31 October 2012

Rachel Held Evans - Superhero Stuck on a Roof

Every now and then I'm going to highlight some people I really admire, probably people I know, people who really make a difference in the world around them. I will try not to gush but make no promises.

Rachel Held Evans is one of my heroes. I've yet to meet Rachel in person. She's a writer, a sister, a thinker, a woman of valor, and someone who isn't afraid to push the boundaries.

Having heard for years about a tenuous concept she was to aspire to, the so called "Biblical woman" (always spoken in a special tone), and-- with every other woman on the planet-- finding herself unable to measure up to such a tenuous yet rigorous standard, she decided to research and live it for a year. Or do so as much as she could in modern, western society (specifically the USA). She spent time on the roof of her house, over a week each month not so much as touching her husband or anyone else, and hours at her city limits holding up signs praising her husband.

Then she wrote a book about it. It just came out. I can't wait to read it.

Just as women have always gotten flak for being good at something, she's gotten flak about the book. It contains the V word (No, not "Vulgate", but rather an anatomical term for something found only in women) which her publisher warned her might keep her out of certain bookstores. Lifeway has decided not to stock it although it's unclear why.

Rachel is brilliant, insightful, wise, and funny. Regardless of what you believe, you should read this book, if only to bust some myths about Judaeo-Christian values and maybe figure out why some of the people you know think like they do. And you will definitely get some laughs.

I'm going to buy extras to give away, based on my perception of who would get the most from it. Replying to this blog certainly won't hurt your chances.

This is part of a surprise synchroblog to celebrate Rachel and her book!

23 October 2012

Of Politics and Parables

Consider a new born baby. How many of you, with your arguing, finger pointing, yelling, facts, and perfect doctrine can turn this baby into a world class pianist? But if you love this baby and the child, teen, and adult they grow into, get to know the person they are and are becoming, honor who they are, see them as God does, look for God's image in them, you may well help them become who they were truly mean to be. And their destiny is world class, whether pianist. president, plumber, or pastor.

This is true of all people, not just babies-- including the people some of us vilify-- tax collectors, hookers, politicians, our fellow drivers, or preachers who focus on garbage (from condemning people to a prosperity gospel.


On a related note, the country, indeed, the world, is hotly divided over political issues, and the discussions and debates have devolved into verbal (or worse) firefights, leaving wounded victims (if only emotionally) strewn across the landscape like so many broken wildflowers.

When we, as the Church, the Bride of Christ, the body of Christ, engage in this way, we fail God, ourselves, and everyone around us.

When we apply religious (or, if you prefer, Biblical, but I think we often confuse these) litmus tests, and demand that candidates, parties or voters line up with what we think God thinks on every topic, and indeed, demand "Godly rule", we make a similar, and equally onerous and dangerous mistake to that made by those seeking to eliminate religion from politics.

Additionally, it gives those who disagree with us a reason to fight back, and in fact provokes them. If you provoke someone, why are you surprised when they come after you? Where is your legitimate objection?

By all means, our faith must drive our discourse. But it is foolishness to expect all your brothers and sisters to agree with you on every point, and madness to expect those who don't know Christ to.

Israel wanted a king. They got it and regretted it. The disciples wanted a king. They got one, but not the type they expected. We have a King. Don't demand another one in the Oval Office (or anywhere else).

13 October 2012

Are You My (Spiritual) Mother (Father)?

In his book, Jesus Culture, Banning Liebscher talks about how important it is for generations to work together. One of the main ways he discusses it is in terms of Moses holding up the rod (with the help of Aaron and Hur) while Joshua and the army fought the battle. For whatever reason, God wanted both of these to happen for his children to be victorious.

One of the ways I see the need for the generations to come together is through spiritual parents. I'm not talking about discipline or rules here. Far from it! I'm talking about people acting as parents, to pour their hard learned wisdom into younger people, their love, their strengths. This requires the younger people to be open and vulnerable, to trust. It can also help you to grow so much faster, run so much harder, climb so much higher, than you ever thought possible.

The spiritual children have a lot to offer the parents as well-- it's easy to get too settled, too comfortable, ossified even. Youthful vigor, inquisitiveness, passion, these are all things the older generations need.

You're never too old to have spiritual parents, You're never too old to have spiritual kids.

The parents in this scenario may not be physically older; they just need to have more experience and maturity in some areas. It's even possible for the roles to swap in a relationship depending on the topic!

It doesn't stop there, either. This works for any sort of family. People need spiritual grandparents and grandkids, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. It takes a family. And Jesus says we are family. We need to start acting like it. And I don't mean fighting!

You don't need to be formally trained in this. You just need to care, and to refuse to be afraid or intimidated. If someone has no parents, even if you do a poor job, they're still better off than they were. If you have a loving heart, a humble spirit, and a passion for God. you're qualified.

If you want help, just ask. If you don't know who to ask, ask me. I may walk with you through it or I may help find someone in your area. We'll work something out. But get busy. Somewhere around you is a hungry child.

02 October 2012

Have You Got Performance Anxiety?

I'm not here to discuss stage fright or your love life. The performance anxiety I'm talking about comes from without. It comes from a religious mindset and manifests as someone in the audience, I mean congregation, getting concerned (if not riled up) about whether a worship team is truly worshiping or somehow simply performing.

I'm going to use the term "audience" here partly because it's convenient, and partly to push your thinking. If my use of that term predisposes someone to judge me, well, I'll try to survive.

Performance anxiety can happen if

  • the band looks too "out there" or "too staid";
  • the music is "too secular sounding" or "too churchy sounding";
  • the music is "too loud", "too quiet", "too new", "too old", etc.;
  • "they shouldn't use those instruments";
  • the stage, light show, etc. are "too showy" or "too much like a rock concert".
But... it's not up to the audience to make that judgment. It's up to us to worship, and to let God deal with the band if they need dealing with, and with us if we need dealing with.

In short, if we're busy judging the band by their performance, it's we who have the performance mentality, not them.

So... for everyone in the pews, chairs, aisles, and so forth... how's that working for you?

(Dear worship band, the same thing applies to how you look at those not on stage. Don't judge by external reactions. Don't demand people sit still, dance, or anything else. Let God deal with each one.)

01 October 2012

The Logical Place To Look

Given the two greatest commandments:
  1. Love the Lord your God with every particle and wave of your being, natural or otherwise;
  2. In the same way, love your neighbor as yourself
The three most obvious sins are obviously failing to love God, yourself and others.

Since identity is key to relationship it also follows that three blatant sins would be our refusal and/or failure to let

  1. God be God,
  2. you be yourself, or
  3. others be themselves.
If you're having a hard time living a life of love, here's a good place to look. Where do you need to let these happen?

30 September 2012

As Yoda Might Say, Worship You Will.

We were made to worship.

If we don't worship God, we will always find something to worship-- ourselves, money, sports, sex, anime, celebrities, politics, cars or motorcycles, religion, knowledge, life, death...

Until people really meet and know God, they will find something else to worship. This should not surprise us.

When we let ourselves become estranged from God, we will find something else to worship. This should not surprise anyone.

We were made to worship. Worship we will.

29 September 2012

Dear Austin Revivalist Diaspora...

The last year or so has seen many Austinites on fire with God's love spread across the globe. Some of you went with community or into community. That's awesome, and makes the transition pretty easy.

But some of you went alone to new territory. You're looking for community, for family, for the depth and height and breadth of love, peace, joy, encouragement and passion you knew in Austin. You aren't finding it. That's not quite so easy.

But it could be easier.

If you aren't finding it, quit seeking it, At least the way you have been. Just as people here saw who you were and called that out, saw the gold and dug for it, helped you bring it into that joyous, refining, fiery love, now it's your turn to do that for others!

Everywhere you go, take those chances. Smile. Look. Speak. Say what you see and hear to total strangers, to neighbors, to co-workers, to kids, to old people, to everyone. Hug. Buy coffee or meals. Just love on people, intentionally, fully.

That's what Jesus did, and look at that 33AD community. That's what happened here in Austin, and look what we ended up with.

Yours won't look the same, any more than what we have in Austin looks identical to Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. And yet, it's the same, and so will what you find there be. You'll just have to find it differently than you did here.

You're the only Jesus some people will see. Be your awesome Jesus self. Go for it!

And know that we love and miss you!!!!! Hugs! Mwah! From all of us.

28 September 2012

Devastation in the Name of Truth

Pam had died, but nobody seemed to know. Obviously someone knew, and word was getting passed around. Here's how Desiree heard it.

"Hey, did you know Pam died?"
"Pam who?"
"Pam Lafleur."
"That's my Mom's name!"
"Yeah, it was your Mom."
"That's no way to tell someone her Mom died!"

That was my dream just before I woke up today. People found out when the fact was tossed out casually, even to her daughter. What a horrible way to find something like that out.

And yet, we treat people almost this badly. We have a problem with their church, their spouse, their kid or parent, their boss, their attitude, their clothes, whatever. And we casually toss that around with total disregard of how it might feel to them.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

We "love" to quote this passage, or parts of it, in ooey-gooey, romantic ways, or when defending something precious to us. But love also rejoices with the truth and the truth is that this is not a passage about romance (although it can apply), and that it is universal.

So before we open our mouths, not just to complain, but even to speak truth, let's make sure the truth we speak is truly in love-- that it's kind, honoring, strengthening others rather than tearing them down, protecting, spoken in a way to bring hope, to encourage.

Otherwise, no matter what you say, no matter how "true" it is, it's just trash can lids banging together, tapping out dismal news in Morse code. Nobody wants to hear that.

Bible verses from the NIV.

23 September 2012

In the Name of What?

I grew up in a mainline denomination. There was a lot of good stuff there, but they were missing out on things. They'd given up on, or turned away from, miracles (they aren't for today) and the gifts of the Spirit (ditto, though the fruits of the Spirit are mostly fine today, thank you).

But just as the mainline denominations were missing some things, so were the charismatics and the non-denominations. Many have missed wisdom in one area in particular.

Some of us have wasted a lot of time looking for the secret formula, the right phrases, the right attitudes, some hidden message we've all somehow missed, the secret to getting God to do what we want done. "The Answer" has allegedly been revealed many times under many guises: Name it and Claim It, Word of Faith, Positive and Negative Confessions, etc. While all of these had a grain of truth to them, they ultimately became either an attempted means of controlling God (the very worst form of sorcery) or The Thing We Needed To Do To Please God (a kind of works-based grace).

The phrase "Christian Sorcery" is, I trust, an obvious oxymoron. But what are sorcery and witchcraft except finding the key words or works to force someone or something supernatural to cause a desired effect in the natural? God makes no distinctions I can find between "black" and "white" or "good" and "bad" witchcraft. He simply says, "No. Don't be trying to manipulate." He doesn't distinguish between killing curses and love potions, between lightning strikes and rain dances. He just says, "No."

There are even prayers that get into this territory. It's irrelevant how they are phrased; if what we're after is getting God to force someone to do something they don't want to, we're in a dangerous place. It's one thing to cry out to God that we need rain; it's another thing altogether to demand it, much less to try to to do something to force him to rain where and when we want.

Some Christians get irate at this concept. "Sorcery involves the Devil!" If you want to be picky, we can be picky. That's Satanism, which is a subset of sorcery or witchcraft. But it makes no difference. God is about relationship, not rules. God cares about the means, not just the ends. The means involve our relationship with him, and if that relationship isn't about getting to know him and trusting him, if it's about getting our way, it's an attempt to manipulate God. Do you really think that goes well?

Quit looking for the secret, the magic words, the right gestures and attitudes, the correct phrasing, to produce miracles, healings, or provision. If you pay any attention at all as you read the Gospels, you will notice that of the recorded things Jesus did, he seldom did them the same way twice. How many different ways did he heal the blind? How many different ways did he approach the lame? In some cases (the woman in the crowd) he did nothing, the woman reached out in a desperate faith and was rewarded.

If, indeed, there is An Answer, it's simply to have a desperate faith, a faith that recognizes there is no other answer, that one has nothing to lose. But that's not something you can work up. It has to be real, from the heart, giving up hope in anything else. If nothing seems to happen right away, just keep asking, reaching, touching. I can't tell you why we sometimes need to keep on this way, but Jesus recommended it. And when something does happen, recognize it is simply grace, a gift from God, a work of love. Don't check the last thing you did and think it's The Answer, a way to reproduce the miracle, a way to force God to do it again and again and again. He knows what we want and what we need, and he's capable of doing all those things. And he loves us. Trust in that, and see what happens. You won't always get the miracles you wanted, but you will always get expressions of his love. It's simply a question of whether we're willing to recognize and accept them.

15 September 2012

God Is Enough... But Not In The Way You Think

Fellow blogger and all round cool sister Alise Wright recently wrote that God is not enough (do not bother to reply to that unless you read her blog). It was in reply to something on her Facebook wall that said, "If God is all you have, you have all you need."

This was my reply.

God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone (note that God said this even though, technically, Adam was not alone-- Adam had God there!), so he gave Adam and Eve the gift of each other, then gave them more family and friends and community, growing over time. I would contend that if you have God, you have family and friends and community. That's what I see in the Bible, and what I see all around me. Those who try to live without family and community have serious problems.

If, indeed, God alone is all you have then he will be and provide all you need. But how many of us end up like Jonah or John in the book of Revelation? Precious few, thankfully.

I suspect the provider of the quote above was trying to encourage people (or themselves) in the latter situation, but honestly, if we have a computer and internet access, we probably have no clue what it is like to have nothing but God.

I've known people who went through times they had no one but God, and he became enough, but he brought them to a place with others in their lives. Because we were never meant to be alone.

One of the last things Jesus did on the cross was to provide family for two people he loved dearly-- Mary and John. Every time his followers turned around he was loving on people, and doing things that caused relationship... with their Father first, but never just with their Father.

Don't try to make it on your own. Love people. Let people love on you. Does it open the door to hurt? Yeah, it can. But in the words of Alfred. Lord Tennyson, "tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." But if you really, really love people, you don't lose. They might, but you won't. I think I Corinthians 13 covers that one pretty well. (I'll try to address that soon.)

13 September 2012

The Morning After (Burning Ones)

I wrote the original version of this on Oct. 4, 2009 about an experience the night before at the Burning Ones Youth Conference. Nolan Clark blew us all away explaining what it meant to be a burning one, whether the beings of flame such as Isaiah saw (Is 6), or the human kind. I've expanded a little here.

I've prayed for years for God to burn out of me the things that were unlike him. I prayed this Saturday night as I have many times. Only this time I wasn't letting go; like Jacob I was wrestling with God until I got what I came for. If I ended up with a limp (metaphorical or real), so be it.

When God really got hold of me back in my hippie days, I had a vision. At the end of the vision I was floating before God, like we were the only two things in existence. I was this tiny speck, and he was an all consuming, blazing sun of pure love and holiness (among other things). I couldn't understand how I could continue to exist; I should have been reduced to subatomic particles.

As I prayed at Burning Ones, that fire reappeared-- only this time I was inside the fire, and it was inside me. God's holiness, his utter otherness, his alien-ness, overwhelmed me and became part of me, became me. The things that were not of him were suddenly as other to me as they are to him, and they just vanished.

Another thing I've prayed many times was to be able to see people as God does. A while back he told me clearly that if he did that for me, it would destroy me. "The intensity of even simple aspects of their nature-- like their maleness or femaleness-- would overwhelm you." So I quit asking, somehow knowing this wasn't a forever answer.

In the midst of the fiery experience last night, one of the things God said was, "Now you can ask." I knew immediately this was what he meant so I asked. And he did it. Everyone around me was now made of living fire-- holy, beautiful, pure. So this is what it means that we are made in the image of God! Or at least a glimpse of it.

The rest of the night was beyond anything I had ever experienced. It made the most intense acid trips in my college days look boring and pathetic. I knew who to pray for as God would let me see a dark spot in someone's fire. But I not only knew who to pray for, there was no question of how to pray. God showed me what to pray, or at times just prayed through me, or just spoke through me deep down into the beings of whomever I was praying for. I don't even know everything I prayed for; it wasn't for me. This was beyond prophetic insight. It was beyond merely understanding that I was made in God's image. I recognized God's image that was (is) me, that spoke and moved through me and everyone else. It happened again today a couple of times, too, though much more matter of factly, without the overwhelming awareness of the Burning One above all other burning ones.

And that's my prayer for everyone; that you not only see who God is, and who God made you to be, but that when you look in the mirror, you see the image of God he made you to be. And that you can then see others the same way.

I've only seen people as beings of fire a couple of times since, but the clarity, intensity, purity, and sheer joy and power of that night remains. To God be the glory, but a special thanks to Nolan, who brought us to a place where such things could happen.

13 August 2012

Never Give Up.

Working with teens is one of the coolest, more rewarding, most fun things about my life. Some of you read that two or three times-- blinking, shaking your heads, knowing you misread it-- but it still reads the same. "Don't you mean most frustrating, Miles?" No, I don't, Sure, there are times it can be frustrating, but that's true of everything in life worth doing.

There are these two siblings I've never been able to connect with. Since they were able to walk and talk, they've just never had any interest in me. And that's fine. I don't expect to be friends with the whole world (though that would be awesome). But we're friends with their parents, we go to church with them, we occasionally eat with them. I love them all.

I've given these siblings their space, just been there, offered hugs, interest, and jokes. I haven't pushed-- too often (their mom told me a while back, "Every now and then just hug them, anyway. They need it.")

But now that Sharon and I are officially working with the youth I want it clear they matter as much as anyone else, that they're loved, that they aren't being ignored or shut out. So this weekend at the lock-in I paid them a little more than usual. Nothing looked any different.

Tonight we had a dinner for the youth who'd made a special commitment, to spend time with them and start the process for what they had committed to. When I got ready to sit down, the only open space was also the only table with no adults. The slot was between these two sibs. My first thought was to give them some space; I don't want them to feel pressured. But it was the only open spot, so I sat down. And within a couple of minutes of talking with them and the other teens there (both of whom I'm very close to), these two pretty much took over the conversation. You'd have thought I was a long lost uncle or something.

It wasn't anything deep. It wasn't anything I (or, I presume, they) needed. It was just different. Suddenly, there was relationship. Suddenly, there was trust. Suddenly...

No. There was no suddenly. These were built up over time, with patience, love, and respect. There was no agenda. There were no demands. There were no expectations.

How did I learn to do this? From the way God pursued me, and from a handful of people over the years. Most of us haven't noticed anyone treating us this way, or we thought they were weird because nobody else did this, or... It really doesn't matter why. The reality is that real love-- patient, kind, unenvying, modest, humble, honoring love[1]-- calls out the good in people, and always has a chance of making a difference. Anything less is going to fail, one way or another, sooner or later.

Most of us are all too familiar with the broken, incomplete types of love (or the fakes that masquerade as love), with the resulting failures. Try the real deal. If you don't know how, find someone offering it and experience it for a while. There's some serious healing in there.

Some times it takes a while.

Don't give up.

God doesn't give up on you.

Neither will I.

[1] I Cor 13

16 June 2012

A Suit, a Car, and a Spotlight?

I was 21. I was at work, talking with God about something (I don't recall what, but it was hardly Earth-shaking). As conversations often do, it suddenly changed tracks. "One day I will call you into full time ministry."

While I hadn't yet been fully co-opted by the day's Modern Church Culture, I was far enough down that path that what I envisioned looked fairly traditional. Startlingly so, enough to make me nervous. I wasn't any more traditional then than I am today. And only a year earlier, I wouldn't have had any preconceptions; I would have simply asked what that looked like. (I once asked how many hairs I had on my head. He told me.)

At some point in my 30s while happily wearing the skin of an unofficial assistant youth pastor, a young lady named Elizabeth came up to me and said God had showed her something. "Right now you're in the background but one day you'll be in the spotlight, too. I know that's not something you're looking for, but it's true." I have to admit, I took it literally, thinking of being on a stage with hundreds, perhaps thousands of teens hanging on my every word. In the spotlight. It was scary. It was intriguing. It was exciting, It was tempting.


For years now in many cultures, most peoples' definition of a "successful" ministry has included certain things:

  • a stage
  • a huge audience (congregation or otherwise)
  • a good salary
  • nice clothes
  • a nice car (*too* nice can look bad) or two
  • a nice home (ditto) or three
  • TV cameras and radio microphones
  • fame and popularity
  • rubbing elbows with celebrities, maybe even world leaders
  • book deals
  • a spotlight or twelve
There have always been exceptions such as Mother Teresa, Margaret Gaines, Crystal Walker, Rick and Jan Waldrop, Paul and Rhonda Stockard, Gentjan and Pranvera Dervishaj. Mother Teresa could have had all the trappings of a "successful" ministry but she was too busy ministering. You've heard of her. Most of you haven't even heard of the others. And that's fine with them. They aren't in it for the money, for the cars, for the fame. The were and are in it for two reasons-- they love God, and they love people.


After a long and bizarre (the norm for me) road, I became an official youth pastor. That youth group, once well over 100, was down to six when I was asked to pastor it. I didn't care. I loved them and poured myself into them. No stage. No spotlight. No salary.

I was given influence with a much larger youth group. Still none of the trappings; it came about through just loving people and showing them God.

As things got bigger and better (in the traditional sense), I had a vision that called me to walk away from the title and formal youth ministry. I just kept loving and offering God. I ended up with "ministry" all over the place, including (gasp!) adults, from 90 miles north to 90 miles south, to 200 miles east... and around the globe via travel, friends and the net.

Occasionally there's a stage, even a spotlight. Occasionally I end up hugging a celebrity or a local or state leader. A couple of times there has been a fairly large audience. But the thing is, I had to rack my brain across the list to come up with those. They're cool because God is doing something in those moments, not because they are big deals.

And I am a full time minister. It's not what I'm paid to do. It's a part of who I am as a child of God. It doesn't look much like Mother Teresa or (insert your favorite full time minister here), because God made me to be me. Unique. Weird, even. And I'm totally down with that. Why would I want to be anyone else? We already have one of each of those.

Ministry looks different for each of us. It might mean simply being a good husband or wife, mom or dad, brother or sister, child, etc. It might mean stopping to hug and feed the people on the side of the road begging for money. It might be as obvious and simple as loving, honoring and supporting everyone at work... or in your congregation or neighborhood. It might mean praying for the sick. It might mean preaching. It might mean teaching. It might mean performing marriages and baptisms (perhaps without a license or official approval in a hostile environment). It might mean waiting with the dying, laughing and crying with the bereaved, burying the dead. It might mean smuggling Bibles. It might mean loving a tormentor. It might mean nice clothes, a car, and a book deal. If it all flows directly out of loving God, and loving others as yourself, doing what we see the Father doing, speaking what we hear Daddy saying, it's ministry. And it's good.

How about you? What's your ministry look like?

This was inspired by Sally Hanan, who asked, "When you think about being in full-time ministry, does your vision instantly go to a stage where hundreds sit and listen to you, or does it go to you washing old bed-ridden women and letting people move into your space and eat your food ...? Just a thought, because if love is not the motivation for your ministry ..."

21 May 2012

Go Nuts!

One morning recently I decided to take a vacation. I went to the Message and got a suite in I Peter, rooms 1 and 2. I spent some time meditating on what I found there. I brought out a couple of things left by the first tenant, pay it forward style.

"Now that you've cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it." (1/22)
"So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You've had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God's pure kindness. Then you'll grow up mature and whole in God." (2/1-3)

How many of us love one another as if our lives depended on it? How many of us even come close? How many try? That's a good start, trying.[0] Even if you fall short, you did better than before. Too often we look at something like this, think "I can't be that good", and give up. That can be intimidation, insecurity, fear of failure, a sense of hopelessness, or just an excuse. But none of those excuse us from going for it.

"But I can't! I mean, I tried it a couple of times, and I made it like an hour..." That's two hours more than before. One of my favorite lines in Batman Begins comes from Bruce's Dad (later repeated by Alfred).

"And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up."

While I disagree with this exact statement as a theological principle (I don't think God makes us fall so we can learn not to), it otherwise holds a great deal of wisdom. We can learn from anything. When you fall (fail), get back up and go some more. Learn what made you fall, and avoid that, or learn ways to cope with it.[1]

Love those aground you as if your life depended on it. (I'll let you in on a secret. Loving people is about the most fun thing you can do. But hold on-- some of them will love you back so much it will blow you away.)

"...Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk." These four things drive a lot of the drama in our lives. Drama is a poor substitute for fun and excitement, but a lot of us settle for drama. Malice is first cousin to hate, the very opposite of love. Love is real, it doesn't need to pretend, and doesn't hide behind fakery. Envy? Heck no! I'm excited when good things happen to the people I love. And love never wants to hurt someone, directly or indirectly.

This is not a definitive list; it was almost certainly addressing specific issues at a specific place and time. But these things are common to humans, and commonly get in the way of living in love.

So do it. Go nuts in your love for others. God does it for us, all day, every day.

[0] As you may have noticed, Yoda wasn't always right.
[1] Need help with that? A side excursion to James 1/5 has the answer:
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." (NIV)
"If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it."

(All Scriptures from the Message unless otherwise noted...)

28 April 2012

People Are People

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully

So we're different colours
And we're different creeds
And different people
have different needs
It's obvious you hate me
Though I've done nothing wrong
I've never ever met you
so what could I have done

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
"People are people..."
I got that back in my hippie days.
I got that as a baby Christian, devoid of religion and politics.
I got that when I got sucked into liberal theology.
I got that when I got sucked into right wing, fundamentalist Christianity.
I get it now as someone who just basks in God's grace and thinks both sides have their good and bad points.

Not much boggles my mind, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone would not see this. (My track record isn't perfect, either, but hate isn't an option, so even when it sneaks in, it doesn't stay past having a little light on it.)

In Mt 25/31-46, we find Jesus talking about visiting people in prison, feeding the hungry, and generally helping the hurting as a pretty big deal. (Note: I don't see this as a passage about "What you must do to get to heaven (works), but about our actions showing who we really are. This implies that if we truly love Jesus, these things come naturally.)

In Lk 10/29-37 he applies this to someone his listeners saw as extremely different (a Samaritan).

In dealing with tax collectors, whores, adulteresses, drunks, lepers, Romans, and pretty much every sort of "different" there was in his day, he took a stand for this. "People are people. I created them. I love them. I'm going to die and come back for them as well as you."

Today he'd do the same for all of them again, as well as the homeless, black people, gays and lesbians, illegal immigrants, Muslims, and everyone else. Would he point out anything wrong in their lives and offer to heal them? Sure... just as he does with you and me.

People are people...
Help me understand

Now you're punching
And you're kicking
And you're shouting at me
I'm relying on your common decency
So far it hasn't surfaced
But I'm sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel
From your head to your fists

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man

Help me understand
Depeche Mode lyrics (C) 1984 Sire Records Company

23 April 2012

Sweet Surrender

I've always loved this song by Sarah McLachlan. I never knew what it was about, but it was so good and spoke to me so deeply I never worried about it. If you haven't heard it, you should listen:


(Whatever version I'm currently hearing is my favorite, so I just chose the album version.)

Recently I found a live performance video where she explained the song's origin before she sang it. Here's a transcription from the net:

"The initial inspiration came actually after seeing Leaving Las Vegas, which I found to be this beautiful and tragic love story of these two people who were rather pathetic, both in their own rights, and yet completely accepted each other for who they were; all the beautiful things, and all the ugly things. That's a lot to do with what this is about, accepting ugly things, and being able to appreciate the fact that someone can love you for all those nasty things, especially when you think you are completely unlovable. There's some great comfort in that."
Wow. I've never seen the movie, but this helps explain why the song grabs me like it does. On top of Ms. McLachlan's brilliant songwriting and vocal skills (and great band), this comes from a place near and dear to my heart.
It doesn't mean much...
It doesn't mean anything at all...
The life I've left behind me
Is a cold room...
I've felt like this several times in my life, but the ones that stand out all involve total, relentless, utterly forgiving love that surrendered much to me and left me feeling that this was, indeed, all I had to give. Some of these were God moments, others involve my wife, or falling in love with people others saw as flawed, giving in to that love, adopting them as it were.
I've crossed the last line
From where I can't return,
Where every step I took in faith
Betrayed me
And led me from my home.

Sweet surrender...
Is all that I have to give?
I don't know what the author means by "Where every step I took in faith betrayed me and led me from my home", but that can be read in multiple ways. I take it as betraying my quest for security and safety. Love always involves risk, and the reward is always worth it.
You take me in,
No questions asked;
You strip away the ugliness
That surrounds me.
If that isn't the definition of love, I don't know what is. Absolute love, no reservations, it goes beyond mere (mere!) forgiveness into overwhelming grace. God strips away all the crap, to reveal the core, the beauty, of who we are. True love does that. Other people have done it for me, and by His grace, I do it for others. But it only works if we recognize that love. Otherwise it feels like we're being assaulted when someone tries to strip away the ugliness.
Are you an angel?
Am I already that gone?
I only hope
That I won't disappoint you...

When I'm down here
On my knees...
How well I know that feeling that all I can do is disappoint. But that's the sign of someone who doesn't know what it is to be loved!

Surrender is always a scary thing. Too often, we only do it when we feel trapped, like a soldier with a gun in his or her face. But it runs out there are things we should surrender to long before we get to that point. Love is at the top of the list, especially unconditional, unstoppable, unending love.

Sweet surrender, indeed.

(Lyrics courtesy of lyrics007.com)

30 March 2012

Don't Hate the Hunger Games for the Wrong Reasons

Some of my Christian friends were very unhappy with the movie, The Hunger Games. These generally centered on a lack of morality, or a totally self-centered, un-Christlike morality. I didn't get why they were so upset until I watched the movie. If you didn't read the book, you will not get the message in the movie.

There are several reasons for this.

The book is from Katniss's perspective. It's all first person, and you know her thoughts. You know her struggles, her fears, her loathing to kill, how she had to be the adult when her mother completely shut down for several years after her father was killed in the mine explosion, how the family had nearly starved to death, how the bounty from winning the games will give so many in her community a chance at survival and more, that they would otherwise not have.

Speaking of which, the movie really didn't convey just what winning the Game meant to a district, per the end of that last item.

The movie what drove Haymitch to drinking, and what really brought him out of it. Haymitch had been a Game winner, and then a mentor. But District 12 was so beaten down, that every year he invested his time and energy in trying to save two people from home, two people with no survival instincts or skills, who never had a chance at anything but victimhood, bloody sacrifices. Nor does it make it clear that once he saw the character and potential of Katniss and Peeta, he snapped out of it and put his all into helping them survive.

The movie doesn't really show just how dangerous the days after the Game were, not just for Katniss and Peeta, but for Haymitch and indeed all of District 12.

The movie just makes Katniss look like a pragmatist, differing from the pack of killers mainly in her lack of blood lust, and perfectly happy to fake romance with Peeta. neither is true; she was relentlessly forced into her actions by circumstances and her goal. She wasn't just fighting against (and she never killed if she had an option), she was trying desperately to save her family, her friends, her district. And Peeta, once she realized he wasn't the enemy.

If the movie upset you for reasons such as I mentioned, I strongly urge you to read the book before condemning the movie.

If the movie upset you because of its theme of government and media betrayal, I strongly urge you to read the book to better understand that theme.

No Listy lists were harmed in making this post, though they may have been offended at being left out. But, like a film maker, I have to choose what will fit. Sorry, Listy, you would have made my blog too long, and I didn't want to have to include an intermission.

09 March 2012

Got Breakthrough?

"If you need personal breakthrough, try praying for someone else's breakthrough. Job 42:10: And the Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends." -Chris Gore

From what I find in the scriptures, Jesus spent a lot more time helping others with breakthrough than he did off praying for himself. The time just before he was arrested to be crucified was a notable exception, but even there Jesus refused to focus on himself as we often tend to. Examples of this during the last day of his life include the healing the servant's ear, making sure Mary and John took each other as family, and forgiving the thief on the cross. (The effort to talk on the cross must have been massive and brutal, yet he expended that effort for others.)

As a rule, whatever I need, if I find someone to bestow that on, I get it by the truckload. Feeling left out? Include someone. Unloved? Love someone. Sad? Go make someone happy. Need healing? Go heal someone. I have found (and Scripture backs me up) that the more I pour out, the more I'm filled up. If I focus on God and others, I am taken care of. If I focus on me, I'm still cared for, but because my focus is wrong, I don't even notice. He could drop a breakthrough in my lap, and I usually wouldn't recognize it.

Don't do this out of principle or just to get what you want (or even need). Do it for love! You can't go wrong following the two greatest commandments:

"...The Lord our God is one Lord. Love the Lord your God with every particle of your being, physical and otherwise. The second one is just like that: Love yourself, and everyone else the same way." (Mk 2/29b-31a, Miles' Modern Version)

03 February 2012

What Holy of Holies?

A few weeks ago our pastor mentioned the veil being torn in the Holy of Holies when Jesus died on the cross, and how it was not so much to let us in as to let God out.

This got me thinking. (One of the cool things about pastor Neusch is that the fact that I'm thinking doesn't seem to scare him.) The Kutless song, "Take Me In", immediately played through my mind. While I love this song, I suddenly realized how theologically problematic it was.

For most of Biblical history there was no Holy of Holies as we know it. From the beginning, God intentionally spent time with men and women. But after delivering the Israelites from Egypt, the people were afraid of God. It was only after they refused to draw near to God (Ex. 20) that God gave Moses instructions for the Ark of the Covenant, where God chose to restrict his presence for his peoples' sake. Even then, God was manifestly hanging out near his people. It wasn't until David and Solomon insisted on building a temple that God consented to "reside" in the Holy of Holies.

Even then, God came to people elsewhere, spoke with them and did miracles (the prophets, kings who served God, etc.) God won't fit in a box. Even one he designed.

During the time of the Ark and the Temple, most of those who loved God never truly experienced his presence. Just as sin originally made Adam and Eve ashamed so that they drew away from God (not the other way round), Israel kept choosing paths that pushed God farther away.

But the instant Jesus died, sin was overcome once (all the way backward and forward in time!) for all (all!) and the veil was torn from top to bottom. Just as in the Garden of Eden, there was nothing between God and people. God refused to stay isolated any longer from those he loved.

Bill Vanderbush makes a compelling case that every Christian takes the place of the Ark of the Covenant, carrying the Presence of the living God. I would go farther; we also have become the Holy of Holies-- the place where we meet God face to face in absolute purity and holiness. We have no need to ask permission to enter. We're here. He's here. And we're alive in his presence.

For far too many people around us, there is still a veil-- a veil of ignorance, a veil of pain, or a veil of lies. Share God's presence so that these veils fall and others can become the Holy of Holies as well.