Tuesday, December 30, 2008

my 2008 blogroll

After a few months away, it's been good to be back in "blog_land". And as 2008 comes to an end, just wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone out there who puts their ideas, insights, fears and emotions on the line week after week. You encourage me. You challenge me. You inspire me.

Here's just a few of the posts I've read this year that I'll want to remember...

Biscotti Brain: Swaziland:Bhventi
So much to choose from… the whole Advent series challenged me, the $8 hot dog convicted me, but Wilsonian’s Swaziland posts opened my eyes to a whole new world.

"How are you?" I ask
"I am fine."
"I am fine."
"I am fine."
They all answer the same way...


Don’t Call Me Veronica: The Problem with Indifference
I’m a contrarian… I like to do things my own way because, well, because I know better. So this post from Tony hit home and demonstrated how even the little things can make a difference.


Eye for Redemption: Facing Down Fear
In a year where I have been trying to figure out what holds me back, Kansas Bob provides ongoing insight and encouragement.

I think that God is amazing in the way that he uses
a wounded man's courage to heal him
when he returns to the battlefield and faces down his fear.


Faith and Family: Witness to History
I’m pretty sure Matt voted for John McCain… but his recap of Kennedy endorsing Obama back in January has stayed with me.

… it struck me at one point that he was somehow
lifting the crowd from their seats and from the floor
and symbolically putting them on the stage
next to him so that they were all looking
in the same direction: towards the future.
He even got me, the skeptical gray-haired Republican,
to move up on the stage with him.


Julie Unplugged: How Pro-Life Voters Like Me Justify an Obama Vote
Long-time Republican Julie worked tirelessly in support of Barack Obama this year. Here’s one of many well-penned essays.

The Republican party has acted as though
"believing in a plank" called pro-life is
the same as actually fostering a culture of life,
as being those who see others as valuable.


One Hand Clapping: Make Something Day
For my wife, Black Friday is an annual social event. I tried it one year and was back home by 6:30 – without the computer on my list. Here, Julie provides some balanced thinking on the alternative.

I like it and I don’t like it.
If it works for you, really works for you, great.
But I’m uncomfortable with it being
the only “just” alternative out there.


PoMoXian: What I Did for MKL Day
It was tough to pass up Dave’s live-blog of the Super Bowl (Go Giants), but when someone steps out of the e-world and actually does something, it’s worth a second read.


Ragamuffin Rambling: A painful, and embarassing, confession
I need to be challenged, and Steve’s hard-hitting Advent post is one I’ll need to come back to time and again.

This is my confession to you all - that I have
lived a life of excess, while others have starved.
And this is my first step at redemption.
I don't know that I will ever live long enough
to make amends - but it starts now.


Sacred Vapor: Tuning In
This beautiful metaphor may be one of my favorite posts of the year.


Sublime Transitions: it is like this
With NaNcY, it’s hard to pick just one. This one captures a lot of what it means to write out in the open about our zig-zagging journeys with Christ.

i want to hear God speak to me,
to know what He is saying,
and to understand what He wants…


Texas Chilly: Wheee!
We were created to discover. Here’s a fun reminder from Missy that we all need to be trying something new.


TSSO: When a hand of the Body is smackin’ your face…
Some people find themselves hurt in church situations… but what is one to do? Karen offers wisdom beyond her years.

I think that we have to walk in the Truth and
stop being doormats for the Body.
God loves us to serve, like Jesus served,
and to be loving and loved, but surely
He doesn't want us to be hurt repeatedly.


This Walk: No Really, WOW.
When you need a quicker-picker-upper, try this post from FLYAWAYNET.

I cannot complain. I've nothing to
complain about. God's been good.
And the best part is, I actually mean that.
.
.
Trying to Follow: Christians and Homosexuals: Love’m or Hate’m?
We have not seen the last of post-Proposition 8 protests. Here, Ariah sees to that.

Rather, I’d challenge you to ask every homosexual
person you know, who will answer you honestly,
if they have ever felt themselves
at the receiving end of hate from Christians.
.
.
Happy New Year to you. And you know of any blogs that I might want to add to my list in 2009, please let me know in the comments section below.

Monday, December 29, 2008

that guitar man

My wife and I did a weekend in NYC this past October. On Saturday, we spent the day in the park (translation: Central Park) and during a walk from 59th up to the reservoir and back again, we heard music playing as we approached Strawberry Fields.

We've come to find out we were listening to David Ippolito, "That Guitar Man from Central Park". We sat there for nearly four hours, listening to rock classics and folk songs written by David... a time that ended only because the sun set over the Lake. (We've since gone back to hear him play again).

David describes himself as "probably the least religious man you’ll ever meet.” But he also claims to have "more faith than anyone you’ll meet." The combination is a welcome blessing.

We went to his annual in-door concert this past month. As he started on one of his own songs, he ducked as if he was about to be hit by lightening. This tune is called "The Religion Song", and if you listen to the music he certainly takes aim at organized religion, but you'll hear words being sung by someone who has been touched by the grace that is God.

Any God small enough to understand
can't be big enough to help.

Interestingly, David came into my radar later in December via the religion pages on the New York Times... a touching Christmas-time story that again captures the simple truth that "the most real things in this life are the things we can’t see".

So I sit here thinking... there are a world of Davids out there. Men and women who have been touched by God. People who feel His amazing grace. With insights into His truth. But who have been so turned off by the walls created by religion that they can barely say His name.

And I wish I had an answer. A way to go up to people and say, "forget about what you've seen in the papers and on TV... I would like to introduce you to the real Jesus... he's like you in so many ways. I think he has something special for you... a gift... a gift of joy, peace and love... greater than you've ever felt before... "

But like the church, I am an imperfect messenger. Flawed and broken. Inconsistent.

So I take comfort knowing that while I don't have an answer today, God does. Even if it's too big for me to understand.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

in the year 2001, i will...

Over the past few months, I have re-awakened from a long slumber, and I think that it’s no coincidence that during this same time frame I have had the joy of participating in a small group led by TK.

This past week, our group listened to Erwin McManus talk about his newest book and teaching series, wide awake. And we spoke about our dreams – or, should I say, the fact that most of us couldn’t think of any dream we were currently living to achieve.

So I am creating a “dream list”. I know that Wilsonian is working on her list for this year – and it’s pretty sad that we all don’t have one. I promise to post more on this in the weeks ahead (I am sure there are some dreams stored up inside me somewhere!)

But in the interim… as I have no dreams to speak of today… this current thought process led me to pull out a piece of paper I wrote eight years ago. Now just for context, this was a period in my life when I attended the Church of the Holy Convenience and didn’t realize I was on a journey. Preamble aside, here’s a list titled “In the year 2001, I will…” with my 2008 commentary in red.

In the year 2001, I will…

Weight less than 180 pounds.
Got down to 185 in 2003. Back up to 220+. I like to tell people it’s because I quit smoking in 2005, but actually it’s because I eat too much and don’t exercise enough.

See a sunrise and a sunset.
This one stays on my list most every year. I like them both.

Get a new job.
Left the comforts of corporate America and helped a friend start a company in 2001, so accomplished this one. Five years later I started my own company (which was a 20-year dream in the making.)

Break 90 on the golf course.
May 2007. Long Island National golf course. 89. Yes, I have witnesses.

Save a life.
Haven’t run into any burning buildings, but I’ve come to learn that you never know when your actions can make a difference. Let’s say this one’s a work in progress.

See my name in the newspaper.
Not sure why this one was on the list. Been there, done that. No so thrilling after the fact.

Get a promotion.
See “get a new job” above.

Learn to play the piano.
Dabbled a bit, but never put in the time. I can learn a song if I practice it enough, but sadly still not a piano player.

Read the entire New Testament.
Not in 2001, but not too long after. Little did I know then that the real secret is reading it over and over.

Publish a short story.
I wrote a full screenplay in 2006, so I’ll cheat and take credit for this one.

Bungee jump.
Did not happen. Not sure this one would make the cut this year.

Teach each of my children something special and unique.
Oh how I wish this were true. Maybe it is. They are amazing and wonderful and a joy to be with all of the time. I think they learned all that from my wife, though.

Make my wife laugh at least once a day.
I had a joke for this one, but I’ll keep it to myself. I do better on some days than others. This one definitely goes on this year’s list.

Spend time with Nonie once every month.
My grandmother passed in 2006. I did have the honor of speaking at her funeral. Sadly, I don’t think I got down to see her once a month. I wish I had.

Volunteer at least four times.
We’ll have to raise the bar a little for ’09.

Make at least two new friends.
Looking back, it seems that making new friends means doing new things. Joining a church in late 2001 definitely led to many new friendships. Starting to blog here last year opened new doors, too. Think I am going to have to find a new activity next year.

Communication with two old friends I didn’t speak with in 2000.
Have been more intentional about this in recent years. Email helps. Facebook, too.

Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
This one stays on the list as sadly, je n’alle pas a france (or something like that). Let’s see, trips planned but not taken include: 1985, 1992, 1999, 2008. That’s four. C’est la vie.

Put up a website.
Oh, that’s soooo 2001.

So... what are you dreaming about these days? If your dream came true, would the world be a better place? Let's all dream.

if i loved you

In 1986, my then-girlfriend turned to me and asked, "do you love me?"

She found my response a bit odd. Certainly not romantic. And not what she was expecting. I turned to her and said, "If I loved you, I would have asked you to marry me."

The fact is, if I was in love at that time, nothing could have stopped me from marrying her. I would have done anything she asked. No obstacles could have been to great. Love would have conquered all.

That memory came to mind this morning as I was reading the Book of John. It is the last supper, and Jesus is spending his final hours with his disciples with these words...

If you loved me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:15)

In both situations, it is clear that LOVE preceeds ACTION. When you truly love, there is no thought involve. No advance planning necessary. The actions are natural. They flow freely. They bring great joy.

When you are in love with Jesus, no one has to TELL you to obey his commands. You go out of your way to do just that.

Too often in the American church, we get that backwards. We teach people how to ACT. We condemn those who act badly. But we don't spend as nearly as much time helping people fall in LOVE. Hi. Let me tell you about Jesus. He's funny, smart, good looking. A great dancer. Thoughtful, considerate. He listens very well. He brings peace and joy to everyone he meets. And I think he would like you a whole lot.

No. Sometimes the American church you see on TV or read about in the papers doesn't spend a lot of time introducing people to Jesus. Or so it seems.

I can understand why from my own experience. I spend way too much time condemning myself for my misdeeds. My indescretions. My thoughtless moments. And way too little time falling in love with Jesus.

But there's hope. Remember that then-girlfiend from 1986? Well, we did fall in love. And after being married for 20 years, the love is even stronger now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

nary a light

christmas day is two weeks away

but you would be hard-pressed to tell around our house.

there's
no tree
no wreaths
no decorations
no outdoor lights
no holiday cookies
not a hint of christmas

everything still packed away
up in the attic
all boxed
up

now... we'll have a dozen+ guests in our house two weeks from now, so i imagine at some point we'll get a tree... and surely we can't be the only house on the block without christmas lights outside... but for some reason, neither my wife nor i are interested in going through the whole decoration hoo-ha this year (and believe me, we have boxes and boxes of cool stuff).

we've passed on our annual dinner party, and we've scaled back significantly on gift shopping, too.

so what's new in december? for the first time in many months, i feel like i am moving again, back on this amazing journey with my creator. i've been reading the bible again... spending quiet time before god... more conscious of his kingdom... purposeful in life. instead of giving many gifts this year, we will be making additional donations to the local shelter and an international reflief fund. we've engourage people who normally gift us to do the same.

despite the lack of "christmas" this year, i feel no shortage of christ.

Monday, December 1, 2008

sunday morning

sunday morning

no alarm clock

rolling over to see my wife

the first stretch

light peeking in from behind the window shade

sunday morning

the family arises

we hit the car before breakfast

we are greeted as we enter

sometimes by a kiss

the hall fills
... with people
... with music
... with laughter
... with life
... with His love

for moments

perhaps longer

everything is as it should be

we are one

sunday morning

Saturday, November 15, 2008

thank you for asking



This past week, the American Humanist Association launched an ad campaign in a few cities including Washington, DC. The headline reads:

Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.

"Our reason for doing it during the holidays,” a spokesman states, “is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”

Why believe in a god?

I think this is a great ad for a simple reason: it opens the door for conversations. Do you believe in God? Let me tell you why I do.

For some (like me) it can be difficult to interject my faith into day to day conversation. Somehow when you are going over marketing sales reports or the results of the Jets-Patriots game it can be hard to jump in with a Jesus story. But give me even the slightest opening, and I can do just fine. To me, this ad campaign provides a great opening to start a dialogue with someone about their faith, and to tell my story.

Not all Christians agree. In fact, from all the reports I see online, Christian leaders are speaking out against this campaign. Some see the campaign as a sign that the cultural war to separate Christ from Christmas is intensifying. “It’s a stupid ad; the Bible tells us what’s good and bad.” And, “this is insulting”. One organization plans to mobilize its 2.5 million supporters to contact city officials and Congress to stop the "un-Godly campaign."

Folks – let them run the ads – this is a golden opportunity for us to spread the good news!

I first came across this ad on dailykos, which is a political, left-leaning blog (with, apparently, no shortage of atheists and agnostics). I look for opportunities to inject my faith on this blog, and when the conversation turned to this ad it made it easy. Not everyone was convinced (and some come across as a bit hostile) but at least we got to talking about Christ! What a great opportunity!

My favorite post on this topic was written by houndog, who commented:

Good question, Why not believe. As a Christian, very strong in my faith, that is exactly the question I would love for someone to ask. It opens the door to share Gods grace. I was once an atheist and one day someone shared with me their story. It's because I asked the above question. Why believe in God? So, ask away. I know a lot of people who would like to answer.
So, ask anyway. I, for one, would certainly like to answer.


Have any thoughts about this ad campaign? Please share. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

tuesday morning question

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? John 5:44

Monday, November 10, 2008

three years ago

J and I pulled into the church parking lot at the same time on Sunday morning. The door to his mini van opened and three of his four children bounded out onto the pavement. J stepped out, looked across and smiled. "Well," he said, "you started inviting me to come three years ago. Just took a while."

In the eight years I have been part of this community of faith, J is the first person who ever responded to such an invitation.

Just one day earlier, flyawaynet visited this blog and left a comment on a post i had written in july titled the never-ending invitation about the power of high-frequency advocacy.

The combination of these two events - the blog comment and J's visit - have served as encouragement. Thank you, Lord. They've also motivated me to bolder, more vocal and more purposeful. That is, after all, what we are called to do.

Friday, November 7, 2008

post-election reflection

History will note what they did:

- they made it a priority
- they set out to share their beliefs
- they gave more money than they could really afford
- they gave up mornings, nights and weekends
- they met in groups and celebrated victories
- they emailed friends and family – week after week
- they allowed themselves to be ridiculed
- they called strangers from far away states
- they made it a priority to dispel false rumors
- they knocked on neighbors doors
- they knocked again, even when told to knock no more
- they ate, drank and slept a single cause
- they got in cars and drove to where they were needed
- they smiled when accused of drinking the kool-aid
- they did it for something bigger than themselves
- they came together and made calls together
- they left it all on the road

And as I look back on history, I have only two questions:

1. Why is this not a post about the American church?
2. What can I do to change that?

To borrow a phrase, yes we can.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

how did jesus vote on proposition 8?

In recent years, I have come to believe that God intended for man to be with woman. Don’t ask me why I think this. If asked, I could probably find some scripture verses to back up this feeling. But it's not that important today.

I also believe that the attraction felt between one man and another (or one woman and another) is natural. That we are all designed and created by God with a certain bent, if you will. And the fact that we are designed with certain inclinations that I consider counter to the way God intended us to live may seem odd – but it’s something that everyone I know can see in their own lives. Even those who devoted their lives to Christ found they were wired in ways that seemed counter to God's will. As the apostle Paul wrote: For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

But that’s not what I came here to write about today.

Fact is, I woke up this morning surprised. Surprised that I am sad that Proposition 8 passed in the state of California. More so, I am angry that this question was even on the ballot. And embarrassed that many proponents of this initiative did so in the name of Christ.

The local church can do an amazingly good job at making people feel broken, damaged and unwanted. And that is exactly the opposite of how Jesus Christ led his life. He said to all, I love you. I love you for who you are. Exactly who you are.

No one needs to change in order to be welcomed in God’s house.

Yes, those who are called to Christ are asked to repent. In the Book of Galatians, Paul records: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

For many Christians, this idea of sin has mistakenly become a yes or no check off box. With the goal being to “stop sinning”. And even worse, get others to stop sinning.

But that is NOT what Paul wrote. If one continues reading Galatians, you find that Paul does not focus his words on telling people how NOT to live their lives. Rather, he is inviting people to let the Spirit of Christ into their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Against such thing there is no law.

Before Christ, there was only the law. With Christ, there is the Spirit.

Those who are looking to dictate spirituality by state and federal laws, whether Roe v Wade or Proposition 8, seem to be missing the point. I do not need to judge others behaviors. I certainly don’t need to legislate it. I simply want to invite you into a relationship with Christ.

Eight years ago, my life changed for the better. Today I am full of peace and purpose, not because someone pointed out things about me they didn’t like, but because someone invited me to renew a relationship with the living Lord.

So I sit here today sad, embarrassed and angry. And my prayer today is for my brothers and sisters who are gay, that you will not let Proposition 8 – and whatever role the local church had in its passing – turn you away from a relationship with Christ. Because it doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter what the California lawmakers decide. You are loved by Christ for exactly who you are.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

fore!

Standing over a golf ball, ready to hit, it’s prudent to look up and assess the situation. A few years ago, my mind was always focused on avoiding trouble. Don’t hit into that sand trap. Stay away from the lake. Keep away from the trees.

You learn, however, that problem avoidance is a poor way to approach the game of golf. It’s very difficult to program your swing to NOT do something and expect good results. Instead, you stay focused on what you want to do. Identify the target. Locate a safe place to land. Select the right club. Let your natural swing do the rest.

For six months now, I’ve been wrestling with (mostly avoiding) a tough question: what am I so afraid of? What is it that keeps me going all in? I’ve made mental lists of possible fears. Death. Being laughed at. Uncomfortable conversations. Loneliness. Poverty. Loss of status. Etc. Etc. (You can tell now why I’ve been running away from the question, right?)

So Monday morning, I’m spending some time before God and it suddenly hits me. I am totally focused on the hazards. The sand traps, water hazards and trees before me. The truth is – it doesn’t matter what I am afraid of. Because instead of trying to scurry away from fears – I should be running towards fearlessness.

So today I’m asking myself some new questions. What can I do to make myself bolder, more confident, more trusting in my walk with Christ. For I don’t need to overcome my fears – I just need to strengthen my resolve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rewind

Time to get moving again (finally). For those of you coming in during the middle of this movie, let’s take a moment to recap.

Childhood Faith
Baptized into the Catholic church as a newborn. Catholic school. Did the alter-boy thing. But what I remember most is choir. We practiced every morning before school and sang at the 11AM high mass. I’m sure somewhere along the way there was penance, first communion and confirmation (but don’t ask me for any details.)

Going to a Jesuit High School in New York was both a blessing and a curse in terms of my faith walk. We were encouraged to explore, question, doubt and love. But the concept of certainty was hard to get your arms around when your teachers proclaimed “don’t believe all those stories those nuns told you in grade school.” I was disheartening to hear a priest say he could never tell the same lesson on Sunday that he told in our class because “those people don’t want to know the truth”. My knowledge of Christ grew during these four years, and while I can recall a few moments in my teens when I spoke with God, the relationship remained primarily intellectual.

Years of Distance
Like many, my “church experience” grew sporadic as I left for school and later married. My wife and I attended what we affectionately called “The Church of the Holy Convenience”. Holidays. Visiting parents. The occasional one-off Sunday. And that did not change much when we had children. Baptism. CCD Class. Or as they say, the minimum required by law. Always felt great when attending mass. But the feeling was short-lived.

A Reawakening
In my late thirties, however, I found myself wanting to go to church, to hear the Word, to receive the Eucharist. Getting anyone in my family to join me was a chore, so often I would just roll over and catch a few more winks. But sometimes I went. And I remember one particular Sunday, Father Anthony was giving his homily and something amazing happened. I could hear, through him, the word of God. I couldn’t wait to go back, but the following week, and the week after, and the week after, that voice was silent. So I got off my butt to find it.

In December 2001 I entered Crossroads Community Church, which held Sunday service at our local YMCA. When I returned home that morning and my wife asked what it was like, I said “no one wanted to leave. They came early. They stayed late. They wanted to be there.”

And yes, I heard his voice again. Week after week. I could not get enough. Sunday service. Wednesday night service. Bible study. If you’ve ever seen The Matrix, there’s a scene where Neo starts his training and he can’t get enough. “Mikey, I thinks he likes it.” That was me.

A Servant’s Heart
After nearly a year, I joined the tech team at church. And the following year, the drama team. And while attending an arts conference I again heard the word of God, but this time he was talking specifically to me (now how cool is that). That day, a new ministry was launched called Crossroads in the Community. We painted a homeless shelter. Served at a soup kitchen. Built homes with Habitat. Spent evenings with special needs kids. Raked homes for the elderly and disabled. And to quote the Bible, it was good.

I became connected with the church, with God and, in a way, myself. I began to create, write dramas (even a screenplay) and produced a documentary on community service. And I learned disciplines – Bible reading, small groups, spending time each day before Christ – that helped strengthen my relationship with God even more. And yes, I began last May to record my walk right here, and have come to know and love some amazing people. A year ago, I followed my youngest daughter into a lake, and in the presence of our community, baptized her in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Deepening
In March of this year, I spent a great deal of time reading and thinking about Christ’s closing argument—the three days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. My approach to “spending time each day before Christ” changed a bit, too. Instead of saying prayers or having a dialogue, I would sit in silence. Listening. Listening. Quieting my heart.

The scripture certainly touched me, in a way I hadn’t expected. On Good Friday, I wrapped up my blog series by writing:

Dozens of significant, amazing, life-changing events took place in Jerusalem in the days before Good Friday. If you don’t have time to read about them today, here’s the five word summary: You can do more… watch. Then he picked up a cross, giving us all he had… and more.
One day near the end of March, my conversation with God went something like this:

God: Are you ready for the next step.
Me: What do you have in mind?
God: It’s a big step, are you ready?
Me: You haven’t told me what you have in mind
God: I just need to know if you’re ready.
Me: It depends… what do you have in mind?

The Crash
Thud. Whether driven by fear, embarrassment or shame, I ran. Over the next six months, I stopped serving. Stopped creating. Bible reading, prayer time and blogging became sporadic. Summer travels brought me away from church. Away from my community. Away from God. Away from me.

Today
So we pick up today, this movie already in progress. Coming to the realization that I was lost and needed to be found was a first step. But to go forward, I need to go back to that day at the end of March. And address the question that I first recorded here.

What am I so afraid of?

These questions and more will be addressed right here on these pages. For while I had given up on myself, Christ has never given up on me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

i am lost

a few weeks ago i got up the courage to approach a friend and say "i am lost... please come find me."

here it is a few weeks later. i am still lost. but i know some people are out looking for me, and that's a good thing. peace to you. i miss blogging here. i miss reading your blogs. i am lost. but will be found.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

the never-ending invitation


As we entered Wyoming on our cross-country drive, we saw our first billboard advertisement for Wall Drug. Over the next 325 miles we counted a total of 76 billboards (yes, 76). Of course, when we reached Wall, SD, we just had to see what all the fuss was about. After all, they put a lot of effort into inviting us! And yes, with 5 ice creams, several nick nacks plus a digital camera for my brother, we definitely paid for another sign.
The lesson for me: next time I hesitate about asking a friend to join me at church or come to a community service because they said no last time, I'll think about Wall Drug and the power of high-frequency advertising.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

the bus, the boat and the body bag

This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on Grace Walk, a book written by Steve McVey.

A memory popped into my head this morning. Twenty years ago, I was just transferred to a new department at Citibank—and after a few days on the job I was called into the big boss’ office for a staff meeting. He asked about my first week, and I replied by listing all the processes I thought we could improve in the months ahead.

Someone who was at the meeting later ran into the person who previously ran my department and said “Ed threw you under a bus.”

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

My nature—whether driven by ambition or a desire to improve the world—is to go into situations, identify what’s wrong and look for ways to fix it.

I do that with myself, too, especially when it comes to examining my walk with Christ. In Grace Walk, Steve McVey calls this the motivation-condemnation-rededication cycle.

You can see how that plays out in my blog simply by looking at the number of posts in a given month (yes, April and May were condemnation months!). McVey adds: When we transfer a worldly approach to success in the Christian life, we are in for a disappointment.

This resonated with me, a person who comes to work every day, writes a list, then measures success by how many items I can cross off before heading home. So this past week I’ve been trying to be more Mary, and less Martha. For instead of spending time with Christ, Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

McVey concludes: I experienced peace only after I learned to focus on the person of Christ, instead of what I should be doing for him. Sounds like good advice to me.

Who’s driving that boat, anyway?

I also reflected this morning on an analogy that I heard a few years ago (probably in a church) that described Christian life in terms of driving a boat. It goes like this: the boat is going in one direction, guided by human nature. Once you become a Christian, it’s your job to turn the boat around toward Christ. The boat wants to go the other way, but if you hold onto the steering wheel tight enough, you can change headings. If you hold on long enough, eventually the boat will accept the new course… but if you let go of that steering wheel early—even for a moment—the boat will revert back to its former (sinful) ways.

So… for the past seven years I’ve been holding onto that steering wheel for dear life.

This type of thinking, McVey notes, underestimates the transformation that takes place the moment you accept Christ. In my analogy, once saved by Christ, my bearings changed too—and I became a new person… righteous and holy… a saint.

McVey offers this tip: Just say it out loud, “I am a saint.” Go ahead, try it. The underlying message: no person can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with the way he perceives himself.

Funny, I saw a flyer in the deli yesterday talking about self esteem, and how most people derive their self-esteem from factors other than self (grades at school, promotions, etc.) rather than by what’s inside them. Inside, I am a saint.

I’m not dead yet!

Being the saint I am, just had to include a quote from the Holy Grail.

But seriously… if I became a new man… a saint… what happened to the old Ed? Well, I’m still working on this part. McVey writes: you may not feel that your sin nature is dead, but God says it is.

Maybe chapter 5 will help me internalize this a bit more… we’ll see. (to be continued).

If you want to read more commentary on Grace Walk, check out what NaNcy has to say.

Monday, July 7, 2008

3,434 miles... 4 days


A short ramble. Over the past four days, I drove cross-country with my two brothers, my son and my nephew. A definite WOW experience. Some quick highlights:


*** started with an In-and-Out burger in LA (mmm, mmm)

*** sunrise at the Grand Canyon - amazing

*** breakfast on a Navajo reservation

*** crossing Monument Valley (see photo above)

*** driving through Colorado (most scenic part of trip)

*** Rockies vs. Marlins goes extra innings

*** the town of Cheyenne, WY

*** Mt. Rushmore on the 4th of July

*** the Corn Palace (murals made of corn!)

*** spending 4 days with my brothers

*** non-stop fireworks driving thru SD

*** lunch in Madison, Wisconsin

*** Chicago skyline

*** "touchdown Jesus" in South Bend, IN

*** Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland

*** Seeing my son laugh in 14 states

*** No traffic on the GWB!!


And best of all, my wife and two girls running across the lawn waving sparklers as we turned the corner on our street at 11PM last night. More to come.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

$8 hotdogs

A most worthwhile post over at spaghettipie.
Check it out here. (ht NaNcy)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

pulpit politics

UPDATED 7/7 - See below.

Went to church while on vacation this week where I learned a valuable lesson. If I want to consider myself a follower of Christ and an American, then I should vote for John McCain.

Yes, it was certainly distracting that a wonderful sermon on the role of faith in the foundation of our country included the following slide:

To be a Christian and a Patriot, you need to vote for the presidential candidate who:
1. Best on national security
2. Will appoint pro-life justices
3. Good family values

(Of course, “good family values” is church code that means you can have an affair, divorce and remarry as long as you condemn the gays. But I digress... )

Now I have no issue with a pastor who promotes one candidate over another. But by slipping this into a liturgical sermon, the message was clear that you would please God by voting for McCain.

I wrote to the pastor Sunday night. I thanked him for the warm, welcoming feeling of his church, the inspiring music and the insights he provided. But I also let him now that when he put up this slide, I was distracted, disappointed and quite insulted. My concluding words:

This November, when I go into the voting booth, I will be thinking about the final lesson our Lord taught us before his Passion. And when I pull the lever, I will consider which man will help this country feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite in the unwanted, clothe the homeless, look after the sick and visit those in prison. And despite what you claimed this morning, my vote for Senator Obama will be an act of a Christian and a patriot.

Will let you know if I get a response.

UPDATE 7/7. Received a warm response from the pastor who had given this sermon, noting that his intent was to encourage his congregation to think through these issues as Christians and patriots -- and he was very positive that had taken both matters so seriously in my consideration of the two candidates. I am glad that I wrote to him.

Monday, June 23, 2008

a churchless summer?

This month, my local community of faith moved to a one-service-Sunday schedule. We're moving to a larger space, and it will be nice to have everyone together under one roof (a roof we will raise, I'm sure).

But it occured to me this week that I scheduled my summer when we still had a 6PM Sunday service... and now it looks like I will miss our community get together for nearly two whole months.

June 15 - attending Bar Mitzvah of a good friend's son
June 22 - visiting Mom (what would have been her 50th anniversary)
June 29 - my son and I visiting some friends in Virgina
July 6 - driving cross country with my two brothers (and son)
July 13 - back at Mom's for her 70th birthday
July 20 - camping trip
July 27 - vacation in Williamsburgh

I will be in a church at least on a few of these Sundays, but am a bit nervous that I will be missing my "home church" for such an extended period of time. You try to live your life so that you don't need to go to church to get fed... but what if I forget to eat?

Any ideas, tips or suggestions? Let me know. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

injection v. incarnation

I am desperate.

And God said, “let there be light.”

Day after day, nothing changes. I have nothing. I am nothing.

Light. Energy. Renewal. Every day since that first day, the dawn of each new morning reminds me… that He is my Lord – and He gives me hope.

I take comfort in my TV. My car. My PC. My world. But I am still lost. Will I be lost forever? I am stranded in this darkness… Oh, how I need a fix cause I’m going down. It’s like I’m stuck… running from you all the time.

On the Second Day he created Land. And to be honest, some days on this planet earth are not easy. But for me, when I physically feel the ground below my feet I am reminded that God is supporting me with every step I take. So I can stand firm, and a little more sure-footed – grounded in his Love.

Do you remember me? I am here. I am ready for you now. Come to me now. Yes, come to me quickly. Oh, I need you now. I need you in the worst way possible. Oh yes, come to me Lord. Fill me!

Then He created the flowers. The seeds. And fruit. Sustaining me today with nourishment – and I give thanks. You give me the strength to share, Lord, and I share with love.

Oh God! I feel the joy! Your loving spirit runs through my veins – lifting me higher than I ever imagined. You are the Lord almighty! I raise my hands in joyful celebration – as I am engulfed by your presence. Oh, we could go on forever – forever. Send me Lord – I am your servant. You are my master! Send me, Lord! Together, we are Love!

On the fourth day, the Lord created the moon and the stars – giving me a small glimmer of what heaven will be like – in all its splendor and glory. It can be frustrating at times. I wish I had more answers. But today, I accept that my job is to be Your shining star here on earth – and to share Your light-giving message as best I can.

Ohhhh. I had almost forgotten the sweet smell of your presence. Why did I wait so long to return to you? I want to stay here… this time, let’s walk together… You have filled me up.

Then there were birds. Animals. Living creatures in every size, shape and color possible. Is there no end to Your imagination? How can I not help but sit in awe of You – I need only open my eyes to be reminded of Your Glory.

I can handle life now. Get through another week. I am teeming with confidence – what can possibly stand in my way.

Man and Female. He created me in his very image. Me. He said “I am special – I am important – I matter” And – it gets better here – he said be in relationship with one another. Love me. Love your family. Love your neighbors. Go – share my Love with all people – and let my Love comfort you with everlasting peace.

Bills. Rejection. Work. Was it always this hard? I find myself spiraling downward. No one feels the way I do. Why do I feel so alone? Why does no one care to help?

And on the seventh day He rested from all his work. And now, so shall I.

I am desperate.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

join us for a walk?


Nancy over at Sublime Transitions invited me to read the book "Grace Walk" by Steve McVey. Just ordered mine from Amazon, and will dive in next week. Nancy, I and others will be blogging, discussing as we go along. Maybe you want to join in the fun too?

highway observation

When a person is stranded on the side of the road with steam coming out of their car, Jesus would want us to stop... offer a hand... and if we know nothing about engines (like me) at least offer to make a phone call or provide a lift.

Yesterday I realized that it's very hard to pull over and help someone when you're driving in the fast lane.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

a new day, in chronological order


Let me take you through my day yesterday, in the exact order everything happened.


As the day started, I gathered the family around the kitchen table and the first thing we did was give thanks to God.

We then enjoyed a lovely meal together. And after eating, we sat leisurely around the table and discussed the prior days events… who me met, how we felt, the conversations we had. And we laughed. Oh, did we laugh.

Afterwards, I spent a few quiet moments with my wife and we discussed plans for a trip later this year… who we wanted to see, where we wanted to go. Then I took some time and played with the kids. (Yes, more laughs were had).

Needing some “me” time, I curled up in bed and read for a while (The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch) then took a long, restful nap. When I woke up, I took a shower and got dressed, then went downstairs for a snack.

I read scripture (Matthew 25), then talked to my wife and son for a while. After, I drove off to church where I sat before God and prayed.


By this time, nearly 2/3 of the day was already gone. So I drove to work where I toiled away until the day was over. Then came home and started a new day.


How the Lord prioritizes

Inspired by a beautifully written post on Today at the Mission, I dove into Genesis (again) today. But I didn’t get very far. Verse 5, in fact:

And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day
Think about it… evening comes before morning. God’s day (as many faithful Jews would know) starts at sundown. What does that mean? It means that our Lord has a much better understanding of priorities than I do.

In Ed’s world, you wake up and get ready for work. Work is the primary part of the day, and then you try to squeeze everything else in before falling asleep.

But when you see the world through God’s eyes (as in the example above) everything comes before work. Giving thanks, breaking bread, family love, laughter, rest, scripture, prayer, children. Then, and only then, comes work.

Monday, June 9, 2008

starting to respond

This past week, I've been back in Matthew, looking again at the three days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. I finished this sequence today with The Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25: 31-46).

For those of you playing at home, you may remember that I posted on this scripture just a few short months ago. I'll admit that I'm reading the Bible from more of a distance these days... but I am reading.

Anyway, not to bore you with details, but I find myself responding more to the Spirit over the past few days. And that makes me feel good.

I apologize for not spending as much time reading about your stories, your trials and your successes in recent weeks... let's just say that's next on the list.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

an open prayer for peace

I was driving my youngest daughter Erin to her soccer game this morning when my wife called to share some sad news. The headline in this morning’s paper told of a 4-year old boy whose family was up from Pennsylvania visiting with people in our neighborhood. And on this hot Saturday afternoon, this young boy drowned in a pool.

Bad things happen to good people all the time, but what hit home was that it all happened in the home of a family we know, whose daughter plays on Erin’s team.

Before the game the girls held hands in a moment of silence, and we parents prayed on the sidelines. I heard later that the Pennsylvania family are Christ followers, and that they were comforted in this time of amazing tragedy by the promise of our Savior.

My heart goes out for this family, but I am sure it is equally hard on our friends who were hosting them this weekend. At church tonight, Erin and I spent some time with out pastor, and we prayed some more.

And once more, I come here to pray again. In the words of our Lord:

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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

random thought...

My son left the house a few moments before me the other idea, but I drove by him as he walked to the bus stop. The bus was already there, so I stopped (as legally required to do).

Glancing into my rear view mirror, I could see my son walking toward the bus. I looked up, and there's the bus driver. Waiting. Waiting. Kids on the bus waiting. And back, there's my son, strolling along at his usual, in-no-hurry pace.

If it was me, I would have been running toward the bus. But not my son. And to be honest, I was overcome by two emotions at once. I was definitely annoyed. But what surprised me more, I was jealous. My son has no problem being him, even when that doesn't conform to someone else's standards, dress code, expectation, rules. He doesn't do things just to be different, but doesn't mind if he is--as long as he's true to himself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

catching up

First, thank you for those who have kept me on your blog roll despite the lack of activity over here. Just to fill you in on what’s up:

Over the past two months, I’ve turned into a Christian.
- I attend church every week
- I read the Bible most days
- I take time to sit before God
- I joyfully give of my tithes and offerings

What I’ve somehow stopped becoming, however, is a Christ follower.
- I have not visited the seniors at the local assisted living facility
- I have not worked with the special needs kids
- I have not served in church ministry
- I have not reached out to people in need
- I have not spread the Gospel
- I have not unleashed dreams
- I have not built His kingdom

A few weeks ago, I stopped into Erin’s place and the first words I saw were “Faith without works is dead.” I felt convicted. So I left. But these gentle (and no so gentle) nudges over the past few weeks are taking effect, and I am determined to get back on that path. And follow.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

the wobble


As a pre-teen, my daughter competed as a gymnast. She worked hard several hours a day, training four or more days, every week, every month. She competed in qualifying meets, the CT State Championships and the Northeast Regional Finals.

This morning, I was thinking about one of those Regional competitions. The whole family drove eight hours to Waterville, Maine for the weekend. Meaghan’s first event was the balance beam.

On the first major turn in her routine, she wobbled. She didn’t fall. It was just a wobble. And she regained her balance in less than a second. But I remember turning to my wife saying “well, there goes regionals!”

Meaghan finished her routine beautifully, then went on to do extremely well in the uneven bars, the vault and floor exercise. But we knew from that first turn on the balance beam that she was not going to place in the all-around competition.

That one wobble – a mandatory ½ point deduction – would have meant nothing in the qualifying rounds. She had previously rebounded from such a start in States. But here, in the Regional Finals, the competition was too strong. And a single wobble costs more.

That story came to my mind this morning. If you remember, back in March, I felt that God was calling on me to walk with Him. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Heh God, pick me!
God: You ready?

Me: Yes Lord.
God: Good, I’ve got something important I need you to do.

Me: Great! What is it?
God: I must warn you, this next step will be harder and more challenging that anything I’ve asked you to do before.

Me: Hmmm, what is it Lord?
God: You ready?

Me: You said harder, right? Can you give me a sense of what that means?

Me: God, you still there?

In hindsight, I guess you could say I wobbled. Because when I looked up, God was gone. And I sat there for a while (okay, a few weeks) thinking that God was mad at me. That he had abandoned me. But I know now that’s not the case.

While I sat still, God simply kept moving. He wasn’t leaving me behind; He was out looking for someone who was ready to say “yes”. Because when God wants something done, it will get done.

So here it is, two months later. And if I want to re-engage my walk with Christ, I guess I need to start moving again. After all, it was just one wobble, and there's still a few more events to go.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

tomorrow

that's what I've been saying to God for a while now.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

good evening, counselor

I said "pretty much" never lied. I didn't say I never, ever lied. You have to lie sometimes... in an emergency. Daniel Miller, Defending Your Life

In the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that I am not a Meryl Streep fan. And Albert Brooks kinda grates my nerves a bit. But back in 1991 they worked together on a movie that presents a somewhat appealing concept. The idea that when you die, you have an opportunity to defend your life.

The alternative, I suppose, is the Veruca Salt model. You may remember her from Willie Wonka fame. She just steps on a scale and it instantly decides -- good egg or bad. No discussion, just a clever song from the oomph-loompas. Now that’s frightening.

If you’ve seen Defending Your Life, though, you’ll remember that the Albert Brooks character is represented by a glad-handing attorney who doesn’t make a strong case. His defense doesn’t go too well. That’s a bit frightening, too.

So who will be your attorney when you step before God on judgment day?

Jesus.

Imagine that day, in the presence of the Almighty. Your head starts to spin.. Does the good outweigh the bad? What about that candy bar I stole in the 3rd grade. The test answer I copied in college? The relationships I let sour. The thousands upon thousands of people in need I let go by day after day. The back. The back I showed to my Lord on too many occasions to even count.

Then Jesus steps forward. Puts his hand on your shoulder and whispers, do not be afraid. Then he does something amazing.

He presents you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Jude 24

Without fault. And with great joy. You are innocent. Come and enter that father’s kingdom, where you can stay for all eternity. Wow. Thank you Jesus!

Clarence Darrow couldn’t have gotten me off on that one, but somehow Jesus is able to present me without fault. And with great joy. His word becomes truth. And I am innocent.

And how can I repay Christ for his counsel?

To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, before all ages, now and forevermore! Jude 25

Glory to God.
Majesty to God.
Power to God.
Authority to God.

Guess I’ve got my homework assignment for tonight.



PS - If you found this interesting, see the latest rambling’s over at Steve’s blog.

Monday, April 14, 2008

church geometry



Vertical Love


You shall love the Lord your God

with all your heart, with all your soul,

with all your mind, and with all your strength.

.

.


Horizontal Love



You shall love your neighbor as yourself.



Total Love


(ht TK)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

what you need to know

Forget kindergarten, everything I ever really needed to know I learned from American Idol.

Show up.
Take risks.
Find out who you are.
Then be true to yourself.
Be excellent.
Give back.

And, as of tonight:
Shout to the Lord.

Friday, April 4, 2008

moving beyond #2

When I worked at Citibank in the early 90s, we followed a template whenever we presented a big project to senior management:

* where we are
* where we want to be
* how we are going to get there

God has an uncanny way of directing me to scripture that is relevant to the situation at hand, and this week I found myself in 2 Peter 1: 3-10.
His divine power has given us everything we need…

When you start the day knowing you are equipped, it makes a world of difference. It encourages you to get past the whining, the excuses and the wallowing-in-self-pity that is so easy (and comfortable). It encourages action.

Then Peter continues with a roadmap, if you will:

1. It starts with faith.
2. Add to your faith, goodness.
3. And to goodness, knowledge.
4. And to knowledge, self-control.
5. And to self-control, perseverance.
6. And to perseverance, godliness.
7. And to godliness, brotherly kindness.
8. And to brotherly kindness, love.
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…

If you’ve been following this blog over the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been finding myself increasingly ineffective and unproductive. And I think, like a lot of Christians, I’ve been wallowing in #2 -- and feeling good about it.

But perhaps in making an extra effort to spend time with Jesus during Lent, time sitting before God, he has opened my eyes a bit. I admit that the knowledge (#3) that settling on #2 (goodness) was, well, not good enough, left me in an uncomfortable place. And I withdrew.

But yes, I am back. Armed with a roadmap: where I am, where I want to be, how I am going to get there. (After all he has given me everything I need)

Self-control (#4) is definitely not my strong suit (I kinda got in over my head this week) but with perseverance (#5), I know that time is on my side.
Therefore my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

wishing i was a fool

We stand before the world as fools. We are foolish enough to believe that Jesus' way is stronger and truer than the way of the world. We rest secure in the knowledge that he has, and will, overcome. We are called to be fools for Christ, a people saved by his cross and converted, finally, by his resurrection.
The Call to Conversion
Jim Wallace
I find myself at a crossroads today. I am being called to take the next step in my walk with Christ. And to be honest, I have no idea what that step entails. No idea at all.

But I do know that it will be bigger than any step I’ve taken before. It will stretch me well out of my comfort zone. It will involve noticeable change.

And while I like to think of myself as the kind of person who would raise his hand eagerly, crying “pick me, Lord, pick me”. The truth is I am distancing myself. Keeping myself busy. Avoiding the next conversation at all costs. Hiding under a rock. Silently backing away.

I may be absent from the blogosphere for a while. It's not that I don't have things to write about... but I fear that it will only be another distraction. A place to come to avoid the bigger question that haunts me now...

What am I so afraid of?

Friday, March 21, 2008

holy week: follow me

Dozens of significant, amazing, life-changing events took place in Jerusalem in the days before Good Friday. If you don’t have time to read about them today, here’s the five word summary:

You can do more… watch.

Then he picked up a cross, giving us all he had… and more.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

holy week: sweet words

Continue your preparation for Easter with this 2007 post from Biscotti Brain: Scent

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

holy week: identity crisis

My girls play soccer, and every spring we get a letter asking if we would be willing to house someone from the UK who would be coming over to work as a trainer with the kids during the summer. I’ve thought about it, but have never responded.

I wonder what would happen if Jesus were coming to town, and a letter went out to all church goers asking whether anyone would be willing to put up the Lord for a while, you know, a small room, dinners, stuff like that.

This morning, I realized that Jesus did come to town last night. And like the traveling UK soccer player, I thought about but never responded.

In his final teaching before handing Himself over to Pilate, the chief priests and the mobs, Jesus tells us:
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'


As a man, as a Christian, I often think about myself as a “do-gooder”. I volunteer with kids who have disabilities twice a month. I’ll give a day to Habitat for Humanity once or twice a year. If I pass a homeless guy on the street, I’ll almost always drop my spare change into his cup. I give generously to good causes, yada yada. I might even sum it up in a prideful fashion as ‘I do more than the average guy’.

But what if I got a phone call last night, like “Heh Ed, Jesus is in town and he’s got no place to sleep – can you come over?” Yes, of course.

“Heh Ed, Jesus is down the block, and he’s looking for something to eat… can he pop over for dinner?” Yes, of course.

“Heh Ed, Jesus is about to give a big speech and he spilled some grape juice on his shirt, can he use one of yours?” C’mon, you don’t even need to ask! He can have the shirt off my back if he likes.

But the truth is… Jesus was in my town last night. And he was cold. And hungry. And had no place to sleep.

And I never responded.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

we interrupt holy week...

I encourage everyone to take a moment today to read or listen to the speech given today by Sen. Barack Obama titled:

A More Perfect Union.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well...

holy week: the bucket

The final three days of Christ’s ministry – the time between his arrival in Jerusalem and the Passion – are so full, so complete. It’s almost as if Jesus sat down and wrote his ‘bucket list’.

Unfortunately, for the second post in a row now, I find myself playing the part of the “bad example” in Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

My church teaches tithing. Personally, in my reading of scripture, I do not see what supports this teaching. But my church also teaches that giving is not about money—it’s about control and it’s about your heart. And with that I do agree. So last June, I entered the practice of tithing.

Jesus says nothing about ten percent. He teaches here and elsewhere that there is only one way to give – and that is to put in everything. My question today is: if it took me six years sitting in a pew before I gave up control of ten percent to the church’s bucket – how much longer sitting before Christ will it take before I relinquish control of the rest to God?

Monday, March 17, 2008

holy week: the cost of yes

Last May, the State Dinner in Honor of Queen Elizabeth was the hot invitation in Washington. The guest list included people you would expect (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) but also a number of notable surprises, such as sportscaster Jim Nance. In a radio interview, Nance spoke about getting a phone call from the Protocol office giving he and his wife a head’s up on what to expect. The whole night was amazing, he said.

Rewind a few thousand years. After arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus told us that His guest list included a lot of surprises – including me.

In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet he tells us, So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

I like that part of the story. We are all invited into God’s kingdom, and all we need to do is say yes. How cool is that!

But there’s another part of the story. The king notices that one of these recently-invited guests was not wearing wedding clothes. And the king un-invites this poor may, saying:

“Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen."

I wrestled with this for a while. This poor guy was out in the streets minding his own business and now he gets humiliated because of poor wardrobe choices. How rude!

This morning I realized: saying “yes” is not enough. Everyone is invited. But if you say “yes” there are expectations that come along. Showing up is not enough.

If Jim Nance arrived at the Queen’s dinner wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, they would have thrown him out. And he would have been outside thinking “I blew it! I had an invite to the coolest thing in town! They told me what I had to do – and I blew it! Weep weep. Gnash. Gnash.”

There’s a cost to saying yes. An expectation on how you should act. This week I’ve read about real transformations that are taking place in the lives of Wilsonian and Rhymes with Kerouac and think to myself – I am heading down a path where I will not be chosen.

He is telling me what I need to do – and I am blowing it. And that is truly sad.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

holy week: to the full

In the days before his victorious walk to Golgatha, in the days before his death, Jesus reminded us once again that he came so that we have life. To have it to the full.

Moments before sharing with the Pharisees what has become known as the Great Commandment, he stunned the Sadducees by noting: He is not the God of the dead but of the living.

He quoted scripture: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

But I think what Jesus also meant was, I am the God of Eileen, the God of Brian, the God of Meaghan, the God of Erin, the God of Bob, the God of Nancy, the God of TK, the God of Tracie, the God of Paul, the God of Karen, the God of Tony, the God of Pat, the God of Gary, the God of Barbara, the God of rwk, the God of John, the God of Rich, the God of you, the God of… me.

Friday, March 14, 2008

three days next week...

The events of Holy Week are well documented. Palm Sunday. The Last Supper. The Garden. The Passion and Crucifixion. The Resurrection.

What we don’t hear about a lot is the events that occurred in between the time Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the moment he sat down to break bread with his disciples.

Truth is – you probably know what happened on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – but rarely do we consider these events in their entirety for what they are: the final three days of Christ’s ministry on earth. For example, over the course of three days:

He overturned the table of money changers, restoring order to God’s house.

He healed the blind and the lame.

He demonstrated the power of prayer with a withered fig tree, saying: if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for.

He reaffirmed his authority among the chief priests and elders.

He taught that actions are worth more than promises through the parable of the two sons.

He established the new covenant based on a two-way relationship through the parable of the tenants. I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

He used the parable of the wedding banquet to remind us of the narrow road ahead, advising that: many are invited, but few are chosen.

He established the separation of church and state, claiming: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God.

He gave us great hope in the here and now through a lesson on marriage and the resurrection, reminding us He is not the God of the dead but of the living.

He provided us a simple blueprint on how to live our live, in what has become known as the great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.

He spoke out against the dangers of hypocrisy and those who do not practice what they preach. He set a new world order, where whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

He reset the bar on giving, highlighting the actions of a widow, who put in everything – all she had to live on.

He comforted his followers, giving them clear signs of what to expect at the end of the age warning us that many will come in his name. He took away our fears, saying you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.

He reminded us to be vigilant as the day and the hour of His return would be unknown – giving us a striking visual: two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

He told us what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, and through the parable of the ten virgins, taught us how to prepare.

He invited us to use our gifts in abundance with the parable of the talents.

He warned that there would be a time when judgment prevailed over forgiveness, and he will put the sheep on the right and the goats on his left.

And, in his closing argument – he totally redefined what it meant to have a relationship with God, saying: whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you did for me.

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This all occurred in between the time Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the moment he sat down to break bread with his disciples. Three days.

Makes you think… what can I do over the next three days?

Friday, March 7, 2008

to the place of the skull

This morning I spent some time with Jesus, thinking about that final walk before he died… the road from Pilate’s court to Golgotha. In the Bible, it is recounted in a single line of text:

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull. John 19:17

But there is more to it than that. And it’s nothing like the way it was taught to me when I was young. It was far more painful, on so many levels.

This morning I felt the physical pain. The crown of thorns, penetrating the head, a head that had not slept now for over 36 hours. Blood mixing with sweat. The back – skin torn from its own flesh – burning. The knees, aching. The feet, scarred. And then there was the cross. Heavy on its own right, but heavier still for the true burden it bore. Crushing down upon His shoulders. Pulling him down. How easy it would have been to crumble. To end it right there. But He persevered.

The morning I felt the emotional pain. Just days earlier the crowds had cheered Him, but now they mocked Him and laughed. What exactly had Christ done to turn these people against Him? Why did they hate him so? But the sharper pain came not from who was there—but from who wasn’t. His twelve. His chosen. His brothers. If the roles were reversed, would not Jesus be the first one at their sides? And yet, in His time of greatest need, those closest to him simply abandoned Him.

This morning I felt the spiritual pain. Compared to this, the beating he had taken from the Romans, the abandonment of His friends, were nothing. It would be a few more hours before Jesus spoke the words, Eli Eli lama sabachthani?, but on this walk… this walk from Pilate’s court to Golgotha, He knew He was alone. Alone. Alone.

I am not sure that this is what happened, but it is what I felt. All I know for sure is, Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull.

the stations: as i was taught

When I was young, I remember we would leave our classroom at some point during Lent and head over to the church, where we would do the stations of the cross.

I. Jesus is condemned to death
II. Jesus receives the cross
III. Jesus falls the first time
IV. Jesus meets His Mother
V. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
VI. Veronica wipes Jesus' face with her veil
VII. Jesus falls the second time
VIII. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
IX. Jesus falls the third time
X. Jesus is stripped of His garments
XI. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
XII. Jesus dies on the cross
XIII. Jesus' body is removed from the cross
XIV. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense

The five ‘stations’ I highlighted are not mentioned anywhere in the bible. And yet they were taught to me as ‘gospel’ when I was a child. The Veronica one is most interesting, as there is not a single individual by that name in the bible. I am not sure how these stories came to be.

ramblings on food, faith and politics

Over at Faithfully Finding Fitness, Gary was pondering which approach to weight loss was more effective: taking slow incremental steps or pushing yourself to achieve huge, incremental goals. Like Gary, I tended to favor the crash-course model.

In the wee hours of Tuesday night, the results for Texas came in and Clinton managed a victory over Obama. I had been hoping for an Obama victory so that the contest would be over quickly… a slam dunk… but now it will continue on for weeks, perhaps months.

This week, these two seemingly disparate thoughts collided with a third, totally unrelated topic: spiritual transformation.

And here’s where the rubber hits the road: creating true change in my heart, my soul, is not something I can achieve overnight. It’s something that I have to let the Lord achieve in me over time. It’s something I have to train for, day after day. Week after week. Hour after hour.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
So now instead of speed, I’m thinking that maybe ongoing improvement and sustainability is a better approach to losing weight, preparing a future President and getting closer to Christ.

For example: I cannot run a 26-mile marathon. People train for a marathon by running 10 miles a day. I am not at the point where I can even train to run a marathon. But if I put my mind to it, I could do it. Applying this same logic….

Physical Fitness. I know I can hit the treadmill and survive on Slim Fast for six weeks and lose ten pounds. But it won’t change who I am. I also know that I am not going to reverse a lifetime of bad habits overnight. So starting today, I am going to see if I can sustain two small changes: 1) I will exercise once a week. 2) if I am ordering lunch at work, instead of a hero sandwich I will get a salad. Now, neither of these two things are going to make me fit. But perhaps, I can start training to live a healthier life.

Spiritual Transformation. Over the past few years, I have incorporated disciplines into my life. Reading the Bible before work. Blogging. Tithing. Spending time before God. But for the past six months, I’ve been content with my actions. Maybe even proud. It’s as if I were training for a marathon, and reached a point where I was running 2 miles a day. Beats being a couch potato, for sure, but I still can’t run a marathon. So I need to, metaphorically speaking, turn up the speed on the treadmill. My next step: reading the Bibles on Saturdays, too (something I don’t do today.) OK, it's a small step -- but at least it's a forward step.


And as for the presidential primaries, I’ll try not to get so caught up in day-by-day delegate counts and 'he said-she said' headlines. Instead, I’ll just pray that they all run with perseverance the race marked out for them.

Gotta run (in more ways than one)... may your day be filled with an abundance of peace and grace.

Monday, March 3, 2008

listen...

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this morning, i just sat before Christ. neither of us spoke. i simply bowed my head. sitting before Christ. after a while, i was about to get up but didn't. not for a while longer.