Saturday, May 22, 2010

Will we make it?


No doubt about it. There is an increased sense of polarization in our country. Each side in any argument, surrounding every issue, is circling the wagons, lobbing grenades at someone else, and wants to make sure there’s a clear winner and loser. In November, we’ll elect a new Congress. It’s going to be a mess I think. Whomever is elected will be beholding to a very narrow interest group. God forbid that anyone, then, does any kind of independent thinking or seek bi-partisan agreement. For sure, their time in office will be short lived. Deeply entrenched positioning is the sign of the times.

Underneath the fragmentation of our political system is some high grade fear, some genuine loathing, and an unprecedented disdain for anyone who believes contrary to whatever ‘groupthink’ you find yourself aligned with. There’s also some good old fashioned racism, ageism, and sexism that manages to poison the well. There’s a shrillness of opinion in the air that, frankly, scares me a great deal.

Somewhere in the not so distant future we’re in for some deep trouble. In a few years when the locus of power has shifted I’m wondering if there might be some pay back for abuses of power and authority. The culture of hate we are pretty willingly buying into now will take root and be a permanent part of the landscape. It is not the type of world I want to leave for my children and grandchildren.

So I wonder. Are we willing participants in sowing seeds of discord that will reap a harvest of future pain? The answer is clear. I think we are. We stand in judgment these days on just about everything. We’re not well read. We don’t listen well. We’re passive. Often, we vote to preserve our own interests. We equate the American dream with the Kingdom of God. And we believe opinion is wisdom.

Even in our churches we want to hear messages that allow us to stay in the same place doing the same old things …even if they’re sinful. We tithe to ourselves making sure our places of worship look pretty and inviting and our kids and us have the best. We hide behind ‘proof texting’ (finding a verse in the scripture that justifies our position) but know very little about the whole counsel of god. And we cozy up to this political party or that because they represent our (and thus God’s) point of view. We label anyone outside our little religious club as either being misguided or outright sinful.

We often live in isolated little ghettoes of misunderstanding. We look for safety when God is calling us to the risky business of faith. And all too often we remain quiet in the midst of great need because that need really doesn’t infringe on our style and standard of living. So why care?

So, in some degree we are part of the problem plaguing both our faith and the ills of our country and the world. We just don’t care enough to make the sacrifices necessary to challenge what’s evil and move out of our comfort zone to ask the right questions and do the right things to help bring some sanity to our country that is dangerously close to imploding upon itself.

So what do we do? I’ve been reading the 11th and 12th chapters of Hebrews recently. It reminds me of some important steps that can help me to address cultural insanity. In Hebrews I find a call to become familiar with the great cloud of witness that has gone before me. Their witness informs my life. That means I need to dive into Scripture to rediscover how those before me lived faithful lives in the midst of some very challenging cultural times. From them I get a good compass heading.

I’m also reminded to look for the sin that so easily ensnares me. That should concern you too. If we find ourself infuriated much of the time and spouting off about Obama or Palin, or afraid of African Americans or Hispanics, or thowing verbal bombs in the direction of liberals or conservatives …that’s a problem. It means we’re taking too much ugly stuff into our life. We need to root it out, confess it, and repent from it.

Then I have to find the road on which I’m to run my race. My race isn’t yours but there will be some remarkable similarities. On each road the shadow of the cross falls. Our race will take us through unfamiliar territory. At times it will feel a bit lonely. But then we fix our eyes on Jesus who’s the author and perfector of our faith journey. He’s our constant companion.

As you make a habit of Scripture, of repentance, and running the good race I want you to consider the following. Look for opportunities to face your fears, your biases and prejudices. If you’re a conservative, befriend a liberal. If you have strong opinions about illegal immigration get to know an illegal immigrant. If you are an evangelical and don’t like those liturgical types …find one to dialogue with. If you’re a sanctimonious liberal find a compassionate conservative to help you understand his/her point of view. If you take a trip to Israel make sure you spend some time in dialogue with a Palestinian.

Whatever it is you ‘hate’ or hold in low regard needs to become humanized. As long as we intellectualize issues and movements and fail to see its human face we will never understand the complexities and nuances of the problems before us. If all we're doing in our life is spouting ‘opinion’ chances are we're not running the good race. We're just running our mouth. That makes us part of the problem.

As long as we are kept captive by our pre-set positions and attitudes there is little opportunity for God to work in our lives or for us to be of much earthly good. Here’s the deal. We are at a scary time in history. But it is also a time of great opportunity. I think we are on a collision course towards some potentially horrible things here in America and in the greater world. But we don’t have to stay on that course. It’s going to take ‘us’ getting serious about how we are going to live our lives going forward. Enough people, living in the reality of the Kingdom, can make a huge difference.

If we stay where we are doing the same things over and over again we will live in an insanity spiral that’s going to lead to all kind of nasty things. It sounds trite to say this but ‘we are either part of the solution or part of the problem’.

Will we make it? Don’t know for sure. I do know that I’ve got some work to do. Maybe you do too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dreaming Big

What happens when you quit dreaming? Even worse, what happens if you’ve never been encouraged to dream or discouraged from dreaming big?

My take is that when we lose the ability to dream well, we lose the ability to hope. Without hope bad things happen. We lose the gift of ‘possibility’.

At Breakthrough we’re in the midst of a capital campaign called Dream Big. We’re trying to raise about 15 million dollars to construct a badly needed FamilyPlex for our neighborhood. But it goes beyond raising a lot of money for bricks and mortar. It’s more about helping to breathe hope into the lives of people who don’t know how to dream big but desperately need to. It's also about constantly encouraging those who are big dreamers to do what's necessary to help their dreams come true.

Wherever I look in the city and burbs I see a fair amount of people who have been beaten down by life. They lack hope. Dreaming big is non-existent. It’s a drag yourself out of bed, go to an uninspiring workplace, with lackluster colleagues kind of grind.

I know others who dream big about the usual things …money, power, position, prestige. Ho Hum. Fairly pedestrian kind of stuff. I know it well. Do it well. It scares me though. If you give your life to the pursuit of those dreams you run the risk of becoming what you give your life to. Nothing wrong with money, power, position or prestige except when they become the compass for our life.

I’ve been thinking about dreaming big lately. You see, I have maybe 20-25 years left. If I go small in my dreaming and stay amazingly practical and don’t reach for too many stars I can have a pretty non-descript hum drum rest of my life. In all honesty, on some days that sounds amazingly appealing. On most days, it sounds incredibly dull and life sucking. I can’t get away from the thought that God has created me for a variety of purposes and hum drum living isn’t one of those things. I could settle for it but I wouldn’t be happy.

Here’s what’s interesting. As I start to ‘dream big’ I’m having this deep desire to simplify my life. I’ve come to grips that my big earning years are behind me (were they ever in front of me?), that position doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore and that power and influence come more out of relationship than having stuff. So I’m starting to ask questions about what I really need and what is just fluff. Interesting and freeing.

I’m also thinking that part of my ‘big dream’ is to initiate and be part of discussions relating Christian faith to the bigger issues of the day. So I spend time asking questions. For instance: What does God have to say about justice, power, possessions, position, use of money, race, poverty, immigration etc. and why do so many believers remain content to live lives of pietistic indifference to such things? By the way, I think the issue of pietistic indifference is a plague that threatens the life of the church. What is it? We used to call it being so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. It plays out in a ‘me and Jesus’ theology that ignores God’s call to make a difference on the planet. Pietistic indifference is about salvation and cares little about discipleship, true worship, and a life of service. It's about looking good and caring very little.

Dream Big. It’s more than positive thinking. It’s a life style that reaches for God’s best even if it costs you the expectations others have for you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Immigration

A northern suburban high school in the Chicago area chose not to send a girls basketball team to Arizona. Lots of news coverage. Many are very upset. Some not so much. It depends a bit on your political perspective I guess. What it does is throw another log on the raging fired called ‘immigration’. It’s a hot issue and with each log thrown it gets hotter. It’s a little scary because the heat is fueling some ugly passions that aren’t serving us particularly well. Those inflamed passions make getting on the solution side of things difficult but not impossible. Bottom line …the immigration issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon. So, here’s my take on some of the issues.

A nation has to control its borders. That makes all the sense in the world. But in order to secure our borders we need to have a sane and just immigration policy. It can’t be just a strong military type presence at all borders. A military presence is needed however. The Arizona law isn’t the answer in my humble opinion. It is, however, going to force the hand of Congress. If congress can come to the table, put the posturing aside, and look for a bi-partisan ‘win’ in all this we might just end up with a just and sane immigration reform package.

In that package there needs to be some sort of legal ‘thumbs up’ for those who aren’t citizens but want to work in this country. This legal thumbs up is not citizenship. It’s a ‘guest worker’ status that would allow people who have jobs to move back and forth freely, with some protections and restrictions, between their home country and the U.S.A. Those who need the kind of services undocumented workers provide could actually be proactive and legal in their recruitment of such workers. Now they’re playing in a murky shadowland that skirts all kind of existing laws. Of course, that means part of any reform package would be some language that would require employers to provide decent wages, healthy living arrangements and safe work conditions for these ‘guest workers’ That isn’t always the case now. Undocumented workers do get exploited and currently have no real legal recourse. That should bother us more than it does.

We have millions of undocumented folks who live in this country. Some have suggested that we ‘ship them all back’. That doesn’t make sense on a whole lot of levels. Just practically speaking it would be a nightmare to even attempt to do such a thing. Economically, it would wreak some severe damage on an already besieged economy. Contrary to some opinion undocumented aliens do pay more into the system than they receive from it. And from a pastoral and biblical justice perspective ‘shipping them back’ sounds just flat out punitive and vindictive and doesn’t pass the WWJD sniff test.

So, we have to figure out a way to allow immigrants to come out of the shadows and get on a clear path towards American citizenship. Let’s face it there are a whole lot of people that have been here for a long time, contribute greatly in a whole variety of ways, raise their families, pay taxes and contribute to the public good. Let’s help them to live without fear and provide a mechanism that would allow them citizenship even if they did enter illegally. If they don’t want to be a U.S. citizen and don’t want to be a ‘guest worker’ then there are other options. But first, let’s make a citizenship pathway for folks who are here, have been here for awhile and have made our country their home. They’ll need to get in line like everyone else but at least they’ll know there is a line. Obviously, there is some generous grace period for these folks and certainly we’ll need to figure out a way to move that line much faster than it currently moves.

Of course, there are really bad people who sneak into our country every day. Immigration reform has to have ‘teeth’ to it so that we can deal quickly with those who have no intention of contributing to the public good, don’t want to follow our laws and intend on doing us harm. In this day and age we can’t afford to be na├»ve. At the same time we need to remain lucid.

As Christians, we need to come to grips with the fact that all these ‘illegals’ are people near and dear to God’s heart. We’re called to love and care for those immigrants in our midst. Look through the Scriptures from a justice point of view and it’s staggering how much is written about the poor, disenfranchised, and the alien in our midst. Rumor has it that Jesus crossed a border looking for safety early in his life. And chances are each of us knows someone who has either done work on our home, cared for our lawn, lived next door, watched our children, offered us counsel, waited on us at a restaurant, cleaned our teeth, coached our kids, done our taxes, written a book that's been helpful, or gone to school with us … who might be illegal. Putting a human face to the big problems of life can help us to slow down and take stock of what we really believe. How punitive do I want the law to be towards someone I really care about? From my perspective I want immigration reform to give us something that feels like a way in and not necessarily a way out. I also want any reform to capture the true heart of God.

Immigration reform is desperately needed. As with most things how we go about making those reforms will speak mightily about where the heart of our nation really lies. Laws have to make sense, have the ability to be enforced with some consistency and protect the citizenry. We also can’t forget that we are a ‘nation of immigrants’. So, we don’t want to lose sight of what beckoned our forefathers and mothers. Those same dreams still mean something to those who desire a fresh start in the home of the brave and the land of the free. Any reform needs to make sure we still have arms and hearts open while still protecting our borders. That’s doable.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Haunting Me

I read the question asked by John Piper in a book called Crazy Love written by Francis Chan. It’s haunted me for months. It's gotten me thinking. Here it is.

The critical question for our generation and for every generation is this. If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth and all the food you ever liked and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed and all the natural beauties you ever saw and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted and no human conflict or any natural disasters …could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

I’ve been a believer for a long time. I’ve committed my life to Christ. So, I'm wired in. But if I could have everything that’s meaningful to me in heaven minus Christ would I even blink?

What about you? Don't get real spiritual on me and forsake honesty. Would you miss Jesus in heaven if you had everything else you really wanted?

We throw the term 'relationship with Christ' around fairly casually in many religious circles. We talk about it with great gusto but I have a hunch a fair amount of us really don't know what we're talking about. And if that's true then maybe we really don't know Christ in some sort of personal, interactive way. Some of us have been around religious folks enough to gain access to 'personal relationship' jargon. But jargon isn't the same as a relationship. So, I'm thinking that there are a whole lot of folks in and outside the Christian camp that might just settle for a Christless heaven. If we don't need Him now why would we need Him then?

The other question haunting me is this one. Would I go anywhere, do anything, and take on any problem if God called me?

Would I? Do I have that kind of faith? Of course, my decision would depend greatly on whether or not I have cultivated some sort of relationship with God. My answer to the first question (heaven without Christ) would certainly influence my answer to this one.

I know enough about God to know that His call is often a step into the unknown. Is that what I really want?

What about you? Would you bravely go where no man or woman has gone before if you believed God was calling you?

Two questions. One about relationship. The other about trust and mission.

So, first things first. The first question is the more essential one I think. At least it is for me. I have very little trouble going on a mission. I struggle more with the relationship issue. Here's why.

I’m realizing that the answer in my head to the heaven without Christ question doesn't necessarily match the truth of my life. The answer in my head is “No way, I wouldn’t want to live anyplace with out Jesus, no matter how good it is.” If that’s the case why do I sometimes feel so distant from the living God in the here and now? Why am I so content at times to keep doing my own thing and in essence live a life of ‘functional atheism’? Quaker writer Parker Palmer coined that ‘functional atheism’ term. It’s the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. We say we believe but live as though we don't. Functional atheism can be found wherever Christians gather. It’s a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.

So, it’s back to the drawing board. My dissatisfaction with my state of mind compels me to go back to the Scriptures and some tried and true spiritual disciplines. I'm thinking it time to rethink and relearn everything I know about Jesus. It’s time to read and study and breathe in the life of Christ, learning once again about the unforced rhythms of grace. I need to fall back in love (instead of just having unswerving respect) with the Savior who has never fallen out of love with me. And as I do the question about mission and call will fall into place I bet.

Don't go all judgmental on me now. I'm just trying to be honest. If you know me you know that my faith is real. I just need to rediscover the essence of it once again. I need to know God more than knowing about Him. Sometimes the pendulum of my life swings too far towards knowledge and my heart yearns for the intimacy of relationship. My guess some of you know what I'm talking about.

So what about you?

Can you easily imagine a heaven with no care and worry as being OK even if Jesus wasn’t part of the mix? Are questions of mission and call bothersome and intrusive?

Do you need to rediscover anew what drew you to faith in the first place?

Would love to hear what you’re thinking.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Liars

We live in a culture that likes to lie. We hold back from and even run away from the truth. We’re distrustful of politicians, car salespeople, general contractors, doctors, lawyers, big time sports heroes and the church. Actually, we’re just basically distrustful these days about all kinds of things and people because we’ve been lied to so many times and we know how untrustworthy the culture and even ourselves can be. And yet ‘lying’ is a multi-billion dollar industry. We pay big bucks to people who can put ‘spin’ on something. Tabloids pay outrageous sums for even the hint of truth. We watch ‘gossip’ TV because we love the juicy tidbit. Advertising sells more product when it can get us to believe lies about who we really are.

And lying comes easy. The other day I got a parking ticket during a college visit. I’m ashamed to admit that one of the first thoughts that came to my mind was to ‘fight’ the ticket by twisting the facts a wee bit. Now, I wasn’t going to do a whole lot of twisting. Just enough. After all, twisting the truth isn’t the same as lying is it? The good news is that I’m now $50 poorer but I fought the temptation and exited with my integrity intact.

How many of us try to make ourselves look better by putting a better, but often inaccurate foot forward? Most of us I’m sure.

Mass e-mails often are filled with lies. We believe the hot rumor and the titillating innuendo. When we do a bit of fact checking we find that the rumor isn’t hot and the innuendo is not even remotely truthful.

I believe lies about myself … a lot. Things like:

- You don’t deserve to be in this position.
- You’re not qualified.
- You’re always disappointing people.
- You don’t have the right giftings.

The trouble with lies is that they often carry a measure of truth. The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot I don’t deserve, and I lack certain qualifications, and I do disappoint some people and often times I find my gift mix isn’t the right match for specific situations. But partial truth isn’t the whole truth. Scripture tells us that Satan is the father of lies. I believe it. Hear enough lies about yourself and discouragement sets in and you find yourself in the outhouse of life. Why wouldn’t the enemy of God attack us with lies about who we really are? Why wouldn’t the father of lies delight in discouraging a nation regarding their political leaders? And why wouldn’t half –truth be used to rip a church apart? It’s a tried and true winning formula.

So, are you a liar?

It’s a spiritual condition for sure and not a good one. It splinters groups, damages people, and always builds mistrust. And it has to be dealt with.

How does one deal with lies?

I want to become a better fact checker. If I get an e-mail about the president, my senior pastor, or my favorite sports team I owe to myself to check the facts, making sure they're accurate. And even if the facts are true then I need to resist the temptation to pass on scurrilous information. God wants me to be a peace maker and bridge builder and to use facts to build up and not destroy.

The habit of lying puts us on a perilous spiritual pathway. I always have to be asking myself whether or not I want to become more and more like Christ or do I want to align myself with the father of lies? To say I want Christ and then to align myself by my actions with the evil one just makes me a hypocrite.

I'm learning more and more about forgiveness. Forgiveness is about asking for it and granting it. Lying has to be confessed and when done so with authenticity and real repentance it needs to be forgiven. Whenever I'm less than truthful I have to be willing to deal with it - even if it demands that I 'fess up.

Lying causes damage. Damage needs to be cleaned up. Are we willing to make amends for the damage our lies do to others? Every once in awhile I’ll confront someone who is mass e-mailing lies to hundreds of people. I’ll point them to places where they can see that so called truth of their e-mail has been thoroughly debunked. Not once that I can remember has anyone sent out a follow-up e-mail to those same hundreds of people apologizing for sharing lies and maligning character. I think we’re afraid to make ourselves look bad by admitting the truth about our own behavior. I'm not sure it's good to create a mess and not clean it up after being confronted with the truth. In fact, not cleaning up our messes is an act of cowardice I think.

Sometimes when I'm tempted to lie I'm forced to look more deeply at what that temptation represents. Am I trying to look good in someone's eyes, evade responsibility, or to get even with someone for what they've done to me? Whatever it is that’s what needs to be prayed through and ultimately dealt with because those core issues, left unchecked, will come back to haunt me.

Lying, like any sin, often needs to be dealt with in community. I wonder how many habitual liars are surrounded with people who speak the truth in love to them. Probably not many. Too bad. Good things happen when 'accountablity' is asked for.

Augustine once said, "One never errs more safely than when one errs by too much loving the truth." It's a good word isn't it?