Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lying Like the Dead....

In Acts 5, we are given the account of Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife who came to Peter with a part of the money they had made selling a piece of property, claiming to be giving all of the selling price.  For their lie, they were both struck down dead.  Not for keeping part of the money, but for lying about giving all they had to God.  While some folks like to use this as a motivation to keep one's tithes in line, I see a big spiritual parallel. 
How often do we feel spiritually struck dead?  Our prayers seem to go unanswered, our study is unmotivated and uninspiring, and worship feels empty?  If we are honest with ourselves and God, aren't these typically the times when we are not being honest about how much of ourselves we are handing over to God?  Aren't these those times in life when our prayer time keeps getting pushed off, or is spent with less than 100% focus, our minds wandering to the day's events and needs, when fellowship with man and God is put off for other activities, maybe good, Christian activities, but other activities nevertheless? 
God wants all of us, and he wants us to be honest with ourselves and Him when we fall short of that goal.  Honesty paves the way for correction.  Why is Alcoholics Anonymous effective?  One of the reasons is that honesty of introducing oneself as an addict, facing that issue, and dealing with it.  When we are lying about giving all to God, we can't be effective because we aren't facing our issues, whether those issues are poverty or prosperity, failure or success.  What is it that we are holding back?  The most common issue today is simply time and focus, I think.  We multitask so hard that just stopping to focus on one thing for a significant amount of time has become difficult.  The distractions that surround us fill our minds and our hands and we find ourselves squeezing God into our lives instead of making Him the foundation.  The result is a whole lot of struck down believers.
The irony of posting this a day late does not escape me, and I'd like to say that it's on purpose, but sadly I can only say that the topic only inspired me to make sure that it did get done, instead of motivating me to get it typed up on time.  So I'll just leave you with the request to step back from life for a minute, and put the question to yourself, as I will be trying to do, am I really laying all I have down in front of God, or am I holding back and being struck down for it?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

But what a bout the bunnies and kitties?

I was listening to Ravi Zacharias this week, and a story he told just really slapped me across the ears.  He was talking about the time he lived near Cambridge University and when he went jogging in the morning, the numerous signs posted around the university, declaring the need to ban meat, fur, animal testing, ect.  This was the seventies, nice to know some things haven't changed right?  The crux of this story was his realization that all this focus on animal rights and hyper-environmentalism was the modern equivalent of what Paul was lamenting in Romans 1, with the line "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things." (Rom. 1:22-23)  I've heard the reference before, it just really jumped out again.  We're sitting in the midst of a huge push for green energy, and a constant view of how everything we do might affect the birds and the bunnies.  For example, a recent attempt to start a pipeline to bring oil down from Alaska to the lower forty eight states was shot down by Congress because of the possible environmental effects.  Those possible effects seem to outweigh the jobs and other positive human effects the pipeline would effect.   Kind of like the way the BP mess in the Gulf of Mexico might not have been as bad if the regulations hadn't required the company to be drilling so far out in the ocean.
Some people have probably already tuned out, declaring that I'm just going to say that we humans get to sit on top of the world and tear everything up and down for our own selfish wants and needs.  That's your call, but it's not my point.  My point is that while modern man may not bow down at idols shaped like cows or birds or snakes, many of us have moved those animals or the earth itself up to a holy position, one that is to be revered above anything else, a concept that God has been warning us about throughout the Bible.  When we hold up anything before the instructions God gives us, we are practicing idolatry. Even if it seems like what we're doing is in line with God's commands, if the act or the cause becomes more important than God, it turns into an idol, same as that golden calf or those various ancient statues.  When we put our time and energy into activities that distract us from God's plan for us, even if those activities seem to be good, Christian stuff, we are still practicing idolatry.  (That one's for me as much as anyone else)  
Obviously, God has given mankind a call to take care of this earth, which cancels out ideas like strip mining the whole planet for the sole purpose of making gold trinkets or razing the rain forests to make toothpicks that some people like to try and tack to Christians.  Going back to the Mosaic Law we find instruction to leave all the land to rejuvenate for an entire year out of  each seven, one of the earliest "green" movements.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to take care of the planet, or loving your animal friends, or even eating vegan.  The trouble comes when those actions get placed higher on our priority totem pole than God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Than....Conquered?

I was listening to a sermon from Charles Stanley (audio archives here, you'll have to search for "Spirit That Conquers" for the message in particular, too much Javascript for an easy direct link) and it got my wheels spinning.  We as Christians talk a great deal about our freedom and our ability to conquer that is granted us by our faith in Jesus.  Yet a little digging into the Bible finds many references to our being conquered by God and being slaves to Him.  This is seems very contradictory, especially to our freedom loving Western minds.  Romans 6 puts this contradiction bluntly, verse 18 declaring that we are "set free from sin, and have become slaves to righteousness."  How is it we can be free and slave at the same time?  Numerous Psalms declare our freedom, with 119 declaring our freedom comes directly from obeying God's laws.  Freedom only by obedience seems a bit contradictory to many mindsets today, especially a few very loud ones that I'm not delving into right now.  Their mindset is nothing new, Peter spoke of it in 2 Peter 2:18-19 "For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for 'people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.'"while at the same time hitting on that contradiction, that even if God is our master, we are slaves to Him.  Peter mentions it previously in 1 Peter 2:16, imploring believers to "live as God's slaves". 
So, we are conquerors and conquered, free and slave at the same time.  The ability to conquer our old worldly selves is granted only by being conquered by God's will.  To be free from sin and the fear of death, we have to let God be our master.  It's a meshing of spiritual and physical that is difficult for us to wrap our minds around, and as I mentioned earlier, I think that our Western mindset has a big part in that difficulty.  No, I'm not advocating a leap to Eastern spiritualism for the Church, or even the need to study various spiritual "techniques" to bring us closer to God, that is not where I'm going with this.  But I am amazed, that after many great revivals in Europe and America, after great works of building faith over the centuries, that when you read of exponential church growth and miracles now, they almost consistently are coming out of Africa, India, China, and South America, and I think that a better cultural understanding of how the spiritual and physical worlds mesh is a large part of that.  That understanding has been bent and twisted over the centuries in a whole lot of very unGodly directions, but the move is on to return these sheep to the fold, and hopefully bring with them that understanding so that the rest of us can get out of our ruts, tear down those walls in our own minds, and become more than conquerors, but properly conquered.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Greatest Commandment and it's National Implications

Last week, I ended with a mention of the Golden Rule, and the possibility that applying the rule before it would solve a lot of the problems tackled in the post.  Well, first off, I messed up.  The passage I was thinking of doesn't have that golden rule, per se, but it's pretty close. "Do to others as you would have done to you" is Matthew 7:12 or Luke 6:31.  I was thinking of "love your neighbor as yourself" from Matthew 22:39, preceded by "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matt.22:38.  The lesson here, always double check your references, even if you're 100% positive that you are correct and have known said reference for ages.  So with that little misappropriation cleared up, onto the train of thought.

Whether we say it as treating others like we want to be treated or loving others as we love ourselves, either way it is almost universally accepted that doing so makes the world a better place.  If I don't want my stuff stolen, I shouldn't steal from others.  If I don't want people to talk nasty about me behind my back, I shouldn't talk nasty about other people.  Yet that preceding rule, the greatest commandment as Jesus called it, generates much more debate.  The debate comes from many directions.  People have trouble defining love anymore.  Western culture has love and sex so intertwined that those Biblical concepts just go completely over our heads..  We have our concepts of parental love so far askew that we don't do parental things like discipline kids or set expectations for them.  People have trouble defining God anymore.  We get into the Bible and find out exactly who God is, and what loving Him entails, and we don't want to give up those worldly thought patterns and habits.  Or we don't get into the Bible, and get inaccurate definitions of who God is and what loving Him entails, and can't reconcile those wrong ideas with that innate vision of Him that is somewhere in our soul, whether we pay attention to it or not.   

My not so humble opinion has long been that the Old Testament nation of Israel was intended by God to be, among other things, an example of what can happen when a large group of people truly do follow that greatest commandment.  When Israel was standing on the Law, not out of responsibility and in action only, but had God first in their heart, mind  and soul, the nation experienced unparalleled prosperity. I'm sure that even in those high times, there were dissenters and people who fell short, but that is what the Temple sacrifices and the Day of Atonement, with it's scapegoat were for.  When they, as a group, fell from grace and lost sight of that love, the proverbial stuff really hit the fan.  Does any of this sound familiar?  While the U.S. has never been a theocracy, Christian morals and values have (contrary to the revisionists) been the foundation of our ideals and laws for the majority of our existence.  The Declaration of Independence cries out that we are endowed by our Creator with those unalienable rights.  For two hundred some odd years the United States was, for the most part, a bastion of prosperity.  Yes there were hiccups in there, yes bad stuff still happened to people, that's why I said for the most part.  It has been in recent history, as attacks on those founding ideals grew, that the prosperity has slipped away.

I'm not saying we need to turn around and enforce a Christian faith on every American citizen to dig us out of the pit the nation is sitting in socially and economically.  A forced faith is no faith at all.  I'm saying that we all need to admit that when we were proud of our Christian heritage and acknowledged it instead of trying to bury it or deny it for fear of offending some folks, the country was in much better shape.  I'm saying when anybody, but specifically teachers, politicians, cops, and other folks who happen to work for and in the government could freely talk about their own faith and how it shaped decisions they made without fear of accusations of harassment or bigotry, those decisions seemed to be a bit more productive and positive. Even the most vehement "wall of separation" folks should be honest enough to admit that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Holding to high (double) standards

A bit of writer's block today.  Lots of interesting tidbits to build off of in the news, like why is Lindsy Lohan even on the news and not relegated to Entertainment Tonight or Extra where such fluff belongs?  Or how about a discussion of the Occupy folks not realizing that protesting is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end unto itself?  Europe is getting closer and closer to economic collapse, which in this constant movement to a one world economy, is going to strike the sinking ship that is the American economy.  The new Cain harassment allegations remind us that character counts, but only if you're not a Democrat, reference Bill Clinton or Chappaquiddick or John Edwards if you don't believe me. I think we'll go off of that one today.  Herman Cain is a nasty threat to both the Democrat and Republican establishments.  He's not a career politician, he's not an extremist nut that can be easily dismissed, and more importantly, right now he's gaining a lot of support.  Suddenly, with that support rising, these old allegations arise.  Details are sketchy, just enough to generate headlines and speculation.  I'm not giving the man a free pass, but it's fascinating the furor and firestorm he gets, particularly from people who think Bill Clinton was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Clinton settled his suits out of court, for a lot more money than what we've been told the Cain cases were settled for, and people moved on. 

The disturbing thing about all of this is the blatant double standard that raises it's ugly head.  Just not liking President Obama's failed attempts to fix our economic woes is reason enough to declare a person an evil racist, but the (left) attacks on Herman Cain have been some of the most disgusting racist garbage I've seen in a long time, calling him the Republican's "black friend" and accusing him of sucking on the conservative crack pipe.  Nobody but the evil conservative pundits are pointing this out, and even then it's still just more Republican racism. 

Another blip popping up on the news radar is a renewed fight between healthcare reform and Catholic organizations.  Many of these regulations are being used to try and push providers, especially adamantly opposed religious ones, to provide medications and services that go against their beliefs, specifically birth control and abortion.  Again that nasty double standard shows up.  You can't have a prayer at a high school graduation on the grounds someone in the crowd might not be a Christian, but you can force a Christian hospital to provide abortion services in the name of equality and freedom.  It's insane.

But, pointing out a problem isn't enough.  What's the solution?  Unfortunately, like last weeks topic, that solution isn't easy or quick.  It still lays squarely on all of our shoulders.  It requires us to step up and call out so called journalists who perpetuate these double standards.  It requires stepping up and teaching ourselves and our sphere of influence that what's good for the goose is good for the gander too.  It requires acknowledging that it is impossible to remove all the offensive bits from life without creating a flat, empty grey world.  It requires going to that Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have done to you.  Applying the rule before that would go along way to solving these nasty issues to, but maybe we'll just save that one for next week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Playing the blame game....and losing.

Ok, haven't talked politics for a while, trying to focus on more important things, but with all the stuff going on right now, it has been difficult.  We've got the Occupy X movement going, the Republican candidates are vying for the nomination, Obama vying for re-election points, and that's just the big blips on the national scale.  Europe is falling to pieces economically and politically on the international scene, while the Middle East is abound with revolution, supposedly moving towards more democracy, but we will have to wait and see.
Times are rough everywhere, and just about everyone is busy looking for whose fault it is.  The OWS folks blame the "1%", Republicans blame Obama and the Democrats, Obama and the Democrats blame the 1% and the Republicans.  Sounds like a circular firing squad to me.
Too many of us are not looking at the issues through a wide enough lens.  If we did, we would have to admit that all of this stuff has hit the fan, and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of............... us.  Why is our government full of idiots, ideologues, and muckrakers (not all of whom have a (D) behind their name, (R)'s are just as much in the sights on this issue)?  Because we keep voting them in, either by not supporting other candidates or by simply not voting.  National voter turnout runs 30-50 percent of registered voters bothering to show up for elections, and I'll wager the majority of those don't really have a clue who they are voting for and what they are voting for, just going off those letters behind the name or which one's commercials stuck out in their mind.  Look at the state right now.  Republicans are arguing over which candidate is electable, not which one has the best plans and abilities for the nation, and despite O's Bush level approval ratings and numerous failed programs, no Dems have the backbone to stand up and run against him.
That's just the national level.  How about on the state and local levels?  Do you like everything your city council is doing?  How about the county government, whatever it's title is where you're at?  Your state senators and governor?  Did you get out and cast an intelligent, educated vote last time they were up, or did you miss that one?  How many various acts have been put to a public vote in your area in the last year?  It does still happen.  Guess what, it isn't the 1% screwing the 99%, the 99 is doing it just fine to themselves.
On that note, much of the OWS furor is directed at corporate America.  There actually are a few legitimate gripes leveled by the group there, but they are drowned out by envy and laziness, with these protesters wanting all that wealth they don't have ripped away by the government and handed to them.  The sad fact is that just like our elected officials, we are simply lying in the bed that we have made.  An easy example here is that big evil Walmart.  I'm not going to lie, I'm not a big fan of Wally World, but I still pick up what needs to be gotten from them quite frequently, sometimes based on price, sometimes convenience, occasionally because there's nowhere else to get it from.  I admire Sam's business plan, creating the distribution centers which bought product in big enough bulk to get massive discounts, then shipping things around his darn self instead of making each store an island.  I also remember when Walmart had a much more significant variety of products, be it electronics, music, clothes or toys than they do now.  So how did Walmart go from a great business idea to an evil corporation?  Again, because we got lazy and apathetic.  What happened to that little shop downtown with the cool clothes?  Too many people settled for Faded Glory tshirts instead of the nifty stuff that little shop carried.  What happened to the hardware store that always had that one bolt you needed for this weekend's project?  Same thing, only now Walmart doesn't have the room for 150,000 different bolts, so you're out of luck on that project.
We The People made this mess, period.  We made by getting apathetic anLet the OWS folks think that by holding their signs and refusing to leave their camps that they are making some kind of difference.  They aren't.  Let the politicians bicker amongst themselves like they are willing to fix the issues.  History and most available evidence shows they aren't.  If America is going to get out of this hole, it's going to happen in the homes of the people.  People are going to get smart, and get tired of waiting, and get to work their darn selves, scraping together ideas and businesses.  Either that, or America will join many other great nations on the list of collapsed powers of the world.  The unfortunate fact is that if we do start to climb out, it's going to be a long hard road for everyone.  Anymore, that seems to be the hardest pill of all for so many of us to swallow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To Finity, Then Beyond!

Ok, this week is the last in this burst based on Ravi Zacharias' presentation "Growing Through Our Disciplines" (I think that's the first time I put the title in here).  Here again are the links, again to the fifteen minute edits part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4.  So far, the 'tudes that have been discussed were solitude, gratitude, and certitude.  This week's 'tude is finitude.  Spellcheck doesn't like it, and even I thought Ravi may have made it up, but a couple of different dictionaries pull it up as a scholarly word, one that means exactly what it sounds like, simply the state of being finite.

A knee-jerk reaction to this might be simply responding that we are not finite, our souls will live forever.  That is true, and not the direction this 'tude goes.  The finitude here refers to our lives and time here on earth, and what we do with that.  Ravi quotes C.S. Lewis with the line "We do not have a soul, we are a soul.  We have a body."  That soul will go into eternity, based on the actions of this body, during this body's finite time in the world.  I've been getting the newsletter from Voice Of The Martyrs  for several years now, as well as keeping up with email and twitter lists from them, and it never ceases to amaze me the handle that some people have on this finitude, even if I didn't have that word to attach to it yet.  In parts of the world, believers have to hike miles into the woods to have Church services in order to avoid severe harassment, imprisonment, torture and/or death.  They risk their bodies here to tell others about Jesus, knowing that even if that act does cost them their body, it's just the finitude they knew had to dealt with.

How many of you were believers in school, be it public or college?  That was a finite opportunity to touch a lot of people, wasn't it?  Yes, lots of our Facebook and Twitter friends are old school buddies, but think about the masses that you were immersed in every day in that period, even if it was a small school.  Moving forward, to present day, think about your work, that 50 hour a week commitment that replaced school as the major time consumer in life.  How many people do you interact with there?  How many have disappeared from there, quitting, moving, being promoted, laid off, whatever the reason, their finitiude had passed yours.  Did you use that crossing of paths?  Did you put it off until tomorrow? Some of those persecuted believers I mentioned aren't the only ones in their countries facing a shortened finitude, and that person they choose not to speak to today may be another mark on a list in a dark prison by tomorrow. 

Dealing with spiritual life and prayer, finitude is the fuse we have burning.  As believers, we know that once that fuse burns up, we have infinity to worship and fellowship with God. We don't have infinity to let others know, to leave and live a legacy that will outlast our own finitude.  Properly using our own limited time is the fuel for this life, as are the other three 'tudes from this series.  Solitude gets us in communication with God, filling our spiritual tank for whatever lies ahead, be it growth, attack, or even a streak of the mundane.  Certitude keeps the motor running, knowing that there is a final goal, and the potholes and roadblock here won't matter, only how we handle them will.  Gratitude makes those hard times easier to handle, and makes the good times praise to God, not blocks of pride. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I was sad for I had no shoes, 'till I met a man who had no feet

Keeping on the same path, working off Ravi Zacharias's sermon series (these links are to the same sermon, broken up into 15 minute portions, in case your drive to work isn't quite 30 minutes long part 1 part 2 part 3 and part 4) on prayer life 'tudes.  Today's 'tude is gratitude.  Right now, that's a huge one for me personally.  This month marks a year after my family and I packed up everything we could, and took off 1500 miles from anything and anyone we knew.  Now, we are in the process of moving to a bigger house, which is always a pain, packing, cleaning, arranging, dealing with utilities, schools, post office, ect.  But it is absolutely amazing to look back at this last year and see that it definitely wasn't easy, and it wasn't always fun, but through the whole thing we made it.  Not on our own power or resources or abilities, but because God was watching over all of us the whole time.  That inspires a great deal of gratitude, looking around and realizing that even through what seemed rough times, there was a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, and clothes on our backs.  Sometimes we weren't sure if they would be there tomorrow, or the next week, or next month, but they always were there.
Whenever I see talk of prayer and gratitude, I always think about how unbelievably blessed we are in America.  Our definition of poverty and being poor is miles and miles above so much of the rest of the world's definition, it's frightening.  Our definitions of repression and persecution are so many miles above what others in the world face, it's equally disturbing.  I'm certainly not downplaying the plights that people face in the U.S.  It's just so much different worrying if the food stamps will stretch to the end of the month than worrying about if the bag of rice will stretch until enough work can be found to earn the money for another one.  It's so much different worrying that you might not get a promotion because your boss doesn't like your faith than worrying that someone is going to break down your door with a machete and a machine gun because they don't like your faith.  It would be real easy to segue into a whole lot of political commentary here, especially given some current events and activities going on right now, but that isn't the point of any of this, so I'll bite my tongue and save that rant for later.
But beyond any of these, believers in America or anywhere else in the world have something underlying all of this to be grateful for, and to carry that gratitude into their prayer life.  Regardless of our worldly conditions, we can be grateful that there is a place reserved for us in Heaven, and almost as important, the strength and direction to get us through this life until the time to move into that new house comes for us.  So, right now we have the bricks of certitude, solitude, and gratitude in the foundation of our prayer life.  Next week, the last 'tude, and a bit on how to put all of these together to make our prayer time a time of communion, communication, and growing.  If you just can't wait to find out, follow the links at the beginning of the column, and listen for yourself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Just Leave Me Alone!!!!!

Ok, as promised, I'm going to continue working off of a presentation from Ravi Zacharias (specifically this one part 1 part 2).  In the talk, he gives four 'tudes to carry into our prayer life.  Last week was certitude, this week it's solitude.  Solitude is not very popular in this day and age.  It's almost become a dirty word.  We have the idea that wanting to be alone and away from everything is unhealthy.  Too much of it certainly is, but regularly shutting out the world, especially to commune with God, is not just healthy, it's a necessity of prayer life.  There are numerous times throughout the Old and New Testament of God's people stepping away from everything so they can focus entirely on listening the what God has to say to them.  One of the best known examples is from Jesus Himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Hours away from the culmination of His earthly mission, He went away from everything, even His closest disciples, to pray to God, to confirm His instructions.  Numerous other times throughout the Gospels Jesus withdraws, departs, and sends everyone away for His prayer time.  If that's not sufficient evidence to show it's an important idea, I don't know what is.

Solitude is very difficult in our modern times.  We have created such a connected world, such a 24/7 world, that getting off the grid, even for an hour a day often seems impossible.  But remember the words of Jesus when His disciples were falling asleep as He took His solitude, "Could you not tarry one hour?"  Trust me, I know it's hard to shut off the cell phone, step away from the keyboard, kick the thoughts of all that stuff that needs done and what we want to be doing out of our heads and just be open to what God is giving us.  But it is possible.  And I'm sure, based on the testimony of many others, that the more one does it, the easier it gets.

When we do manage to shut the world out, just for a little while, we put our focus where it's supposed to be, on God and His directions for us.  As that focus becomes more of a regular part of our prayer life, it starts seeping into the rest of our lives too.  The more of that focus that our hour by hour life soaks up, the more we are able to see each step of the path we are supposed to be walking, what the actions are that God wants from us in that everyday life.  Isn't that worth waiting an hour to see the latest Lolcat or learning that your Facebook buddy is having a steak dinner tonight?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Four "tudes" part 1

Going to do something a little different.  I've been listening to to a sermon by Ravi Zacharias (this one specifically part 1 part 2, I highly recommend this guy) and have been thinking about the four "tudes" that he discusses we need to bring to our prayer life.  So if this works, I get a month's worth of blogs by talking about each of these and expounding my own impressions on them.  However, I'm going to start with the last one, because it connects to a recent news event.
At that big hadron collider, scientists believe they recently managed to push particles faster than the speed of light.  One of the mainstream news articles said that the event won't make any big deal in the real world, but it would be significant to scientists.  If it proves correct and reproducible, it yanks a major foundation block out of science's vision and understanding of how the universe works.  Part of Einstein's work said that if matter approaches the speed of light, it also approaches infinite mass, meaning in a nutshell that matter gets infinitely heavier the faster it goes. That means if something solid reaches light speed, it's weight will make that solid too heavy to move.  Assuming the experiment was accurate (the jury is still out on that, as with any major discovery) it means something is missing from that foundational equation.  Science may have to do a whole lot of rethinking about how the universe works.
The "tude" related to this story is certitude.  In the world, Einstein's work has long been considered a nearly indisputable fact of life.  Yet suddenly, the world is faced with the possibility that their long held belief may just be wrong.  This has happened many times over the centuries.  The world has gone from flat to round, from the center of the universe to the center of the solar system to somewhere on the edge of one galaxy.  We can find very few worldly things that have not changed, especially in our modern world.  But in the spiritual world, especially in our prayer, we have to come with a sense of certitude.  Not certitude that we are coming to a magic genie who will grant all our wishes if we are good enough people, but a sense of certitude that we are coming to the one, true, almighty, omniscient God of all creation, who loves us and has a plan for us.  Looking throughout the Old and New Testament, we find the powerful men and women of God were always certain of God and His power and plans, and the times they weren't certain was when things went badly.  Moses wasn't able to enter the Promised Land because he didn't follow God's orders, letting his anger and impatience take over.  Peter was walking on the water with Jesus until his sense of certainty slipped, and with it, he slipped down into the water as well.
We are never going to get physical, irrefutable certainty in this world until the sky splits and Jesus comes back.  That's why it's called faith.  But while we are here, that faith is bolstered as long as we walk with that certitude.  Certitude saved Shadrach Meshach and Abednego from the furnace, even if that certitude included the possibility that God's plan wasn't to save them.  How does your situation stack up to that?  Is it so much worse that you can't walk with that same certainty?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A little different vibration....

Last night I caught a few moments of Coast To Coast AM, one of those radio shows that delves into various conspiracy theories, alternate universes, aliens, ect.  The guest was talking about her belief in parallel universes, and lost spiritual abilities that civilization has cost mankind.  As she and the host are going on about these, I'm sitting there wondering how on earth these ideas are more acceptable to so many people than the far out concept of one omniscient, eternal God speaking the universe into being, molding man out of the dust, and setting forth a plan for that man and all his descendants.  Entire universes existing at slightly different vibrations than this one are fine for comic books and sci-fi movies, but what drives so many people to grasp this and other new-age or in many cases old-age theories instead of turning to the Bible.
Further thought points to one direction in particular.  Accepting the Biblical account of the world means accepting responsibility for oneself.  It's been a while since I read up on the various other religions of the world, but I don't recall any of them laying down the type of black and white, clean cut, eternal consequences for mankind's actions.  Some say you just keep trying until you get it right, some say we just cease being, some saw there is a lot of weighing of all our actions and thoughts that decide our eternity.  Only the Bible lays out the idea that only those who accept God as the Almighty and accept the sacrifice of Jesus for their own sins will go to Heaven, everyone else will spend eternity in the lake of fire with the rebellious angels.  No "you were pretty good in life, didn't kill anyone or torture kitties, you can get in".  That's a very hard concept, especially in our everything is equal mindset.  Yet I don't see how it's really a harder concept to believe in than the idea that everything in creation is just random chance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Use Your Disillusion

The first time I heard a rapper by the name of 2pac was watching Yo MTV Raps many many moons ago, and a song came on called "Brenda's Got A Baby", a track about not just another teen mom in the ghetto, but how her situations and choices affected those around her, including and especially the baby.  I ended up digging up the album (way back when, we had to go to the record store and actually sift through racks of tapes, then cd's, not just type a name into Amazon.  That's a topic for another day, though)  The album had some typical party it up, shoot em up gangsta rap tracks, but along side the aforementioned "Brenda" were a couple of others, like "Part Time Mother" which lifted the Stevie Wonder song to tell the tale of several people, even an unsuspecting father who find themselves taking care of little ones, and "If My Homies Call" a reminder to people from 2pac's past that he may be breaking out, but not forgetting them.  All of these put together a vision, a mindset that the way things are in the community isn't the way they have to be, that there is more to life than gangbanging, that there are consequences to actions that have to be handled.  As time went on 2pac got bigger, and for a while there were still some glimmers of that hope and optimism with tracks like "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Ain't Mad At 'Cha".  But there also seemed to be a growing disillusionment with the world, a giving up of that hope for a better world, choosing instead to get immersed in the world, with sex, drugs, drink, money, and violence.  That immersion led to 2pac's time in jail and eventually to his shooting death.
I admit to not following the hip hop scene like I did back then, but it really seems like since then, the general attitude has skipped over any hopefulness for a better day and jumped straight to that disillusioned state.  Criminal charges, jail time, inane material excesses all seem to be even bigger badges of honor then they were in the past.
This is far from a black problem, or a gang problem, or a rap problem, the rap scene and it's evolution just provide a very blunt illustration of a far reaching issue.  We seem to be leaping to apathy in too many areas of the world, from our entertainers to our schools (students and teachers) to our work places to our elected officials.  It's not a new problem either, rearing it's ugly head in the days of "tune in, turn on, drop out" or Marlon Brando's response in The Wild Ones to "What are you rebelling against?" which was simply "What have you got?"
Taking a step back from the issue, such disillusion is no surprise, simply because it's all based on the world.  Whenever we look to the world for fulfillment, we will be disappointed, because the things of the world will either fail to satisfy, or fade away, or both.  The new car becomes the old car.  The latest model (fill in the blank) becomes outdated.  That's the hole in the mindset.  We want things to be better, but when we limit our solutions to worldly ones, providing material things to those in need, depending on book education to get them out of generational squalor and violence, we just build a house without a foundation.
I've been working on this one for a while, and was going to put it on the back burner for something more 9/11 oriented, but then I realized that the ten years since that atrocity is a fine example of my point.  In the days and weeks immediately following the attacks, there was a unity in the US.  We put aside most of our differences and stood as Americans.  Then, slowly, but predictably, stuff started getting in the way.  Distractions and disagreements chipped away at that unity, that hope for a better day, until now, as dozens of headlines ask "What Has Changed Since The Attacks?", the answer is very little.  We're right back where we were, and in some ways, we've slipped down a few pegs.  If you've ever read Watchmen, you'll remember the plot to unify the world forever via a tragedy.  Evidently, such a vision only works in the comic books, because eventually, that disillusionment still sinks in.
My own worldly mindset tells me that the church should be doing more to instill that missing hope on grander scales, making more big stories of sweeping encouragement.  We know that the world's promises are empty, and there is a better goal.  But when I do my own stepping back, looking back to the real instruction book, it's not mass hope and change that are the focus.  It's the real hope and change granted the believer, the strength to move past the tragedy, past the mundane, and keep heading for the Kingdom.  We all like the big splashes, the huge revivals, but history tells us that those fade away or fall apart or sometimes even get corrupted .  The individual who learns real joy, real contentment, and lives it out may not make the big splash, but the ripples will travel further than any of us will know on this side.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When is a spade not a spade?

Somewhere in my boxes of stuff, I have a pretty realistic plastic skull.  One of those plastic Halloween decorations.  He's been beat up quite a bit over the years, the lower jaw is gone, and so are the teeth from the upper jaw, and the cap doesn't stay on either, so he's pretty much just a pair of empty eye sockets staring out at the world.  Being an old metalhead, skulls are nothing new to me.  Album covers, tshirts, and jewelery frequently place the bones that protect our brains in great prominence.  Most of the time, the reason for this is that the skull is commonly viewed as a symbol of death.  Our traditional poison markers are skulls, the age old jolly roger flag often meant death for those on the boats it chased down, even the hill Jesus was crucified on was named Golgotha, place of the skull, for its use as an execution site.  However, anymore when I come across my little plastic skull, I find myself fascinated by the intricacies of it's design.  Just what can be seen in this facsimile is really amazing when one thinks about it.  The eyes both placed forward, to allow for depth perception.  The large area to contain a significant amount of brain matter.  Although the teeth on mine are all gone, the layout of biting, tearing and grinding teeth so that we are not limited to a single type of food for nourishment. 
Many people try and tell me that all these are the result of random chance, a happenstance of time and proteins converging in just the right way.  It really seems to me that the poor, demonized skull could easily be changed from a symbol of death to a symbol of intentional design.  Symbols change constantly, correct?  Their meaning is based on perception, not necessarily intent, right?
We can certainly see that in people's perception of the church and it's symbols.  As time has gone on, for reasons deserved and undeserved, the church and the cross and all the other signs of God's people have come to mean very different things then they were intended to.  For some a church steeple is a symbol of a place they were rejected from for their choices in life.  To others a cross is a sign of bigotry and hate.  I'd like to say those impressions are all lies spread by various evil camps, but the sad fact is some people who lay claim to be Christian have had a heavy hand in enforcing those definitions of our symbols. 
Would I go so far as to say we need to replace the time honored signs of faith with new ones, like the lowly skull?  No, my suggestion would be that we all do our own part to reclaim those symbols.  Let the necklaces and tshirts be motivators, not just to others around us, but to ourselves.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's not the end of the world as we know it, but I don't feel fine....

Ok, it's May 23 and we're all still here.  It seems that Harold Camping, who has been wrong before, decided that he missed something, and the end will be Oct. 21, not May.  Backpedaling like an experienced politician, and changing tactics (probably in hopes that if he and his ministry aren't advertising and counting down, the culture's short attention span will let them fade from memory by Halloween) the Camping camp was wrong.  This comes as no surprise to people who actually know the Bible.  Matthew and Mark both record Jesus telling His disciples that no man knows the hour or day He will return.  So all Camping did was provide some people an excuse to party up, and most of those people would have been partying anyway, and give antagonistic non-believers more ammunition in their own battles against their own faith and that of others.  Similar to the way Fred Phelps damages the Body with his un-Biblical actions and words, or the way some anti-abortion activists have stepped outside of Christ-like actions against the abortion industry and providers.
These are major examples that have gotten a lot of attention lately, but they are far from the only ones.  A tale that has stuck in my mind for years is the account of a young runaway in the forties.  He joined a traveling circus and started playing the organ.  On Saturday nights, he played for the dancing girls, and on Sunday mornings, for the tent preachers, often seeing many of the same faces in both crowds. Seeing those incorrect actions of believers (I'm not putting it in quotes because I don't know their hearts, and don't want to be judging) helped push the young man to his future as Anton Levey, author of the Satanic Bible, founder of the "official" Church of Satan, and inspiration for unknown numbers of members of that church, self-styled satanists, and other active, antagonistic nonbelievers.
I started a new job this week, and already early in the training, there was instruction on the rules about work and social media.  The policy is don't talk bad about the company, other employees, customers, vendors, ect. There are instructions to make sure that if there are any references to the company, a disclaimer is added to make it clear that the person is not speaking as a representative of the company.  A fairly standard policy in this digital age, but one that is strictly a worldly policy.  Believers don't get to slap such disclaimers on our words and actions.  We are God's representatives here on earth, period.  Our actions and words are often the only Bible some of those around us will ever read.  Companies making social media policies like this understand the power of words and action, why does so much of the Church not get it?  If we did, then people like Camping and Phelps would not get the traction they presently do, because there would be much more positive evidence in front of the world, instead of the apathy and Biblical ignorance that gets so much attention.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Knowledge vs wisdom

It is absolutely amazing the sheer amounts of data available to us today.  I get a dozen or so magazines, for free, every month that are various trade journals, a couple of political newsletters, and a couple from different Christian organizations.  The trade journals are mainly computer and IT related, although I haven't cancelled the ones I started when I was selling insurance, primarily to try and keep an eye on the current healthcare debacle and it's effects on the industry (and in turn, the effects on us the consumers).  Those are just the printed ones I can get for free.  Visit your local bookstore and gaze in awe at the long stretch of magazine racks, covering music, sports, news, technology, art, movies, religion, lifestyles, et al.  Don't check the one at the grocery store, their selection is dwindling rapidly.  Then there is my inbox, which is flooded daily by news, devotionals, music reviews, free stuff and industry updates, most of which I signed up for.  Many of those emails are lists of white papers about the latest cloud computing security features or how to archive the new crop of data (ironic, no?).  Moving out into the rest of the internet, there are millions of hours of talks, radio shows, and sermons, along with podcasts, blogs, videoblogs, Youtube channels, all with more insight, information, and entertainment for us to absorb. 
There was a time when we thought that our impressive brains could hold many times the amount of information the world could generate.  With the world's knowledge doubling at ever decreasing intervals, I think we are approaching a time when that amount of data may well exceed the brain's capacity.  Last week I talked about how our machines let us do more in less time, and how the quality of that output has gone down.  I think in many ways, the same applies to our knowledge.  How many of those news reports and polls and studies are outdated or disproved before we even finish reading them?  How many of those great technological guides are obsolete by the time the email gets fished out of the spam folder?  Thinking further, how many surveys and studies do nothing but confirm what a minimal application of common sense and observation already knows?  It never ceases to scare me to see headlines, especially now as the U.S. Census data continues to be analyzed and released, that tell us the government, state or fed, or some advertiser, spent a whole lot of money to tell us what common sense already knew. 
One recent poll showed that Americans knowledge of civics, i.e. how our government works and how it is supposed to work, keeps dropping.  Other polls about people lack of Biblical knowledge and mores, even in churches, keep showing up.  Even simple knowledge, like what fruit did Adam and Eve eat in the Garden of Eden or what swallowed Jonah is lacking, let alone major things like living together before marriage is sin and homosexuality is too are missing from much of the Church.  We have a divorce rate that is the same as the worlds.  Now, I'd like to find some breakdown of that and find out how many of that number are people who divorced before they were saved, but the problem remains, along with an increasing number of pastors (not just Catholic priests) getting in legal trouble for child pornography and molestation or getting in trouble with their church for other less than saintly sexual activities. 
There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Based on the present state of society, I think it's no small leap in logic to say that knowledge can easily push out wisdom.  The examples I gave are examples of missing wisdom.  Too many churches and schools are doing nothing but throwing knowledge out at parishioners and students.  Wisdom used to be imparted to the next generation by parents, but like the churches and schools, that link in the chain has also been broken over the years.  The result has been a vacuum, and if you didn't get that bit of knowledge from the buckets of data in school, nature abhors a vacuum, meaning that if there is a hole, something will try and fill it.  This further supports my theory, that as wisdom has shrunk, the space in our mental landscape gets filled in with knowledge.  Knowledge without wisdom is like the Mississippi River right now, great power unrestrained, simply wiping out everything in it's way.  Knowledge has long been established as power, but power that is not focused, that is not directed, not controlled is useless, and often simply destructive.  We are barreling towards that flood, but we seem more interested in increasing our knowledge and seeing how big an explosion we can make. 
It's not over, however.  This seems like a very negative bit here, but everyday that there are still people who know that difference between knowledge and wisdom, there is still hope.  Every time those people parent their children, or teach their students, or preach to their flock, or just engage the people around them in intelligent discussions that help to foster some of that wisdom, help water that blossom, it is another step out of the muck.  The world has been standing in a sinking hole ever since the Fall, and the amazing thing about sinking is, if you do nothing, you keep going down.  It takes a conscious effort and action to fight gravity.
When people talk about fixing the world, it quickly gets bogged down into thoughts of "there are too many of them and not enough of us" or "what can one person do against all these ills?"  Deuteronomy 32 talks about 1000 put to flight by one who has the Lord behind them.  Add to that an interesting tidbit I picked up from a speaker recently, mentioning that an effective pastor can pastor (not just preach to, but actually pastor) about 100 people.  Megachurches (effective ones) overcome that by breaking up into cell groups, where those 100 each pastor another group, usually slightly smaller than the initial 100, and those groups typically continue to break down into smaller groups.  So lets put all this together.  If one man (or woman) of God can put a thousand of the world to flight, and that one is even a decent pastor (not necessarily an ordained preacher, but a leader in their family, at work, within their church) and they are pastoring fifty brothers and sisters, that is 50,000 running for the hills under a righteous spiritual assault.  That's just the first ripple, not taking into account those learning from that first fifty.
We aren't fighting a physical war, so our victories don't always show themselves to our physical eyes.  But when the Body is walking in the Word, those numbers add up quickly, maybe not in the votes we'd like to see  at the ballot boxes or the actions we'd like to see in our schools or any of the social changes we'd like to happen, but the numbers are there, with people moving closer to Christ, and names being added to the Book of Life, and those are the numbers that are really important.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Too much of a good thing....

My lament today matches that of Calvin's dad (that being the little blonde boy whose exploits with his stuffed tiger Hobbes entertained us daily for many years from the newspaper, and continue to from their books) as he stared at a desk full of paperwork whose urgency was compounded by the then burgeoning electronic frontier.  Everything is available at our fingertips instantaneously, so production is expected to maintain a similar pace.  Calvin's dad (I never noticed that the parents never were addressed by name until I read the anniversary book that Watterson put out, it's a cool idea, but makes it difficult to reference the characters) reminisces of a time when getting a project out in a week was a rush job, and an unlikely outcome, and that was nearly twenty years ago.  He continues on about how all the efficiency and accessibility just makes us want more in less time, concluding that if we want more time, we need to make our machines less efficient. 

The urge to multitask has been taken by many to insane extremes.  I'm bad about trying to accomplish half a dozen things at once, but I usually realize when I've hit that point where the attempt to do several things at once is seriously detrimental to the needed focus on one or more of the tasks at hand.  A prime example, as I sit here writing, my Facebook is open in another tab, and when that little number in parenthesis shows up in the tab, I reflexively go check what popped up, instead of putting all the focus in on the writing process here.  Or trying to listen to sermons and talks while walking, cooking and the like.  Or downloading new music while checking the news online. 

Some of this comes from the massive amounts of data that we are surrounded by, some of it comes from the 24-7 connectivity we're granted by our laptops, our cellphones, and our tablet computers.  We expect our emails and text messages and status posts to be immediately responded to, and try to do the same in return.  But where it hurts us is in our ability to focus on one thing at a time.  Our minds have been multitasking long before there was 3 and 4G connections, but there was a time when that multitasking went on standing behind a plow being pulled by animals, or while taking in the dark night sky just because it wasn't cold enough to need a fire and there was no other particular reason to use the fuel.  That type of mental multitasking is a bit different than letting the world know about the coolest new viral video while checking the sports scores and ordering Chinese take out. 

No, I'm certainly not calling for an obliteration of technology.  My concern here is not the stuff, but what it is doing to our minds and though patterns.  It was hard enough to sit down and focus on one thing in those short quiet times before the constant threat of a text message or notification ding, and when we think about the fact that those quiet times are where we are supposed to do most of our communing with God, and extrapolate that out into the attitudes and actions of so many people around us today, it seems that such focus is not only becoming more difficult, but even less frequent.  I know it's hard, but it is possible to rebuild that focus.  It takes work but it can be done.  Little things like getting up fifteen minutes earlier, but don't turn anything on yet.  Take a part of your lunch break out in the car, still with everything off, radio, phone, everything.  Digital Bibles are great, but if the device is too much distraction, there are these cool old things called books, you flip the pages, and they don't have any pop up ads or notifications to distract. 

A dozen people learning to unplug and focus for a few more minutes a day won't change the world overnight, but it will change those people, and those people will affect some of the people they interact with, and the wave will spread.  Isn't that worth waiting another few minutes to know that your buddy got crowned mayor of the grocery store? 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The big news of the day

Last night, it was announced that Osama Bin Laden, the mind behind 9/11 along with numerous other attacks against Americans and American interests, had been killed by U.S. troops.  This is a major win in the war on terror, far from the end of it, but a major victory nevertheless.  Pres. Obama should be commended for continuing the hunt, and authorizing the mission.  The only knocks I'll give him is a few too many, well placed I's in the announcement speech, and a warning that this is not a campaign point. 

I personally am very torn over the news.  Osama was a murderer, a terrorist, and a figurehead who poured gasoline on the fire of war in the name of radical Islam.  Even still, he was a human being, one who, despite his actions was intentionally and lovingly created by God.  His actions broke numerous laws, all worthy of punishment, and as of this writing, the reports indicate he fought back during the raid.  The worldly side of me says he deserved it all.  The Christian side says wait a minute.  Judge not, let he who is without sin cast the first stone and all that.  Lucky for me, my wife had the same thoughts, and in her looking around, came across Deuteronomy 16:20 "Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land of the Lord you God is giving you."  By every definition I can think of, justice was served.  I'm glad I wasn't involved in the decision making or the actions.  I don't think we should be celebrating the man's death in and of itself, but we can celebrate the completion of a mission, the execution of justice, and the positive effects the event will have on the continuing war on terror.  We can celebrate the closure the event offers some of the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.  But to just jump up and down over Osama's death, and even to start making some of the jokes of questionable taste already just seems to be in very poor character. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Opening up the possibilities

Ok, the dangers of posting once a week are catching up with me again.  Last time we spoke, Easter was a long ways off, now, it's already behind us.  It's interesting as the celebration comes and goes, to notice that it is one of a tiny handful of events in the New Testament we have a solid date on, with the events of Holy Week coinciding with the Jewish Passover celebrations.  For all the attention Christmas gets, there is little solid evidence presented in the Bible of it's date.  We know that the Bible tells us the important things we need to know, not always the things we want to know, so getting that detailed date on Christ's death and resurrection evidently trumps the need to know the date of His birth.  Continuing down this path, I started thinking about how very few dates, celebrations, and even rituals we were passed through the New Testament.  Reading through the Old Testament, we find a long litany of feasts, celebrations and rituals passed to Israel to properly worship God, while in the New, we have Easter and Pentecost for dated events, and we have communion, baptism and tithing for rituals.  One could count the Lord's Prayer as one of the few examples of liturgy.  Why the shift?

I'm not pretending to know the mind of God, but it's my two bits that the shift comes for several reasons.  By the available accounts, we see that before the Mosaic Law was handed down, it seems that worship was a bit more personalized.  Adam and Eve walked and talked directly with God in the Garden, without ritual, Cain and Abel brought the sacrifices of their own choosing.  While David wrote a long variety of psalms to praise and petition God, once we get into the years of the nation of Israel, the focus of worship appears to be almost exclusively to the Mosaic rituals.  This led to the legalism exemplified by the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus spoke against.  Not everyone performed the rituals or sang the songs heartlessly, but most of us know that feeling of just not being into it on Sunday morning, or even in personal devotion time, and just going through familiar motions.    

The New Covenant not only opened up salvation for people outside the decedents of  Abraham, it also reopened the world of worship.  From the melodic chants of Benedictine monks to the tortured screams of the unblack metal band, from thumping beats of the hip hop Christian soldiers to the quiet tranquility of our favorite hundred year old hymns, they are all valid expressions of faith.  I've never been a fan of the traditional/contemporary split services that are very common on church signs anymore, (just seems to be dividing not bringing together, other activities and group work can eliminate that split, however, it seems to be adding a lot of uphill struggle) but I do understand the reasoning of letting people worship in the ways most comfortable.  That's part of the idea.  Instead of tailoring our heart to our worship, we have the freedom to tailor our worship to our heart.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Camping in tents, looking towards the city

I'm working my way through another book off the shelf (Finding Your Purpose In God's Plan, by B.R. Coombs, available on good clearance shelves everywhere, that's where I got my copy, at least) and I came to a quote from Hebrews that set my mind off in a different direction from the rest of the chapter.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Heb. 11:8-10, NIV

Some words and phrases jumped out at me.  "He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise."  "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."  We are sitting here, living in this world in our tents, our temporary, physical bodies, looking forward to the city with foundations, Heaven, which is built by God.  If we go back to Genesis and read Abraham's account, it isn't an easy road he walked.  The man even threw several of the rocks onto his own path by his choices.  But he got through, not by focusing on the tent, or on the state of the land he had not yet received, but by focusing on the promise of God.

If you've been following me for a while here, you know politics is one of my favorite topics to debate.  While there are numerous good reasons for Christians to be active in the political world, we have to be very careful not to get hung up on the tent while losing focus on the city with foundations.  For example, are our words against political ideas and opponents in line with the Bible?  The shooting of abortion provider Dr. Tiller in Wichita Ks comes to mind.  Personally I abhor abortion and the abortion debate, for religious and political reasons (still haven't figured out how regulating a medical procedure falls under the federal government's Constitutional power, at minimum, on the legal side, the issue should be left to the states, instead of a federal mandate) but gunning the man down doesn't match our Biblical mandate, does it?  Ideally, the best way to deal with the issue is to put the abortion providers out of business through a lack of customers, instead of legislation.  That matches words like "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" much better doesn't it?  How many words and actions of "religious" people have been turned into fuel for nonbelievers, often with little to no twisting or taking words out of context?  How many of those were spurred by putting that focus on the fragile, temporal, dirty tents instead of that solid, permanent, holy foundation? 

It's not up as of this writing, but check later this week for the April 17th sermon on the normal Christian life.  Pastor Dan talked a great deal about how even Christians have a tendency to get focused on the tents others are wearing, like skin color and sexual orientation, instead of focusing on that eternal foundation and treating others the way Jesus wants us to.  Yes, it's nice when the Church wins some of its legal and social battles, but what about when we individuals listen to the hurts of an unsaved friend?  What about when we break down those stereotypes and don't just beat sinners up with Scripture?  What about when we follow Christ's example and weep for the world instead of screaming at it? 

It's hard to keep that focus on the eternal and not the worldly.  The world is here in front of us, in our faces, yelling at us, taxing us, sending us disconnect notices, telling us our loans weren't approved, apologizing for the pink slips, telling us that if we just let go of those old superstitions our lives will be so much more enjoyable, while the eternal tells us to wait, trust, and have faith.  Go back to Abraham, he listened to the world, took the world's route to answer God's promise, and the result caused numerous problems, even beyond Abraham's lifetime.  Compare that to the Apostles after the Ascension, who listened to Jesus' words and waited in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit, in spite of the possible threats against them there.  These are just two examples of the results, it doesn't take too much looking to find more, in the Bible, in history, and even in our own spheres of influence.  The question we have to ask ourselves is, which example are we making?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Change, change, and more change

Change came to my mind recently.  It's quite amazing how much change the last couple of generations have seen, experienced, and incited.  Technology is the easiest one to quantify, and we'll get to that one, but there have been many other changes as well.  Just in my lifetime, we've seen the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany on the international front, just for two major examples.  Shortly before my lifetime, homosexuality was listed by the APA as a mental disorder. (Not delving into that one right now, just using it as an example) The US economy has moved from production to service as it's major product.  Marriage has become more and more optional, whether people are starting one or continuing one.  People don't typically find a job and stay there until retirement, instead changing companies and often career paths frequently.  Those are just the tip of the iceberg on the social side of changes that have happened in the last thirtysomeodd years.  The social changes alone could take pages and pages to list.  Feel free to think of your own before we move to the next section.
Technology, like I said, is the easiest area of change to see.  When I was a kid, the telephone was attached to the wall, the receiver was on a cord that only stretched a couple of feet from the box, and it had a rotary dial.  A few years later, the phones had push buttons instead of rotors, multiple lines in the home became more common, and eventually wireless handsets let you wander around the house on the phone.  Now of course, we've moved from the house phone to the cell phone, which has grown in it's own leaps and bounds.  Early cell phones weren't cell phones, they were car phones, because you still had to plug them into something.  I've still got my first cell phone in a box somewhere.  It made phone calls, as long as the little plastic antenna could pick up a signal, send and receive text messages, and play Snake on the little green screen.  Now our phones make calls, play high end video games, take pictures and video, store gigs of data, read books, surf the web, track our global position..... you get the point.  The same has happened to computers.  Our first computer was an Apple IIc, with big old 5 1/4 in floppy disks that held a whopping megabit or two.  You know that old cellphone I was talking about?  It is a more powerful computing device then that poor old Apple. 
These are a lot of changes that have gone on in my short lifetime.  It certainly isn't a matter of things haven't changed before.  The difference is that the change seems to happen much faster now.  Way back when, it took months or even years for changes to disseminate into the culture, outside of small pockets like big cities.  I was watching a movie about the great Oklahoma land race, and started thinking about the years it took to set that up, and the years it took for the settlers to establish themselves on their new land, even though it became theirs in a very short amount of time. 
I think this tendency to change is one of the reasons why the last couple of generations have had such an issue in accepting God.  God is eternal, and in that eternal, He hasn't changed.  His plans haven't changed, from Adam and Eve to the nation of Israel to Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross to the wait for Jesus' return.  We have gotten so accustomed to change that the idea of God being the same, having the same values and plans and desires and expectations for us over all these centuries is hard to fathom.  We think that somehow, because the world has changed, God has changed along with it, and adjustments have to be made.  But that isn't how it works.  God isn't the one who has to make adjustments, we are.  I know changing that paradigm isn't going to be easy, but we have to do it, first in ourselves, then in the Church.  How do we make the changes?  Get back to the Bible.  Read those hard parts again, and see how they stand against our ideas.  Our pastor preached on Acts 5:1-11 this week, when Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for lying about what they had given.  Go back and read that, and think about whether that principle has changed any.  That's just one example of many where we have gotten ideas in the world and in the Church that somehow time has changed the way God works and wants us to work. 
Over the years, I've read lots of various commentators (of various degrees of talent) express how the Bible is full of old fashioned ideas that have outlived themselves.  Silly concepts like mankind is a special creation, not a random happenstance, or like we are naturally selfish, greedy, and sinful, not taught such things by society.  But I'd like to ask those folks, we've been living under those changes in mindset, along with others, for some time now.  How is that change working out for us?  Have those changes made a happier, safer, better world?  If not, maybe there's something to these old constants, no?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sumthin's better than nuthin, right

Ok, I've been a bit sick all day, and none of the things I've been working on have been clicking, so we'll cut the losses and give a short bit of wisdom.  There is an account that tells us Thomas Aquinas was in the Vatican, and Pope Innocent IV took him to his personal chambers, where they were counting the gold.  Innocent said "You see the Church is no longer in an age where she can say 'Silver and gold I have none' (Acts 3:6). To which Aquinas answered "It is true holy father, nor can she say to the lame man 'Get up and walk'.  A whole lot of thought there, I'll let you ponder it for a while.  It's one of my favorite stories, because it's disturbingly accurate, so I'll likely be expanding on it later.  Till then, enjoy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The simple things in life....

What to blab about today?  Obama's speech on why we went into Libya?  Nah, I'm honestly too torn about whether we should be putting our dog in the fight or not.  New report that a fractional increase in consumer spending was primarily spent on increased gas and energy costs?  No, trying to stay a little happier than that for a while.  My youngest child's upcoming 5th birthday and it's reverberations?  See previous answer :). 
How about simplicity?  I finally finished Max Lucado's Traveling Light, and fact that the whole book is built off of the 23rd Psalm reminded me that it is the simplest things that really reach us best.  Think about some of the most enduring praise and worship songs.  Amazing Grace, I Can Only Imagine, God Of Wonders all come to mind as packing huge amounts of encouragement, praise and theology into very tight packages.  The same goes for Bible verses and stories.  Again, think about the most familiar ones, like the aforementioned 23rs Psalm, the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego, and most of Jesus' parables.  Again, we find a lot in these small packages.
"OK, great, so there's a lot for the new believer in these songs and verses, what does that mean to us more seasoned Christians?"  Glad you asked.  Just because something is simple doesn't mean that it can't have a number of layers.  Remember that tale of Rack, Shack, and Benny?  When we learned it in Sunday School, do you remember hearing, really hearing that line "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”(Dan. 3:17,18, emphasis mine)  Think about Jesus washing His disciple's feet at the Last Supper.  As we grow in knowledge of the society an the times, it goes from a simple act of humility to realizing that not only did these men have filthy feet from walking on dirt roads all day long, but that for that reason, foot washing was the bottom man on the totem pole's job.  What did that additional information do to your understanding of that action? 
Have you slipped into a humdrum?  Have you overloaded on theological disseminations?  Are you just searching for that next step in maturation?  Look back to those simple things.  The kid's choruses you sang, the old hymns you rolled your eyes at as all the old people sang, ;) the parables and histories you think you know by heart, revisit those.  Look at them through new eyes and listen through new ears.  Enjoy their messages.  Add your knowledge and experiences to them.  You will be amazed at what you can find.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bright Lights, Big Honkin' City

Last week was our spring break, so this Kansas transplant into Arizona and the family took a big leap and hit the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles for the first time.  It was an excellent trip, we all had fun, and I thought I would just share my own various and somewhat random observations about the expedition to a city with a bigger population than many counties I've lived in.
As we traveled down the freeway through California, the vast amounts of unused land on each side of the road struck me.  In Kansas, we plow, plant or pasture (usually rotating all three) every square foot of land.  I realize that most of the Cali countryside is too barren or too rough to be good for any of those three P's, but nevertheless, the difference stood out to me.  Once we got into the city, we did several of the standard tourist activities, including a trip to the Sunset Strip.  On the Walk of Fame, I must admit, it was less impressive than it should have been.  In part due to the knowledge from the past that there is no qualification to get a star, other than shelling out the cash to put it down and maintain it, and in part due to the realization that this haphazard approach really shows when the individual stars of teams like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello are nowhere near each other.  There is now a picture of me by Alice Cooper's star, and the kids wanted one of me by KISS's star sticking out my tongue (passed on that one though) but it ain't quite up to the hype.
Maintaining the musical theme, we did go to the Hard Rock Cafe.  While my hamburger was an excellent slab of meat, it wasn't anywhere near worth the $10, and I doubt that the $15 burgers were either.  My advice, just walk through, ooh and aahh at the really cool rock memorabilla (Jim Morrison's pants, Ray Charles' braille lyric sheets, guitars from Eddie Van Halen and Bo Diddly) and hit one of the smaller deli's on the strip.  Again segueing seamlessly, one of those small delis that we ate at was really cool for two reasons.  The Hollywood reason was that some scenes from Million Dollar Baby were shot in it (so now I have to get it watched to see if we sat in the same seats) and my reason is that it, and many of the other shops and restaurants on the strip aren't just big name cash cows (like Hard Rock) but little independent businesses, the kind that built America and that the franchises are shoving out of the way.  Well worth the money to support them on your next trip.
We also loaded up on one of the "see the homes of the stars" tours.  While it was cool to see the Fresh Prince of Bel Air house up on the hill, the people who are or were living in the houses wasn't nearly as impressive as the real beauty of many of the homes up there.  Even the houses who's residents weren't special enough to warrant mention by our very entertaining tour guide were absolutely gorgeous. (Debating going off on a tangent about how some of these folks who like to ask us to donate money could fund entire countries with the costs of these houses, but I think I'll save that for another day.  I know lots of stars are very generous with their fortunes, but most of them aren't putting much of a dent in their discretionary spending with their charity work) Vaguely related to that offshoot, I didn't think about it, but my wife raised the point that for all the complaints about the California economy, Hollywood and the beaches we visited seemed to be staying pretty active.  There were people on the sidewalks, in the shops, in the restaurants, on the beaches. (ok not a lot on the beaches, but there was quite a crowd considering the serious cold front and rain rolling in along with the threat of big waves and other stuff rolling in from the Japan earthquake)  One of the kids wanted to go bowling, and the first alley we found charged $65 for a lane for an hour, plus shoes, and it was booked solid until 11:00 that night.  The second one was much more reasonably priced, but we still faced an hour's wait to get one of it's 40 lanes on a Saturday night. 
Speaking of beaches, we did hit a couple, of course.  As mentioned, it was a bit chilly with the weather coming in (I swear I felt ice in those waves) but it was still cool for this long land-locked land lubber to watch the sun sink into the water and see the kids digging for seashells.  It was not cool having to guard our paltry food supply from sea gulls on the beach, but that's the dangers of being outside I guess.  Practical tip of the trip, finding a hotel on the Pacific Coast Highway seems to be a prime way of having pretty easy access to most of L.A., as well as making it pretty easy to find one's way back to the hotel at the end of the day. 
I think that covers the big points.  Expect more revelations from the big city, especially once summer hits.  It's barely a day's drive to get out there from here, so we might even run out for the occasional event.  Close enough to visit and enjoy the city life no and again, far enough away we don't have to worry about the stuff that tends to come with that city life. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser's.....

Ok, I've been gone for a while, I was on the road for a bit finishing up our move.  One of the side things to come out of that is I splurged on an MP3 player to listen to in the moving truck going down the interstate through six states, and got some time to listen to some of the various stuff I've collected over the last several months (hopefully that means I'll get to adding the music reviews I've been meaning to get to).  One of those was a sermon series from John MacArthur about the Christian and government and our roles and responsibilities to both.  I had the initial four, hour long sermons and a fifth hour long sermon spent answering some questions that came in as the series was initially given and broadcast (back in 1985), so this was a rare opportunity for me to sit and listen to that much audio consecutively. 
As you can imagine, between the topic and the time allotted, a lot of material was covered.  The main point of all of this was though, is that we (the Church) are supposed to be focused not on politics and citizenry as we are on Kingdom work.  We are called to be good, active citizens, but it is the opinion of the speaker that we should be spending far more time and energy on evangelizing and encouraging than politicking and protesting.  This is a hard one for some of us, not because it isn't logical or Biblical, but because we have entwined our politics and our faith so much.  It is my none too humble opinion that we are living in the most politically turbulent times in the U.S. since before the Civil War, and many of those political issues are moral issues, such as abortion.  However, one of the ideals that sticks out from the series is that governments are temporary, souls are eternal.  We are definitely getting reminders that governments are not far from permanent, from the swing back to Republicans in Congress back in September to the uprisings in Egypt and Libya now.  
So how do we balance this better?  I really haven't come up with a good answer yet, despite being back off the road for a week already.  National and world politics have gotten so mired in bureaucracy, partisanship, dirty pool, career politicians, and general fertilizer that it takes a laser like focus on the politics to have any clue what's really going on, who's really pulling strings and who's just blowing in the wind.  We are living in the results of most people spending several decades not paying attention and being active in the political world, so we know that ignoring it is not an option either. 
Perhaps we need to be focusing on better utilizing the ripple effect.  Take the big ugly abortion issue. Instead of fighting in the courts, what happens if more Christian effort goes into educating people about why they shouldn't be having abortions and changing the mindset that leads to them?  Instead of going after the supply, if the demand vanishes, then does the legal status really have an effect?  If more people are saved and operating in an educated, Biblical mindset, how many of those ballot box fights would fade away?  If we had more Christ-minded people in office, how much of the gaff and corruption would run back into the shadows?  Have we wasted a lot of time and money over the years by taking the wrong route to fixing the system?
If you're interested in the inspiration behind this particular rant, you can stream or download it all here, along with a couple of more sermons on paying your taxes.  Definitely a lot to ponder, especially in these times when we seem to be within spitting distance of a major breaking point.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Conundrum Of Sorts

I really need to get better at writing down everything that pops in my head.  There were three or four good topics in my head earlier this week, and now, they have all left the building.  At least all the good details have gone.  There's lots of interesting news floating around, from the fight over state employee unions in Wisconsin and other states, to the spreading revolts in the Middle East, to the fierce winter weather across the U.S. But I think I'll work the remains of one of those ideas, instead. 

One of those thoughts bouncing around my head was aggravated by a couple of recent trips to some of the casinos in the area.  It was interesting, because it seems that casino floors are the only smoker-friendly places left in the U.S.  There aren't thick clouds of smoke floating over all the machines and tables, but the places do stink and irritate some folks, including my ex-smoker self.  I've noticed after being off the smokey treats for over a decade now, on those few occasions I visit those smoker friendly areas, I usually leave with something funky in my sinuses, and often an annoying headache.

Now, being the good, capitalist minded conservative that I am, I don't really care for the plethora of anti-smoking laws that are covering the land, or the insane added taxes on tobacco.  Neither seems to be having any significant affect on smoking, nor do they do anything to lay the personal responsibility for one's choices on the smoker or give the nonsmoker the power of the pocketbook to avoid smokers.  My answer is simply get nonsmokers together to let these various establishments (not just casinos, bars, and clubs, but also apartments and hotels) know that if they want our money, they need to provide us a better option.than the one glass enclosed slot machine room I saw in one casino or "non-smoking" rooms, apartments or rentals that are not enforced or were smoking for thirty years prior.  If we don't have the economic pull to effect the change, or inspire someone to start their own, smoke free establishments then that's the way the cookie crumbles.

The purported motivation behind all the pushes in anti-smoking laws and ludicrous costs added to tobacco is to prevent both smokers from hurting themselves by smoking, and of seemingly greater importance to some,  preventing nonsmokers from suffering damage from secondhand smoke.  The evils of secondhand smoke are shouted from the mountaintops, repeated from public service announcements, and even included on some of the surgeon general warnings on the cigarettes themselves.  Parents are lambasted for smoking in the home where their children are because of the importance of keeping children safe from the actions of the adults.  

I know, like everybody else, that secondhand smoke does not do any good to those around it, especially the young, developing respiratory system of children.  Arguing that is not the point of this rant.  The point that I'm aiming at is my amazement that many of these people who are hooting and hollering about how horrible smoking around anybody is dangerous and damaging and needs to be regulated and outlawed, tend to support abortion rights.  Smoking and abortion are both, in some arguments, about the person's right to do what they desire with and to their own bodies.  Yet, for some reason, to many people, smoking, which is not a guaranteed killer to those around it, or even to the smoker (how old was George Burns again?) must be screamed about and outlawed, while abortion, which is a guaranteed killer, must be defended tooth and nail.  Personally, this is a very interesting contradiction, and one I would love to hear a good explanation from any of these folks.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What ever happened to the melting pot, or even Must See TV?

An advantage to posting late today, I can forgo the standard Valentine's Day stuff.  Instead, I want to talk about something that strikes me frequently, but really hit last night during the Grammy Awards.  While watching, it struck me that, even though I'm a little older and never have really be a mainstream/pop music guy, I had very little idea who most of the people performing, presenting, and nominated were.  The same thing happens when I watch the Oscars and Emmys as well, and I would be completely lost if I tried watching the MTV awards nowadays.  I'm not even sure MTV does awards anymore, it's not like they do music anymore....

However, it occurs to me that this isn't simply a matter of me being out of touch with the mainstream entertainment world.  It seems to me that there isn't really a mainstream entertainment world anymore.  Very few and far between are those universally recognized bands, movies, or TV shows.  There was a time when there were some TV shows and movies that everybody had seen, and some songs that everyone knew the lyrics to.  Now, with 157 channels and DVRs to fill our TV addiction and everything under the sun (and a lot of stuff from the shadows) available on the internet on demand, plus advertisers and producers preferring pinpoint target marketing over the melting pot, and a big helping of the constant push of modern western society to individuality, it all comes to a very splintered culture.  I know we have blips on the scene, such as Justin Bieber, American Idol, and Glee, but is the fandom and recognition of those as universal as say Michael Jackson, The Cosby Show, or Titanic? 

I have been and still consider myself part of several different subcultures that suffer from this kind of splintering.  Metal, punk, hacking, and the Church all suffer in various ways from too many within the groups looking at their individuality instead of trying to melt together.  Punk is particularly vicious when it comes to dividing over ideals, with it's long and strong history of fighting to stay out of the mainstream and avoid any contact with evil corporate record labels, some in the scene laying out lots of hate, verbal, in print and sometimes physical on anyone daring to gain commercial success playing punk.  Metal isn't quite as bad, but there are some examples of the masses calling out bands for sudden, money-inspired career choices ****COUGHCOUGHCOUGHMETALLICACOUGHCOUGH****** (Excuse me, something in my throat).  Hackers engage in a lot of debates of white hat (searching out computer exploits simply for the sake of knowledge and fixing them) verses black hat (happy to exploit found holes for monetary gain, cyber vandalism or scene fame).  And of course, we don't have dozens of different denominations within the Church, didn't go through the Reformation, and didn't have a Great Awakening here in America because everyone in the Body agreed on all points of theology. 

There's nothing wrong with some grouping together by ideals, tastes, or histories.  The annual Cornerstone Christian metal festival is a big gathering of people brought together by their taste in music and their faith.  The Hackers Of Planet Earth (H.O.P.E) conferences are gathering of people interested in technology, what it does, what it is doing to us, and what we can do to it.  But when those metalheads go home, they go to their more diversified local churches, and those hackers head back to their mainstream jobs and schools.  Both groups mix and mingle with others who may or may not share all of their views and likes.  Hopefully, both the mixers and mixees pick up positives from each other.  The metalhead may get inspiration for a song from a line in the pastor's sermon, and one of the hacker's coworkers just may start practicing safer websurfing habits after a conversation about where the hacker went last weekend.

That's the whole point of a melting pot.  Different groups putting all of their good ideas together, often to create brand new ideas.  I know we started off talking about divisions in our entertainment culture, but those are just an example of the divisions in our culture, divisions that cut much deeper than TV shows and music.  Some of these divisions come from the aforementioned target marketing, with a lot of money and research going into exactly what words and images attract people with different tastes.  Some of them come from certain groups looking to keep the culture at least divided and distracted, if not conquered. 

We can't have a melting pot without a variety of ingredients.  But we also can't have a melting pot without those ingredients being willing to come together sometimes.  No, simply trying a new radio station or a different news station or listening to a different preacher isn't going to create a great social conglomeration, but it is a step in the right direction.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is it Bread and Juice or Flesh and Blood?

We had a very interesting happening at church this weekend.  During communion, the pastor said that he had received a word, that someone in the pews hadn't taken the elements.  When the pastor asked that they come forward, not to be embarrassed or forced, but to be reminded that communion is about accepting the sacrifice Jesus made for us while we were still sinners, one person did come forward.  Then the pastor moved to asking if anyone took the elements out of habit or to not stick out, and that call got several more people to come forward.  It was a powerful moment, one that doesn't translate well into the written word, and it set my mind a working.

We get in habits, not just in the outside world, but in church and our spiritual lives as well.  Those habits can be good habits, like prayer, devotional readings, communion, fellowship meetings, fill in your own blanks here.  But sometimes they become just that, habits.  We do them reflexively, automatically, without the focus and intentionality they need and deserve.  Communion is an easy one for this to happen to, because it's usually done about once a month, depending on the church, and it's done in a group, so groupthink and peer pressure come into play.  If we put just a couple of moments of thought into the act of communion, the fact that it is one of the very few traditions Jesus established Himself, the symbolism He attached to the bread and the wine, it quickly becomes difficult to glibly just take the little piece of bread out of the plate and the little cup of grape juice and down them for appearances. 

But we still do it.  Whether it's blindly eating and drinking crackers and grape juice, not thinking about the cross we put around our neck everyday, even doing "good works" out of responsibility, not love, we fall into the trap of habit, or worse, religion.  Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke against religion.  They used the empty rituals and actions of the Pharisees and Sadducees as specific examples of what happens when faith and love of God become empty action and schedule.  When we read the Old Testament, we hear about the rituals being performed with hearts open to God, and they were accepted by God as proper worship.  But by the New Testament, we have the focus off  God and on to the actions.  Forgetting the verses put in those phylacteries that were made wide to show off how holy the wearer was. (Matt. 23:5, the verses were Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16, and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, if you're interested)

One of the things I picked up from the positive mental attitude teachings of W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill was that it takes being intentional to make ourselves better.  This applies to our walk with Jesus as well.  The way to avoid the problems of empty religion is to be intentional in keeping our walk a relationship, one where communications flow both ways, one where we are looking to build up and expand the relationship at all times.  One where we admit when (not if) we fall, take the hand back up, brush ourselves off, ask forgiveness, and keep walking.  When we can maintain that intentional walk, it's never just bread and juice, it really is that body broken and blood poured out for us.