Friday, December 16, 2011


I like sports quite a bit, especially baseball. However, I don’t typically see myself as one of those overzealous fans who talks sports, rumors, trades, and comments on every blog. Yet, I find myself writing about the sports world for the third time in a row. Ryan Braun, an outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers and 2011 NL MVP has been tested positive, and confirmed for elevated synthetic steroids. In short, the random testing provided by the MLB has found Braun to have been using illegal substances which merit a 50 game suspension. Of course Braun and his lawyers are denying the findings because admissions and apologies only come when there are no other options, not as a sign of regret or remorse.

If you have the smallest understanding of baseball you understand the ‘steroid era’ which we thought we were emerging from in America’s Pastime. With tainted records, and Bonds possibly heading to jail, it seemed the MLB was cleaning up its act, until of late.

Barbara Walters did her special on the most interesting people of 2011, and on the list was New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Walters asked Jeter if it was all about how one plays the game, or if it was about winning. Jeter bluntly said it was all about winning.

Now I like winning, and I hate losing. I work hard to ‘win’ or be successful or accomplished. But winning is not everything. We live in a society that focuses so much on results that we cannot be satisfied until we have arrived at our goal. If winning or accomplishing is everything than we cause two very big problems in our lives.

The first problem we cause when winning becomes everything, is we become miserable people. If you are only happy once you have won, than the rest of your life is a drag. We only can enjoy the end and never the journey, and all of life is a journey except for the very end. Depression is climbing, along with stress and strained relationships because we do not how to enjoy who we are or who we are with unless we are “winning.” We don’t know how to be content unless our life matches what the popular media says success looks like.

The second problem this outlook has is that it throws all other morality out the window. If winning is everything, than winning becomes god, and we do whatever is necessary to serve our god. We bemoan the fact that students cheat, that teachers cheat, that politicians lie, and the rich are greedy, yet they act the same as our sports heroes who have adopted the religion of winning.

Winning is not everything. It is something, but it is not everything. We teach our children to do whatever it takes to win, and we wonder why we have the highest percentage of citizens in jail than any other civilized nation.

Jesus was very clear that life was not about winning. In fact Jesus says almost the exact opposite. In the gospels Jesus several times says if you want to be first you must be last, think about that as a competition. Jesus says, if you want to win, you must lose. The prize that we are competing for is not any earthly prize (1 Corinthians 9) it is much greater. To have this prize we don’t do whatever we can to get ahead of everyone else, we do whatever we can to put others in front of us. Winning here really is nothing (not that it’s bad to win as the Chicago Cubs should take note). Scripture is clear, God is love, and love is everything, and that means sometimes you come in last.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

big money, little value

Anyone who loves baseball as much as me, knows that when the season is over and December rolls around, things start to heat up. With Baseball’s winter meetings happening in Texas this week, there has been a lot of excitement over the league’s premier player Albert Pujols. Pujols is not only the best player in the game today, but arguably one of the greatest players ever. When Pujols’ contract was up in St. Louis and he hit free agency a bidding war open with Miami and St. Louis. But it was the Angles who swooped down and grabbed Pujols with an estimated 250 million salary for 10 years.

250 million dollars. That’s $25 million year; $480 thousand a week; $68,681 a day! Pujols current 10 year career in the big leagues has produced 6,312 at bats. If he produces similar number of at bats in the next 10 years, that mean Pujols will get paid $39,607 every time he steps up to the plate (even if he strikes out) which is more than most Americans make in a year. $250 million is more than 8 different countries GDP according to statistics provided by CIA website.

Some (mostly Cardinal fans) have called Pujols greedy, others have called him opportunistic, and others shrug their shoulders and say that’s baseball.

I don’t know Albert Pujols. Some seem to think he is a nice guy, there are reports about his strong faith, and some think he has an ego the size of his new contract. While the $250 million contract will define Baseball’s offseason, my hope is that it does not define Pujols life.

As great as you are at your job (and Pujols may be the best there ever was) and no matter how much you make, our life’s happiness and fulfillment must be found in other places. We fall into the lie that the more money means more happiness or more success; but that is a lie. There are many people plagued with sums of money and have no sense of contentment or joy. In fact, Jesus warns those with money several times in scripture,

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).

Grotesque wealth does not make life easier, it makes life more difficult because it creates distractions and barriers, that’s why Jesus says,

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

Money does not make a person’s life good or bad, and it does not make a person good or bad, but it does create dangers, not blessings. There is a reason scripture says,

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10)

If we make money we must be willing to give it away unlike the rich man (Luke 18:22,23), we must choose who we will serve because we cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). Even though $250 million is a lot of money, it cannot buy mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, and life. It is nothing is the light of eternal matters. We must chose whom we will serve, the never fulfilling lure of money, or fulfilling promise of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the hated believer

Whether you watch football or not you may have heard of the current Denver Bronco’s quarterback Tim Tebow. A Florida Gator alum, he had an awesome college carrier, but few people expected him to have the skills to exceed in the NFL. Tebow has started the last five games for the Broncos and has led the team to a 4-1 mark. Anyone who knows anything about football knows that Tebow is certainly not the most accurate or gifted quarterback in the league, but regardless he has led his struggling team back to .500.

What is so interesting about Tebow is how polarizing he has become. He is not an attention getter with his play or antics, but his faith has become a talk point for every sports commentator or news outlet. While most of the fans in Denver seem to love their new quarterback, team coaches and managers (including John Elway) seem displeased. Many other players or commentators seems even to have a strong dislike for the young man, and even former Denver quarterback Jake Plummer said he wishes he would shut up.

The heightened discussion around Tebow is due to his faith. Tebow is a self-confessing follower of Jesus Christ, and he does not seem to be afraid to share it. This has made many people upset and uneasy. Tebow seems to be loved or hated not based on his unorthodox way of winning, but because of his strong beliefs.

There are many Christians who get upset over the strong words against Tebow and his faith. But as a follower of Jesus we cannot be surprised by such attitudes. Jesus promises us many things, and one of those promises is that if we follow him people will hate us. Jesus says the world hated him, and the world will hate his followers.

I for one know and expect people to look at many funny and say things behind my back, and possibly worse because of my faith. The Bible says when this happens we ought to rejoice because the prophets (and Jesus) were treated the same way.

I do not know Tebow personally. But when I hear people speak negatively about him because of his faith, I pray that he is given strength, courage, and wisdom to live his life as an example, this is what is important. We cannot pray that we will be treated fairly or respectfully for our faith, Jesus already promised that won’t happen. What is important is how we live our faith in the midst of strife, and nothing else. Our pray should be for faithfulness and mercy. Although I must shamefully admit I do hope Tebow wins every single game!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

freedom with purpose

What is freedom without discipline? This question is a very important one that we must ask ourselves. As a nation that prides itself on freedom such as speech, bearing arms, and others, we have freely exercised our rights without wondering if there are any consequences to undisciplined freedoms.

We have lifted up “freedom” as the utmost virtue that needs to be protected. Freedom is good, but is it the most valuable national characteristic we have? Cannot freedom without responsibility lead to chaos? If we exercise our right to bear arms with no restraint does that make our society a better one? And if we practice free speech without listening to others does that make us a superior civilization?

Can you imagine a child boldly claiming his or her right to free speech, whenever, and whatever it may be? Would a good parent allow their children to speak anything at anytime? Does not a good parent teach restraint, discipline, and discernment in utilizing a great freedom?

Certainly good parents teach their children when to use their freedoms appropriately. If this is true, then we are a nation without parents. We practice our freedoms without any discernment or concern for health and wellbeing for ourselves or others. We spend over 30 hours a week on television because we have the freedom to do so. We drink our weekends, and sometime our weekdays away because we have freedom. We send our children to computers to be raised by the internet because we are free to raise our children in any way we choose, and we sue every time someone has hurt our feelings because we are free. We are unrestrained children without discipline, raised to be spoiled and unproductive.

Freedom is good, Christ Jesus came to set us free (John 8:22), however, we do not realize that freedom always belongs to someone. We may be free, but the exercise of our freedom has a possessor. If we give our freedom to ourselves, we make ourselves open to do whatever we feel like doing for our own benefit. If we give our freedom to our family and friends, than we choose actions that bring joy and assistance to our small community. If we give our freedom to our country, than we make our choices freely in ways that improve, grow, and defend our country. Our freedom must have a possessor, a purpose; otherwise freedom becomes dangerous and undesirable.

We are told that because Christ died for us, and set us free, the exercise of our freedom belongs to God. What does this look like? It means we freely crucify all harmful desires (Galatians 5:24). We become free to choose to serve Christ. This is what true freedom looks like. We abandon everything that leads away from Christ because we are free to choose so. True freedom has a purpose, a possessor, a life giving quality that can only be met through the creator of freedom itself, Jesus the Savior. We must choose to freely serve the Redeemer Son of God, any other freedom is only a lie. Other freedoms lead only to addictions, violence, and death. Choosing the cross is the only true freedom we have.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We are not the 99

Couple of weeks ago my wife Jen, my daughter, Maya and I were walking around downtown Indy when we saw a mob of picketers circling the block of major businesses shouting “we are the 99. We are the 99. We are the 99.” Perhaps you have seen these trending protestors starting in New York and hitting every major city in the U.S. Their slogan is “Occupy Wall Street.”

This group has recognized that the 99% of Americans seem to be decreasing in salary and financial stability, while the 1% of Americans is getting rich at historic rates. The protestors hope to draw attention to the greed of the 1% that has so greatly affected the 99%. Their goal is not to overthrow capitalism, but to create change that draws attention to the selfish hoarding of the rich at the expense of everyone else.

I have not participated in these protests, (nor do I plan to) but I find myself agreeing with their cause. Throughout the Bible, God warns us through his prophets that obtaining wealth at the expense of others is a great crime of injustice. In fact, we are told if we have two coats we ought to share with those who have none. Scripture recognize that greed, or the love of money, is the root of all evil. So in many ways I agree with the movement.

However, I tend to think that these protestors have too small of a view. These protestors claim they are the 99% and are due their share. But if we broaden our scope and begin thinking globally we discover a horrifying reality. We are not the 99% in the world, we are the 1%. If you have a car, a computer, spare food in the fridge, and spare change lying around anywhere, if you have a television, and more clothes than what you are wearing you are among the 1% in the world.

We have so easily spotted the greed of others and have been blind to our own. If the 1% in the U.S. get rich off the working 99%, how much more true have we the U.S. gotten rich off the rest of the world. Just as King David so easily spotted the sin in Nathan’s parable of the poor shepherd being robbed of his one and beloved sheep from the rich land owner, but blind to see the sin of his adultery(2 Samuel 12), we too have neglected to look at our own greed and selfishness and repent.

We are the guilty 1%. We have obtained mass amounts of food at the expense of poor laborers, we have the latest trends at the expense of factory workers, and we have the coolest shoes at the expense of child slaves. We are guilty, and we deserve even more judgment than what we have casted upon others. It is time that we repent, that we reward the workers, that we lift up the poor, that we surrender our impossible standard of living, and turn to God or else God will encircle us, he will protest us, and who will be able to stand against him?

Friday, October 7, 2011

tragedy, tragedy, and then some more

I spent a semester in CPE where I studied and worked at a local hospital.  I kept a loosely organized journal of unimpressive poems, and a recording of my emotions.  What follows is from this journal with some details and names changed to protect patient identities.
Day 2
My first full day on duty in the hospital serving as a chaplain. Today I owe all the thanks to Kim Smith. I sat down to have dinner with her at 5:00pm, but I did not get a chance to finish my meal until 9:10pm. I did not get to go to sleep until 5:30am.

It started with a death of a 94 year old woman who was still fighting for her independence. She left this world the way she wanted, doing what she wanted. She was having a pace maker replaced when she passed. I walked into the procedure room, prayed for the doctors and asked God to bless the deceased all with the careful guidance of Kim. I offered prayer, a word of encouragement for the doctors and nurses, than I began searching for her family.

Her son with his wife came in after the police tracked him down. He was not surprised by the news of his mother and fights to hold it together. I show him his mother’s body and we have a moment of silence. I help them with paper work, and send them home. Kim also goes home.

My pager goes off again. A young man has a massive heart attack. I meet the family when they arrive and they are all too familiar with the routine as their family has had several heart attacks. I lead them to the waiting room surprised by their flippant candor. I sit with them only briefly because my pager goes off again.

A man had a massive hemorrhage in his brain. He is older and so is his girlfriend/roommate. She hands me the insurance card, I copied it and I lead her over to the waiting room. The situation goes from bad to worse. The man’s sister arrives; I lead her to where I already took his roommate. Both women seem really close to the man. As we are talking they announce a code blue over the intercom, it is still for a moment, then I get another page.

I find out the man with the hemorrhage was the one that has coded and I am asked to stay with the family. I wait with them until I get another page. A man is being rushed to the ER because he had been hit by a train.

I excuse myself from the two ladies and promise I will return. As I rush to the ER I know that I am no where ready for this, but I hardly have time to even think. The wheel the man in and there is blood everywhere. I have never passed out before, but I feel as though I could. The man is a John Doe, until I find a Mexican residency card on him. The man is surprisingly somewhat conscious but speaks no English. The doctors continue to work on him. With not sufficient information, and nothing for me to do, I go back to the two women waiting for their sister and roommate.

After sometime the women are able to go see the man, though he is unconscious. I intend to go in with them but I get the sixth page of the night. I tell them that I will be back. The man who was hit by a train has family that just arrived. The police found them by the tracks no too far from where the man was hit. No one speaks any English and there seems to be no Spanish translator around. The police officer speaks little Spanish and tells the doctor and me that this is the man’s family. The doctor tells the officer that we cannot know that unless they have some kind of picture I.D. The officer tells the doctor that they were with the mad, and the ad got drunk and upset and took off down the railroad tracks, and assures the doctor this is his family. However, the doctor makes a sarcastic remark that there are probably hundreds of drunk Mexicans wondering around that night and there is no way he will be convinced it is his family without a picture. The officer gets offended at this and the doctor and officer are now standing chest to chest shouting syllables more than words. I and a nurse get between them, and I tell the officer that the doctor is a jerk (even though I don’t know him) but if he can take the family back home to get a picture and bring them back this will all be settled.

The family returns with a picture. By the time they arrive their son/brother is out of surgery and now in intensive care. Both his legs were amputated.

I return to the women and find out they both already went home to get some rest. It was a long night. I am exhausted. I did not have any time to think about what to do or to evaluate my decisions, the night was so hectic I was merely responding, praying, and listening. I was nervous about how I would handle pain, and God has baptized me into fire. Even now I don’t have the mind to reflect on what happen, I just want to get in bed with my wife and sleep because I do this all again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

God, grace, guts.

In the fall and winter of 2008 -2009 I spent a semester in CPE where I studied and worked at a local hospital. I kept a loosely organized journal of unimpressive poems, and a recording of my emotions. What follows is from this journal with some details and names changed to protect patient identities.

First Night on Call

I can only wait quietly with my eyes held low toward a pile of books on the floor. I wait and listen quietly for a voice of comfort; I wait to hear the voice of God who is close by. As I listen I hear outside in the dark night the sound of constant rain that seems to be content with continuing for decades. I hear the sounds of tires moving across the rain soaked streets splashing water out to the sides of the road. My soul is strangely listening for the sounds of pain, the sound of sirens, and the sound of my hospital pager on my black belt.

It has only been quiet but the quiet has been a loud build up of anxiety. I wait with new eyes and new understanding of the inevitability of our world. I now have a glimpse of the pain that families endure due to tragedy on a daily bases. I have had moments of understanding some of the pain that haunts our cities. I have an opportunity to know the people that we are removed from in daily life. All these feelings come before my first full as a student chaplain.

Our life is background noise so we can avoid the reality of our own lives. We tune out our connections with the world. We busy ourselves from knowing, loving, and helping because we are afraid of the reality of pain that exists in this world.

All this I nervously contemplate while I wait with my enemy and my friend the pager. The pager is my friend because it forces me to rely on God as I wait for its sounding. The hospital forces me to heal my own wounds so that I may be ready to help heal others. This pager has brought me to prayer. It is my enemy because it steals away any sense of control and power. It is my enemy because I so desperately want to sleep, but I cannot. The pager is my friend and my enemy.

The night continues and the pager stares back quietly without making a sound the entire night.

Friday, September 30, 2011

America the Religion

It has been asked before, “Has American Patriotism become a religion?” Initially such a question appears completely absurd, but if we take a moment to consider the possibility, we find the answer is not as clear as we may have originally assumed.

Taking the beliefs of a nation-state and making them religious is often labeled Nationalism. But what we want to know is if an average American patriot finds themselves practicing religious-like customs in regard to their country.

Every major religion has a sacred text. Does the U.S. have a sacred text? I think the answer to that would be yes. The Constitution declares certain irrevocable truths of speech and other rights. The Constitution governs the country’s administration, legislation, judicial, and individual lives.

All major religions have songs or hymns. ‘God Bless America,’ ‘This Land is your Land,’ ‘America the Beautiful,’ ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ and many others represent the religious songs of the American Cult.

Major religions have creeds and statements of faith. The United States has the Pledge of Allegiance, which affirms ones commitment to the religion.

Major religions have sacred symbols that are to be treated with honor. The U.S. has the flag which is treated with the utmost dignity and honor. The Bald Eagle is a powerful emblem of the U.S.’s strength.

Major religions have sacred days in which they celebrate. The U.S. celebrates its day of independence with care, former Presidents’ birthdays are remembered holidays, Flag Day, Memorial Day, and many others cover the calendar.

Major religions have special garb for sacred days. Red, White, and Blue, Bald Eagles, Flags, and Stars, are all worn on such special days.

Major religions have martyrs who die for the faith in hopes of spreading the power of its message. The U.S. has martyrs in hopes of spreading the influence of democracy.

I wonder what God thinks about all this. I wonder if he is concerned, angry, saddened, or indifferent to the relevance that is often given human drawn borders over the infinite borderless God? I wonder if I have taken the comparison too far. I also wonder if we as God’s people have taken our pride for country too far. I wonder if it is possible to be a citizen of two places. Can we be citizens of the Kingdom of God and citizens of the United States of America?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Leadership not Likership

When is the last time you have seen a national elected leader take the initiative by going out on a limb to do something vastly unpopular for the betterment of the people they serve? Do you remember the last time a democratically voted leader commit political suicide because they knew progress depended upon establishing a difficult choice? Our judicial, legislative, and administrative officials within the past decades have lacked one of the most critical elements of leadership, to make critical decisions in the face of opposition that benefits the people they represent.

Both leaders and those who elect them have a terrible misunderstanding of the leader’s role in our society. Most of us believe that a leader is chosen to represent our voices by doing whatever it is we tell them to do. Trying to serve hundreds, thousands, and even millions of constituent simultaneously is an utterly distractive leadership paradigm. A leader does not do whatever the people tell them to do, that limits the potential for any country, organization or church.

A good leader is expected to make the best decision for a people not matter the popular vote. A good presidential leader makes the decision to free slaves not because it is popular, but because it is best for all people. A good leader makes the decision to invest their time with the poor and hungry vagrants of society. A good leader lays down their life to make the right decisions not the popular ones. A good leader knows what’s best for the people they represent even when the people do not know what is best for themselves.

Part of this is listening to the people, but only part. We have made our leaders into nothing more than political jukeboxes, we put in a quarter and expect them to play the song we pick. The public changes their mind quicker than Lady Gaga changes bizarre outfits. Our leaders have destructively followed suite catering to the public’s every whim.

The leaders running for office only tell us what they think we want to hear. They no longer have hard fast issues that they will stick with; they are wishy-washy, flip-floppy parrots echoing what they hear. I want a leader who does not do what I ask, but does what is best. I want someone I disagree with doing what it takes to make a beneficial difference; I want someone who makes society mad, so that we can finally be made sane.

Of course we will not get this type of leader in our elections. These types of leaders are rarely elected because they are too controversial. MLK would never have been elected because he wasn’t afraid to tell people they were wrong. Jesus Christ would never have been elected because he wasn’t afraid to change the social, economic, and political world upside down by loving enemies.

Study your politics and follow the election closely, but don’t look for true leadership to come up from elected officials whose color schemes and hair styles are based of approval ratings. Look in the churches, look in the schools, and look for those who push to do what is right even in the face of public criticism, those are the leaders we need. We need those who look to please God and not the masses, those who look to follow the Spirit and not the trends, those who look to the Son and not approval ratings. We need men and women of God willing to be dirty, to be criticized, and to do what is right.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 are we any better?

There are no winners in war. Both sides kill and are killed, and those who kill the most and are killed the least are given plenipotentiary rights over the other. 9/11 events were tragic, and justice is a Godly issue, however, as a country it is completely naïve to think us innocent victims

For those unaware, the U.S. knew of Bin Laden long before the attacks. In fact, our country armed him and the Taliban to fight against our other enemies. Knowing his tactics, and that of his terrorist regime, we empowered him to utilize those tactics against a shared enemy. It is only when his tactics were used against us did we find any courage to call his acts evil.

If attacking civilians is considered terrorism, let the U.S. be the first to admit our sins. Hiroshima was not a military base attack; it was an entire island attack. We killed women and children who had no voice nor participation in Pearl Harbor, or any part of the war. We as a country are no more innocent than those who lost their lives at the hands of the Atomic.

We are guilty like the rest of the world, and our hands are just as bloody as the Taliban. We are foolish to think we can find salvation in a soldier carrying his rifle, when our Creator sent his Son carrying the cross. No amount of soldiers, drones, guns, bombs, or creative military tactic will save us. We are utterly lost to find hope in such means.

Jesus was not telling us a joke when he said “love your enemies” when he called us to put down the weapons of violence and to fight with weapons of the Spirit. Why are we so ready to cling to the bloodstained flag, and not cling to the bloodstained cross? We are not the cosmic judges who are called to rectify the world. We stand condemned with the rest of the world.

Our allegiance cannot be divided any longer. The Son of God tells us we cannot serve two masters. We must decide bravely and full heartedly how we respond to the events of 9/11. Do we respond with our country in violent retaliation and continued terror, or do we respond with the Lord and Savior, with sacrifice, love, reconciliation, non-violence?

Choose now oh people, who will you serve?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I am not God - You are not God

I am not God. This may come to no surprise to anyone. Yet such a simple and absurdly obvious statement needs to be said everyday to remind me of the simple fact that I am not God. You are not God. Now I am just stepping on toes. I often need to say this to myself as a reminder that while I do not want to hurt or disappoint anyone, ultimately you are not God and so it is not my ultimate concern. I think it is healthy to remind ourselves that we are not God, and other people in our life are not God.

If I am not God, and you are not God, then it stands to reason that we should stop spending so much of our time trying to please our own whims and desires because these are simply vapor in the wind. Instead, I think it is time we find what is eternally and infinitely important to God.

We make a great mistake in pretending we are God. We assume that our happiness is what matters in the cosmos. We think we understand best what we want, what we need, and what our rights are. However, just because we say we have the right to bear arms does not necessarily make it true because we are not God, you are not God, and the Constitution is not God.

God does give us free choice. God does not give us free choice because we are God; rather God gives us free choice so that we may choose God.

Adam and Eve had free choice. Adam and Eve were not God. God gave them free choice so they may choose God. Instead Adam and Eve became concerned with their rights. Their egos (with help of a serpent) told them that they could make choices concerning themselves just as good as God could. They replaced God as God, and made themselves God (a big and undeniable mistake when they were confronted by God).

We make ourselves God everyday because we think our will, our wants, our sense of rights and liberties are of the utmost importance. We believe our ability to choose gives us the importance to choose for ourselves what is best. We make ourselves God.

Sometimes we recognize that we cannot make decisions and we either go into depression because we think ourselves weak, or we turn to someone else to control us and make our decision for us. We make others God.

If God is God than maybe God gave us choice so that we may choose whatever God would have for us. Perhaps our only real choice is to let God be God or to let someone else be God. What if God wanted you to throw away your dreams your 10 year plan, your wants, your desire, your sense of fulfillment and accomplishment? What if God wanted you to abandon all that and choose what God already has planned? What if God promised us a better plan and a better prize behind his curtain? Would we choose it?

I really think this is what God wants from us. I think this is what God means when he says “deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). I think God says your way is not the way (John 14:6), your life is not your life (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, and your logic is not even close to being as brilliant as you think it is (Matthew 11:25-27, 1 Corinthians 2).

There is a real loud calling in scripture that tells us God is God (Deut. 6:4) and no one else. There is a divine reminder that our life does not belong to us anymore (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) that our choices cannot belong to us anymore because of our corruptible nature (Romans 1), that our only real choice is life or death (Deut. 30:19), and choosing God is choosing life (John 17:3). The plain and difficult reality of all of this is that God is God and it really all belongs to God. God is the beginning of it all and the end, God is the Alpha and Omega, and we are vapor. God loves and calls us children, but our decisions are vapor, dust, foolishness if they are not the decision to follow God.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

no more bad news

I don’t know about you but I am tired of bad news. Every time you turn on the television there are stories of rebels, terrorists, sinking economies, rape, theft, murder, and even worse. Now these are important things to know. I want to know about Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the all other events, both foreign and local, that affect us. I know the world is a troubling place, but it seems that catching up with the news is a health hazard. The chaos and moral rampage raises my stress levels to such a devastating level that I may soon become a news story.

The terrifying reality of it all is that bad news sells. If there are two news stations airing their daily events and one is talking about a local murder, while the other is talking about a local homeless shelter, the former will get higher ratings. This is true even in our own lives. When people ask us how we are doing we have one of two answers. We either answer we are doing fine, or we begin to monologue about how rude our boss was, or how inconsiderate our spouse is, or how are children do not appreciate anything, how our mother is relentlessly nagging us, and how Peyton manning may not be ready for the opener so the season is down the drain. Either we tell people we are fine, or we draw out in story the struggles of our lives.

I am not saying we do not share good events with each other; I am saying we are more likely to listen, to care, and to share the minor and major tragedies in our life. In fact we are incapable to share the good in our lives narratively as well as we can share the bad. The ugly dominates the tip of our personal, local, national, and international tongue.

I want to know the dangers and tragedies that are happening in the world, but I need to be encouraged that we are not completely lost. I want to hear stories of the few and faithful ensuring justice, maintaining sexual integrity, providing for the poor, and healing the sick. I want to hear about the stubborn saints sweating out good works in a broken world, I want to see the lowly leaders creating peaceful changes; I want to hear of the Holy Spirit catching this city on fire! I want to hear of forgiveness, mercy and the Good News!

I suppose this begins with us. I want to share that our food pantry has fed over 70 families so far this month. I want to let you know that our community center has provided clothes and bread every day this week. I want to let you know that our preschool is working with families and kids through education, prayer, and any other assistance they may need. I want you to know that our after school program continues to tutor and encourage kids at the local middle school. I want you to know that this week we have prayed for and visited the sick. We have laid hands on each other and seen healings and miracles. Next week we have someone committing their life to Jesus Christ through baptism. We have groups such as AA using our building to find healing, Weight Watchers to establish healthy eating, CICOA to provide meals to those who are shut in, Bible Studies to help nurture the soul, and Restoring Lives West to find shelter and second chances. Finally, and most importantly, we have worship to give thanks to a truly good and wonderful God every Sunday morning at 10:15 am.

This is the good news we need to hear from each other, so now it is your turn. This may not be life shattering news, but I like to think it is dent making news. I like to think we have made a dent, and together we can continue reforming this world one dent at a time!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The unfare skies of the Indianapolis Fair

Saturday August 13th there was a crowd of people gathered around outside at the Indiana state Fair to hear a concert. In the news there were warnings of lightening and strong winds. Some people in attendance saw the looming storm and decided to leave the concert, however most stayed. A straight wind of over 70 mph blew and knocked the stage over, snapping it like a toothpick. Thousands of pounds of equipment toppled over on top of the gathered crowd sending many to the hospital and killing five.

Many people immediately were left asking “why?” Why did so many people stay with a looming storm threatening, why was the concert not canceled, why was the fair not evacuated? These are questions that many officials are still trying to answer. But in the midst of such tragedy we even find ourselves asking “why did such a terrible thing have to happen, why would God allow this?”

Death and tragedy always lead to questions. It is our natural instinct not only to grieve and mourn, but to also try to discern why something had to happened, why it couldn’t be prevented, and whose fault is it. Our questions are an attempt to make some sense out of senselessness. Why it is good to ask questions to try to prevent similar tragedies, and even sometimes to find guilty parties of crimes or negligence, too often are questions simply are unanswerable.

I was at the Fair a few days before this tragic event. I knew some people who were in the grandstands waiting for the concert (none of which were hurt) and I even knew two police officers who were at the scene to witness the destruction, hospitalizations, and deaths. I feel a strong connection to this city, and a strong emotional connection to those who have lost loved ones in this event. Currently I am in mourning without city as we feel the senseless loss of our own brothers and sister. And I even find myself asking “why?”

I think back when Jesus lost his friend Lazarus. Jesus knew his friend was sick, and when he arrived to his home he discovered he was dead (and for three days). Jesus went to Lazarus’ grave and wept bitterly. Jesus wept because of the suffering and death of his friend, and Jesus also wept because of the power of evil. Jesus knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but Jesus still wept. He wept because even though Lazarus would live again, evil still causes suffering in this world. In the midst of our loss in Indianapolis I know that Jesus is weeping right alongside our city. Jesus is weeping at the power of evil, at the suffering and pain that exists. But even in the midst of weeping Jesus knows something that he has shared with us. That even though there is death, even though there is suffering, and even though there is loss, evil does not have the final say. Death does not have the final say in our life.

The story of the cross is a story that allows us to maintain hope even in the worst of times. This is our peace as Christians that no matter what is taken from us, Jesus can and is willing to bring it back to life, not in this world, but in the place he has been preparing since the beginning of time. He does not look to bring us back to life for another period of time, but for all of time.

Instead of trying to find our comfort in assigning blame or trying to find reason, let us weep knowing that this is not the end. The evil cannot take our life, or the life of our loved ones a way forever, but that through Christ we will raise from the dead, we will be reunited with Christ, and we will be reunited with those who have gone before us. Let this be our identity, let this be our song, let this be our hope even as we weep now.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where's the rain?

It is dry. I have not cut my grass in four weeks. If it rained for the next 7 days straight I think it would be too little too late for many lawns. The fact is I know longer have any grass, I only have hay. I walk onto my lawn and I hear crunching sounds. I water my plants twice a day (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers) just to keep them barely alive. I am pretty sure I even saw a cactus growing in my front yard when I pulled into the garage yesterday. The city has issued a water preservation warning to stop watering our lawns to conserve water for our Fire Fighters in the midst of the driest July on record in Indianapolis.

It is easy to easy the benefit and necessity of rain. Without rain grass dries up, vegetable plants stop producing their crop, and eventually everything will shrivel up and die. It is amazing how when rain comes it can revive even the saddest looking of plants. However, there is a point when a plant is so far gone that no amount of rain can revive it.

We are a spiritually dry people. Too often we go too long without the refreshing living water who is Jesus (John 4:10). How many times do we go days without quiet prayer, or careful scripture readings, or worship? How many times do we complain about our dismal spiritual life when we have failed to absorb the spirit into our roots? Our spirits have become a dry and weary land. We have no life and we have no fruit because we have not allowed Christ to penetrate the dirt that surrounds us.

We need to pray for God to rain his spirit upon us. We need to open ourselves to the pouring of his grace; we need to immerse ourselves in life giving water so that we may be healthy to produce fruit. Our good works are a natural blooming of fruit in our lives by allowing ourselves to be water by God. Dry ground and empty wells have neither fruit, no life. If we go too long without God’s raining spirit we shrivel up, and eventually we will die, and it will be too late. The good news is God is ready to send the necessary rain. The prophet Isaiah and Hosea remind us of the Lords willingness to transform us into a fruitful life giving land:
till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. - Isaiah 32:15

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. - Isaiah 44:3

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” - Hosea 6:3

May you receive the Holy Spirit being rained upon you, may you be nourished and bloom, may you bear fruit through the watering of God’s love.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

a shared story?

It is amazing to me how we as people often are announcers of the clearly obvious. Just think back to the past week and recall all the times you heard someone retort to the record setting climate by saying “boy its hot!” Usually we agree with some response of our own verifying the person claim. Don’t you think it’s somewhat a peculiar habit we find ourselves in. I mean I can’t argue with the statement, it truly is hot. In fact it is so hot I saw two trees fighting over a dog (think about that one for a second). It is so hot, that the occasion hardly needs to be announced, but we do announce frequently throughout our day as if to reminder ourselves our others lest they forget the 120 heat index. We are really good at this with all sorts of weather. “Man the rain is really coming down”, “wow it sure is cold outside”, or “whew it is windy.” You have to appreciate the hilarity of deeply rational and intellectual beings become so myopic in observations when it comes to weather.

Perhaps we state the painfully obvious as an opportunity to express a shared experience (I’m hot, your hot, we have a shared experience). Maybe we need a way to express verbally our experiences of physical discomfort or annoyance. Perhaps we are just looking for some small talk and weather is always an easy changing subject. I actually believe all three of these responses are way we bother to state the obvious. However, I think these reasons need to be way we also share ourselves beyond the weather.

We are beings made to share and express our feelings. Poetry, literature, movies, and Facebook are all ways we have learned to express ourselves (for better or for worse). In fact are born able to express discomfort or unhappiness in their cries. After only a matter of months do they learn to smile, to giggle, to whine, and even communicate. God has designed us to be in community and to share our experience with each other. However, I think we are in a time when we are separating our feelings from true community. We still have poems, literature, and other ways to communicate our feelings, but we have lost the art of having a conversation with people about our feelings in an open and honest way. We are taught in a frightening world where any world can become viral in moments, and any feelings and become public domain, to protect our feelings and emotions. Christ calls us to carry each other’s burdens, but we do not know how to carry or even share the burdens we have. Even if we find ourselves in a moment of burden sharing, we take a great risk or exposing ourselves to uncompassionate community.

We as a people need to find a shared experience to build a community around. This shared experienced used to be religion. I believe that churches and Christ followers still use Christ as their shared experience. As Christians, Christ is our center and our focus to enter into a shared community where we then learn to share our burdens and selves. We share not only with God, but also with each other. But I believe we need to find a shared experience to reach out to our non-believing brothers and sisters. War, politics, and epidemics are sometimes used to accomplish this, but these moments of tragedies are insufficient. Our nation, our world needs to find a shared story and experience to learn to open up to so that community, feelings, and burdens and be shared and shouldered. I think sometimes medicine and science is used to accomplish this task, but I find it very limiting and it leaves me wanting.

I don’t know if there is a shared story or experience that can even be had. If this is the case it is a very sad and fallen world we do live in. Perhaps the only shared story, the only shared experience worth engaging in is the narrative of God and his son Jesus. Perhaps the only story that we have in common is our creator, our redeemer, and our God. It may be that it is still our calling and commission to invite people into this shared story for no other one can fulfill our satisfy us. Perhaps this is the only story and experience that truly makes us human and whole. Wondering what your thoughts are. Is there a shared story beyond Christ that we can share? Is there something out there that can bring us into true humanity outside God?

Friday, July 15, 2011

thoughts on death

Sometimes I find myself thinking about my own death, I wonder how I will die, when it will be and people’s reaction. Most people would simply call me downright morbid. I have not always been this way, but lately I have become very comfortable with the thought of death.

My wife Jen and I have been living in our new home for over a year now. Before we moved we looked at a house in the same neighborhood that was very well priced, but needed a lot of work. By the time we put in an offer the house was already pending and eventually we missed out on it. Just a few weeks ago we were talking to neighbors of the very same house. We discovered from the neighbor that someone died in the house before it was recently bought, and since it was bought someone else had died in it. My wife Jen was mortified that we almost bought a house that at one time had someone die in it. I tried to explain to her that it was no big deal, but both she and the neighbor informed me that moving into a house that once housed a non-breathing entity was certifiably creepy and unlivable. It was then that it was brought to my attention that I have an uncharacteristically level of comfort with death. I used to be terrified about the prospect of death, but two years of being a pastor and 25 funerals later I have found myself thinking about death a lot more often.

The strange thing is, the more I think about death, the more ready I seem to truly live. The more to terms I come with the reality of mortality the more I can recite the words of the psalmist:

man and woman are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow (Psalm 144:4).

We have developed this great fear of death especially in the United States. What I mean is that in our country we hide from the presence of death better than anyone else. People go to hospitals or nursing homes to die, funeral homes pick them up, they are beautified and made to look alive, presented for a few hours, than buried. We have haunted graveyards with our literature, refuse to allow children around bodies, and eliminated outright mourning in public places.

Recently I was speaking with a woman whose children were upset with her because she was mourning the loss of her husband after having lost him less than a year ago. They did not want to be reminded of the loss of their dad. We removed death from our life and put it into video games and movies to make the thing we fear the most nothing more than entertainment.

Have you ever spent time with someone who had a terminal illness and knew they were going to die soon? They usually have a very different outlook on life, and most the time a very positive one. Not that these people want to die, but they have developed a new sense of seeing that we have blinded ourselves to. Many times they develop a free way of living. They look to reconcile relationships, they see the beauty of life, and they have come to accept the inevitable. These people develop a different way to live out their life not because they know they are dying (hopefully we all know we are dying) but because they are forced to confront the very thing that most of us try to avoid.

A good author writes their book with the ending in mind. Can you imagine a book written with no thought of the end, the book just simply stops when the writer is spent? Now I know we cannot organize our life and certainly our death like that of a writer, but too many of us are not living our life fully because we have not thought about the end.

When we read about the life of Jesus in the gospels, we see a man living his life with his end in mind. Jesus not only lives his life, but lives it in a way with his death in mind. While most of us cannot live knowing how we are going to die, all of us can live knowing that we will. When the time comes for Jesus to hand over his life he does so mercifully and lovingly, not fighting, killing, or cursing the stars. Jesus’ faces his death so perfectly because he has thought about it, and knows what the outcome will be. Jesus knows he will suffer he knows he will die, but he knows that he will resurrect from the dead.

We are called to live like Jesus, to be aware of our death, to know that we will die, and to know that through his love and grace we too will be resurrected. When we keep our death in mind we become free to live our life with no fear, with no lingering regrets, and with the appreciation of everything that is given to us.

My challenge is to think of your death, to become aware fully of your mortality, to become aware of the uncertainty of life, and to the hope that lingers for us beyond the grave. If we take time to see our own death, we may find that we truly see our life, and appreciate the purpose we have been given.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 2:40)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The art of surrender

Scripture says that money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), and one can easily see why. Money issues are the number one cause of marital arguments. The economic crisis has politicians pointing fingers. Unemployment has caused tight money situations in families, raising the consumption of alcohol and domestic abuse. Spending has decreased, giving has decreased, and the all mighty dollar has fallen greatly. Some have called the current situation we are in a recession, others have called it a full out depression, and some analyst point to a double dip market. Whatever one might say, it is clear that our nation is in a financial regression, and there have been terrible consequences as a result.

The truth is when we as a nation start losing out on our income, health care, and the lifestyle we have become accustomed to, we get angry and even violent in our protests. Many people outside the U.S. see a country of wealth, but all I see is a country that is desperately poor because we can never have enough and the problem is in our ideology and our language.

While money is certainly dangerous, I think our temptation today is much broader. I see our language and ideology of “rights” as the root of much evil (this certainly includes money).

What has made our country unique from the onset is its understanding of “rights.” Our Declaration of Independence is based on our “rights” as a people. “The Bill of Rights” speaks with language that asserts our “rights” to free speech, “right” to bear arms, “right” to religion and so on. However, I think we have taken this language of “rights” too far. Too often we have added to our language of rights by adding the right to own a home with a two car garage, with two cars, right to have a hefty retirement package to travel on, right to take two vacations a year and be paid to do so, the right to eat out, the right to own a television in each room of our four bedroom home, a computer for the home, a laptop and cell phone for each member of the house, and the right to visit a doctor without paying for it. The truth is our understanding of rights is vague and dangerous. Hauerwas in his book “The Peaceable Kingdom” dedicates many pages to the danger of the ideology and language of rights. Hauerwas believes that the idea of rights leads to the pursuit of violent means to protect them at all cost. While undoubtedly free speech, religion, and free hospital visits are all nice, for a Christian, they are not the crux of existence, and they certainly do not merit us to engage in violence.

In fact, the way of Jesus means the willingness to give up all and any such “rights.” Jesus gave up his “rights” as the Son of God and humbled himself to death on a cross as poetically outlined in Philippians 2:5-11:

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus gave up a lot. If the Son of God was worried about his rights and adamant about exercising them, than the very people who came to arrest Jesus would have been obliterated. If Jesus was worried about his rights, there would have been no incarnation, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no forgiveness of sins which is more important than any rights the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, or Constitution could ever offer. And if anyone would think that this was Jesus the Son of God and we could not possibly dream of ascertaining the same kind of willful surrender, let me draw your attention once again to the first line of this passage which says:

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

In a world of sin how could we possible entertain the idea of rights? The only rights we are given and promised is the rights of an heir of God if we believe and follow Jesus Christ. These rights, this reward, is not fully lived out here on this earth, but is promised with Christ comes to restore all things. To follow Christ means you surrender your rights of this world, to receive the rights of His Kingdom. To follow Christ means we hand over our rights to speak, our rights to bear arms, and even our rights to life itself. However, in surrendering these limited rights, we receive something so much more; we receive eternal life, joy, and unison with God the creator and his Son in his Kingdom.

Violent defense of earthly rights shows that we belong to this world. However, as Christ followers we do not belong to this world (John 15:19; Colossians 2:20) and therefore are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Aliens, foreigners, and the 4th of July

The 4th of July is a grand celebration of the birth of the United States of America. As Americans we certainly know how to celebrate birthdays. Every proper 4th of July celebration has good food, and there will be no short supply of barbeques and picnics with hot dogs, brats, hamburgers, potato salad, and potato chips on the menu. Red, white, and blue adorn city street light posts, and car lots buy even bigger flags to wave to advertise their latest deals. And of course there will be loud, bright, colorful “oooh” and “aaah” inspiring fireworks.

The 4th of July is a reminder of the fight for freedom and the sacrifice many paid to have a country of our own. But to Christians the celebration has mixed feelings. One cannot help but get caught up in the story of America’s birth, of the impossible revolution, of the heroics and sacrifice, and of eventual victory. Every time I watch the fireworks, I think of the story of the U.S. and I admittedly get chills. However, at the same time the celebration is a reminder that for those who follow Christ, we are not yet truly home. In fact 1 Peter 2:11 reminds us:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

We are not yet home, in fact we are aliens. Our home is not in this world, but in the Kingdom of Heaven with our Lord and Maker. It is important to remember that our goal is not the democracy of the U.S. but the Kingdom of God. Many laid down their life for this country, but no one beside Christ could lay down their life for our eternal citizenship in heaven. Heroic battles were fought and won for freedoms in America, but only the victory of Christ will truly set us free.

The truth is, the waving flags on the 4th of July remind me that I am not yet home, and there are still many more scarifies to be made. The fireworks remind me that I am not free by the battles of men, but only by the victory of Christ!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Modern Miracles: The Power of Forgiveness

The word “miracle” often conjures up images of fantastic unexplainable phenomenon being exercised in the world or someone’s personal life.  Many believe that a miracle must be a jaw dropping event that dwells in the unreasonable.  However, miracles in their most pure sense are simply events in which God intervenes.  These God interfering events can take place on any scale to the global impacting, to the almost insignificant.  A miracle can also have a logical explanation, people can point to other factors such as doctors, medicine, or even heroic action to why certain events took place, and yet, God’s hand can still be involved.  Anything logical or illogical; rational or irrational; supernatural or seemingly natural can be a miracle as long as God intervened to produce the outcome.

When Moses and the Israelites walked on dry ground through the Sea of Reeds (or traditionally the Red Sea) many people explained the event by utilizing tide changes, current, and wind.  Whatever happened on that fateful day God’s hand was intervening, and it was certainly miraculous.

So what do you suppose is the greatest modern miracle?  Where do you see the hand of God intervening in this world, your community, church, or your own personal life?  What miracle, or miracles do you see that have the power to truly transform the world?  What do we need to be healed from, or freed from the most?

I fully believe that the miracle to forgive is the greatest miracle that God has given to us today.  Forgiveness has so much potential power it can knock down divisive barriers, abolish devastating violence, and restructure our unstructured world.  The power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ is the only way we can experience true freedom and become who God created us to be.  This miraculous power of forgiveness, even though it begins with Jesus, does not end with him.  When Jesus was teaching in an overcrowd home (Matt. 9:1-8) a few men laboriously lifted their paralyzed friend to the roof of the house and began digging into the mudded ceiling.  After digging a substantial whole they lowered their friend down before Jesus.  When Jesus saw their faith he pronounced forgiveness on the paralyzed man much to the horror of the Pharisees who immediately judged Jesus guilty of blasphemy in their consciousness.’ Jesus knowing their thoughts, and wanting to demonstrate the power of God, then told the paralyzed man to stand up and walk.  The paralyzed man quickly stood up, took his mat and walked.  The scripture says the crowds were then amazed at the power God had given men.  But what exactly where the crowds amazed at?  Where they amazed that the man walked or were they amazed at something more?  Remember, Jesus performed the act to prove not that he could make a paralyzed man walk, but to prove that he could forgive sins.  The crowds were not so much amazed that the man walked, but that because the man walked the power of forgiveness was possible.

While the power of forgiveness begins with Jesus, it does not end with him.  Jesus shows that he is the Righteous One that forgive sins, and he passes that power to his disciple (John 20:23).  Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection show the power of the forgiveness of God and also the power we have to forgive others.  If we accept the power of the forgiveness of God, but we do not accept the power of forgiveness that God has given us to give to others, than we have severely missed the point (Matt. 6:9-18).

The miraculous power of forgiveness not only promises us the reward of eternal life, it also brings about much needed healing and peace.  Too often we have neglected the power of forgiveness.  After working a short six month internship as a chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL I quickly learned from my own experience and the experiences of the nurses, that many of our physical illness are caused by heavy guilt, depression, unresolved conflict, and buried hatred.  There are many General Practitioners who willingly admit that their patients are suffering physically due to something emotionally/spiritually (depending on their vocabulary).  What these patients are missing is the miraculous power of the declarative words “you are forgiven.”  These patients need either to hear these words and experience the real power of forgiveness that comes first through Jesus Christ and release their burden (Matt. 11:28-30), or they need to be able to say the words to someone else who needs to be released (Luke 17:3).

The world asks for signs and miracles, yet we have been given the greatest and most transforming of all miracles and we refuse to practice and acknowledge it.  Imagine the world where you truly experienced forgiveness for all wrongs, and your enemies experienced forgiveness from you.  Where would be guilt if we forgave, where would be hatred, violence, or even sickness?  Hear and experience the miraculous life changing words given to us by God the Father     “In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

vote for Jesus

Watching the GOP Presidential Debate in Massachusetts last night really got me thinking. During the debate there was a question to the candidates about whether the federal or state government has the power to decide the definition and the governance of marriage. The question stirred up the debate of homosexual marriage. Every one of the candidates seemed to express great discomfort in allowing the definition of marriage “between a man and a woman” to change including men marrying men and women marrying women.

The argument that one of the candidates expressed, and the conservative crowd agreed through applause, was that our families and children deserve the best that we can give them, and the best chance is through children having Fathers and Mothers to raise them.

I first must say I agree and have written and expressed many times our inability to take our sexual relationships seriously has created a greatly fractured family system with children being raised in unready, uncommitted, and missing parent homes. I also believe in God the creator of heaven and earth who designed marriage for commitment, family, and intimate relationship between man and woman. However, I have a great problem of government legislating Christian Ethics. I believe in lifelong committed marriage, and children that follow such a commitment. I believe God’s intent for marriage between man and woman, but I do not believe in making people who do not believe in the Christian God to be forced to follow my Christian Ethics.

According to the candidate, and the crowd, gay marriage should be illegal because straight marriage produces the best homes for children. By that logic everything that would prohibit the best possible home for children to be raised ought to be made illegal. Therefore, divorce ought to be made illegal, and having sex outside of marriage illegal, and adultery should be a serious crime with serious punishment. However, our government would not dream of making adultery, premarital sex, and divorce illegal because it is unethical to govern Christian Ethics to non-Christian people. The government should not be dealing with these issues, but the Church.

The life God calls us to live only works if we first have faith in God and the peace that comes through his Son Jesus Christ. If we do not know God, or Christ, the law is no good to us. Therefore, how can we who know God and the power of his salvation think of forcing our new life in the Spirit on someone who does not have the Spirit? Why would anyone keep the Sabbath, if they don’t believe in God the creator who rested on the seventh day? Why would anyone not blaspheme God, who does not believe in the power of the name of God? Christ did not call us to make people obey so that they may believe, but to show people God so that they may learn to believe and then obey. We are called to show that God created, so that they may learn to rest, we need to show that God is great and powerful, so that they will not blaspheme, and we need to show that the love of God designed a covenant of marriage so love may be a lifelong commitment that produces a caring and nurturing home for the potential of future children.

We are foolish however, to think we can legalize our scriptures into public law, and in return have pleased God. We are already told we have all broken the law, that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we need not more laws that enforce our Christian virtues, but we need more virtuous saints that teach and show the love, grace, and power of Jesus Christ. No politician, no law, and no political party can save the world from violence, poverty, indifference, and degradation, only Jesus the Christ can.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Greed is more than money

It is so easy for us to see the destructive greed of few who prey on the poor. We too often see those collecting millions and even billions of dollars through their companies while thousands of their employees are laid off, and those that have their jobs spared have their salaries reduced and their hours increase. As a people concerned with justice we have no problem identifying the selfishness of those who make their wealth off the laboring backs of the poor and oppressed.

It has been our rightful custom to spotlight the evil and wicked behavior of the disgustingly rich and the indifference to the poverty that has stricken their day and night laborers. Many will go uninsured, bills will be unpaid, and needs of children neglected, only to insure the company will have a positive quarter for their market shares. The broken backs of the working class have been crippled to carry the heavy load of affluence.

We have seen this, and our voices have cried out with injustice. We decry the behavior of the oppressors, and dream of the difference we would make if in their position.

However, I think far too many of us have been guilty of this greedy and selfish behavior no matter our own financial state. Many of us are guilty at pursuing our own richness at the expense of others.

Too many are pursuing their own sexual exploits at the expense future children. Too many men sleep around looking for the next score only to runaway and never show up again when a girl gets pregnant. They have pursued their own richness and joy at the expense of the woman and of the child. Women too sleep with men who are not good guys, good boyfriends, nor would they be good dads. When they get pregnant they do so unready, unwilling, and at the expense of a child.

I have seen in the last two years far too many children in broken families because their parents were too busy pursuing their own fun at the expense of their offspring. Too many children go with little food, little education, little love, and little support because we have been occupied with our own wants and desires. We live in a nation where even the poor have become greedy.

Now I am not saying all wealthy people are bad. There are many hard working generous people who have been blessed with resources. I am also no saying that mothers or fathers cannot rise up to an unplanned child and offer them a good home. What I am saying is that too often we put others at great disadvantage for the pursuit of our own pleasures, and this is greed. When we do that with our money, with future children, with our families we are no better than the CEO’s of Enron or Bernie Madoff.

I think it is not surprising than that Paul told the church in Philippi that in order for community to work we must Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 4:3). This is the antithesis of greed. It is easy in our country to worry about our rights, our privileges, our pursuit of happiness, but scripture tells us to throw our rights away to ensure the well being of others. That is the only way this world will change, that is how we can still turn this city around.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Controversy of Grace

What is more controversial than books that lay down the exact times and events of Armageddon? What is more feared than blunt accusations of evil incarnations? What needs to be kept secured and locked up more than judgmental finger waving and classist exclusivism?

The truth is nothing has become more controversial than the love and mercy of God. I have now visited four Christian book stores that have refused to carry Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins because it has carried too much uproar among some circles. Opponents of the book call it universalistic. I have not yet read the book, therefore, I cannot formulate an argument for or against its wide doors to eternal life. However, I find it odd that John Hagee’s books on the Armageddon and the evil Muslim world are considered more Christian in Character than a book about Jesus looking to save everyone he can.

I find it troubling that Joel Osteen’s book about wealth and health guaranteed through faith being thought more Biblical, than a God offering eternal life through grace.

It makes me frustrated and downright sad that those who follow Christ are more known for what we prohibit than what we freely offer. Jesus’ words “they will know you are Christians by your love” still holds true to this humble believer, but I find myself asking if I am in the minority?

I never like to sugar coat the gospel of Christ. Jesus did not fear telling people that it would cost them everything to chase after the Messiah. However, if I only have one opportunity with someone, if I have only one message or one word to get across to someone about the power of Christ and his message, if I were given just one small 140 character tweet, I would not spend it dividing up who I believe make eternal life residency and those who do not. Instead I would spend the time sharing the enormity and cleansing power of the cross. I would share John 3:17 that Jesus is not looking to condemn but to save, and I would share my time, money, food, and life as a sign of his transforming love.

The truth over Bell’s controversial book is based on our fear of an open gospel means a universal gospel. Eugene Peterson says it best “There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.”

Let us stop fighting on this public stage about who has the keys t the kingdom of God, and let us stop our dogmatic tug-o-war match, and let us simply allow the controversial grace of Jesus Christ heal.

But if you had learned what this means I desire mercy not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent - Jesus (Matthew 12:7)

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Every Man's Battle" Book Review

Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker attacks the subject of pornography and adultery. Pornography is a subject that has moved in our society from shameful to acceptable. According to the authors, these sins have become a great problem in men’s relationships with their spouse, family, and God. Arterburn and Stoeker believe that it is possible to turn men away from adulterous relationships as well as pornography. The authors even believe that men can achieve a sexual purity that involves no looking, lusting, or thinking sexually about other women besides one’s own wife. The authors believe this is possible as they speak both with wisdom and personal experience. The book is full of examples and personal experiences of men struggling and overcoming sexual temptation.

The book takes a long time drawing out the problem, (so long for the reader that it almost completely lost my attention) but the content in the heart of the book is useful for any and certainly as the title suggests, every man. With prayer, encouragement, and a few scriptural truths, Every Man’s Battle lays the groundwork to equip men to become sexually pure. Along the way the reader is remind of the several other people from all walks of life had struggled with the problem of sexual sin to varying degrees. This book is certainly worth reading no matter where one stands in their relationships with women! Arterburn and Stoeker are absolutely prophetic when they express that no little amount of sexual impurity is innocent or acceptable, but man can and are expected to have pure eyes, a pure heart, and pure intentions.

A free copy of this book was provided to me by Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing for review purposes.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama's Death Made no Peace (the hardest part about following Jesus)

What does this all mean? Undoubtedly justice has been served, but what are we celebrating? Are we now a safer more peaceable world without one prowling terrorist? Can a bullet be strong enough to stop terrorism? Can bombs prevent evil from happening, and can violence ever rid the world heinous acts?

The truth is even now we are alert that we have made ourselves, for the time being, more susceptible to terrorist attacks. Just because Osama is no longer counted among the living does not mean Satan will cease to lay his attacks. Someone else will fill the void of the “most wanted.” Peace can never be won through violent means. The more that are killed to create peace the less room there will be for peace. The death of Hitler did not create everlasting peace, the death of Saddam did not create everlasting peace, and the death of Osama will not create everlasting peace. There is only one death that has ever brought about everlasting peace and that is the death we celebrated on Easter Morning.

War, violence, and retaliation are not powerful enough to stop evil. Jesus proposed a new way, a new weapon, and a new method to change the world and make everlasting peace. He showed that loving your enemies was how we lay down the pavement for diplomacy. He thought us that sacrificial death can erase the sins of many, and that a surprising resurrection would be the only true way to make things new!

May you not hate your enemies! May you be a true follower, a disciple, a believer in the Christ and obey his command to love even your enemies. If you want to belong to the man who made peace possible, if you want to reside in an everlasting home, if you want to expertise true fearless love and acceptance, than follow the way of the Son of God and love your enemies and transform the world!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter happened, now what?

Is there anything different? Another Easter has come and gone and life has seemed to continue on as always. Our lives are busy once again with the daily rigmarole of our work and family lives. The Royal wedding has captivated half the world, while the NFL draft in a Lockout scenario has captured the other half. People are still endlessly debating whether Obama is a natural born citizen, and my beloved Chicago Cubs are back to their losing ways. The question that hauntingly lingers within me is “has anything changed?”

In my position I have an opportunity to talk to many people who are struggling with different kinds of addictions, and the question for them is “does the resurrection of Jesus change anything?”

Looking out at the world of greed where billions of dollars cannot be shared agreeably among NFL owners and players, many who live in poverty are left asking “has the resurrection of Jesus changed anything?”

Those who are lost, lonely, struggling, or sick are all left wondering “does the resurrection of Jesus change anything?”

The truth about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is much greater than we have given it credit. Many understand that the resurrection of Jesus means we will be resurrected with him when we die. But what if I told you there is a more immediate consequence to this miraculous centerpiece of Christianity? What if I told you that Jesus is ready to resurrect your life right here and now?

I am not saying that Jesus is going to immediately lift you up into heaven. What I am saying is that many of us are dead as we speak. Many of us are living dead lives. Jesus died and rose to life, but we are still living the dead life that we have always lived and nothing has changed.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Too often we observe the resurrection of Jesus thinking that it has no real bearing in our present life. We live our life waiting to be set free, waiting to be healed, and waiting to have new life. The problem with all this waiting is that Jesus has already laid the groundwork so that we may experience these things now.

We have become like Israel waiting on the banks of the Jordan too afraid to grab the Promise Land that God has already given us. Now I do not want to be accused of saying that if you have Jesus you will be successful in whatever you do, or that you will never be sick, or that you will never have trouble. The truth is you will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).

Life does not become easy because of the resurrection, but life does become different. Everything we were and everything we thought we knew about the world is put to death, and with Jesus we have a new way of living, a resurrected way of living. We become a new creation the old is gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Easter changes everything. We are being called to be changed, to be made new, to be resurrected. If you find your life the same, it is because you haven’t give it over to Jesus. If you find you are still dead, it is because you haven’t been resurrected through faith. If you find yourself in the same old situation of addiction, loneliness, and failure you haven’t cried out to the savior.

May you begin to live your life new! May you weed out the dead parts of your life and experience the new resurrected life that Jesus has given you here and now!