Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Finding the Life God Intended

Today, I realized something about myself.  It’s not something I’m happy about.  I find that I’m settling for what is all too often and not fighting for what’s best.  I see crazy things all around me and I’m not stepping towards being part of the solution.  I’m holding back instead of coming out swinging.  I’m doing too much talking about making a difference instead of being a difference maker.

It’s easy to sit back and watch isn’t it?  Name the issue and we can persuade ourselves that it’s beyond our influence.  We really are narcissistic people for the most part aren’t we?  It’s all about us.

Why are we mad at Congress? I’m thinking that basically it’s because their inability to act keeps us from having what we want.  It has very little to do about the inspirational fiber and fabric of our life together I don’t think we want Congress to do what’s right if that means we might have to think and act differently. Do we?  We want every law, every movement to benefit us.  We don’t want them to be brave at our expense. We are the entitled ones.  And when we don’t get what we want when we want it we throw our own little hissy fits in the hopes that, once again, it will be enough to carry the day.

I wonder if we will ever live noble lives as long as we only think of ourselves.  At the heart of all that plagues us these days is good old fashioned selfishness.  It’s all about us. And that’s what we fight for.  Our wants, perceived needs, our mistaken goals, and culturally saturated interpretations of religions creeds, writings, and traditions. 

And we are people who play it safe.  We allow the talking heads on TV and radio (secular and religious) to think for us and then we parrot that particular party line to others who listen to and watch the same vacuous personalities who care not a whit about noble causes or goals.  And we never put skin in the game ourselves. Or not enough skin that makes it necessary to trust God.

I’m struck by how much the scriptures of the Christian faith are a ‘call to action’.  They call us to live on the edge of adventure and to use power and influence on behalf of those who have less.  And that means going to bat for millions who have no voice and who would be satisfied with 5% of most of our net worth.  But selfishness keeps us in safe places, tithing to ourselves, playing safe little religious games and critiquing anyone brave enough to dive into the deep end of the pool.

At the end of the year 2011 I’m surprised about how I’ve allowed the status quo to shape me even when I know better.  It’s amazing (in each and every setting I’m in) how much I’ve quieted my voice.  Have I forgotten how God long ago asked me to step up and out for the sake of the kingdom?

We’re facing 2012 in the face.  I’m asking God to point out to me what’s standing in the way of being the man He wants me to be.  Do I need more courage?  Is sin robbing me of effectiveness?  Bad habits?  Laziness?  Indifference?  Whatever it is I want to be cured of it. 

What about you?  Ask God what’s standing in the way of being the man/woman he wants you to be.  Listen.  Listen again.  Ask others to listen with you.  And when you hear the voice of God act on it.  He will ask you to shed some things and he will adjust some attitudes.  Then ask the good God for a vision of how he wants you to live your life.  Listen hard to this one.  For if you are entitled you will find your life being challenged.  Honest.  Guarantee it.  But jump into the vision for it’s there you will find your life. That’s my aim, by the way.  To recapture the life God intended for me.

Check out my blog Murph’s Place at

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm Voting For

I've been following some of the national election coverage and keeping an eye on local developments  It's a bit discouraging.  National trust in elected officials is at an all time low.  Its understandable. If the election were tomorrow I'd choose to vote for candidates who believe that:

1. People matter.  All people. White people, black people, brown people, straight people, gay people, citizens, immigrants (legal and not) the young, the old, the rich and the poor.

2. Some of those people might need more help than the others.  Sometimes it's their own fault they need help.  More often it's not.  Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once said that "our hearts should break over the thing that break the heart of God".  From my vantage point I want to err on the side of grace, not judgment.  I'm not suggesting we abandon the law but when the law turns its back on those in need we disobey God.

3. Sound byte answers aren't really answers.  They sound silly too.

4. Waste and mismanagement is killing us and it can't continue to happen.

5. It's possible and desirable to find common ground with the other party. This is a no brainer I think.

6.The discouraged majority is looking for high road leadership.

7.  The courage to make tough decisions is desirable.

8. Signing a pledge is not a leadership strategy. In fact, it limits your creative options.

9. You don't have to have a ready answer for everything. And anyone who thinks you should doesn't understand the complexity  of the issues before us.

10. The problems we have will require a shared sacrifice to fix.  That means the average voter is going to have to realize that we are going to have to be part of the solution.  That solution is going to cost us all.

11. A moral compass should be acquired.  There is a higher authority who is available for consultation.

12. We're not playing games.  The economy, terrorism, corruption , entitlement issues (the most entitled seem to be those of us who have much), global hunger, disease, sex trafficking, a crumbling infrastructure, health care, etc.  are not issues to be trifled with.

What's on your list?  What are you looking for in your next alderman, state rep, congressman, senator, and president.  Do you really know? If not, why? For if we don't know what/who we want we can only blame ourselves for the mess we'll find ourselves in.

As a person involved in Christian leadership I feel a deep obligation to talk about the issues of our day. You'll notice in this post that I'm not asking you to cast your vote for a particular party or candidate.  That isn't my role.  I am asking you to care deeply enough about the elections coming up that you will approach it prayerfully and thoughtfully.  Many people are giving up on the political process.  Not this time around ...please. Your list might be different than mine.  That's fine.  I'm OK with that.  I'm not as OK with people who are  allowing some political commentator, religious programmer,  or cynical punditainer make their choices for them. That's not why God gave us a brain and a heart.  We are called upon to make informed choices rooted in a clear understanding of the issues and the variety of options before us. To make uninformed choices seems to be a waste of the giftings God has given us.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


Have you ever been pursued.  Have you ever been pursued by someone meaning to do you harm?  I have.  It was in high school, freshman year.  Two friends and I were chased by a car load full of guys who were tanked. These guys had a reputation for being mean spirited and always liked to pick on people they considered to be weaker. The chase wasnt long. We were on foot.  They were driving.  We zigged when we should have zagged and ended up cornered in an alley where the guys proceeeded to beat on my two friends.  When it was my turn someone recognized me and realized his father and my father were friends.  I got a reprieve.  But my palms were sweaty and my fear was off the charts.When youre afraid the pursuit can create quite a bit of an anxiety.

During Advent we talk often about the child Jesus being forced into exile by Herod the Great.  He saw the child as a threat to his throne so he pursued him. I can imagine that leaving Israel for Egypt was anxiety ridden for Mary and Joseph.  When you stare danger in the face thats part of the equation.

I wonder if Herod would have been as quick to pursue if he understood completely who this child really was. Lets go to the book of Revelations (19) and take a back of the book sneak peak at the child in the manger in full throttle Godness.

In the scriptures we get many glimpses of Jesus.  Perhaps none is more dramatic than this passage in Revelations.  The child pursued by the evil king Herod ultimately reveals Himself as the King and Lord of all. This picture of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is stunning in its portrayal of strength and ultimate victory.

Would Herod have been so brazen if he knew he was chasing God? 

It's almost inconceivable that any earthly power would attempt to stand against Jesus if they had the full picture ...right?

As improbable as it sounds  people do.  We do. You have. We will. History is littered with the stories of men and women who dared to think they were beyond the reach of God.  People who, like Herod, made war on God by attacking His creation.

As human beings we have this amazing ability to delude ourselves.  

A few months ago we were at a conference on Coronado Island near San Diego.  We were there when the Navy Seals finished their pursuit of Osama Bin Laden.  Since the Seals are trained on Coronado we decided to go down to an Irish Pub for dinner the next day, where Navy Seals hang out. I remember looking at those guys ...cut, fit, big, big necks, square heads.  And I said to Anita, You know whats scary?  Every year, probably several times a year, a group of guys get liquored up somewhere and someone brazenly says I bet those Seals arent all that tough without all their guns and knives.  Lets go find out. And so they do. My bet that 100% of the time that they were right. That the Seals arent as tough as they thought they were fact, they were tougher.

Its mind numbing isn't it ... how were willing to take on what we know we shouldnt and often shy away from taking on what we should.  How many, by word and deed even today, show the same kind of disdain Herod did  for God?

If I had been in charge of the coming of Jesus I think I would have been inclined to have sent him on his white horse all tatooed up and forget the baby stuff. To have Him come in power and not hidden. I would have had Him look the powers of this world in the eye and dared them to come against Him. For good reasons God didn't choose me to orchestrate His entrance into the world.  Instead of a show of power he came to continue his pursuit of us cloaked in humility and vulnerability. As improbable as it sounds ... He comes under cover. No white horse.  No army. The Scripture even tells us:

There was nothing attractive about him,
  nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
  a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
  We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried
  our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
  that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
  that ripped and tore and crushed himour sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
  Through his bruises we get healed. Isaiah 53

The improbable choice of God was to identify fully with us. It was from what looked like a place of weakness that he would continue his pursuit of us.  He chose to meet evil with improbable strategies . To play the game without exercising divine prerogatives.  

The strategy of God was to walk among us as one of us, inviting us to embrace our true mission and identity.

And what does He say to us?  My understanding of the good news tells me that hes saying something like this.

When I made you you were good and created to do good.  Sin damaged you and tainted all of creation.  Nothing is as I intended it to be.  I'm here to heal you, redeem you and  restore you.  Im here to invite you to join me in the  ongoing work of healing and restoration that will release the creation from the bondage it is in. Will you join me?

In that invitation is the gift of Christmas.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hate Talk

The whole thing only took a minute or two or three but it was chilling. With eyes to the ground, rolling a case of some kind a young Asian man was being verbally assaulted by a couple of quite inebriated college aged guys. It was in Champaign. Anita and I were walking back to our car after an Illini football game.

The verbal assault which called into question heritage, race, and style of speech was ugly in its intent and motivation. The more vocal of the two thought he was being cute and funny. The quieter one primarily giggled his approval. I'm sure they both thought they were being manly and clever. I saw childish and mean spirited.

I stopped long enough to see the Asian man scurry away, out of harms way. And yet I wonder, even now, how the violation of his personhood and the accompanying fear might impact his life. Will he brush it all off or will he forever be looking over his shoulder?

Some might say that it was the beer talking. Nope. I was seeing the drunkenness only revealing what was deep in their heart. And it scared me.

I've seen the hate mongering gene up close and personal many times. It's present in all our lives (that sin thing again). And when it's unleashed it looks ugly. The ugliness can take many forms. It could be verbal taunting, funny little stories with a racial twist, stereotyping, profiling, redlining or even hiding behind the walls of a gated community to escape 'them'.

I've been saying privately to people that my deepest fear is we're only an incident or two away from some sort of mammoth class and racial struggle. The racial and ethnic divides are deep and wide in our country still. Even on college campuses that major in tolerance and diversity. I wonder how much of our struggles with immigration policy, poverty, pluralism and terrorism are rooted in unresolved racial and ethic fears, hurts, and wounds? A lot I think. How deep is our desire to bridge those divides or are we content to maintain them?

In the Book of Ephesians we read that we are God's masterpiece. Yesterday, I saw a masterpiece of God being treated as worthless junk. And it was wrong. Yet, it happens every day, all day.

The line between my indignation and my participation in hate mongering is probably a thin one. I'm capable of much ugliness. It's truly only by the grace of God that I manage to care about doing what is good and noble. And I'm not sure that I always succeed. Today I'm doing well. We'll see what tomorrow brings. My prayer for myself and for you is that we will see hate mongering in all it's manifestations and be bothered by it. So bothered that we will stand up against it. That's risky business. It's also kingdom business And if we see 'hate' taking root in our personal lives let's stand against that too asking a good God to renew a right spirit within us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Penn State Story

Today I left Breakthrough around noon to head back out to the western suburbs.  I passed a young man and woman.  They appeared to be arguing.  I slowed down and watched through my rear view mirror.  I saw him violently shove her.  Then he threw a giant roundhouse punch that landed on the side of her head.  More shoving. Then a slap.  No one else was in sight.

I know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to keep driving. And I almost did.  But I couldn’t. So, I turned the car around.  Pulled up near them. Opened my window and asked the girl if she was OK. No response. I asked again.  The young man then started yelling at me. Swearing.  That was fun.

The good news was that my presence stopped the violence.  I pulled up the block a bit but didn’t leave.  I called 911 and then flagged down a passing squad car.  The police officer immediately turned around to deal with the situation.  When I saw him engage the couple in conversation I left.

I’m no hero.  There was a tug of war going on in my head about stopping or driving away.  Interfering in something like this in an urban neighborhood can be a dangerous thing.  I remembered thinking …he might have a gun?  Would he assault me? But I came to the conclusion that I was the only person around who could stop this man from further harming this young woman.  So I intervened. Today, I’m able to look in the mirror and know that I did the right thing.  But I almost didn’t.  I could have called 911 and not stopped but sometimes 911 isn’t always quick to come in some urban neighborhoods.  That wasn’t the best option.  God was telling me I needed to intervene. But I almost didn’t.

Last week the news about Penn State broke.  I understand better today how hard it is to step up in the moment to stop something horrible.  Hard isn’t easy.  It is necessary though for good people to do hard things in order to stop injustice.  That means facing fear, praying for courage, and asking God for protection.  When we don’t lean into our fear and respond with some degree of courage people often get hurt.

On Sunday I was listening to a Christian radio station on my drive to church. I heard the host saying that he had heard about the Penn State child abuse incident but was choosing not to listen to any news details about it.  There was a bit more said that made me wonder if people were being invited to check the issues of the day in the narthex of their church.   I was hoping and praying people wouldn't hear that it doesn't matter what was happening out there in the world.  Or that that all we needed to do was "Praise the Lord" in our holy huddles and all the bad stuff will go away.  If so, I was going to be seriously ill. I was upset that perhaps some would actually believe that it was OK to close their minds and hearts to matters of serious consequence.

In a subsequent good conversation with that host I was assured that the message I heard wasn't the message intended. I will choose to believe in his intention and his heartfelt concern for the victims and his deep love for God. And yet I heard something that caused a strong reaction. Thinking through this I wonder if I wasn't filtering what I was hearing through an all too familiar and unsatisfying grid. Too often the church can close its eyes and ears to the world around them, waiting for the culture to get bad enough soon and then the Lord will come back and take all the good guys away, rescuing us from all things ugly and sinful. While I believe fully in the coming of the Lord again I also believe that we are kingdom builders in the here and now and required to deal with the world as it is as ambassadors of Christ. 

I’ve always believed that people of faith need to know what is happening around them.  I, too, want to praise the Lord but I believe that God wants me to care about the things that matter to Him.  Kids being raped in a shower room matters to God. Such things should inform our worship and bring us to our knees crying in the midst of our outrage and springboard us to action.  To close our eyes to the evil in our world is a sinful act. I was reminded of that when I saw the first punch to a woman’s face today.  Who was God going to use to protect her?  The finger, this time, pointed to me. Tomorrow, maybe you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Unhappy Valley

The news out of Happy Valley was grim this week. In the wake of a grand jury report detailing sexual abuse of young boys a sports icon was fired. He was not the perpetrator of the crimes. In fact, he reported one incident. But he failed to take the 'extra steps' necessary to stop fiendish acts from recurring. He took the procedural step in the right direction but not the courageous step to ending the abuse once and for all. I'm reminded of the Amelia Earhart quote "Courage is the price life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things."

As I listened to sports radio this week I was stunned by many of the callers. Many claimed to be heroic figures who would have stopped the nonsense in its tracks if they would have observed the heinous crimes being committed. Talk is cheap. In a world filled with a multitude of horrors bar stool heroes are a dime a dozen. Real heroes and heroines don't have time to call in to talk shows or flex their muscles in front of mirrors. No, they are out in the trenches dealing with injustice and not just posing as protectors of the innocent and oppressed.

How many of us lack the courage to step out in faith to stare evil in the face? Too many. We get wrapped up in our comfort and trivial pursuits while all around us people who Jesus loves are being hurt, starved, abused, tortured, enslaved, belittled, and imprisoned? And we do and say nothing. Often, we put our heads in the sand and our hearts and minds on cruise control and refuse to look at the world the way Jesus sees it. It's wrong and it's sinful.

Joe Paterno said that he should have done more. He's right. But he got caught up in worshipping an idol he helped create ...big time college football. And in order to right the wrong his coach created he would have had to take his eye off the idol and do the right thing even if it meant knocking the Penn State football idol off it's pedestal. He didn't. And now he is suffering the consequences of it all. It's sad because I think Paterno did a lot of good along the way. But in this instance he lacked the courage to the right thing, in the right way.

There have been times in my life when I've been courageous and stood up to evil. There have also been times when I backed away and wallowed in varying degrees of cowardice. As hard as the courageous times were (and they usually are) I don't ever regret stepping up. My times of cowardice carry deep regret as its reward.

To those abused at Penn State we send our prayers that a good God will heal them. May justice be swift for the perpetrators. And for us ...may we open our eyes to the evil around us and may we rise up to become the answers to the prayers of those who suffer.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Trash god

 "Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me.".

That's from the 14th chapter of the book of John. It's Jesus speaking. He's saying "Know me and you’ll know the Father you’ve been dealing with since the earth was created. He is in me. I’m in Him. Believe in me. Trust me on this. I am the road, the way. So believe in me. Trust me."

And in that 'ask' we are presented with a problem.

We struggle with trusting Jesus because, for most ... He's a stranger. We know about God but don't know Him. We don't know the 'me' we're supposed to be trusting and believing in. Why?

I'm guessing we're too busy creating God in our image and likeness instead of being shaped by Him. And so we have a culture filled with all kind of fake gods. There's a Republican god, a Tea Party god, a Democratic god, a rich god, a social justice god, a liberal god, a conservative one and a god who we expect to chase and fetch just like a dog. We have a god that we want to ratify any decision we make, a god of blessing and not sacrifice. But it’s not the real god. It’s a caricature of the real thing. We bow to little gods who look remarkably like us, are safe and controllable and who never ask us to adjust our thinking or our lifestyle. We're so busy with these itsy bitsy little gods that we don't have time to focus our attention on the real deal.

The gods we create are ultimately untrustworthy. I think we know that we can’t really put our faith and trust in them but we do anyway. And when we do, we get mad when they disappoint us because they aren’t up to the big challenges we face.  And then, so many of us, try to blame the real God because he didn’t rescue us from the consequences of our actions. Go figure.

"Believe in me", Jesus says. "Trust me."  It’s God beckoning us to intimacy I think. Real intimacy.

So how do we get there. Let me suggest two important steps.

1. Crush the itsy bitsy little gods that have replaced the real god in your life. Seriously, just trash them. They are just idols. Honest, your political god can't heal the ache in your heart.  Neither can your economic god. Neither can the one who tells you it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe in something. Nope. Trash those gods.

2. Search for the real God.  Make it an authentic search. I'd urge you to start by rediscovering Jesus and in the process rediscover yourself.  And the starting point is the New Testament.  Read it with the intent of falling in love with the real God, not the caricature. In the process you'll a lot about yourself. Eugene Peterson says "the bible reads us as we read it." It reveals things about ourself and it reveals to us the personality and work of God.

And then daily give as much as you know about yourself to as much as you know about Jesus and pray for the desire to grow in your understanding of yourself and this good God who loves you so much.

As you grow in your understanding of yourself and of God you might start to notice some gaps between who you are and what you’re sensing God wants to do in your life. We need to pay attention to those gaps. That's where God wants to do his work in our lives.

Author and speaker Margaret Feinberg does something interesting as she travels around. Quite often she’ll ask a complete stranger, her Muslim taxi cab driver, the president of a big corporation, priests, rabbis, and just regular folks this one question. ... “What do you love about Jesus?” Just about everybody has something to say. And actually, most people are quite fond of Jesus not so fond of Christianity.

So this got me thinking if we are going to believe in and trust Jesus we can only do that if we know Him. Describe him. Sense him. Feel him. It’s about the relationship. So, here’s the question. What do you love about Jesus?

My hunch is once you discover the real Jesus believing and trusting in Him will change your life and it will make it easier to trash those little itty bitty gods you serve.  Then watch out.  You'll be a force to be reckoned with.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Being Curious

It's amazing how narrow in outlook people are content to remain. Ask someone:

Politics? Nope. Not interested. All crooks.
Race relations? Not my concern.
Hunger? I'm not hungry so why should I care?
Have you read ...? No time.
What about the euro? It doesn't impact me.
Entitlements? People should get a job.
Religion? To each his own.
Sex trafficking? What?
Educational equity? Don't know what you're talking about..

There's a whole lot of shrugging of shoulders, rolling of eyes and dramatic utterances of 'whatever' these days. Or there is the parroting of a very narrow political or religious perspective that hasn't really been though through very carefully on our part. And I wonder ...have we forgotten how to be curious?

I don't expect people to know about everything but I do expect people to know about more things than they do. We live in a global community. Our lives intersect in very interesting ways. Issues are complex. Without a desire to know about things that matter we are in danger of living lives of extraordinary selfishness and dramatic sinfulness. Without curiosity we are in danger of retreating to ugly little ghettoes of pop culture tweets and text messages where we know a whole lot about things that don't really matter.

What do we need to be curious about? A good starting point is to be curious about the things that break the heart of God. For instance, we need to be curious about things like the plight of the poor, the widow, the stranger and the orphan. That would lead us to ask questions about the distribution of resources, the best ways to deal with immigrants, and the state of health care. And those questions should lead us to an exploration of the issues and asking "how does God want us to respond.". And why do other good people disagree with me? Is there something I'm not getting?

Good prayer is about curiosity. We ask. Where should I go? How should I act? What should be my response be? And we look to a good God to speak, to open doors and opportunities.

I want to be known for being curious. For asking questions and not accepting pat answers. For being uncomfortable with the status quo and for wrestling with mystery. That means I must have habits in my life that include reading widely, listening to opposing points of view, and digging deeper to discover root causes of issues before me, and then accepting and diving into how God wants me to respond. More about that in my next blog.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Community

I remember something ‘big’ happening to me just prior to leaving for college right after my graduation from high school. It was bigger than big. It had life changing ramifications. I needed to talk to someone. But as I looked around me I couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone within my friendship circles. Maybe it was embarrassment, perhaps fear, for sure confusion reigned in my head. So, instead of seeking help I hunkered down and closed in on myself. I needed others but couldn’t bring myself to share what I needed to share. I needed to share a secret but didn't have anyone I could trust. Talk about feeling lost.

Hunkering down and closing in on myself became a pattern. Occasionally, I'd gather my courage and venture towards openness but most times I found that what I shared got mishandled and used against me. So I hunkered down deeper thinking that what I needed was within myself. It was a lie.

I'm sharing this because I'm writing a series of blogs about what I want to be known for. Thus far I've declared that I want to be known for being present to God and available to others. I now add a desire to be known someone who lives 'in community'. What does that mean? I think it means helping to create community. It means appreciating the communities I already have, It means allowing myself to be known within those communities and to extend myself to know others. It means being nourished and nurtured by community. I think it means being rooted in community.

'Doing life alone' isn't what I want to sign on for. Been there. Done that. Not satisfying.

Let me confess something. I have some very idealized notions of what 'community' is all about. During the course of writing this I've come to realize that my idealism has gotten in the way of appreciating what I already have. And I have plenty. I have been blessed with all kinds of community experiences. What I often lack is an appreciation of them and what they mean for my life. I am blessed.

Now there's a part of me that yearns for a deeper sense of community. That yearning may lead to something new or perhaps God using me as a change agent within existing communities. In all honesty what I long for scares me a bit for it will require something more of me and force me to ask some questions about why I hold back from that which I need.

At the heart of all this,of course, is an understanding that God didn't design us to do life alone. That's never been part of His plan. It's life together. As I look at the world in which we live I have a sense that we're all going to have to rethink notions of community again. The economic, emotional, and spiritual realities of our immediate future are going to force us together in dependent ways. I think we are all going to need to be known for being 'in community'. That's going to require some major paradigm shifts and massive behavioral and attitudinal adjustments. It sounds scary but it also sounds like a great opportunity.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Available to Others

Available. Lots of people are available. Go to any singles bar and you'll find everything from newly available to desperately available. "Just give me a call if you need anything" people will say but not everyone really means it. Lots of folks are not really available but want to give the appearance of availability. I'm like that some time but I'm not proud of it.

One of the things I want to be known for is my availability to others even when it's inconvenient or what they're asking is out of my comfort zone. So I've got to ask God for help dealing with a major strain of selfishness that has managed to root itself far too deeply in my life. I've got to learn to get over myself and move towards others.

Now don't get me wrong I'm not a complete mope but I'm also not where I know God wants me to be. It's a growing edge and a golden opportunity. And I'm thankful for that.

Of course, none of us can be all things to all people and as a means of protection we've learned to set up boundaries. Boundaries are a good thing but only if we're not hiding behind them. I know people who have great on-the-surface boundaries but live selfishly and indulgently. That's not God's way. Good boundaries are necessary to help us steward our time, talent and treasure and not to keep us from the stewardship of our lives.

Even a cursory look through scripture cements the idea that God wants us to live our life for others. Even those we don't like. Even our enemies. We usually skim across those verses, pretending they're not really there. Silly of us isn't it?

I'm beginning to realize that God wants us to live lives of extravagant love. To live with open minds, open hands, open hearts, open calendars, and open pocketbooks. Too much of many lives is closed off to the possibilities only openness allows us to see. How available do you want to be? More importantly, how available does God want you to be?

This is the third in a six part series asking the question 'when all is said a done what do you want to be known for?". A couple of days ago I suggested that I want to be known as someone who is present to God. You can read the previous two posts by going to www.mike-ascend,

Friday, September 16, 2011

Present to God

In a recent blog post I wrote about what I wanted to be known for. The first thing on my list was being known for being present to God. To me that's at the center of God's purpose for every persons life.

Present to God. Words come to mind like attentive, quiet, listening, centering,solitude, disciplines, interactive, speaking, and being. All things, by the way, that don't come easily to me. I battle against them. I'd much rather do than be. I'm much more adept at talking about God than I am in experiencing Him. And that's not serving me well.

I do 'faith' for a living. I work for God. But if truth be known much of the work I do for God has it's origins in my own needs and wants. Obedience plays a role. I know enough about God's will to dutifully do the right things in the right way and often, even, with a good heart and humble intentions. But do I know God?

I can't know God unless I'm present to Him. Neither can you.

Have you ever been around someone who knows God? I have. More than a few. Some quiet. Many not. All wired differently. The common denominator has always been 'quality time alone with God'. Not just quality time either. It was good chunks of time in the presence of God. Those times were daily. Sometimes twice a day. I remember one of my bosses in Young Life named Tom Raley. Tom gave to the Lord the first hour of every day and the last half hour before going to bed. It was the habit of his life. Each day being in the presence of God was eagerly anticipated.

What is my habit?

What's yours?

We put ourselves in the presence of God so His presence can infill our life. That's where the power we are all looking for comes from. We're at our best when God is working in and through our life and we are responding to the promptings of a surprisingly talkative Holy Spirit.

So when all is said and done and people said at my funeral ..."Mike was attentive to what God was prompting. He allowed himself to cultivate the habit of being present to God." ...well, there would be far worse things that could be said, huh? Not a bad thing to be known for.

I watch people live their lives in amazing ways. Some good. Some not so much. So much of what I see is people living reactively without purposeful intention and reflection. People live life fast. Too fast. What would happen if we all slowed down and habitually placed ourselves in a quiet place allowing God to love on us and whisper his desires into the weary and broken places of our life? We would be transformed I think.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Known For

What are you known for? Aside from your shiny personality, dazzling smile and smart wardrobe what are you all about? What defines you?

I've been thinking about that lately as I've been attempting to write a personal mission statement for this stage of my life. I've been asking myself ..."what do I want to be known for?" I wanted to do it in 20 words or less. Here's what's energizing me.

Known for being:

Present to God
Available to others
Rooted in community
Curious about issues
Effective in Response

And if this is what I'm going to be known for then how do I order my life in order to make this happen? What are the habits, practices, and disciplines that support my sense of mission? And am I willing to have my calendar and bank account reflect my commitments?

I've got a ways to go in each of these areas. I know a lot about God but do I actually know Him? Who are those others I need to be available to? Who do I need to be doing life with and where? Am I willing to remain socially responsible and intellectually curious? Am I walking my talk?

What do you want to be known for? In twenty words or less can you zero in on what you want your life to stand for?

I think it was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. That's true. Knowing who or what really gets our attention and focus can help drive us to the next best thing God has for us. Too many just kind of drift along in life. Intentionality is lacking.

Try it. Grab an hour. Take out pen and paper or your tablet and in twenty words or less state definitely what you want to be known for by those both near and dear and others you encounter on the journey. And then take some time asking what needs to change in your life so you can make that happen.

By the way, this is both life-giving and flat out scary. I've got a list of questions and concerns in my journal about each of my 'known for' that excites me about where I'm heading in one moment and makes me want to hide in a closet the next. Kind of thinking I'm right on the edge of adventure. Not a bad place to be.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Time to Roll

I remember September 11, 2001 very clearly. It was my second week working at Christ Church, I was living in Evanston at the time. I was in my car at Golf road and Harlem when I turned on the radio. And I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I remember pulling up to the church, anxious to be with a community of people, and immediately joined others to watch events unfold. There wasn't a lot of talk. Just people riveted to the horror we were witnessing on the screen. Then we were informed that one of our staff members, Jeff Mladenik, was booked on a plane that was flown into one of the towers. The horror became even more chilling for now one of the terrorist victims had a face and a name.

 9/11 changed everything. For awhile we came together as a nation to pray, to comfort each other, to find answers. And in the days that followed we caught a glimpse of the beauty of lives submitted to the authority of self-giving love. We remember the rescue workers and the volunteers who flocked to helped. We witnessed open-hearts and joined hands all across America.  This was a change we needed. We came together. And when we heard stories of courage and sacrifice such as those passengers on the plane that crash landed in Pennsylvania we were awed by bravery. And like Todd Beemer we were ready to roll. We were inspired by selfless giving.

 Church attendance doubled on the Sunday following the tragedy. But within a short period of time attendance waned, and the closeness of community began to splinter again. A mood swept through our country. We felt less safe, more fearful. Some say we began to distance ourselves from each other. We knew the world had changed profoundly and we struggled to come to grips with a meaningful response.

Throughout the past decade the ripple effects of our national tragedy continue to wash over us. Fear and mistrust continue to manifest itself in all kinds of ugly ways . Now ten years later we find ourselves in the midst of a global economic crisis, a mistrust of government and institutional authority, rampant incivility on the airwaves and in the halls of power, a war against terror that seemingly has no end, and racial and economic divides. For many the American Dream has been dashed and they find themselves ill prepared to adapt to a changing world. And many wonder if our moral compass has been lost.

 Of course there are signs of hope and goodness but I think it's safe to say that 9/11 ushered in a sobering reminder of what evil can bring and keeps bringing into our world. The Way of Terror leaves a very unsatisfying aftertaste in our mouth. Even the hunting down of Osama Bin Laden didn’t fill the void many felt. The fruits of terror leave us feeling empty and unsure. We try to rally around the flag, stay positive, anchor ourselves to the next best new idea or the hottest political candidate but we often find ourselves wondering, in our quieter moments, if anything can refocus our attention and reorder our priorities.

It's remarkable, isn’t it, what a small band of fanatics, submissive to evil authority, can do to change the psyche of the entire world.

 Scripture tells us that we should not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. How can that happen? I believe that there is a path leading to freedom and of hope. It's the Way of Jesus. At our church we're going to take the next year looking at how He wants us to live and where He wants us to go. It's an opportunity to get our bearings again. To check our maps, to look for the trail markers, to look at our compasses, to find true north again. We live in a tough world but we live in a world that comes with a promise for those who love Jesus ...don't worry, I will never leave you or forsake you. He reminds us that we are His masterpiece, created to do good. And guess what? There is a lot of good that needs to be done.

I want to say clearly that the Way of Jesus is the pathway to real life but I can't promise you that if you walk this path that the world we once knew will magically reappear, that your bank accounts will be full again, that your house will sell, and terror will disappear. I can't promise that. Nor would I want to. I think many of the things that are part of our American Dream aren’t necessarily central to the good news Jesus proclaimed. Here's something that is central. It's Romans 12 from the Message.

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Let me paraphrase the paraphrase. God wants us all in walking along His way. Period. Allowing our lives to be a fragrant offering. Allowing Christ and His teaching to define us. Not our allegiance to some political philosophy, not our lack of contentment, not our anger, nor our fear. He wants us to be lifted up, not dragged down. And we can’t be lifted by becoming adjusted to every cultural whim and fancy or becoming mired in a world of unforgiveness or vengeance. God wants us to be defined by what happens on the Way of Jesus through the person of Christ Himself. He and only He is the hope of the world. God wants to define us and shape us so that we are more and more like Christ. He might use our club membership, our politics, our work, our play, our position, and our use of money to help accomplish that. And he might not. He might want to strip us of our props or redeem them for His purposes so that nothing challenges His authority in our lives.

I get this sense that God wants us to roll with Him because He wants to use us to change the world as we know it.  It means being all in, deep in. I'm reminded of the words attributed to Dwight Moody who said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man or woman fully consecrated to Him. I want to be that person." I wonder what would happen if we dived into the deep end of the pool of discipleship. Could we change the world? G.K. Chesterton once said: "Christianity hasn't been tried and found wanting. Nope. it hasn't been tried." There's some truth in what he said. I don't know about you but I want in on the trying. I actually believe we can change the world. It's time to roll. .

Sunday, September 04, 2011


The speaker at our church today talked about loving others. Our last song was about how much God loves 'us'. It's not that the song and message don't work together on some level but I was a bit unsettled as I prepared to send our crowd out the doors.

I remember saying something like this. "Yes, God loves us. That's true. But he also loves 'them' and we've all got a 'them' in our life. And if this love relationship with God is going to mean anything we've got to learn to love those we point our fingers at." And then I prayed us out the door.

I'm still unsettled and I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it's a reaction to an individualistic, pietistic response to faith. You know what I'm talking about. It's about Me and Jesus and asking for His blessing to continue to do the things that aren't really good for my soul and are actually sinful but I feel I'm entitled to do them.

Part of the unsettledness is also a reaction to those who try to take the whole of the Good News (and it's more than personal salvation) and gerry rig it into teensy eensy pieces to justify a political or economic philosophy that can be the antithesis of what Christ actually intended.

And I am unsettled because I'd rather sing about how much God loves me much of the time instead of considering the 'them' God is always concerned about.

And I find myself guilty of self serving pietism, proof texting to justify lifestyle and attitude, and doing far too much talking about the walk instead of walking the talk.

Next week I preach on the ten year anniversary of 9.11. It has special relevance for our church because we lost one of our staff members who was aboard the plane that crashed into one of the Twin Towers. We knew early on he was on the plane and it made the day all the more chilling. And I am unsettled about what to say.

It's not hard to talk about the emotion or the feelings of that day in history. And we will. It's good to recall and remember. But many will want a rallying cry to America the Beautiful. And as much as I love our country I worry that patriotism trumps Christ for way too many. And I need to remind people of the way of Jesus which is often more than waving the red, white and blue. And in the case of 9.11 the specter of 'them' still remains and how do we find ways to love those we are naturally inclined to marginalize and perhaps even hate.

Let me be clear. Terrorism is not of God. Terrorists need to be brought to justice. Whether it happens in the classroom where a child is bullied, in a home where a wife is abused, in the words of drive by gossipers, or in the intentional taking of life by hate filled factions terrorist actions are detestable. Utterly detestable. And yet I know that world.

I've never plotted to take a life but I've done other things that have diminished another human being. And it was wrong. And at time like that how thankful I was for a God who forgives and people who loved me despite what they saw and helped me to become a human being again.

I wonder in our post 9.11 world how willing we are to make steps toward understanding, towards reconciliation, towards bridge building and open arms. The 9.11 terrorists took the willingness to trust away from us. And that inability to trust is killing us. Trust needs to be restored one interaction at a time. When we live with a mind-set that labels people 'us' and 'them' we miss out on opportunities to build the Kingdom of God. We can't afford to miss those opportunities any longer.

Pray for me this next week for the right words, the right attitude, and the right degree of biblical challenge. Pray that my unsettledness can be used by God to call people to a higher purpose and instill in them a desire to help build a country that cares about the things God cares about.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shaped Differently

Incoming first year students at colleges and universities have had their minds shaped by events quite different from what shaped mine.  Thanks to Beloit College for this interesting look-see into the lives of today’s 18 year olds.  So, here goes.

1. There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.
2. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
3. States and Velcro parents have always required that they wear their bike helmets.
4. The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major-league sports.
5. There have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded some U.S. Navy ships.
6. They “swipe” cards, not merchandise.
7. As the students have grown up on Web sites and cellphones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
8. Their schools’ “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
9. “Don’t touch that dial!” … What dial?
10. American tax forms have always been available in Spanish.
11. More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
12. Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
13. Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you’re talking about LeBron James.
14. All their lives, Whitney Houston has always been declaring, “I Will Always Love You.”
15. O.J. Simpson has always been looking for the killers of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
16. Women have never been too old to have children.
17. Japan has always been importing rice.
18. Jim Carrey has always been bigger than a pet detective.
19. We have never asked, and they have never had to tell.
20. Life has always been like a box of chocolates.
21. They’ve always gone to school with Mohammed and Jesus.
22. John Wayne Bobbitt has always slept with one eye open.
23. There has never been an official Communist Party in Russia.
24. “Yadda, yadda, yadda” has always come in handy to make long stories short.
25. Video games have always had ratings.
26. Chicken soup has always been soul food.
27. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has always been available on TV.
28. Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief.
29. Arnold Palmer has always been a drink.
30. Dial-up is soooooooooo last century!
31. Women have always been kissing women on television.
32. Their older siblings have told them about the days when Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera were Mouseketeers.
33. Faux Christmas trees have always outsold real ones.
34. They’ve always been able to dismiss boring old ideas with “Been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt.”
35. The bloody conflict between the government and a religious cult has always made Waco sound a little wacko.
36. Unlike their older siblings, they spent bedtime on their backs until they learned to roll over.
37. Music has always been available via free downloads.
38. Grown-ups have always been arguing about health-care policy.
39. Moderate amounts of red wine and baby aspirin have always been thought good for the heart.
40. Sears has never sold anything out of a “Big Book” that could also serve as a doorstop.
41. The United States has always been shedding fur.
42. Electric cars have always been humming in relative silence on the road.
43. No longer known for just gambling and quickie divorces, Nevada has always been one of the fastest-growing states in the Union.
44. They’re the first generation to grow up hearing about the dangerous overuse of antibiotics.
45. They pressured their parents to take them to Taco Bell or Burger King to get free pogs.
46. Russian courts have always had juries.
47. No state has ever failed to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
48. While they’ve been playing outside, their parents have always worried about nasty new bugs borne by birds and mosquitoes.
49. Public schools have always made space available for advertising.
50. Some of them have been inspired to actually cook by watching the Food Channel.
51. Fidel Castro’s daughter and granddaughter have always lived in the United States.
52. Their parents have always been able to create a will and other legal documents online.
53. Charter schools have always been an alternative.
54. They’ve grown up with George Stephanopoulos as the Dick Clark of political analysts.
55. New kids have always been known as NKOTB.
56. They’ve always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe; Michael Who?
57. They’ve broken up with significant others via texting, Facebook, or MySpace.
58. Their parents sort of remember Woolworths as this store that used to be downtown.
59. Kim Jong-il has always been bluffing, but the West has always had to take him seriously.
60. Frasier, Sam, Woody, and Rebecca have never cheerfully frequented a bar in Boston during prime time.
61. Major League Baseball has never had fewer than three divisions and never lacked a wild-card entry in the playoffs.
62. Nurses have always been in short supply.
63. They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a Web site.
64. Altar girls have never been a big deal.
65. When they were 3, their parents may have battled other parents in toy stores to buy them a Tickle Me Elmo while they lasted.
66. It seems the United States has always been looking for an acceptable means of capital execution.
67. Folks in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have always been able to energize with Pepsi-Cola.
68. Andy Warhol is a museum in Pittsburgh.
69. They’ve grown up hearing about suspiciously vanishing frogs.
70. They’ve always had the privilege of talking with a chatterbot.
71. Refugees and prisoners have always been housed by the U.S. government at Guantánamo.
72. Women have always been Venusians; men, Martians.
73. McDonald’s coffee has always been just a little too hot to handle.
74. “PC” has come to mean personal computer, not political correctness.
75. The New York Times and The Boston Globe have never been rival newspapers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A few years ago I was on a missions trip to Armenia. Our team debriefed in Paris. I know, I know …a tough gig. I really looked forward to seeing Paris. The reality is that it’s a gorgeous place. It's a postcard picture every time you turn around.  I was really looking forward to some things …the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumph, a boat ride down the Seine River and I was really looking forward to the Louvre, that magnificent museum filled with art treasures.  I was especially interested in seeing the Mona Lisa.

So I walked into a room. I saw a small mob of people in front of what looked like a pretty small painting hidden behind thick glass, guards on either side, security cameras at the ready …and there it was the Mona Lisa …DaVinci’s masterpiece.

I mean it had to be a masterpiece. Everyone said it was. The art world raved about it and the security around it said ‘this is important". That it’s worth treasuring, worth protecting, worth preserving.

The Louvre owns the Mona Lisa. Try to destroy it and the full wrath of the museum and their security will descend upon you. Try to steal it and you’ll be caught and you’ll go to jail. It’s under their jurisdiction and their authority.I doubt any amount of money could remove it from their grasp. DaVinci’s genius created it. The Louvre now maintains it and protects.

The apostle Paul once wrote to the small church in Ephesus, located in what we now know as Turkey. He writes:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

God's masterpiece. His creation. Created by God for His purposes. A long time ago he planned for you to do good. That’s his plan for you. You belong to Him. He has things for you to do. Nothing can separate you from His love. Nothing can deter him in his drive to fulfill His purpose in you. As the Louvre will go to any lengths to protect the Mona Lisa …God will go even further to get your attention, to get you focused on Him. Any attempt to remove yourself from His ownership will be met with resistance. It’s a fact of life. To God you are worth treasuring, worth protecting, worth preserving, worth pursuing. You are far more valuable than the Mona Lisa in his eyes.

You are God’s masterpiece.

I know that I struggle with this concept. I have an amazing ability to see myself as quite a bit less than a masterpiece. I know my faults. There are times when I don’t see myself as a masterpiece. Sometimes I see myself as a paint my number project or some kind of Elvis on black velvet painting. And when I don’t see myself well it impacts my ability to live into all those good things God has created me to be.  Even worse, when I don't see myself as the masterpiece I am I can lose sight of the masterpiece you are. And that causes trouble.

We are God's masterpiece.  Nice.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adults Needed

Let's admit it. We're all wondering if the ties that bind our society together aren't being unloosed. I think we're in a tough spot these days. We don't know up from down perhaps because we're majoring in left and right. We Iive in a society that's confused ...spiritually, politically, ethically and financially. We're adept at pointing fingers but not very keen on introspection.

A few years ago I spent some time studying and teaching a course called "Developing Capable People'. It was developed by Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelson. The premise is that those who make it in this world see themselves differently than those who are struggling with life. Additionally, those who struggle are lacking in some important skill areas. It's not brain surgery.

Those who make it in life see themselves as capable, influential and responsible. These are key perceptions. But along with the perceptions they seem to have developed some important skills. They are self-aware and self disciplined, understanding the need to process feelings and information through some sort of well formed moral grid. Additionally, they know how to deal with both people and systems. That requires some adaptability and flexibility. Listening skills help as well and actually being able to say what one means and meaning what one says is a real asset. Finally, they make decisions based on some well honed judgment skills, tapping into something bigger than their own experience or desires. Have all this and there is a good chance you'll see a functioning adult prepared to make a difference. If these aren't present true adulthood will remain elusive.

So, as I've been watching the cultural landscape recently I'm realizing that many of those making decisions haven't ever become an adult. Too many don't know how to access and/or process feelings. Lots of folks (look at Congress) haven't learned to play well together and the interpersonal skill set of many adult looking people is quite appalling. And it seems like the guiding mantra for a whole lot of folks is to "eat, drink, acquire, blame, and be trendy". Hardly the stuff that inspires anyone to greatness. And if decisions are being made based on what's going to get us more stuff, accolades and trendiness then God help us all.

I wonder if many of our problems aren't parenting issues. Maybe, just maybe, we need to start over ...with just about everyone. I'm not kidding. Maybe everyone needs to be reparented. Few would agree that the Jersey Shores crowd was parented well. And impulse control is a lost art. If you don't believe me just hang around social media awhile or tune into your favorite talk show. Wall Street flunks a whole lot of judgment and ethical tests. Ever try to get someone to submit to authority? Without submission we're all sizzled.

Maybe we're in the mess we're in because what we needed to be taught when we were young just didn't take root in our lives. And it's hard to pass on what we don't have to the next generation. Maybe we can all start to reparent each other. To help each other mature into the people God desires us to be. I have a hunch we need to learn how to be 'more' to each other. That's not easy. It means that I have to admit that maybe I'm not all I think I am. I might need to humble myself so God can do his thing in my life, even now at 61. What about you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Campaign '12

I've been paying a bit of attention to the beginnings of Presidential Campaign '12.  Here's some thoughts that have been rambling around in my head.

Republicans aren't completely sure how far to the right they want to step and how much  they want to be indebted to the Tea Party. Democrats seem to be a bit unsure about how tied they want to be to President Obama.  Decisions. Decisions.

The Tea Party, in some quite remarkable ways in a short period of time, got everyone talking about some fundamental fiscal issues.  But there's more to the political landscape than talking about money.  Not sure this movement has the 'chops' to dive into the murky waters of non budgetary concerns but will need to in order to gain wider credibility.  Being a bur in the saddle of the establishment works for awhile but long term more is required.

The President looks like he'll avoid primary opposition although I can't help but think that his Secretary of State might hatch some sort of plan to try and snatch the nomination.  If that's going to happen it better be sooner than later. 

Sarah Palin.  Will she? Won't she?  Will it matter?

I'm sure the Democrats would love to see an ideologue win the Republican nomination.
The Republicans think they've got one in the White House already.

I'm thinking that too many underestimate the emotional reaction the President elicits among the marginalized and those feeling disenfranchised. If that emotion and idealism can be mobilized again and turned into votes Obama will be tough to beat. It's a big if though. What a whole lot of folks don't understand is that the  President represents the mountaintop MLK and others promised.  That can't be minimized.  Education reform, health care, a coherent, justice laden immigration policy and other social policy issues continue to be hot button issues for the Presidents base of support.

The American people have to realize that only partial answers come from Washington.  Pointing fingers and throwing the rascals out only goes so far.  Who's willing to take constructive action on the local level?

Budgetary sanity is a big issue.  Character is a bigger one. From my vantage point the lack of character has gotten us into the mess we're in. I'm not sure we're convinced character counts anymore.  Whoever takes the moral and ethical high road during the campaign will stand out from the crowd.

How ugly will this campaign get?  And if it gets ugly fast how close are we to seeing here what the British are experiencing in their streets?  I'm secretly thinking that we're only one catalytic event away from some rather major social unrest.  There's a huge cloud of anger hovering over us.  It's being fueled by a jet stream of social media that deals in sound bytes and not substantive discussion.. And the coping mechanisms necessary for dealing with that anger aren't part of the everyday habits of way too many in our society.

This has the look and feel of being a perilous time for our nation.  I'm reminded of a scripture that's been used almost to the brink of irrelevancy but let me suggest it anyway as a truth we can't ignore.

 "Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land." 2 Chron. 4 (NLT).

Operative words are humble themselves, seek my face, turn from wicked ways.  Those are soul searching and gut wrenching words don't you think?  We always want the promises of God but often reject the means to those promises.  We want the blessings, healing and forgiveness of God without doing the grunt work of posturing ourselves in the right ways before Him.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Insulting God

This week I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. Yep. I was one of 165,000 people at a whole lot of sites all around the world. I was at the mother ship in South Barrington, IL.

First of all, this is one inspiring conference. Great speakers and great worship. A virtual who's who of movers and shakers were in the crowd and then folks like me who are along for the ride. All were there to learn how to be more effective within their sphere of influence for the sake of the kingdom of God. That, in itself is encouraging.

I want to share just one takeaway. Believe me, there were more than one. The last session on the first day is usually reserved for some who's emerging as a leader. This year it was Steven Furtick, a pastor from Charlotte. And he said something that got me thinking about my own journey of faith and the ministries God has entrusted to me. Furtick is all about having an audacious faith ...rooted in prayer and unbound by circumstances. During his talk he said "If your vision of what you're being called to do doesn't intimidate you then it's probably insulting to God."

Did you catch that? He's saying that what I'm envisioning just might be way too small. And the reason I go small is because I can be in control of small things. And I really don't have to trust God. And he said that kind of vision and thinking is insulting to God. I think he's right.

So I wonder how much of my life has been lived 'insulting God'? Or your life? To what degree am I willing to live on my knees imploring and trusting God to come through? Or am I content to dream a wee little dream that requires God to do nothing other than give His passive endorsement. And could that wee little dream actually be insulting to God?

Most people don't dream dreams big enough to need God. Nor do most churches. Our dreams are modest by faith standards. Manageable. Minimizing risk and discomfort.

Years ago when I was on Young Life staff we used to pray that God would help us reach whole high schools. Big prayers requiring big faith. And then that vision would get enlarged and we'd begin to pray for a whole region of high schools. Crazy prayers. God sized ones. Beyond our capacity kind of prayers. They weren't insulting to God.

Insulting God. Crazy concept. Jarring in it's implications. Think about it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Rock in My Shoe

Last week I went to my spiritual director and he asked me to consider what rock is in my shoe that's causing me to limp. That came after the end of a long conversation where he challenged me to live by faith, not by sight. Grrrr.

So, I started to journal and these questions came to mind. I think they are important for me to answer for I truly desire to live into the fulness of who God created me to be. I offer them to help anyone else out there walking with a limp.

What disciplines do I need in my life?

What lies of the enemy am I beginning to buy into?

What habits do I need to coax down the attic stairs?

Who are the people I need around me?

What fears do I need to face?

What sins need to be confessed?

What dreams need to be embraced?

What personal hurts need healing?

What good habits need to be nurtured?

What am I holding on to that needs to be released?

What have I let go of that needs to be reclaimed?

What skills am I lacking?

What am I trusting God for that if He doesn't show up it's going to feel like my whole life is going down the tubes?

Where do I find the laughter and joy?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Random Blurts About Stuff

Interesting week. The Congress makes a move. Then the markets. Polls are showing there is almost zero approval for the President or the Congress. And no one seems to have high expectations for economic recovery. We've even had our national credit rating lowered. There's still lots of finger pointing but I think people are getting tired of all the fussing and blaming. Here's some of the things That are going through my head.

The Tea Party has some muscle but I'm still unclear if it has a heart.

Is there anyone out there who has the ability to heal the wounds inflicted by politicians on each other?

Why are the American people backing off into little communities of like mindedness?

What if there really is a global economic collapse? Who will step up to lead and serve through all of that?

Will the American people ever get over their insatiable thirst for more?

Greed survives. No matter what it manages to find a way.

I'm mad at myself for not saying and doing more in the midst of these important national debates.

Instant analysis is part of the problem. Having a considered opinion is a dying art.

America needs POTUS to stir our passions towards unity and the common good. But do people really want that anymore?

We know who causes trouble but we're not clear who we can trust to be a peacemaker and reconciler.

The anger is going go kill us.

When will Democrats and Republicans realize that Americans struggle with a big government that acts stupidly too much of the time?

The church has got to step up. More. More yet.

Will the Republicans be able to mount a serious presidential challenge in 2012? I don't see anyone emerging from the pack. Would love to see POTUS go up against a strong challenger in a campaign filled with substance not negativity. My gut says that this is could be the ugliest election ever and some of us will choose to fuel it with our own thoughtless behavior.

Heard that the committee of 12 is going to be populated by folks who believe it's my way or the highway. Say it ain't so.

Anyone else asking God what He's thinking needs to be done?

More and more I'm asking the question "When the times get tough who's going to be my community?"

I think those in leadership these days truly do have a thankless job.

Who are the voices of reason people are listening to? Do they even want to?

Why did it feel like we were being held hostage over the past few weeks?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Money Talks

So, I heard that Campus Crusade for Christ is changing their name to Cru.  I’m also hearing that there’s a whole lot of folks who are hopping mad about Christ being taken out the name.  Cru is being accused, in certain circles, of selling out, becoming secularized, holding hands with the devil and I believe replacing the Bible with the Book of Mormon.  OK, I’m exaggerating a wee little bit.  But they are taking hits.  And I know the hits hurt.

Rumors are afloat that a whole lot of wealthy donors, in the tradition of hard headed and hard hearted Christianity, are going to make the ministry pay for the name change by withdrawing funding.  That’s the spirit of God at work, huh?

My guess is that Cru made a prayerful change of name... knowing full well that it positioned them better to do ministry in today’s world. My guess is that they knew that they’d butt heads with long time supporters and even lose a few.  But it was worth the gamble.  It always is when you feel you’re responding to what God wants you to do.

 Knowing the ministry a bit I’m pretty convinced that they haven’t lost their spiritual moorings, still believe the same things, and are only adapting to the times.  After all, on college campuses they’ve been using the new name for a long time anyway.  It’s unfortunate they have to take shots from their friends in the midst of a change.  Unfortunately, taking shots is what some people of faith (thankfully, not the majority) seem to do best all too often.  If anything the shot takers are the ones who are probably being disobedient to God in the midst of all this.  I can't believe that God wants us to use our money as a blunt instrument to hurt a good ministry. Pretty sad when that happens. And it's even sadder when people hide behind a wall of proof texts and what they think is righteous indignation.

I’ve had my issues with Cru over the years. Some theological. Most methodological. But I’ve never doubted nor do I doubt now their commitment to their mission.  And I applaud their willingness to adjust to changing times and take the heat for doing so.

I remember hearing a story about Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade, a few years ago. It seems he was watching a new ministry band rehearse.  The music had an edge and bite to it.  Bright said to some other staff “I really don’t like this at all’.  One of the staffers said that the impact of the band was tremendous and many young people were hearing the Good News through them. Bright smiled and said, “Then I like this music a lot.”  Gotta love a guy who is not ruled by his preferences.  May that be true of us.

A fair amount of ministries are rethinking how they conduct business and mission these days.  We need to pray that they respond to God’s leading and resist the temptation to be held captive by their funders.  That’s not easy.  Money talks.  And sometimes what it says isn’t very pretty.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Guess This is Goodbye.

I guess this is goodbye. If I'm reading the sign of the times right then everything changes on August 2. The debt ceiling, budget crunch, cap, save and spend debate will officially slap all of us across the back of the head on that fateful day and those lucky enough to die in the next few days will be the blessed ones.

Deep breath people. Deep breath. One more.

Here's my prediction. We'll all still be here on August 3 no matter what happens. The USA will still exist. We won't implode. But we will have to make some fixes. My biggest fear is that the digging in everyone is doing is going to become the new normal. If that's true then we're in bigger doo doo than we even suspect, And it's not economic as much as it is about character.

Here's some thoughts.

1. Please Mr. and Ms. Congressperson take your name off any and all pledges of any kind. Both liberals and conservatives ....just purge your "I have to or I won't get reelected accounts". We count on you to think on your feet and have a willingness to flex every now and again. We know you put pen to paper to curry favor with the zealots supporting you but remember you're supposed to be representing all the people.

2. Please Mr. And Ms. America do us all a favor and at least consider points of view different than your own. Whew. We're talking fatal tunnel vision afflicting good portions of our population.

3. All of us. Let's think of the common good instead of what's only going to be good for us and our particular tribe.

4. Think win-win because this lose-lose and win-lose nonsense is killing us.

5. Remember that the economic mess we're in is the result of some really bad choices over a number of years by a whole lot of political administrations.

6. The mess is ours to own because our leaders gave us what we wanted. We felt entitled to more and we got it.

7.  Everyone ask themselves the question "Is there any possibility I could be wrong? If yes, vote in the next election. If no, think about sitting one out.

8.  If you're reading this and you're a person of faith remind yourself that the Lord of your life is supposed to be Jesus and not a political ideology. Seriously. I'm a pastor. That's what it says in the scripture. Honest.

9. Ask yourself. "Am I really governable?" If that's true you can't get your own way all the time.

If nothing else, this time of crisis demands taking stock of ourselves, what we believe at the very core of our beings, and our own behaviors. If enough of us did that the we'd be on the way to discovering the opportunities before us. Perhaps, we'd even be putting an end to a good share of the melodrama that is tying our country in knots.