Monday, December 21, 2009

what the world needs now

A. W. Tozer, said in his message, Prophetic Preaching, “If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation, it must be by other means than any now being used. If the Church in the second half of this century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher… Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will be not one but many), he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

the enemy

I remember a story about an interaction Abraham Lincoln had when discussing the need to heal the nation from the wounds of that uncivil war. The pundit reportedly said to him, "Where I'm from, we destroy our enemies." Abe replied, "Do we not destroy our enemies when we forgive them and make them our friends?"

Who is our enemy? I think I finally have a bead on it. And, it's not any of the usual suspects. All the name calling has not really put a finger on it for me. It's not the liberals, the birthers, the terrorists, the commies, Obama Care, socialists, Glen Beck, the liberal media, Washington, Wall Street, China, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, or Cuba. (Though no doubt, there are many people in many of those categories who are serious threats to life and limb).

The greatest wound to the fabric of our country was when we fought ourselves. The death count of the (un)Civil War is still higher than all other conflicts combined. 9/11 was nothing compared to 23,000 casualties at Antietam on ONE day; 51,000 at Gettysburg over 3 days.

That was then, this is now? I no longer think so. Three factoids from just a cursory reading of the papers this morning:

1. Wall Street Journal: Florida (my state) and 11 other Southern state legislatures are actively considering bills that say Floridians are not required to follow any Federal law on health care. You might say, "Ridiculous. The constitution is clear. The Civil War settled this issue of states' rights versus federal authority. It is unconstitutional." If you don't get what is going on in the South, then I have this to say: Your daddy ain't from around here, is he?

2. The Washington Post: On September 12th, Bill Sparkman, a 51 year old Eagle Scout was found naked and bound, hanging from his neck in a cemetery in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky with a sign around his neck: "FED." He was a part time census worker, supporting his family by doing a job mandated by the Constitution, and essential to our representative democracy (among other things, congressional representation based on population). What some Floridians are trying to legislate, others are willing to kill for. (I actually wrote this on Thursday--I see this morning that USA Today is finally reporting this story--really? This wasn't news?).

3. New York Times: There is currently the highest demand in history on bullets (particularly for handguns), and the greatest shortage ever. Bullet makers usually sell more when there are Democratic presidents, afraid that the Dems will try to take their guns away (their spokesman says). Given the two factoids above, this story gave me a shiver. What do we need all the bullets for?

I think I know why we need all the bullets because I have figured out who the enemy is. Someone famously said, "We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us!" WE are the enemy, and we are preparing for war. This is more than the spirited debate of disagreement over policy. Something darker is going on. The financial strains have stirred up deeper dark demons and revealed more dire moral cracks in the foundation. Our excesses are devouring our liberties, and and we are not behaving well in the face of this adversity.

If we want to be safe from "the enemy," what we need most is not more advisors in Afghanistan. We need to destroy the enemy in our midst, by making them our friends. By hanging together. By helping one another. By appealing to "the angels of our better nature," and cleaning out the darkness inside and among us. Where I'm from, we forgive our enemies, and pray for those who mistreat us. Where I am from, the lion will soon lie down with the lamb.

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Jesus, Matthew 24:6-8).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My darkness turns to light

My daughter pointed out the other day that news anchors are giving out the suicide hotline number when they give economic reports. A few days later, a gruesome father-family murder-suicide in a nearby neighborhood hit the news. This guy lost half of everything in the stock downturn, and the other half in real estate speculation, and now was facing the embarrassment of his bankruptcy becoming public. The neighbors were totally gob smacked by the trauma.

Why did he kill himself? No one knows for sure, but it is not hard to speculate about at least three dark forces that drove this "normal" man to do such a horrendous thing: (1) he had all his hope and security in his money/portfolio/holdings--take those away and his hope and security were gone. But, there had to be more: (2) he must have blamed himself for the loss--he invested, he speculated, he got his wife to sign the mortgages, he felt like he had totally failed. That must have been tied into one more thing: (3) he must have been very proud (even boasted?) about all his stuff. Take away hope and security, fasten blame without excuse, and bring humiliation and there you have a painful condition that drinking the cocktail of suicide is thought to fix. So sad, and yet so easily understood.

There is something I wish I could have shared with the man before he took this permanent solution to temporary problems. It comes from the Hebrew Scriptures: "You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light" (Psalm 18:28). There are three things this brief quote speaks deeply to me when I have dark days with despairing thoughts:

1. I am not the source of my survival or security. There is Another who provides the "oil" for "my lamp." To the proud, prayer is a quaint, psychological pacifier. To those who know, a great and mighty Hand is found in low places of humility and humiliation. God does not reveal Himself to the proud, but speaks in a still, small voice to those brought low (what the ancients called the "Divine Incognito"). "You, O Lord--not I--keep my lamp burning." There will always be enough.

2. God is about the business of bringing light out of darkness. It is one of the first things the Bible says God is good at. In the creation story's version of the Big Bang theory, God looks at the chaotic darkness and says, "Let there be light." And, like that, there was light. He is still good at this. With just a word, Jesus was found saying to disease, blindness and moral lostness, "Be healed." Snap. Like that. Done. Many say it can't be done. I'm not one. I am here to tell you there is a God who turns my darkness to light. Not just light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel kind of light, but light outside and in, flooding my day and night: hope in place of despair, purpose in place of lostness, and a real sense of future and security in the place of uncertainty and anxiety.

3. "My darkness." The part I am most thankful about is that God does not just save victims and the downcast and outsiders, but He saves people like me who are a victim of their own moral fault and poor decision-making. When the darkness I find myself in is the result of my own doing--when it is really MY darkness--even and especially there the God of mercy and compassion brings grace, mercy and forgiveness. He turns the very things I have brought upon myself INTO LIGHT. He is so good at this darkness-to-light thing--and so full of mercy--that He takes my own self-inflicted suffering and turns it into character and wisdom and comfort for others.

When I feel lost and laid low, that is when the heart-cry of Mary in her humiliation means the most to me: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior! ... His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble" (Luke 1:46, 50-52). The proud can't find God at all, and resent Him. No wonder, since the Bible says God opposes the proud. Life is hard enough--who needs God against you? But, it also says, "He gives grace to the humble."

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning. My God turns MY darkness into light.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

From the dead

What a morning we had this morning. The sun came up on cue over the Atlantic, as we dug our feet in the sand and sang "Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate!" with several hundred other Christians. "Happy Easter!" "He is risen indeed!"

This morning's service had everything you'd expect on Easter: smiling faces, friendly people, snappy clothes and the expected references to mystery and magic, caterpillars and butterflies. "The Dancing Angels" made my day. I didn't think it would be possible to get six 8 year old BOYS to do synchronized dancing and let themselves be called, "The Dancing Angels." But, there they were. Easter is about impossible things.

The most impossible part of Easter is its essence, the distance Jesus traveled on that morning. He went from dead to alive. There is no greater distance than this. You can long jump the Grand Canyon sooner than you can get from completely dead to fully alive. Impossible. Yet, as the Monkeys sang, I'm a believer.

From the dead. That is where Jesus was raised from on Easter. "He is risen...FROM THE DEAD." If you accept Mark Twain's principle, then you have to accept the possibility that the resurrection of Jesus could be true and real. Mark Twain (who had a cat named "Satan") said, "Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to stick to the possibilities. Truth doesn't." The resurrection is impossible, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. If there is a God, then resurrection is light lifting for His little finger.

For the dead. All around us are walking wounded people who feel like the living dead. An affair smashed their marriage. Cancer snatched their friend. A drunk driver destroyed their child. Their company laid them off, which led to foreclosure seizing their house, which ended in bankruptcy bouncing all their checks. Forget about retirement--where is next month's rent coming from? They feel helpless and hopeless, lost and alone, perplexed and bewildered, thrashing about for something, somewhere, somehow. They feel knocked down, wiped out, flat on their backs. For them, there is One who stood up after being knocked down as down as down gets.

For those who feel like dying, Jesus is their man. He rose from the dead, for the dying. There is no problem too big. If He can rise from the dead, he can provide next month's rent, heal a broken heart, mend shattered dreams and provide a future and a hope. HOw do you get His help? You simply ask for it: "Jesus, please help." He doesn't need a lot of words, and you don't need to be good to ask.

From the dead, for the dead. Yep, I'm a believer that Jesus is risen, is alive and has the strength to help. All I have to do is ask.

Easter 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who owns your church?

Today I gave up trying to think about our economy. It lies in tatters, lamely flopping in the breezes blowing through it. ("Our" is probably trans-national in meaning, as America's cold has become the world's flu).

So, I turn my thoughts to one other intractable, seemingly impossible problem that afflicts me: church as we know it. If Ghandi were living here, he would still say, "I would become a Christian if it weren't for you Christians." Jesus rightly cautioned, "If the salt loses its saltiness, it is not good for anything but to be thrown out..." I somehow believe--if I could really see all the connections--there is some relation between our anemic church, our comatose country and our eerie economy.

So, what is wrong with this Body? Materialism? Yes, that's obvious. Immorality? Yes, any blind man can see that. Hypocrisy? As obvious as a Hawaiian shirt among Mormon missionaries. Lacking compassion? A dearth of faith? Judgmental superiority? These things mock us by the legacy we leave as self-announced followers of Jesus.

But, I have been wondering lately if the answer isn't simpler than that. Here is the question: Why is the church as we know it so far removed from the church as God wants it? Here is the answer that keeps coming to me: it is a matter of ownership.

Who owns your church? Is it your denomination? Your congregation? Your board of leaders? Your pastor? Your house group? You? No one? I have been pondering this lately. The denominational churches are easy to spot. But, who owns "Grace Church: It's Amazing"? "Jesus Is Real Ministries"? "H2O"? When I pry a little, there is always some person, persons, organization or non-organization-organization that owns/controls/directs them. And, therein lies the problem. THEIR church can never be the church God intended because that one is exclusively owned by Jesus: "I will build MY church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

Here is what I am really looking for when I read a church website: "Jesus owns this church. He directs it by the Holy Spirit. It can be messy, and at times we really blow it like the early churches did. Sometimes all we can say is, Thank God for the mercy of Jesus, because we really screw things up. We can think of no good reason to join our church over any other--we have ALL the problems others do because we are made up of the same sinners they are. In fact, our church is below average. But Jesus--HE is amazing. Call on His name, and belong to Him. HE will never let you down. We are trying to get over our pet theologies and narrow moralities to become merciful, loving and just like Jesus, but we have a long way to go. While we stumble toward the light, we thank God for the Coming Savior from Heaven who will deliver us from this body of death."

But, I never read that. Usually, they explain why their particular emphasis is the best thing since sliced bread, and why I should hop on board the Love Boat First Church of What's Happening Now Best Preacher Ever Hippest Musicians Anywhere Funnest Kids Program--Really, We're Not Making This Up.

We put way too much emphasis on "church" and way too little emphasis on ownership. Jesus is Lord--that means He owns me--if He is really my Lord. There are no commands at all about building the organization of the church, but there are boatloads of commands that require compliance and obedience. Our job: teach and practice obedience to ALL He commands. His job: "I will build MY church."

Summary of my simplistic oversimplification: We spend way too much time on "building our church," and forget Who the real owner is. It is Jesus' church. Maybe we need to crash our websites, tear down our lighted sign boards, give up our catchy marketing slogans and come back under the Name that is above every name: Jesus' Church. Our slogan: Definitely not worthy, but grateful for the big break He cut us. We are worse than you think--and He is way more loving than you can imagine!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Manifest Destiny (or, How I Would Fix the Economy)

The last 4 economic/housing "fixes" under Bush ($1.7 tril) and the current one under Obama (0.8 tril +/-) all have made me cringe (best word I could come up with since I used the bile/urp image in my last blog, and I don't want to wear it out--you need to keep a good metaphor in reserve for when you really REALLY REALLLLY!!! need it so people don't think you are an alarmist...yes, I'm making fun of the "fixes" even in this parenthetical remark).

So, I have been asked confrontationally, "Mr. SmartyPants, what would you do?" Having no training in economics whatsoever (like most of those spending our tax money), I feel eminently qualified to opine on this. So here it is:

1. I wouldn't "fix" anything by throwing money at it. The current problem is the result of a total concert of greed and corruption by a major part of our fellow countrymen. The best "fix" for addicts is to let them experience the consequences of their behavior, and make amends as they work into the character and fabric of their lives what they learn from their moral failings.

2. The government should set an example of fiscal discipline rather than further speculation. The goal should be to immediately cut spending beneath revenue income, so that the surplus can be used to pay down the debt. This is exactly what most of citizens need to do with their mortgages (and other debts): cut expenses and pay down their principal so they are not "owned" by a house that is worth less than the mortgage.

3. This may be the only way to cure the White Collar Welfare Class we have created with the last 4, almost 5, "economic cures." Oh so many moneyed people waiting "in line" to get their housing fix...while the former "welfare class" (of the rhetoric, anyway) finally gets to buy some housing they can afford--a real upside in this iceberg stricken Titanic of an economy.

What would happen as a result of my "fix"? (1) The stock market would rise and fall continually like it always does. If it happened to rise on the day I announced my fix, I would claim, "Stock Market Rebounds on Dodd 12 Step Program for Addicted America." If it fell, then I would claim that it had no relation to my fix. :-) (2) We will persist in a muddle-through recession and recovery (and, as every "fix" has acknowledged, things will get worse before they get better). (3) Housing prices will stabilize once two things are absorbed: (a) existing and coming foreclosures; (b) the 3.5 million homes builders overbuilt between 2002 and 2007. (4) Perhaps--hope always springs eternal for me with this--just perhaps, we would wake up from our mammon-driven stupor and come to our collective senses. Or, at least, maybe many in our land would start looking Up for solutions instead of all around.

"Manifest Destiny," the land-grab doctrine that drove out the Native Americans and rationalized the Western push is written deep into American DNA. Like alcoholics, you could almost say we are genetically predisposed to the greedy-gonna-get-me-mine-no-matter-what-it-costs-someone-else. Until we "take the cure" for this, there is no fix for the mess we are in. We gotta start thinking about someone else for a change. (Yes, I'm entirely aware that this kind of talk could get me voted off the island).

"A wise man builds his house on the Rock," not on the sea of shifting sands of economic uncertainty.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

La Esperanza De La Gente

Don’t ask me where I’ve been, but I saw this picture for the first time on the back of someone’s car yesterday and it was like someone body-checked me, real hard (a hockey metaphor for my cold weather friends—supposed to be back up to 80 this week in Orlando—oh, the suffering…). I got something stuck in my throat as a result, a little like déjà vu, but more like bile.

This picture of Obama with the word “HOPE” underneath took me back to a hat I got in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip 7 or 8 years ago. It had a picture of the winning presidential candidate with “Hippolito, La Esperanza De La Gente!” (The Hope of the People!, for those of you, who for some inexplicable reason took Latin or French to meet your language requirement in school). Back then, I remember thinking (no kidding), who would be so stupid to fall for such a lame line as that?

But in tough times people aren’t thinking with their brains. It is probably a much more reptilian kind of response born of being evicted from their home, or watching their retirement account become an “I hope I can retire some day” account, or waiting for the layoff notice, or coming to work and getting the pink slip, or fending off calls from the bill collectors (50 calls a week can put a lot of pressure on a person), or hiding their car from the repo man so they can get to work the next day, or ashamed and alarmed that they can’t buy a birthday present for their child’s 7th birthday, or wondering how they will pay for the cancer treatments since they lost their health insurance when they lost their job, or watching our “boys” (now should we say “boys and girls”?) coming home from Iraq with body intact but brain turned to mush from an IED, or watching their company’s or their bank’s stock swirl around the bowl like so many others of late, or because they are sickened to think that our national deficit went from $5 trillion to $12 trillion in the last 7 years (from record surpluses) and is heading to run up the score with no 15 run rule like they have in softball to stop the game.

There’s a whole lotta hurtin’ going on. Desperate people need something, and they go looking for it. So, why not a Harvard educated, constitutional scholar with exceptional thinking and speaking skills, and political instincts to match? Why not hope in him? Well, that is the interesting part of the picture/bumper sticker. Can you see the clashing color cultures of the BLUE and RED parts, like I do? As it turns out, this bumper sticker is not merely propaganda, but perhaps an accurate artistic/prophetic rendering of where we are.

Da Blue Dudes know exactly why they are excited ’bout ’Bama. Whether or not his economic fixes work, ’Bama is not ’Bush. The logic is totally compelling to them: “Why do I hit my head against the wall? Because it feels so good when I stop!” 1/20/09 was much anticipated, and McCain/Palin (particularly the Palin part) did not feel like a stopping the beating of the wall with the cranium. Arguably, the Bush admin was the most corrupt of all time, so even a morally murky mind could throw stones at him.

The Red loyalists are playing their part of being “aginners” agitating and undermining, throwing sticks and stones, and flexing what little muscle they have (riding the wave of public sentiment that can’t stomach more spending when we still haven’t gone shopping with a full $350 billion of Bush’s last economic fix, and no one has seen anyone bring any bags home with the first $350 billion that was spent). Their “hope for the people” is a sudden renewal of fiscal conservatism and “spending discipline” (which they didn’t exercise when they had both houses and the presidency for most of the last 8 years). I like fiscal conservatism, but having watched them for most of the last decade I wonder if they remember how to blush. The Red / “Christian” loyalists have their own moral take and remain—against the evidence but consistent with their political tunnel-vision—convinced Bush was a great man, and that Obama is going to hurt all their moral causes—no question there.

I have no doubt that the political story of the next 4 years will be divisive, not uniting. It will be the political version of the aftermath of the O.J. trial, but instead of being divided almost absolutely black and white in our view as we were then, now we will divide even more schismatically red, white and blue. Unfortunately, the party "spirit" is alive and well.

A friend snidely said to me this week, “Since you don’t agree with anybody, what’s your idea?” I had to laugh. Too true, but not so much. Anyone who knows me knows that I am actually quite narrow in my thinking, as I remain a radical follower of Jesus and his teachings (Red Christians don’t get this, but Jesus’ teaching is why I can’t sign up for their political pushes). I seek to conform to His teaching, obeying and not just pondering His views.

In response to my last blog (“Is Obama the Antichrist?”) I'm good with what laughingjulia said: "An underlying reason for people's trust in princes is 'trusting in what is seen vs. what is unseen.' As humans we delude ourselves to think trusting in man is easier to do than trusting in a higher being. We become 100% dissatisfied with the results, yet we continue to believe in men. Our dissatisfaction creates other sin such as anger, discord, division, and slander. Jesus asks us to follow him, however narrow and rocky the path may be."

My feet are on the Rock, my name is on the Roll….don’t need no political princes since I’ve got me a King who asks for my devotion not my vote. On paper, yes, I’m a natural born American citizen (registered independent). In my heart, my citizenship is in heaven. I am waiting and hoping on a Savior who is coming from there.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Is Obama the antichrist?

Prior to November's election, I received multiple emails arguing for how President-Elect Obama is the anti-Christ. I received copies of "prophecies" that if he were elected we would experience unprecedented terrorist attacks, natural disasters and economic turmoil. I heard Christians express fear about what could happen if he were elected. And, sadly, I heard Christians label him: he's a Muslim, terrorist, baby-killer, "most liberal senator," etc., as a way of making the point that if you vote for him, you too are a baby-killer (you can't make this stuff up-it is too weird). After the election, now "prophetic voices" are saying the same things: we are about to experience unprecedented terrorist attacks, natural disasters and economic turmoil because we violated the will of God by electing Obama as president.

Here are a few brief points for your consideration and, hopefully, encouragement to refocus on and trust in Jesus:

1. We are under a delusion as a nation, but the delusion did not cause us to elect Obama. The delusion is not new or recent, but has held us under its spell for some time. The delusion is that our country is somehow "Israel" in the Bible; as goes our president so goes the Kingdom of God; and an unholy, ungodly and unbelievable intertwining of nationalism and following of Jesus. The delusion causes us to become feverish about a man or against a man. Have we lost our minds? Our King Jesus doesn't need to be re-elected every 4 years-He is firmly on His throne, regardless of the storms and trials that come.

2. The things that are being "prophesied" to happen in the future under Obama have already happened under THIS presidency. If you really believe these things are signs of God's judgment, then you should be repenting for the past two elections, too. This is just connecting the dots: we have experienced unprecedented natural disasters, terrorist attacks and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression under THIS president. Let's be honest and blush when we don't apply the partisan prophecies even-handedly.

3. The fear believers expressed before the election betrayed the real problem. As a church and mission movement in this country, we have expressed little faith in the King of Kings and His coming Kingdom. Like Israel, we wrongly think we need another troubadour-earthly-king to make us feel safe. Like Israel with Saul, we continue to feel anxiety for this misplaced trust in elected princes.

4. The disappointment-bordering-on-despair that I have heard believers express after the election confirms the observation. Somehow, many of us believe that "turn out the anti-abortion vote" is the mission of the church, and that if our guy loses an election somehow the Kingdom of God has faltered. But this is not what is being revealed. What is being revealed is that we have trusted in princes that do not save-and never have. We have confused being a follower of Jesus with a political/economic/social agenda. The quicker we clear our heads of this and look up to the Coming King, and stop looking around for solutions, the better off and more faithful we will be.

5. 1 John 2: 18 says, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." The whole point of the deception is to get us to abandon Christ for false messiahs. I don't see Christians-as a whole-making Obama their false-messiah. Do you? But our fear and our despair suggest that we have made someone/something else a false-jesus (John? Sarah? Tax policy? Money in the bank? Equity in our home? 401(k)?. We should examine the log in our own eye as a church, so we can help the nation with the speck in its eye.

Jesus is firmly on the throne, though the waves still batter the boat. Before Him, the sea is as calm as crystal in the picture in the book of Revelation. He is in control, without trembling, full of love and mercy, ready to save all who call upon His name. There is a shaking that is coming, and no political figure will deliver us from it. Only those whose house is built on the Rock will survive the coming storm surge.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

We need to burn more books

This time every year some obscure university English department makes their mark by announcing the list of words that should be removed from circulation because they are overused or misused. This year includes "bailout" and "mortgage meltdown" (though, I'm not ready to let either word go, just yet).

As a skeptical scrutinizer of the "christian" subculture in America, I have a few words that I think should be written in a book and then burned in a blaze. I submit these words because I rarely hear them used in a remotely accurate way (that is, used as a way that is grounded in their foundational meaning as used in the Bible).

I just learned that the blog box won't let me make columns, so below is first the WORD//then its MISUSE//then what it USED TO MEAN:

church//building, organization//gathering of friends
worship//religious concert & lecture//a life poured out, as a sacrifice
saved//guilt free pass//salvaged and put back to hard work
truth//proposition, world view//a person--Jesus
christian//religious conservative//one who loves & suffers like Jesus
preach//religious lecture//announce on the street
ministry//professional religious program//serving like a slave
apostle//spiritual superstar//expendable messenger
prophet//dead, lacking diplomacy//listens to God
pastor//religious CEO//smelly sheep tender
love//feeling or mood//sacrificial, tender care acted out