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?


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.


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.