Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Every day has been a gift.

Yesterday, all the little little troubles in my life decided to dog-pile me, and I started feeling a bit blue. But it's funny how God can nudge you and gently remind you, in unexpected ways, how blessed you are.

Last night I was having sitting in Starbucks with my 19 year old son, Zach, and we were talking about his plans for the future. This got me thinking back to the same time in my life. 19 was a year of monumental changes for me, I celebrated my 19th birthday at Texas A&M, then the next semester I was at a community college trying to get my grades up, planning to return. But then my parents separated for a while, and told me that I had to make my own way. Overnight, I went from college student, still depending on my parents, to having to find a job and support myself with little education and few marketable skills. I bear no ill will toward my parents, for even then I understood that they were having tough time. But occasionally I will second guess my own choice to stay in Oklahoma; I was free and could have gone anywhere -- Colorado, Florida, College Station.... But then I look over the course of my life, and realize that I've been blessed. Every day, even the seemingly dark days have been a gift from the hand of God. Who could have guessed that I would have gotten from there to where I am today. There are many things that could have (or can) dramatically change the outcome of my life yet, by the Grace of God, here go I. And though I am doing well financially, that is not what I'm primarily talking about, more so I'm talking about the family I have, the faith that has been refined in me, and the friends I have made.

Then, as if God is wanting to re-enforce this thought, I read this from "It's What You've Been Given, Not What You Lost" in my blog reader morning:

Toward the end of the [Voyage of the Dawn Treader] as the main characters stand at the edge of Aslan’s country contemplating whether to go further, or stay in their respective worlds. At that point King Caspian offers a breath-taking observation, “I’ve spent too long wanting what was taken from me and not what I was given.” It hit me smack between the eyes. There are two ways to live in this world, either being thankful for what God has given you, or growing in bitter frustration at what you’ve lost.


When you focus on what God has given rather than the things you’ve lost, you can know great joy and gratitude even in the painful realities of the age we live in. God is the redeeming influence in your life, not the destructive one. Those who seek your destruction are pawns in the hands of a diabolical enemy. As painful as they can make our lives, God is bigger still. He can even turn our losses in this age into a treasures far greater by making himself known in the midst of our pain and disappointment.

All I can say is -- Thank you Father!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The ten dollar 'Nudge'

I wasn't even supposed to be on this particular bus but, as luck would have it, providence was on my side. I had originally intended to catch the 8:30 bus downtown, just as soon as Steph got back from dropping the kids off from school. However, the school drop took longer than expected and I decided to wait for the 9:15 bus rather than try driving like a maniac to make the 8:30 bus. On this morning, I decided to try taking the 'slow road' rather than trying to live life in the fast lane -- for the 8:30 bus is an express bus that makes no stops until it reaches downtown, while the 9:15 bus makes several stops before reaching downtown.

Steph dropped me off at the bus stop about 10 minutes early, and I decided to read a bit from 'Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There' by Leonard Sweet. And I read these words:

Call them "coincidences," "chance encounters," "God-incidences," or, my favorite, "godwinks," randomness is a reflection of the fact that spiritual forces move mysteriously and "blow where they will." But that very unpredictability is what brings life. Call godwinks "stealth nudges."

A few minutes later the 9:15 bus pulls into the bus stop, and I along with several others begin to board this bus. A few people get on before me, so I end up in a seat several rows back on the right and, after looking around (trying to 'pay attention'), I settled in to read a bit more; at the bottom of page 103 I came across these words:

How many things do we attend without attention? Pay attention to ordinary things where realizing that there is no such thing as "ordinary." Nothing is ordinary. All things are out of the ordinary. Everything that exists is extraordinary and holds the secrets of the universe within itself. We need the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the nose to smell, the mouth to taste, and the hands to touch. Be transfixed by the ordinary so that you can see what you thought was ordinary is really a transfiguration.

As I turned to the next page, my bookmark slipped out of the book and fell into the gap between the seat and the side of the bus. I peered into the gap looking for my bookmark and found it there along with a ten dollar bill. Was it a coincidence that I was on that bus, in that seat, reading 'Nudge', and having a bookmark in this book (I normally dog ear rather than use a bookmark), and then have the bookmark fall out so that I find ten dollars?

As I pondered this chain of events, I started to put the ten dollar bill into my wallet but then decided against it and kept it in my hand. Why would I, who has no need of ten dollars, but rarely carry any cash find it? My only conclusion was that I would cross paths with someone in need of it today, so I was again paying attention to those around me. Was it someone on this bus? No one stood out. I searched the people at each stop, ready to step off if needed. The lady with the young child? No. The man in the wheel chair? No. The woman with the bandaged foot? No.

When the bus reached my regular stop, I knew exactly who I was going to give the ten dollars to. I was so stunned that the person to whom I should give it to was at my stop, that I almost forgot to get off the bus. There he was, a truly homeless, and downcast man. He wasn't one of the fake homeless people that you run across.. the kind that dress the part but are far to clean and go around asking for money. Rather, he looked like he had been rolling in the dirt and smelled like he hadn't bathed in ages. He wasn't bothering anyone; he just sat still looking at his feet, trying to look in invisible. So I sat down next to him and I told him this same story. He looked nervous and kept looking down, but nodded a bit to show he was listening. Then I told him that I believed that God wanted him to have the ten dollars and placed it in his hands. Then he finally looked at me, and I could see gratitude in his eyes; he started whispering 'Bless you, bless you, bless you' over and over again. I patted him on the shoulder and said 'May God Bless you as well', and went on to work knowing that God has spoken and I was able to bless another because I took the time to listen.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

What 'Judgement House' did to me

The fear that permeates religion demands that to spread, a larger fear must exist. Selling or marketing religion, as opposed to offering the wonder of love, requires a maneuver not unlike that of a pots and pans salesman, who is taught to introduce people to a problem they don't know they have then to sell them a solution he happens to be selling. Or more precisely, "Spread fear, sell hope."
Fear breeds in a cocoon of scarcity and insecurity. A natural human response is to bargain our way out of it, the net result being that folks who have come to religion by fear have really made a business deal with God. We are sons and daughters of the living God. We are not business partners who have made a bargain to avoid some unpleasant consequences.
-- Leonard Sweet, Nudge

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. --John 17:3

I had originally planned on talking at length about all the reasons why 'Judgement House' is something that I think is a bad idea. Things like, borrowing the 'Haunted House' idea from the culture and use the fear it creates to drive people to a decision; how it focuses on conversion rather than discipleship, how those many of those 'conversions' are suspect, how it is a truncated Gospel that lacks the relational emphasis that is at it's heart, and how you have to pretty much already believe the Heaven/Hell/Divine Judge paradigm in order for it to have any affect on you at all. And, most importantly, how it presents a distorted image of the Father.

Instead, I have decided that I would just talk about what 'Judgement House' did to me, as one who was already a follower of Christ. In a post almost 3 years ago, I briefly mentioned that I was disturbed by the production, and that I wrestled with it's portrayal. But there was 3 months of wrestling, reading, doubting God, and depression that preceded that short post. First came the doubts -- could a good God in whom there is no darkness conceive of such torture? Is tossing someone into an eternal fire really a Just punishment? The production made God seem more like Nero, making humans into torches, rather than a God who loved. As a result of these images, I began to lose faith and in an effort to save my faith I began to read widely on alternative views on the subject. I read on the Greek, Roman, and Medieval influences on the concepts of Justice, Wrath, and Hell (among other things). And I read about and seriously considered 'Ultimate Reconciliation' -- so much so that I probably would hold that position today (there aren't as many verses you would have to stretch to believe this as you might think), had I not found C.S. Lewis's 'The Great Divorce'. It's is a shame that I had never heard of this work of his. Though it is fiction, I think it provides a much better way to discuss the subject in our time than images out of Dante's 'Inferno'.

So while some of my friends (and I do still very much consider you friends, even if I disagree with JH) are singing the praises of JH , I will be rereading 'The Great Divorce' -- anyone want to read it with me?

Oh, and just as an FYI, don't bother asking if I want to participate - I've been through that hell already and I'm sure you don't want to pay for therapy. In fact I might need to disappear for about 3 months until the belief in hell's ability to save is out of everyone's system.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Van Gogh on the Blazing, Majestic, Eternal Love of God

In my last post, I very briefly mentioned that in the book 'The Divine Commodity', I learned that van Gogh used the color yellow to represent Divine Love. After learning a little more than the ear incident about Van Gogh, I will definitely never look at his paintings the same way again. 'Starry Night' was always one of my favorites of his, but now I appreciate it even more. He was one who saw the Divine in nature and tried to convey it though his paintings.

One cannot do better than hold onto the thought of God through everything, under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to acquire more knowledge about Him, which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things. It is good to continue believing that everything is more miraculous than one can comprehend, for this is truth; it is good to remain sensitive and humble and tender of heart . . . . For what can one learn that is better than what God has given by nature to every human soul -- which is living and loving, hoping, and believing, in the depth of every soul, unless it is wantonly destroyed?
-- Vincent van Gogh

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Dream, A Book, A Thought

Several nights ago I had a very vivid dream. One of those dreams where I can still recall much of the details. In this dream I was at a church. This church was a one stop 'shopping' destination, where there were rows of goods and all the goods were uniform in color - blue and gold. There was also a restaurant, a laundry facility, and a large stage at the front. Many of the members lined the asles and were 'ministering' by happily demonstrating the church's products. At the front there was an elaborate performance going on, and the performers were being treated like royalty. It was a very bizarre scene. Each performer had several people surrounding them; one person holding a microphone, one person holding a camera, and one person standing behind them with water and a towel. This church was a very busy place but there was no mention of the Father, no mention of his beloved Son Jesus, and no mention of the Spirit. Nor any was there any mention of the astounding news of our adoption. Only this frenzy of activity centered around goods, services, and entertainment.
What does such a dream mean? I'm not sure about all the details; for example why were all the products blue and gold? I have no idea. However, I would say that in general it means that in an effort to be relevant to our culture, we have lost the heart of our faith. The dark side of Consumerism in our culture is apparent if you think about it for a minute. Owning particular name brands have become a way to identify or fit in with a particular group. (Think Apple, or Mercedes Benz, or Abercrombie) Often it's all about style over substance, and we buy into the idea of constructing an identity by consuming certain brands. Christian Products? Christian Entertainment? Christian Services? Has Christianity become a brand that you use or wear, rather than a deep relationship purchased by Christ that we walk in day by day?

A while back I did read a book called 'The Divine Commodity' by Skye Jethani. In the book he takes an interesting approach, using some of the works of Vincent Van Gogh as a launching pad to critique both consumerism, and consumer Christianity. A prominent theme in this book, that runs as a counter point to the shallowness of consumerism, is the the relational nature of God and man, and the power of God's Divine Love; Van Gogh would use the color yellow to represent Divine Love, and the sky in many of his paintings would be ablaze with this Divine Love. Sadly our ability to connect to God, and one another has atrophied in this culture. Jethani writes:
In his book Following Christ in a Consumer Culture, John Kavanaugh argues that our lifestyle of guarded isolation is the result of grounding our identities in external possessions. Consumerism has caused our attention to be fixated on the surface and style of our lives so that over time we have lost the ability to nourish our interior life. Kavanaugh says that without a meaninful interior life, a definable sense of self apart from possessions, we also lose the skills necessary to establish meaningful relationships.

The book is a fairly short read, and is definitely worth re-reading so that you can let the message sink in. I definitely recommend it.

The night before I had the dream, I was actually pondering Acts 21 and since we are on the subject of Syncretism, I figured I would share my thoughts about this as well. The details of Pauls arrest might be a bit surprising to those who have entered the fray of the 'Culture Wars'. There is some irony there calling it 'Culture Wars', when consumerism has invaded the church.... but i digress... Anyway, back to Pauls arrest. Do you know the details of what he was doing when he got arrested? Was he stirring up a crowd? Preaching on a street corner? No, in fact he says, "My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city." (Acts 24:12). In fact, he was trying to show that he was still a Jew (who happened to believe the Messiah had come). He was participating (and paying for) a cleansing ritual at the temple as a way to identify with his fellow Jews. He was being conciliatory, but they would have none of that. It's actually quite a different picture than the typical American Christian activist isn't it? My thought? Maybe we fuse some of our American ideals, with our faith. And we don't give it a second thought because America is a Christian Nation right?? Yeah... right...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Not of this World

Jesus answered, "My kingdom doesn't belong to this world. If it did, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom doesn't belong to this world." John 18:36 (CEV)

Last night I watched 2 programs on the History Channel that happened to give some interesting insight into how a 1st century Greek (Gentile) would understand the New Testament. The first program was on Hades, the god of the dead in Greek mythology. He was the god that all Greeks feared, and almost none worshiped. They believed that no one could escape Hades' eventual grip. So for them to read in Revelation that Death and Hades' are cast into the lake of fire, would mean much more than just a place; it would read like a great hope -- the end of Hades' grip on any persons life.

The second program was on Alexander the Great's attempt to conquer India. As I was sitting there trying to get my head around why anyone would travel thousands of kilometers and fight numerous tribes in order to lay claim to some distant territory, the words of Jesus in John 18:36 came to mind. He contrasts the world's idea of a kingdom, with God's. The worldly kingdoms use armies, force, and violence to expand the territory of the King. In The Message, Eugene Peterson, phrases the last half of John 18:36 this way, "But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king." Jesus is a different kind of Lord altogether. He gives, rather than takes. He lays down his life for those in his Kingdom. He is one who uses the left handed indirect power of Love, rather than using the sword. He doesn't ask his subjects to fight, but rather live as he lived. He neither coerces people to be subject to him by fear, nor begs for subjects. He only asks us to believe that he IS the resurrected, glorious Lord. He is better than good; better than we could imagine; and worth following.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I am so here right now...

"... a quiet hush imprints itself upon my occasionally frenetic thoughts; momentum is lost in that haze, and all attempts at forging new thoughts, new paths, new articulations—fall flat and silent long before their time.
Is this what it is to be content? Lost in the doldrums of ceaseless being? Where is the doing? The fear-induced striving has been slowly stripped from my heart."
-- ML, The Doldrums

The Doldrums beautifully expresses where I seem to be at right now. It's not a place of sadness nor is it a place full of energy and thought. For now my thoughts tend to gravitate to a singular subject, and the words to adequately express my thoughts fail me. I do feel a small restlessness -- echos from a past life of striving but, like Moses, I refuse to move on from here unless Father goes with me. So I am content to stay here until I feel his nudging.

"Even less can I deny the beauty of His love that unmasked those things; how it pervades my very being with ruthless and shocking mercy. How tender the heart of love that pours itself upon my wounds—mostly self-inflicted—and heals like a salve; it is the only true panacea, the one thing that makes the term plausible. Yet here I am in the doldrums. How long oh Lord, how long?"
-- ML

Monday, April 26, 2010


I like coffee. OK, so I like cheap Coffee too. Sorry to all you coffee snobs out there, but it probably has something to do with my introduction to coffee.

You see, when I was in elementary school (in the days when we were living in San Antonio) there was this bus that came around every Sunday and took kids to church. This church was small, it didn't have Sunday School and it didn't have great programs. What it did have was a bus, and some nice older folks who thought they needed more kids around that church. So they would go to some of the local neighborhoods and pick up kids. Of course this was back in the days when churches were generally considered trustworthy and parents didn't think twice about putting their kids on a church bus. This church didn't disappoint either, the only crime they could be accused of is letting at least one kid have coffee.

I don't remember much about the worship services there. I know they sang, some guy talked for way too long, then they passed around a plate of juice and crackers which I was forbidden to partake of. But, before the service began, all the adults would stand around and talk while drinking cheap coffee made in an old fashioned peculator and eating a doughnut. So I decided that I should do the same thing. I got a doughnut (of course) and some coffee; which I first tried black but, being a kid, that was too much for me. So I added some sugar and creamer and that made it taste good to me. For whatever reason, these older (probably retired) adults didn't chase me away from the coffee. In fact they were very kind, and would chat with me just like they did with the other adults. In many ways they reminded me of my grandma, who also was kind to me.

Because of that church and their kindness, coffee and doughnuts became holy to me. They were like the bread and wine to me. Coffee is a sacred reminder to me; it is the thing I drink when I'm tired, or when I doubt. Since then, I've had great Italian coffee in the heart of Rome, and I've had barely drinkable coffee made over a campfire. But it is always a sacred thing to me, a reminder of the kindness of God shown through a few kind believers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book: Introvert Power

Introverts are often misunderstood; even by other introverts. As Laurie Helgo, PhD, points out in her book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, if you live in America, then you live in an extroverted society and introversion can often be looked at by society as a problem or short coming. If we turn down an invitation to a big party, people will often wonder 'What's wrong?' Or if we say we need to be alone for a while, everyone worries. It's also quite common for introverts to think about their answer before they throw it out there, and this sometimes earns us a false impression of being 'slow'. Dr. Helgoe is a Psychologist and fellow introvert, who has written a great book that will help dispel some of these misunderstandings, and encourage introverts to be comfortable with their introversion.

In Psychology, Introversion and Extroversion are defined as preferences, not conditions or traits. Dr. Helgo describes the Introvert preference this way: "Introverts generally prefer a rich inner life to an expansive social life; we would rather talk intimately with a close friend than share stories with a group; and we prefer to develop our ideas internally rather than interactively." (p. 4) Introverts also prefer sharing ideas, over small talk. And we recharge our batteries through quiet solitary activities such as book reading, walks, meditation, movies, or intimate conversation with plenty of time to pause and reflect. While big groups, and loud parties tend to exhaust us. An extrovert, by contrast, is energized by big parties, large groups of friends, and spirited fast paced conversations with topics running all over the map.

In a previous post I said that I would love to be an extrovert but after reading this book, I'm quite happy and content to stay the way that I am. I really do enjoy my introversion preference and will quit worrying that I'm missing out on something just because I don't enjoy a big get-together. Instead I'll focus on what I do enjoy -- family, smaller groups with just a few friends, books, and solitude.

Dr. Helgo's book is meant to educate both introverts and extroverts alike, and there is much more to the book than I've mentioned here. She wants everyone to know that being an introvert isn't a handicap; we aren't slow, we aren't snobs, we aren't unsocial or anti-social. We just process differently, and introverts have many strengths that we can bring to society. So be sure to give it a read if you want to get some ideas on how to carve out some needed quite space in your life, or if you want to understand the introvert in your life.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hypocrisy and Acceptance in a Culture stripped of Grace

Last night a good friend of mine, who is a Christian apologist, mentioned that one of the most common questions she is asked is the question of hypocrisy in the Church. Her typical answer to this question is to remind the questioner that the Church is made up of people, and people will fail. While this is certainly true, the fact that this answer is used and accepted points to something deeper in our culture; that is, we live in a culture stripped of Grace.
How many times have you heard of a coach that has gotten his team to the playoffs, but when the team loses the playoff game it seems that everyone is calling for his resignation. Or how about when a good pitcher has a bad day? For our culture, failure is not an option, and it seems that moral failure is equated with hypocrisy. This is of course a departure from the original meaning of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy by definition means that we would pretend to believe something that we don't actually believe, or to hide our true self behind a false exterior. And I believe that since we live in a culture stripped of Grace, this has become the norm for many; and maybe that is why we don't label it hypocrisy any more. We all tend to hide traits, values, or preferences that a particular group may find unacceptable. When in a church setting we may try to hide an addiction, or anger, or doubt. And in a group of our peers at work or at school, we may hide something as simple as still liking Disney movies, we may hide our feelings, or we may even go against our conscience. We do this because there is a deep longing for acceptance that we can't deny and, in a culture stripped of Grace, the last thing you would want to do is to admit your flaws. Oh we have our moments when the facade falls apart and everyone gets to have a moment of honesty, but then we are expected to get it together and move on.
I think the thing that drives hypocrisy, or hiding is the graceless culture we live in. I must admit that it's one thing to recognize that we live in a graceless culture, and it's quite another thing to practice grace. It's a struggle for me, a coping mechanism I learned early on was to not give second chances to people who hurt me. It will probably take a lifetime to unlearn that, but it is definitely something I will strive to do.