Saturday, March 18, 2017

I looked right past the cross

I walked right past this cross more than a thousand times over 18 years and never saw it. Here's what happened:

We were visiting family in Cincinnati last week and I planned to attend Sunday services at our old neighborhood church.  I got a late start and finally found an open parking spot on the adjacent playground 5 minutes after services had already begun.

Sometimes you can  peer through the stained glass doors to the sanctuary and spot an open seat, but no such luck for me. Half a dozen late-comers in the entryway gave me knowing half-smiles as I turned around... "We already looked..."

Ah, but there was still one alternative to standing there for the next hour.  I peeked over to the choir loft stairway that is tucked off to the side of the main entrance. Ha! Nobody had claimed the "late seat" at the bottom of the stairs.

I had never sat on the choir steps for a service before, but I had seen many people do so. For years I had navigated up and down the narrow stairway every week hauling guitar cases, keyboards and sound equipment to lead worship with my daughter and our dear friend, Sue.   At least 3-4 trips up and 3-4 trips down the stairs every week we played. Thousands.

It wasn't unusual to run down the stairs during a service to retrieve a piece of music or replace a microphone cable. And I'd have to step around the person or persons sitting at the bottom of the staircase with a whispered, "excuse me...sorry...pardon me."

So it was my turn to smile when I heard the choir door creak open during the sermon. A singer or musician was on their way down the stairs and I knew to lean tight against the wall and let them squeeze by. Now I was the one occupying the "late seat" as they knowingly smiled and stepped past.

With that extra dose of humility, I mused over the new perspective offered me. Physically removed from the "action," I was neither fully engaged in the sanctuary nor supporting it with music from the loft.  Even so, I felt warmly connected there in my old home.  I was able to pray and listen, and even the familiar creaks from the loft floor above were comforting to me.

That's when I noticed that sunlight began pouring in from a window on the stairway wall above.  I silently noted to God that this would actually be a very pleasant worship experience if I my view wasn't obstructed by the concrete sanctuary wall - because from where I was sitting, I would be looking straight through to the front of the church and the cross.

The cross! Right there on the inside of the old oak staircase railing - just a foot away - was a lovely cross carved into the original woodwork. A cross now brightly lit by the sunshine pouring in behind me at just the right angle.  It was directly in line of sight, but only for the person sitting in this particular "late seat," on the choir loft stairs. Had the original artisan thought of that? I hope so.

After attending church there for 18 years and hurrying by it thousands of times, I had never seen that cross.  I wiped away tears but couldn't stop smiling at the unique gift of that moment. I wonder how many similar reactions and assurances were brought to people who had initially felt frustrated or embarrassed to be the latecomer on the stairs.

We walk right by the cross of Jesus thousands of times in our lives. Not just in a church, but on the sidewalk, at work, even in our own homes.  God is in plain view, but it might take a different perspective sometimes to see him - or to see what others see from where circumstances have placed them.  I'm going to look more carefully in the future.

What do you believe?

Friday, December 30, 2016

How to Subsidize Your Salvation

We attended several holiday theater events this year.

The Milwaukee Ballet performed one of their best ever editions of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Stunning music and choreography, true to the tradition. 5 stars, went to see it a second time.

And the Milwaukee Repertory Theater did just ok with a meandering,  somewhat morose take on Dickens' Christmas Carol. Adequate for 3 stars.

Before each event, an emcee politely reminded us that the cost of our tickets was subsidized. They didn't use those words,  but explained the price of the tickets would be far greater if not for generous contributions of commercial and private sponsors. The largest commercial sponsors were applauded and many private patrons named in the programs. Lead artists in the Nutcracker were personally sponsored by prominently named patrons.

And I appreciate that. As expensive as the tickets were - especially 7th row orchestra where I could enjoy the performer's facial expressions and hear musical nuances - we couldn't afford to attend if they were triple the cost or more. Many people would never experience the exquisite beauty of the Nutcracker if it weren't for these subsidies. The value is very real.

Its an easy way to think of our salvation.

The most commonly held view of heaven or life after death - in any global culture - is one of good outweighing bad. I will go to heaven after I die if I have been sufficiently good.
Deep down though, most self-aware people doubt that they are actually ahead on "good." And they're right.

The bible isn't as condemning or "judgmental" as many would like us to believe. It is honest, and it is fair.  It makes someone with a conscience squirm a little.

For the good: What is the measure of my kindness, generosity, compassion, mercy and forgiveness - as naturally expressed by me towards others? Including those who disagree with me?  That would trip up just about everybody during a presidential election cycle.  Plenty of ugliness, very little compassion on both sides of the debate.

For the bad: What is the measure of my personal pridefulness, selfishness, lust, wasted talent, laziness, greed, anger, intolerance (including toward spiritual diversity, or those who disagree with me).  I am tripped up by all of those at one time or another, some more than others.

I need a substantial subsidy to push my good past my bad.  Be honest, and you do too. We all do.  We know it, God knows it. The bible - and Christianity - don't condemn us for that, they recognize us for who we are.

The emcee at the Nutcracker didn't belittle me for accepting a subsidized ticket, he simply acknowledged the reality of it. They even gave away some tickets for free, all the beauty with none of the cost.  They want people to experience the joy and beauty of the theater. "We understand - you can't afford this - but we've provided a way." There is no shame in that.

You can sit in your theater seat and pretend you paid your way. But it's disingenuous.
If the full value were on the ticket, we would not get through the theater door.

The bible points out the need for a sponsor - someone to cover the cost of our sin. Someone's name next to ours in the program.  Jesus.  I am not ashamed to accept his saving grace.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.   Romans 1:16

What do you believe?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Things got better when my boat motor broke...

Its easier for me to trust God when things are going well.
My faith tends to remain strong when I'm aware of the next 2 or 3 plausible alternatives where I know God can guide me through adversity. When I have to cool my heels without any clear outcomes ahead, I grow steadily uneasy and wary as each day or week ticks by.

Last summer I was fishing on a remote Canadian boundary lake with my daughter and son-in-law. We were three lakes away from our cabin....miles of big, open wilderness water plus one river passage and one rocky set of rapids.  I heard an unfamiliar rattling sound when I started our outboard motor a few times that day. Once started, the motor ran fine, and I made a mental note to check it later.

The fish stopped hitting so we wound or way back to camp, reversing the miles of open water, rapids and river passage. Later that same night my son-in-law and I trailered the boat to a smaller lake and caught a lot of bass. As dusk set in, I tried to start the motor and was rewarded with a loud clanging, grating noise under the cover. We soon discovered a damaged starter bracket. After much trial and error we cobbled together a start and nursed the boat back across the lake.

Things could have been a lot worse. Earlier that day we would have had a much greater distance to cover. No cell phone coverage and no other boats along the way, we would have been lucky to row back with many hours of back aching effort.  But things weren't great either, since we still had the better part of the week left to fish without our main motor.  Fortunately we had a small backup motor for the smaller lakes, so we kept busy and took our time enjoying those lakes. Then our cabin owners were able to rent a boat to us on the larger lake. Rather than venture too far with borrowed equipment that last day, we opted for a closer shoreline. That ended up being our best outing - catching more fish in a short period of time then we had anywhere else all week.

Looking back, we had a wonderful trip with fantastic fishing. But in the moment, we had broken equipment, "limited options" and were "forced" to fish along a shoreline we would have otherwise passed up.

Our family has had several significant health challenges in the past two years that have not quickly resolved.
The longer things linger unimproved, the less confidence I have in God's sovereign power. Slowly, my capacity to appreciate simple daily joys erodes and sometimes I simply determine that God won't, or can't, intervene in any positive manner.  I don't doubt God being God - but I do question (resent) the wisdom of his non-intervention in more helpful ways. And so I am no different than most.

But that's what it was like in the wilderness last summer.  I didn't even realize our motor needed repair - looking back, what an unknown blessing that it held together and we were not stranded. And though I didn't welcome an alternate plan/boat - we had some of our best memories together as a result.

A fishing trip doesn't begin to compare to health or other family struggles where we wait on God.
Of course not, and I'm the first to get that.

But right now, this has helped to remind and encourage me -- that I can't see around the corner for what God has in mind. That even in the midst of unresolved adversity, there can be blessings, even joy. It doesn't mean everything gets fixed as fast as I want.  But maybe the timing is better than it could have been. And maybe we'll travel to a different shoreline of experience that we might have otherwise roared past wth the big motor. Its not the way I would have planned it. But God is at work in our lives even when we don't see or sense Him.

Psalm 62: 1-2
My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my Stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

What do you believe?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I can't imagine heaven without...

I was surprised by what a friend said at bible study recently.

He said, "I realize my brother-in-law isn't a Christian, but he's a good guy and I can't imagine him not being with us in heaven. We would all be missing something without him there."

My friend has otherwise consistently explained the redemptive role of Jesus with clarity when he's said, "you can't earn your way to heaven, because its about faith, belief in Jesus, and what he did on the cross."

Amen to that. So, why this other, seemingly inconsistent reference to his brother-in-law? If not through good works (you can't 'earn' heaven), and not believing in Christ, how else will his brother-in-law find his way to heaven?

We all hold what I call a sentimental, heartfelt hope for unbelieving friends and loved ones, past and present, to be in heaven with God's peace.

But trying to put our personal spin on heaven is just the tip of a spiritually drifting iceberg.

The companion conversations start with,

"I can't believe in a god that would ______"
or alternatively,
"I would only believe in a god that would _____ "

A god.  A god as defined by personal beliefs or morality.

That is actually the start of a healthy conversation. Tell me more about that god. One of many gods? Sovereign over all others?  Accessible via prayer?  With a shared plan for all people to see?
These are all fair - and to me at least - interesting questions to raise and debate.

Its a debate because you can't genuinely reconcile these personally defined gods with God as we understand Him from the bible.

Our sentimental, heartfelt desire to say that heaven "wouldn't be the same without....." is natural.
But if God is truly the the sovereign Creator of all things, all powerful and worthy of praise and worship...then it may be that all our earthly personal relationships and life experiences fade in the light of His glory. And maybe the infinitely magnificent attributes and elements of God transcend even the most intelligently constructed (and convoluted) boundaries of our human attempts to define and shape Him to our expectations.

Of course we can't specify whom God has gathered to himself across the ages, or whom he has not. Its His call.  Surprises ahead!

That said, Christianity is confident to explain with surety the clear path that God himself has declared in the bible:  forgiveness of our sin, redemption and eternal life is through Jesus. And for our loved ones, those who believe in Jesus, there is no sentimental hope of heaven required. We can know. 1John 5:13

A believer in this God can best show their concern and compassion for loved ones by sharing what we know to be true of Him.  They'll hear plenty of other options - perhaps even create a few of their own.

What do you believe?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Safe sailing in a foggy harbor !

The weather changed abruptly several times during our sail on Lake Michigan last evening.

While we were raising the mast and getting ready to launch, the temperature dropped suddenly and then just as suddenly warmed up again, all within a few minutes. We had been tracking a passing rainstorm, so we continued to watch the cloud bank carefully.

After motoring out from the harbor slips, we came upon several larger boats which had not yet hoisted their sails. We were puzzled by their delay. Usually these larger boats simply motor out to open water while raising their sails. There is less sideways tension on the sail if you are steering directly into the wind. Less tension makes it easier to hoist (pull) the halyard sheet (rope) through the pulleys.

Then we looked offshore to the horizon - or what had been the horizon.
The fast temperature drop and subsequent rise of humid air had created a quickly growing shroud of fog. This was the first time we had been out on the water in the midst of fog cover.

It was initially disconcerting.
We could see pretty well for about  200 - 250 yards on all sides.
That kept us safe from the 3 nearby ships, but unaware of who, or what else might be coming our way.  Without our sail raised yet, we could not easily navigate out of harms way, should another boat come at high speed.

Then my first mate (also my bride!) started to think more clearly.
"Use the compass on your fancy wristwatch and get our bearing."

Ah, smart. No radar on our vessel, but a basic compass was sufficient.
We quickly surmised what was probably on all 4 sides of us - even what was unseen.
We had only ventured an eighth of a mile from the harbor slips, so that was a reference due west.
That put one concrete harbor wall to our south, the main breakwater was east, and a lot of open water to our north.

Good deal.
With that, we decided to raise the sail. We agreed to sail conservatively in an area where we would recognize landmarks as we came upon them, and that gave us a reasonable 200+ yard margin of visibility to see and negotiate other boats venturing into our space.
We would not go all the way out into the open water of Lake Michigan where the fog could surround us on all 4 sides with no visible references. Without sophisticated radar, that would be asking for trouble.

So we enjoyed cruising the breeze, and at one point began to hear a distant, booming horn. Then it got progressively closer. It could only be the high-speed car ferry coming across the big lake from the Michigan side. Sure enough, within minutes, a large, ghostly form began to take shape on our fog-shortened horizon. We had already navigated our way out of what we knew to be its usual heading to shore, and watched it materialize and power safely past us. Glad we had planned accordingly!

Later, as the temperature and humidity evened out, the fog lifted more. The city skyline broke through the top of the cloud bank and many large sailboats appeared further out from shore!
It was fun to know that we could navigate the unseen - with a compass and a few basic reference points - and still enjoy a beautiful, warm breeze and the noisy slap of friendly waves.

Now you'll know why I smiled at my daily bible reading this morning:
"For we live by faith, and not by sight."  2 Corinthians 5:7

I read the news and listen to TV reports of many jumbled and broken lives.
Its as though people - and cities and universities and nations - are plunging through a fog of issues and challenges. But there is no common compass or shared reference. So they bang into each other - and us - and take no responsibility for their own sense (or lack) of direction. Its a mess, and they seem irritated with offers of help.

And there is help. We do have a common compass that everyone can turn to.
The bible makes north, south, east, west as clear as the fancy watch on your wrist.

All of us in the harbor yesterday had the same frame of reference. It was not relative to what we thought it "should be" in "our interpretation."  God's direction is not relative to a person's perspective, it is the reference for perspective.
East is east. West is west.
You want to know that with surety when the immovable car ferry bursts through into the harbor.

I didn't bristle at the suggestion of a compass yesterday. I was glad. In fact, I was able to go about more freely, with more confidence. Still...somebody else could have chosen to ignore basic navigation and wiped us both out.  We can't keep the compass to ourselves - sharing it will make things safer for everyone to navigate -- and enjoy the breeze together!

We navigate by faith, and the reference is truth.

What do you believe?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Mix Part A with Part B

I bought fancy, self-molding ear plugs for target shooting.

They come in a package with two small packets of separate ingredients. Both were sticky and slimy.

The directions instructed me to mix them thoroughly before shaping them into the actual ear plugs. They would form-fit in my ears and then dry into that shape.
The writers admonished me at least three times to mix BOTH ingredients.
"Do not use separately"
"Product will not work if not mixed according to instructions"
"Unsatisfactory results if not used together."

I got the idea.

On the one hand, it was humorous. On the other, experience must have shown them that buyers would either not pay attention, or not understand without very clear directions.

We're seeing this same confusion over spiritual matters in our culture.
People go to church without claiming, or perhaps wanting to claim, Jesus' redemptive role in forgiveness and salvation.
Secular folks refer to select bible morals while refusing to acknowledge an encompassing, God-originated plan.

Do not use separately. Unsatisfactory results if not mixed together.

At times it seems almost humorous. Convoluted spirituality claiming Jesus as a "good man, if he existed" and the bible as "inspirational, though generally flawed." But the humor has taken an ugly turn as governments and public institutions encourage intolerance uniquely targeted at Christians (i.e. leave your faith at home or lose your job in the USA. Leave the country or die in the middle east.)

We need to more clearly and candidly help people through the process of getting to know God's love with all the ingredients. The bible called this discipleship.

Coming into a relationship with God through Jesus does not make someone a one-size-fits-all robot. Like my high tech ear plugs, there are basic Christian foundations that can't be ignored or it doesn't work -- at the same time, they allow the unique form and fit of the user. That's why it is called a personal relationship with Jesus. God loves the unique and spirited heart of every believer.

Like the clever ear plug manufacturer, God went to a lot of trouble to put simple, clear instructions into our hands via the Holy Scripture. Supreme and sovereign wisdom must have led Him to understand that people would need a user manual...

We need both, a spiritual connection to God through Jesus, mixed with the readable and actionable encouragement of His plan.

Do not use separately. Unsatisfactory results if not mixed together.

What do you believe?

Grab my hand!

"Grab my hand!"

I had a jumble of feelings coursing through me.
Fear, panic, frustration, embarrassment...

Embarrassment? How did that fit this picture?

"Grab my hand!"

I was balanced precariously on the rock face of a cliff in Ontario, Canada.
Everything had been fine during the boulder scramble from our beached canoe's to the cliff base. Then things grew progressively worse as the wall pitched nearer to vertical. Easy hand and footholds gave way to polished granite and slippery sand.

The embarrassing part was that my friends had already navigated this section and were looking down from a slim ledge beyond this chute. One had come back to talk me through.
I didn't think I could reverse course. I had already stretched past a tiny outcrop that now looked much smaller below my feet. My current hold was tenuous and slippery. This next move up was paralyzing me - if I couldn't get past it, I would truly be in a very, very dangerous spot.

"Grab my hand!"

I heard my friend, but it had not yet occurred to me to trust him.
He was right there. He had a solid purchase and was bigger than me. He had already gotten through.

But this was a new spot to be in. I was used to being the leader, confident of next steps, able to see my way through. How could I know that this hand up would truly save me from this miserable situation.  From my own fear and panic?  And what, I thought miserably, if it only got worse?

I grabbed his hand.

He pulled me through. We all made the rest of the way up together. Helping each other and growing closer as a result. And not one of these guys every chided me for my fear. Not then, not ever.

Everybody is afraid of something at some point. Something that paralyzes our ability to move forward. Often there is a hand held out right in front of us.
It's a friend, somebody we know, saying, "Grab my hand!"
And we ignore it, looking below, looking to the right and left.
How can they possibly have the answer that I haven't already thought of myself.

I experience this more and more as the years go by and I watch family and friends struggle. They have gotten to a juncture in life that frightens them. Below or behind them are broken relationships, muddled careers, maybe an unexpected health challenge. Here they are, holding precariously to a philosophy or spirituality that they've associated or credited with their forward progress to this point.

But its not giving them the courage or hope or confidence to keep going.

"Grab my hand!"

We tell people about Jesus. Saving Grace. Peace with God. The comfort of fellowship and support.
No accusers. No ridicule. Other people who had fears and misgivings.
Forgiveness, healing.

"Grab my hand!"

I can see many people - even friends, family - look right past me.
How can this guy know something that they haven't already thought of?
Some are even embarrassed to admit it. They're confident, self motivated. Independent.
And I see myself thinking the same thing on that cliff in Ontario - looking right past my friend and his hand.

But then I reached out - not yet knowing for sure the outcome, but fully understanding the consequences of doing nothing - and he saved my life that day.

That's what Jesus will do.

What do you believe?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

That Long Hard Walk to the Cross...

Man, was I suffering this morning!
I was scheduled to play guitar at an earlier-than-usual service time at church.
We were out late for dinner Saturday night, so I had not yet organized my sheet music or written down key signatures - it takes some hunting to track down 11 songs.  But I could squeeze it in before breakfast.
Then I overslept, making it that much more rushed to have coffee and toast before packing up the guitars and heading out for a quick pre-service rehearsal with the music director.
And...cold?!!  Minus 2 degrees before windchill.
Plus...!    My bride, who usually carries the heavy music bag, was driving separate, so I had that AND two guitars to carry in.
Then - of all days - there was a water main break and I couldn't park anywhere near the side entrace to the church. I mean, I was out in the least 30 yards away, and walking into a miserable artic polar blast.

I looked at that distance, felt the heft of the weight of my guitars and music - shuddered at the freezing wind - and muttered something about the sufferings of a poor, unloved volunteer church musician.

That took about a second, and then something else got my attention.
I looked at the distance again - and figured I would cover it in about 2 - 3 minutes, tops.
On my way into the nice warm church where we have this beautiful cross in the sanctuary.

It made me think about this other guy.
Much longer walk, through filthy streets and crowds - dragging an actual cross, not a puny figurative one.
Not heading to a nice warm refuge - He knew it was only going to get worse. A lot worse.
Nails in the hands and feet. Spear in the side. Taunts from the selfish, prideful, ill informed and haters.

Yeah....I must have blushed in my embarrassment, because my face felt warmer for a moment.
Then I shook it off and headed inside to church, feeling much less sorry for myself with each step.

We had a fantastic worship service. Made some really good music. Looked up at the cross.
Thanked Him again - I know too well that I am not worthy of His sacrifice - but He is worthy of my praise.
And I am blessed, in Jesus' name, Amen.

What do you believe?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Xmas Moon and that Drafty Night in the Monastery

I read that its been 40 years since we've seen a full moon at Christmas time.
That's a lot of Christmas' Pasts!
A few years after that last moon, I spent a handful of weekends at a drafty old monastery overlooking Lake Erie.  It had been a religious convalescent home in its day. But now there were only two people left as caretakers of the impressive, mansion-sized complex and the sprawling lakeside grounds. One was a gregarious young anglican priest and the other a shy, but fun loving novice from the same order.  I'd befriended the two while I was in town on a business training assignment and volunteered a few hours as they needed.

One freezing December night they invited me to dinner and told me to bring my guitar.
They introduced me to another twenty-something, Fr. Phil Bennett. He had a razor sharp sense of humor and kept us in stitches with his dead-on vocalizations of "Rosanne-Rosanna-Danna" from Saturday Night Live. After watching the sunset from the spacious dining hall, we made our way through echoing hallways toward the chilly gray stone chapel.  

I can't recall much about the chapel itself, but oh, how our guitars and voices rang in the natural acoustics of that space. Phil and I had both been writing Christian songs and we traded them back and forth for hours until we just couldn't play another note. Phil had an amazing sense for melodies and lyric phrasing. And he had traveled just enough to weave in some unforgettable characters and settings.

Of Phil's songs that I've played regularly in the decades since, my favorite is his Advent song called "Rejoice O Daughter of Zion." I never wrote down the notes and I can't locate the scratchy old cassette we had left recording on the cold chapel floor. But I know it like an old friend and sang it from memory again this past Sunday at the 10:45 service.

But surprise! I also learned something new this Advent - something as old as the last Christmas full moon.
When our bible study read through last Sunday's scripture passages, I realized I was seeing the core biblical elements of Phil's beautiful song.  ZEPhaniah 3:14-18 and Luke 3:10-18

Read them yourself and compare to his concisely adapted lyrics:

Rejoice O Daughter of Zion, rejoice and be glad.
Rejoice O Daughter of Jerusalem, for your Lord has come.
Your Lord comes to you.

John baptized you with water.
But He will baptize you, with Spirit, and with Fire.

Rejoice O Daughter of Zion, rejoice and sing.
Rejoice O Daughter of Jerusalem, and behold your King
Your King, draws nigh.

Like the recurrence of a full Christmas moon, I wonder now if this same combination of Sunday scriptures had come up in the Christmas cycle before I met Phil. It was a once in a generation full Christmas moon back then - and a once in a generation chance to enjoy brand new music with new friends in a drafty old chapel.  I've shared that song now with thousands of people and many congregations - I hope you'll also find something new this season to appreciate and share -  right up until the next full Christmas moon!

What do you believe?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas explained via the Terminator Movies

I readily admit that I enjoy Arnold in the "Terminator" movie series and recently saw the latest edition, Terminator Genisys.

In these movies, a robot can transport to our present from the future - but the time machine only works with human tissue. So they cleverly grow human flesh around the "cyborg" and suddenly Arnold's robot is walking around amongst "regular" humans to remind them..."I'll be back."
Back in the 1st terminator movie, rational adults think its crazy for a witness to believe this could actually happen. A psychiatrist easily spots their delusion and says, "they've convinced themselves of the logic to the point it actually makes sense..."

The idea of another entity taking on human form for a time-space continuum leap into our presence caused a stir long before James Cameron brought Terminator to the screen.
Chris Rice wrote about it in his beautiful song, "Welcome to our World,"

"So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy

Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world"

That is what Christmas is about.
God found the perfect way for us to get to know Him better - as approachable as the scruffy carpenter next door.  God in human form. Jesus, the Savior.

Let's all take the time to explain the simple beauty of God's plan - which can be challenging with a rational, educated 2015 audience.
A cyborg....maybe. But God?  Bring in the psychiatrist please!

Perfect Son of God...welcome to our world.

What do you believe?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Dynamic Pricing and Jesus

Have you heard of dynamic pricing yet?

We recently went online to buy some last minute theater tickets for the Christmas season.
As I checked different nights, I realized the prices were quite different for the same seats.
Curious, I checked a few other performance times and the prices varied significantly - and not just for "prime time" like Saturday night. A couple week nights were also high. So I called the box office to ask why.

"Oh, its dynamic pricing," she explained cheerfully. "As the venue fills up, our pricing model senses the increase in demand and raises prices accordingly.   So...the decreasing commodity becomes increasingly valuable...and expensive. And somebody else "won" with low prices.  Interesting.

I've seen similar "multi-price" occurrences with hotels.  A discount price is available for the same room...but not during a holiday.   In season and off season rates, etc. Some  people fare better than others, for the very same room, or theater seat!

Jesus told the story of the Vineyard owner who hired people to work in the morning, then the afternoon, and finally the evening.  He gave everyone the same wage. Some complained to say "how is that fair?" But the vineyard owner replied,
"‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus has paid the price whatever our individual sins require - with no regard to how long we waited to contact him - late in the season, early - it doesn't matter. We all have the same access to salvation and eternal life in Jesus.  Are we envious because he is so generous to "latecomers" or people we think have the longer list of sins to forgive?  Let's not be.  Merry Christmas!

What do you believe?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Remembering Dad H 1931 - 2014

My father-in-law passed away this week.

As his family and friends know, Dad H was never one to boast or brag about anything he'd done - let alone reflect on the accomplishments of his life. But as one of the children to have married into the family, I want to share what he meant to me.

First of all, his acceptance and support of family members was unconditional and absolute. On the occasion of marrying his first-born child, I gained my first insight into Dad H's definition of family. As he and I bumped into each other at church on the morning of the wedding, he turned to me and asked, "Where's your mother?" Since we both knew my biological mother was miles away at her hotel, it only took a second to realize that he was referring to my soon to be mother-in-law. And from that moment, I truly believe that is how he considered me - and anyone else who was fortunate to marry one of his most beloved treasures - we were invited to become another one of his kids. And like them, to be worried over and appreciated, and supported - no matter what.

And despite raising a family of nine kids, I've heard them say over and over again how Dad H was able to make each of the nine feel special and for the time he shared with them, his "favorite."

Dad H served his country in the Korean war, managing to get married somewhere in between and return from military duty to provide for his young bride and baby daughter (my future bride!). And provide he did...

Its amazing to think of in today's day and age, but Dad H managed to progress in the very challenging computer and technology development field for over 30 years. He truly worked on computers before computers were cool. From Cincinnati to Massachusetts, Kentucky and Glasgow, Scotland, he was a trusted problem solver for one of the largest companies on the face of the planet. Right up to the day he retired, Dad H was equally at ease chatting about Cray Supercomputers as he was choosing the right flowers for the annual Mother's Day planting expedition.

Along the way, Dad H pitched in to raise nine very unique and spirited kids. They say his culinary skills were legendary, including Hishy-Hashy Hell Fire Stew. Dad H made sure everybody had their food before claiming his. And with determined follow-through, he could finish the pan to make sure there wouldn't be a pittance of leftovers to deal with in the refrigerator. Then long after everyone else had trailed off for homework or bed you would see him washing and drying dishes in preparation for the next day.

When the opportunity came to get a cabin in the woods, Dad H began the family ritual of days spent on the river. There was hot chocolate delivered to the kids' bunks and then he kept careful vigil - coffee mug in hand - while they happily explored the nearby trails and river bends. My wife fondly remembers those times as some of the happiest with her dad.

There were also woodworking projects. Intricately carved necklaces, book shelves, bunk beds, and school projects. If you followed him around the workshop long enough, Dad H was sure to locate exactly the right piece of hardware that you needed. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he'd peer up between his glasses and ball cap to say dryly, "I knew I'd find it there somewhere." He was the family handyman at large and many a plumbing problem or furnace failure was brought to short order with a call to Dad H.

When he wasn't working, cooking, shopping with Mom or raising kids and grandkids, Dad H had a keen interest to read and learn. He could easily flow from topic to topic as it interested you. Politics, world affairs, history, etc. Dad H always enjoyed bantering about the literary works of Asimov and Heinlein, or a favorite classical music piece. He was also one of the most generous men I ever knew.  He made sacrifices to personally support some of his own family members in measures that were much greater than his "fair share," and without a contrary word about payback.

There is so much more to say, and I am inadequate to the task. But to me personally, Dad H was a bright, insightful and kind man.  A good citizen, faithful son, generous sibling, dedicated husband, warmly loving father and of course his favorite role - proud Grandpa.

I'll share my last memory as a bit of Good News.
In January of 1998, I had been troubled by Dad H's health as we all were. I took a moment during conversation in his workshop to tell Dad how much I appreciated him, and in fact that I loved him. I asked his indulgence to further say that because of my fondness for him, and knowing that we don't live forever, I had often wondered about his spiritual well-being. I shared with him that I believe our ultimate redemption will be through personal belief in Jesus as the Son of God.

I'm not sure I can tell you why I was surprised at what happened next, but without hesitation, Dad H stopped what he was doing, straightened up from the workbench and looked me straight in the eye. He said, "I've always believed that Tom. I've got no question about that - I may have some problems with organized religion - but not that."

"But not that," he said. No questions about his personal belief in Jesus as the Son of God. So from that day on, I lost my fear for the day we would eventually lose Dad H from this life.
We shook hands for the last time in October. He once again looked me straight in the eye and gave me that strong carpenter's grip. I'll remember that moment, and listening as his oldest daughter told him she loved him and hearing him say that he loved her.

And now I look forward to seeing him again in heaven.

What do you believe?

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Missed Conversation with John the Drummer

I was as shocked as anybody in our parish to learn that John passed away last month.
I don't know his last name. Early 40-ish, thick beard, soft spoken and always smelling of cigarette smoke.

John played conga drums at our 7:30 am Sunday church service.
If conga's seems a little out of place for the "early" service, you're right.
But our music director rarely has volunteers for that time slot and John was willing, so he became a regular.

As the parish guitar player, I rotate services and only play a handful of the 7:30's each year.
John was always very friendly towards me. Greeted me and offered to engage me in conversation despite the unseemly hour (7:00 am rehearsal...ugh).
But I wasn't very friendly back. I don't know why.
I usually enjoy the camaraderie of another musician. Whether it's the music director on piano, the flute and violin players who sometimes visit, they add so much and its more fun for me.
And I am almost always curious to learn more about my fellow musicians and the singer soloists as well.
What other types of music do you enjoy? How long have you been playing? Have any plans for the coming week?

But I never did ask John those questions, even though he asked me a few. That's why I know so little about him.
Maybe the conga drums were a little jarring for me, despite the gentle and capable way John played them. And I was admittedly put off by the heavy pall of cigarette smoke that encircled him.
Even when John would say to me after the service, "Nice job today, I really like the way you play."
I never accepted the opening to say more.

So I was as shocked as anyone to learn that the poor man had passed away at such a young age.
I'm equally troubled by how my own behavior cannot be reconciled with John in this lifetime.
I can't make an effort to be kinder to him next time. Can't apologize for treating him so indifferently.
There is no next time with John.

I won't make that mistake again...or will I?
I've asked God to help me do better and to please forgive me for not treating others as I would like to be treated. There is always more to learn, and I'm once again humbled by the stark reminder.

James Chapter 2:
"My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers."

What do you believe?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Daughter and the Trip West

I just had one of those most-gratifying parent moments.
My adult daughter explained details of her upcoming road trip to Yellowstone with her husband of four years.
Without a map in hand, she described the daily itinerary and various options they could take depending on weather and driving conditions. She had a rough estimate of time at key attractions like Mt. Rushmore and knew road conditions in Yellowstone (a mountain pass is closed for the season).
She's prepared for the weather (snow on the ground, but it could quickly warm up) and they are deciding on hiking distances and trailheads they may tackle in the nearby Tetons.
Its a solid, safe and well thought out plan, with a few twists and goals that I would not have included. And that's a good thing. She and our son-in-law are making it their own, building on what she and he have learned from their early family travels.

I never sat my daughter down to say, "this is how you plan a family road trip."
She's learned that you need goals and guidelines for a successfull trip. How many miles can you travel - and enjoy - in a day?   How do you plan for as many options and possible pitfalls as possible, still knowing that you'l have to call a few "audibles."  Rain days, road closures, mis-calculations.
Its all part of the fun.
She learned all this by being part of the family. And simply living it.
She traveled the 50 states with us and gradually absorbed that there was method to our madness.
I can remember apologizing to her on a long drive through Utah when I had underestimated the hours to our next destination. We had to pound through the miles into the late evening because we were whitewater rafting on the Colorado the next day. My teen daughter said, "that's ok Dad, the hike at Zion today was worth it!"

Our kids also learn their spiritual planning insights from us.
Years of attending church on Sunday help them to learn that its a priority. You work your schedule around it.
Praying out loud together - not just saying grace at meals - provides a familiar and natural setting to have conversations with God.
Highlighting your favorite bible verses and talking about their application in daily life.
And simply saying, "I love you, no matter what," helping to exemplify what God's Grace of unconditional love means in practice.

I hear parents say, "I didn't want to force them to believe what I believe, but I'll answer their spiritual questions when they're old enough to make their own decisions."
They don't always grow up to ask those questions, and they don't necessarily ask their parents.
But they do learn as they go - if there is an example to follow, and if its combined with positive participation and outcomes.

That's why I smiled to hear my daughter describe her travel plans.
She's got it.
One of my wife and my joys in life - the family road trip - its been passed on to another generation,  fully intact and breathing a life of its own.
We didn't force that on her, she took it and ran with it - recalling how much she enjoyed learning it together with us at her side. And with Jesus, her savior.
Spiritual travel plans, for this generation, and generations to come until He returns.

"Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow old they will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6

What do you believe?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

5 Memories of My Mom

Its been 5 years since my mom passed away in the summer of 2009, and I miss her.

Its almost surreal to accept that our individual lives have progressed as they have in her absence.
Yet there's no doubt our collective interactions would have been different in many ways, simply because she has not been here as the heart of our family.

I had originally thought to write about the 5 things I miss most about her on this fifth anniversary, but that seems morose - and mom would prefer something more cheerful.
So instead, I'm sharing 5 of my favorite memories. And as long as I'm still around and able to remember, I hope to add another each year in the future.
  • Riding in the wagon to the grocery store - many of my memories start about the time my two older sisters were off to school and I spent lots of quality 1:1 time with my mom as she tended to our home. Riding two blocks to the grocery store in the wagon was great fun, and I could tell she enjoyed our excursions on those warm, breezy summer days.
  • Ice skating and "cracking the whip" - when I was old enough to ice skate we went to the local park and its frozen pond. I remember our family holding hands and me being the last in the line, holding fiercely to my mom's gloved hand as we all turned in a large circle, with my dad at the center as we "cracked the whip." It was a sharply cold, moonless dark night and it seemed extra special because my mom was so enthused with the adventure.
  • Saturday night movies and popcorn - My mom had a gift for making world class popcorn. She had a certain way of tossing the popped corn in a bowl to get just the right amount of salt distributed. Any extra went into special metal tins that the family could enjoy for and extra day or two.  Part of the fun was knowing just how much mom enjoyed eating the popcorn herself! 
  • The Summer 10:30 PM Chats - I was a serious distance runner and I liked to take a nightly run during the summers when it was cooler. There was always a 10:30 pm TV rerun that mom like to watch after the news - Alfred Hitchcock, The Untouchables, PerryMason or the like. By those high school years I wasn't around the house quite as much, but we had an unspoken appointment to chat over the day either before or after I went for my run. Many was the night I dragged my feet until after the 10:30 show, just to see if we'd correctly figured out 'who dunnit.'  And she never failed to ask, 'do you really have to run every day?"
  • Seeing her play dress-up with my daughter - From the moment she held my daughter in the hospital, there was always a special bond between the two. You couldn't help but laugh to hear them play dress-up and make elaborate pretend stories as they cooked and cleaned with all the toy utensils. My daughter still speaks of those fabulous trips of imagination and its a joy to know that she will have some of these memories to hold on to long after I'm gone.
I'll share more next year.

What do you believe?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Counterfeit 5 Dollar Bill

My daughter works in the banking industry.

This week someone included a counterfeit 5 dollar bill mixed in with their other cash.
My daughter spotted it.
She later snapped a photo of the counterfeit and a regular 5 dollar bill and asked us to determine which was which.
I could not.

"How did you do it?" I asked, genuinely impressed.

"It didn't look right to me," she said, " and when you held it up to the light you could easily see that the 5 didn't show through in the proper manner."

My daughter has seen literally thousands and thousands of bills over the years.
She's become accustomed to the true look and feel of the real thing.

My daughter is smart, thoughtful and perceptive. She has also seen many forms of spirituality over the years amongst friends, students, acquaintances and family.
She has held them up to the Light and recognizes the Truth when she sees it.

From her very youngest years we would talk about God in a very objective manner.
"Yes, there really is a God, and He loves you very, very much."
"Yes, Jesus really did exist, and he had a specific mission when he died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins."
"Yes, you can absolutely believe in the bible as your reference point."

She went on to do her own studies and make her own decisions.
And now I hear her incisive interactions with people who wonder about, or try to introduce, counterfeit spirituality.
She holds them up to the Light. And she is not mislead.

What do you believe?

We Need More Light Around Here

I've had the same cubicle at work for two years now.

My desk is located in a sort of dead spot beneath the overhead fluorescent lights.
The direct light is over to the left and right of where my cube is.
No big deal for the most part - I've adjusted to it - but there have been times when I simply wanted  more light.

Then I went on a series of business trips.
On the days in between, when I returned to the office, I saw a lot of cube-moving activity all around my area. It seems that they are doing some renovation in one part of the building, so they had to temporarily move an entire section of people over into the vacant cubes dotted throughout my area.
Even for adults, there is a certain camaraderie to temporarily 'setting up camp' in a different area, and I noticed that this group stayed cheerful and positive about the added distraction to their daily work.

This week I returned to my cube after another travel week away.
Something was different.  The atmosphere around my work area was noticeably different.
Pleasantly different.
There was more light!

These new folks had swept into the area and determined that many of the overhead fixtures had aged tubes or ballasts. They had immediately brought it to the attention of the facilities team and literally brought new light into our midst.

I'm surprised at how much this one change seemed to please me.
I had no idea what a difference it would make. And I had no idea why I had simply gone along with the dull shadows for two years!  I had simply adjusted and "settled."

I immediately paid more attention to this traveling group of positive people who had brought the change. I looked at name tags. Asked about their work. And I thought more and more about why they had thought to bring change, and I had assumed change was not possible. That I had simply forgot and put up with it.

Isn't that what missionaries have been trying to do for centuries - and to great success?
I have a friend from work who sold her home two years ago, took a leave of absence, and moved to southeast Africa. In the pictures she shares, I see her joy and light in the midst of the children she now helps. Somehow she believed that those children did not have to simply endure the shadows of that region's poverty and physical assaults. I would never have imagined someone could go in and make such a difference in such a short period of time.

But then, I didn't think to help bring light to the 8x8 area of my own work cube.
We can't assume that people want to live in the darkness of this world's spiritual doldrums.
And we have to realize that many people simply assume there is nothing better.
How would they know - unless energized, positive people come in and help with tangible actions?
You don't have to go to southeast Africa to bring Light to where you live and work.

John 8:12
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

What do you believe?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What I Learned This Easter

This Easter I realized there have been 6 major milestones in my  spiritual life.
They seem to span about a decade each - I must be a slow learner.
Here is what I learned (am learning) as part of my relationship with God:
  1. The bible is the revealed and inspired Word of God - this changed everything. Reading the bible turned my life upside down. Without a reference point, you can rationalize anything...and I had been rationalizing many things wrongly for the first 25+ years of my life! 
  2. Jesus is God - I had dinner with a kind business associate who was visiting from Oregon. I told him it would help me to know that the bible affirmed Jesus' as truly God and not just a 'good man.'  He pulled out a pocket new testament and showed me John 10:30, and Colossians 2:9. I was 29.
  3. Grace is God's unconditional gift of forgiveness - given freely to and received by those who believe in Jesus.  I had believed in various forms of 'works,' only to learn that no one 'earns' their way to heaven. Our multi-denominational bible study broke through to me on Grace in my 30's.  It builds on #s 1 and 2. If they are not true, then Grace is meaningless.
  4. Following Jesus is not just a salvation experience - throughout my 40's I asked God to grow His ways more naturally from within me, rather than me 'acting the part' of a Christian. Left to myself for forty years, I was not naturally (or otherwise) humble, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, generous or moderated. Some people probably are. I needed God to transform me, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. With Grace, and kind mercy. If ever a Godly attribute is evident in my life, it comes from God - I was never able to 'will' them into place on my own. 40 years proved it.
  5. People will leave this life having chosen not to believe in Jesus. Where they are is less important than where they are not.  Jesus and the bible make it clear that eternal life in God's presence is through the name of Jesus. I choose Jesus and eternal life in God's presence. God does not delight in the death of unbelievers - nor do I.  I pray all people will know that eternal  presence (Ezekiel 33:11,  1Thes 5:9)  Now in my 50's, I volunteer and counsel people on this eternal decision for their lives. There is great need and many people seeking this Truth.
  6. Jesus' Last Supper did not complete the passover...yet.  This Easter, a dear friend of our family from Hungary shared a thoughtful podcast about Jesus, the Lamb of God. I'll leave you to do your own homework on this one, I'm still studying it! You'll read in the Gospel's that after Jesus and the disciples broke bread and drank wine as part of the passover, they departed after singing a hymn. As I now understand it, that left the 4th cup of the traditional Jewish passover unspoken for. It was not complete. The next day in Jerusalem was the day that lambs were sacrificed for the traditional passover meal. Note that Exodus 12 talks about the sacrifice being fully consumed by all participants. On the cross that day, Jesus took a sip of wine extended on a branch of hyssop. He declared, 'it is finished.'  And in the Holy Communion of the Lord's Supper, we now partake in what Jesus asked, in remembrance of him, as at the Passover. As Paul said in 1Corinthians 5:8, 'therefore, let us keep the feast.'   That is to say, complete the remembrance that Jesus requested in its fullness, by consuming the sacrificed lamb, which in biblical times was prepared whole, body and blood. Bread and wine.  Its a difficult teaching of the new testament, but makes more sense to me now, and the link to the old testament is now clearer.  I encourage you to also read the Gospel of John, Chapter 6.
I wonder what I'll learn next!

And as always...what do you believe?

Kindest, Most Gentle Soul I've Ever Known

I met up with an old college friend recently.
We traded news and updates of our families.
He asked me how my wife was. I gave him the quick summary of her work and hobbies and time spent with our kids.
Then he asked me a question that doesn't usually come up with casual acquaintances. It's more a question for  good friends, people that have no boundaries in what they know about you, perfect and imperfect.
"How are you two doing together after all these years?"
It's a question I would have summarized in the past with a simple, "we're doing fine as usual."
But that wasn't what he meant.
College is a long way behind us now. We've all been through the blurred years of raising our kids.
Now we've had parents and loved ones pass away. Weddings. Job changes.  A changed world around us.
"How are you two doing after all these years?"
Being married to my best friend means immeasurably more to me now than when my friends used to ponder such things at the student union.
I understand in my core being that she loves me more than anybody else ever has, or could. And that is how I love her. We've been through a lot - as most people - but its now that I see how the steadfastness and commitment to always go forward another day has galvanized us with unshakable trust. And affection. And a singular, deep rooted gladness that I really can't put into words - although I know she understands it too.
Time to me now is measured in portions I am able to spend with her, near her, or while doing other things until we are back together again.

Inscribed in our wedding rings are the words, "We are One."
At the time, we meant it to signify the joining of our individual lives, together with God.
Then it was aspirational. Now it is true.

I said to my friend,
"She is the kindest, most gentle soul I have ever known."

And we are one.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Phone A Friend - Got anything about Jesus ?

I had questions about an allergy medicine a few weeks ago and I called a friend with experience using  over the counter products. I kidded her on the call that she was my allergy phone-a-friend.
I get calls on various topics from friends and family and hear the same line. Its fun to be considered knowledgable on some topics, even in everyday life.

Then last weekend we attended a very unique symphony concert. Our very renowned local orchestra played the musical score in sync with the "Wizard of Oz" movie as it played on a large screen in our beautiful performing arts center.
On the way home my daughter and son-in-law busily uncovered delicious trivia items about the original 1939 movie, its cast and the production details.  In just a few minutes of smart phone sleuthing they came up with  fascinating and fairly comprehensive insights to the beloved movie.

Two very nice 24/7 options are available to us these days - call an expert or search the net - either way, we have answers at our fingertips, eyes and ears, within seconds of a question popping into our consciousness.

It's Holy Week, 2014.

This is an annual Christian remembrance of Jesus, the Christ, and his final days before dying on the cross and then rising from the dead. He did this for the redemption of sin, for all who repent and believe on his name.

Somebody might have questions after hearing about Jesus, Easter, Good Friday, the Passion, Resurrection, Redemption, the Cross, Scourging, Tomb, Pilot, Sanhedrin, Passover, Upper Room, Last Supper...

If they decide to phone a friend...will they call you?

If not - could we envision four people driving in the car and enthusiastically sharing fascinating trivia and insights about all those Holy Week topics - as my own family did because of a 1939 movie?
There is far more information available for internet searches on Jesus topics than there is for Wizard of Oz topics.

I still have conversations with Christian friends and acquaintances who will say, "I'm sure it's in the bible somewhere, I just wouldn't know where to look."
In today's day and age - that's really not a reason, so much as an...well, it's not a reason at all.
And if we're not willing to look, why would we expect a non-believer or seeker to do so?

He's risen.  That is the Good News of Easter, 2014.
I'm ready if anyone decides to phone this friend.

What do you believe?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Noah - Genesis - Book and Movie

I did go to see the new Noah movie, starting Russell Crowe.

Like most people, I quickly recognized the most obvious fictional component - the three-armed  rock monsters.
My guess is that the screenwriters and producers thought no one would believe that human beings could build such a big ark on their own.  But they would believe three-armed rock monsters.

For the rest of the movie there's an ad-hoc mix of biblical references and Hollywood movie plot creativity.
On balance, it's a pretty entertaining action movie that will mostly disappoint viewers who really like the original book.

Here's an excerpt from a review from by  Sophia Lee

" [Noah movie] reflects a rough understanding of sin as moral wickedness evidenced through rape, murder, pillage, and bad stewardship of the earth, all of which are dominant in Noah’s mankind. But the film fails to capture the more dangerous sins: nuanced, hidden, deceivingly beautiful, flesh-and-ego-pleasing sins that first tempted Eve in the Garden. When Noah finally starts recognizing his own inner wickedness, he descends into a lunatic and irrational state that victimizes his terrified family—revealing a rather biblical truth of what happens to a man who becomes “enlightened” without the promised hope and grace of the gospel."

It did prompt me to go back and flip my bible open to the 6th chapter of Genesis...there's was quite a bit I had not thought of in quite awhile...its worth the read.

What do you believe?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Career Advice - God is my #1 Referral Source

One of my young business friends was talking to me about looking ahead for his next career move.
How best to narrow down options and choose the best job direction - at least when the economy and circumstances allow for choices!

I looked back on how my own work life has progressed across 3+ decades - for which I am very grateful and aware of God's blessings.
I started to write a few notes about the intentional prayers I had offered to God - and then realized that there has been quite an extensive running dialog with Him on this topic. God has blessed and never failed, including times when I was sadly out of work.
Here is what I recalled for my young friend:

Lord, I pray...

  • That you grant me a humble heart that is open to your perfect will.
  • That you cultivate spiritual depth and growth in my relationship with you, that I might recognize your Holy Spirit of insight as it transcends my own.
  • That you lead me to the best possible future, for our entire family, not only this generation, but all generations to come until you return...for eternal purposes that are beyond what I can know.
  • For divine appointments, every day, in every situation, to be met with wisdom and discernment, that I might not hinder or block what you make possible. For restraint when my impulses or reactions could disrupt what is the better path. For a straight path to your ways...without detours that I create. For Holy Spirit course corrections when I have done so.
  • For divine patience and a Spirit of peace to wait as you lead and align, but also a Holy Spirit of appropriate action and sense of urgency when you have provided the opportunity.
  • For forgiveness when I put myself first, or willingly ignore what I know to be Godly influence or guidance.
  • For Godly confidence and assurance to keep career in its proper perspective, never to be daunted or in doubt about what You can accomplish without the help of men.
  • For a lifetime of Godly people and circumstances in my path offering help, accountability, encouragement, example, protection, nurturing.
  • For specific, tangible insights that help with decisions and choices. Especially those that diverge from what I believed most evident or assured. For a recognizable, Holy Spirit sense of affirmation in all matters that transcends the ‘milestone’ situational needs.
  • For a Holy Spirit continuum of what is our marriage, our family, our work, our outreach, our friendships...that they are Spiritually one with you and your purpose in our lives - to the point that we more readily see and understand what directions or choices are of you, and of what we are with you.
  • Philippians 2:3 - That I do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
All this I ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

What do you believe?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Where's That Bible Verse?

I started reading the bible for real when I was in my late 20's.
Up until then it was too overwhelming for me in its entirety. Too many books, too many words, too unwieldy.
I couldn't make sense of it.
Ironically, I had written and recorded over 30 contemporary Christian songs by then - matching verses to themes that fit my melodies, and vice versa. It was solid, God-inspired work that has stood the test of time. But I was no bible scholar, just a capable, creative, verse browser.

When curiosity and the Holy Spirit finally got hold of me, I was on fire to learn more of the details.
I took notes, highlighted verses, made flash cards, and attended studies with heartfelt enthusiasm. It was a spectacular surge of spiritual growth and insight that surprises me to this day for its intensity.

Some of that motivation came from growing awareness of the competing spiritualities and non-spiritual philosophies surrounding our young family. My wife and I had experienced an eye-opening, and unsettling, tour of the mormon church's HQ in Utah. I had also been frustrated and embarrassed by my inability to converse intelligently with Jehovah Witnesses and even Christian evangelists who knocked on our six-paneled front door. I didn't know exactly what I believed, or "should" believe about Jesus. I was woefully unchurched, having attended church regularly for over 25 years.

But God made up for lost ground, with a flourish. And it all started with reading His inspired and revealed words in the bible. It turned my life upside down and nothing has ever been the same - for which I will be eternally grateful. Quite literally.

After all these years spent with my favorite book, I can recite quite a few of the most commonly referenced verses by memory. Others are starting to fade a bit, but I can triangulate the book or chapter and track them down. "Its somewhere in Matthew 24, I think."
For all the rest, there are word searches with my iPad app or....with Google!
That's right, you can no longer say, "I wish I knew my bible better," and let somebody do the heavy lifting. Just type it into your computer or tablet browser. Or download a bible app like Tecarta.

As easy as it is now to find a bible - a Gideon pocket bible, a hotel version, or online browser -  there are still two camps of people who make the "I don't know where the particular bible verse is," statement.
One group is sincere, despite being without plausible reasons. It would be more accurate to say, "I'm really not motivated enough to actually track down where the verse and context might be."  Or, "I'm content enough to know some reference is there without having to see it."  Fair enough.  True enough.

The other group is less genuine - with a side agenda to let general bible references serve their own purpose, but without actually seeking the truth.  These are people who point out that the "bible says not to judge anyone," or "plenty of people have used the bible to say that slavery is acceptable." But will quickly change the subject if you offer to crack open a bible and discuss the details.

I spent many years listening to - and offering up - countless versions of both conversations.
Then I simply read the bible for myself. And everything changed.

2Tim 3:16
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.

What do you believe?


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Call Your Own Fouls

When you play a game of pick-up basketball, or playground hoops, as we say here - you call your own fouls.
Its basically an honor system.
If the player shooting the basketball is fouled (illegally blocked or grabbed on the body or arms), that player can say, "you fouled me," and either get the ball back again, or shoot a free throw. And its bad form for the defensive player to deny it or argue. The offense gets to "call your own foul," and it balances out when the other team gets the ball and they then call their own fouls.
You play this style when there are no referees to be had - hence with playground ball. Its usually for a casual game, or your league is simply saving the cost and hassle of referees.

Its surprising how well it works.
Overall, when you're in a one-on-one situation and the other player slaps your wrist as you shoot, you both know it. They don't disagree when you call the foul, because they know its true, and so do you.

It's different in a formal game with official referee's. Now the crowd is watching. You are cheering for your team to win and you don't want the referee "hurting" your team by calling fouls.
And, if the referee seems to be harsher with the other team, and even calls a mistaken foul, that's ok with you. Because you want your team to win.

It's hard to deny your sins one-on-one with God.
You lied about oversleeping for church.  Foul.
You secretly enjoyed seeing a politician fall from grace after an embarrassing  extra-marital affair. Foul.
We know when we've sinned. And its an easy thing to read through the New Testament to learn what God considers to be the rulebook.

On the other hand, when we assemble as groups with referee's around, we lose sight of the ball.
More and more, people are finding judges, parties or politicians who will declare a certain morality or activity to be acceptable in legal terms. The spectators cheering for that point of view are delighted. And to some degree - at least in the comfort of their group, they may even have some vague sense that they are "in the right."
But one-on-one with God, the Holy Spirit helps to make very clear what is true, and what is right.
Most of the widely debated "conflicted and complex" issues of our time are neither.
We recognize a foul when we see it.  Granted, its harder sometimes to admit it when you're sitting in the stands with the rest of your cheering section - when they desperately want their team to win.
But a foul is a foul.  

Romans 1:19-20
"...because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

Playground basketball wasn't always pretty. It could get rough around the edges. We ran hard and it was a gritty, sweaty battle from one hoop to the next.
But we called our own fouls. And win or lose, we each knew there was truth in that. 

It may be now, that we've got too many referees making calls on the essential spiritual matters of our day - and too many of us cheering from a distance. 

What do you believe?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Because God is Merciful

There has been a nice surge of online inquires since the recent My Hope broadcast by Billy Graham.
I volunteer as a chat counselor for people who respond to the web site with questions.

Some inquiries are from people seeking God and some from Christians with doubts.
It's a humbling and encouraging opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus.

This week a man used the occasion of our online chat (both of us are anonymous to the other online) to ask about God's forgiveness in Christ.  He was stuck on the basic tenant of Grace - that God forgives us even though we do not deserve forgiveness. This, because Jesus died in our place on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins. I explained that God then looks at us and sees no sin - Jesus having redeemed us.
The gentleman asked pointedly, how could God be so easily fooled - to see no sin when it is simply with Jesus.  We went back and forth on this for quite some time, the man clearly struggling with God so easily re-directed, so as to overlook our sin.
This is not an unusual conversation. This man and many others have a hard time accepting God's willingness to forgive and love, because of what Jesus did on the cross.

I finally typed back to him..."its not that God is foolish to see past your is that he is merciful."

And that is what broke through for this man.
"Merciful."    Ah, that made sense where the pure logic of retribution in our world did not.
Mercy is a foreign concept today. Especially mercy with no payback. Mercy without justice. Mercy with humble thanks.

The bible says "God saved us, not because of anything we did - but because of his mercy." Titus 2:5

For at least one person I met this week - that made all the difference.

What do you believe?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Seeing in the Dark

I woke up the other morning just as my wife was leaving for work.

She left the lights off so as not to wake me, and was finding her way from the master bath to our door.

Since I'd woken in the dark, my eyes were already adjusted and I could survey the scene.
She had one hand extended out in front of her, moving slowly left to right. And her feet were carefully shuffling one step at a time.
To her, stepping out of the lighted master bath, all was darkness in the room.  Her hand was out in front to protect her from hitting the doorway. Her feet were shuffling so as not to trip or stub a toe.

To me, I saw someone cautiously trying to find their way through what I could see clearly. What she could not see, I could see.

Light and darkness.

The first chapter of John's Gospel says a lot about Jesus being the Light of this world.

"In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind. the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:4-5

and of Jesus' birth, John said,
"The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him."  John 1:9-10

Knowing Jesus is like flipping on life's light switch.
You worry less about holding your hands out in front of you, worried about what you may encounter. You plant your feet more confidently, less concerned about stubbing your toe.
There is great joy and confidence walking in the Light of Jesus.

There is also great joy when you can see someone who used to walk in the dark, now walking in the light. Especially when it is someone you care about, someone you love.

Is there anyone you love enough to empower with the Light of Jesus?  Or, will you let them walk in the dark, hoping they "find their own way?"

"For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life."  Psalm 56:13

"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord." Psalm 89:15

"Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God."  Isaiah 50:10

What do you believe?

Healthy Grass Crowds Out Weeds

I fired my lawn service again last year.

After 5 years or so, my lawn wasn't any better and I was getting even more weeds.
"You just have to water it more," the service kept saying while my neighbors' yards looked beautiful.

So the new guys came in, very confident in their approach.
They recommended aeration, fertilization and something new...a compost top dressing.
The top dressing layer would be applied in the fall, about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of rich organic matter to complement aeration and over seeding.

The lawn got off to a good start in late spring and summer.
The grass looked more consistent, although the same thin spots and patches of crab crass were there.
Then the weeds roared back in August.
"What are you going to do about this?" I asked.  "It looks worse than before with all the weeds?"

The lawn guy confidently held his ground and explained his process.
"Sir, we're about to aerate and over-seed your lawn. We can't put down weed killer or we'll hurt the new grass that germinates."
Sounded like same-old, same-old to me, but he persisted.
"Sir, you have to think about what makes healthy grass. If you don't have a good base layer of soil throughout for healthy roots, then you'll never get out of this cycle. You'll have just what you have now. Patches of good grass and patches of bad. Its your lawn, but this is what I recommend."
I still didn't see how this would get rid of weeds. Wouldn't they just grow faster and healthier too?

But no.
Two months later, with a new base of soil and over seeding, the lawn looks fabulous.
And the darn weeds have been crowded out by...healthy grass.
I honestly would never have believed it.

A strong base helps the good thrive together and crowd out the bad. Just turn in your bible to the gospel of Mark, chapter 4 and read Jesus' parable of the farmer sowing seed.

But what got the job done for me? This young man was steadfast in his belief that a firm foundation would conquer the weeds. He risked his lively hood by NOT telling me what I wanted to hear.
"Sir, you could do it your way, but you'll just continue in the cycle that you have now..."

We have to be willing to tell people the Truth of the Gospel.

"Sir, Ma'am, you will not fix hate, envy, pride and corruption with weed control alone."
You must first build up the healthy layer of humility, honesty, mercy, forgiveness...and Grace.

We see ever encroaching patches of unhealthy philosophies. Thin layers of false hope. Ugly bare spots where past experiments have failed and withered - with nothing left to even build on.

Sir, Ma'am, without Jesus, we will simply continue in the ever worsening cycle we are in now.
With him, we are only a season away from renewal.  I've seen it with my own eyes.

What do you believe?