Friday, December 28, 2007

december: god unpacked

About eight weeks ago, wilsonian sent me a copy of Today at the Mission, the daily journal of cook in a homeless shelter that could be anywhere or everywhere.

At just over 100 pages, it may surprise you that it has taken me so long to finish. But you know, there’s a lot packed into these pages. The author [rhymes with kerouac] not only opens up a world that I admit is for the most part foreign to me, he also opens up his soul – and in doing so gives you a glimpse into God at work. And what amazing work it is.

In the month of December, [rwk] invests four posts on a single passage of scripture, John 9:1-5.
“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
By asking what seemed like an innocent question, the disciples demonstrated the same lack of understanding that I myself often exhibit today: making judgments about people based on their situation on this earth. It doesn’t always have to be such dramatic circumstances such as being blind, a beggar or homeless. It doesn’t take much for me to think “gee, look what’s wrong with this person.”

Maybe, perhaps, if I can blame you for what’s wrong in your life, then I can take credit for what’s wonderful in my life. Like “I must be doing something great for God to be rewarding me.” Like there’s anything I could do to earn God’s love. His mercy. His love.

But no. It just takes some work to reach the point where you can open your eyes and see that God’s love, mercy and grace is independent of anything I can do or say.

[rwk] spends four posts on this topic, and I bet I could spend 20 more in response. You see, there’s a lot packed into those words in the Bible. Think about it: the average Gospel is 25 pages. Twenty-five pages.

For Christmas, my brother gave me a book – a biography of Walt Disney. 851 pages.

Now Walt is a pretty cool guy, but compared to Jesus it’s just a Mickey Mouse story. And yet, God found a way to communicate everything he needed to tell us in just 25 pages. Makes you realize… these aren’t just ordinary words. And like Today at the Mission, it takes some time to unpack it all.

So now I add Today at the Mission to my blog roll, as there is still so much more to unpack. Thank you [rwk], thank you Erin and thank you Lord.

Friday, December 21, 2007

the second christmas: me

This week I’ve posted fictional accounts of the second Christmas, thinking about the lives of those people who currently reside on the corner table in my family room, as part of a miniature nativity set.

And as I look back on these posts, I think part of this series was simply me looking for a deeper meaning in Christmas. I don’t mean deeper than the commercial aspects of Christmas, such as shopping, advertisements, TV shows and parties. But rather a deeper meaning than what we usually focus on in Christian circles.

We recount the story of the nativity each year – the historic events – the trip to Bethlehem, the inn keeper, the barn, the shepherds, the three kings, etc. And there is meaning in all of that. Like the fact that shepherds – the outlaws of their time – where the first ones to hear the news about Christ. That says a lot to me.

But for too much of my life, I followed a historic Jesus… he came, he died, he rose again. He died on the cross and saved me. Kinda the same way George Washington crossed the Delaware to provide for my country’s freedom. It all happened a long time ago, and I’m the beneficiary today.

AND… as we tell (and retell) the historic account of the nativity, it seems that at Christmas it’s easy to lose focus of the living Jesus—and the relationship we can have with him today.

And personally, I don’t want to lose focus on the loving, breathing, sit-right-next-to-you Jesus. Because once Jesus comes into your world, nothing is ever the same.

Like my fictional shepherd Zeb, I sometimes over think my relationship with Jesus, overlooking the changes that are taking place in my life. Like my Mary, I want all my questions answered now, and have to learn patience. Like Gaspar, there are times when I get giddy, unable to concentrate. And like my Joseph, I wonder why the God who sounded so close yesterday seems more distant today.

So this Christmas, I will look for Christ not in the nativity, but rather in the person across from me. For my God is not about reliving history, but about renewing relationships.

God bless, and peace to you. EG

Thursday, December 20, 2007

the second christmas: joseph

While much has been written about the first Christmas, the retelling of the second Christmas has been a mystery, until now…

O LORD, why have the winds grown still?

For months, I could see you, hear you, feel you. You brought me through troubled times, to a distant land, with a wife and a child. Never before had I made such bold decisions with such confidence, a confidence born by your hand.

But now LORD, as the commotion settles, I long to hear from you again in such concrete ways— to know what is next—and how I can serve you best. But my dreams are no longer clear. Your voice no longer loud. I am far from your Holy Lands, far from the temple of my youth, alone with my wife, a child and your Word.

Troubling news reached me today, as I heard reports of the children of Bethlehem, slaughtered by a ruthless king. And I could only wonder, LORD, whether more will die in the name of our Jesus. And whether I will be among them. For I would be willing.

For as the winds have grown still, and the songs of the angels muted, I am hearing for the first time the cries of the earth. And tonight, as I light a candle for the world to see, O LORD, your humble servant holds in his arms our salvation.

… to be continued...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the second christmas: gasper

While much has been written about the first Christmas, the retelling of the second Christmas has been a mystery, until now…

Note to journal: Travels this past year have taken me further than expected. I have never been so tired… but inside am invigorated, as if I’ve sipped cool water from an enigmatic well – so deep, and so refreshing.

This evening as I ponder the heavens… I wonder from where all these stars have come. I’ve checked my drawings and it’s true… there are more lights in the sky now than ever before. Have the skies changed before me? Or is it simply that I see more clearly now? This phenomenon started, I know, with that one star… many months ago.

As I reflect on this year, I traveled in search of knowledge but came home with a sense of how little I truly know. Questions abound. I am giddy to this day… unable to concentrate… unable to sure… confident only of a single fact, that nothing is the same. And that, I think, is good. G.

… to be continued…

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the second christmas: liz and mary

While much has been written about the first Christmas, the retelling of the second Christmas has been a mystery, until now…

Dear Mary: I was so glad to hear from you. Zechy and I pray for you every morning, and every evening. We know God is with you…and so we know that you are safe. But we pray nonetheless. As for me, I am far too old to be a mother! But John is so sweet, and such a joy. Zechariah is like a kid when they are together; he has a spring to his step that I have not seen in years. Now he talks of having another, giving John a sister… Oy!

Jesus must be a year now. Oh, how I long to see him… to look into his eyes… and to see him in your arms. You are so beautiful, Mary, I can only imagine. I can only imagine. Hug him for me, Mary. Hold him tight.

I have thought hard on whether I should tell you this, and although it may add to the pain of being so far away, you would want to know. Your mother and father are still dealing with the aftermath of your disappearance last year. While the verbal taunting has ended, I believe, the shadow of disgrace follows them in the market… even in temple. Of course, they feel no need to explain your whereabouts; they simply trust in God… and rejoice in your joy… and your baby, your child of grace. But you can still pray for them, Mary. They need our prayers.

How is Joseph holding up? We are so glad they he is in your life… knowing you have each other is such a comfort to us. Be strong and write back soon. Love, Elizabeth.


Dearest Liz: Your words of encouragement are a blessing. In terms of adjustments, I can deal with living in a new land, being a new wife and being a new mother. But being so far from family, that is difficult.

I think in some way, though, that this time in isolation has strengthened us a family. Myself, Joseph and Jesus. We rely on one another, and we rely on God. That is all we have.

The gifts offered by those strangers from the east have sustained us this past year (oh, how God provides!) and now Joseph has been getting regular work. There is such a demand for his skills here. But no matter how hard he works during the day, he always has time to recite the Torah and Nevi'im to Jesus after supper. I think Jesus likes the stories of David best (at least that’s what Joseph says.) As for me, I have so many things to tell my son… and so many things to ask of him. I am learning more about patience every day.

Thank you for sharing the news of my parents. I fear not for them, for as they taught me to be faithful in the Lord, so too will their trust in Him be blessed. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Until that time when my Jesus and your John will meet, blessings to you dear cousin. Love, Mary.

… to be continued…

Monday, December 17, 2007

the second christmas: zeb and barna

While much has been written about the first Christmas, the retelling of the second Christmas has been a mystery, until now…

Zeb, do you know what today is?

Tuesday.

No. I mean a year ago today.

Barna… don’t say another word. Nothing happened, it was a dream.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Yada, yada, yada. I am not listening to you.

I think about them every day.

The angels?

No. That family. The girl. That baby. He was there, wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger… just like we know he would be. He looked at me.

He did not.

Yes. Zeb. He looked inside me. Like he knew me… he could feel the wind burn on my cheeks... the isolation and emptiness of my life.

Barna… there was no family… there was no manger… it was bad cheese. We hallucinated the whole thing.

You told everyone! Glory to God. Peace on earth. We told people – and they believed us. Us! They knew it was true. That God was with us. Zeb, you went home for the first time in twelve years… you even spoke to your father.

He laughed at me.

What? You never told me that.

Yeah. He was relentless. Every night at dinner he would make mock angel noises. He introduced me to his friends as his ‘crazy, shepherd son’. He said I was spending too much time alone with sheep… he made me stay with them for two weeks.

Two weeks? I thought your dad had kicked you out. That he wasn’t speaking to you.

Yeah, well, I guess we’re over that.

It’s like they said, then.

What?

Peace. On earth.

… to be continued…

Thursday, December 13, 2007

november: backspace, delete

Another man, well known to us, had pistol-whipped him, forced him to his knees and held a gun to his head. The dispute had to do with stolen property and was, as one might expect, entirely out of proportion to the value of the properly.

In the November chapter of Today at the Mission, we read about a series of disparate events that occur at this homeless shelter that could be anywhere or every where. But in these events, we see a common thread: responses that are entirely out of proportion.

Sometimes it takes the shape of physical threats or verbal abuse by the Mission residents. We even see cases where our author, [rhymes with kerouac], becomes angry and personally offended for a slight offense, like when a friend of his eats a grape off a tray before it was formally served.

I can relate to these out-of-proportion responses. While normally I am “cool, calm and collected”, such outbursts are not that uncommon—and usually involve someone close to me. Upon reflection I’ve come to realize that my anger often does not relate to the initial incident, per se, but rather to the offending party’s inadequate response to my being hurt.

Like when my laptop got zapped with a virus because my son downloaded some infected software. I was upset that my computed wasn’t working – but I got really angry when his response was a simple shrug. I ended up yelling at him about the computer, when in fact the pain I was feeling was a lack of respect.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I can tell because the Bible talks about this topic over and over again. I find that when we humans are slow on the uptake of something very important, God has no problem being repetitive. It starts in the OT, including Proverbs 14:29, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”

The LORD himself is described this way nearly a dozen times: slow to anger, rich in love. And in James 1, 19-20 we get:
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Got it yet? Me neither.

That’s one of the reasons I prefer writing as compared to verbal communication. I have those backspace and delete buttons that give God a fighting chance. Others are a bit better at this than me, as [rwk] relays:

When someone stops listening they lose the ability to think rationally, and it’s only a matter of time until they are evicted from the Mission. Here’s the thing: I’ve seen staff walk away from a confrontation – even though they have a legitimate concern over the resident’s behavior – because they know the outcome will be eviction.

Slow to anger... rich in love... very cool.

Monday, December 10, 2007

i wish someone would have told me...

Today, Steve over at Ragamuffin Ramblings shared a short list of concepts he wish he had heard (or had been willing to hear) earlier-on in life. Worth a look!

october: two for one

Two blogs. Two ministries. One amazing God.

This past week I read two posts, written in different countries in separate years, that somehow seem connected. One from Bumbling Forward, one from the October chapter of Today at the Mission. Can you guess which is which?

* * * * *
There is within me, a discontent. I cannot label it or quantify it. At the same time this discontent feels somehow holy. It feels right. It has driven me deep into thought. The thoughts have begun to drive me into areas of prayer not before encountered. I want this discontent to stop. I want this discontent to last.
* * * * *
There’s a sense of peace to my life and yet, paradoxically, anger as well, a sense of building and creating and yet a feeling of things unraveling, things that cannot be seen, only known. There’s nothing for it, perhaps, but to sit and wait on God.
* * ** *

The net takeaway: when you focus your heart on God, you can sense that the Spirit is always moving… bringing holiness to discontent… anger to peace. But never sitting still.

Friday, December 7, 2007

september: ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I'm going through

Every business school teaches Change Management. In psychology, there’s the Paradoxical Theory of Change. And there’s over 3 million google hits associated with Emotional Change. As people, change is around – and within – all of us.

Fear. Anticipation. Shock. Acceptance. Dread. In September, the ninth chapter of Today at the Mission, we see how our reactions to change can be impacted by having a relationship with Christ.

There’s a swirling vortex of forces at work in all of this.
At the Mission, [rhymes with kerouac] is exposed to dramatic change on a daily basis. Job loss. Death. Loss of Funding. Moving. Job creation. New friends. Not to mention changes in one’s perspective… and views towards life.

And even in the most dire situations, [rwk] can express hope. I can hardly wait… I like not knowing what’s next… Lord, you’re just going to have to provide today… You see day in and day out that there is a peace that comes when you’re with Christ.

* * * *

Last month, a company that employs a lot of people in our area announced that they were cutting 1,500 jobs and this week I began to get emails from some friends who were advised to pack up and go home. And reading this chapter, it made me think… what must it be like to deal with a job loss when you don’t have a relationship with Christ? How does one deal with dramatic change when Jesus isn’t there by your side?

Two years ago when I came home and told my wife I no longer had a job (why does that always happen in December?) I remember that we were both overwhelmed by an amazing sense of peace… we could practically feel it like a wave coming in through the window. It was Jesus, reminding us that God takes care of the birds in the air, who do not reap and sow, and He would most certainly find a way to feed us, too.

Compare that to this month’s story of the homeless man who complained about everything… and a year later, when he is now driving around with a paid job, [rwk] runs into him only to find out he is miserable. For without God, even good change is unsatisfying.

Somewhere along the line we have to consider the reality that without a transformation – without Christ having a sway in a person’s heart – some of our clients may overcome homelessness, but will always be homeless people.

In business school they teach about change management – like you need to get out in front, stay in control and constantly steer the ship. [rwk] reminds is that sometimes it’s better simply to sit back and anticipate the changes that are to come – the changes we can’t control.

And though I sense we may not be ready for that hidden, secret thing God wants us to do… I can hardly wait.

Now that’s strange fascination… or not?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

new rules at cross the road

The church is under attack. And the attacker is us.

Have you been reading the faith-based blogs recently? Seems like everyone has something bad to say about the Mega Emergelical Cathlican Post-Baptheran church we all go to.

Not that any readers of this blog fit that profile… but you know who I am talking about.

And it makes you wonder… is any of this helping to spread the Word? How do these my-way-is-better-you-hypocrite pot shots help share God’s love? It’s no wonder so many of my friends go running the other way when you mention the word ‘church’.

Now open discussion is important. We must also hold each other accountable. But there’s gotta be a more constructive way. So as of today, there are some new rules over here at cross the road.

1. I’ll focus on the big-C church.
Instead of writing about what you-as-a-church need to do better, there’s plenty that we-as-a-Church can be doing. When I recognize that I am part of the problem, then it’s easier to see how I can be part of the solution.

2. If I have a problem with someone, I’ll let them know.
If I have an issue with what someone said or did, I won’t gossip behind their virtual backs. (But I will fill you in on what you said to them directly, so you still get all the dirt!) And none of that “they are public figures so it’s ok to trash them” stuff.

3. I’ll recognize the value of a kidney.
In my church, it’s clear that some people are good prayers, others are good with kids, some are excellent teachers, great encouragers, tremendous servants, etc. And we always say “we are all important parts of the body” and we value each individual gift. Why then do we expect each local church or denomination to be a full body in themselves? Perhaps we can value the individual gifts each small-c church brings to the big-c party.

4. I’ll make it personal.
Like most bloggers, I have plenty of opinions and love to express them. But unless I can make something personal in some way, it’s probably not worth writing about. What can I learn from this… what can I do differently… how has this changed my thinking... affect me personally. I may know for a fact that you butter your toast incorrectly, but is it necessary for me to express that viewpoint? Probably not.

5. I’ll follow the 80/20 rule.
There are plenty of faults with us Christians… and we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. But if I find that I must point out something negative about another believer or group of believers, then I’ll have to take the time to highlight four other things that followers of Christ are doing to bring His glory to life. And believe me, there’s plenty to write about!

These don’t have to be your rules… but I’m going to give it a shot. And please, let me know if I ever fall back into old habits. Let’s go people… we have a job to do!

Monday, December 3, 2007

august: who's at your mission?

There’s a man staying at the Mission who always wears a shirt and tie beneath a Harris tweed jacket – no matter what the weather. He’s pleasant, chatty and harmless though he does have trouble distinguishing between what is real and what isn’t.

In the month of August in Today at the Mission, we have our second encounter with the gentleman who comes to be known as The Man With the Million Dollar Tie. Later on, [rhymes with kerouac] notes, they would connect in a powerful way, to the point where the author writes “I cannot guess how meager my life would have been for not knowing this one client.” But it starts, like most relationships do, with one person making an investment in another.

This encounter stuck with me because there’s a Man With the Million Dollar Tie in my life, too. I visit with him a few times a month at a nursing home in our neighborhood, and like the individual in this book, my gentleman friend wears a suit and tie every day and, at 85 and suffering from dementia, also has trouble keeping up with reality.

In the nursing home, everybody is suffering from something. Trouble walking. Trouble eating. Trouble remembering. Trouble passing the time. But something I’ve learned over the past few months is that while everyone here gets dealt the same deck of cards every morning – some people fold while others go all in. My friend goes all in every day – using every waking moment to be thankful, appreciative, encouraging and loving. The rooms are huge, the food is great, the activities always entertaining and the people are wonderful. Just ask him.

While [rwk] focuses on the plight of the poor – I am reminded today that there are many ways this manifests itself in our world… poor in money, poor in spirit, those who mourn and those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. While this may be a "big duh"... just as I blogged last month that I have no idea about the plight of the homeless, I often have no idea of the plight of the person sitting across from me, either.

Fact is, we all have a job to do Today at the Mission. But it doesn’t have to be a homeless shelter. Our Mission can take the form of a nursing home, or our job, or our school, or our neighborhood… or even the family table. No matter where we are, we can share the journey God has taken us on, and the power of Christ that continues to change lives. It just starts with one person making an investment in another.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

july: a smack in the face

We need to battle for the freedom of their souls. I’m not talking about preaching the gospel or leading worship services or building faith into a community, as important as those things are, I’m talking about going to war, about fighting tooth and bloody claw for someone, taking the evil one on and, by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, sending him reeling back to the foul smelling pit of filth he originated from.

It’s time, men and women of God.
It’s time we started having church.

I was confirmed into the Army of Christ when I was in seventh grade. Had a sponsor (my mom) and a confirmation name (Peter). Walked down the center aisle at St. Joseph’s church. The bishop must have been there, but I don’t remember much else.

I do remember that being confirmed meant I was done. Done with CCD classes. Pretty much done with church. I had fulfilled the requirements. Someone may have said I was a soldier in Heaven’s Armies, but honestly, I didn’t even know there was a war going on at the time.

Am I any different today?

As we move into the second half of Today at the Mission, I had one of those smack-in-the-face moments as July came to a close. It’s time, men and women of God…

Turning a page with [rhymes with kerouac] you come face to face with the truths you have buried… realities of our world that at some point I conveniently locked away in some remote part of the brain.

And just as I am finally coming to grips in this book with what John Edwards might call “the two Americas”… [rwk] puts this all into an ever bigger context… there is a spiritual dimension to everything we say or do.

I don’t remember the first time I physically felt this battle, probably some time in the past year. But like the images of the war in Iraq I see on TV, I soon compartmentalize these spiritual manifests… returning to the happy, easy life on this earth. I sit on the sidelines while Jesus stands at the front lines.

And that what is scaring me most, as I write these words. That as my time with this emotionally challenging book comes closer to an end, that I will find myself moving on to the latest Crichton novel… or maybe I’ll just chill out with some back issues of Entertainment Weekly to dull my mind.

In her September review of this book, wilsonian wrote “reading this book will change how you look at the marginalized, and it will change how you look at yourself.”

So I sit here today worried… what if nothing really changes? What if I don’t really change?
It’s time, men and women of God.

Friday, November 30, 2007

june: this is cheese

Despite fewer posts during the month of June, there is no shortage of impact in this month’s reading of Today at the Mission.
You have no idea how precious these items are.
There’s a scene in the movie Borat where the visitor from Kazakhstan is interviewing the manager of a grocery store. And as he points to an item on the shelf he asks “what is this” and the manager replies “that is cheese.” As he moves down the aisle, pointing to product after product, he asks the same question over and over again, and the answer is always the same: “that is cheese”. You wonder how long the straight-faced Borat can continue in this line of questioning. “But this says Crackers, this is not cheese,” he claims, to which the store manager replies, “no, Crackers is the brand, that is cheese.”

This is the world I know.

In the world of [rhymes with kerouac], every day grocery items like juice, salad, fruit and vegetables are as revered as gold. And truth be told, even after reading this chapter three times, I still have no idea how precious those items are.

And its not that [rkw]’s words lack power – they are most poignant. I’ve seen the plight of the hungry and the homeless on television. Heck, I’ve even volunteered at our local soup kitchen on a few occasions, too. I still have no idea.

Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

While the Gospels often include different stories of Jesus, or recount his actions using different words, the Books of Matthew, Mark and Luke provide nearly identical accounts of Jesus’ encounter with the man who had great wealth… “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And while it’s likely that I am not wealthy by American standards, by worldly standards I am a gazillionaire. Even when I lost my job two years ago, my wife and I never worried about putting food on the table. I just have no idea.

In the past, when I’ve read this passage in the Bible, I thought about what it means to surrender to God… the importance of tithing… not serving two masters… and to be honest, I believe my heart is in the right place most of the time. But today, this passage is talking to me about something else. Being like Jesus means being able to see the world like Jesus does.
It took a considerable amount of time before the clients began to emerge in my mind as individuals. God was asking me to see what he was seeing, and with it, I couldn’t help but begin to feel some of the things he was feeling, too.
And this is where that whole love thing gets tricky. I may be kidding myself, but I think I could give up all of my worldly possessions in a moment. But I have a wife and three children that I love very much. And if my kids want to go to college, I want to help them. And if my wife is hungry, I want to feed her. And if they are cold, I want to put a roof over their heads. And if my daughter wants a pair of Ugg boots, well let's throw those in, too.

Maybe I am just being normal. Or maybe I just have no idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

may: the truth about my church

When are you going to show up, Lord?
Some days, I sit in one place simply waiting for the Lord to show up. Other days I am on a journey. My walk, as they say. Making choices between the narrow gate that leads to life and the wide gate that leads to destruction. And when I get lost (and actually notice that I’m lost) I simply say “show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths.”

In the month of May, we learn in Today at the Mission that Jesus appears in many places… and we need to be vigilant if we are to realize when and where he steps into our lives.
We’ve focused our entire spiritual lives on the assumption that the bricks and mortar of our church building is the place of sanctification, the place of redemption, the seat of Christ’s transforming power when in fact the cross is found outside the City of God.
For most of my adult life, I belonged to the Church of the Holy Convenience. Show up for Easter. Christmas. Your child’s Baptism. Maybe a few Sunday’s thrown in between. Then something funny happened. One Sunday during Mass I heard the voice of God. In church of all places!

I went back for three weeks in a row… and there was silence. Deafening silence. Yo God, where did you go, dude?

And then I did something I had never done before. One Sunday, I stepped into another church. And there He was.

Hey Mikey, I think he likes it. How about some more?

In the movie The Matrix, there’s a scene where Tank is taking Neo through his first training programs – where he becomes turbo-infused with knowledge. And he can’t get enough. And for the first year at my new church, I felt the same way. Sunday service. Wednesday night service. Bible study. Bring it on!

And study was followed with ministry teams. Volunteering at Sunday services. Which was followed by community service. Small groups. Then leadership teams.

And then one day you wake up and you feel something different… like the four walls of this church are holding me back. That putting so many resources and dollars into an hour on Sunday was missing the point. That the cross is outside… beyond the gates of the church… “in the wild and desolate place” we call our community… the place [rwk] refers to as “the place of anguish, of humiliation and shame.”
What matters most to God is the person sitting across the table from me right now.
So I stop going to my weekly men’s group and start volunteering at the local senior center. When my time on the church management team came to and end, I was excited… because it freed up time for me to volunteer at the community access station of our local cable channel.

To be honest… there were a few weeks recently when I was down on my church… on its leadership… and what it was (and wasn’t) doing. But I was wrong.

The truth is… I don’t belong to a missional church in that we don’t participate in many community service projects and we don’t give church money to the poor. But I do belong to a church that produces people who are becoming more missional in their own lives. Like Scott, Chris, Kevin, Stacee, Chris, Ginny, Erin and many, many more. Last week, for example, I emailed Scott if he could help me on a project that involved getting out among the public, and his reply said it all: "Since this feels like a stretch for me -- I'm in."

So whenever I sit in church now and ask, “When are you going to show up, Lord?” I am comforted by a simple fact that was recorded by a cook in a homeless shelter:
The amazing thing is – sooner or later – He always does.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

thankful for

... forgiveness
... people who notice when I'm not 100%
... opportunities to serve
... people who challenge me
... second (and third) chances
... the joys (and challenges) of fatherhood
... the promise of salvation
... growing old with someone I love
... blank sheets of paper
... people to laugh with
... the Holy Spirit
... the sheer magnitude of His creation
... and many more things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

april: yeah for sunshine

Day in and day out… dealing with some of God’s most neediest people… it was nice to see in April, that there are days when the sun still shines at Today at the Mission.
April brought warm sunny weather, fresh spring air, and the promise of summer. After the emotional intensity of the previous month I found myself relaxing and enjoying the Mission again.
To be honest, after reading the first 46 pages, I wondered whether I could get through this book… imagine what it was like for the homeless men and women who crowded in during the Cold Weather Refuge Program – and for the people who offered themselves up as the hands and feet of Christ.

On the first day, He created hope.

We are such fragile beings. And God knew that long before Adam first stepped foot into the garden. We can be weak… desperate… and so quick to cling to darkness.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
The first day, and already God was sending us a message of hope… one that has lasted through the ages. There is always a tomorrow. A fresh start. The dawn of a new day.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if it was always light? No beginning, no ends. No rhythm to our lives. Every day, we are given a reminder that God longs to pull us out of the dark. Away from our desperation and weakness. On the first day, He created hope.

A time to be born and a time to die.

But we humans… we are slow on the uptake. So the Lord says let there be a season for every activity under heaven. Winter, spring, summer, fall.

When Jesus says we must be born again… is that really such a difficult concept? Through the cycles of the seasons, God puts on a lesson in renewal and redemption year after year. Life. Decay. Death. Rebirth. Even in the Mission, we see the Word spreading “like a chain reaction” bringing joy to the faces of client and coworker alike.

There is always next year.

Sports. School. Work. Life. So much of our existence revolves around the calendar year… which gives us an opportunity to start all over again every January.

We humans must be really slow on the uptake.
Did you ever think of all that it takes to create days, seasons, years. The earth rotates at a speed of 1,600 km per hour. The earth’s axis tilts at precisely 23 ½ degrees. The earth then orbits the sun at a speed of just under 30 km per second. If any of the math changed even slightly… the days, weeks, months, seasons, years as we know it would not exist.

God's gift: a trilogy of hope.

Hope. Renewal. Redemption. The concepts are so important in our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit… he gave us so many in-your-face reminders that He is there… waiting for us… ready to lift us and love us. The dawn of a new morning… a new season… a new year.

We see these forces in action at the Mission throughout the month of April, which [rhymes with kerouac] ends as he began, “Oh yeah, today was a very good day.” Praise the Lord.

Friday, November 16, 2007

march: the power of doubt

wilsonian warned me about “slow reading” the book Today at the Mission. And it’s true. Usually I whiz through books the same way I whiz through life. But try reading a post about the Green Eyed Girl, who watches as the family shelter – the only place she calls home – is dismantled in front of her eyes due to budget cuts. Read that post. Reflect on it. Think about how “she eyes me warily, they way you or I might eye an airline passenger with a gun.” Read it again. And cry.

Makes me wonder… what if I tried “slow reading” life as well?

Anyway… in the month of march, [rhymes with kerouac] continues to write about what it means to be the hands and feet in Christ in a wounded world… and the thought that I keep coming back to is summed up in a single phrase:

The way forward, in fact, is always through doubt.
A few month’s ago, there was a great deal of news about Mother Theresa and her doubts. Decades of frustration, seeking the God who would not come. But she never stopped comforting others or inspiring devotion to Jesus.
Do we make a difference in anyone’s life? Do we matter?
Perhaps Mother Theresa asked the same questions as [rwk]. At times, felt the same emptiness. A world of unanswered questions. But the point is – they both demonstrated faith not in spite of these doubts – but because of it.

Maybe, if we don’t have doubts – we are not trying hard enough.

There so much about God I don’t understand, but rarely does the size and magnitude of God leave me with doubts. After all… being a good person and reading your Bible and giving up a few hours for people I don’t know is not exactly that tough. I don’t sit there and say “Gee, I have some doubt on whether raking that old lady's house is a good idea.” And the answer, I believe, is not that I am a man of great faith… but I am simply not pushing my faith to the limit often enough.

Not to say I’ve never had doubt. About three years ago I left a business I had started and grown because I wanted to salvage a relationship with my business partner. God was very much involved in that decision. But there were times when I felt I was doing all the right things and still ending up with all the wrong results. I had doubts, but persisted through them. I trusted in the Lord. And perhaps, it is the one time in my life I have truly gone forward through doubt.

But must days are not like that. Most days are easy. And most days, I imagine, I am not moving forward.

So my prayer for today is a bit risky – but I ask God, please put me in a situation where I must doubt again.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

february: mixin’ it up

This is a ministry of love to people who can’t always love you back.
In the second chapter of Today at the Mission, [rwk] describes an environment that is so distant from my world.

While there are clearly stories of hope, optimism and redemption at the Mission – they occur within a larger context of fear, threats and danger. Ministering to the homeless means more than lending a hand to the poor – it means opening yourself up to abusive language, insults, victimization, theft, vandalism and untold hurts.

Is that what God asks of us?

I envelope myself in safety. The people I encounter on a daily basis are people I’ve met through college, work, neighborhood, church and kid’s sports. We are homogeneous in ways that go beyond demographics (white, educated, money) – everyone is simply nice. Pleasant. Easy-to-get along with. Because if they weren’t (nice that is) I would simply avoid them… leave them to someone else.

Does God expect me to have lunch with an annoying person?

Even when I think about my so-called missional life, it too is based on an expectation of safety. I’m attracted to church groups where I like everyone on the team. I visit two elderly gentlemen every other week and treasure their company. I hang out and play games with some fun-loving, special needs kids once a month and have a blast. Serve you? I have to like you first!

When God says love your enemies, he means pray from a distance, right?

I guess the one place my “safety plan” doesn’t always work is with family. Don’t like ‘em all as people, but am forced to spend time with ‘em once in a while. But let’s be honest. While my judgmental inner voice likes to highlight behavior that can be selfish, money-oriented, me-driven or sometimes just nasty – I can get through an hour of “how about them Yankees” unscathed with just about all of my cousins.

God expects more from me.

In the TV Show MASH, Major Frank Burns once remarked “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” And those are certainly words I can live by.

In one moment, however, [rwk] comes to a revelation that struck my very soul. He writes:
The really difficult thing to grasp, however, is that the sins committed against me were also covered by the blood of Christ. They wrongs they have committed against my soul are also the things for which He died. They too were paid for.
Perhaps it’s time I started looking for trouble.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

january: proactive otherness

The mission cat, Impossible, was the recipient of a gift tonight.
In reading the first chapter of Today at the Mission, one quickly gets a feel for the plight of the homeless. But what’s sticking with me most is the way the author [rhymes with kerouac] relates with his surroundings.

The best way I can describe it is a “proactive otherness”. [rwk] seems to go out of his way to see the world through the eyes, feelings and perspective of his clients – and connect that perspective to his own journey with God.

Now for me, I often see God in what I’ll call “positive experiences” – the kid who rakes the yard of his elderly neighbor, the comforting smile of a stranger or situations like the one [rwk] writes about in his opening entry, where a homeless man sat still for three hours so as not to disturb a sleeping cat. In situations like this, I can see God with little effort on my part.

But try seeing the Glory of God through the man who attacks your faith, an intensely needy guy who never leaves you alone, neighbors who do nothing but complain, people who don’t care about your needs or schedules, and some who simply want to hurt you. No, seeing God in these circumstances requires work – a sort of proactive otherness – but it’s something I think we all could do if we only tried.

For example: Kelli Standish blogs about a recent dinner at IHOP – recounting all of the ways the absolutely horrible service by a waitress nearly ruined her night out. And as she and her husband discussed not leaving a tip – they began to think about the waitress. What was going on in her life that left her do distracted that night? What events had sucked the joy out of her heart? “There’s so much in this life we don’t see,” Kelli writes, “So much that goes on behind the scenes.”

[rwk] takes a moment to think about the life we don’t see – and while we can’t always know or understand – it seems that the mere effort opens a new window to Christ.

today at the mission

Through the kindness of wilsonian, I received a copy of Today at the Mission.

The book is day-by-day journal -- a one-year record of an emotional and spiritual journey undertaken in the kitchen of an anonymous homeless shelter that could be anywhere, or everywhere.

The author, who refers to himself only as [rhymes with kerouac] writes, “when I first began working here I thought I was going to bring God to the Mission. What I discovered was that God was already present, and very much at work, in ways I never imagined.”

While normally I speed through books, I think I am going to take this one a little more slowly – letting the words “speak to the heart of who we are, and who God is, and the yearning that lies between." So far I have finished January… some thoughts to follow.

Monday, November 5, 2007

heart

God deserves our total devotion. Our lifelong quest is to take our everyday lives and place them before Him as an offering. As we give ourselves entirely to God, He leads us by His Spirit, who inspires us to love and serve Him with our absolute best.

One of the values of Crossroads Community Church

Saturday, November 3, 2007

decision '08 - same ol', same ol'

My prayer for today is from 1 Kings 3:9.

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

remembering nora moulton

My grandmother died last October at the age of 96. She was an amazing woman and a wonderful person. At the age of 89 she kept herself busy by "feeding the old people" at the local mission. In her last year, as she was losing her memory, the most important thing on her mind whenever we were at a family gathering was "who is driving me home", a question she would repeat every five minutes. Have been thinking about her today, and thought I would post the eulogy that was given at her funeral mass last year.

Who is driving Nonie home?

Yes, we’ve had a lot of laughs at Nonie’s expense over the years. And that’s probably because we realized early on in life that Nonie was not like the rest of us. I remember playing a game with my cousins when we were kids… one of us would pretend to be Nonie and the other would try to come up with something so terrible to make Nonie mad.

“Heh Nonie, I just robbed a bank”
“That’s okay dear, did you get home in time for dinner?”

And of course, the game would escalate from there, but whoever was playing Nonie would always have to stay cool, calm and collected – no matter how horrible the crime. And it’s not only that Nonie never seemed to get upset… you got the sense that she never took it upon herself to judge someone else’s life.

It wasn’t until many years later that we truly came to appreciate the life our grandmother chose to live. I remember one day in church, and my friend Lou asked me why I was smiling. And I said Lou – every time you turn the page of the Bible, there’s another story about my grandmother.

And it’s true. Whether she was being our babysitter, acting in a play, telling an old Irish riddle, feeding the old people or taking a shot at the pot with a jack and a deuce, our grandmother did it with love, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness, humility, joy and self-control.

Now I don’t know a lot about heaven, but I do know two things. It’s a really cool place and Nonie is there. But I do have a picture in my mind of Nonie showing up at the Pearly Gates. And St Peter brings her over to the Book of Life, where Nonie sees that a seat has been reserved for her at the table, buttered roll and all. And Peter says, “I’ve got great news for you Nora Jack. You finished at the top of your class.”

“And what does that mean?” Nonie asks. And St. Peter says, “It means you can choose any job in heaven that you want, Nonie. You can be the one who turns on the stars at night. Or if you like, you can paint the daisies in the field.”

And Nonie replies, “If it’s alright with you Pete, I would be content to scrub the floors. And take out the trash. And polish the railings from time to time.”

And just then, there is a glorious sound as God himself comes down to the Pearly Gates. And he comes up and takes our grandmother in his arms and says “Welcome, my good and faithful servant.”

Then the Lord looks Nonie in the eyes and says, “There’s a lot of people you know who’ve been waiting to see you. How about I drive you home tonight”.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

rule #1: you do not talk about fight club

Tyler Durden: How's that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.
Narrator: Great.
Tyler Durden: Keep it up then.

I started getting serious about my walk with Christ about six years ago. And if I were truly honest with myself, I would have to admit that my heart has grown over this time. I certainly DO more – whether it be spending time with local seniors, handicapped children, church ministries or giving money to church and charities. But I am not really sure that I FEEL more. And I know with certainty that I am often not willing to SHARE many of the feelings I do have.

Some may be surprised by this. I certainly have emotions – I feel for people in need, I can get angry and frustrated quite easily, and the ending of many a movie will bring tears to my eyes. But few of these feelings are long lasting – just as quickly as I can wipe a tear from my eye, I am on to the next thing, rarely looking back.

More often, I present a fa├žade – using cleverness, intellect, analysis and organizational skills to create a wall around my heart. In fact, I started this blog to HONE those skills – to see if I could focus my brain on matters that were meaningful to Christ.

This is certainly how I am wired. Back in August, TK sent me a link to a personality test, and my profile included terms like strategic, intellectual and logical. Good stuff, right!

But over the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing voices pulling me in another direction. At church this month, we’re being encouraged to go a bit deeper. As it says in Proverbs: The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.

And last week, Kansas Bob left the following comment: Most of us long to hear those transparent and vulnerable heart stories... but sadly we only get to read the brainy ones.

But the truth is, brainy is safe. While the heart can be dark… and disturbing… an unsettling. More on this topic next week (maybe)… but for now, one more quote from one of my favorite movies.

Tyler Durden: It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything

Monday, October 22, 2007

how i got my son into college

In my small group at church, most of us have kids in high schools—so I wasn’t surprised when the topic turned to the process of college selection. And to be honest, I just don’t get it.

Trips to schools. Help with applications. Rewriting essays. Keeping track of due dates. Schedules. Charts. Research. And this is what parents were describing as their rolls.

Here’s a recap of how my parents were involved in my college process:
- we’ll give you $2,500 to help pay for tuition, room and board
- oh, and dad will drive you to Penn Station so you can catch a train

And you know what… that was perfectly fine by me. I think I picked a pretty good school (Wahoo-wa!)… I typed my own essay… I remembered to apply on time… I worked throughout college… and I eventually paid off my student loans. (OK, my wife helped.)

So I wonder… why do we treat our 17-year old sons and daughters like little kids these days?

College applications are not that hard. My grandmother left her family when she was 16, got on a boat for three weeks and landed in a country where she knew no one. That was hard. But she took ownership. She did it.

So when will our kids grow up? When we stop doing everything for them.

The same could be said of church.

Over the past six months, the leaders at my community of faith have been less concerned with “feeding the masses” and more focused on teaching people how to feed themselves spiritually. And that’s a good thing.

The leaders at Willow Creek recently came to the same conclusion after research showed that increasing participation in church-run activities wasn’t increasing spiritual growth. At some point, people need to own their faith.

But not all churches are convinced. My friend Bob’s son is getting ready for confirmation, and one of his son’s tasks is to get the church bulletin signed and dated by the reverend every week. Bob wants to know… why is it that no one trusts him to attend church on his own? They say he’s ready to be a soldier for Christ, but they don’t believe he can answer a question honestly unless he has written proof.

When will we grow up?

Friday, October 19, 2007

nothing

When a once-active blog suddenly goes dark, it makes you wonder.

Sometimes it’s frustrating. You’re humming along through this really cool novel, getting your daily fix, and you wake up one day and find that the story is over – with no warning whatsoever.

Sometimes it’s worrisome. Is he OK? Maybe she’s sick. Is he having a meltdown? Why don’t they tell me what’s going on! It’s true – I don’t really know this person, but they shared something that touched me – and the connection was real (at least to me.)

And you wonder… how long should I keep this link up on my blog… after all, I don’t want to send my friends to an inactive site … how long should I click through, holding out hope that the words that once inspired and motivated me will return?

Certainly, the two-week hiatus since ita, missa est has been the longest gap between posts since I started this blog-journey last May. It’s not like I’ve been too busy or disinterested. I’ve simply had nothing to say.

There was nothing new this morning. No insights. No inspiration. But as they say, sometimes writers just need to write.

And as the word “nothing” came up on my screen, letter by letter, it suddenly occurred to me that this two-weeks-of-nothing-to-say coincided with two-weeks-of-not-reading-His-word. Not a coincidence, you say? Well inspiration is sitting on my desk, just six feet away… so gotta run…

PS – what’s up at bit of smoke?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

ite, missa est

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
As a youngster in the Bronx, I was involved in Sunday services at St. Nicholas of Tolentine as both an alter boy and a soprano in the boys choir. When I wasn’t serving and actually had to “attend” mass, I guess the routines and repetition of the liturgy didn’t mesh well with my childhood sense of what God was all about. In those years, my brothers and I would often go up for communion, and then instead of returning to our seats… we would continue down the aisle right out the door.

Looking back, I think we missed the most important line that the priest would recite every week: Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

Fast forward 30 years. In recent months, I’ve tried to spend more time with God – and will even stop into church to pray during the week. And before I leave, I can hear a voice saying “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord." The very words that I glazed over for so many years are suddenly taking on a new meaning.

GO. Yes, it starts with an action word. Kind of reminds me that when we leave the church, that’s when the work needs to begin. Go. It involves movement. Go. Do something. Go. I’ve got a mission for you.

IN PEACE. Has Jesus given us any greater gift for our time on earth? Sometimes I struggle to explain to others what Christ means to me. But the gift he provides is so simple. Peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” It’s not surprising that I’ve felt Christ’s presence most in my “darkest hours.” Lost my job (peace). Relationship strained (peace). Child sick (peace). Oh, what a gift!

TO LOVE THE LORD. It’s our first mission – and one we should cherish. V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. OK, right now I would need to add "when I remember" to the end of this, but I'm working on it!

TO SERVE THE LORD. Yes it’s more than a feeling (Go!) there’s action required. I know that a lot of times, I sit and wait… asking God to fill in the blanks… how can I serve?... what is my purpose, Oh Lord?... speak to me… answer me… and while I’m sitting there, the world and all of its needs go by. I need to constantly remind myself that when JC came onto the scene, God had big plans for him. But he didn’t wait – the first thing he did was grab a few friends and help individuals in need. Go.

Interestingly, when the Catholic Mass was said in Latin, the final words the priest said were “ite, missa est” – which roughly translates into “you are now dismissed.” And while the English translation used today says a bit more – I used to treat it like “ite, missa est” as in “good, it’s over… I’m done with church for another week.”

But I think we can all agree that it’s really just the beginning. Go. I have a mission for you this week. Go.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

today

embarrased
i sit under his tent, afraid to raise my head.

disappointed
after all the help he provided, i failed again.

afraid
when do i reach the point where i will no longer be welcomed?

comforted
that point may be out there, but it is not today.

determined
to get past this… to demonstrate my love.

starting
a new day. and the sun is already shining.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

my most precious resource


The headline on msnbc.com today did not come as a surprise. “Study: drivers lose five days a year to traffic jams”.

Time is such a precious resource. Or so it seems. Recently, I have taken to driving the back roads to work. Not because it saves you any time, but the idea of going 10 miles an hour on a winding road somehow is more pleasing that going 5 miles an hour on the parking lot known as the Merritt Parkway.

Overall, the study reports, drivers languish 4.2 billion hours in traffic delays every year. And that’s not commuting time, mind you, that’s sitting-in-traffic-looking-at-bumpers time.

What are we not doing because of traffic? Hmmm. Recently my friend Kevin finished his MBA program, and was trying to figure out what he would do with an extra 15 hours a week. A month later, he wasn’t figuring anymore. Not that he could point to anything different he was doing, but that extra 15 hours somehow got sucked up. I guess time is simply the lone sock in the laundry of our life – it disappears, it shows up, and we get through the day either way.

I used to think of time as a resource. I’m sure that if you opened a Bible there would be pages and pages on time management… but after doing some digging, I’m thinking now that maybe time isn’t this “precious resource” after all… perhaps it’s just an excuse. As in “I would do this if I only had the time…” and “sorry, can’t find the time.”

So am I really losing five days a year to traffic jams? I guess not. For if there was something I really wanted to do, I am sure I could find the time.

The word “time” does appear in the Bible (NIV) over 900 times… but most of those mentions are references of measurement (the second time) or transitional (at that time). In fact, throughout the whole Bible, the idea that time as a resource is only mentioned three times.

When God’s people were driven out of Egypt, they ate unleavened bread. Why? They didn’t have the time. No time… no problem.

And in Ecclesiastes we are reminded… “there is a time for everything.”

Paul does write about “making the most of your time” in Ephesians 5:15. And I guess that’s pretty good advice. But do you know what I really think? God doesn’t care much about time either way. Heh, he’s got all of eternity. Jesus never seems rushed... and he knew he was on a deadline, too. Maybe its because he also knew that everything will happen at the appointed time. (Or, maybe because he didn't have to drive the Merritt). Hmmm.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Like a Dove

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1: 9-10)







This past Sunday, my wife and I stood over our youngest child and proclaimed, 'We baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spitit.' Yes, this was a good day. Thank you Kris and Tracie for the photos! Praise the Lord!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

tired of being tired

I never thought I would be so tired at 22.
- Jules

When Demi Moore’s character bottoms out in St. Elmo’s Fire, she talks about being tired. Tired beyond reason. I’ve been tired for the past few weeks (it happens sometimes) and what I’ve come to realize is that there is a strong correlation between the times I am tired, and the times I feel more distant from God. So it made me wonder:

1. Do I get tired… and then spend less time with God because I am struggling just to get through the day-to-day? Or…
2. Do I drift away from God… and that distance then causes me to feel tired?

In my head, I act like the first answer is true. I may wake up a few minutes late, then decide to skip bible reading… or prayer time… or both… just so I don’t fall too far behind on my day.

But my heart tells me that the second is probably more accurate. I make some decisions on priorities… or take some liberties with my relationship with God… and suddenly life starts becoming more of a chore… a series of connected events with no rest or peace.

Perhaps there is a bit of truth in both… which explains why I sometimes find myself in a downward spiral… tired… then distant… then more tired… then more distant.

And then it happens. You wake up and say today’s the day we are going to start over. I felt that way late this morning, and this evening on the way home from work I stopped off at church to say hello (sounds silly, but for me the effort counted for something). And tonight, I feel a bit better. And tomorrow will be better still.

So I log off early, called to lie down in green pastures, beside quiet waters, where He will restore my soul. For my Lord has said: My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One word. No explanations.

1. Yourself: trying
2. Your spouse: home
3. Your hair: short
4. Your mother: solid
5. Your father: heaven
6. Your favorite item: pen
7. Your dream last night: weird
8. Your favorite drink: water
9. Your dream car: mine
10. The room you are in: office
11. Your ex: friends
12. Your fear: underperforming
13. What you want to be in 10 years: better
14. Who you hung out with last night: family
15. What you're not: worried
16. Muffins: tops
17: One of your wish list items: Paris
18: Time: fleeting
19. The last thing you did: solved
20. What you are wearing: shorts
21. Your favorite weather: rainless
22. Your favorite book: hmmm
23. The last thing you ate: taco
24. Your life: starting
25. Your mood: satisfied
26. Your best friend: there
27. What you're thinking about right now: everything
28. Your car: convertible
29. What you are doing at the moment: pondering
30. Your summer: over
31. Your relationship status: happy
32. What is on your TV: everything
33. What is the weather like: sunny
34. When was the last time you laughed: today

Thank you to Erin for encouraging me to play... now it's your turn!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Still intuitive, now more introverted

Click to view my Personality Profile page

A few weeks ago, TK asked if I had any personality. I don't think he was trying to insult me, because he included a link to this myers-briggs type test.

I took a similar test while working at Citibank (some 15-20 years ago) and the results then were different, but the same. (ENTP then, now INTJ).

Turns out that an individual is primarily classified by two letters. Mine were (and still are) NT -- an intuitive thinker. So perhaps your "core" remains constant over time. But the fringes (an EP now an IJ) can change over time. I definitely think I've become more introverted over the years... I hold my cards closer to my chest and take fewer chances when it comes to relationships. And I've definitely come to appreciate order (J) and I'm less spontaneous (S).

But most of all... Intuitive people focus on the future and the possibilities. Thinkers are ruled by their head instead of their heart. And that pretty well describes me. These results are echoed in the "Multiple Intelligence" test. The only new learnings: with "musical intelligence" ranking at the bottom, maybe its time to stop singing in the shower.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Acting Childish

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. MK 10:15
Receive the kingdom of God like a little child. Now what does that mean? How would a child receive the kingdom of God?

For the past few days, I’ve reflected on this verse by thinking about my own three children. While perhaps not little anymore (14, 12, 10), they were recently. So what could I learn from them about receiving the kingdom of God?

My son Brian would simply accept this gift. A gift, after all, is not something that one must work for -- that would be a job. School, for example, is his job, complete with goals, and effort and grades. And while there are things Brian will work for – there are other things that he realizes are well out of the grasp of anything he could attain for himself. Like a new video system. And he accepts these gifts, as a son should, with no apologies. A simply thank you is enough.

In a way, he “earns” his new gifts simply by appreciating the gifts he has been given in the past – not by listing out his most recent accomplishments.

Often, I look at attaining the kingdom as a job. I think “being a Christian is hard work.” But we all know the kingdom of God is well out of the grasp of anything I could achieve on my own. Perhaps I should receive the kingdom for what it is – a gift from Christ – where a simple “thank you” will suffice. Thank you Lord! (And thank you, Brian).

My middle child, Meaghan, would be relentless. To the point of annoyance. When Meaghan has her heart set on something, nothing can turn her away. You can’t distract her. You can’t bribe her. You can’t offer her a substitute.

She stays focused – and whether her goal is acing a school paper, completing a jigsaw puzzle or going to that party she was already told she was not going to – she persists. If I am the one in between Meaghan and her goal, she knows she can outlast me.

Personally, I have my heart set on the kingdom, but I am often distracted. I am easily bribed. I readily accept substitutes. If I were to receive the kingdom like a little child, I would be relentless. I would run in such as way as to get the prize. Like my daughter. (Thank you Meggie.)

My youngest, Erin, would give it away. She would treasure the kingdom—and receive it with joy--even though the price paid was far too much. But soon, she would come across someone, whether friend or stranger, and she would feel for this person. And she would give what she treasured away, like a seat on a crowded bus.

Erin is blessed with two gifts – and eye for those in need, and a heart that wants to act. This fall, she will become the first of my children to walk into the waters on her own accord to be baptized.

Often, I think in terms of the kingdom in me-centric ways. I see a need for me to serve, when I should just see people who need God’s love. I see a need to correct my sins, instead of unleashing the power of God. I think about what I need to do to receive the kingdom – when I should, like Erin, simply find someone and give it away. (Thank you Erin.)

So go. Receive the kingdom of God like a child. And if you have a second, let me know what else we can learn from a child you know.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dual Standards

There was a Christian man who after twelve years of marriage, realized he was gay. He and his wife divorced, and some time later this gay man fell in love and married his new life-mate. Years later, when he died, this man approached the Pearly Gates where he met Saint Peter. “You know you can’t come in,” Peter said with a smile.

“I know,” the man replied, “it’s because I’m gay, right?”

“Heavens no,” Peter retorted. “It’s because you divorced and remarried. Don’t you read your bible? You’re an adulterer!”
My friend TK recently linked me to a YouTube clip that featured Brian McLaren at Willow Creek, speaking on the topic of the church and homosexuality. McLaren, who according to wikipedia is a “controversial voice in the church”, noted that the approach taken by many churches today – welcoming but not affirming – does little to bring gay people to Christ.

So what does Christ say about homosexuality? I’ve discovered that many of the bible passages on this topic are from the Old Testament, plus a frequently-quoted verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Compare this verse with the direct quote from Jesus found in Mark 10:

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.

One is a direct quote from Jesus – no symbolism here, it’s meaning so clear, beyond debate. But for some reason, McLaren didn’t feel a need to talk to Christians about their need to be “welcoming, but not affirming” to divorcees. And why is that?

At my church, it’s possible that the “welcoming, but not affirming” stance means that individuals who are gay cannot serve in leadership positions. But divorced and remarried people can. And why is that? And why is it also likely that across the country we have church leaders who cheat on their taxes, pass along gossip and fantasize about women?

Early, I wrote about seeing Jesus through your own experiscope – and I am sure that impacts our acceptance of divorce – and our feelings towards gays. After all, I have good friends who are divorced, and they seem like OK people to me.

Now I don’t mean to pick on divorced people (just a convenient example) nor do I mean to promote homosexuality (see earlier post). But it seems to me that we as Christians pick and choose our battles based not on WWJD – but rather on “what I or one of my friends may someday do”.

29% Gay

Before I post my response to a question on church and homosexuality, I though it only fair to share my personal thoughts on the morality of being gay.

A few years ago at work, one of my colleagues sent around a link to an on-line quiz titled “How Gay Are You?” I don’t remember the site (there are thousands) but I do remember my score: I am 29% gay.

Of course, some of my associates scored higher than 60%, which earned them some ribbing – and one such friend retook the test a dozen times to see if he could figure out what was driving the score. (He does have good grooming habits… maybe that was it.)

In any case, the fact that everyone who took the test had “some percent” gay in them made sense to me back then – and now, as a Christian, it still makes sense. We like to think in terms of absolutes, but we are creatures of degree.

This may sound like an utter contradiction, but in my heart I believe that God intends for all sexual relationships to be between a man and a woman, but I also believe that some people are born with a natural attraction to same-sex relationships.

Think about it: God intends for us to live one way. But some are wired to live differently. Why does God design us that way? I don’t know. But you don’t have to look far to know it’s true.

Just spend a moment in the quiet of your heart. God intends for me to ______, but I am naturally inclined to _______.

I have a few answers that fill those blanks – and some score higher than 29%.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

JC through an experiscope

When the sun rose up this morning, I did not dance. When my children awoke, healthy and laughing, I did not celebrate. When my tummy was filled with bacon and eggs, I did not take a moment to thank God. After all… it was just another typical Sunday morning.

Amazing things happen around me all of the time… most of which I do not notice… or for that matter, find so amazing. And while I take for granted the glory that is God around me… I also find myself putting limits on what God is capable of doing. The word ‘impossible’ is still very much in my vocabulary.

Here’s a question for you: Which of the following is amazing… which is ordinary?

- Seeing someone travel across the surface of water

- Getting cured of cancer just by touching some guys robe

Everyone, I think, views life through the eyes of their own experiences. I view God through that same “experiscope’. Things I’ve seen the Lord do I take for granted. Things I have not seen I consider impossible.

The apostle Thomas is most know for this “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude, but all of the apostles saw Christ through an experiscope. In the Gospel of Mark, you can see this shift from “amazement” to “expected” within a few lines of text.

In one moment, Jesus walks out across the lake and they disbelieve it – they cry out – they are terrified. The next moment, they are back on shore, and anyone who touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak is healed – ho hum – been there, done that.

OK, maybe it was really cool the first time they saw Jesus heal the sick, but by Mark 6:56 that was already old news. “Oh yeah,” I can hear them saying, “I’ve seen this trick before. Still not quite sure how he does it, but nothing new here.”

Even with Christ in their midst, it was difficult for the apostles to see him objectively. Every word, every action, every miracle was processed through their own experiences and expectations. Their experiscope.

Experiscope is a better word than experiences, I believe. Because while experiences are fixed, I believe we can adjust our experiscope—the same way you can turn knobs on a telescope or periscope. See the marvel in the ordinary. Expect the impossible.

Today is a good day to turn the dial a bit. Let me see God in the blue sky, let me feel him in a cool breeze, let me sense him in the smile of a stranger. Likewise, let me see redemption in the selfish, forgiveness in the wrongdoers, life in death. Help me Lord, to see through your experiscope.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Biscotti Christian

This past weekend, my three children and I took the ferry over to visit my mom. I had made a reservation for myself and the car in advance, and once on board, I went up to pay when I was hit with a question I hadn’t expected: “how many children are with you?”

Several thoughts raced through my mind… do kids cost extra? how much? Is there a cut-off age? What should I say? “Two,” I answered with a smile.

Ouch. Three. The correct answer was three! But I said two, and I was sticking with it.

Later on deck, I had a moment to think it over… there I was, selling my integrity for a few bucks. This was not the type of person, the type of Christian I want to be. After a little hemming and hawing, I went back to the bursar’s office, slightly embarrassed, but doing the right thing.

With a hat-tip to Erin Wilson, it later occurred to me that I am a Biscotti Christian. I often have to bake things twice before I realize the right thing to do. I guess you could say that’s I a good thing that I eventually come to my senses… but it would be less frustrating (and less embarrassing) if I got it right the first time. Why can’t I be an All-Natural Christian instead?

I do have more horrible, more hurtful examples (which I prefer not to disclose today) but I take some comfort in knowing I am not alone. In the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul writes:
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I
keep on doing.

Of course, on the return trip, I was ready with my answer (three) and the extra $13.50. Twice-baked, maybe, but rarely half-baked.

Monday, July 23, 2007

DEAD, BUT FARMING

The lead headline on msnbc.com this morning grabbed my attention: Dead, but Farming.

Clicking through, you find that the US Dept of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over the past seven years to farmers who were dead. The Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time, including $567,000 to an Alabama farmer who died in 1981. Another estate received payments on behalf of a person who died in 1973—more than three decades ago—without any investigation or review.

What does this say about leadership?

Quick segway—for much of my adult life I got off track on my walk with Christ. Sure, we were members of a church. I was there on Sunday, especially on holidays (and whenever my parents or in-laws were in town). My children were all baptized. And yet, I was just going through the motions--without a lot of action. I guess you could say that I was spiritually dead, but farming.

What does that say about church leadership?

Yes, individuals need to own their own faith. But as members of a church body, perhaps church leaders should be conducting “investigations and reviews” as it were. And perhaps, having ‘dead, but farming’ members shouldn’t be tolerated.

I’ve been intentional about my walk with Christ for the past six years, and there have been ups and downs. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been held accountable by the teams and small groups I’ve been involved with. But not everyone is so connected – what happens to them when they need spiritual CPR in order to stay alive? Those who are sitting there, year after year, simply farming.
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

The community of faith I belong is trying – the leadership team goes through a page of the directory each week to see who’s “connected” and is on the lookout for people who go MIA. Some people appreciate the "how are you doing" calls and needed the lift up. But my guess is that others simply reply, "doin' fine, just farming, thanks."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

He's a nut job... or is he... ?

This morning I reflected on a verse from Mark, about the initial reaction Jesus’ family had to his ministry: “He is out of his mind.”

When told his family was waiting for Him outside, Jesus replied “Who are my mother and brothers?” Then looking at the apostles seated around him, He said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!”

I thought first of my family. What would I do if my children encountered a living Jesus here on earth? “Dad, Jesus came back to earth… and I am leaving home to move in with him and his followers?” Would I lock them in their rooms and forbid them to go? Would I have them sent to a shrink for counseling? Would I call the cops? After all, I still remember the fire and deaths in Waco, just 14 years ago. My first instinct would be to protect my children.

Jesus, too, tells us to be on alert, warning us in the Gospel of Matthew that “false Christ's and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.”

But part of me knows that encountering a living Jesus here on earth is possible… and that left me wondering: is my faith strong enough that I could tell the difference between a false prophet and the one true Lord? How did the early apostles do it? Especially as their loved ones chided them, “what are you doing… this guy is nuts!”

Interesting, then, that as I left for work this morning, the first news story on the radio was about Sergei Torop, a Russian traffic cop who came to “realize” that in his last life, he walked the earth as Jesus Christ. He now understands that God sent him back to Earth because hatred and war and environmental degradation had become rampant.

Given my morning reflection, I wanted to look into this story a bit more and found an article in today’s Washington Post. "This is the first time I have been needed in 2,000 years,” Torop tells is followers. “This is a critical point. Only when mankind becomes one family on Earth will the doors to the universe become open to them."

Today, Torop has over 5,000 followers – who have left their old houses and jobs to form a new way of life in Siberia – and their numbers continue to grow. "That was the end of my search," one of his followers testifies. "I felt my heart beating really fast, and I knew, 'This is the truth. This is Him.' He is the second incarnation of Jesus Christ."

“'This is him,” another exclaims. “This is the one, the teacher I have been waiting for all my life. Yes, I believe he is Jesus Christ. I know it, like I know I'm breathing, and that's it."

Reading this last line startled me. Because it describes how I know that Christ is Lord. I just know it… like I’m breathing… and that’s it. So I will ponder this question some more… is my faith strong enough that I could tell the difference between a false prophet and the one true Lord? Could I recognize Christ if I saw Him?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

WWJD First?

While I can find personal insights in most every book of the Bible, these connections seem to “jump out at me” when reading any of the four Gospels. Feeling a little distant from God this week, I turned to Mark.

Often I am looking for direction in my life. I take to heart the parable of the talents, and when that day comes when God asks me what I did with the resources and gifts he bestowed upon me, I want to make sure I have a good answer.

That is why I was amazed in the opening chapters of Mark. Here is Jesus starting his ministry. The all-powerful Son of God. He had the gifts and talents, if you will, to accomplish anything. World peace? No problem. Build a church? That’s a snap. Strike down a ruthless dictator? Piece of cake.

So what did Jesus do first? He gather together a few friends, and went out to help some individuals in need. Interesting. While John the Baptist was out there calling for people to change their ways, repent and prepare yourself for heaven, the first thing Jesus did was to help people get through another day in the here and now.

In Mark, Jesus invites a few friends (the first four apostles) and proceeds to help a man possessed, an older lady with a fever, a man with leprosy and then a paralyzed man. Of all things Jesus could do – what he chose to do first was to invest time with some strangers who were hurting.

Often, I find myself searching for the “big thing” to do – after all, I don’t want to waste the resources God gave to me! But here’s a radical idea. What if we put aside all the big things. What if we all just went out and started helping people whereever we saw a need. What if we started looking for needs. No organization. No planning. No budgets. Just take time every day to help someone else. I think there would be a word for a place like that: heaven.

Today I called up the home for the elderly in my community and volunteered to come by one evening a week to spend a few hours with some people who are lonely. To do that, I am going to skip my usual church meeting planned for that night. Okay, it’s not like I’m really diving in here, but the way I see it… it’s a first step. Maybe I’ll invite some friends, too.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Maybe I'm not the only one...

Last month, the NY Times ran an op-ed piece titled Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats. In speaking with Democrats across America, writer Melinda Henneberger finds that conventional wisdom missed the mark about what was wrong in the last presidential contest. “Democrats did not lose support among women because ‘security moms’ saw President Bush as the better protector against terrorism," she notes. "What first-time defectors mentioned most often was abortion.”

Well Melinda, you can add me to that count. I too am a pro-life Democrat who voted for George Bush in 2004 for a single reason: Chief Justice Roberts. And while I remain appalled that I helped elect an administration that lied in order to started an arrogant war… heightened the divide between the haves and the have nots… shows no stewardship towards this home we call earth… and continues to turn their backs on those in need—day in and day out… I turn to my party and ask: what choice did you give me?

To me, fighting for the rights of the unborn is so clearly a Democratic principal… for we are the party that fights for those who are unable to fight for themselves. We are the party of justice. We are the party that understands the role government must play in standing up for the rights of those who are not in power.

For many years, I was one of those people who felt abortion was wrong, but felt individuals should be free to make up their own mind. Then two books crossed my desk at the same time: Tom Clancy’s Bear and the Dragon and Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears a Hoo. Clancy describes a procedure in China where it was legal (and in some cases required) to terminate a pregnancy – just as the head was crowning in delivery. How barbaric! It made me sick. But it also made me question… just where can you draw the line? At what point in time does taking the life of a baby cross over from a matter of personal preference... to an act that is totally barbaric and wrong for society? How about a two-year old? What about babies that are only a week old? OK, not yet delivered? 8-1/2 months? At least give me 30 weeks! Surely that voice is too small to count.

Fact is, I now know in my heart when life starts… but I am willing to concede that no one knows. And in that case, in this absence of scientific facts, we as Democrats must err on the side of the powerless. Innocent until proven guilty. A life until proven not.

I love it when pro-choice advocates counter with “what about rape victims… and mothers who would put their life in jeopardy”. Here’s my reply: fine. If you’re willing to draw the line there, I can too. But don’t ask the question if you’re not willing to step up.

Some may say I am soft on principal, but if political compromise can save even one life, then I am all for it. I am just waiting to see Democrats running for office who have the guts to speak what they know in their hearts to be true… and for a party willing to let that voice be heard.

In the interim, I'll share with you the voice that I hear: My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (PS 139: 15-15).