Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fraught with Peril

The last time I spoke at length to a singles group on the subject of Love, Relationships, and Sex a woman, mid to late 60's, stood up and declared in a loud voice, "Do you mean to tell me that you're asking me to buy a suit without trying it on?" That busted up the crowd and slowed my momentum for sure.

Even though a talk is about relationships, love, and sex everyone and I mean everyone zeroes in on ‘sex’. And we only want to hear those things about 'sex' that don’t undermine the way we live our lives.

Even in the Christian community men and women reserve the right to be 'god' over certain segments of their life. They say 'yes' to God only if it doesn't infringe on what they 'feel' about a certain issue. Truth doesn't matter. God's best doesn't matter. We reseserve the right to do our own thing in our own way in our own timing. We want God but on our terms, not His. I know people who love God but are reckless with their finances. My tendency is to waste time and talent. In the Christian singles community matters of relationships, love, and sex are often off limits to God. Casual relationships, sex outside of marriage, confusing love with infatuation are OK because they bring us short term fulfillment. After all, live for today. Who knows about tomorrow?

And so, this series I’m embarking on is fraught with peril.

Most of the people I work with and love have been divorced. They've experienced, for sure, some physical intimacy in their life. It's a strong drive. A drive that is not easily abated.

Some have told me that easy and frequent sex is expected even in the Christian singles community. The notion is that if it feels good, do it. It doesn't matter what God says. The surge of the sex drive trumps God's guidance. The urgency of the here and now, the temptation of our 'sexy' society, and the drumbeat of secular guru's are loud, incessant voices that often get the best of even the well meaning.

I understand the pull of all of this. So do you. We are sinful people. We turn our back on God in some very habitual ways. We are created for relationship, structured for intimacy. The biblical narrative instructs us to find comfort in a relationship with God and in the community of faith.

The problem is that, at times, this ‘faith’ business is hard work. It requires sacrifice, obedience, and jump off the cliff responses. It’s about trust when we don’t want to trust anybody or anything. And so, we avoid what’s hard and oftentimes just go with what’s convenient. In the process, we ignore the long-term negative consequences that accompany thumbing our nose at God.

The truth is that it's hard to say 'no' unless there's a bigger 'yes' beating in our hearts. I believe that the issues I'm talking about will never get resolved until people 'convert' themselves completely to a living God who wants the best for their lives, all areas of their lives.

So, what do I say to single adults about love, sex, and relationships? It starts with the themes of biblical text. “Repent, flee from sin, trust God, don’t listen to the gurus of a sex crazed culture, create community, follow Jesus, believe that God is bigger than your desires and circumstances, don’t flirt with temptation …”

Some will buy it. Many won’t. Some will say that God has disappointed them in the past. I will wonder if it was God or religion that disappointed.

The problem is that every time I see someone give in to their desires I see them later regretting their decisions. Men who look at every woman as a conquest never live up to their God-given relational potential. They carry the imprint of every sexual escapade into their next relationship and it keeps them from giving themselves fully to anybody. Women who give themselves away never get what they yearn for deep inside. They crave relationship, safety and intimacy and instead settle for men who don’t want relationship, who aren’t safe and who don’t know what commitment means. Intimacy can't be created in that kind of environment.

So, it’s going to be an interesting series. Fraught with peril. Can’t wait to see what God does with all of this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jet-lagged Holy Land Observations

During the week I asked our guide what percentage of Israelis were people of ‘faith’. He told me that 80% of the citizens of the land would label themselves as being secular. That didn’t surprise me but it does disturb me.

Throughout history God has guided his ‘Chosen People’. He’s also disciplined them. Read through any of the prophets and you get a clear picture of God’s call to His people and a sobering reminder of the consequences of failing to heed that call. You see God’s love is coupled with the steely resolve of a God who wants obedience and allegiance. When Israel wanders they are disciplined.

I wonder if Israel is listening to those prophetic voices of Scripture any longer. I doubt that they are. And if they aren’t listening, not obeying, not heeding God’s call …what will God do to get their attention?

And I wonder what God will do to get our attention here in America? How many of us who claim to be people of faith are really far more secularized than faithfilled?

There were certain sites in Israel that didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t taken by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Mt. of Beatitudes in the Galilee, nor the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Why? They felt like testaments to a dead faith, the worship of stones and not the living God. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone but that was my take-away.

In the case of the Churches of the Holy Sepulcher and Nativity I was bothered, I think, because both sites claimed to be the ‘one and only place’ where ‘it’ could have happened. To my way of thinking wherever ‘it’ happened isn’t as important as the actual birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In the case of the Mt. of Beatitudes (and Holy Sepulcher) the people running it were more interested in maintaining order rather than creating an environment of invitation. When a ‘site’ becomes more important than the people visiting then something is a bit out of whack. It got me thinking about what we do in the American church and whether or not we're in the site preservation, image management, and program promotion business instead of focusing on life transformation.

I was struck by how much I don’t know. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. Been in ministry for a long time. I read the Bible, read about the faith and hang out with knowledgeable people. I even have a graduate degree that indicates I know some things. I know very little. I want to know more. Why? Because knowledge of what has gone on before me can be used by God to help direct my paths in the present.

Despite coming to grips with the fact that I know so little I also came face to face with my strong desire to love God more and to continue to be a ‘player’ in the advance of the kingdom in the here and now.


I walked away understanding Jesus better. He was a master of using what was within his line of vision to make a point. He spoke the language of the people …challenging them to think, to act, to change, to see life differently and to trust and obey God.

Walking in the footsteps of Christ helped me realize even more that the meek and mild Jesus we oftentimes portray is quite 'off base'. Meek and mild wouldn't cut it in the day and age Jesus walked this earth. There was a wildness, intensity, and savvy humor that come with the total package of the man we call Lord and Savior.


My traveling companions were an inspiration to me. Many overcame some fear to even come. Their desire to encounter the living God in the Holy Land strengthened my faith. I felt honored to stand in the River Jordan baptizing a good friend and helping others recommit their life to Christ. How cool is that?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scary Israel?

Back from Israel. What a great trip. Here's a picture of our group. It's just prior to watching a nifty 3D film at a site near the southern steps in Jerusalem.

So, what was it like in Israel? Well, it wasn't scary but at times it way sobering. Israel is surrounded by enemies. We looked across the border into Lebanon and Syria. We trekked into Bethlehem, passports in hand, because we were leaving Israel.

The middle east is a volatile place. There are deep seated wounds and hatreds. These wounds and hatreds are hundreds and thousands of years old. They're part of the psyche of nations and individuals. That's scary. There seems to be little room for biblical concepts such as repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. That's sad. It also dooms the region, I think. It's not whether or not war will break out over there sometime's more a matter of when.

We loved Israel. For Anita and myself it was a return visit. For everyone else was a first time look at the Holy Land. It touched people in very deep ways. For that, we're thankful.

Our guide, Shmulik, was very knowledeable and funny. His knowledge of history and the Bible blew me away. Because of his clarity of thought and careful usage of words more and more of the Scripture became clearer to me. Opening God's word in the land of the Bible is an unbelievable experience.

Still a lot to think about ...much to process ...more to come. If you'd like check out the pics at

Saturday, February 07, 2009


In the near future I'll be in Jerusalem. The question I'm most asked is "Are you afraid?" It's a good question.

Israel has been in the news. Palestinian/Israeli tensions are high. People assume that 'fear' should stop me from going.

We live in a volatile world. Bombs falling on Israel from the Gaza. Girls sold into slavery in Thailand. The Lord's Resistance Army training young boys to be killers in Africa. Gang violence in Chicago. Abuse in homes. Gossip in every cafe.

All that bothers me. It bothers me alot. Am I afraid? If I was in Israel and bombs were falling I would be afraid. If I was in the Gaza and Israeli troops were on my street I'd be afraid. If confronted by killers my knees would knock.

But am I afraid to go to Israel? Not really. I'm cautious and observant. Not stupid. But I'm not filled with debilitating fear. If I let that kind of fear guide me I wouldn't do anything, go anywhere, or put any words on a page.

Throughout Scripture God tells us to 'fear not'. I'm trying to live into that. because the truth of the matter is that throughout my life I've acted 'afraid' too many times. It's not debilitating fear it's more like 'deep caution'. And because of it I've confronted bullies too little. I've let others fight too many important battles. I've not always followed through in defending some deeply held convictions. I've let people down. That's what fear does. I hate it.

I'm going to Jerusalem. There are 40 people going with me. Some with more fear than others. We will stay away from Gaza, although I'd love to go there myself someday. I'd like to hear a bit more of the Palestinian side of the story. There's a 'truth' in their experience that sometimes get overlooked.

As I travel I will look to encounter the 'living God' in fresh ways. I need that infusion of experience at this time. I also will ask God to open my eyes to ways I can serve a world filled with both fear and evil. And as God answers me I might find 'fear' bubbling up inside me. Then I will need to confront it and claim the 'Be not afraids' of Scripture as my own.

The truth is that as God moves into our life He might ask us to go someplace to confront our deepest fear or anxiety. It's at those difficult places that God wants to guide our steps.

We live in a world that is spiraling somewhere that will take us all into hard places of opportunity. We might have to get out of our habitual cocoons of spiritual safety and walk the road of radical faith and trust. That will require a spiritual innocence and maturity that's currently beyond the reach of most western Christians. In all honesty we spend too much time fearing the 'boogeymen' of our own imagination. We might have to grow up to face some rather sobering realities. And we might get afraid. And guided by our fear we might hide. And when we hide we miss out on God's best. And when we miss out on God's best we have no right to say we are 'living'. That's truly frightening.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Breaking Rules

Alright, who's a rule breaker? I mean, who loves to break stupid, arbitrary, unneeded rules? There's plenty of them.

Illinois, where I live, is known for high profile rule breakers. Just google Blagoevich and see what you come up with. But there's some laws on the books in our state that you'd love to see someone break.

I read that someplace in Illinois that fishing while sitting on a giraffe's neck is against the law. Personally, I'd love to see giraffe neck fishing become an Olympic sport.

Another law forbids eating in a place that is on fire. That ticks me off. It's one of my most favorite things to do.

In one area it is illegal to drink beer out of a bucket while sitting on the curb. Could you drink beer if you were sitting on a giraffe?

Dumb laws, stupid rules. You wonder how stupid rules came into being. What happened to a giraffe one day that caused someone to get so upset that they felt they had to make a law, make a rule?

We live in a culture that loves to sue. That's at the root of some stupid laws. Some municipality pays a hefty dollar amount in a law suit and voila comes a law.

I understand the need for rules, order, and laws. But sometimes I like to go up the down staircase.

There's rules that need to be broken.

Martin Luther King broke rules. It was the only way to get people's attention.

Ghandi, a great fan of Jesus, broke rules. It was the only way to get people to notice.

Billy Graham stretched the rules and his crusades became integrated.

Corrie ten Boom broke the rules. She saved people's lives.

Henri Nouwen broke the rules about what an upwardly mobile life should look like and left a legacy.

Gotta admire Rosa Parks. She broke some rules and helped break the back of injustice.

I have a bit of the 'rebel' in me. It's not about going up the down staircase or fishing from a giraffe's neck. Oh, it used to be. But now I think there's better rules to break.

That's why I admire men and women throughout history who decided to make a point by standing up against stupid rules. But they all paid some price. They had to count the cost.

Sometimes I wonder if we don't need to pray up a whole new generation of rule breakers. Godly men and women who will help the church and the culture as a whole to quit doing business as usual and challenge the status quo, break a few rules, take a stand and become a prophetic voice.

My hero is Jesus. He was a rule breaker. That's why some of the religious types didn't like him. He paid the price. The power elite got even. Or so they thought.

Just on a purely human level, Jesus must have inspired his generation. He took aim against hypocrisy, against man-made stupidity, against anything that kept His people from falling in love with His father and acting with justice, mercy and compassion towards others.. Standing up, breaking the rules, challenging authority was a brave act, an audacious move towards freedom.

So, anyone want to go fishing? I found this giraffe.

More importantly, anyone want to live life boldly. I found this man. His name's Jesus. I've got to tell you His story. He broke rules. More importantly, He offers life.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Better Listen

I like to do my own thing. So do you. Most of us are really good at it. Oftentimes, my own thing is stupid and selfish. And I usually pay the consequences of all that.

I was reading in Jeremiah this morning. Jeremiah is a prophet. He's trying to warn the 'chosen people' about doing their own thing at the expense of doing God's thing.

"Go stand at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for directions to the old road,
The tried-and-true road. Then take it.
Discover the right route for your souls.
But they said, 'Nothing doing.
We aren't going that way.'
I even provided watchmen for them
to warn them, to set off the alarm.
But the people said, 'It's a false alarm.
It doesn't concern us...So listen to this. Here's God's verdict on your way of life: "Watch out! I'm putting roadblocks and barriers on the road you're taking..." (The Message)

I'm running across a fair amount of people who are thumbing their noses at God's guidance. They're not going that way. They'll give lip-service to God's direction but that's it. They go to church, hear the Scriptures being read, listen to pithy sermons but there's no life application. And then when they hit a roadblock or a barrier they get all huffy and puffy and start pointing fingers at God.

I think God's trying to say something to us these days. Pretty simple too. It goes like this. "It's my way, not yours. Don't ignore me this time. I'll do what it takes to get your attention."

Guess what? I believe it. God is trying to call us back to some basic stuff. And it isn't about doing our own thing. It's about doing His thing, in His way.

We're in the middle of some pretty volatile economic and cultural upheaval. We've done it 'our way' for a long time. Look at what's happening. In the midst of all this God is still speaking, trying to get our attention, and attempting to guide us. Most of us pray every week 'your will be done'. Maybe we should listen long enough to see what God is up to and join Him.

God does warn His people. Always has. We ingore the signs at our peril. We pay the consequence for that.

So, is God trying to get our attention - your attention- or not? Hitting any roadblocks, any barriers? Could it be because you put too much faith in yourself, or a standard of living that doesn't have anything to do with God's best for your life? If so, what are you going to do about it? What am I going to do about it?

Take a walk through Jeremiah 6 and beyond. Pretty sobering kind of stuff. It's as current as today's news. Maybe we better listen, change direction, get a new attitude and a spirit shaped focus ...what do you think?