the brief time I can spend on this here are some off the top of my head.

I Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of power .

Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must never deny himself but should admire my cross from a distance and follow me in so far as it is convenient and doesn't cost too much.

Romans 12:2: Do not worry if you continue conforming to the pattern of this world because we all know that keeping up with the world is just reality and is inescapable.

Philippians 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, unless the thing over which you are anxious is happening to you. In that case you can never be sure if God is big enough to take care of you.

Luke 18:22: When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Jesus then explained to his followers that this teaching was not applicable to anyone after the 1st Century.

Luke 6:37: Forgive, and you will be forgiven. However, if the offense seems particularly dreadful to you, you should feel no obligation to forgive. One also has the option to say they have forgiven another but actually harbor resentment in their hearts.

Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes disappointment and failure as no one can sing your praises or assure that you get what you are due except you.

Like I said, there are plenty we could all come up with but these are certainly enough to get me started on a search for a more righteous and holy life. This morning I was fortunate enough to eat breakfast with a dear Brother who is a Pastor. We discussed the fact that so many christians and churches as a whole are so content and satisfied with "baby christians". People are not expected, encouraged or required to grow past infancy. If my 5 year old was not yet speaking, not walking and still in diapers we would all be concerned that he had some kind of disability or some degree of brain damage. Yet we have people who have been saved for years and years who are not speaking the truth in love, are not walking with their personal cross and still end up all too often with their own crap all over them. Do we label them as disabled christians or brain damaged christians? No. We call them "normal". In the state of Alabama...and probably most states, a high school senior isn't allowed to graduate without passing a graduation exam. This exam tests them to make sure minimum requirements have been met and they they are equipped to function to some degree in life. if all has gone well, in 12 short years of education they have gone from illiterate children to teens who are capable of algebra, chemistry, a second language, English Comp, etc. 12 years of school in Alabama means they have been "educated" for a grand total of 2100 days. If children went to school every single day the 2100 days could be accomplished in 5 years 9 months. Again, that is from illiterate to writing term papers in less than 6 years. That means in less than 6 years our children go from learning numbers to working complex mathematical formulas. Yet we expect essentially nothing from anyone who has been in a relationship with God for 6 years.

Here is a verse that I won't change to meet my needs...God, Please help us all grow up.

Hebrews 5: 11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Easy God is Gone

My Easy God is Gone
I have lost my easy God - the one whose name I knew since childhood.
I knew his temper, his sullen outrage,his ritual forgiveness.
I knew the strength of his arm, the sound of his insistent voice.
His beard bristling, his lips full and red with moisture at the moustache,
His eyes clear and piercing, too blue to understand all,
His face too unwrinkled to feel my child's pain.
He was a good God - so he told me -a long suffering and manageable one.
I knelt at his feet and kissed them.
I felt the smooth countenance of his forgiveness.
I never told him how he frightened me,
How he followed me as a child,
When I played with friends or begged for candy on Halloween.
He was a predictable God, I was the unpredictable one.
He was unchanging, omnipotent, all-seeing,
I was volatile and helpless.
He taught me to thank him for the concern which gave me no chance to breathe,
For the love which demanded only love in return - and obedience.
He made pain sensible and patience possible and the future foreseeable.
He, the mysterious, took all mystery away, corroded my imagination,
Controlled the stars and would not let them speak for themselves.
Now he haunts me seldom: some fierce umbilical is broken,
I live with my own fragile hopes and sudden rising despair.
Now I do not weep for my sins; I have learned to love them.
And to know that they are the wounds that make love real.
His face alludes me; his voice, with all its pity, does not ring in my ear.
His maxims memorized in boyhood do not make fruitless and pointless my experience.
I walk alone, but not so terrified as when he held my hand.
I do not splash in the blood of his son nor hear the crunch of nails or thorns piercing protesting flesh.
I am a boy again - I whose boyhood was turned to manhood in a brutal myth.
Now wine is only wine with drops that do not taste of blood.
The bread I eat has too much pride for transubstantiation,
I, too - and together the bread and I embrace,
Each grateful to be what we are, each loving from our own reality.
Now the bread is warm in my mouth and
I am warm in its mouth as well.
Now my easy God is gone - he knew too much to be real,
He talked too much to listen, he knew my words before I spoke.
But I knew his answers as well - computerized and turned to dogma.
His stamp was on my soul, his law locked cross-like on my heart,
His imperatives tattooed on my breast, his aloofness canonized in ritual.
Now he is gone - my easy, stuffy God - God,the father - master, the mother - whiner, the dull, whoring God who offered love bought by an infant's fear.
Now the world is mine with all its pain and warmth, with its every color and sound;
The setting sun is my priest with the ocean for it's alter.
The rising sun redeems me with rolling waves warmed in its arms.
A dog barks and I weep to be alive, a cat studies me and my job is boundless.
I lie on the grass and boy-like, search the sky.
The clouds do not turn to angels, the winds do not whisper of heaven or hell.
Perhaps I have no God - what does it matter?
I have beauty and joy and transcending loneliness,
I have the beginning of love - as beautiful as it is feeble - as free as it is human.
I have the mountains that whisper secrets held before men could speak,I
have the oceans that belches life on the beach and caresses it in the sand,
I have a friend who smiles when he sees me, who weeps when he hears my pain,
I have a future of wonder.
I have no past - the steps have disappeared the wind has blown them away.
I stand in the Heavens and on earth, I feel the breeze in my hair,
I can drink to the North Star and shout on a bar stool,
I can feel the teeth of a hangover, the job of laziness,
The flush of my own rudeness, the surge of my own ineptitude.
And I can know my own gentleness as well my wonder, my nobility.
I sense the call of creation, I feel its swelling in my hands.
I can lust and love, eat and drink, sleep and rise,
But my easy God is gone - and in his stead
The mystery of loneliness and love!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Dangerous Mixture...

Common sense tells me that nitroglycerin and jumping jacks don't mix well. It should be common knowledge that you don't mix pregnancy and pole vaulting. It is equally ill advised to mix sarcastic observations and your Senior Drill Sergeant (a story for another day). I should have known better than to mix a gorgeous girl and weight lifting yesterday but I think I got caught up in the moment and today I am paying the price for my juvenile drive to impress a hottie.

I have been out of weightlifting for the past 15 months after sustaining an injury...My 5 year old took me out of commission with a weird shoulder injury...but anyway. I decided this week to go back in the gym and see what I can do. When I was forced out of the gym last year I was in the best shape of my life and I just had to know how much I had lost. Yesterday was "legs day" and I had chosen the old faithful lift to test my current level of strength in my legs....squats. After doing a warmup set I noticed that this HOT woman was checking me out from the cardio area upstairs. I caught her looking my way and she gave me a shy, yet revealing smile so I figured if she was going to be watching me, I may as well put on a show. Against my better judgement I began to pile on more and more weight with each set. I was pushing the limits...which is always easier to do when you feel certain you are being admired by a hottie. When the workout was all said and done I felt great. I had done more weight with more ease than I had anticipated and while this Gym Goddess shouldn't have been impressed with my flabby body pushing around a lot of weight...she said she was. That's right, she came downstairs and told me how cool the "Squat Clinic" I had just put on was. I told her I had to hit the shower if I was going to make it to work on time and she kissed me and told me that she and the kids would see me when I got home.

OK, so the hottie was my wife...and while that may take the sleazy, cheating aspect out of the equation, it doesn't remove the fact that I did something stupid to impress a girl. It was stupid because since yesterday I have been walking around like I have some horrible issue with my rectum...think along the lines of a corn cob. I stumble and hobble up steps and I get up from my seat with the speed and agility of a 90 year old recovering from bilateral knee replacement surgery. Why in the world did I do such a stupid thing? I think it is because I forgot...I forgot how lactic acid collecting in muscles burns and feels like it is somewhere near the boiling point of Tungsten. I forgot that walking is essential to mobility and that doing something like I did would greatly limit my ability to walk. I forgot that my wife loves me whether I squat 10lbs or 1000lbs. It all makes me wonder what else I forget? What else do the people of God forget?

I am reminded that the Ten Commandments do not begin with "1. You shall have no other Gods before me". The Ten Commandments begin with, "I am The Lord you God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery" (Exodus 20). Why in the world does that matter?
It is as though God is telling his people that his commandments are not being given by someone that doesn't enjoy a history with them. The rules aren't provided by a dictator but rather by The One who has provided for them before and is now providing for them again. God didn't do this just once in scripture. In so many ways, God did this again and again...constantly reminding His people of the relationship He shared with them.

There seems to be a New Testament Equivalent of this event in happens in Luke 6. Some scholars refer to this sermon as "The Sermon on the Plain". Just like Moses, Jesus has just spent time on a mountain with God. Just like Moses, Jesus comes down and stands on the plain among the people and shares with them the "new rules". This time there is no talk of the initial ten commandments...not directly anyway. This time we hear about how the rules work in the Kingdom of God.

Luke 6 (The Message)
You're blessed when you've lost it all. God's kingdom is there for the finding. You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry. Then you're ready for the Messianic meal. You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.
"Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don't like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this. Give Away Your Life But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you'll ever get. And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it.
"There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
"To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

Much in the way I hate that my legs don't move exactly like my brain instructs them to today...I don't care much for the words in red written above. Probably that is because like it is natural for me to want to impress some hot girl, it is also natural for me to want to react to bad circumstances in ways that don't display the blessings God says exist. It is natural for me to beat the hell out of my enemies, not love them. But the fact that I have natural tendencies is exactly why I need the Kingdom of God in my world. The fact that I do not always accurately represent the Kingdom of God is all the more reason why I need His touch...that's just one more lesson for me to learn and one more thing I should never forget. By the way, my legs still hurt!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Spray Me Daddy, Spray Me"

The arrival of summer means the arrival of warmer weather. I don't care much for the heat but my sons do. My boys love the longer hours to play outside, the numerous day trips and really cool things like "Zoo Camp". Last night we ended up doing one of their favorite summer things...running around in the yard while I spray them with the garden hose. As God almost always does, he revealed something to me about how we often deal with is that epiphany.

Elijah is my oldest and he is getting dangerously close to his 6th birthday. He loves to be wet. Swimming, Slip-n-Slide, name it, he loves it. Judah is 16 days away from his 4th birthday and he hasn't always loved water like Elijah does but now he is really loving splashing and getting wet. But then there is Zion. Zion will turn 3 in August and he is not fond of water. Washing his hair is a huge chore as he reacts to news that you may wash his hair as though he has been given a death sentence. While his older brothers are busy jumping in the kiddie pool repeatedly, Zion is content to stand out of the way with a suspicious look on his face. It is as though he suspects the water may jump out of the pool and come across the yard to splash him.

So last night as the 2 older boys were in the front yard running about in their birthday suit, screaming repeatedly, "Spray me Daddy! Spray me!" I noticed Zion standing near the grass. He appeared to be contemplating stepping out into the yard...which is the danger zone. I thought I would have better luck asking a three legged man to walk through a mine field with snow skis on than I had of Zion wandering onto the playing field of our little game. So it was amazing that with great courage and apparent new found love for water, Zion stepped out in the yard. He boldly turned toward me and joined his brothers in asking for me to spray him. So I did.

He turned immediately and headed back to the safety of the sidewalk crying. Before walking up the steps and inside to dry off he turned to me with a sad face and said, "Daddy, you did something to me that was not very nice". I told him I was sorry and he seemed to forgive me and wandered inside...leaving his dripping trail of his perceived abuse in his wake.

I thought to myself, "If you didn't want to get wet why in the world did you ask me to spray you"? And then it hit me...God must be asking us the same thing, or at least me anyway. How many warm, fuzzy devotional moments have lead to zealous appeals to God to "take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee" only to turn around and ask God with a sense of bewilderment, "why did you disrupt my comfortable life"? How many times have our prayers been focused on our service to others only to crash and burn when our busy schedules erase any chance of us even noticing others, much less serving them? How many times have promises of a changed life faded in the midst of familiar friends, good times and cultural norms? It is as though we step into God's yard and proclaim our allegiance and devotion to Him and when God turns his hose of transformation and calling on us we are astounded.

When I joined the Army in 1996 I knew that raising my right hand and taking the oath I knew that doing so meant that my life would change forever. It radically changed for the next 6 years but in so many ways the experiences I had during those six years continue to have an effect on me today. When I married Brook and pledged to honor, serve and love her until I died, it obviously changed me forever. When each of our boys was born it obviously changed me forever. As important as military service, marriage and children are, they all pale in comparison to God. Yet I find at times my devotion to my family or my previous devotion to the Army seemed easier at times than my devotion to God. Why?

I think it is because when I was in the Army the rules were clear. I was given concrete objectives and tangible rewards or punishments. There wasn't a doubt in my mind what was required of me or anyone else. When I was married it was a bit harder but I knew the big things to do or not do...don't cheat, don't hurt her, do love her, do honor her. The same was true of children...but God seems so much more dynamic and so much more of a mystery.

Sometimes God calls people to build big boats for the coming flood...when it had never rained before. Sometimes God calls people to put their only son on the alter to sacrifice. Sometimes God calls one of his Prophets to marry an unfaithful prostitute. Sometimes people die when you pray for them not to die. Sometimes the people of God break promises they have made to you. Divorce, disease and traumatic events unfold and those events just weren't in our God seems dangerous. I am reminded of the best line about "Aslan" in the first Narnia movie..."Course he isn't safe, but he's good".

Isn't that what it is all about? Isn't our timidity wrapped completely in our desire for safety? That desire for safety reveals our fragility, real or perceived, and isn't that fragility framed out entirely by our desire for control, predictability and comfort? My military service was just for a time and I knew for the most part that certain parameters were in place that lead to some control, some predictability and a small degree of comfort (after the initial training anyway). My marriage is based upon common ideals of mutual love, mutual respect and certain guidelines that protect one another from shattered realities. My children didn't come with a "Rule Book" but there are still built-in expectations and norms that if followed will insure a degree of predictability. But not God...

My devotion to God and blindly following God's will may well lead to my death rather than my comfort. Agreeing to be about God's Mission in this life may well lead to ridicule, scorn and isolation. Speaking the truth in love may cause me to lead a lonely life that is largely misunderstood by others. Following God isn't for sissies or phonies. There is a reason why Joshua has to be reminded repeatedly to, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid for I, the Lord your God, am with you". Joshua experienced what Moses, Abraham, Paul and so many others have...weakness and fear. To which God responded with the charge to be strong and courageous.

God isn't so far as safety is defined by us. But God is good...which also isn't defined by us. Last night Zion, even though his Daddy delivered what he asked for, didn't think his Daddy was very safe. According to him I did something to him that wasn't very nice. This morning, as I was leaving for work, a half-awake Zion comes wandering up to me and instinctively raises his arms. I picked him up and he placed his sleepy head on my shoulder and trusted me to place him somewhere safe and bed. I did just that. His thoughts last night faded quickly when he knew that his Daddy would place him somewhere safe and warm...some place where his tired and sleepy body could rest. I was dangerous last night while holding the garden hose...but this morning I was good.

Maybe I can learn from Zion that getting sprayed by God is made so much sweeter when I raise my hands to him and rest on him...knowing that God will one day deliver me to a place of warm rest. He is good!

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Two Best Church Services Ever?

Is it possible to be apart of the 2 best church services ever in one day? How cool is it that in many ways yesterday was a red letter day for churches in my world ? I was apart of two very different gatherings in two very different theological landscapes and both were awesome...

The "church" yesterday morning was inspiring. It was the kind of time spent in devotion to God that leaves you wanting more, leaves you looking forward to next Sunday and strengthens your resolve to stay focused on the lessons learned yesterday until we can gather in that way again. Our time in scripture focused on Acts 1 and 2. We discussed the amazing, and often overlooked, events of Pentecost. Tongues of fire, strong winds and people forever changed by the message delivered in Acts 2 by Peter...all wonderful things indeed. The closing thought was about community...based on what these new believers did in Acts 2. We discussed how our community of God isn't defined by church affiliations, doctrine or traditions. Our community is defined by one simple you live out your lives daily in the presence or at least close proximity of one another? If so, you are a community. The goal from there is to become a Christocentric having Jesus as the focus for the ways in which they live and conduct themselves. We closed with songs about Jesus...his goodness through his sacrifice being the theme. We then prayed...we prayed for the sick, for those traveling, for family members in general and for us to have a great week. After we concluded with prayers we all spent time together, kids playing and preparing lunch. How much better can it ever be?

I guess the coolest part of our Sunday morning service is who was in attendance. There were 5 of us. My wife, 3 sons and me...that's it. I told the story from the Bible in particularly dramatic ways (anything to keep the attention of 3 young boys). The boys lead our worship with songs like, "Jesus Loves Me", "Mungu Yu Mwema" (God is so Good in Swahili) and "Mary Had a Little Lamb"...of course explaining that the Mary of the Bible did indeed have a in the Lamb of God. We were all truly blessed. We all grew and we all follow God today with a bit more clarity as a result of the church we had in our sun room...perhaps we should call it the "Son-room Church"?

The second service yesterday was in the afternoon. Greg Newton ( ) and I are working together to plant a church among the residents of Trade Towers on the southside of B'ham. This will be a really cool experience for us all as God gave Greg the idea to do what he did in Tanzania, Africa for about 7 years. By the way, I first met Greg in Tanzania when I interned under him in 1998. So now, 10 years later here we are working with a new community...or as the example from Africa labels it, "a village". These people are already living in close proximity with one another. They already eat together, have recreation together, have arguments together, etc. The thing they seem to be missing is Jesus being the author of their village. What Greg and I will attempt to do over time is to invite them to see Jesus as the reason, focus and facilitator of their community. As they accept this and begin to function as a community of Jesus (church). Greg and I will back away as they will be functioning on their own and will no longer need us.

I think this new church is special for several reasons. The people are already living in community. There is no need to find, rent or purchase a "church building". There is no need to hire a "professional minister". Through the initial expectations of growth and maturation we anticipate they will at some point be leading the church.

So yesterday the crowd wasn't exactly huge...which isn't unusual. So exactly how many showed up? Well, since we know numbers indicate success (just typing that would cause me to choke on my tongue if it wasn't in my cheek)...I will say that the total crowd, including Greg and me, was somewhere right around...2. But that's really cool. How? I'm glad I asked.

It is really cool that things didn't go as planned because it reminds us who is in charge. The building manager responsible for getting the announcement out to the residents was ill and in the hospital so the word never got out. Greg and I discussed further what we will attempt to do there and then we spent time in prayer asking God's guidance and blessing. It wasn't a huge kickoff with people spilling out of the chapel area into the hall...but it was special because it was the start of something new, something good and something of God.

The "Son-Room Church" Sunday morning was an excellent that is sure to be repeated. The gathering at the Trade Towers was also excellent and is sure to be repeated...although with more people. God is really good to allow me to be a part of both groups. I can't wait to see how each community continues to be shaped by Mary's little Lamb.