Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tug of War

I was reading something today. A woman I really respect said this about her political views... Morally conservative, socially progressive, thus a conflicted voter.

That's a mouthful. When I read it I said ...'yes'. I know lots of people like this.

Moral conservatives do worry about what's happening in today's culture. There's something deep inside a moral conservatives heart that cries out for righteousness. Moral conservatives know that there are some God-given guidelines on more than a few things that really matter. It's not enough to wink and nod at attitudes and behaviors that are foundationally contrary to God's best for humankind.

Some, not all, moral conservatives are also very socially progressive. They've resisted the temptation to retreat into a Christian ghetto and believe very strongly that God's people need to intersect with culture in very pro-active ways. They care about justice and racism, feeding the poor and attending to the lonely. They know, befriend, and care about all kinds of different people. Many of the people they care about aren't necessarily very righteous but they love them anyway. They know that societal ills find their roots in that nasty thing we call 'sin' that has a spiritual remedy in Christ. They also know that God has asked us to help unravel and confront many of the structures and systems that trip people up.

And sometimes moral conservatives who are socially progressive find themselves in a bit of a tight spot ...especially around election time. Some candidates might gain points for their moral agenda but aren't very socially concerned. And some candidates care about the social welfare issues but can't speak clearly or with authenticity about moral considerations.

And so the morally conservative/socially progessive among us can get frustrated trying to figure out who to vote for. And it can get even more frustrating when people point a finger and don't even try to understand the tug of war going on in their life. You see, being morally conservative doesn't trump being socially engaged and involved. Nor does being socially progessive negate the need for a solid moral compass. They're two sides of the same coin. At least that's what my Bible tells me. Wouldn't it be nice if all candidates had strong moral foundations built on a mature faith and a social conscience? Not all do. Maybe most.

So, what does one do? Which value wins out in the voting booth?

I thank God for my morally conservative, socially progressive friends. They love God. They care about God's creations. Many are getting it done in places that most want to ignore. They run the risk of being labeled 'conservative' by some and 'liberal' by others. That just goes to show how shallow those labels really are.

I appreciate the tension they feel. May it be so for all of us.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

As the election approaches

Here's an interesting article written by Ron Sider, a solid guy. He's the author of a book that really influenced me many years ago. Some of you will remember 'Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger".

My guess that many of you who are reading this have already made up your mind who you're voting for. You don't have to tell me and I won't tell you ... but I thought this article was helpful ... Here's how Ron Sider starts. I hope it draws you in and makes you want to read it in its entirety. The link is at the bottom of the page.

If Jesus is Lord and the Bible provides our normative framework, how should we vote on November 4? Every four years, as I anguish over this question, I half wish God would send us an e-mail. But he never has. So we are left with the tough task of evaluating the candidates’ policy proposals and track records on the basis of what I often call a “biblically balanced agenda.” If we ask what the Bible says God cares about, the implications for our political agenda become obvious: We must be pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-creation care, pro-racial justice and pro-peacemaking. This “completely prolife” agenda is now the official stance of both the Catholic bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals (see “For the Health of the Nation”).

So how do Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama fare if we evaluate them using that basic standard?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm afraid of some of you

I've been to a fair amount of doctors in the past few months ...an internist, an emergency room doc, a cardologist, a podiatrist and an opthalmologist. Those who know me well are probably thinking "What, no psychiatrist?"

One gets older, stuff breaks down. That's life.

It does make one think, however.

Do I take things for granted?
What do I do with the time I have left?
Who and what's important?

Scripture tells us that we are foreigners on this earth. We are made for eternity. That's good. I buy it. I also am fairly attached to this life. It may be unpredicatable but it's known. Ask me to preach a sermon on 'what's next' and I'll paint a remarkable picture ...I also know that I cling to the picture I'm painting in the here and now.

What comes next, after this life, is something I hold onto by faith. It's funny. My faith is strong. Sometimes my certainty isn't. For every measure of faith I have, doubt creeps in like low early morning fog.

John Ortberg has written a book about Doubt and Faith. Read it if you can. Ortberg is always intellectually honest, highly amusing, and carefully thought provoking. He has great faith. He lives with doubt.

I guess if I know everything for sure then I would need no faith, huh? Sometimes I run across people who are sure about everything. They look at the Bible like it's a puzzle needing to be put together. Put all the pieces in the right order in the right place and voila ... you got it all, you figured it out, you're right and everyone else is wrong.

It doesn't work like that. I'm convinced I'll never put that puzzle together in the right order or the right way. And it really doesn't matter. I'm glad people work at it. I benefit from it. It helps me to make sense of things. It helps me develop a paradigm of 'biblical thinking'. But I don't think anyone has it completely right. Do you?

More and more I try to make sense out of my life and my life of faith by not trying to have all the answers. I'm convinced God is still doing something. There's something about Jesus that touches the core of my being. I'm learning to give as much as I know about myself to as much as I know about Jesus ...and I know I have doubts and I have faith and more doubts and renewed faith. It's a cycle.

I'm learning that this life of faith doesn't mean that I have to be able to answer every question, to understand every bible verse, or to never doubt. It means that each day I link the story of Mike to the ages old, ongoing story of faith ...trusting that God knows what he's doing. He knew what he was doing then. He knows what He's doing now. He will do what He needs to do in the future.

I've been afraid, at times, to confront the spiritual bullies of our day and age. You know who I'm talking about. They try to intimidate. If you have a question they insist you believe their answer. They are on the 'right' and on the 'left' ...conservative and liberal. So you better believe what they believe about women in ministry, when Christ is coming back, the age of the earth, whether to vote red or blue ...because if you don't you will be labeled and shamed into silence. Some call folks like this 'guardians of the faith'. I think they're bullies.

There are others who make 'fun' of any mention of a 'faith-filled' life and they use the intimidation of pop culture relevancy as their weapon of choice. They are bullies enjoying the protection of public opinion.

I'm starting to face my own mortality. It makes me wonder about how I want to live out the rest of my days. I don't want to be afraid. I don't want to be afraid to share my faith. I don't want to be afraid to admit my doubt. I don't want to give up thinking. I do want to be faithful. Especially, among other believers I don't want to feel afraid. And sometimes I do.

And so I declare ...

I have an opinion about all kinds of things. Many of you who read this blog wouldn't like some of my takes on certain things. You might label me too conservative or too liberal. You might say I'm clinging to orthodoxy or not. Some might say I'm too religious, others not religious enough.

But you will never know for sure until you listen without the unbending bias of your own tradition and beliefs getting in the way of you really hearing. You see, I think we're all out to prove a point, to correct an error, to label ...we're not really quick to listen ...because when we listen our world can get rocked ...our faith shaken, doubts show up ...we get vulnerable. But maybe, just maybe that's where God really wants us. Because then He can speak into our lives. He becomes a living God.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have the privilege to help lead a singles group called Higher Ground. We're using a Chip Ingram book called Good to Great in God's Eyes as a broad outline for a series of discussions about how to live life. Last night we talked about Dreaming Great Dreams.

My dreams fall into three categories.

1. Shattered Dreams. You know what I'm talking about. A failed marriage. A business that goes belly-up. The loss of a son/daughter. That promotion that went to someone else.

2. Fulfilled Dreams. The marriage you hoped for is being lived out. The 'dream' vacation actually met expectations. I had a dream of being a 'priest' when I was young. I'm a minister. Close enough.

3. Dreams that take us to what's next. I had a dream when I was a kid of being the second baseman for the Milwaukee Brave (that dates me, doesn't it). Never happened. But that dream fueled some childhood energies. I dreamed of being a lawyer and going into politics. I went to law school for two weeks. Was it a wasted dream? Nope. I learned some things that led to the next best thing for my life.

There are other kind of dreams. You read about them in the Scriptures page after page, story after story. Those are the God-sized dreams, the impossible ones, placed in the hearts of what often looks like improbable people. And God is still in the dream planting business.

Martin Luther King had one of those dreams. I wonder what he'd think of this presidential campaign. So did Mandela. Talk about shock waves. Mother Theresa wasn't anyone really special but God laid a big dream on her heart. She captivated the hearts of millions and more importantly loved God's people face to face.

I have a friend, a mom and church leader who birthed a minstry called Breakthough. God laid one on her. Hundreds and hundreds of folks in a tough neighborhood on the west side of Chicago are given hope day after day, year after year. http://www.breakthoughministries.com/

I have another friend who is passionate about reaching out to male street hustlers in Chicago. God planted a crazy dream in his heart. http://www.streets.org/

My friend Sherry is having a God-sized bomb of a dream going off in her heart. She's not sure where it's leading but whoa something is happening. It's got a lot to do with justice, the poor and the oppressed.

Another friend is sensing God's leading to develop some co-housing opportunites for single adults.

Here's what I know for sure. God is in the dream-planting business. He's looking for ordinary people, willing to step out of their comfort zone, allowing Him to lead ...often into what looks like impossible situations. And then it happens. A movement is born. A ministry established. Grace is poured out.

Do me a favor. Ask God to plant a dream in your heart. You might be surprised where it leads. For sure, you'll never be the same.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Crossing the Line

I watched SNL last night. It was Sarah Palin night. She did a nice job. The cast poked appropriate fun at her. The audience numbers were out of sight.

Earlier in the week both John McCain and Barak Obama took humorous aim at each other at the Al Smith Catholic Charities fund-raising dinner. It was fun. Both McCain and Obama let their hair down (so to speak) and looked like they were having a good time.

I like it when things like this happen. It humanizes people. We get to see that elusive other side of their personalities. The ability to poke fun, receive the poke and still have a great time is something we all need to be able to experience and do.

There's nothing wrong with having a little fun. I wonder though if we don't take it too far. Is there a danger in having fun at the expense of belittling an office or a position of authority?

Do we really value the office of President? Do we value the position of authority and leadership bestowed on people we work with and for?

My take is that we have become far too casual about humanizing everything at the expense of not cherishing much.

When I critique the President does it slide into disrespect for the office?
When I disagee with a pastor do I undermine his/her calling?
When I gossip about my boss does that undermine his/her authority?

When does my critique, disagreement, and gossip cross the line and really starts eroding confidence in legitimate authority?

I wonder if we cross the line too much.

I know people who don't like George Bush. I can accept that. But when does that dislike cross the line into disdain for the office of President. When do we cross the line into belittling one of God's creations?

I know people who are saying all kinds of scandolous things about Barak Obama. Do these people value him as a human being? Probably not. If they did they wouldn't be saying what they're saying in the manner they're saying it.

I'm a pastor. I know people who don't like me. Hard to believe isn't it? But is there a line when dislike for me or any pastor is crossed and dislike turns into undermining the pastoral role?

We all work for somebody. When does water-cooler talk become so personal that it destroys office morale and impedes the ability of leadership to lead?

Where's that line?

Don't get me wrong. Presidents need to be critiqued. As a pastor, disagreement comes with territory. Not every decision by a boss is the right one. But there's a line that is crossed at times that I think does us more harm than good.

I think we have become so 'casual' about people, issues, roles, God-given authority ...that we hold neither the person or the position as sacred. We like it when we can laugh and have fun at the expense of elected officials. But do we really believe that the person has worth and that the office has merit.

That's our dilemna. Are we willing to raise high the value that all people have worth? Are we willing to respect the office or authority given (that doesn't mean giving up the right to speak out)?

How do we not cross that line?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Serving a 'hunker-down' god?

More and more people I know are being impacted by all the economic ups and downs. You know people too. Maybe you're one of them.

Many people who read this haven't been impacted much and probably won't be. Oh, for sure, your retirement plan is off the radar ...but in real time, real dollars ...right now...a lot of people are still OK.

This is for you.

Give generously.
Open your home.
Look for ways to help.
Don't forget the poor.
Support a local ministry.
Support a global ministry.
Fill a table for a not-for-profit fundraiser.

In other words open yourself, your heart, and your pocketbook up. Resist all temptation to just hunker down and ride this out.


We don't serve a god named 'hunker down'. That's a made up god. It's a god who doesn't ask much of those who serve it.

Our God is on the loose, on the prowl. He asks us to take a risk, make a sacrifice. I like this God.

I know, I know, I know there is a time to take a sabbath, time to discover the rest of God ...I know.

But there is also a time to take stock of who we are, what we've been given, to acknowledge the state of the world, to open our eyes, and to move and to act. I think we're in one of those times.

If you're looking for places to invest yourself and your money and aren't sure where or how let me know. I'll be glad to give you some places and people to invest in.

My prayer is that we'll open ourselves up to the possibilities to give. There's a whole lot of people near where you live and certainly all over the globe who have no safety net to catch them when bad economic times hit. It has nothing to do with their willingness to work, or an ethic of entitlement. I wish it was that easy. The causes are complex. But the big reality is that when you fall off the economic ladder and there's no net to catch you and you can't go to the store and buy what you need to fix what hurts and when you really have no place to turn ...who's going to be there for these folks?

Them? The servants of hunker-down?

I think it has to be us. Christ's people. His followers.

There's a great need. We have a big God. He wants to meet needs. We're His plan. It's the only plan He's got.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Return to Prosperity?

I was watching the news. Our Treasury Secretary said something to this effect - "We're taking all these economic measures in order to return us to prosperity."

I went 'huh'?

Prosperity. Not some sort of economic stability. Not some sort of banking normalcy. Prosperity.

What does that mean?

Does it mean the rich get rich, the poor stay poor?
Does it mean a world filled with McMansions and oversized SUV's?
Does it mean a lovefest with excess?
Does prosperity mean that I get more and I'll trickle it down to those who have little?

Prosperity. What a strange choice of words.

I'm a believer. I don't think 'prosperous' is what Jesus is all about. That's what late-night TV health and wealth preachers lean into, not Jesus. And so I'm struggling with what this all means.

You see, if we return to prosperous our life compasses won't work well. Our 'true north' will point us back to ourselves and our oftentimes petty concerns. Uh Uh. That's not the way we need to go.

Maybe we need to move away from prosperity and choose simplicity, intentionality, and sacrifice. Maybe we move away from 'us' being the center of the universe and instead return the universe back to its rightful owner. Maybe we need to shelve our selfish dreams for God-sized dreams.

So, maybe, our economic recovery plan is going to end up being really bad news. Some of us might end up prosperous but in the process lose our heart and soul.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Economic Roller Coaster: What I'm Thinking About

1. My heart breaks for the poor.
2. I'm becoming more and more concerned about what's going to happen to non-profits if people quit giving.
3. I'm noticing that that people of faith (at least the ones I know) have a strange sense of peace.
4. God is doing a new thing.
5. We're going to have to rediscover the biblical notion of community.
6. We're getting a truer picture of the state of the world.
7. I'm asking the question 'where do I need to invest myself?'
8. We put our trust in the wrong things.
9. Greed rules.
10. We truly live in a global village.
11. No one has the remedy.
12. It's going to be a long journey.
13. This is a global paradigm shift.
14. If you're guided by your pocket book instead of some unchanging values you're in for a long ride.
15. God is sufficient.
16. Cutting back for some people doesn't really mean much more than inconvenience. Some of them will make it sound like it's the end of their world. It's really just the end of excess.
17. There's a whole lot of folks who are going to be hurting. They live on no margin.
18. We put our trust in business and political leaders. We walk away disappointed.
19. Who we elect as President needs our prayers.
20. This is an opportunity for people of faith to step up.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wanting More

Do you ever want more?

I do.

I'm getting older. I feel it. Somedays more than others but I feel it. In my daydreams, I win the lottery and buy a place in Arube for wintering and Door Country for the summer.

That's in my daydreams.

In my gut, I sense God is calling me to one or two more great adventures. I need to pay attention to that call, that stirring.

In the past couple of weeks many people have had their retirement plans thrown for a loop. It might be a good thing. God might be calling us beyond daydreams, to live into an authentic call on our lives. What if God uses these tough economic times to plant a seed of adventure in people? What if he calls them to something new and unexpected? What's their resonse going to be?

Most people won't ever notice that something is planted. They'll only see a dream dashed against the rocks of economic realities. Instead of pausing and asking for discernment and wisdom all too many will continue to fill life with business, buysyness and clutter. Whatever it is that distracts us will keep us from noticing the oftentimes subtle touch of God in our lives. Instead of finding God's best we'll settle for sulking, pointing a finger, blaming somebody, anybody - maybe even God. Too many won't be able to see beyond their immediate feelings. They'll miss out on this new thing God wants to do in and through their lives.

I don't want to miss that. I don't want to be distracted, sulking my way through life blaming the world and missing out on opportunities.

I talked to my spiritual director today. We talked about this. He told me that God is stirring something in me - something missional. "Find out what that is" he told me. I agree. A seed has been planted. Don't know what it is but it's real.

How about you?

Are you sensing you want more? How many adventures do you have left? Any seeds being planted in your life? What stirrings do you need to be paying attention to?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The World of Stupid

We live in a world of 'stupid'. Not far from where I live a mosque had some graffitti scribbled on it. A Muslim woman at a local college was assualted. Those are 'stupid' things.

I went over to the mosque today. Talked to a couple of guys who were sitting outside. We talked about had happened. I told them that I wished things like this wouldn't happen. They agreed. I asked God to bless them. They asked God to bless me.

At least in my life, for a brief moment, 'stupid' didn't win.

On Thursday I wrote to a drive by e-mailer saying that what he was sharing was 'wrong'. I haven't gotten a response back yet. But I feel I stepped out of 'stupid' and into conviction.

That happened to John McCain this week.

Hats off to him. When the pitbulls started to circle he reached deep and pulled 'conviction' out of his political bag of tricks. He said that Barak Obama is a 'decent man, a family man'. It sounded like more than a few of his 'peeps' didn't want to hear what he had to say.

Too bad. Disheartening. The close minded always want to live in the world of 'stupid'. It's that world where someone can't rethink a position, be kind even when hurt, or let go of a grudge for the common good.

For the record, I think Obama is a decent man, a family man. So is John McCain. I love it when both of them act 'decent', running away from stupid.

When we all start doing that maybe the drive-by e-mailers, the hate-mongers, the designated pit-bulls (with or without lipstick) will be driven back to the shadows where they belong. And maybe, just maybe 'stupid' will be shown for what it really is.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Power of Words

Words are powerful.

I've often wondered if James had been decimated by someone's words when he wrote 'be slow to speak, quick to listen' . Maybe he remembered how he had 'sizzled' someone and winced a bit as he penned those words.

I'm reminded about the 'power of words' once again during this campaign season. A candidate has a friend, an acquaintance. That friend has a documented radical past. Words are hurled. Inferences made. 'If the friend has a radical past then the candidate must be sympathetic to that past - don't you think?'

And people buy it. You betcha they do.

Words. Use the right ones and you can push just the right buttons to get people to do just what you want them to do. Let's push the fear button. Watch the people squirm in their seats. Let's push the race button. Watch the people recoil into their prejudice. Push the 'used to be radical button' and watch people make the easy leap to 'terrorism'.

It's wrong. It's wrong. It's wrong.

By any standard, it's wrong. If we claim to be 'Christ followers' how can we allow words that wound escape from our mouths. How can we allow wounding words to go unchallenged?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Who won the debate?

So, I was asked a dozen times or more about the Vice-Presidential Debate. Each time it was by someone who really didn't want my opinion, only my agreement.

The truth of the matter is that I think both Obama and McCain white-knuckled their way through the Biden/Palen verbal skirmish. I'm sure both of them were relieved that both V.P. candidates did nothing to self-destruct or derail the campaign. That's my truth. I thought both of them were equally uninspiring. Biden comes across as self-righteous. Palin was scripted to evade what she couldn't answer. Ho hum.

But the people who asked me didn't want my opinion. Again, no interchange of ideas. They just wanted me to validate their perception and opinion. Couldn't do it.

I hang out a fair amount with more conservative Christian types. I live in a county that is known for its Republican leanings. I also have a fair amount of more liberal Christian friends. I live near Chicago, that has (rumor has it) leanings that are more democratic.

Can one be truthful with either camp? Are the lines so tightly drawn that truth becomes partisan?

Conservatives equate Christianity with Republicanism. I think that sells the cause of Christ short. To talk about justice, concern for the poor or to even being critical (in the best sense of that word) about a conservative candidate or position seems to put you on the hot seat. It's as if you're not really a Christian if you veer from the conservative line. That's when the walls go up. There is no possibility for dialogue.

Of course, more liberal Christian types have their own bias and they can look down their collective noses at their more conservative brothers and sisters. They are too easily dismissive of anything that doesn't serve their agenda.That's a wall difficult to climb.

So, who is it harder to talk with? Who has the least bandwith to talk intelligently about important issues?

Which group was I with last week? Why was I hemming and hawing? Why was I feeling walled in? What label was I trying to avoid? Was it a more conservative or a more liberal camp?

I felt trapped. I kind of knew that there was no room for discussion. Just agreement.

Oh, I did stick my toe into the political waters. But it didn't feel comfortable. So, I poked and prodded and asked just a little bit. Didn't want to risk more.

That's what happens ...no risk ...no growth. We're all the worse for it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Interesting times-Interesting conversation????

OK. Admittedly we're in trying times. That's a given. The economy is in a sink hole. The election is getting a little tedious. There's crazy people all over the globe who seem intent on making life hard for everybody. The Chicago Tribune decided to dumb down it's content.

But it's interesting.

Really interesting.

There's things to talk about. That's good. Everyone has an opinion about the economy, right? And the election. Even though it's drawn out it's still got some sizzle. I mean, Thursday night, the debate between the V.P. candidates could go in countless directions, most ripe for parody and satire. It's not dull.

If you live in Chicago, you gotta love it. Both the Sox and the beloved Cubs are in the playoffs. Doesn't get much better than that.

There's no end to the discussions possible. Will we have them?

I think we've lost the ability to have a good conversation. What I'm talking about is a conversation with great content, lively interchange, and attentive listening. We live in a sound byte age with sound byte interchanges. We're missing out on opportunities to learn from each other.

Sport conversation can be frivolous. That's OK. It's not end of the world type of stuff. Although I'm convinced a Cubs/Sox World Series will usher in the rapture.

Political conversation is vital. Faith conversations are really important. State of the economy conversations could possibly lead to solutions.

We've got to have these kind of conversations. The problem is that it's starting to be a lost art. We yell at each other too often. We discount another person's position. We aren't willing to be learners. We don't listen.

And so we have drive-by discussions and settle for that. Why?