Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Letter to God

Dear God:

There’s some things I need to talk to you about. Please sit down when you read this. I don’t want you to get ‘ticked’ and do one of those plague kind of things. I hate to say it but as a casual observer, God, that was pretty brutal. Just an opinion. But it didn't sit well in certain circles.

First, the Bible is getting to me. I'm not liking what it has to say. I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve heard that said but this serious. I'm frazzled, running crazy, trying to make big decisions and every time I pick up the Bible I'm reading something that urges me to think, pray, and do something that I don't want to do. To be honest, God, it gets discouraging. I've got my life mapped out and it feels like you're trying to change my direction. Not sure if that would be a good decision for me at this stage of my life.

Let me give you an example of some disturbing Bible stuff. I'm reading about the 'sheep and the goats' in Matthew 25. What's that doing in there? Come on, God, I thought I was in. I prayed that prayer awhile back. And now, I'm reading this 'judgment' thing and I'm thinking that you're actually expecting more from me. Come on. It's not fair. It has a bait and switch feel to it. Kind of ugly.

And another thing, Lord, it's not just me who’s thinking about these kind of things. I’m not alone. We talk. We're all for the 'come to me if you're burdened' verses. We also like anything that tells us we're 'blessed'. Anything else isn't working for us. And you do want this to work for us, don't you?

Here's something else. I have a group of friends who aren't liking all the stuff about justice, and creation, and the poor and suffering. It sounds pretty leftist if you know what I mean. They're pretty sure you don't mean all this stuff about freeing prisoners and actually being kind to people who won't get off their backsides and work for a living. Next edition you've got to fix it. Just consider it. You're alienating some pretty influential people. Seriously, when you talk about freedom and jubilee and lack of oppression and stuff like that you weren't talking about that in real terms were you? If you're talking about real stuff things would really have to change here and there and everywhere. That would be asking a lot. It's just not playing well in the heartland if you know what I mean. You don't want to lose your base.

On the other hand, there’s another group of my friends who aren't happy about all the stern language. It seems harsh. Not very inclusive. It sounds like you're too serious all the time. They’d like you to lighten up. Make suggestions. Give options. If you could just tone down the language a bit and show everyone a little more love I think you’d get more followers. It’s just a hunch. But I know people like it when show the ‘love’. On the other hand, anything that implies 'should' or 'got to' is hard to swallow. Again, that's just some information I thought you'd like to have. It's another group that might walk if you're not careful.

Here's something else that needs fixing. When people in Africa or South America read the Bible they seem to get something different out of it than those of us here in the West. We know you wrote it for us in the West and that those in developing countries are probably just going to be disappointed if they take it too literally. I mean it goes back to those freedom, justice and oppression issues. They really think you mean it. We know you were speaking metaphorically. So, maybe if you could help the people down there and over there see things the way you really intended then maybe there wouldn't be such a gap between them and us. What do you think?

Consider this, huh? It might be hard to swallow but some of the Jesus stuff is bothersome. Don't get me wrong. Thanks for sending him. Good role model. But when Jesus says things like "I am" and "No one comes to the Father except through me." Whew! Hard to digest. It makes it difficult to stand up and be counted when you allow Jesus to make statements with not much wiggle room.

Maybe that's it. Wiggle room. We need more of it. I believe in you, God. I mean, you can do anything. So, work on it. Edition 2 will be much better if you think about some of these things.

Let me know what you think. Rooting for you to do the right thing.


Anonymous Fan

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Grumpy Dave's Worship

I'm in Bowling Green, Ohio. Today is my son's wedding day. It will be good.

This morning Anita and I had some time so we decided to find a church. Never an easy task in a strange town. A chance encounter at Panera's yesterday led us to a worship at Grumpy Dave's Saloon. A college ministry called H2O holds a weekly service at Grumpy Dave's every Sunday morning.

There's a small stage. A bad sound system. There were about 50 of us on this Memorial Day weekend. The music was Crowderish, the congregation quite young, the band was enthusiastic, and God was honored.

I loved the setting. Beer brand posters adorned the walls, there were a couple of pool tables, and a big bar. It had that nice and grungy kind of feel. I was the second oldest by my reckoning and Anita was probably the only person 40'ish in the place.

The pastor was an ex-college football player. Big guy. Tatoos. Earring. Still looked like he could play. He loves God. Good message.

He was talking about being salt and light. Great topic. When he talked about us being 'salt' he wondered aloud as to whether or not Christians are viewed as taking the flavor out of life or putting it into life. He thought that we're supposed to put the 'pizazz' into the culture. He wasn't sure that's what was really happening. He thought too many Christians looked like they had signed up for a lobotomy and then sit in their churches looking freakin' depressed.

I laughed when he said it. It wasn't that I thought it was funny. OK, it was funny. More importantly I thought it had the edginess of truth to it. If I didn't laugh I might have cried. Didn't want to do that.

Lest you think he was bashing churches that don't meet in a bar let me assure you that wasn't the case at all. He was a really respectful kind of guy. I don't think you'd want to mess with him but he wasn't lobbing hand grenades in the direction of other churches.

He was making a good point. He really believes that we're called to be salt and light in a world that's struggling to make sense of itself. He was challenging his young crowd not to fall into bad habits. He told the story of talking to a buddy about Christ. The friend told him to back off, that he was a Christian. This pastor said, "Dude, I couldn't tell." A week later his friend came back to talk. He was troubled. It bothered him that his life didn't speak the message of Jesus.

It bothers me when my life doesn't speak the message of Jesus. What about you?

I realize that if I don't watch myself I can take on the habits and attitudes of those I hang out with. Because I hang out with lots of Christian types I find myself caring more about what happens in our little 'club' than I do about what's happening on a Saturday night at a place like Grumpy Dave's. I start to speak Christianese. And after awhile I realize that, if I'm not careful, the 'pizazz' of my life with Jesus is in danger of getting sucked right out of me. Not good.

It was a good morning in Bowling Green, Ohio. Worship at Grumpy Dave's. It got me thinking.

Do something. Go up to someone you hang out with, work with, go to school with, socialize with, coach with ...and ask him/her. "Is there anything about me that makes me different from anyone else you know?" Listen carefully. See if they mention anything of 'Jesus' who wants you to be salt and light. If they don't start to tremble a little bit. Maybe you've gotten yourself that lobotomy the Grumpy Dave pastor talked about. Instead of being salt and light you're just tasteless and dim.

Think about it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

2 Random Thoughts

I tried to start a conversation about American Idol today. One of my colleagues sarcastically wondered if I had overnight become a 13 year old teenage girl. I looked. I didn't.

I do watch American Idol. Why? Not sure. But I'm entertained.

This year the choice came down to Adam or Kris. Kris was middle America's choice. A good looking, guitar strumming, song styalist. He's from Conway, Arkansas. Married. I understand he's a believer and spent some time as a worship leader.

Adam is west coast, from San Diego. He wears guyliner, loves rock and roll, toiled in the theatre world and has been seen kissing other men. Nothing about him suggests that he is a man of faith.

Both men are great entertainers. I've heard both are really nice guys.

Kris won.

Some say the 'Christian vote' might have been a deciding factor. I think it made a difference.

This morning I started joking that the internet was filled with some disturbing news. Adam was the believer, not Kris. Kris was gay, not Adam. I have an ability to make insane things like this sound true. And I wonder if anyone I talked to was caught in a bit of an American Idol cunundrum?

What if it was true? What if we had been dooped? What if Simon Cowell used all that money of his to play one huge practical joke on America? What if this was all a big set-up, a humorous attempt to get us to believe something was true but it really wasn't? Would Christians want to change their vote? Would middle-America lean toward the left coast and start chanting Adams's name? Would they point fingers at Kris? And it got me wondering. Were people voting against a lifestyle or for a singing artist? Or were they doing both?

I wonder about thing like this.


Yesterday, I got my bill for my defibrillator and hospital care. It's up there. Right around $120,000. Yipes.

But no worry. I have great insurance. Blue Cross/Blue Shield PPO. It's like the gold standard. My cost, so far, is under $1,000. Still a bite but it's not $120,000.

It got me thinking about the issue of health care. What happens to those who don't have insurance, who lost their coverage, or just can't afford anything? What happens to them? What would it be like to get a $120,000 bill in the mail and not have the foggiest idea how it might get paid?

That's what's happening to lots of people in the USA. They can't afford routine medical care and something like a defibrillator is out of their sight.

And then I turn on the news and learn that a big teaching hospital in Chicago is closing some clinics. They're closing the ones that care for the poor. And so where are the poor supposed to go?

I talk to a friend who works at another teaching hospital. They still care for the poor but because so many others aren't their budget is hugely burdened. Can they continue to do what their mission asks them to do?

I think of what Jesus says, "I was sick and you looked after me".

And I'm realizing this health care crisis is very real. It's real to Jesus. He didn't tell us only to care for those who had a Blue Cross PPO. He meant for us to care for everyone.

I wonder about things like this.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don't quit

I love the story of the high school basketball coach who was attempting to motivate his players to persevere through a difficult seaon. Halfway through the season he stood before his team and said, "Did Michael Jordan ever quit?" The team responded, "No!" He yelled, "What about the Wright brothers? Did they ever give up?" "No!" the team resounded. "Does Kobe Bryant ever quit?" Again the team yelled, "No!" "Did Elmer McAllister ever quit?" There was a long silence. Finally one player was bold enough to ask, "Who's Elmer McAllister? We never heard of him." The coach snapped back, "Of course you never heard of him - he quit!"

The world we live in has its share of problems. We are in need of good people fighting the good fight. We need strong leadership. Leadership with a vision. Principled leadership. And we need people who won't quit.

Some people think that leadership is all about the 'rhetoric'. Speak loudly and boldly enough and people will follow, change will occur. I'm all for good peope speaking up but I'm reminded of something Mark Twain once said that "few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example." In other words step up. Run the good race. Stay in it to the end. Don't quit. "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." (St. Francis)

I've always loved the Book of James. Practical. Earthy. It tells us to open our eyes. It demands that we walk our talk. It reminds us that talk is cheap. It challenges our thinking. James reminds us that living faithfully is a costly proposition.

I think it's true that we don't hold people in high regard who are all talk and no action. The people I remember fondly are those who live life fully, who don't quit, who have their eye on the prize, and who will run the race set out for them well. They inspire me to do the same.

It's easy to quit. It's easy to mouth off. That's not where the action is nor the lasting impact.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I wrote this a few years ago for a story telling class in grad school. It's based on some experiences in Young Life ...

When Helen got off the bus, I had to smile. She just didn't fit in with the tall, leggy blue-eyed blondes that came to camp from the East Bay Area. Helen was 80 years old and in all honesty, looked a bit bag lady-ish. I found out she was the counselor for 12 very determined to live life to the fullest teenage girls.

Helen was a woman on a mission. She didn't want to waste her life. She asked God what He wanted her to do and Helen felt that God told her to give her life away to high school kids. So Helen did just that. Every week, sometimes several times during that week, Helen became a missionary. She entered a foreign country. She hung out on a high school campus, to meet kids, to earn the right-to-be-heard - so she could tell kids about Jesus Christ. A lot of folks thought she was crazy. She wasn't - just faithful. Helen felt that you could never retire from serving God. As long as she had breath she wanted to be God's servant.

But when Helen got off that bus I had to chuckle. The bus trip had done her in. She was going to need a lot of energy for the six day camp we had planned. I hoped she had it in her.

All through the week Helen was at least a couple of steps behind everyone else. But she was there, fully participating. She was a skit in the hondeo - a rodeo on hondas. She rode the jet skis. She tried out the mountain bikes. She was even the victim of some practical jokes.

One night there was a cabin raid. When I found out about it I found Helen and asked her what happened. "It was those boys," she said. "It wasn't bad. A little chaotic. The only thing I wonder about is why they wanted my underwear." I didn't have an answer nor the heart to tell her that her bra was high atop the camp flag pole.

On the first night of camp some guys lured her over to a trashcan where they had lit some firecrackers. You could tell it unnerved her a bit but she didn't react like most adults would. She was pretty cool about it and just walked away even though there was a lot of giggling going on.

Helen told me she came to camp so that her kids could fall in love with the Lord. She said she had prayed all year that these girls would come and hear about Christ's love for them. She knew the week was going to be hard but she wanted so badly just to be with these girls as they embarked on this adventure of faith discovery.

One afternoon Helen tested her own faith and endurance. It was at the high ropes course. Ropes courses test you. You do a series of challenging exercises 35 feet above the ground. Even though extraordinary safety precautions are taken - it really is quite scary and for anyone afraid of heights the fear level can reach epic proportions. It's a huge test for many.

The first obstacle was the log walk. Starting at ground level, you walk up a series of logs to a platform high above the ground. It is scary. Helen, afraid of heights, stopped in the middle of the last log - 10 feet from the safety of the platform. She froze. She couldn't move. She could barely talk. I was the staff member on the platform. Quietly I said, "Helen, I'll come and get you." "Oh no," she exclaimed, "Don't do that. The girls are watching me. They need to see me make this. I can't give up. I've been telling them faith is scary too but worth it." And so she just stood there. The girls watched very carefully and you could see concern in their eyes. I heard Helen start to pray. " Now, Lord, you told me you would never leave me or forsake me. I need to feel you close more than ever. I'm scared but I told the girls you could be trusted, so don't make a liar of me." And then slowly, Helen began to inch her way up the log to the platform. She made it. I hugged her and she began to cry, shielding her face from the girls. "I hate heights," she said, " but I couldn't disappoint the girls. They really need to see me living out those things I've been telling them." And then she looked at me and said, "It gets harder from here, doesn't it?" "Yes, Helen, in all honesty this was the easiest part." "The Lord and I are going to do it, Mike." And then she was off zip-lining throught the forest.

The girls followed Helen up the log. Some came up confidently, some very tentatively. All asked, "How's Helen?" "Fine," I said, "she's a trooper." Several said to me that they didn't want to be on the ropes course at all but if Helen could do so could they.

On the last night of camp the speaker asked kids to stand if God had touched their life that week. Helen's whole cabin got up. Each proclaimed that they wanted to walk with Jesus. They weren't sure what or who had made the difference but they ended up thanking everyone profusely except for poor Helen.

Later that night I saw Helen crying. It was tears of joy and disappointment. Joy because her girls had met and fallen in love with Jesus. Disappointed that her efforts had gone unnoticed and unappreciated.

Later in the summer I was telling some staff friends my camp stories. Each of them had met an incredible person at their camp. I told them about Helen. On the East Coast kids had been captivated by Sheila, a girl with cerebral palsy. In the south, Stan, all-American-Stan, Stan with the blonde girl friend and fantastic future had fallen in love with Jesus. Up in Canada, Calvin, a very bitter inner city kid broke down in front of everyone and admitted later there might be a God.

Jesus was being greeted by the whole host of heaven. They all agreed he had been gone far too long. Jesus looked tired, but not weary. When asked why he had left Jesus said, "It's important not to forget. I need to be with the people I left behind." One of the angels asked, "Don't they all recognize you and shower you with praise?" Jesus had to chuckle because He knew how hard it was, for so many, to see and acknowledge the presence of God.

He told the angels. "A woman on earth loves people who are dying on the streets of India. She says she sees me in a 'most distressing disguise.' She undertands.

I went to earth again under disguise and learned, once more how hard it is to be human. It wan't easy this time when some guys stole my bra and I was embarrassed.

And then I felt fear in the middle of a log and had to learn to trust my Father all over again. Later in the week I was hurt by some young women that I cared deeply about and I cried.

But I did feel love sitting in that wheelchair and I think my faith was strengthened when I struggled long and hard about whether I could afford to believe and then finally broke down in front of everyone.

And I had to work through what it meant to be good looking and popular and to live a life of faith.

The hard part was being human again and feeling, really feeling and wanting desperately to be faithful when there is so much to call me to unfaithfulness. But in the midst of all that I found that some paused long enough to notice me even if they couldn't see through my disguise. And the look in their eyes gave me hope."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Want in?

Years ago I gave my 7 year old heart to Jesus. At age seven I sat all alone in Cathedral of Christ the King Church in Superior, Wisconsin and told Jesus He could have my life. I knew very little about Jesus and probably less about the meaning of my own life but I took what little I knew and made a pact with God. I haven’t always held up my part of the bargain. He’s never wavered.

Now, 52 years later, I look forward to what God will continue to do with my life. I know I can trust Him. And I stand amazed that God still believes in me despite my spotty track record.

God has directed my life in some pretty amazing ways. He’s allowed a pretty ordinary guy to be involved in some pretty significant things. For this, I’m grateful. I’ve had a front row seat on some miracles. I’ve seen lives transformed. And as a result I feel that my life has had and will continue to have significance.

That’s why I don’t find myself playing the success to significance game. Whatever comes after significance and before death is my new playing field. I don’t know what to call it but what I know for sure is that at the age of 58 God is saying “We’ve still got some business to do together. Do you want in?”

That’s both exciting and scary. My answer, though, is “Yes, I want in.”

Can’t wait to find out what I just signed up for.

I’ve always been taken by author Frederick Buechner’s famous line. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Fascinating. That wouldn’t be a bad place to spend our remaining days, would it?

I’ve learned over the years that the ‘needy’ are all around us. They're in our home, at our school, in the supermarket, in the car next to us on the freeway, and in every classroom. Everyday we have an opportunity to be caring, kind, and attentive. May we never waver from that opportunity.

But there’s another kind of ‘real need and deep hunger’ that Scripture asks us to see and respond to. It requires us to move beyond the ordinary needs of others who will cross our paths. It requires more than awareness, simple kindness, and caring.

You see, there's a harder edge in Scripture. There seems to be this call to go beyond what is ordinary and comfortable to confront what Mother Theresa called “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” Moving beyond what's comfortable seems to always be what God wants from those who have been given much.

And so, are we willing to intentionally move towards the great hunger and need of this world fully knowing that by taking those steps we will move into discomfort? Are we willing to surrender our sense of security for the sake of being faithful?

When I was seven I gave as much as I knew of my life to as much as I knew about Jesus. At age 58 I do the same knowing that God will always keep his end of the bargain. And at age 58 God is saying once again ‘do you want in?”

And so ...

Am I willingness to face the deep hunger of this world?

Do I really want to meet Jesus in his most distressing disguise?

Do I really want in?

And do I 'want in' at the expense of being uncomfortable?

Want to know something? I really don't have any choice. Not if I really want to live. So, I still say "yes, I want in".

What about you?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Out of the Daydream


That’s the best word for it. Perplexed. One day is so good. The next, not so good. I do the same things. Get up close to the same time. Go through the same routine. But different results. There’s a whole different feel to the day.

Sometimes, I want sameness. No whiny phone calls or infantile e-mails. I want blue skies and clear sailing.

What I get is unpredictable, whiny and infantile. Ugh.

Oh, I’m smart enough to know that life happens and good is sometimes edged out by bad and when life hands you lemons you make lemonade. But I want to wake up more often to the lemonade, sit back and just ‘do life’. And that life is easy, carefree, no sweat, good times not bad, the best not the worst.

Who wants to join my ‘Carefree, No Sweat Club’?

If only it was that easy. If only we could just send in a membership and it becomes ‘all good’. If only we could just start a club that could guarantee that we don’t have to ‘sweat’ life. Nice.

It’s a great daydream, a daydream that I sometimes want to get lost in. That daydream envelops me on those days when I just don’t have the energy to fight the good fight, to do the right thing, to be God’s man. Ever been there? Dumb question. We’ve all been there. More than once.

Life overwhelms at times.

I have a friend who lost his job. It hit him hard. And then his wife lost hers. Ouch.

A woman keeps calling. She keeps missing me. She won’t leave a call back number. It sounds like she’s in an abusive situation. There’s no way for me to help her until we connect. How much danger is she in?

An acquaintance has lost almost everything due to a relative’s financial malpractices. The road ahead is rocky.

I know many a person who knows they’re at a fork in the road. A decision has to be made about life direction. And they feel stuck.

So, what do we do? I’m fond of the Eugene Peterson quote about the life of faith “A long obedience in the same direction.” It’s not very daydreamy is it? But it’s truth.

What’s required for that long obedience?

Almost every prayer I pray for someone in need is that he/she might experience the presence of the living God in whatever they’re encountering.

In the joy of life may they experience the freeing presence of Jesus. In the sadness of life may they experience the nurturing guidance of the Holy Spirit. In times that overwhelm may they fall into the arms of the caring Father.

The long obedience in the same direction requires trust in a God who promises to always be there, even when it doesn’t seem like He is.

I think that journey calls for friendships. Who doesn't need men and women in their life who can encourage, prop up, and even help carry the burden? But so many try to go it alone. And loneliness is their only constant companion and the journey appears longer, more arduous and never ending.

Is there more? Probably. But a good God and good friends is a nice way to start. But I worry about that woman being abused, and my friend and his wife who will wake up tomorrow without a job, and the acquaintance with an empty wallet, and for all who are at a fork in the road. What if their faith is inadequate and their friendships shallow? What becomes of them?

They will live feeling overwhelmed.

Unless …I move into their neighborhood, living into the long obedience of my own faith and I bring with me whatever I can of what I have. Maybe they can hitchhike off my faith for awhile and allow me to offer the prayers they don’t know how to offer. I could do that but I’d need to move out of my daydream and into the messy reality of whiny people and infantile e-mails. Hmmm …what should I choose?

I dream of a perfect world sometimes, wanting life to be easy and carefree. It’s not. But there are moments when you can get a glimpse of what our future beyond this life can look like. It’s together with God, in the company of other faith journeyers. Nice. There’s no reason, though, why we can’t start to live into that vision of that kind of kingdom future right here, right now.

I've got a hunch. That's what God wants. He wants us out of the daydream and into reality. That's where He'll meet us. Seriously.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Only God

I’m on the leadership team of a new ‘alternative contemporary worship service’. The good news is that God is using it to do some nice things in people’s lives. People who haven’t been to church for awhile are starting to come back. Believers are inviting friends. Thinking is being challenged. Hope is being kindled. There’s a buzz.

The whole thing causes me to chuckle. God has a sense of humor. When you think of a new contemporary service you automatically think of something that is ‘youthful’. The vision is of blue jeaned 20 and 30 somethings gathering and developing something that is truly ‘alternative’. It has an urban, hip, social justice, cross cultural, emerging theology, musical angst kind of feel.

We’re not urban. In fact, we’re very suburban. Cross cultural to us means that the Dutch sit next to the Irish and everyone is kind to the Swedes. The guy who preached last week (me) is only hip in that 'almost 59', aging ex-hippy kind of way. Not sure that counts. Some on our team are into social justice thinking but not all. Most in our worship circle wouldn’t recognize or care about emerging theology. And any musical angst is more a result of a misfiring feedback loop in our sound system than a planned excursion into countercultural pain.

What I’m trying to say is that this has to be a ‘God thing’. It’s humbling. Take a look at our team and you might shake your head and say ‘no way’. God, however, seems to believe in us. Now, we’re just trying to believe in Him in deeper ways.

I’ve been fond of saying that our service is being run by people who don’t know what they’re doing. What’s really happening, I think, is that we’re allowing God to be God. We’re putting into motion all the things our guts, hearts and training tell us to do but it’s really obvious God is doing something. How cool is that?

You’ve heard the expression ‘only God’. I’m watching that expression take on fresh meaning.

Only God would choose an overweight, card carrying member of AARP to be one of the teachers at an ‘alternative contemporary worship service’. And only God would create a void in the music plans and bring a 30 something mom, without a whole lot of experience, to step into the gap. And only God would choose to have this service launch in late spring with no change in the Sunday schedule. And only God would say ‘launch it’ even though going head to head with Mission Sunday, the Children’s Musical, and Mother’s Day will make you wonder if you’re crazy. And only God would anoint a non coffee drinker to make our ‘fair trade’ brew. Only God.

What’s also cool is that the senior leadership of our church wants to see this succeed. And succeed in a big way. And our team is praying that God will continue to use our other services in very powerful ways. Ultimately, this isn’t about our new thing succeeding at the expense of everything else. This is about the church making impact and it’s about living into kingdom possibilities. Sure, there’s some tension. Once you change anything in any part of an organizational structure it exerts change on everything else. The prayer is that the tension becomes creative and moves us to be more synergistic and helps us in our overall goal of creating disciples. But ‘only God’ can make that tension creative and stir the pot of synergy. Only God.

This week I get to take my teaching hat off and greet people at the door. I get to sit back and watch another 30 something mom do her thing as she opens God’s word to God’s people. And if I look closely enough I’ll sense the fresh wind of God’s spirit moving. Only God.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Plan

I'm reading the "The Hole in our Gospel" by Richard Stearns. Provocative. Stirring. Will force you to rethink your view of the faith. I think it's a must read. Stearns, by the way, is the President of World Vision.

I was challenged by this quote. No one knows who wrote it but I'd be happy to take credit. This is what it says.

"Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering and injustice when He could do something about it."

"Well, why don't you ask Him?"

"Because I'm afraid He would ask me the same question."

And if God asked us that question ...what would we answer? Think about that for awhile. What would you answer?

Let's be honest about some things. There's a world of hurt out there. Just a few miles from where I write there are people who don't have very much. They're not lazy, insolent, or incapable. That's the easy stereotype of those who don't have and don't want first hand knowledge of the truth.

Further miles away there are millions and millions and millions of people who live on less than a dollar or two a day, sometimes raising families on that much money. They're not lazy, insolent, or incapable. The stress and strains on their lives are almost beyond our imagination.

The gospel asks us the question 'Who's our neighbor'? The short answer is 'anyone who's in need'? The longer answer lays a whole lot of responsibility at the feet of those of us who by any world standard have so much. We have so much money, stuff, access, influence, education and know-how. Having much, requires us to invest much. Are we willing to do so?

It's much more convenient to shake a fist at God and blame Him for all the suffering and hurt in the world. Looking in the mirror and shaking a fist at ourselves ...whew.

I used to give a talk at retreats that ended like this:

"So Jesus, what's your plan for carrying on your work?"

And Jesus took her to a place where she could see all of human history and together they watched the activities of ordinary men and women."

After they watched for awhile, she looked at Him in disbelief. "You mean 'we're your plan'."

And Jesus nodded.

She asked, "And what if you're plan doesn't work?"

Jesus said, "It's got to. It's the only plan I've got."

We don't believe it. Not down where the truth lives. We dig semi-deep into our pocketbooks, allaying as much guilt as we can, investing a little time, a little expertise but the truth is we don't live as if 'we're God's plan'.

What would happen if we lived more fully into the reality of being 'God's plan' for the hurting, the lost, the poor, and the marginalized? What would that do to our giving, the use of our time and our willingness to use what really is incredible influence? Easy. We'd give more, be more generous with our time and we'd be trying harder to bring more people along for what could be a rather incredible ride.

There's a world of hurt out there. A world of need. Who's going to help meet that hurt, meet that need? Count me in. I want to start filling that hole in our gospel. It might fill some holes in my own life.

Monday, May 04, 2009


'Fear not' ...yet we do! We're afraid of swine flu, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, that guy in the White House, the guy who used to be in the White House, and the woman who wanted to be in the White House. We're afraid of the past repeating itself and the future not fulfilling our dreams. Maybe fear is stronger than faith after all?

Every other e-mail I get (ok, I'm exaggerating a little) is filled with fear. I almost don't want to open them anymore.

Why are we so afraid? Maybe we don't believe God is big enough. If we did we wouldn't be shaking in our boots about things that may never happen.

Life is tough. Threats are real. God says that He's here with us. We can bow to the toughness of life, the real and imagined threats of a world out of whack or we could choose to lean into a God who keeps on saying 'don't be afraid'.

I think we get a strange satisfaction out of being afraid and even being fear mongers ourselves. It gives us a sense of power. We can rant and rave with what we think is righteous indignation at people and situations that we often don't have clue about. And when we link up with other ranters and ravers we think that 'them' plus 'us' is a majority, righteous in outlook and practice.

It's a recipe for disaster.

Fear breeds low grade insanity. We take refuge in our e-mail assaults and our blog postings. We sign petitions that nobody ever sees ...and we think by doing all this that we are making an impact.

In fact, we are but the impact we make isn't good. We just raise the bar on other people's fear levels. We push their buttons. They, in turn, push ours.

Maybe it's time to push back in different ways.

For everyone who is fearful of Muslims, try befriending one.

For everyone who is fearful of liberals, find one and dialogue (not argue) with him/her. Liberals do the same with a conservative. Dialogue implies listening by the way.

For everyone fearful of swine flu, use common sense and develop good health habits. If you get sick drink plenty of liquids and stay home until you get better.

If you don't like the current inhabitant of the White House start praying for him. Let's see what happens to your attitude.

If you don't want the past to be repeated make sure you know your history.

If you're fearful that your future won't be what you had planned put your trust in God who has your days all figured out. His plan might even be better than yours. What do you think?

If you're worried that the world is going to go to hell in a handbasket quit watching TV, turn off your computer, leave your house and in God's name find someone you can feed, love, tutor, visit or care for. Make the world a better place.

I think we stay 'fearful' when we don't put our life into motion in constructive ways. Let's face it. Bad things will happen. We can, however, be a force for good. Instead of living in 'fear' we can act in 'love'.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Civil Discourse???

I was listening to talk radio, sports talk actually, the other day. I turned it off. The hosts took an easy sports topic and made it into an attack on someone's character. It was mean spirited. Ugly really. It wasn't deserving of my time.

Talk show hosts, both conservative and liberal seem more interested in stirring the pot than in discovering the truth. Ratings are important. Reasoned arguments don't build an audience. Diatribes do. Smearing others does. The knowing wink, the smirk, the slight twist of the truth brings in listeners and viewers. It's hard to listen sometimes. There's an ugliness about it all.

We live in a world filled with anger. Dialogue is replaced by diatribe. People spout. They attack, hiding under the anonymity of being Jake from Plainfied or Greta from Stickney. It doesn't feel right.

This anger is overwhelming ...almost irrational and hard to take in. It doesn't promote dialogue. Of course, angry people aren't the best people to have a rational conversation with.

People need to have opinions. They need to advocate for what they think is right but how we go about being an advocate for a cause is important.

'The medium is the message' is still an important concept. Can I disagree with someone without dragging him/her through the mud? Can people disagree with Obama without inferring he's the anit-Christ? Can a conservative see value in a liberal's perspective? Can a liberal listen to a reasoned argument from a conservative and be willing to change his/her mind? I wonder if we know how to do that anymore. Sometimes our anger doesn't seem to have boundaries and it shuts out a rational interplay of ideas. When that happens we're in deep trouble as a culture.

I'd rather see people being outrageously kind but firm in the midst of debate, I see very few people who are truly righteously angry. Instead I see increasing numbers of deeply disturbed people using whatever they can, when they can to make their point. What ever happened to civil discourse? Making fun of people, not listening to the other side, and no willingness to concede a point well made is going to be the downfall of us all.

I think we are living in a world that argues via sound byte. The ability to frame an argument and respectfully defend it is becomming a lost art. We are also losing the ability to listen to the well framed argument of others, allowing it to shape our point of view. This should make us sad and stir us to some sort of redemptive action.

What's beginning to happen is that good people are going quiet. Their voice isn't being heard. The scare tactics of the anger-mongers keeps truth seeking debate to a minimum. Not good.