Thursday, January 31, 2008

love triangle: put tab A into slot B...

I don't know how to love him.
What to do, how to move him…
- Mary Magdalene/Jesus Christ Superstar

Earlier this week, I posted on what it means to accept God’s love. But as we delve further into the love triangle, there’s more to it than that. To follow in Christ’s footsteps we need to reciprocate that love. Love God back. Do what pleases Him most.

I must admit, there are times when “loving God” is not top of mind. It’s amazing, in fact, how quickly my mind can wander (even during a worship service!). But there are other times, too, times when I am so excited I could just burst.

Then I come across a hurdle: what do you get the God who as everything?

My mom has been dubbed by my brothers as “the ultimate consumer”. Not that she spends a lot of money – she actually has modest needs – but when it crosses her mind to get something, she just goes out and gets it. Kinda adds to the challenge of Christmas shopping. This year we cornered her in September and made her commit not to get a few things she needed.

Then there’s God. Talk about someone who’s hard to shop for!

When you think about all the junk in my closets compared to all that God does for me, just how could I ever reciprocate that oh-so-perfect-love?

In the OT, God gets pretty specific on how to love him. Yeah. There’s the top ten list and all that, but there’s hundreds of other commands as well. What to eat. How to build. Where to stand. When to pray. Etc. Etc.

I used to think it was kinda petty ante stuff compared to “The Great Commandment”. But maybe not. Because in order to live out the Mosaic Laws to the letter, you have to put God at the center of all that you do. Like measuring out all them cubits was sort of a training exercise – one more way to practice putting God first.

If you love me, you will obey what I command… Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me… If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching… John 14
OK, OK, I hear you.

When Jesus says “Love God and love your neighbor,” He simplified everything. But it also puts more of the burden on us. We’re no longer working with a step-by-step manual. It’s more like we’re shown an amazing picture and told – go ahead, make one of these.

I wonder sometimes why that’s so hard. I feel love for Christ, and yet I don’t obey. And it’s not just me. Even the apostles – who saw him, touched him, witnessed miracles – they had trouble staying focused, too.

Today, I’m thinking that perhaps I need set up some “rules” if you will – disciplines that will help me stay centered on God, just like the Israelites of yore.

Maybe in order for me to put God at the center of ALL that I do – I need to intentionally put God at the center of MORE that I do.

OK, maybe I won't give up shrimp and pork ribs today. But I definitely need to schedule some time with God in the evenings. Read the Bible on weekends, too. Listen to responses when I say 'how are you'. Bed-time prayers.

Oh, I want to LOVE GOD more… any ideas? What activities help you put God first?

Up next: sharing that love.

Monday, January 28, 2008

love triangle: i yo yu

I’ve been spending my quiet time with God this week thinking about love. As previously noted, it seems that to follow in the footsteps of Christ, one needs to experience love in three ways – and the first of these sounds easy: we need to simply accept that fact that God loves us.

Salvation is not about cause and effect, efforts and rewards. It’s simply a matter of accepting the fact that we – you and I – were created by someone who loves us very much. Just let God love!

While I think everyone would want to believe that, it’s not always easy.

Bad things happen to good people.
Did you hear that Heath Ledger died last week? Personally, I don’t quite understand the level of news coverage associated with celebrity deaths. The fact is, 150,000 people will die today.

But I do know that the reality of death, accidents and illnesses seems by some to contradict the notion of a loving God. If he loved us, wouldn’t we live forever?

Uh… yeah.

Maybe it's like a mid-afternoon dessert. I have three children. They are always wonderful. ;) But sometimes they ask if they can have an ice cream in the afternoon and I say no. (For my kids, that’s their equivalent of bad things happening to good people.)

But guess what. Sometimes I say no because we have a huge dinner and a sweet dessert planned for later. If my kids knew that, boy – they would know how much we loved them for sure.

What about those mixed messages…
Did you ever notice that the Bible is not always so lovey-dovey?

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

This issue – the judgmental-I’m-going-to-punish-you God – could be one of the most misunderstood. And who’s to blame? Perhaps Christians. We do our cut-and-paste jobs on select verses (ht Viola) to demonize all sorts of lewd and sinful behaviors and condemn those who long to feel God’s love.

I am not a Bible expert by any means, but it seems to me that these God-as-judge reminders are directed to those who are well aware of God’s love – his chosen people, his followers – and not the lost sheep. Perhaps we can do a bit better here.

He didn’t mean me, did he?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Why is it easier to believe that God so loved the world – but so hard to believe that God so loved me?

Love is an emotion. And to know that God loves us, we have to feel God’s love. It’s not enough to know that Jesus loves us because the Bible says its so. Even Jesus felt abandoned on the cross – but he wasn’t.

Kansas Bob heard a similar story when visiting a prison recently and an inmate said: I read the bible for a long time and it helped me very little… but when I began to experience God everything changed.

“When I began to experience God.” I can relate to that. I feel fortunate in that I have experienced God in my heart. There doesn't seem to be a pattern to it. But I know people who say they haven’t – and that makes me sad. Not because I believe they are not loved. But because I’m not sure that my testimony will change anything. It’s not enough to hear about God’s love, they need to feel it themself.

I’ve spoken with a number of people who have felt the love of God. It has been expressed in all shapes and forms. This past week, God’s love has been felt through a scrap of paper, a painting, a smile and a tatoo, to name a few. But the story I want to share was told at church this Sunday.

A woman spoke of her 8-year old autistic son. For eight years now she and her husband have been trying to connect with her son. It has been hard. And she has prayed to God for this very thing.

This past week, while playing together, her son put out his cheek and she offered him a kiss. He presented her other cheek to her, and she kissed that, too. And then he looked into her eyes and said “I yo yu”.

And in that moment, as she embraced he son, she was overwhelmed by the love of God.

Three simple syllables – I yo yu – sent a message that He came not only to save the world, but to save you too.

Monday, January 21, 2008

scripture says...

i've seen a lot of videos on youtube. this one, barak obama speaking at dr. kings's church, is the first one i've ever shared.

love triangle

That Love is all there is
Is all we know of Love.
- Emily Dickinson

I have struggled to get my arms around this thing called “love”, but lately I am becoming more convinced that there are three parts to it. That is, to follow in the footsteps of Christ you need to experience love in three ways:

Accept. Let God love. Recognize that God loves you. Feel that love.
Reciprocate. Love God back. Do what pleases Him most.
Share. Help others feel God’s love. Love others. Please others.

I need to spend some more time thinking about this… but if you have any thoughts, links, directions or resources you want to share on this topic, let us know.

Friday, January 18, 2008

all glory to HIM

Praise the LORD.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness!

I have been holding back. There’s a dark secret, a fact about myself that I have been too ashamed to write about here. Too embarrassed. Too guilty.

But on Wednesday this week, Jesus did something amazing. He intervened on my behalf in an incredibly loving, purposeful way. I just wanted to SHOUT HIS PRAISE everywhere. But for you to know how GLORIOUS God is, you need to know the whole story, my darkest secrets. But above all, you need to know that the LORD IS AMAZING.

So here goes… I have a wonderful wife, but there are still times when my mind wanders. X-rated television shows. Masturbation. Fantasies. I have heard that this is not uncommon, but I also know that God has told me to stop. There are probably a lot of reasons why you can look poorly on this behavior, but for me it has been an act of open defiance… blatant disobedience to God.

I have confessed. I have been forgiven. But the pattern continued. On Wednesday this week, alone in the house, I turn on the TV to the movie channel that shows X-rates shows after dark. I want to change the channel, but I can’t. I want to turn the TV off, but I don’t. I want to get up and walk away, but I am fixated. But somehow, I get the strength to say “Jesus, I really need your help.”

And then it happened.

We lost our cable connection.

It just shut down. The TV went dark, and then rebooted. All I could think was, how great is our God? That with all that’s going on in this world, he hears us when we call. He is ready and willing to intervene on our behalf.

I share this with you for two reasons. You need to know that GOD is REAL, GOD is HERE, and GOD is SIMPLY AMAZING.

Secondly, for all of us who suffer from addictions or sins or behaviors we want to change – we don’t need to do it alone. We don’t need the strength to stop ourselves. We don’t need to be as poetic as David, who cries, “come to my relief… preserve my life… answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails.” We only need the strength to ask for help. Just ask.

For Jesus says:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

All glory to Him!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

drum reed

Two years ago, while waiting for a friend at a diner, I made a list.

I had just found out that “my services were no longer required” at my former employer, and had some time on my hands. And I thought to myself: this is a gift from God. Free time.

I fully expected to be employed again at some point, so I knew this was a precious commodity, this gift from God. So I made a list of things I could do. Honestly, I don’t remember the full list anymore (really cool, worthwhile things I’m sure) but number eight on the list was to write a screenplay.

I had written a few five-minute dramas for church that year and had been encouraged by Rob who said “you write well”. That was enough to set me off on developing a full-length major motion picture, titled Drum Reed.

When a brilliant student’s paper about abortion is published, it kicks off a wild chain of events that leaves him wondering how far he can push the envelope before the world he truly cares about is shattered.

I talked a few friends into reading the script, and they assured me it didn’t suck. So I was ready for the big time. I phoned my brother, who works for Universal Studies in California. “Enter a contest” was his reply. Thanks brother. But enter a contest I did.

Dance ten, looks three.

I didn’t win, but I did get some good feedback. I scored well on character development and dialogue (an 8 out of 10) but scored poorly on marketability (4 out of 10, because ‘no one wants to make a movie about abortion’). Oh well.

I had some other script ideas, but the fact remained – I wanted to tell stories that glorified God. Would Hollywood ever be interested in that?

Time to try a new game.

Then I heard about the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays. Established by MovieGuide in 2005, the primary purpose of the prize is to further the influence of moral and spiritual values within the film and entertainment industries.

Anyway, today they announced the 32 semifinalists for this year’s screenwriting contest, and if you scroll down the list you may see a familiar name.

Praise the Lord for He is amazing. He works in ways I will never fathom.

Friday, January 11, 2008

pagan, meet the flying nun

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Kingdom Grace. For two weeks, grace is providing her reactions to a new book, Christianity. (From my personal experience so far, grace’s musings and the subsequent comments are better than the book.)

My “comment of the week” was in response to a discussion around the role of the church building (chapter 2 of the book). Scroll down the comments and you’ll find this gem from jonathan brink:
“In 324, Constantine began ordering the construction of church buildings to promote the popularity and acceptance of Christianity. If the Christians had their own sacred buildings, their faith would be regarded as legitimate.”

The actress Sally Fields said it a different way. “I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

Thursday, January 10, 2008

how are you today?

On the car radio this morning, the local pundits were wondering: why is America so wacky. Hilary is a loser one day, and the rock star the next. Obama is a wunderkind on Monday, and a nobody on Tuesday. How could Iowa and New Hampshire be so far apart?

Time out for a quick fact check.

Iowa Delegate Count: Obama (16), Clinton (15)
NH Delegate Count: Obama (9), Clinton (9)

We as Americans talk about minor twists and turns as the be-all-and-end-all. We love to see major swings – up then down then up again. And it’s not confined to politics. We all do it, every day.

A ten-minute traffic jam in the morning “ruins your day”. Getting your hands on a Wii system “made our Christmas”. The burnt toast. The B+ grade. The one smile. That frown. The compliment. The put down.

How often do we define our lives by a series of small, relatively insignificant events? In the big picture, my life today is nearly identical to yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. But I am unwilling to accept consistency. So I jack up the importance of minor events to define my mood, my day, my feelings.

I the LORD do not change. MAL 3:6

God is consistent. The beginning and the end. Alpha and Omega. Even in His movement, His love, His mercy, His grace is never changing. And for some reason, he doesn’t get bored by that. Maybe if I center more of my life around Christ, I too can find that peace.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. HEB 13:8

Sunday, January 6, 2008

how great is our god

This morning as we celebrated communion, the band played Chris Tomlin's How Great is Our God and you could feel the spirit moving.

The splendor of a King,
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice,
All the earth rejoice.

As the sound reverberated throughout the sanctuary, the lead singer said "let us stand!" and I rose to my feet.

How great is our God,
sing with me
How great is our God...

I opened my eyes and it was amazing. Everyone was joyfully standing, young and old. Except for one woman. To my left. She did not move.

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the End,
Beginning and the End.

Clutching the bread and wine in her hands, her eyes closed, she alone remained seated.

How great is our God,
sing with me

But she sang... perhaps standing taller than anyone there that day.

How great is our God

I watched her sitting there, this woman who several years ago was dealt an unbearable blow--a debilitating illness that has played havoic with her motor functions, confining her to a wheelchair. She is a mother, a wife and a follower of Christ who cannot walk, cannot care for herself and has trouble communicating... who leads our prayer ministries, visits with the elderly and has an amazing smile.

... and all who sing
How great, How great
Is our God.

And with everyone standing except for one, my heart swelled. And to be honest, I am not really sure whether it was empathy for the frustration she should have been feeling, the life she could have had... or adoration because there was no frustration at all. For she sang with all her heart:

How great, How great
Is our God!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

my 2007 blogroll

When I started blogging in May, I came here to write. Little did I know that most of my online time would be invested in reading. I soon added links to the pages I read most often because, well, because that’s what everyone else did.

I don’t subscribe to any RSS feeds – I prefer to visit unannounced. Sometimes I am rewarded with a new post… but most of the time I get a moment to reflect on something that was written previously, or a prayer request that I had forgotten about, or just a moment to think about a friend.

Before closing the books on 2007, I though I would share with you links to a few of the posts that I want to remember…

Biscotti Brain
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

wilsonian has a gift of making connections that simply leave your head spinning (in a good way!) This particular post will stay with you for sure.

Live differently
Bumbling Forward
Monday, April 02, 2007

TK opens his heart to God in such an authentic way, it can be like reading the Psalms. You want to root for him – for his prayers to be answered.

will U
don’t call me veronica
june 15, 2007

Tony has a way of mixing up theology, scripture, pop culture and his own personal life – and for some reason I can’t explain, it actually makes sense (lol). will U marked the first time I simply posted a link to another blog. I read it again today and liked it even more.

Invisible Ministry
An Eye For Redemption
Monday, March 12, 2007

Kansas Bob always challenges me – and I think it’s his brutal honesty and love for the Lord that makes it so compelling. This post from earlier this year really hit home for me.

Coffee Hour Morality
November 15, 2007

I like reading Julie Clawson’s blog for a few reasons. she’s a lot smarter than I am, she pushes the envelope, and we don’t always agree. This is one of the first posts of hers I read – and I’m sure it will give you something to think about.

Getting Started
Pat’s Place of Grace
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This is Pat’s first-ever post. Pat doesn’t claim to have all the answers… but she asks some really good questions. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Disgustingly Positive
On Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Passport Stamps
November 8

Kelli has been going through a challenging few months recently, and her ability to separate this-world events from her attitude and trust in God is so inspirational. If you’ve never “met” Kelli, now would be a great time.

Thoughts on communion and “Jesus as bread”
Ragamuffin Rambler
Monday, September 10, 2007

When you read faith-based blogs, it’s not uncommon to come across discussions on theology, dogma, practices and beliefs. Here, Steve F makes it personal. He writes, “It was a moment frozen in time, pressed-down-and-overflowing with meaning.” I agree.

Santa Christ
Sacred Vapor
November 27th, 2007

While you won’t want to miss the Friday Photo over at Sacred Vapor, the writings from Saturday-Thursday bring imagery to life, too. Often fun, usually creative, always insightful.

Sublime Transition

Having to pick just one of Nancy’s posts was challenging. A prolific writer and poet, you can really see the Spirit at work day after day. This particular post is most beautiful.

saying goodbye to a friend
tracing my steps
Thursday, December 6, 2007

In December, Trace wrote about the passing of a friend and how this event helped add meaning to her season of advent. But in that post, joe and emmanual, she included a link to her professional weblog, where she had given her first reactions to the news about Joe.

Thank you all for sharing. Well… I guess now I’m ready for 2008. Happy New Year. EG

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

the arrangement

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer 29:11

Twenty-three years ago this week, I was home – on break from my 4th year at UVa – when my cousin called and asked if I wanted to go out with his girlfriend’s sister. A blind date.

I already had plans for the night, and so declined. A few hours later he called back. “Find someone else,” I told him. Later that afternoon he called me for a third time. Why, I am not sure. But as I thought about the night ahead, driving to New Jersey to play cards (my original plan) seemed less appealing – so I said yes.

Eileen and I met that night at a bowling alley. The next day, we spend four hours on the phone. On Tuesday that week, we went out on our first official date. And by the end of that night we had named our three children: Brian, Meaghan and Robert. And besides the fact the Robert turned out to be Erin, the rest of the story has played out as scripted, and this year we will celebrate our 20th anniversary as husband and wife.

Long before I started getting serious about my walk with Christ, I knew that God was involved. There is no way I could be married to anyone else.

Ray made a comment on another blog recently, writing: Personally, I think he "manages" much less than many think, but I also think he "arranges" more than most people think.

And in my mind, a place where there is no contradiction between destiny and choice, that seems to explain a lot. I was thinking about this topic recently as I came to the final pages of Today at the Mission, a book that was given to me as a gift by a person whom I’ve never met. I was thinking about things I want to do – and do differently – in 2008. Some of the items on my list were definitely influenced by reading this book. So how did that come to pass?

The string of events probably goes back decades, but one came to mind this past month as we watched my 5th grade daughter (Erin, not Robert) at her winter concert. My wife remarked how funny it was that six years earlier, at my son Brian’s winter concert, we happened to sit behind two people who also had a son in Brian’s class, Donna and Perry. Now we could have sat anywhere (as could they) but this “random” choice of seats led to a passing conversation that ultimately led to us joining a church, and my eventual baptism in Christ.

Fast forward. My entry into the blogosphere is an outcome of a choice I made last November to attend a conference with some folks from that church, a strengths-finder test that I took there, and a subsequent desire to develop certain talents with a focus on God.

A link on my friend TK’s blog led me to biscotti brain, and in September, wilsonian added a line “don’t forget that you have until the 23rd” to the end of a non-related post. As a direct marketer, that intrigued me – and ultimately led me to her original post about the book give-away. Without that reminded, I would have missed it.

And this year, someone I have yet to meet will hopefully be touched by the hand of God in a way that would never have happened if all of the above (and a lot more) did not fall into place.

Does God manage or arrange? Is it destiny or choice? What say you?