Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is True Joy Containable?


"When the holy flame starts burning in us,
the only way to express our praise to God
is in worshiping with our whole being!"
-Beauty Maenzanise

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his heavenly dwelling;
praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the trumpet;
praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that lives sing praises to the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
-Psalm 150

Friday, November 27, 2009


Slowly but surely in these most recent years, I am finally learning the art of appreciation. I want & need to learn to be content with whatever I have. This life secret seems to be found more fully as I turn more of myself over to my Maker and others in love.

There were many years as a kid (and beyond) where all I could do was pour over the Sears catalog, etc. and brood and want what I did not have. And if others had it, my desire seemed even greater. The satisfaction quota of acquiring that missing item from my toy inventory became shorter each time my lust for more was satiated. In other words, once I got it, it no longer held the mysterious allure of that which was out of my grasp. And everyone knows that the the primary difference between men and boys is the size of our toys.

Our consumer culture has encouraged the development of the advertising industry to such an extent that product recognition has become a new religion, so to speak, electronic media our personal altars, the promoters/manufacturers the societal priests & the products themselves, idols seemingly worthy of our worship. We acculturate covetousness in the name of free market. Even the "religious organizations" have entered the arena of competition for our money & souls; thus such items as the bobble-headed Jesus and wwjd bracelets.

This is the world we live in, and has been for as long as we can reckon. The Israelites faced similar temptation issues as a community of faith thousands of years ago... only the names and faces have changed. Today, Jesus moves into our neighborhood, and challenges our priorities, just as He did 2,000 years ago in 1st century Israel. May those with ears to hear and eyes to see learn recognize and apply these truths today.

Can less really be more?
Can we really gain our lives by giving them away?
Do we find our lives by losing them?

I am convinced that what G.K. Chesterton wrote in his autobiography is absolutely true: "The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them." And the Apostle Paul who said, "I have learned to be content with whatever I have."

The key I think as I watch my boys rapid depreciation of their birthday gifts just yesterday is that appreciative contentment with what we have is most certainly a learned behavior. And unfortunately some of us never achieve this type of maturity. We go to our graves trying gain the illusive stuff that we think will finally complete us. The more stuff available to us, the more we want. It is extremely counter-cultural to go against this grain. So, as a result, many of us never realize the futility of it all. Those of us who cry "Rosebud!" earlier in life rather than on our death beds are truly blessed. (see Citizen Kane)

So what is the secret to this abundant lifestyle of less stuff? I have found that the more I get to know my Maker and His ways, the more I learn to appreciate the important things in this life: relationships, moments of inspiration & revelation, beauty, laughter, authenticity, giving rather than taking, healing & restoration, strength of character & love. These are key components to a full and meaningful life. They are not tangible, nor for sale, & yet more real than any man-made material product available on the market today. May we all learn the art of appreciation and pass it on to our children & neighbors. This is our Maker's way!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Politically Correct? Get over it! Disagree? ok. No really, it's ok.

I shared this email with my Dad, brother and wife, about 2 weeks before the tragic Ft. Hood shootings. We were discussing the issues from varying perspectives. Can we continue to have discussions and disagree in this country with true freedom of speech? Can we look at the facts without being labeled... a nut-case, fanatical, abusive, etc. If not, I am afraid we have moved beyond the point of no return. I post these thoughts un-apologetically, but with no ill-will or evil intentions. We cannot simply ignore the elephant in the room. There are serious issues surrounding extremely violent Islam. This is not merely an isolated act of terrorism, but has shown itself globally to be a growing trend of horrible atrocities. What will happen if we deny the realities of our day and fail to provide a secure place for our children and theirs? Here are some thoughts that are really not PC. Sorry...Look, I know this is a very inflammatory topic, so I will try to respond with care and grace. My response will be secular, in the sense that I will give two separate responses: church and state. I know that in reality it is ridiculous to try to separate the two, but I will try.

My church response as a pastor is that we must recognize that worldly govts. come and go, and that we are foreigners and aliens in this world (1 Peter 2:11). Nonetheless, we are called to live here and now, and bloom where we are planted (see Jeremiah 29). We are called by God to pray for, participate in and support those who are governing the lands we live in, as much as we can. "Render to Caesar what is Caesars" Jesus said. But at the same time, we are also those who look to Jesus as our Lord, not Caesar. We will not bow down to earthly leaders and worship them. To claim "Jesus is Lord" which is the rally cry of all followers of Jesus, is to imply that "Caesar (or the govt.) is not".

We have brothers and sisters around the world who are followers of Jesus living in many different governmental situations, ranging from oppressive totalitarian dictatorships to those free to worship openly and freely as they choose. We in the West who are blessed enough to live in a democracy must recognize that our situation is an anomaly compared to the rest of the world. Most followers around the globe live under persecution, expecting to experience torture at some point and possibly even martyrdom for choosing to go against the grain and worship the Creator God and Father of Jesus Christ. I don't think we in the West can even begin to appreciate the difference that must make. In many regions of the world, there are no nominal followers of Jesus, because they can't afford it. Choosing the state accepted religion can be a matter of life or death. Most of the Christian population today resides in Africa, South America and Asia. Western Christians are now in the minority for the first time in 1,500 yrs.

I appreciate my families freedom to gather in the open and worship regularly, as well as the freedom for others of other faiths to do the same. From my perspective, democracy offers a freedom of religion that no other system in the recent history of the world has ever offered. I want to share the Good News of Jesus with as many people as I can, but I would never force or coerce anyone to follow Jesus. The way of Christ is a personal journey that involves seeking to love and live fully in the midst of a radical community of like-minded folks, Jesus' way, with the help of God's Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. This can happen regardless of the state, but will certainly become more dangerous and difficult if the state opposes such freedom.

Now from a state perspective: We can gather a lot about Islam by observing the history of its spread around the world. Anyone who claims Islam is a peaceful religion which promotes healthy boundaries for its followers is not looking at the facts. The only difference I can really see between radical Islam and moderate Islam is that the moderates are waiting for the Mahdi (Muslim Messiah) to arrive on the scene before sharia law is established. There is no perfect world system, and I don't think there ever will be. The idea of a perfect worldly utopia run by human beings is a ridiculous concept that will never happen. Every human being I know has issues of some sort or another, and any system developed by humans will have a shadow side to it. And yet there are some systems that perform better than others, depending upon what we consider to be good. If freedom is considered a positive result of a system, then I see democracy as the best tool we have developed yet, although it is not perfect. Granted democracy can get ugly at times - it can become partisan at times, but that is part of the beauty, as well as part of the shadow.

If absolute control by a few considered elite is the result we are seeking, there have been many models throughout the millenia, and currently are several we can look at today: socialism, communism, fascism, totalitarianism, etc. I do believe that Islam is in line with these totalitarian models, as it is a theocratic form of political rule whereby the religious leaders impose muslim sharia law upon a population (extremely controlling), expecting that everyone will conform, or else suffer the consequences. Certainly there are some Westernized Muslims who do not want to live under, nor abide by sharia law, but they are a minority, not the majority. That is why they have moved to a free country. We don't hear from a lot of them because they know that if they speak out, they are likely to be terrorized by the Islamic proponents of jihad and sharia law. But, that does not overrule the global reality that the majority of Muslims are living under the geo-political movement established by Muhammed of Islam - and these folks are actively immigrating around the world, setting up culturally comfortable neighborhoods, and rather than integrating into the resident cultures and living with the democratic policies of the states, are rather working to import their native sharia law and supplant the existing laws which are offensive to them. They are moving to the U.S. and Canada in record numbers.

I think that Europe is a great example of what can happen in a very short time to a state governement. What has made Europe more susceptible to this phenomenon, I believe is the socialization of their state systems. When government attempts to become all things to everyone, the govt. is likely to fall very short. In the sharia law system, the govt./religion becomes all things to everyone, but maintains absolute control over everyone at the same time. They tell you what you can say, what you can do, how to worship, how to dress, what to think, etc...

In recent decades, Europe has attempted a social experiment whereby they attempted to allow as much freedom as possible, while letting the government run as much as possible. Government influence over citizens lives grew while at the same time seeking to provide freedom of borders, freedom from work (welfare), freedom from sickness (socialized medicine), freedom from hate (hate laws), freedom from offense (political correctness), etc. Freedom is great, but there must be some healthy boundaries in a society as well. Unchecked freedom results in chaos. The result has been a massive influx of foreigners, and a lack of any national sense of who people are. "Who are we? Well, we are those who allow the govt. to make our lives better. We trust the govt. to solve our problems, i.e., we don't need to think for ourselves, make decisions for ourselves, work for ourselves, because we have smart leaders to do all of that for us". It happens under the guise of a level playing field, but the reality is that the govt. always is above the people. The result for citizens of the state is a lack of pride, character, incentive, effort and identity. The good intentions of a welfare state seem to always result in the negative results of a loss of respect for self, loss of identity, loss of purpose, loss of vocation, loss of productivity, loss of freedom (yes), loss of imagination and creativity, and loss of the important expectation that everyone in a society to should contribute to the well-being of all. The mantra becomes: "I'm gonna get mine... from the govt. - they owe me" - the state becomes the savior of the people, but in reality the state is very fallible and unable to effectively produce what it seeks to provide.There is a very evident shadow side to socialism... we lose: "Of the People", and "By the People"... and simply have "For the People".

Those proponents of sharia law despise the freedoms of democracy, and recognize and are taking advantage of the weaknesses of socialist-democracies. The door is wide open for "Allah" to reign all over the globe, and sharia law to be implemented as the world-wide legal system. Islam will settle for no less. In my opinion, the primary role of the state is to provide security for it's people. If we in the United States don't wake up and recognize what is happening, it won't be too far in the future before our children and grand-children are facing an Islamic choice - convert and embrace sharia law, or face persecution and possible martyrdom. This is the reality we face.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

imagining the kingdom of God

Can we really enter the kingdom of God that Jesus describes for us without imaginations? We must become like "children," Jesus says. The kingdom is for "those with ears to hear and eyes to see". We live into the kingdom as we hear the voice of God and respond faithfully. This response is not some mechanical, rule-oriented, do-this, don't do-that, ritualistic, works obedience to God's law. As a matter of fact God's law is not static and unmoving, but flowing, adaptable to all situations and grace oriented as what is in the best interests of His creation at any given moment. The response to God's Word as Jesus explained and demonstrated is mystical, relational, in connection with all things, cosmic in significance whether small or large, and simply organic in nature. We cannot confine God and His Word into some tablet, book of law or even a self-help manual for life. The Word of God is alive, free-flowing, and speaks to us dynamically through the voice of the Spirit. At the essence of kingdom living is love. As we learn to live and love imaginatively and fully, without holding back, without reserve, we find ourselves in another dimension of reality, one that moves and breathes with all of creation as a positive healing force. This alternate reality kingdom is not reserved for special buildings, groups of people, cultures or nations, but is open and available to any and all who make themselves available to God through His living Word, Jesus Christ.

"Lord, do not allow us to run through the pages of your Bible without, somewhere, encountering you... send your divine breath, your Holy Spirit, so that we may indeed commit ourselves to the deep and come to you across the waters. Give us a simple heart, able to marvel and leap at the sound of your voice, as children leap to the voice of their father... We beseech you: "Let us hear your voice!" - Raniero Cantalamessa

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Get Real

Real people are real complicated. So much of our interaction with people in and out of the church is superficial. We are certainly guilty of defining others with simple adjectives and allowing that to guide our relationships. In order to get to know others as real, complicated people, we must let down our guards, open our homes and lives, and live life together, in the good, bad and ugly. Refrigerator rights are what it takes, getting to a place where we hang out and share existence, rather than just crossing paths in the foyer and singing together in the choir.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

GOD ON MUTE by Pete Greig

I appreciated what Greig said about our society's virtual denial (my words) about the difficulty of life. We have embraced a victim perspective and see ourselves as entitled to have "happiness" handed to us on a silver platter. This is one of the best books on prayer I have read since many of the classics like E.M. Bounds, and devotionals like Streams in the Desert. Our ancestors knew that life is difficult. They experienced death and suffering first hand, regularly, without the miracles of contemporary medical technology. They were not desensitized by violence and blood on television and in movies. They experienced those things first hand as they went about daily lives, slaughtering pigs, chopping heads off of pet chickens, and burying family members by hand. Life was hard, as it is for most of the rest of the world. Most of the poor folks I know are happier than those with lots of comforts and toys. Why is that?

Greig makes the point well: When life is viewed from the perspective of tough, the blessings of God, small and large, experienced daily in life are illuminated and amplified big time. Rather than blame God when tragedy strikes, or difficult times are had, those with a real perspective of the difficulty of life and suffering are able to see the good God is bringing out of the situation, and appreciate more resolutely the small blessings of life. We move forward through life, doing the best we can, clinging to Jesus, family and friends.

Yes, God is sovereign, but God gets blamed for way more than He deserves. I cringe when I hear people say: "well if God wants her, he'll take her." Life is difficult, and illness and death happen (now anyway). The hope we have though is that God is making all things new, and one day Jesus will wipe away every tear and take away pain and suffering. Until then, we walk through life with dignity, hope and joy able to withstand anything this life can throw at us, because God is with us, and God is good! Mystery? yes. Truth? yes, I believe.

Is virtual reality denial the contemporary darkness which the light of Christ must dispel?