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 clich├ęd 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?