Sunday, December 28, 2008

No More in 2009

1. No more irrational thoughts except that 2009 will be the Cubs year.
2. No more annoying habits except for biting my fingernails and blaming everyone else for my failures.
3. No more majoring in the minors except when it comes to the things I know a lot about.
4. No more highs and lows unless they're tied to my emotions.
5. No more pithy political comments unless Congress does something stupid.
6. No more making the Bible say what it doesn't mean unless I'm backed into a corner and need to 'proof-text' something to death.
7. No more satiric jabs at anything religious unless I just can't resist the opportunity.
8. No more cracks about the weather until at least January 2.
9. No more interactions with irrational people unless I'm conversing with myself.
10. No more making to-do lists I can never keep up with unless I need to do something really painful for Lent.

And on the serious side.

1. No more backing down from a needed confrontation.
2. No more putting up with religious bullies.
3. No more standing back and waiting.
4. No more wasting my gifts and talents.
5. No more putting up with gossip.
6. No more of keeping silent when my voice is needed.
7. No more tap-dancing around the truth.
8. No more settling for less than the best.
9. No more being busy for the sake of being busy.
10. No more of not being the leader God has called me to be.
11. No more being afraid to claim my 'future'.
12. No more waiting when I should be on the move.
13. No more being on the move when I should be waiting.
14. No more saying one thing and doing another.
15. No more knowing a lot about God at the expense of really knowing Him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Writing checks

We wrote some checks this week. I'm not trying to draw attention to ourselves. Not at all. But I am trying to draw attention to the fact that a lot of non-profits need our help.

We wrote checks to fight AIDS and poverty, to help people experience some of our nation's history and journey towards justice, to align ourselves with our church, and to get on board helping the oppressed in our own region. We wrote checks because we have been blessed. It was the right thing to do.

Many of you have been blessed too. A friend gave us $2000 recently to help those who have been impacted by the economy. Nice. People cried when they heard some money was coming their way.

You can make a difference. Now. Maybe it's $10. Maybe it's $10,000. Maybe it's more. This economic crisis is real. For some, it's more real than you realize. People all around us are impacted. People all around the world are dying. You can make a difference.

Write a check. Write two. How about three? Maybe four?

See what God does with the seed you plant. You'll never regret it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shoveling in Chicago

Another snow. More snowblowing and shoveling.

In a funny way, I don't mind it. You see, when I shovel and then survey my work I get a sense of pleasure and accomplishment. It's one of the few things I do that acutally seems to get finished (at least until the next snow). I can see the result of my labor.

I live in a world where there's lots of unfinished projects. My to do list gets longer, never shorter. There's always something more to do.

-When someone comes in for pastoral counseing rarely do I have an A+B=C formula all ready for them. I can give some suggestions but they always leave knowing that they're going to have to work some things out ...that we'll need to touch base again. I offer no magic bullet or pill.

-When I'm challenged by or challenge a colleague on something things don't magically fall into place. If feelings get hurt time has to be spent to patch things up.

-A couple comes in for marriage help. What ails them is not easily fixed. Pushing snow around is a piece of cake. Putting a marriage back together is a lot tougher job.

And so, snow shoveling gives me instant gratification. I need that sometimes. So do you...even though we know, in our heart, that it's not done. Nothing ever is. The driveway I clean today might be snowfilled tomorrow. It's Chicago.

Instant gratification is nice. Rare, but nice. The truth is that I didn't sign up for instant gratification. I signed on to a journey.

I'm a Christian. It snows a fair amount on my faith journey. There's always some shoveling that needs to be done. Even though I'm on a narrow path ...there's snow. I either have to shovel it out, walk through it, or play amidst it. Each day is different. I love the play days.

Some people make the Christian journey pretty formulaic. Say ABC, do DEF, and voila's all good. Doesn't work like that.

Here's the truth. The joy of the Christian faith isn't in a formula. The joy is in the journey. And why shouldn't it be? I have good traveling partners. I've learned some kingdom perspectives. I cling to the hope and promise of all the Jesus stuff I really, really believe in. The people I encounter, the problems I deal with is the stuff of real life. The storms I encounter can dump some big snow. It's OK. Because the people and situations I'm involved with matter to God.So let it snow ...let it snow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Remember Hawkeye, the sarcastic, cynical doc in the TV show 'Mash'. He had an uncanny ability to look life straight in the eye and see both the truth and the absurdity in whatever situation he was in.

Because he could see the absurdity he could cope with what turned out to be some very disturbing truths. After all, he was stuck in a war zone, thousands of miles from home, fighting a war he really didn't believe in and surrounded by a few rather inept colleagues. If that's your truth you gotta be able to laugh because the truth will make you cry.

I wonder if we laugh enough. Good laughs. Not the kind that prey upon innocent victims, or cheap shots from the rear seats. But healthy giggles, knowing grins, deep belly laughs. We need it you know.

It's been said that some people don't laugh well. They can't see the absurd. It's hard for them to see the weird, the crazy, and the preposterous all around us. Why is that?

Well, some people are control freaks. Laughter sometimes gets a bit out of control. A sense of humor isn't easily corralled.

Some people spend a good deal of time pointing fingers. When you're busy pointing at someting or someone it's hard to keep eyes and ears open to the humorous.

Some people feel responsible for everything. The responsibility is so heavy, it's taken so seriously that laughter and fun can't find a place to rest and joy runs and hides.

Control, finger pointing, and heavy loads of unrealistic responsibility are the enemies of joy. It's hard to see the absurdity in certain situations and the fun of life when one is so preoccupied with protecting the order and welfare of the universe. How can you laugh at what's truly amusing if you can't laugh at yourself?

How can one live without laughter?

I don't think Jesus did. It's hard for me to believe that three years around campfires with his motley crew didn't produce a few laughs. Read Scripture sometimes looking for the humor. It's everywhere you look.

Laughter is good medicine. It's 'holy' stuff. 'The joy of the Lord is my strength.' Sure, some humor is crude and exacts a price. But there's more than enough good stuff all around us ...look for it'll smile. Your troubles will seem less heavy. You'll see the truth for what it is and isn't. You'll gain perspective. There's too many dour faced people these days. Laugh a little. You'll feel better.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Been Done Wrong?

Ever been accused of something you've never done? Ever had someone misinterpret your motives? It's happened to us all. When it happens to me or someone I love my sense of 'justice' really kicks in. I want to explain, argue, and fight for the truth. The problem is that lots of people think the explanation, the argument, the fight is nothing more than a smokescreen. They're thinking ...'you're protesting too much. You must have done it. Your motivations were bad.'

There's a whole lot of people who aren't interested in having their opinions of you changed. They want to be right even if they're wrong.

Over the past couple of years I think some things I've done and said have been misinterpreted. I don't like it. But trying to change someone else's opinion of me or a particular situation is very, very difficult. Can I live with that? Do I have a choice?

We've all been wronged. No matter what we do or don't do we oftentimes can't get back into the good graces of someone else. So then what do we do?

I know some things not to do ...

Carry a grudge
Conduct a behind the back revenge attack
Get all red-faced and launch a counterattack

Too bad these are off limits, huh?

As I'm getting older I'm starting to recognize that when things hurt I need to start taking a look at what's really happening. Is it about truth or is something stirring inside me that's never been dealt with like some deeper wound, some misplaced priorities, some unnecessary need to save face, or the reemergence of a memory that I thought was successfully buried?

Maybe when I'm 'wronged' I'm being given the opportunity to respectfully confront, to heal a deep wound, to examine my priorities, and/or to carefully examine something I thought was dead that's come back to life. And maybe when I'm wronged or someone I love is wronged I need to go to war to set it straight ...but it's not over everything. You see, we really do have to pick our life battles wisely because if we don't we'll be battling all the time.

I learned awhile back that it's impossible to fix everything. All I can really do is walk with integrity even when life is throwing some tough things at me and take responsibility when I need to own something.

We all have a 'public' profile. Anytime you get involved, have an opinion, take a stand or grab some responsibility you're opening yourself up to criticism, ridicule, gossip, and misunderstanding. It goes with the territory. You gotta live with it. Sometimes you can effectively confront it and work it out. Most of the time you can't.

If I understand this Christian life the right way Jesus promises to be there during the good and the bad. He's always teaching,always alongside ...reaching out. So, when I've been done wrong ...Jesus needs to be there and is. If together we can't get it fixed maybe it isn't meant to be. In the midst of the discomfort of brokenness He's still there. Will I recognize His presence?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Interesting. We look for life anchors, hoping to find safe harbor and a sense of security. We put faith and trust in the government, in trusted instituions, in public figures, and even in sport franchises. Opening my e-mail over the past couple of days I've discovered that the Chicago Trib is being restructured, our Governor is in federal custody, and the economy is still 'iffy'. The Cubs might be making a trade for another starting pitcher 2009 will be the year, finally. Then again, it's the Cubs.


Maybe we're not supposed to be anchored. Maybe we're created to 'sail'. Our eyes might need to be on the horizon ...that which beckons us ...not gazing on the shore of yesterday or the institutions built by the 'people of the harbor'.

Oh, I love safe harbors. Maybe too much.
I love to anchor. Maybe too long.
I love shore leaves. Lasting into monotony.
I love institutional strength. And trust it too much.

Maybe I'm wrong.

Inside, I long for open waters. Not to escape. No, open waters that take me where the wind longs for me to go.

Our society is being restructured. What gave strength to so many for so long ...our business, our industry, our place in the world, our leaders ...well, much of that is failing. We look around and are discovering that what anchored us before is sinking us now.

So what's next?

Maybe we need to set sail. Build a good boat and 'go'.


To that dream God has planted in our hearts. To follow the chart leading to our 'divine adventure'. To a place where you can learn to trust once again ...anchoring yourself in the sweet breeze of Holy Spirit leadings.

There you will find life.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Predisposed towards sudden death ...

"This patient may be predisposed towards sudden death."

That's what my cardiologist wrote on a note that is going to persuade my insurance company to pay for some genetic testing. Why? There's a genetic flaw we've found in our family. It's called long qt syndrom. We think my sister may have died from it. My brother's heart stopped beating last summer. Now he has a machine in his chest that can jump start his heart if it happens again. The long and short of it we're trying to find out if I have this rogue gene and if I do then my kids need to be tested. Sobering, isn't it.

Even if I have it how will that impact the way I live my life?

Maybe it's not the worst thing to live knowing you could die at any instant. Keeps you on your toes I bet.

We cling to life. We fight for last breaths. Even those of us who believe in heavenly reward know that whether we want to or not we're going to take a plunge into something that's well ...unknown.

In June, when I was in an emergency room dealing with a heart attack I dealt with that...this death thing. There was a sense of peace amidst the anxiety and fear. When push comes to shove I trust Christ at His word. He has a place all prepared for me. Even knowing that, I'm not naive enough to say that I won't deal with it again. I will. We all will.

It got me thinking yesterday when I read that phrase 'predisposed towards sudden death'. I love my doc. He shoots straight. I just don't want that 'sudden death' thing to define me. What I really want is for people to write something like this. "Mike is predisposed towards sudden living. Watch out. Get around Mike and you'll want to really live."

My guess is sometimes people sense that. Not always. Those who know me well know how preoccupied I can get. I'm not very life-giving in those situations.

Big question. Do I give off the vibe of 'life'as often as I'd like? Another big question. Do you?

I'm around people all the time and they give off all kinds of vibes ...paranoia, irriation, apathy, meanness. You know them. You are them occassionally.

When you are predisposed to sudden life I think you give off the vibe of thoughtfulness, caring, love, joy, mercy, care compassion, fun, spontaneity. You know people like that. You are them occassionally.

So join my new club. It's called Sudden Life's for those of us who want to be known for breathing life back into a world that sometimes feels a bit suffocating.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Too Safe

There's an old Belgian proverb that reads something like this:

"If you're waiting for your ship to come in ...make sure you've sent one out."

It's a good word. We're in a 'play it safe' time in our history. The economic slide has people hunkering down and battening down the hatches. People are sitting on whatever money they have. They're staying close to home. They're staying with the tried and true. And they just might be missing the ship that needs to go out. Because if It doesn't go out there's no chance it will ever come back in.

I have a hunch that the real winners in today's economic climate are going to be the 'risk takers'. There's still money to be made. It's going to take some vision and gumption to make it happen.

Now, making more money isn't what rings my bell. But I am asking myself some questions about my 'vision and gumption'. Do I have what it takes to make a difference in today's economic, political and overall cultural climate? I think so. I want to.

Do you have what it takes? Are you playing it real safe these days? Hearing any God whispers in your ear? Is there a boat you need to send out in the hopes it's going to come back in? Have you had a vision check lately? How's the 'ol intestinal fortitude these days?

As a Jesus follower I know that God isn't done with me yet. As far as I can tell Jesus hasn't returned? There's still some work that needs to be done. So, what do I do in these interesting times? How safe do I want to play it? Is there an opportunity out there for me ...and for you?

I think now's the time to blow the whistle on playing it 'too safe'. Maybe we ought to be asking each other some interesting questions about listening to God, his call on our life, the possibilities for some risky ministry and some journeys to the edge of adventure.

Lots of folks are hoping and wishing that these crisis times will pass quickly. What if they're meant to be? Maybe it's a wake up call. A chance to seize the day. To dream again. To take a chance. To trust God and see what he can do with some stuff buried deep in our heart. This is the time ...don't play it too safe.