Friday, August 31, 2007

Groundhog Day

For those who have not seen the movie Groundhog Day, it is about a man who gets trapped in a cycle of reliving the same day over and over again. He is the only one who realizes this, and at first has fun with it. By the end he is trying to kill himself.

Politically, we are in a Groundhog Day scenario right now.

Another shady Asian man is raising money for a Clinton White House run. Charlie Trie anyone?

Another Republican is embroiled in a sex scandal

The war goes on.

I think I will go sign up for some piano lessons.

Breaking News!!!!!!

Professional wrestlers may have used steroids.

Who could have imagined that?

My mind is reeling from this shock to my system.

Some Good reading on Christian Consumerism

Since we have a long weekend, I offer you some reading on how pervasive this issue is in the church today. It is a destructive mentality that I have caught (and hopefully arrested) in my own thinking. The issue is insidious because our American focus on stuff and self-gratification then leads into the church, where our local congregation is reduced to nothing more than a purveyor of religious expression. If I'm dissatisfied with this expression, I'll go down the street and "buy" their style.

I'm not going to sermonize here, but let the texts speak for themselves.

iChurch: All We Like Sheep

Why The Devil Takes Visa

Consumerism, Economism, and Christian Faith

Consumerism and Being a Christian

Church Switchers are Restless?

Have a happy and safe Labor Day all. May God give you a glorious time in the days he has given me.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Christian Consumerism

Following up on yesterday's diatribe on worship, I began to think about the consumerism question, which is at the heart of all of this. We want what we like, when we want it. That is American Christianity in a nutshell, I believe. Which is truly sad.

A few years ago, a local Christian radio station talk show host had people call in and tell him what they looked for when they were looking for a new church. I was driving the entire hour they discussed this, so I caught the whole sement. Not one person talked about selecting a church based on how it fullfilled the Great Commission. No one mentioned the way the church reached out into the community to help the less fortunate, the lost, the mentally ill, the powerless. No one.

Instead I heard a maddening hour of children's programs, great music, teaching, fellowship, "family" and other things that just screamed 'ME, ME, ME." I was so infuriated by this that my blood pressure was still elevated when I finally got to my doctor's office for my appointment.

I think that is when the worm began to turn in me and I realized I was part of that group, but the Lord was beginning to show me how wrong it is. Since then, he has repeatedly brought people, books and classes across my path that reinforce how messed up the American church's priorities are. We are extremely individualistic and want to do things our own way. But I'm not sure that is how God works. Actually, I'm pretty sure that is NOT how he works. There is a social component of Christianity that collides with American individualism, and the church has had a difficult time dealing with that.

Pray for the church. Pray for it,not just its members, to have a witness to the world that points toward Christ. Lord knows the world needs that encouragement.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Worship and Justice

The next time someone (maybe even you or me) goes off on "worship" (when they mean musical style preferences) print this article and give it to the person to read. It is a sobering look at what worship really is, and what it isn't. While we quibble about the kerfuffles that bother us, brothers and sisters in Christ worship in conditions we care not to imagine.

I've copied the text below if you don't want to follow the link. The bold emphasis is mine.
Leadership Journal, Summer 2007

The Real Worship War
Forget about choruses versus hymns—what about justice?
by Mark Labberton

At a worship service I attended, my attention was drawn to the enthusiastic worship leader. He opened our time with prayer, asking God to meet us and draw us into the Lord's presence. Then he stood with eyes closed and the band playing. He lifted his hands and offered his joyful praise to God.

That's when I really took notice, for as he sang so rapturously, he kept stepping on the feet of the people behind him. Not just once or twice but repeatedly throughout the singing. No apology. No acknowledgment of his "tromping in the spirit." He was just praising God while oblivious to his neighbor.

I have no doubt the worship leader was just so caught up in his own experience of worship that he lost track of others. That's exactly the problem.

For all of our apparent passion about God, in the end much of our worship seems to be mostly about us. We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor. Yet it was this very pattern in Israel's worship life that brought God's judgment. Biblical worship that finds God will also find our neighbor.

What is ironic and especially pertinent is that many debates about worship are just indirect ways of talking about ourselves, not God. Our debates devolve into how we like our worship served up each week. It's worship as consumption rather than offering. It's an expression of human taste, not a longing to reflect God's glory.

If we worship Jesus Christ, then we are to live like Jesus. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-46 that our worship will be measured by how we have lived.

The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.

Paralyzed in the pews
I do not stand outside of this sweeping critique, not for a moment. Nor does the congregation I serve. Many of us are simply busy with our daily lives. Apart from major headlines, few international needs go deep into our hearts. When we do pay attention, we often experience information overload and an unending sense of need and desperation when we hear of places like East Timor, Darfur, sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, Haiti.

We admit that people may be suffering in the world. But we conclude that the suffering of "those people" is not what it would be for us; that dying of starvation in a refugee camp in Sudan is roughly the same kind of suffering experienced by the street person we encounter on the way to work; that it is beyond our grasp to respond effectively to suffering on a global scale.

Part of the malady is this tragic rationale: that in the face of global need, if we can't do everything, we can't do anything. We are paralyzed, inert.

Meanwhile our suffering world waits for signs of God on the earth, "with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19). God's plan is that we, the church, are to be the primary evidence of God's presence. Every continent needs solid signs of that. Staggering statistics of land grabbing and bonded slavery, of malnutrition and starvation, of HIV/AIDS and wrongful imprisonment are rife. An enormous chasm exists between these daily realities in our world and the preoccupations of most Christian disciples in North America.

Jesus' call to "go and make disciples" must be carried out in a world such as this. The life-changing good news is God's saving love in Jesus Christ, who wants to make every person and every thing (including every form of injustice and oppression) new. That is our hope and our commission.

The real crisis over worship, is this: will God's people worship God in a way that demonstrates we are awake? By loving our neighbor in God's name? Will we worship the living God as he asks: "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God"?

Worship leaders may want to focus only on what seems culturally and socially immediate. But if we are to worship the Lord of all creation, the Savior of the world, then while we are checking the sound system or pondering prayers or sermons, we have to hold on to a wider vision of God's love.

The world in our worship
For several years I received each Sunday morning an e-mail from mission partners we were supporting. This couple and their three small girls were living and serving at-risk children in Cambodia. One of the only e-mails I would read before the worship service was their weekly update. I read it as a spiritual discipline, as a morsel of mercy and truth, as a reminder and a call.

I needed to lead our worship services in Berkeley with my heart freshly reminded of the realities of suffering in the world, the urgency of hearing and living out the hope of the gospel, and the joyous and costly call of sacrificial living in the name of Christ.

Each Sunday I want to serve the people in the pews right in front of me and lead them into the transforming presence of God. The issue is: what are the criteria?

Scripture indicates that the answer will be whether those who feel blessed by worship live changed lives. The evidence is not just the immediate post-service buzz but whether people are actually giving their lives away for the poor and the oppressed in some tangible way.

One Sunday I preached on Psalm 27, a remarkable psalm that vividly describes being afraid and finding God's comfort. I'm sure it was at least a "nice sermon," maybe even a good one. Later that week I attended a dinner sponsored by the International Justice Mission, a Christian organization that seeks justice for people facing various forms of oppression.

Elisabeth, a beautiful 17-year-old girl from Southeast Asia, spoke at the dinner. She had grown up in a Christian home, memorizing Bible verses, which became all the more poignant during the year she was kidnapped, forced into prostitution, and enslaved in a squalid brothel. As she spoke, she projected a picture of her room in the brothel. Over the bed where she was so brutally treated, day after day, she had written these words on the wall: "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall." These are the opening verses of Psalm 27.

I thought back to the previous Sunday and my sermon on this same psalm, remembering some of the fears I had listed for those in my church. Those were real and legitimate fears, but none of them were as consequential as those Elisabeth faced. I had this image of a silent movie going through my mind, listening to Elisabeth while envisioning my congregation gathering for worship on a random Sunday. While we were busy trying to park our cars in Berkeley that morning, a task "so totally horrible," as one person said to me recently, girls like Elisabeth were coming to worship in their settings too. She came before God in her windowless room in the brothel. We did so in our glass-walled sanctuary.

If we see Elisabeth's story through the lens of the biblical narrative, we realize that love for God ties us to love for Elisabeth. Not because her story provokes sentimental compassion, but because her life and circumstances make a claim on those who worship Jesus Christ.

Worship like the world depends on it
True worship reclarifies the purposes of God and our part in them. False worship, which can be found as much among God's people as elsewhere, leads to distorted mission.

Take power, for example. Power is one of the most profound gifts of God and therefore a prime target for false worship; that is, to take power and misuse it for something other than what honors God and his creation. Elisabeth's suffering, and much of our own, has to do with an abuse of power. Faithful worship helps us clarify and limit human power in our hearts and minds. False worship never does that. False worship sets the terms of injustice, a distortion or aberration of power. Faithful worship asks whether we are seeing and living in God's reality or in the fiction created by our own fallen lives. When we or anyone besides God assumes the central role, life whips us out of alignment.

The fallout of false worship distorts our sense of God, ourselves and others, leading to injustice and suffering, pride and entitlement. The damage continues relentlessly. No wonder God gets angry at Israel, or the church, when this distortion is perpetuated by the very people he calls his own. This is the burning message of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos. This is a battle line in the worship wars that really matters to God. Whom do we fear?

Another distortion that false worship fosters is this: the loss of God's intended witness to love and justice. God intends that from true worship will flow lives that are the evidence of his just and righteous character in the world. False worship instead leads to false representation: we may speak in God's name but fail to show God's life. The prophet Isaiah says that when God's people do this, we lie about the God we represent (Isa. 5:20-23; 29:13-16).

God intended for those in Abraham's line to be blessed to be a blessing. Their relationship with God was for their own sake but also for the sake of those who through them (and us) were to "taste and see that the LORD is good." The world is to see and know something about God through the lives and actions of faithful worshipers.

Worship that reorders
On a trip to India, I talked to a pastor about reading. He said, "If I save for four months, I am able to buy one Christian book through a discount I am offered. I have never traveled outside India, but I have heard that sometimes people in America buy books and don't read them." He asked with dismay, "Is that really true?" I mumbled something to cover my embarrassment, as I thought of just such books on my shelves.

For us, it's not a matter of if we have bought books we don't read, but how many. It's not whether we get our children inoculations, but whether we can keep track of the paperwork to prove it to the schools. It's not whether we eat, but how much we eat beyond what we need or even want. It's not whether we have a bed, but what color and theme the bed coverings will be. It's not whether we have a chance to hear about the love of God in Jesus Christ, but which ministry or church or medium we like best. Some people in our own country don't have these choices (a scandal in itself). But most people in America do. Meanwhile, millions in the Southern Hemisphere and in Asia have never lived a single day with choices like these.

This disparity between economics and justice is an issue of worship. According to Scripture, the very heart of how we show and distinguish true worship from false worship is apparent in how we respond to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected and the forgotten. As of now, I do not see this theme troubling the waters of worship in the American church. But justice and mercy are not add-ons to worship, nor are they the consequences of worship. Justice and mercy are intrinsic to God and therefore intrinsic to the worship of God.

Our worship should lead us to greater mercy, to costly acts of justice, for those who are the least seen, the least remembered, the least desired.

Vigorous biblical worship should stop, or at least redirect, our endless consumerism, as our free and faithful choice to spend less in order to give away more. Our community reputation, as Scripture suggests, should be that the church comprises those who pursue justice for the oppressed because that is what it means to be Christ's body in the world. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it's enough to feel drawn to the heart of God without our lives showing the heart of God.

Mark Labberton is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California

Excerpted from The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to Justice (Zondervan, 2007), used by permission.

Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Click here for reprint information onLeadership Journal.

Summer 2007, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, Page 81

Another Sign of the Apocalypse

Sean Casey hit his first triple since 2004. It is no coincidence that it happened on the night of a lunar eclipse. If you have ever seen Casey run, you will understand. Slow doesn't even do it justice.

Another Blow to the Body of Christ

This is a sad story. It's always sad when a couple divorces. It tears at the social fabric, destroys lives, and shakes the faith of those around them. But when the couple are pastors of a 23,000 member church taking in millions of dollars, it is greatly magnified.

The first headline I read focused on how they will split up their possessions. This is where they might have spent a little time reading Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline chapter on Simplicity. Just read this and shake your head:

The Whites have declined to say what the church pays them.

Michael Chitwood, whose financial services company devised their compensation package, said he recalled they have taken an annual salary as high as $1.5 million collectively, though most years it's closer to $600,000.

They were approved to take up to $3 million collectively, said the president of Chitwood & Chitwood of Tennessee.

Perhaps the most complex part of their divorce, being handled by Holland & Knight law firm, will be dividing up the assets, debts and business interests.

The couple's home on Bayshore Boulevard has an assessed value of $2.22 million. They have a land trust that includes two Tampa houses with assessed values of $144,800 and $257,835. The New York condo is valued at about $3.5 million.

Their multimillion-dollar ministry includes a private jet.

Randy White has said much of their wealth comes from more than 23 successful business ventures, including real estate and his role as a pitchman for Great HealthWorks' Omega XL fatty acid pills.

His main company, RAW Realty, is listed on his company Web site as being housed at 100 S. Ashley Drive, Suite 1180, in Tampa, but a law firm occupies that space. The state lists the company as being located at 2511 Grady Ave. in Tampa, which is the church address. The phone number on the Web site and listed with the state is disconnected. E-mails sent to the Web address were not returned.

White said this week the company is "very much active" in real estate, residential acquisitions and other ventures, but he's pared it down to himself and one assistant.

Citation from story referenced above.

Was just reading about Mammon this morning. Mammon = wealth, and we can't serve both, according to our Lord. I think this just reinforces his 2000 year-old point. I understand we all have bills to pay, but that does seem excessive to me. I think heeding the words of John Wesley on from Sermon 50 would be wise in this situation:

Make all you can,
Save all you can,
Give all you can.

Hoarding is a sin. And when our leaders do it, all Christians suffer because of it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I turned 40 yesterday

Maybe they should make room in the box for me.
I received my first AARP email today, which, I think, is about 10 years early.

I think I'll squeeze in between rat and the zebra. Pig is a little to random for me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Finding Grace in the small things

I come to you today from the Millenium Laundry, where I am babysitting the washers. We had quite a storm yesterday, and are without power. The plan was to do laundry on Saturday, and DTE Energy says we may be without power until Sunday or Monday. So.... Deb and the girls are running errands while I watch the washers. We are very fortunate. There are a number of large trees and branches down throughout town, and several of them landed on homes, porches and fences. All we have is no power and some water in the basement, for which we are grateful.

This has been an interesting experience for the neighborhood though. During the story yesterday, one neighbor and I were dragging construction barrels down to cover a downed phone line. A cable company truck ripped through, snagged the wire and ripped it off the pole, rendering the barrels unnecessary.

My next door neighbor offered to let us hook our extension cords to his generator which keeps our refrigerator and freezer running. And we took the food from another neighbor's freezer and put it in our deep freeze.

The east side of the street had their power back at 3 am. Our power may not be restored for days, which is odd. But we are grateful that we are fine. And we love seeing the hand of God in the way our neighborhood interacts in a time of adversity.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My heart breaks for these parents

This is such a sad story. Two teenagers dead, one seriously injured because of a series of bad decisions that began late in the night. According to the newspaper accounts, these were good kids who, for reasons one cannot explain, made a decision to get in a car with an unlicensed driver at 2:00 a.m. and then flee the police at high speeds. I truly feel for the parents whose children are gone.

I've been shopping for cars lately, since my Chevy Metro seems to be going the way of all flesh. And I have been asking Hannah her opinion about certain cars as I look at them. It is because in a little more than 2 years she will be eligible for her learner's permit, which will open a new chapter in our lives. And stories like this one terrify me. I was a teen driver once, and I don't know how my parents made it through that time.

I try to talk with the kids about the decision-making process that teens go through. I would prefer for her to have a 2-seat car because I believe that the propensity to do something stupid is directly related to the number of people in the vehicle. The more, the dumber, at least that was my experience as a teen. We would come up with plans in a group that would have never occurred to me alone, or me with one of my friends. And the grace of God sustained us. I pray that some of these conversations will stick with them in ways that will prevent something like this from happening.

Pray for these families. I cannot imagine the pain they are feeling right now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

17 years and going strong

Deb and I recently celebrated our 17th anniversary and we were marvelling at 1) how fast the time has flown and 2) how much stronger our relationship is than it was when we first started out. I surprised her by scheduling a getaway night at The Mill House Bed and Breakfast in Grand Rapids, Ohio. Deb is not one for surprises, and the fact that the kids and I kept it from her for a week drove her crazy. That, combined with not knowing where we were going until we arrived chafed at her natural tendencies. But she loved it. And I loved keeping the secret with the girls.

I'm not going to get all schmaltzy here, but over 17 years we have had our ups and downs, and we both realize that the Lord has blessed us with each other and our love has grown significantly in the past few years. And for that we are grateful.

The Mill House is a fabulous little B&B in a quaint little town of 900 along the Maumee River. The owners, Ron and Kathy Munk, are wonderful hosts and had a variety of treats, coffee, cookies and other goodies available, as well as some good conversation and a lovely view along the old canal that was built through the area in the 1840's. And the breakfast they served left us not needing lunch. You won't go away hungry. Trust me.

If you are looking for a getaway for your sweetie, or just a quiet place to go and do some contemplation or a spiritual retreat, I recommend The Mill House. That is the Garden Room pictured above, which is where we stayed. And Pastors, check out the special they offer to you.
My bride and I had a wonderful time, and I 'm sure you will too.

May God continue to bless us with each other for many many years to come.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Managing the sin in our midst

My friend Kurt had a good post on avoiding sin, which is always good advice. Trying to stay just far enough away from sin, but still be close enough to enjoy it's presence is a recipe for spiritual disaster. I've been reading Judges lately, and this was a trap that Israel fell into. When they did not drive the inhabitants of the promised land out, as the Lord instructed, they set themselves up for failure. Now they had the gods of the Ammonites, Hittites and all of the other pagan tribes next to them. And these people had attractive sons and daughters, and SURPRISE, intermarriage occurred. Then the gods came over, Israel lost God's favor, and cycle of bad things began.

Look at our lives today. How much of the pain that we suffer is caused by self-inflicted wounds? If we constantly struggle with things, maybe our friends, family and acquaintances are part of the problem. Maybe it is our job that leads us into temptation, or the neighborhood we live in. This is where we need to prayerfully seek deliverance, guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. God will show us the changes that we need to make, and if allow him, the changes that only He can make in us.

So if you are struggling with sin(s), take some prayer time to ask God if there are environmental causes that can be remedied. Maybe a vocational change is in order. I don't know, but our surroundings can be a snare for us. My prayers are with you as you seek God's instruction.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wait! Then what are the Lions?

This headline confuses me. I thought that is what we have been watching for the past several years at Ford Field.

Detroit to get minor league football team

To all the parents out there

Turn your volume up and smile as you listen to this. It is such an awkward age, but I know I will miss it when it is over.

Pure light-hearted levity...

I tip my hat to JD Walt, dean of the chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary for this one. I'm struggling with some cursed virus and this made me laugh. It also reminded me that I cannot dance.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A culture that glorifies death and violence.

No, this isn't about Iraq. It is about dog fighting and cock fighting, which are two extremely inhumane methods of entertainment that seem to have a following in this country. Michael Vick, one of the most talented players in the NFL has been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for running a dogfighting ring and the associated gambling that goes with that. This is just sickening. It is callous cruelty done for entertainment and gambling purposes. Allegedly by a man paid millions of dollars by the NFL and the endorsement deals he once held.

I don't want to condemn a man who has not been convicted, but let me say that the video below will show you what he and his friends do for amusement. Think about that if you own one of his jerseys. This is a practice (I can't call it a sport) that trains captive animals to kill and maim each other for amusement. Nothing else. And we cheer for this man on Sundays.

I can't even begin to express the level of disgust that this dog owner has over the situation. I pray that justice will be done in this case.

Money for Nothing

I apologize for the frequent use of comics lately, but some of the best commentary on our social situations comes from the humor writers. Take the strip at the right for example. The story is the croc is suing the zebra for not becoming a food source for him. But the "lotto" mentality of the legal system is one of the more sickening aspects of our society.

There are a significant number of people who seem to believe that they are entitled to large cash awards every time something doesn't go their way. To wit:

The Imus mess

The $54 Million pants

Top 10 Frivolous Lawsuits

There is a well-documented phenomenon in America of attorneys shopping for juries in certain states because they will award ridiculous amounts of money in questionable cases. Some of those states have enacted lawsuit reforms, but, as the croc says, the odds are still better than the lotto and there are no ping pong balls.

I'm not sure what to do about it, other than try to teach conflict resolution at the lowest possible level. Many of these suits are issues that got out of hand (a pair of pants for $54 million?) and should have been handled at a much lower level than the courts.

Sometimes your only recourse is to sue, when a party refuses to talk or try to work something out. But even then, suing for the actual damages, and not some lotto-type number, is a better way to handle things.

No wonder the rest of the world shakes their head at us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Anti-Bottled Water bandwagon grows

Here are a few articles on the subject that have appeared as of late. It seems that I am not alone in my thoughts on this. I must confess that I am getting tired of seeing the bottles lying all over the place in parks and along roadsides, which is part of what is driving this.

And here is something to chew on, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor: "Surely bottled water is purer and safer? Actually, no. The regulations governing the quality of public water supplies are far stricter than those governing bottled-water plants. True, there are sometimes contamination problems with tap water, but the same is true of bottled water."

This I was aware of from my days of assisting the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department with public relations activities. Mull that one over in your head for a while.

Los Angeles Times article

Christian Science Monitor article

Aspen Times News article

Or just go here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Another way to save the planet

Stop buying bottled water. Follow the advice of New York's mayor and drink tap water, which is just as safe and much less expensive. If you pay $1 per 1/2 liter of water (which is less than most convenience stores and vending machines), you are paying north of $7.50 per gallon of bottled water. You are also using up a great deal of energy in the bottling, transportation and disposal of the containers when you are finished with them. If you paid $7.50 for gas, I can only imagine the screams of protest about 'Big Oil." But I hear very little about "Big Water" from my conspiracy-theorist friends.

Buy a Brita pitcher and keep it in the fridge. You won't taste difference, you will save some cash, and you will be doing a little bit to help out planet Earth.

Just some friendly advice.

Always look on the bright side of life

That inane Monty Python tune is stuck in my head as I read the morning paper and stumble across this beauty. I think I may have figured out what our feckless friends in Lansing are doing. This is not an economic depression. No. It is a well-designed plan to alleviate traffic congestion on our state's highways. The $1.8 billion state budget deficit is just a by-product of their masterful social engineering designed to avoid the need for new highway construction. The exodus of people leaving Michigan are just mere pawns in the chess game.

I have to give it up to Jenny and the gang in Lansing. They almost had me fooled with this one. I should be more trusting of the fine elected leadership we send to our state capital each year.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I'm so tired of saying goodbye

Greetings from Michigan, the state that sends people to other states. Given the pitiful state of our economy here, there is a slow-motion exodus out of this once-proud economic giant. Now we are just a shell of what we once were and will lose another congressional seat or two in the next census.

Our little church in Dundee will say goodbye to three families in a six-week period because of the economy. One family went to Texas, another is going to Colorado and a third is going to the Cleveland, OH area. I'm tired of packing my friends up and moving them out. I don't mind the work, but this business of being a "sending church" is wearing a bit thin.

My apologies for whining. Please pass the cheese.

I praise God for His provision for each of them. The Rister's and Stevens' are going to Colorado Springs to study for the ministry. The Doktor's and Henry's are taking jobs to do what they think is best for their families, and the Lord has provided for all of them. And I do look forward to what God will do next in our little congregation. But God, you can feel free to stop the exodus any time now. As if you needed my permission.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Unintentionally blessing someone

When we moved to Monroe, we had our first experience with garbage- picking. We inherited a bunch of unusable stuff from the previous occupants that we put out each week at the curb. Some nights we would watch out the windows with the lights off as the crews swept the neighborhood looking for salvageable items. We had never seen anything like it.

Yesterday was garbage day and I unintentionally blessed someone with a wheelbarrow. My yard waste bags were rained on and were near collapse so I loaded them into the wheelbarrow as a courtesy to the yard waste collection guys. Someone took the wheelbarrow, and carefully placed the bags on the grass. It had not occurred to me that someone would even comprehend doing that, but so be it. I'm still shaking my head.

To whomever has my wheelbarrow, enjoy it. It served me well.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Our Long National Nightmare is Over

Barry Bonds' death march to the home run record is officially over, and now we can all go back to ignoring the woeful San Francisco Giants team. Congratulations to Barry, who evidently took the "better living through chemistry" credo to new heights (and widths of his head) as he pursued Hank Aaron's record.

This record will forever be tainted because it happened in the Steroid Era of baseball, when the owners, media, commissioner and fans ignored the obvious use of performance enhancing drugs. Baseball needed excitement following the 1994 strike and World Series cancellation, and juiced-up players provided that spark. Suddenly, the league seems to have gotten religion about this and is trying to crack down on steroid use, long after the horse has left the barn.

Give Barry his props. He is the greatest of the steroid era.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More on the cosmos

I may have been a bit trite yesterday in my treatment of the Opus comic. In an email conversation, someone told me that the way we get off of it being about ME is this: "The only real way to stop believing that I am the center of the universe is to recognize that Someone Else is the center of the universe. Acknowledging that Someone else is the center of the universe occurs most easily when I realize that the Center of the universe wants a personal relationship with me."

Read this article, which reflects many of my thoughts on how creation calls us to God. My apologies for giving God short-shrift yesterday.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Isn't this the truth?

Sadly, for so many people, that is true. We can stare at the vastness of creation and it is all about us. Not about God, the infinitely creative one who made all of this, but just about me.

Things haven't changed much since Adam and Eve. It's still all about them. And us.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Longing. Hungering and Thirsting. Wanting more.

In the post-vacation avalanche of mail that awaited us was a Christianity Today magazine with an intriguing article on "hungering and thirsting" that caught my eye. Matthew 5:6 teaches "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." It seems that hunger and thirst are strong metaphors in the Christian walk, which goes will with the emphasis on fasting throughout the Bible. Anyone who has seen me knows that I am not a natural faster. I have to work at it, and don't always see the joy in it. But I do it as the Lord instructs, and it has benefited me.

There is a world around us hungering and thirsting for many things, including righteousness. The world attempts to slake this thirst in many ways. Alcohol, sex, drugs, money, power, busyness, work, other people, etc. There are countless ways to fill Decartes' "God-shaped hole" in us, and we are all trying. Some are trying to fill that hole with God. Others are trying to do it with a form of religion, such as works, trying harder, or other ways that do not rely on the grace and power of God.

The U2 song "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" expresses that thought well. They are striving for God, but it seems like they are doing it in their own strength, which will end in disappointment. It's so easy to say that Jesus is what we are looking for, and that is true. I believe we need to condition our hearts to properly search. We don't need to do more, but rely more. And that is tough, especially in the United States with the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality. Our spiritual formation emphasis should be on growing closer to the Lord, which takes time. Many of us (hear me speaking of myself here) try to rush the process and devote X chapters of reading and X minutes of prayer as if it were formulaic. It isn't. Take it from a pilgrim who has slammed into that wall many times. Take time to practice solitude and rest in the Lord. Listen more and talk less in prayer time. I wish I had done that many years ago.

Here are the lyrics and a YouTube link to the video, which appears to have been shot in Las Vegas. A place where so many try vainly to satisfy their longings. Sorry I can't embed the video for you.

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed hardened lips
Felt the healing fingertips
It burned like a fire
This burning desire

I have spoken with eternal angels
I have held the hands of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the Kingdom Come
When all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well, yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosened the chains
Carried the cross
Of all my shame
all my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

Thursday, August 02, 2007

This is definitely worth listening to

If you have time, I encourage you to listen to this chapel service at Asbury Seminary. Dr. Steve Stratton, a professor of counseling offers a thoughtful and thought-provoking message on the difference between repentance and shame. While much of it I knew at some level, he does a wonderful job of stitching together several thoughts that do help explain how our attempts at change and the change wrought by the Holy Spirit are very different. If you want to receive the chapel services via Itunes, go here and follow the link.