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.