Sunday, February 28, 2010


In the 10th chapter of Matthew Jesus asks his apostles to ‘go’ and do the things they saw Him doing. As their rabbi Jesus was helping his peeps take another step in the discipleship process. It was preparation for the rest of their life. Jesus wanted them to be witnesses to the nearness of the kingdom of God. And He warned them of opposition, the possibility of arrest, possible family alienation, persecution, and the very real threat of losing their life.

And you have to wonder. Why would anyone do it? Why would anyone knowingly put themselves on the line like the apostles were being asked to do? Wouldn’t the prospect of almost certain discomfort keep them from following through on any hard assignment and once out of sight of Jesus just head to the nearest Starbucks or Panera to surf the web? Why would anyone walk in the footsteps of Jesus?

Why indeed? It was probably a combination of things. Maybe some peer pressure. Obedience was probably a factor. Maybe there was a sense of obligation. Perhaps the promise of adventure. Beyone that there is every evidence that they were catching a vision of what could be and were certainly starting to trust their Master. After all He told them that if they traveled the discipleship road, taking up their cross, that they would find their life. That’s no small thing. Whatever the motivation they did it. And there were others …men and women from up and down the social ladder. And when people actually start walking after Jesus …well, a waiting world began to notice.

For sure, as we walk with God we will need to trust Him in the midst of what could be some rather formidable discomfort. And that’s not easy. Because if truth be known all too often we value our comfort more than we desire doing God’s will. God’s position, however, is that His purposes are more important than our comfort.

The more I read Scripture the more I sense the call to be really good at two things. One is simply to ‘be’ with Jesus. To watch. To observe. To hang round. To learn from Him. To talk with Him. Secondly, I know that if I hang out with Jesus long enough He’s going to ask me to ‘do’ something. To exercise my faith as I sensed the power of the living God welling up inside of me.

I can do these two things. I know I can. And yet sometimes I choose not to it. I don’t want to take the time nor exert the energy necessary. I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone. And then I lose out. You see, when those early followers of Jesus stepped on the path of discipleship some interesting things began to happen. There were healings and conversions coupled with opposition and persecution. My guess, though, is that in the midst of the hills and valleys they did indeed discover their life. Not a bad thing to find is it?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Reluctant Confronter

The questions were posed to a group of us.

"So how many of you feel comfortable with conflict?"

"How many of you had good conflict resolution modeled for you when your were growing up?"

The silence was deafening. In our head we could list the reasons why conflict can be good. After all the textbooks say that conflict is a doorway to opportunity. It opens the widows letting in fresh air. It's a launching pad for fresh new insights and agreements. Ya da ya da ya da.

Conflict is also hard. Who hasn't felt like the loser of a twelve round fight at time? Sometimes doors close and the windows are shattered. And, in all honesty, how many people stay at the table long enough to forge those creative win-win agreements.

I'm wary of conflict. When the shadow side of myself takes over I tend to be controlled by fear. And I handle fear by taking everything inside. My first tendency in any conflict is to blame myself. I know, I know it's not good. But remember that's the shadow side of myself.

There's another side of me that will wade into tumultuous water. If I sense an injustice is being done to someone I'll wade into the fray. I find it easier to enter into conflict when I'm going to battle for someone else especially if I know that someone lacks the resources in the moment to fight for themselves.

When I speak to a large group of people I don't mind talking about tough issues. One on one is harder. Interesting.

Sometimes conflict is hard for me because I know that others struggle with doing conflict right. They run, they hide, they lash out. So few of us know how to navigate the tricky roads of conflict resolution.

In our culture we don't do conflict well. We've become a name calling group of people hiding behind hearsay and slogans. It's going to be the death of us. As a result angry people are shouting so loudly that they become more of a problem than those they're shouting about. The medium is the message you know.

Conflict is hard. My wife has probably taught me more about doing conflict well than anyone. It's amazing how safe 'conflict' becomes when you know that acceptance, forgiveness, and resolution is part of the other person's DNA.

I want to be better at confronting. I want to walk through the front door of conflict, make my point, listen for understanding, seek common ground and walk away with my dignity intact. It's an old lesson. The only person I can control in the midst of conflict is myself. My job is to be a reconciling personality in a divisive world.

Of course, I've got to deal with that shadowy fear issue and resist the temptation to withdraw too far into myself. And then I have to pick my battles wisely otherwise I'll be battling all the time. Injustice is worth confronting on both the personal and systemic level. Matters of faith and morality are worth standing up for. Speaking up for the voiceless is a gospel imperative. And sticking up for that good person (me) God created is a noble endeavor.

Still thinking it through.

Monday, February 08, 2010


I’m a grownup. No one mistakes me any longer for being a kid. And it’s been a good long while since I was a child.

I like being a grownup. It’s who I am. But, at times, I forget what it’s like to be a child. That's
not so good. .

The other day I played laser tag.. I joined twenty single adults from our church in a titanic laser battle. It was a blast. Child-like.

How much fun is it to run up, around, and down ramps shooting lasers at people. For forty minutes the troubles of adulthood melted away. We were kids again. And it felt quite good.

For too many adults playing kids games sounds childish. It’s not. There’s something freeing about letting yourself go, running (or at least walking semi-fast), and laughing. When we grow up we forget about the freedom of childhood and instead take on the weightier roles and responsibilities of adulthood. I don't know about you but sometimes adulthood weighs me down.

I know a fair number of adults would choose not to engage in a rousing game of laser tag. They’d opt out. They’d wonder if they’d be embarrassed or not talented enough. Would they get dirty or sweaty? Kids play. Adults think and worry.

On the day of my afternoon laser tag game I spent the morning with a group of folks in an inner city neighborhood learning about community development. It was adult work. Necessary. Important, Challenging. Thought provoking. In the afternoon I played. Laser tag was relatively unimportant, not very challenging, and I didn’t have to used much of my brain. But I needed it.

Laser tag became a little like a mini-Sabbath. After a morning of heavy lifting I needed to rest. ‘Twas good.

I wonder how many of us need to reclaim the freedom of childhood for our tired adult lives. Have we become so adult that we forget how to let ourselves go in wholesome, fun ways? Has cynicism and sarcasm replaced hearty laughter and a joyful heart? I know, for me, that sometimes I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. It’s weight I don’t carry well. It’s unnecessary. I wish I cold shrug it off of me but I can’t seem to do it.

And then, someone invites me to play or I get invited into a discussion about nothing of import. I laugh. And the huge weight I’m carrying begins to fall away. I stand straighter and feel more focused. I so need that.

Laser tag reminded me that I still enjoy child-like things. ‘Tis good, don’t you think? It should be for it is a Jesus thing. In the book of Matthew Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to Him. In fact, He said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Could it be that in the children Jesus saw innocence, wide-eyed possibility, close your eyes and hope for it faith, and a playfulness that kept his heart young and alive? May it be so for us all.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Last Tuesday was election day in Illinois. The voter turnout was abysmally low. It bothers me. Democracy only works when people exercise their obligation to participate.

Of course I understand the indifference. The candidates for the major offices were pretty unappealing and the negativity of campaign adds turns people off and away. And it was only a primary, right?

Watching the local ABC station had me chuckling. During the 6:00 news they were adamant about the fact that "Lost will be seen in its entirety and not interrupted by election news." As a Lost fan that was important to know. As a citizen I had to wonder about our societal priorities.

So, I watched Lost and then a bit of the election coverage. To be honest I just couldn't get excited about who won what where. That's sad. You see, I used to be a political junkie. Couldn't get enough. I used to love watching election coverage. I was a Government major in college for crying out loud. But now, just a few minutes is too much. My cynicism bothers me.

A few weeks ago the Massachusetts elected a Republican to take Ted Kennedy's vacated seat in the Senate. My take is that they turned their back on the Democrat who couldn't connect with the common person. They went with someone who seem to understand the real world of real people. Was it a turn to the right? Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. I just think Massachusetts voters were voting for someone 'real'. Political party was a mild consideration at best. They decided to move in the direction of the more 'authentic' person. And, yes, I also do believe that many voters were sending a message to the White House and Congress. That 'message' or lack of one will be what fuels what remains of the political fires in November. The skeptic in me believes that even if the Congress begins to tilt back to the right that the obstructionist nature of the current political landscape will still result in dangerous partisanship. Both Democrats and Republicans don't seem eager to craft win/win legislation born out of creative synergy. That spells continued trouble for America.

For certain, political campaigns are too long and too expensive. I think the British have it right. They call for an election and then 'boom' before you can get too bored they vote. Makes sense. I'd rather focus for a shorter period of time on making my voting decision. Let's face it. It really doesn't take 18 months to make up your mind does it?

In my world of political fantasy I'd like to limit campaigns to one thirty second ad and one sixty second ad. That's it. Say what you believe. You can't slam the other candidate. You have a two week window to air it and then let's vote. I'd also do away with sham debates. Candidates are drilled to divert attention away from any topic that causes discomfort. Shouldn't be allowed. Maybe there should be a designated 'stay on topic' judge at every debate. Whenever a candidate veers away from answering the question asked a buzzer goes off and his/her microphone is turned off.

Bottom line is that we've got a bit of a mess. Too many of us don't participate in the political process. Good people are a bit shy about throwing their hat into the ring. What happens in state capitals and in Washington is making cynics of us all.

Maybe if we all read a bit more so we really understand the complex issues before us, participated in civilized discussion about issues, encouraged good people to run for office, and asked God to replace our cynicism and anger with hope and involvement we'd all be better off.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

No Idols

Want to know what drives people’s lives? Ask to see their checkbook, look at the history of websites they frequent, study their calendar and appointments, ask how they handle both joy and disappointments, who they blame when things go wrong, and inquire about what they dream about in times of solitude (especially those things they think will make them happy). Do that and you’d get a pretty good picture of what’s most important in that person’s life.

So, let me ask you a question. If I took a look at your spending history, the websites you go to, how you spend your time, how you handle joys and disappointments, who you blame when things go wrong, and what you believe will truly make you happy …what would I discover about you?

For a lot of people there life is driven by their kids. Some by whom they’re dating. Career consumes many. Sex is a huge drive. Accumulation of stuff is high on many lists. Some are addicted to food. Some to therapy. Many have to keep busy because the quiet drives them crazy.

God tries to speak into our lives. He’s saying. “I want to be more important than anything or anyone else in your life. Don’t make anything else a substitute for me.

And He gives us a commandment. It’s #2 on the list.

"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them …"

In other words … No idols.

This get s tricky. Most of us haven’t fashioned a golden calf out of melted gold. And yet we create idols in more subtle ways.

Let me give you some examples. The other day I went to a meeting that was held on the 45th floor of a high rise in downtown Chicago. Everything about the law office screamed success and prestige. Every furnishing said money and taste.

And I wanted it. I wanted success, prestige, money and good taste. This was the good life. It was hard to get it out of my head.

I have known people who frequent singles bars. Why? They were lonely, wanted to find a sexual partner, wanted to feel alive, wanted to forget, wanted love, and craved friendship and entertainment. And the quest for such things drove their life.

I know people who live for their favorite sports team. Their house is painted the color of their favorite team. They talk sports all day every day with sports radio on in their car and ESPN on their TV. They’re consumed by sports.

I know people who shop when they’re depressed. When they’re feeling better they shop because they’re happy. When they pick up a newspaper they go first to the ads. They want to look good, have the best and be trendy. It’s how they measure success.

I know people who are into helping the poor. They do good deed after good deed after good deed. They’re compassion junkies. Always looking for the next fix.

But there’s a problem. An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything which absorbs your head, heart memory and imagination more than God. It's anything you believe will give you more of what only God can give. And God is warning us about those things.

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in deep in your being, “If I have that, then I’ll know my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, and then I’ll feel significant and secure. Then I'll be happy."

And God says I want to give your life meaning. I want to show you how valuable you are. In a relationship with me you’ll find the real significance and security and joy you're seeking. Not in anything else. That’s why I don’t want anything or anyone else to stand in the way.

We all have idols. And we give to idols what God wants. Our love, our trust, and our obedience. And God wants our love, trust, and our obedience because He knows it’s good for us. It makes a difference in our lives. It’s not because His ego needs to be stroked.

So, do you ever live with the tension created by the 2nd commandment?

God says. No idols. I’m wrestling with it.