Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

Well, the day is almost, finally here. I had a piece written just for this occassion, but it just didn't seem to say exactly what I wanted it to say. As I was working on it, listening to music right here of course, my favorite Christmas song came on and said it perfectly for me.

I was sittin by the fire side
Taking a walk through the snow
Listening to a children's choir
Singing songs about Jesus
The blessed way that he came to us
Why can't it remain
All through the year
Each day the same
Heyeah, that's what I wanna hear
Heh heh It's truly amazin
That spirit of Christmas

Ray Charles "That Spirit of Christmas"

I hope everyone has an incredible Christmas day and a wonderful New Year, a year in which we do remember Christ and the blessed way he came to us, each and every day.

Merry Christmas,
The Not So Cantankerous One :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Denied, Betrayed, and Otherwise Hung Out To (Bleed) Dry

How many of us have ever denied someone we at the very least somewhat liked? How about betrayed? We’ve all done it, to varying degrees for varying reasons. How horrible does that feel when we do that? Even as I sit here thinking about it, I kind of cringe. Heck, the more I think of it, I’m not even sure you have to like the person to be adversely affected by it. Denying someone, in this context, means that you withdrew your love, affection, relationship, commitment, etc.

Betraying someone is even worse yet, at least to me. Betrayal involves reneging on some emotional/spiritual commitment. To betray someone is to turn your back on someone, with the essence of your very self, your being. It calls into question your honor, your integrity, your morals, your heart and soul. What makes you, you.

It hurts badly (for most of us) to fail in such ways. Sometimes we do it out of fear to save our own skin, sometimes we do it for personal gain, sometimes we do it for no other reason than pure meanness, a momentary loss of conscience.

The kicker of denial and betrayal? They aren’t these things which illicit a stock response from us. The more we care, like, love the offended, the worse we feel exponentially. It’s something that sticks with us long after the fact and it is among the hardest things to be forgiven for. In these instances, trust isn’t just broken, it is obliterated.

Now, let’s flip the coin? How much worse is it when it happens to us? It is crushing and heartbreaking. Is there much, if anything, else in life that hurts worse? You can be in a roomful of your closest friends, family, and loved ones…and if someone denies or betrays you, suddenly you feel utterly alone, deserted. In either case, as offender or offended, how much more brutal is it if we or they have been utterly faithful to us? What if we or they have been completely selfless in their dealings with the other? What if great sacrifices have been made?

So, why the focus on such things? As I was writing the last piece, speaking of apostles, and then quoting Peter, I thought of the Gospel of Luke in particular…

Luke 22:31-34 (NIV) 31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

33But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."

34Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."

I think (hope) to one degree or another, we can all relate to Peter in this instance. I cannot imagine any of us ever setting out to deny or betray someone. We like to think the best of ourselves, we like to think that when push comes to shove, our mettle, our fortitude will be proven true, no matter what. Problem is, we never know how we’re going to react in a given situation until placed in it…

Luke 22:54-62 (NIV) 54Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.

56A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."

57But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.

58A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."

"Man, I am not!" Peter replied.

59About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."

60Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62And he went outside and wept bitterly.


Peter was frightened, if not downright terrified. All of sudden, the reality of Jesus’ and therefore Peter’s, as well as all of the apostles’ situation had become imminently real. Jesus had been arrested and the situation had suddenly become much more dangerous. However, this is not my focus, my focus is squarely upon the first sentence of verse 61...

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.

Think about this, really let it sink in. What must that have been like for Peter? Can we really begin to fathom it? What must he have felt? What must he have seen in the eyes of Christ at that very moment? He had just done that which he had sworn he would not do. He denied the one whom He believed was the Messiah, even if he didn’t fully understand what that truly meant at that moment. Three times he denied Him, just as he had been told he would. And upon doing it the third time, He finds Jesus, under arrest, hours from the cross, looking directly at him.

I don’t think we can even begin to imagine it. I think about it and I dwell on it. I try to imagine it from each perspective and my heart absolutely breaks for both. Where things get especially hard for me? As I imagine Peter by the fire, the flames illuminating his face, the smell of burning wood, and the excited voices all around, I am no longer seeing the scene through Peter’s eyes, but my own. Worse yet? It is not Christ’s eyes looking upon Peter, but rather upon me.
Unlike myself, and Christians ever since the resurrection, Peter BELIEVED, yet he did not UNDERSTAND. His understanding did not come until later. We have no such excuse. As Christians, we proclaim not only our belief in Christ, but also an understanding of not only WHO, but WHAT He was. We know these things, and yet, we continue to find ways to deny Him through our actions, words, feelings, and inactions. Let me say right up front, I know I’m guilty of what I’m about to say…But do we ever stop to think of just how often, in a multitude of ways that we deny and betray Jesus and His sacrifice?

I think about Jesus, in custody, looking into the face of Peter and I try to imagine what He felt. He knew it was coming, He told Peter how it would happen. But does that mean that it didn’t still hurt? Jesus knew what lay in store for Himself and on the precipice of His darkest hour, He had been betrayed (twice when we count Judas) and denied by one of His own. In addition to pain and disappointment, I also imagine Christ felt pity, love, understanding , and forgiveness for Peter.

However, I think to dismiss or discount the idea that Jesus felt pain and disappointment in Peter, is to also discount not only what He was about to go through on the cross, but also why He had to go through it. It is no different with us. Would we be so quick to continue “denying” Christ and hiding behind His forgiveness if we had to endure His eyes every time that we did? Are we forgiven? Well, it is available to us, but I don’t think we are automatically forgiven just because it is available. If I am starving to death and there is a meal within easy reach, I do not cease to starve for that simple fact. I have to take action, I have to make an attempt, I have to reach for it, I have to ingest it.

The thing is, I think we do endure the eyes of Christ every time we do deny him. I think He looks at us no differently than He did Peter. I think each and every time we deny Him, the sting is no different…

A lot of imagery is drawn from Christ and His bride, the church, the body of believers, us. We as humans, have all at one time or another, had a friend in a bad marriage or relationship. The type where one half constantly screws up, breaking the other’s heart over and over and over. And it makes us so angry. Yet, the half that was hurt, continually forgives and accepts the other back. Sometimes this happens so much that the offender no longer cares about their transgressions, only that they will be forgiven. The pain, the heartache, the crushing blow of denial never lessens, never relents, yet the other continues without thought. And our anger grows, “If only they knew how badly they were hurting them!”

If only we knew....

Cantnakerously Yours and Surprisingly Prolific Today,
Me :)

Back to the Shack...With Gas and a Match

"Jude 1:3-4 (KJV) Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. "

I started this off with Jude for a few different reasons. 1) I really would rather be writing about something positive or thought provoking (don't get me wrong, I do rather enjoy debating this book, but as far as writing...enough is enough) 2) I do see a real need for Christians today to "earnestly contend for the faith", especially when so many of our brethren are happily swallowing heresies and lies. 3) I do see "The Shack" as denying the "only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. 4) I just flat love the book of Jude :)

September 25, 2008, almost two months ago as I sit here today, I wrote a review that just won’t die, about a book that just won’t die either. Just this past Tuesday, I received another request for the “detailed” notes that I took as I read the book. (Page references are currently being converted from the hardcover edition to paperback) I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve sent or printed that out for someone and that’s not even taking into account the emails I’ve received about the book. There hasn’t been a Sunday at church when someone hasn’t asked me about it. This thing has some serious legs.

The vast majority of responses have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Of those that just can’t fathom that this book is anything less than the second coming of the Bible, about half have eventually come around to see the book for what it is. Of those that remain steadfast in their love and devotion of “The Shack”, every last one, when faced with scripture and a gentle, common sense approach to the author’s words, I am faced with the same retort, time and time again. As I predicted in my original review…“But it’s fiction you big grump!”

It is in essence this that I want to address. Is “The Shack” fiction? ABSOLUTELY. Does that make it right? Safe? Nope and nope. It starts, for me, with the simple fact that I myself have heard the discussion amongst Christians as to whether or not it is in fact fiction. (Allegedly it briefly topped Amazon’s nonfiction list) I think much of the confusion lies in the prologue and epilogue of the book. The author takes the curious step of presenting this in such a way as to pound home the illusion that this isn’t fiction. Should he be held accountable because gullible people are being confused by this? Probably not, but when he presents the “writer” of the story as “Willie” when his own name is “William”, to me, is an outright attempt to deceive.

Secondly, there is fiction (Stephen King, JK Rowling, Anne Rice (pre-conversion), Dan Brown…etc) and then there is fiction such as “The Shack”. You can find all of those aforementioned authors in almost any bookstore, except Christian bookstores. You find their books, you know what you’ve got…a fictional story, meant only to entertain. Do they have agendas? You can hardly write without one. With that said, are any of them calling into question and attacking basic tenets of the Christian faith, while proclaiming to be a part of it? No.

Most people, go into a Christian bookstore with a certain level of trust and expectation. They go in believing that anything they pick up in there will be Biblically sound. They do not go in worrying that their purchase, especially when it is so prominently displayed and promoted, is actually a veiled attack against the things that they hold dear. Yet, this is “The Shack”.

I have often wondered, with some defenders of “The Shack” how they would react if I walked into a room and began calling into question the Holy Trinity, the NEED for Christ in salvation, the validity and truth of scripture, the presence of evil, and so on. I would be attacked in an instant. Yet because these messages are packaged in a box that makes you cry and makes you feel good, it’s a different story.

You’d be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, how many times, “But it’s fiction you big grump”, is immediately followed by, “Besides, it made me feel good.”

How troubling is that? I think about Christians, the things we proclaim to believe, and how little of a fight we’ll put up when it is called into question. “Besides, it made me feel good.” Is this what we have truly been reduced to? The easy path? The road most traveled? If it feels good, it must be right? I wonder about the apostles and Christ. How easy was any of their lives? How easy was their journeys? How easy and gentle was old Pops with them? But, I digress. But I do wonder, what makes us think two-thousand years later that we are somehow exempt?

Christ was the Son of God and God at once. The apostles, mere men, who devoted their lives to Jesus and His teaching in the face of hardship, pain, ridicule, destitution, and death. Yet they were not exempt, or spared from those lives. Christ was under such duress that He was sweating blood! And here we are today, where we cannot be bothered to serve our Lord and Savior most of the time. We ignore the homeless and hurting. We live contrary to those things which we purport to believe. We can’t be bothered to actually pick up the Book. The list goes on and on. We live lives that are a far cry from Christ and the apostles. Yet, when we read a fictional account, that not only calls into question all that they lived and died for, but also trashes it in some instances, it is okay and it is all right. It made me feel good. It made things easy. I’m living proof that God doesn’t always care about comfort and easy.

What He does care about is where your heart and mind lie. What He cares about is to whom they belong. What He cares about is where you’ll spend eternity. Much beyond that, I have severe doubts as to whether or not His cares match our own.

In closing, I’ve written what amounts to a bunch of rambling, certainly not one of my stronger entries. However, I have an “ace in the hole” that I was holding until the very end. The one argument even the most ardent Shack supporter, “But it’s fiction!”, proclaiming person has not been able to respond to. For this, I will call on one the words of one of the apostles…

2 Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. "
 
Cantankerously Yours and Refreshed,
Me :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Back Soon...

Just wanted to drop in and post that I will begin updating the blog again next week. I've been crazy busy since the last post and just haven't had the time to devote to the blog that I'd like (plus I was taking a short hiatus). I'll be speaking and preaching at 3 different churches this weekend alone (yippee!!!), while fighting a nasty cold that seems to be worsening after three days rather than getting better, but I've written a half-dozen potential entries...each more cantankerous than the last :) I just need to do a little polishing.

So, I hope you'll all check back next week...I'm guessing the first one out of the gate will be what I'm hoping will be the final word on a certain book about an out-building..."Back to the Shack...With Gas and a Match". (That book and my review just won't seem to die)

Blessings,
The Cantankerous, Sneezing, Coughing, and Achy One

Friday, October 24, 2008

Politics and Religion

November 4th. I will be so glad when that day is finally here and gone. As I write this it is October 24th I’m suffering from election overload. Actually, I hit that point long ago, but that’s neither here nor there. Frankly, I’m not losing any sleep over what happens on that day. I will vote my conscience, between God and I, and from there it’s in God’s hands. Doesn’t the Bible say something about that? I dunno, maybe it’s just me. But once again, it’s really neither here, nor there.

This entry really isn’t about politics. I often wonder about the people for whom so much of their identities is defined by red or blue, elephant or donkey. People will fight for their candidate/party with a ferocity and intensity, that is respected on some level by this former Marine, boxer, and football player. People will fill their yards with signs supporting their candidates, they’ll plaster all kinds of witty bumper stickers all of their vehicles, they’ll give money, they’ll try and persuade all of their friends why their choice is the right one, heck, they may even go door to door handing out fliers and talking about their candidates. They’ll read any book about their candidate that they can get their hands on. They’ll cling to every one of their words and store them away in their hearts. They’ll be able to rattle off each and every facet of their candidates platforms and stances, without batting an eye. They’ll be able to tell you an endless stream of seemingly obscure facts about their candidates, things like hometown, birthdays, personal associates, and their favorite holiday meal. Some will even share personal anecdotes about having seen or heard said candidate and how it moved them. Talk about dedication. There is no doubt whatsoever who their man, woman, or party is.

People will risk their reputations, their relationships, and their pride in telling/proclaiming the merits of a politician, whom they’ve never met or truly known. Politicians who really, honestly could care less about them as an individual.

Many Christians count themselves among those described above. I mean, elections are serious business, there are serious, life changing issues to be determined, right? It demands our effort, our time, our passion, and our sacrifices, right?

Now, please read those purple paragraphs again. (get it…red + blue=purple) Here’s my question…Why are we, as Christians, so willing to do these things for a politician, but not for our God, Savior, Word, and Faith? What if those behaviors, those energies were devoted to God? We will do these things for a politician, a human being who neither knows us, nor loves us, and certainly would not sacrifice their lives for us, but we can’t and won’t do these things for God?

We will do all that we can to insure that everyone who passes us by will make the right choice on election day. Yet, we are all too often willing to allow friends and family to make the wrong choice when it comes to judgment day through our silence.

What if our passion and devotion as Christians matched that, or better yet, exceeded those so many harbor for their candidate/party? Perhaps many of these “important issues” would suddenly be moot. What if by the same measures, the world would have no doubt about our allegiance to God?

Still Cantankerous,
Me

Thursday, October 23, 2008

KISS...PT 2

Love God and allow Him to transform your life. If you love God, you will not only read His Word, but you will also live it. You will love your neighbor. Your love and faith in God will compel you to take an active role. You will be compelled to serve God and your neighbor.

The above paragraph was my attempt at a simple summation of the Christian faith. As I originally typed it, the first sentence stuck in my craw. Not because it is wrong, but because this seems to be where we mess it up the most. That singular mistake, from where I’m sitting, is the biggest barrier to us truly adhering to “K-I-S-S”…Keep It Simple Stoopid.

I was reminded of the Spiritual Warfare class I’m currently teaching. A couple of weeks ago during the lesson on “The Helmet of Salvation” there was a section in the textbook headlined by the following, “In Christ We are Loved, Forgiven, and Changed.” I remember clearly giggling when I read that. We are most certainly loved. We are most certainly forgiven. There’s absolutely no denying either of those two statements. But the reason I giggled? As Christians, we are so good at being loved and forgiven. We cling to that, we proclaim that, we are comforted by that…but we ain’t so good at being changed :) (Yet, on the flip side, we aren't always very good at loving and forgiving, but boy, oh boy, can we be good at trying to change others...but that is a piece for another day)

For too many of us we stop at being loved and forgiven. For too many of us, that is the very basis, the backbone on which our faith is built and extends…I AM LOVED. I AM FORGIVEN. And the critical mistake in this? We then try to create, contort, and conform God, His Word, and our Faith to those two points. When our faith extends no further than being loved and forgiven, we truly miss out on the ability to KISS. We change that which is unchangeable, God and His Word, rather than allowing that which needs to be changed, to be changed…US.

What was Jesus Christ’s words when asked what is the greatest commandment?

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (emphasis mine)

Love God with the entirety of your being. Why? Because you are loved and forgiven. But it must absolutely, positively start and stay with loving God. It’s a two way street. In one lane is a love that is unimaginable, unquantifiable, unending, and most of all undeserved. But that other lane was never intended to be empty. If you recognize the fact that you are loved and forgiven, despite the wretched, foul critters we all are when compared to our Holy Father, then that other lane needs to be a steady stream of never-ending, never slowing traffic. That other lane needs to be filled with a love that is charged, joyous, obedient to a fault, yet, wild, unabated, raw, and desperate. It needs to be the most powerful, persuasive, irresistible force in our lives.

If our love and our focus is squarely in and upon God, how much simpler and basic would the Word and God’s commandments be? Where we run into trouble is when that two way street of love between us and God, becomes a two lane, one way street. I AM LOVED. I AM FORGIVEN. By God…and by ME. Sometimes by ME, and then GOD.

How many times do we find the Word difficult and confusing, not because it is difficult and confusing, but because it makes us uncomfortable? Because it compels us to do things that we don’t want to do i.e.…forgive and love? Because it gives us a truth that is difficult for us to share with the world around us i.e.…Jesus is THE way, not A way? How many times is the word black and white, obvious and plain, and we try to manipulate it and conform it to fit with our comfort level? It is then when it become difficult and confusing, because we try to make it something it is not. Where is our love focused? On God? Or on ourselves?

At it’s most base, the Bible is a very simple, easy to understand book. I can hear it now :) WHAT!?!?!? Are you kidding me!?!?!? Why then, Mr. Smarty Pants are there so many commentaries, so many studies, so many arguments, so many theologies? Beats me.
I stand by that assessment. Questions of right and wrong? Clear as a bell. Good and evil? Clear as a bell. Rewards and punishments? Clear as a bell. Expectations? Clear as a bell. Instructions for leading a Godly, Christ centered, Christ focused life? Clear as a bell. Prophecies? Those already fulfilled? Mostly clear. Those still unfilled? DOESN’T MATTER! God is going to do, what God is going to do, when God chooses to do. The question is simply…Will you be found ready and obedient when He does?

Our faith is simply and perfectly defined by Jesus…Love God. If we truly adhere to that, practice that, and live that, things become much simpler. Does that mean that we won’t be faced with difficult situations? Decisions? Absolutely not. But when we are faced with such things, especially when we turn to the Word, the questions that hold the keys to our understanding is simply this…Where is my heart? On God or on me?

God does in fact ask and expect of us some pretty tough stuff, there is no denying that. But it is so much easier when we can say to the Father, “God, you know what, I’m not happy, I don’t want to do this, it makes me uncomfortable. But you know what else? I love you and I will do what you ask and expect of me, I just pray for the strength and wisdom I will need to do it.”

KISS…KEEP-IT-SIMPLE-STOOPID…Love God with every fiber of your being and existence…The rest will take care of itself.

Love God and allow Him to transform your life. If you love God, you will not only read His Word, but you will also live it. You will love your neighbor. Your love and faith in God will compel you to take an active role. You will be compelled to serve God and your neighbor.
 
 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Prison

I know that I had promised a few people a quick turn-around on KISS pt 2 (it‘s done), but I’ve just got to get this one out there NOW.

Yesterday, I found God in a most unexpected way, place, and fashion. Yesterday, I had my eyes opened in ways that I had never imagined. Yesterday, I had known truths become living, fulfilling truths. Yesterday, I had my heart softened and then newly set ablaze in amazing ways. Yesterday, I had my faith reaffirmed. Yesterday, I found beauty, love, and hope in a place where there should be none. Yesterday, I felt the very presence of God in a way I hadn‘t known in way too long, if ever. Yesterday, I went to prison.

I typed that last paragraph, I read it, and I am frustrated. I just can’t seem to quite get it right. I can’t exactly convey the words, the feelings, the emotions that I’m aiming for. I’ve written and re-written this entry so many times, on paper, on the computer, in my head, and I just can’t get it right.

I don’t want to do a whole lot of set-up with this one, because I want to get right to the meat of it, I don’t want to lose anyone in the setup. I want to share this with everyone, but to skip the setup would be to somehow take something away from what happened. So, please, please, please bear with me.

I had been asked numerous times to go to this prison, a women’s prison, and I always had a reason/excuse as to why I couldn’t. Thankfully, the person who had been doing the asking remained persistent, and I finally had no choice but to give in. I really had no clue what to expect going in. I knew the rules and that was about it. In the lead up, I’ve had so much else going on that I had barely given it a thought until I awoke yesterday morning.

Getting into prison, it seems to one who has freedom, is only mildly easier than getting out. Security checks, heavy locking doors, badge issue, and then another series of heavy locking doors. It’s a formidable place. And while I know this is going to sound incredibly clichĂ©d and maybe even overly dramatic, but with each door that electronically locked behind you, you truly felt that much further from the “real” world.

What I am not so eloquently getting at is the physical structure and property is psychologically intimidating, even to one who knew he could leave whenever he wanted. And when you get your first exposure to the population, that intimidation grows exponentially. You instantly feel yourself being sized up and measured. You instantly see in their body language the “yard” hierarchy in full effect. You see the silent, possibly sub-conscious communications from one group to another, and one person to another. You quickly realize that everything is suddenly magnified in prison, especially perception and stature. There was a real, palpable tension to it all. Once again, probably sub-consciously to them, but very obvious to an outsider. And this is the environment these women exist in 24-7. Prison I quickly observed wasn’t just about physical confinement, but it is also social, emotional, and mental confinement amongst the inmates.

We were quickly led to a chapel where a group of women awaited. Being up close to these women did little to ease the tension. Instinctively as we headed into the chapel, I was uncomfortable with exposing my back to them. But hey, I was still a curiosity to them at that point, might as well keep me around for a bit.

Once inside the room where we were to meet, we took our seats in a circle of chairs. I was sandwiched in between two inmates, which I must admit was pretty uncomfortable. The one to my left looked to be no more than twenty, the one to my right looked to be closer to my age. Both were pleasant enough, although the fact that the one to my right had an ink pen did nothing to calm me.

In all, there were twelve inmates, two grief counselors, and myself. Looking around the room, it was painfully obvious that they didn’t know what to think of me (yeah, I know, who does?). They were suspicious of me and I think more than a little put off that I had invaded their space. I worried that my presence might be a deterrent to them doing what they needed to do.

I want to stop right here and ask you to ponder something…God loves you. Think about it for a second. We hear it all of the time, we believe it, but really, what does it mean to us? God was about to explode in that room in a way that was new, exciting, and most certainly unexpected.

The counselor that had hounded me for so long to come, opened the meeting by simply telling the women, “God loves you.” At that moment, God sucked the air right out of my chest and just absolutely flooded the room. These hardened women, suddenly melted. “God loves you.” There was nothing more important that could possibly have been said to them. Some winced. Some smiled. Some stared at the floor. All cried. “God loves you.” Three simple words we all too often take for granted and abuse for own selfish reasons, was more valuable to these women than anything else in the world. I have never felt God so powerfully, and He wasn’t done.

She next introduced me to the group. My name had only just been barely uttered when the eyes of the one I had pegged as the “leader” nearly bulged from their sockets, while another lady to somewhere to my right gasped. I couldn’t see her because my eyes were squarely focused on the “leader”.

“What did you say?” The “leader” demanded of the counselor.

“I said this is Corey.”

“I asked God for a sign!” She cried out loud, bouncing in her chair, tears streaming down her face. “I asked God for a sign! I asked God to show him to me! I asked God to show me Corey, to let me know that he was all right! I asked God for a sign! You ain’t my Corey, but you are my sign. My baby’s name is Corey!”

The inmate to my right who was now crying aloud? The “leader’s” roommate with whom she had shared these prayers. God hammered me anew.

I was told going in not to react, not to show emotion if it could be helped. I did pretty well, but my heart was absolutely exploding and my spirit soaring. I looked around the room and I no longer saw inmates or criminals. I didn’t see hardened women. I saw women who were hurting, scared, and very much human. I saw the beautiful daughters of the living God. I saw my sisters in Christ. Any walls, any preconceived notions were instantly shattered by God.

I was then asked to open the session in prayer. I truly did not think it would possible to force words from my throat, but they appeared. I was quickly hammered by God yet again, when each one of my hands was gently taken by the inmates on either side of me. I honestly cannot remember what I prayed or said, but I can tell you, whatever it was, was the most powerful words I’ve ever uttered, mumbled, or whatever I did.

Most of the rest of the time was spent with each inmate sharing her story and her grief. I heard stories of deceased babies. I heard stories of spouses and fathers that had died while they were in incarceration. I heard stories of families that had deserted them and had ceased with all contact. I heard a story from one that had only given birth four days prior and had had to give up her baby the day before. I heard stories of dying family members, for whom they had heard nothing from in far too long, not knowing whether they still lived or not. I heard a story of one who is on a soul shattering search for God, but who cannot find Him because another counselor at another facility had convinced her that she and her deceased baby would not recognize each other in heaven.

You want to know what else I heard in prison? I heard praises. Let me repeat that...I went to prison and I heard PRAISES. Even in the midst of everything that prison is, even in the midst of the above stories, I heard PRAISES. Praises for God. Praises for the way that His word is shaping and redeeming their lives. Praises for each other. Praises for the help they have received in a place that they do in fact hate.

You know what I didn’t hear? Excuses. Blame. Woe is me. Lack of responsibility. It wasn't me.

I went to prison and I felt God in ways that I never imagined. I went to prison and saw the real power of the words “God loves you.” I went to prison and I heard and saw hope. I went to prison and I felt their need and determination to know God better. I went to prison and I heard PRAISES where there is nothing but pain and misery. I went to prison and witnessed genuine Agape love between inmates. I went to prison and saw people actually living the Word. I went to prison and saw music spontaneously break out. I went to prison and was blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I went to prison and I saw God.

***I won’t go into detail of conversations, but I do want to assure anyone who reads this blog that I did have the opportunity to speak in one on one situations with the woman who had been convinced that she and her baby would not recognize each other in heaven, as well as the one who had taken me as her sign. I’ll only leave you with these words, in all their power, glory, and truth…God is good :)

***I just read this post and am imminently disappointed in it. It nowhere comes close to conveying the power of what took place and I am truly sorry for that, but alas it is the best I can do. I’ve got all these thoughts, emotions, and epiphanies in my head just dying to get out and it’s kind of like trying to funnel running, wet concrete through a straw. There’s just too much to it for me to do justice.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

KISS

This one has been on my mind the last couple of weeks, at least since I worked the Emmaus Walk, and it might very well end up a “two-parter”. And no, I’m not talking about the band Kiss, nor am I talking about the song popularized by Prince back in the 90’s (of which I can do a frighteningly spot on rendition, I might add). No, I’m talking about the acronym K-I-S-S…KEEP IT SIMPLE STOOPID.

While on this walk, I overheard a pilgrim or two, no different than my own walk, make mention of the fact that Emmaus was essentially Christianity 101 or a call back to the basics. This wasn’t an indictment of Emmaus, nor was it a, “Cheese Whiz this is a boring waste of time” type of quote. (They were quite enjoying themselves and the experience when this was said) It was merely an observation and a fairly accurate one at that. As I alluded to earlier, this was something that I had heard on my own walk, but this time it struck me in a powerful way. However, I must back up a just a little bit.

I’ve been leading a twelve week course on spiritual warfare at my church and in initially reading the curriculum, I was struck by how basic it was. It’s based on Ephesians 6:10-17, and the course essentially details what it means to wear each piece of the armor. Good stuff, but very simple. My concern initially was that people would be disappointed that it was basic. People generally have a very distinct picture of what spiritual warfare means in their head, which typically doesn’t fit with the “basics”. With that said, people also have a very distinct picture of me, which also doesn’t quite jive with the simplicity of the study. Matter of fact, I had a couple people come up to me initially and say, “You’re really going to teach that? Seems a little tame for you.” I dunno, I guess people expected me to feature live exorcisms or live demon wrestling as part of the practical application portion of each lesson. And I won’t lie, that would’ve been awfully cool, but then again…How often does spiritual warfare resemble these things? I think that’s part of the effectiveness and brilliance of Satan’s warfare, it is subtle, at times gentle, and more times than not, very, very basic and very, very simple.

So how does this tie into the story from Emmaus and my spiritual warfare class? I think as Christians, we sometimes get lost in the details, we get lost in trying to make things bigger or more complicated than they really are. We tend to lose sight of the most basic tenets of our faith...KEEP IT SIMPLE STOOPID.

God is not a complicated God, nor is He a God who is hiding from us. He wants us to find Him and He wants us to know Him. He’s not going to hide Himself in endless theological and philosophical arguments (although they most certainly have their place…they’re just not God’s hiding place) God wants the path to Him to be simple. The beauty of God and our faith is found in their simplicity, which is why I absolutely love this scripture from Matthew 18:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

It always amazes me that whenever you spend any time around a group of children you’re usually hit with some pretty profound truths hidden in their simplicity. We would do well not only to take lessons from them, but also to model our faith after theirs.

But there’s more…Look at all the silly arguments we as Christians get into with each other over doctrine and interpretation even amongst our own denominations. We’ll argue over anything and everything, while completely missing the point…

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

Pretty simple huh? When you get right down to it, what more is there? For emphasis, I would also throw in a little James:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Love God and allow Him to transform your life. If you love God, you will not only read His Word, but you will also live it. You will love your neighbor. Your love and faith in God will compel you to take an active role. You will be compelled to serve God and your neighbor.

Simple huh? In my humble opinion, our faith and our roles as Christians can be summed up with that short paragraph. No arguments. No questions of Pre-Trib, Post-Trib, whether there’s a rapture or not, whether being dunked, sprinkled, or flicked is enough, and a million others. Love God, love your neighbor, and be transformed.

Now, we did have a pretty good discussion about the simplicity of it all in my spiritual warfare class, but not everyone was totally buying it, which is why there will be a second part upcoming….

It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint….

Simply and Basically Cantankerous,
Me

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hospital

“A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” This is a quote that I’m rather fond of. Seems that I’m not alone in those feelings. I hear it with pretty regular frequency and I kind of chuckle to myself when I do. Why? Well, I think I have a different view of the quote than do most. Please note that I am not saying one viewpoint or another is right or wrong, just different.

The way I usually hear it, it is being used as a means of mercy. You’ll never hear me knocking that. It’s a way of saying no one is perfect, especially in the church. That’s a big part of why we’re there, we are sinners after all. It’s also a way of defending someone, or a behavior, or a shortcoming. Once again, you’ll hear no argument from me. Lest we forget, we all have something that needs addressed. It really is a beautiful sentiment and one that I agree with wholeheartedly.

I’ve also heard the quote used as a nice way of calling someone a Pharisee. Don’t agree with the behavior of someone? Don’t find someone’s actions fitting of a self-professed Christian? Don’t agree with the direction of your church? Use scripture as a means of pointing these things out? You just might hear, “Yes, but remember, a church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” And you know what? Even though I think in some instances, Pharisees get a bad rap (that’s an entry for another day), I can see that side of it as well. Don’t always agree with it, but I certainly see and understand it.

So, how do I view it? I guess I’ve never really viewed a hospital as a place of relaxation. I’ve never really viewed a hospital as a place of refuge, or a place to get away from it all. I think about the hospital and I think about pain. I think about needles being shoved in unpleasant places (I’ve had them stuck in all the usual places, as well as into my shoulder capsule, under my knee caps, directly into nerves, into my spine, and into my throat all the way to the back of my spinal cord) I think of scalpels and being cut open so many times that I often marvel at the fact that I’m still watertight. I think of nerve conduction studies. I think of the colon series I endured when I was thirteen, in front of a whole room of medical students. I think of hoping loved ones survive. I think of the very real fear endured wondering what life would be like without my wife. I think of making peace with God, knowing that I was about to die in surgery. I think of the fear and the fervent prayer that my son would not go blind during surgery on his eye.

You know what else I think about? I think about miraculous recoveries that defy modern science and medicine. I think of a loved one being declared dead twice, only to be brought back to give his life to Christ (I love you dad). I think how much richer life has been and how much more appreciative I am of my wife since she recovered and I truly understood life without her, would be no life at all. I think of my son with serviceable vision in one eye and perfect vision in the other, after being told that he was in fact going blind. I think of second chances. I think of new hope for a life better than that which we arrive with.

I think of sometimes having to endure some pretty horrible things to get better. I think of the fact that healing is very rarely pleasant or easy. I think of fear, I think of facing and enduring things you’d just rather not. But I also think of the end result. Of new health, new peace, and new hope for having endured the pain to get better. Church to me is no different.

Is it a hospital? Where you go to heal? Or is it a spa, where you go to feel better about yourself? Church truly is what we make of it. It’s not about the person in the pulpit. It’s not about the programs offered. It’s not about the beauty of the building…or the lack thereof. It’s not about any of the millions of things we try to make it about. It’s about that soul that occupies your space. It’s about the God in whose presence you sit. It’s about the time you spend there with Him. Do you allow Him to operate in you and on you? Do you allow Him to truly heal you even though the process may be both painful and scary? Do you trust in the end result and the ultimate beauty of the process?

No doubt about it, church is a hospital for sinners. What we need to ask ourselves is this…Are we a patient or a visitor?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to the Shack

I had actually started another entry on this book this past Sunday after church. It came up in three different instances and I think that the questions/feelings/insights elicited were worth sharing…and I’ll still share them, but I wanted to get this out there first.

Let me begin with this statement, “I was duped!” As someone who likes to think he knows the Word pretty well, as well as someone pretty aware of the movements out there trying to pass themselves of as Christianity, I was duped, at least partially.

As mentioned in my review, I kept a running list of those things which I found theologically unsound and dishonest. In response to a friend who felt strongly about the book, I created a document where I expounded upon my list. I took each page number that had something I found problematic and I wrote a short synopsis of the problem. The instance where I was duped takes places on page 172. What follows is what I wrote in that other document….

Pg 172-To me with the question of the character Sophia, the author is casting doubt, to an extent of the Trinity. In one breath he claims that she is not part of it, yet the next he claims that she is very real and obviously a part of God. So, do we have a Trinity or something else? Confusion. How would this play with a new believer, seeker, or someone struggling with their faith?

Obviously I caught that there was a problem there, which is why I say I was partially duped. It just didn’t sit right with me. Turns out that I only had part of the problem figured out. Thanks to “pottermom” who commented in the comment section of the original review, I was made aware of something called the “Sophia Movement”. Google it, it is quite shocking. Near as I can tell, it is a concept steeped heavily in Easterm Mysticism, as well as the “mother earth” types, which certainly fits with both the Sophia character in the book and Emergent Philosophy. However, what I found especially troubling was this little nugget, in Russian Sophiology, Sophia is THE FOURTH PERSON OF GOD!!! Go back and check my synopsis again.

I had no clue that there was a such thing as the Sophia Movement, nor did I realize that as I read this book, this book being ate up by Christians and being hailed by some as the second coming of the Bible, that I was also being steeped in Eastern Mysticism. How exactly does that fit/coexist with Christianity?

Here are my questions/thoughts for people to ponder. I by no means consider myself some great theologian. But I do know the Word and a fair degree of its history. If I have two gifts (and no, they were not discerned by a spiritual gift inventory) it is that I consider myself pretty good at cutting straight to the heart of scripture (we try too hard to complicate things) and if I don’t know the answer, I won’t tell you that I do. I’ll do my due diligence to find out and understand. Secondly, I consider myself fairly well schooled on the those beliefs/practices/people trying to pass themselves off as Christianity.

As I settled into The Shack, certain “buzzwords” and thoughts/ideals began to jump off the page at me. This was early on in the book, which of course caused me to examine and scrutinize every detail from there on out(it wasn’t hard, the author wasn’t shy about sharing). I’m certainly not going to beat up on something, just for the sake of doing so. So, I was careful in how I read and interpreted the book. What was the context? Could it be taken a different way? I tried to look at everything from every angle just so I could be fair and honest.

How many people are going to read this book as I did? How many people have the tools or time to do so? I was someone looking for “problem” areas and I missed a HUGE one. Is a new believer going to see these things? Is someone searching for God for the first time going to be cognizant of these things? How would some of the devout Christians who are hailing this book feel if they knew the deceit hidden right before their eyes?

But what does it matter? If it makes you feel good….It does talk about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit after all….Far too many people are taking this book as something revolutionary, as something that should be viewed as a companion piece to the Bible and it is truly heartbreaking. More to follow soon….
 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Shack-The Review

***Disclaimer*** There are people I know, love, and or respect who happen to like this book. To them, I want them to know that this review is in no way an attack of them or their tastes. This is just my opinion of this book, which I'm sure is plenty faulty as well.

“Have you read ‘The Shack’?” You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that over the last several weeks. Initially, I think anyhow, it was people who were genuinely interested in whether or not I had read it. As a matter of fact, I just finished reading a copy that belongs to the friends who first asked me that question. With that said, I should’ve known something was up over the last couple of weeks because of the friends who were asking. They are usually the ones, with a devilish grin no less, that will bring up those things that get me going. Yup, I should’ve known something was up. So, what did I think of “The Shack”…

Well, it only took me until the very bottom of page 10 to know I was in trouble. It was with the word “Papa” that I cringed. I knew to whom it referred as soon as I saw it and with that, I will reveal yet another thing that tends to make me cantankerous…I absolutely, positively cannot stand it when people refer to God as “Papa” or “Daddy”. My reaction was so strong, that I actually put the book down, not because I had to get away from it, but to really try and understand why that had elicited the response that it did. I had never really thought about it until then. I certainly have no issue with God being referred to as “Father”, “Father God”, or “Abba”.

It didn’t take long for me to realize it is the complete and utter lack of reverence in “Papa” or “Daddy”. Might as well call Him, “Huggy Bear”, “Schmoopy-Poo”, or….”SANTA!” I kid, but to me, this is a problem. Where is the reverential fear? The respect? The honor? You know, I look back at my relationship with my own dad. My dad is an incredibly loving, gentle, and generous man. He was a man for whom I was never ashamed to hug, kiss on the cheek, or to tell him that I loved him in front of others. We have a great relationship. I have a great deal of respect for my dad, he is an honorable and just man. But I would never dream of calling him “papa” or “daddy”. To me, it just wouldn’t show respect or reverence to him. And while there were times that I thought my dad had a big old “S” on his chest and had a cape hidden under his shirt, he was and is in fact mortal. How much more respect and reverence should we show God?

I hear “Papa” or “Daddy” and I picture someone running to throw themselves into the lap of a fatherly or grandfatherly type. And I think…When I meet God, am I going to exclaim, “DADDY!” and go running to His lap? No, I can assure you, with the very first hint of recognition of His presence, this sinner is going to be prone with his face buried in the floor. And should I be able to speak, should I be so blessed as to be able to address Him, it will be as “Father”. I hear “Papa” and “Daddy” and my picture is of one who expects no accountability, I picture my dad, the grandfather, in whose eyes his grandchildren can do no wrong. Think God views us like that? If so, I gotta think there’s an entire water-logged world and a couple of crispy cities that are going to have a huge bone to pick. (Yikes three paragraphs and I’m only to page 10)

So, why did I spend so much time describing my hang-ups with “Papa”? Because it is indicative of the rest of the book and the treatment of not only God, but Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. No respect, no reverence…just “Papa”. Unfortunately, it goes a whole lot deeper than that. I found this book to be little more than an advertisement for Emergent/Emerging Philosophy, interwoven with a story designed to yank and pull on your strings. A story designed to make you want and need comfort, a story that makes it a little too easy to ignore the itching on and within one’s ears.

The book abounds with relativism and universalism. You can find examples of all-inclusive doctrine (every belief system leads to God), there is no judgment, there is no Hell, no accountability, no absolute-truths, the inability for humans to distinguish between good and evil, and not so veiled attacks against churches and organized religion. If one wants to understand the allure and tactics of the Emergent Church, this book makes for a fantastic case study. As I read it, I kept feeling like I should be sitting in a trendy coffee shop, slurping on some fruity drink, with my Rob Bell glasses and haircut, with the I-Pod blaring in my ears, as I commune with God through the lyrics of Bono and this book.

In the spirit of fairness, as I read the book, I kept a running tally of examples that had good, solid theological ideas for which most Christians would agree with. Basic truths and basic tenets of our shared faith. And I also kept a running tally of those that were overtly outside the realm of even the loosest orthodoxy. My final tally? Good-8 Not so much-33. Many of those examples stretch across multiple pages….the story is only 251 pages!!! And Christians are just eating this book up!

But don’t take my word for it…check these ideas against the scripture yourself. Do they hold up? Of course if you believe like the Emergent camp, then the Bible is not the inerrant word of “Papa”, nor is it understandable or quantifiable to mere mortals, and you’ve got yourself a new means of “experiencing” “Papa” and living your faith. If on the other hand, you do believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, that it is understandable, that it does contain absolute truth, then the book doesn’t hold up all that well.

I can hear it now! But it’s fiction you big grump! Yes, but then why do I hear so many speak of its transforming power or how it opened their eyes to what their relationship with God should really be like. It’s a good story, it’s an emotional story. I’ll man up and admit that my eyes welled up on a few occasions. I’m a father, a husband, and generally loving person, so sue me. My eyes welled up a few times over the course of Harry Potter too. But the difference is that this book is presenting God and so much about the Word and faith in general in such a potentially harmful light, in pretty effective ways. The protagonist is a very likable fellow, easy to empathize and commiserate with, you feel his pain, his anger, his hurts. You want him to find peace, you want him to win, you want him to be made whole and he is by something called “Papa”, but it certainly doesn’t resemble the “Father” of the Bible. (and no, I'm not speaking to physical appearances either...Thank you very much Marty)

Ultimately, here’s the thing. I have absolutely no problem with fiction of all kinds. Matter of fact, my tastes are pretty wide ranging. I love books and I love reading. But if I’m looking for “Father”? I look no further than the Bible. Why would you ever need any other book to find God, to know God, to feel emotional about your relationship with God. God came down to earth in the form of man and was nailed to a cross for YOU. He suffered and died not just for everyone, but for YOU. It is personal, it is emotional, it is real. What more do you need or want?

On the other hand, if I’m looking for “Papa”? Well, I just turn the speakers up and leave my computer on this blog and watch the countdown, anxiously awaiting his arrival.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are You Up To The Challenge?

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while and I’ve decided that it is to time to stop thinking and finally do it. Amongst my grumping and cantankerous rants (oh yes, they will remain), I’m going to start highlighting one person a week for a brand new, very prestigious award…“The Super-Awesome-Fantastic-Amazing-Person-Of-The-Week-Award”.

Now, I know everyone is clamoring, “How do I qualify for the TSAFAPOTWA?” Well, it’s complicated, but rest assured I have been working around the clock with a team of nuclear scientists, sociologists, climatologists, Benedictine Monks, and ninja-star throwing capuchin monkeys to come up with a super-secret formula with which I will employ in determining who the weekly winner is. It is so super-secret that I can’t tell you (plus I don’t want any “glory hounds” campaigning and buying me gifts, or baking me cookies, or telling me how I should really just nominate myself each week, or slipping me cash) However, there is one requirement that I will make you aware of…the final step in the determination process is that you absolutely, positively must agree not only to have your picture taken with me, but also to allow me to put it on the blog with an entry as to why you were chosen for the award.

There are also some ground rules that, while having no bearing on who wins, I want to make everyone aware of. My goal is that there will be no repeat winners in a calendar year. Now obviously if something huge and amazing happens, I reserve the right to recognize a repeat winner. Secondly, I will do my fool best to leave my family out of it, otherwise they’d win every week. They’ve already “broken” the formula three times and the ninja-star throwing capuchin monkeys are not happy. With that said, I cannot imagine them not making an appearance at some point.

All kidding aside, I think we all need to do a better job of recognizing those who are making a difference. We’re all too quick to point out the shortcomings of others, but we are woefully inadequate at lifting up those who are out there doing good. I see this as a challenge for myself, picking 52 different winners in a year, for legitimate reasons, and making sure that I keep up with it.

On the flipside, I’m also throwing down the gauntlet. I see this as a challenge to all of you from me…not to make my list, but to create your own. You don’t have to blog about it, you don’t have to write about it, and you certainly don’t have to publicize it. My challenge to you is simply to search out those doing good in your life and recognize it. Give someone a hug, a pat on the back, or a handshake, and let them know…”I see what you are doing and I appreciate it.”

Are you up to it?

PS….The inaugural winner of TSAFAPOTWA has been chosen. And pending the picture requirement, they will be appearing on this blog Monday 9/22.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

THE POLL!!!!

Thanks to all of you who voted in the poll!!! The vote was almost 2-1 in favor of the music staying!!! (Remember, if you don't like it, you can always turn down your speakers or scroll down to the bottom of the page and pause the music...I won't be offended...I'll just remove you from my Christmas Card list and it might very well be the deciding factor between the naughty and nice list for Santa...But hey, no big deal...Right!?!?)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wake-Up Call

So, I’ve had a few days to pray and think about last Thursday. When you really get down to it, there was/is a lot going on in that situation. It’s easy, probably too much so, to focus entirely on myself, my failure, my feelings, etc. Thankfully, I realized that pretty early on in this process. I’ve spent time praying for the gentleman at the heart of this situation. I’ve also spent time thanking God for the brother who stepped up without hesitation. I’m thankful for the example he set, not only for me, but for our entire group. I’m thankful that he had that opportunity to serve God and “the least of these brethren”. It is important that we seek, remember, and give thanks for the good that is so often taking place alongside the bad.

Praying and thinking about these things was helpful, but there was still that pain and weight upon my heart at my failure…for which I was also and remain thankful for. Thursday was a tough day. Nobody likes to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or angry with themselves. Nobody likes to feel that they’ve let themselves down, much less God. For myself personally, there is not much that I despise more than the feelings of regret. That feeling that if only I had done that one thing differently or handled that situation differently. That feeling of wanting to take something back is brutal.

And it was with these thoughts, these feelings, and many others that I began taking a good, hard look at myself and my situation. And as I did this, I was reminded of last Christmas (Why should that be surprising, right?) Last Christmas, bar none, was the absolute worst Christmas of my life. You ever hear anyone say, “What’s the worst they’re going to do? Take your birthday away?” Turns out, there is in fact worse that can be done, at least in my opinion. I took Christmas from my son. He had screwed up monumentally. Matter of fact, it wasn’t just one monumental screw-up, it was a series, each unrelated to the last. And you know for me to cancel Christmas, it had to be pretty substantial.

When I think about that time, the first things that pop into my head are the deep disappointment I felt in my son, as well as anger, among a few other things. But the thing I remember most of all? Above everything else? That Christmas morning, which just absolutely broke my heart, I remember the sense of overwhelming love I felt for my son. It was so acute, so powerful. The other feelings were still there, believe me, they were still there, in full effect, but if there was ever a time when the kid could’ve actually drowned in the love emanating from me to him, it was that morning. Despite being extremely disappointed and angry with him, there was no denying that I loved him more than ever.

That’s how I felt Thursday, except I was on the other end. I still felt those unpleasant feelings, they still stung, they still made me squirm, but I also felt God’s love in a way that I don’t normally feel it. I felt like I was enveloped in it, yet, I didn’t feel like it was trying to drown out those unpleasant feelings. It was a strange, yet incredible feeling to say the least. It was as if God were making darn sure that I felt His love, but that He still expected me to deal with these other matters. And deal I did.

I’m tough on myself. I expect a lot of myself and I’ve never been one way to shy away from addressing my failures (I’ve had enough practice after all). I don’t take it to self-destructive levels, nor do I ever let it interfere with God’s grace, but I will stay after it until I’m certain that I’ve sufficiently addressed it. Every day since Thursday, I’ve been after it.

So, what have I learned? I learned that Thursday was a wake-up call for me. Feeling like I did Thursday, was so out of my character for me. Maybe I was just having a bad morning? Or maybe it was just one of those “human” moments we all have? Maybe it was just an anomaly? Maybe one of those things is the right answer or maybe it’s a combination. Who knows? What I do know, is that it doesn’t matter. It came far too easily to me, that feeling of, “I really don’t want to be bothered with you.”

In that, I realized that I had gotten way too comfortable and way too complacent with myself. I serve my church tirelessly, always willing to step up and do whatever is asked of me. I don’t hesitate to step into the fire for friends. These are all good things and they can certainly be ways of serving God. But have I really been serving God? I don’t really have a clear answer for that. I think a good portion of the time I was. But I also think at times I was enjoying the pats on the back, the kind words a little too much….which is really out of character for me. I normally find that stuff embarrassing. I had always been a big believer in doing my “good” in secret. Let the world think I’m cantankerous :) God knows the truth.

The more that I dug, the more that I reflected, the more that I really took a good, long, hard look at myself, the more I realized that I was becoming everything that I despise and everything that I swore I would never be when I accepted the call to pursue the ministry. My behavior was slowly transforming into the very type that I would not have hesitated to jump all over. The very type that would have had me growling, “This is what is wrong with the church today.” I also learned a lot about humility and that I need to be more understanding and gentle with some. I’m sure most probably set out into the ministry not unlike myself (albeit probably far more respectable than I could ever dream). Idealistic, intent on changing the world, and calling people back to the truth of God and His word.

But sometimes, sometimes people get lost, far easier than they would have ever dreamed. And before you know it, you’re thinking of cutting your hair and getting something “well coifed” and respectable looking. You’re thinking you really need to invest in some nice suits, perhaps even designer. You begin thinking that perhaps you need a nicer car (or motorcycle in my case) to drive. After all, you’re doing God’s work, you deserve a little something extra, He won‘t mind. And before you know it, you’re secretly hoping that people in need will pass right on by your table, when only yesterday you were praying that God would put those people in your path. Today, I thank God for unpleasant feelings. Today I'm thankful that I remember my place and my calling are more often than not going to be in the mud and dirt of life, not in pristine sanctuaries.

We all too often shy away from the unpleasant within…guilt, anguish, shame, disappointment, and fear. But you know what? Just as God created the good feelings we have for a reason, He also created the unpleasant ones as well. They are there for a reason. Explore them, kick them around, look at them honestly…understand why they are there. God will help us do this, if we are sincere and honest about it, and willing to make the changes that need to be made. He certainly held my hand in this process and I certainly didn’t deserve it. Talk about grace.



***On Friday, February 15, 2008, my wife did not go to work. My son was not awoken to go to school. He had spent two long months addressing those things which had gotten him into trouble. It was tough, there were minor hiccups in the road, but he took it all to heart and made the hard changes he chose to make. When he did finally stumble out of his bedroom that morning, he was met by an unexpected sight. The Christmas tree had reappeared in the living room and beneath it, the Christmas he had forfeit and then some.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

***NOTE***

The Christmas music is on hiatus, at least until I update with a new entry. Christmas music hardly seemed fitting with the latest post.

FAILURE

A lot of people write during times of emotional duress, anger, stress, and any other number of unpleasant feelings, me included. It’s cathartic. It’s a good way to make yourself feel better about something, or to vent, or to rationalize away these unpleasant feelings. This is not one of those times.

A lot of people like to point out their own shortcomings as a means of somehow elevating themselves, or of proving their piety. Sometimes they do it for pity. Sometimes they do it in the hopes that someone will tell them, "You know what, it's okay." or "It's understandable." or "You'll do better next time." This certainly is not one of those times.

I’m a big believer that we are only given so many opportunities to truly make a difference in people’s lives. I think how we answer these calls says a lot about us and our spiritual health. I’m also pretty sure that God is paying special attention during these times.

I think we, as Christians, are addicted to comfort. We can say all the right things and we can usually do the right things, as long as we don’t disturb our comfort level too much. Every once in a while we might stick our neck out for someone, but I wonder how often we do this for own selfish reasons, ego, or pride. Do we truly do these things because we are doing them for God? Or do we do these things so that we can ultimately feel better about ourselves? For the accolades? For the praise? For the "good seat"?

I think we, as Christians, are all too often afraid to get our hands dirty. I think sometimes it is all too easy to turn a blind eye to those problems that we don’t want to address. I think sometimes when faced with a difficult situation, when God is truly calling on us, it is all too easy to rationalize things away. To make excuses, to do what we need to do to bring that comfort back…To convince ourselves that we are everything that God wants us to be and expects us to be, because after all, we are human, He understands, He doesn't expect too much.

I failed and failed miserably this morning on all of the above counts. With one single thought, with one single feeling, I failed myself. I failed the brothers who were sitting with me. I failed anyone who might look to me as an example. Worst of all, I failed God.

Sitting at McDonalds this morning with my Emmaus Reunion Group, talking about the lack of reverence we show God, my Bible open right in front of me; a very obviously homeless person was struggling to enter through the doors. He was on crutches, but by the time I had taken notice of him, he was about to overcome the obstacle the door was presenting. I’ve played that scene over and over in my head, and I’m certain that my memory is accurate. I probably could’ve gotten up and made the gesture, but that’s all it would’ve been at that point, a gesture. Should I have made the gesture? Yes. Is that where I ultimately failed this morning? Read on.

He made his way to the counter and out of my mind. A couple of minutes later, a member of our group abruptly asked if any of us had any money. I rarely carry cash and as I do every Thursday morning, I scrounged around in the dark before leaving, for $1.25 in change to buy my $1.17 coffee. And my change? Well, I put that in the change container they have at the register for rotating causes. As of late, it’s been a program related to special needs people and horses. My wife, the horse lover, would be so proud. All that to say, I had no money.

Luckily, someone in our group did, our newest member. So, the member who had asked, took the money and bought the handicapped man breakfast. He came back to our table and was shortly followed by the man. And with my first up close look at him, I completely failed. There was no half-way about it, or part way, it was a complete failure. The man was an amputee, hence the crutches. Seeing as he still wore a hospital bracelet, perhaps it was fresh. I don‘t know. He smelled badly because he had just soiled himself. His speech was mostly unintelligble.

My first thought? “Please don’t stop, just keep going.” Wow. I type that and I want to delete it, I want to delete this whole entry. I’m ashamed, I’m angry, I don’t want to think about it, I want to rationalize it away. I want to tell myself that it’s okay, that it was understandable that I was repulsed, that I was put off. And I wonder just how repulsive I was to God at that moment.

It was just a thought. No one else knew it. I didn’t speak ill of anyone. I didn’t take any action against anyone. I didn’t do anything that was of any harm to anyone. A random thought was all that it was, right?

‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

That thought, “Please don’t stop, just keep going”, was a snapshot of my heart at that moment. And that scripture quoted? Matthew 25:40? It’s one that I do happen to think of a lot, one that convicts me, one that I thought I did pretty good living by. I pride (that word right there is probably a part of the problem) myself on my generosity, my willingness to roll around in the muck with and for people, and my propensity to give what others tell me is too much of myself. Yeah? Well, I guess as long as your “muck” isn’t too dirty, I'm there for you. And I also guess that means there are degrees of “doing and not doing” just as there are degrees of “least”. This man’s least was too much for me at that moment. Think God cares what I perceive my limits as being? I don’t.

I want these feeling to go away. I want to do something to distract myself from them. I want to tell myself that I’ll do better next time, and you can bet, I will. I want to feel better about myself. I want to start working on next week’s lesson for the course that I’m teaching at church. I want to work on the talk that I’m giving at the next Emmaus Walk. I want to do whatever I can to make these feelings go away and to make myself feel good about myself and the way that I serve God. But, I can’t.

This shame, this disappointment needs to burn for as long as God allows it burn. I need to squirm. I need to avoid the bathroom mirror. I need to feel and understand my failure. I need to feel and understand the way that I failed myself, my brothers, the man in need, and God, lest I fail again next time or the time after that.

I know that I am forgiven simply because I have asked. But forgiveness does not negate disappointment and whatever else God is feeling towards me at the moment. I think we sometimes lose sight of that. That forgiveness means that everything is just A-Okay after the fact. The weight upon my heart and soul tell me that it is not. I expect more of myself and as a Christian, He expects more of me. I am human, but that is no excuse. I was made by God, valuable enough to be saved by Christ, we all were. And for those who recognize those two things, more is expected. Being human, prone to sin, failings, and screw-ups is a hindrance, not an excuse.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, that my fellow brother who thought to buy the man breakfast, also gave him a ride at least as far as Winchester as he was trying to get to Morehead. I thank God for this brother and his willingness to do for the least of our brethren. I am also thankful that he showed me this morning that while I know and embrace the fact that I am a work in process, it is a far bigger job than I had led myself to believe.

**Just found out that my fellow brother delivered the man to his mother's doorstep in Morehead.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the Mouth of Babes...

Okay, I know I’m a grump. Big surprise right? But in my defense I am also passionate, lovable, caring, a willing hug giver and not the least bit afraid to admit that I rather enjoy giggling. It’s also no surprise, if you know me or have read this blog, that I think we as Christians, and the church as a whole, have lost our collective minds on a lot of things. It’s also no surprise that I don’t think there are enough voices in the church calling people back to God and the scripture. But you know what? This isn’t about the myriad of things that I see wrong in our churches and our lives. No, this is about what I see that is right. Those glimpses that God offers us, that let us know that while things can often seem dire, discouraging, and seemingly impossible, He is in control and His spirit still thrives amongst us. Much like my Abram moment that I wrote about in “God and McDonalds”, I got a clear glimpse of God, His Grace, and what is beautiful and right about our Christianity.

I was leading “God’s Backyard” this past Sunday, which is my church’s version of “children’s church”. With that said, I really must preface this story with the fact, that pretty much any time you visit GBY you come away refreshed and reinvigorated. You see God at work, you feel His presence, and you are reminded, in these children, that there is always hope. As I told the director, the kids just “get it”. I suppose that’s probably why Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter in the kingdom of heaven.”

Anyhow, back to the story. I was teaching on the concept of “Hope”. Not really the easiest of things to teach children, plus I was on the backside of what had been a pretty tough couple of weeks. And as I was teaching, I used a picture of Daniel and the lions. I asked the kids if they knew what was going on in the picture. Several hands went up (great sign right there, by the way) But there was one little girl in particular that was bouncing up and down in her chair, just absolutely glowing. If I had to guess, she couldn’t have been more than 6, maybe seven years old at the absolute most. How could I not call on her?

So, I called on her and she just absolutely exploded. She didn’t just tell me and the class about Daniel and the lions, she began with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (by name no less). She was so genuinely excited to be sharing this with the class, that it was truly amazing. She went point-by-point, hitting them all, at a hundred mile an hour, grinning from ear-to-ear, bouncing up and down in her chair. How awesome is that!?

The excitement! The joy! The passion! When was the last time we saw this from an adult? That wasn’t in the process of using scripture as a weapon? Man, talk about being convicted. Kids get it, pure and simple. And in this little girl, I saw Christ’s words fulfilled, I saw precisely what He meant when He said the words I quoted earlier, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter in the kingdom of heaven.”

Where is our wonder? Where is our ability to believe, despite the world? Despite science? Despite what we perceive to be impossible? Is it possible that Jesus knew the day was going to come where even the most devout believer was going to have to overcome the doubts and cynicism we face today? Never before in the history of the world have we been so educated, so grounded, so steeped in reality. We have libraries upon libraries of information at our fingertips. Our world, so full of information, facts, and studies demands proof for everything.

What proof did this little girl need? The Bible and therefore God had said this, so it is true. Have we truly lost ability to get excited about what we purport to believe? Who cares what the world believes? Who cares what the world tells us is impossible? Who cares what the world considers fairy tales or arcane beliefs of a simpler time and people?

Did not this God that we purport to believe and follow make the impossible, improbable, and unbelievable routine? Did not our Savior after laying dead in a tomb for three days, rise again, having forever defeated death and sin? Do we believe this or not? Or are we just paying lip service. If we truly believe these things for which we claim to follow, then where is our excitement? Where is our devotion? Where is our inability to sit still as we share God’s story?

You know, I for one, am not where this child was, but you can bet that I am setting out to find my way there. I think God wants that same passion, that same excitement, and that same dedication from us. Matter of fact, I think He demands it. How can we be so blasé about something so remarkable, so incredible? Harder to fathom than even a talking, burning bush or a Jewish carpenter rising from the dead.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is Cantankerousness a Spiritual Gift?

If you are or have been in a small group or Bible study with me, first and foremost, I do sincerely apologize, you poor, poor soul. Secondly, you know that it doesn’t take long to learn about those things that get my cantankerous nature all revved up. For instance…Rob Bell. Brian McLaren. The Emergent Church. The Emerging Church. The fact that they claim there is a difference between Emergent and Emerging. Prosperity Gospel. Soft, fuzzy, pick and choose, no responsibility taking, no risk taking, fear of offending; everybody absolutely, positively must be happy and comfortable, cherry picking scripture, hell doesn’t exist, the devil is a scary bedtime story, hypocritical Christianity. Oh, and spiritual gift inventories.

So, why do I have such cantankerous feelings towards spiritual gift inventories? Well, there are a couple of reasons. I see Christianity and my faith as something that should most of the time be wild, free, and passionate. It should be something without constraints or restraints put on it by myself or man. It should be something that is free to take chances, fearless to take risks in the name of Jesus Christ. It should be something of limitless possibilities in Christ.

I don’t want my faith and my relationship with Christ to be hindered in any way, but especially by some silly idea and adherence to what my spiritual gifts may or may not be. Or even more dangerous, what I WANT my spiritual gifts to be. I see and have seen so much of that amongst my fellow Christians. I have heard “spiritual gifts” used as an excuse or crutch too many times. “I can’t possibly do that, I’m not gifted in it.” Why? Because some survey said so? What does God have to say on the matter? “Sorry God, but this here survey says I can’t help you in this way. Now, if you want me to discern something…” And you know what? I’ve used that excuse as well, it usually goes a little something like this, “Sing? Me? Sorry, not my gift.”

And you know what else? If I’m being totally honest, I’m lying through my teeth. I can sing, fairly well when I want to, which is rare. I don’t like it. Now trust me, Bocelli or Pavarotti are in no danger and to say I’m gifted would be a huge stretch, but I can do it with proficiency and an occasional flourish. So what does that say? Does the fact that I don’t like to sing mean that I wasn’t gifted in it, even though I can do it? Or does the fact that I can and it could be used to glorify God mean that that gift should override my distaste for doing it in front of people? I think all too often we’re only NOT gifted in those things that we don’t want to do.

I've also seen people take these things so literally that they throw themselves so completely into their "gifts" that they seemingly close themselves off to the possibility that God may be calling them in other ways. Talk about limiting. And the sad thing is, these are usually extremely dedicated people with a deep desire to serve the Lord, but they can and often do miss out on other opportunities that God may be providing. Why? "Because I took this survey offered by my church, so it must be true and accurate."

Which leads me to the other side of the coin. We’re human. There are labels that we want. There are different labels that we want other people to see, and different ones appeal to different people. And that’s precisely what spiritual gift inventories are, LABELS. But here’s the real kicker, these things are so obvious and so easily manipulated, it’s virtually impossible to take them without thinking about what you want your results to be and what you want others to see your results as. It’s human nature. We want to impress our friends, our families, and our pastors. I’m not an especially intelligent person, but as I read through these inventories, I know with each question what category they’re addressing. With that, I know, whether subconsciously or consciously, what categories I want to score highly in and what ones I’d rather not. How is this an accurate representation of what our spiritual gifts are? Doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose, not only of the inventory, but also of our true gifts?

In closing, I have two thoughts. First and foremost, why do we need an inventory to tell us what God has given us? Think about that for a second. If God has given us a gift, to use in service to Him, His church, and His people, are we so lacking in faith that we truly believe that He will not cultivate and reveal these gifts to each of us? They are GIFTS after all, given to us by God. To lay dormant? To be ignored? To be revealed because some survey said so? I’ve got to believe God is far more persistent, purposeful, intelligent, understanding, and capable than that. Can you imagine God giving you something, a blessing in many ways unique to you and then saying, “Go forth and allow the survey to reveal to you.”

I truly, honestly love giving gifts. And I cannot imagine giving someone something so personal , so special, so perfect that it is truly a gift completely and totally of my heart, a gift that truly could alter the life of the recipient, with the potential to affect numerous others, for them to receive it and to stare blankly at it. And to make matters worse, that they would feel the need to go to someone else, much less a stack of papers, to decipher what that gift was. Come to me, I’ll teach you, I’ll show you, I’ll show you how to truly take advantage of it (I guess in my case it would be the gift of making my super, special Monster Cookies which only get whipped out at Christmas). Can we not imagine God being much the same, albeit with far greater and more perfect gifts? Are we willing to place such limits on God?

Finally, look at the Bible and wonder how much different it and our very lives would be had spiritual gift inventories been all the rage back then. How many times were people called to do that which they were ill-equipped to do? How many times were they called to do something that they might not have wanted to do? How many times were they called to do something that they didn't think they could do? Do you think God would have taken this excuse, “Wow, you know God, I really, I mean honestly, I really appreciate the fact that you’ve called on me, but I’m just not gifted in boat building, animal care, or seafaring. I get blisters, I’m allergic to pretty much anything with fur, and I get seasick. But hey, this survey that my wife had me take, it says I’m gifted in discernment and hospitality. So, you know, if you want me to figure out the best place for an inn or party, give me a holler.”

Okay so I lied, I do have one more thought. I think there is one spiritual gift that we all share and it is the only one that matters, the gift of Christ. Put your faith and your heart squarely in Him, point your ears and your heart towards Him, and above all else, be prepared and ready to answer His call as it comes, whether you feel it is something you can do or whether it is something you think you are gifted in. He knows your limitations, but more importantly, He knows your potential. Take a chance, take a risk, step out of your own expectations and the expectations of others. Rely on Him to show you your gifts, you might just find you are far more gifted than you ever dreamed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

***UPDATE***

I survived!!! I survived!!! And those strong, opinionated, and extremely intelligent women not only agreed with what I had to say, but actually liked it. Of course they could have been bluffing, but I’m going to take the fact that I’m still intact as a good indicator of their sincerity. Then again, they could be lulling me into a false sense of security…

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Bible Sometimes Gets a Bad Rap or Women Submit to Their Husbands

Man, am I ever about to get myself in trouble I think. It seems lately that almost every Bible study/small group I’ve been apart of and there were a handful, have touched upon the subject of women in the church and women at home. Even my Sunday school class is studying a book about women in the Bible, I can’t get away from the subject.

At one group I was volunteered to essentially ask a female seminary student why she felt it was okay to be a pastor when the Bible seemingly discourages it. At another that I attend with two very strong, opinionated, and intelligent women, they insisted that we skip over Colossians 3 because of verse 18. I serve under a female pastor. I periodically attend another church led by, you guessed it, a female pastor. I used to attend a Precept study led by…a female. And doggone it, tomorrow at the small group I mentioned earlier with the two strong, opinionated, and intelligent women, we are studying 1 Peter 3, which deals with…yup, women submitting to men. Wow. I have lots of good, strong women in my life for whom I have the utmost respect. Just thought I'd better throw that in there.

Not sure how I should feel about all this though, with the subject popping up everywhere. I think perhaps God is trying to show me something, but probably not what you would think at first. I think maybe He might be compelling me to speak the insights I gained today as I was studying the chapter for tomorrow, or perhaps He just wants to see how I wiggle myself out of trouble. He does have a sense of humor after all…look no further than the person writing this :) Let me set the stage a bit here.

This group hasn’t met in a while for various reasons and quite frankly, I had no clue where we had left off. So when the chapter was emailed out this week, I figured I’d best take a gander and my heart immediately sank. Right there in the first line, “Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands…” My mind began churning, rolling over the possibilities and my potential responses, when they both no doubt stared me down with the dreaded stink eye for the mere misfortune of having been born a male. The best I could come up with was, “Um, I regret to inform you that I have a tummy ache and therefore will not be able to enjoy your presence in the morning.”

So, what did I do? I went to take a shower to get rid of the cold-sweat I had broken out in. And just as I was about to turn the water on, I had an epiphany; suddenly I had the response to all of it. The Bible does in fact say that wives should submit to their husbands, more than a few times. And as Christians, if we truly believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then really what choice do we have, but to follow what it says? There, I’m done. Do what it and therefore God says, case closed, if you don’t like it, take it up with the big guy, I’m out…Great epiphany, huh? God has His reasons, who am I to argue? I just work here.

Somehow, I don’t think that’ll float tomorrow, nor do I think it’ll allow me to escape with my head still firmly perched atop my shoulders. Darn it. Oh well…there is more. Let’s go back to being Christians and the Bible being the inerrant Word of God, and the idea that we have no choice, but to follow God’s Word. Where does it say anything in the Bible that women shall have no choice in who they marry? (Yes, I know there were arranged marriages, but work with me here.)

If a woman is being a good, strong Christian woman and in being such, following God’s Word to the very best of her ability, is it not also her duty to choose a husband for whom following God’s Word would not be an issue? Should she not choose a good, strong, upstanding man of good leadership qualities? A man that she can respect and believe in? Should she not set higher standards for herself and her husband in order that God’s Word would not be a hindrance to her?

Let’s take it a step further. If a man meets those higher standards and has displayed himself as a good leader, is he not going to treat his marriage as an equal partnership? As a good leader and head of the household, is he not going to give voice to his wife? Is he not going to value her opinion? Is he not going to share leadership responsibilities as well? A good leader is not a dictator. A good leader is one who allows others to lead along side.

I married a strong, beautiful woman, with whom we share family leadership. It is in essence an equal partnership, but there are times when a decision, as the man of the house does fall to me. Do I make it on my own, in a vacuum? No, absolutely not. I seek her opinion and her input in every one of these instances. I recognize her strengths and allow them to not only strengthen me, but also to cover my weaknesses. Is this submission? Probably, if you wanted to be absolutely literal in your interpretation of it. She does ultimately allow me to make the decision, but she is certainly my partner and co-leader. But is this the Biblical picture that so many have of women submitting to their husbands? Nope. Frankly, I think more times than not, I’m more submissive to her, but that’s a story for another day.

Ultimately, I know I’ve opened myself up for all sorts of abuse and I will say that what is contained here in this entry, is not my entire opinion on the subject, but it is most of it. Ultimately, I think back to where Jesus is talking about gouging out eyes and cutting off hands if they cause you to sin. Obviously Jesus wasn’t being literal, but was rather saying that if something causes you to sin, avoid it. Set yourself up for success by removing obstacles and then not engaging them later. In the words of Paul, “Now to the unmarried and the widow I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am.” In the words of the Cantankerous Christian, “But ladies, if you do insist on marrying, marry a man who will treat you with the love, respect, and reverence you deserve.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Santa, God, and Candy Cane Scented Scrolls

So, here I sit at my computer and I look at my trusty “Christmas Countdown” and it says 189 days until Christmas, which means I have been anxiously anticipating Christmas 2008 for about 175 days. For those that know me, you know this is nothing surprising, I LOVE CHRISTMAS. As a matter of fact, just the other day, walking Trooper, I was listening to my substantial Christmas play list on my MP3 player. Yeah, I know, pretty awesome, huh?

With all that said, I’m pretty much in a Christmas frame of mind year round and I can find Christmas almost anywhere. However, I can be surprised from time to time, when it pops up in the most unexpected ways. Take for instance my recent foray into a Christian bookstore. Note that I said RECENT, meaning not during the time when you would expect to be struck with visions of Santa Claus whilst out shopping. Yet, there he was. He was EVERYWHERE!
Now, don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t all decked out in red and fattened up in anticipation of an all night run around the world. No, he was subtle, sneaky; but when I realized what I was seeing, there was no turning back. I saw him everywhere. Kind of reminded me of those goofy pictures that were all the rage a few years back. You know the ones, where you had to stare cross-eyed at them until you felt like the left side and right side of your brain were about to suddenly switch sides, and out of no where a hidden picture came into view? And the more you looked at pictures like this, the easier it became to decipher their secrets until it got to the point where you didn’t even have to try, you just saw it. Yeah, Santa in the Christian bookstore was kind of like that. Once I figured it out, once my eyes adjusted and were trained to what I was truly seeing, I was ticked off. Why!? Because all this time I was duped! God, Jesus, Santa Claus are one and the same!

How on earth did I ever miss it? I mean I’ve already established my Christmas fanaticism, so if anyone was gonna get the memo, it was me. Beyond that, I consider myself a pretty astute individual. I pay attention to the world around me, I watch the news, I read the papers, surely I would’ve seen the headlines that hailed the finding of a candy cane scented papyrus scroll describing Jesus not as some skinny, emaciated, Jewish carpenter, but rather as some rotund, jolly fat man in a bright red suit.

Read the books in our Christian bookstores, look around our churches today, listen to the sermons being preached in the biggest, most “happening” churches, hear the words of fellow Christians, look at some of the petitions being presented at my denomination’s General Conference, and it really makes me wonder…How could I have missed it? How did I not know that all those times of sitting on Santa’s lap, I was in fact sitting on the lap of God? I mean, I knew Santa was omnipresent, he was at every shopping mall at once, after all. I also knew he was omniscient, because he always knew when I was being bad and when I was being good. Despite this fact, I always had everything I ever wanted under the tree. Wow, he really is a forgiving God, huh?

Of course I’m being slightly facetious, but it does highlight what I think is a serious problem facing our churches today. It seems a lot of Christians do not know God. A lot of Christians do not know the Word. A lot of Christians do not know the fire with which they play. You read the Bible and I mean really read the Bible, every word, every idea, even the ones you might like to ignore and gloss over because they make you uncomfortable, and you ask yourself, “Does that sound like Santa Claus?” How many instances can you show me where God is not serious in what He says? How may times can you point to where God views sins and living contrary to Him and His Word with a shrug of His shoulders, “Eh, that’s okay. You’ll get to it later. Don’t worry, we’re good.” How many times is His retribution soft, fuzzy, and otherwise pleasant? When did God ever promise that following Him was going to be easy? Where did God say He wants us to have every earthly thing we set our little hearts on? Where did God ever say we could not only live contrary to His word, but also preach contrary to it in our churches, simply because it made us uncomfortable? When did He ever promise us a stack of presents under a tree?

Yet, these are the ideas that are being spewed by so called “Christians” today. There is no hell…God does not punish…God’s word was never meant to be taken literally…God’s word cannot be understood…There are no absolute truths…If I pray hard enough God will bless me with prosperity…Hell is not a place, but an experience on Earth and in life…The devil does not exist…God’s greatest concern is my comfort and happiness…Praying for God’s will is a prayer of defeat…Jesus is A way, not the ONLY way to Heaven…

It goes on and on, but ultimately it is all about conforming God to us, rather than us conforming to God. I think about this and I really wonder why Jesus even had to come to Earth and I wonder why Jesus had to suffer the way that He did, when it really just didn’t matter…Why would He have to die for our sins if God just flat doesn’t care about them? Why would we have to believe in His resurrection for our own salvation, if it didn’t matter or possibly didn’t happen according to some? Seems an awful lot of trouble if we’re getting into Heaven regardless.

I just really have to wonder what God thinks when he looks down at us. Is He angry? Is He hurt? Or does he just not give a damn like some would have us believe? When I think about this, I cannot help but to think of myself as a father and my own son. What if my son were killed to save someone’s life? What if that someone while acknowledging my son’s sacrifice continued to live their life in a way that belittled my son’s sacrifice? As a father, besides being angry, I would be heartbroken. Was my son’s sacrifice not enough? Was the gift of a second chance not worthy of your loyalty and your heart? Sure they may profess their love, admiration, and thanks with their lips. But what about their hearts and their actions? Do you think as a father who lost a son to save someone’s life that I wouldn’t be able to see your sincerity or lack thereof? I am merely a mortal and I can assure you, I would see right through it. And to make matters worse, the thought that they would continue to come to me in my son’s name, asking more of me? Wow. Yet we do this to God.

Replace me with God and replace my son with Christ upon the cross. Think about what Christ, what God went through on that cross. For what? So that we could live our lives however we please, all the while proclaiming our allegiance to the one on the cross? Is this pleasing to God? Do we truly not understand what happened that day? That God Himself was nailed to a cross because of our shortcomings, because of our sin? Because we were living our lives how WE wanted, not how GOD wanted?

I don’t know much, but when I think about it that way, I think we as Christians really need to take a good strong inventory of ourselves and our beliefs. We need to start examining those parts of the Word that make us squirm and make us uncomfortable. There is a reason for those feelings, embrace them, search them, address them, and know that God demands far more than lip service and empty, timid hearts. We as Christians need to realize that milk and cookies left out one night a year isn’t going to cut it. We as Christians need to realize that while Santa Claus is one very cool dude, he has nothing on Jesus. We’d also probably do well to remember that Santa’s naughty and nice list is probably far different than God’s.

Cantankerously Yours,
The Cantankerous Christian