Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Don't Have an Answer

Every generation of Americans has been marked by specific events. For my parents, the landing on the moon, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Kennedy assassination were all fragments of history they could point to as "I remember where I was when..." moments. For the generation prior, they remember things like Pearl Harbor and VJ day.

My generation's moments are much different, and the case could be made that no American generation has dealt with as many domestic tragedies as mine. I remember where I was when I heard that Timothy McVeigh had decided to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City, or when two lunatics decided to shoot up a school in Littleton, CO, or one gunman opened fire on Virginia Tech, or when terrorists declared that America wasn't that far away from the Middle East and definitely wasn't safe on September 11, 2001.

Now we are faced with another tragedy. We have another story running non-stop on every news network. Another American decided to remind us how unsafe we actually are. I will always remember where I sat when I read on twitter that some lunatic walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and shot 20 beautiful little children to death along with six teachers and his own mother. I was sitting in a coffee shop with one of my best friends, Adam, in Denver, Colorado wasting time. I read out loud to him the tragic news and then continued to read, pray, and search scripture for comfort. I read Isaiah 40, a popular passage around this time of year, and fought back tears.

"Comfort my people" the passage starts. God is telling Isaiah to comfort His children because they will be delivered. Their sins will be pardoned, their violence will cease, and their redeemer is on His way. The covenant God made with Israel will be accomplished. God has one plan through Israel to bless the world, and He will uphold His end of the bargain.

Advent, the season Christians for thousands of years have observed, is about that yearning we are all feeling right now. The yearning that something is wrong with this world and we just want it to stop. We want suffering and tears to end. We don't want any more mothers to buy tiny caskets. All religions recognize the flaw in the human condition. We all recognize the need for redemption. Two thousand years ago, the Creator did something about it. A better way was revealed.

Followers of this better way have a responsibility to do something about evil. We have a charge, found in 2 Corinthians, to be the ministers of reconciliation. That means we need to find a way to keep these shootings from happening again and again. There's some reason they keep happening in this country more than any other. Our schools, movie theaters, and public places have become shooting galleries for young men wanting to "go out with a bang" more than any other civilized country. In the past 30 years, there have been 61 such shootings--61! No other developed nation has even half of that number. There is something desperately wrong with a culture that breeds this type of killer.

Is gun control the answer? Is the abolition of the second amendment the answer? Should the government look at gun-violence as a public health concern? I don't know. I don't have an answer. I do know I shouldn't have to pray for a parent who has to explain to her six-year-old why his classmates had their faces shot off in front of him at school on Friday.

Many are asking where was God in all of this? The answer is simple: He was there. He was in those classrooms and hallways while a tragedy took place. Maybe He allows tragedy to happen because this is the world we have made for ourselves and He loves us enough to give us what we want. That last sentence may seem horrifying and grating to many, but it's the only answer I can stomach. I know God loves us, and of that I am more certain than I am of my next breath. I know God hates to see children murdered. Why didn't God keep this particular madman from doing what he did? I don't really know. My best answers seem trite and even anathematic at times. There's a good chance that, on this side of Glory, I'll never be able to adequately explain Sandy Hook to anyone from a theological perspective.

I do think it is time for America to take a serious look at itself. We need to do some soul-searching to figure out what can be done to limit these types of tragedies, because they seem to be a uniquely American occurrence. I also think we need, more than ever, to be a people marked by the love, acceptance, and compassion of Jesus as we try to demonstrate a better way to live. The Kingdom has come, the covenant has reached its dynamic climax, and we are now the hands and feet of the Incarnate Word on Earth, seeking to bring redemption to a broken world.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twenty Seven

Another trip around the sun. Whirling world-traveling wild year complete, I can only be anxious about the next. What is in store for me on my 28th orbit?
Where will I go?
How many more passport stamps and customs agents are in my future?
How many more handshakes and new friends?

My life still seems like it's ahead of me, but the more I think about where it's taken me, it seems I have a lot more behind me than I realize. Windshields are bigger than rear-view mirrors, as the old cliché says, but it's hard not to reflect on a year as crazy as mine has been.

The cool thing about being born in December is that my new year coincides closely with the calendar's. That makes reflection more logical. Without reflection on the past year, I would often lose sight of where I am headed and how I plan to get there. More importantly, I'll begin to think disease-ridden thoughts, like the one that tells me my plans or ideas have anything to do with what is going to happen. That thought is so pervasive I have to constantly spin away from it into the open arms of an unknown, cloudy reality.

Last year on my birthday I thought I'd never get a job and I'd be living with my mom in Dallas forever. Now I have a job, and an apartment, and mom doesn't even live in Dallas anymore. I've been on the other side of the world for extended periods of time since then. I've been to New Orleans and New York on disaster relief trips for my job since then.

The future is a pretty girl with an aloof personality. You want to get to know her quickly, but she won't let you. You think you've got her figured out, and then she turns into a crazy person. You think she's going to settle down, then you find yourself looking into her eyes while driving into an evacuated disaster zone or watching rebels set fire to a car in protest.

It's the aloof girls that are the most interesting, and it's the future we focus on because the past is too known, too familiar, and too over. She's unknowable, exciting, and probably dangerous. Eventually she'll kill me. But every year I'll run at her full-speed with my eyes closed and hope for the best. If you think God doesn't love that about me, your god is too small. Don't box God in and allow him to show you what He can do with a wholehearted life.

The past can be an anchor, or it can be a set of wings. With proper reflection and meditation on your story, God will show you how to fly into the future--the dangerous, exciting, and unknowable future.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent as Invasion

On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of beach outside of Normandy, France. It was the largest amphibious assault the world has ever known. More than 9,000 Allied troops lost their lives that day, and over 100,000 troops began the march across Europe that led to the end of World War 2. An invasion by the allies was expected, but through countless espionage and misinformation operations, the Nazis were unsure of exactly where this invasion would take place. 

According to legend, after a 10-year siege of the city of Troy, Odysseus hatched a plan for an invasion. A giant wooden horse, the symbol of Troy, would be built. While the Greek fleet pretended to sail away in defeat, a select group of soldiers would hide inside the horse. The Trojans thought the horse was a gift to the gods and a symbol of the Greek surrender, and they brought it inside the walls of the city--effectively sealing their doom. 

The element of surprise is a powerful weapon of war. The enemy can't know where the attack is coming from, especially if the enemy is heavily fortified and entrenched. A good invasion takes incredible planning.

Both of these invasions were also full of risk. Had the Trojans suspected foul play, Odysseus and his men would have been destroyed inside the horse. Had the Germans figured out the Allied plan, the result would have been devastating. The Allied command took the risk into account and decided the Normandy invasion was the best chance of winning the war. 

Most people don't think of the Christmas story as an invasion. A baby seems like an odd choice for a conquering soldier. Bethlehem wasn't exactly a political center of the ancient world. 

However, the Christmas story is the story of an invasion. This baby was the conquering King of the universe sent to make things right. Bethlehem was ground zero of the greatest victory in the history of the planet. When Christ was born, at the "culmination of the ages" according to Hebrews 9, God was risking his Son as part of His infallible plan. Jesus describes the situation in the Parable of the Strong Man. 
Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. (Matthew 12:29)
The strong man in the parable was Satan. He and his minions had been ruling the world for long enough, and Jesus came to tie up the strong man. His birth set into motion the climax of the promise given to Abraham and allows us to plunder Satan of the things he has taken from us. 

When we help those less fortunate, when we end the cycles of abuse and poverty and disease, and when we seek to save the lost we are partnering with Christ in plundering the strong man's house. Christ has already been declared victorious. The invasion was successful. We can collect the spoils of war in the blessings available to us when we share in Jesus' work on earth. 

In the greatest surprise attack in history, God invaded earth as an infant in a food trough and defeated an enemy who stood no match for the power of the all-powerful, compassionate, merciful Creator. This Advent season as we join with one another across the globe in our observance of the hope felt by creation before Messiah's invasion, let's remember to also be a part of the continuing "war effort," and do our duty to plunder the strong man's house. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Expectant and Hopeful

When you are a kid, Christmas means presents. That's it. You tell people about baby Jesus and Santa and elves, but you really only care about that year's haul. This excitement about acquiring toys and goodies from the fat man in red begins just as soon as the halloween candy has been processed through your tiny digestive tract.

December is a month-long waiting game. For a month you watch Christmas movies and sing Christmas songs and talk about Santa and shake presents and "no sir, you may not peek!" It is a month of stressful, yearning, expectant hearts wanting to tear through wrapping paper. 

There's a lot I could point out that is wrong with that attitude towards possessions. There's a tolerance for greed that is unfathomable in this culture's treatment of December. However, the sweat-beading on a child's head as he looks under the tree and is overcome with anxiety about what he cannot wait to receive is the result of a misguided emotion, but is real nonetheless. 

Look at the book of Isaiah, the language of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Jewish Messiah isn't calm. It isn't "I think it'll be great when Messiah comes, you guys." It is feverish, rich with the imagery of revelation, healing, and things finally being set right.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. 
There's nothing in that passage that is remotely calm. The Jews waited in eager anticipation for the coming of Messiah, they sweated and yearned and prayed for his revelation. The same emotion I had as a kid hoping I would come away from the tree with enough loot is the emotion December really is all about. Breathless anxiety and eager anticipation of the coming of God With Us. Advent is the first season of the Church calendar, and the first day of Advent was this past Sunday. During this time, we are reminded of that anxious expectation felt by all of creation before the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. 

Look at the way Simeon, a man who longed for the day of Messiah, responded when he saw Jesus as an infant. He said "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel." He can die in peace because he knows the promise has been kept, the chains will be broken, and all things will be made new.

That's why we sing all these weird songs. Well, most of the weird songs, at least. "I Saw Three Ships," is the most inexplicably written set of lyrics in human history and should be thought of as a riddle and not a song.

It's why we pray for Peace during each day of December. We want the Kingdom established--the Kingdom Isaiah foretold having no end--to increase in our lives and in our communities and for peace to increase in our world. 

The divine Word, the thing spoken by the Creator God in Genesis 1 which spun planets into existence and is described as "holding all things together," in Colossians 1 put on skin and moved in next to us. He dwelt on earth in human form. God invaded a fallen earth longing to redeem his beloved. That's what we celebrate and why we try to train our anxious hearts to want only more of Jesus. 

Pray for peace, promote peace, work for peace, and let yourself remember what it felt like to be an anxious kid before Christmas while you await the incarnate Word. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Full Tank

Basic spirituality requires discipline. Prayer, fasting, meditation, solitude, silence, and even a strong yoga practice are all ways people from various faiths seek to accomplish spiritual growth. The principle behind these disciplines is the same: when we strip the trapping of the outside world from our view, we are left with Truth, Reality, and where we stand in context to the both of them.

This week I drove from Dallas to Denver on a work trip in a Chevy Sonic rented for me. A spartan car and a drive I had made several times before did nothing to entice me, but I was surprised at how unexpectedly refreshing this drive was. I have made the connection between long drives and my spiritual growth several times, but I always forget to make good on my realizations. I'll come back from a particularly formational trip and say, "I'm doing one of these once a month," but it doesn't happen. The next month I'll say, "not every month, who has that kind of gas money?"

Just me and my thoughts. No scarier proposition exists. I'd rather spend hours watching the same episode of Sportscenter or listening to monotonous talk on NPR than have to face the traps my mind might craft for me. Turning my brain off is the safe option, it's the option with the least possibility of failure, the option that never leads me to make any decisions.

Spurred by something I heard on the radio, I began to think about the culture in which I live and whether my generation has any idea what true vulnerability looks like. We say we do, we post everything about ourselves on Facebook or twitter, but really all we are doing is crafting a new mask we want the world to see. Facebook is just the latest in a long list of false realities. No one looks bad there, no one posts their actual problems there, and no one grows there. We cover our scars, moles, and blemishes and forget they exist.

Twenty-eight hours in a car by yourself can rip your mask off. The disciplines necessary for a vibrant spirituality are antithetical to the masks we wear. When you face the face you've kept under your mask for so long you've forgotten it's appearance, you begin to grow. Disciplines make this a regular occurrence just as the drive to Denver and back was a stab to the gut of my pretend self. How many more of me are there? How many masks have I worn to make people think certain ways about me? How many times have I been fooled by someone else's mask?

Well, I'm still not deleting my Facebook account, because how else would I see things I don't care about from people I don't remember meeting?

We have to be committed to balance.

I'm recommitting myself to practicing spiritual disciplines because it is the only way I know how to come face to face with the consuming fire of God. Through disciplines we become like the woman in Mark 5 who saw the opportunity to be healed and made it happen by grabbing at Jesus' robe. We become proactive partners in the work God is already doing in our lives.

I'm also going to start writing and thinking a lot more about vulnerability and what it means to share our experiences, pains, and victories with one another because I think our scars are to be shared, our stories are to be told, and our masks are to be broken.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Humility, Mincemeat, and Metanoia

Jesus once told a story about two men. One was a Pharisee, super religious and full of knowledge of the law. He thought he had it figured out. His pride had blinded him to the need to repent, to recognize where he stood in relation to the God who loves him. 

The other character in Jesus' story is a tax collector. He was humble and knew where he stood in the sight of God and that a decision needed to be made. Humility is the first step toward metanoia, the transformation of your mind, your heart, and your soul. Humility is the truest form of self-awareness. Pride blinds your judgement, while humility opens your eyes.

To repent signifies far more than self-pity or futile regret over things done in the past. The Greek term metanoia means “change of mind.” To repent is to be renewed, to be transformed in our inward viewpoint, to attain a fresh way of looking at our relationship with God and with others. The fault of the Pharisee is that he has no desire to change his outlook; he is complacent, self-satisfied, and so he allows no place for God to act within him. The Gospel depicts him as a man that is pleased only with himself who thinks that he has complied with all of the requirements of religion. But in his pride, he has lost the meaning of true religion and faith.

Humility is cultivated like a garden in the souls of the faithful You can't ask someone to do this for you. You can't become full when someone else eats your sandwich. In the Buddhist tradition, the emphasis on humility is to gain proper understanding of yourself and the world around you. Humility liberates you from fase perceptions about the world around you and the intentions of others. I think that is important as we seek to understand our place in the world. As missiles are sent from Israel to Palestine, and vice versa, we all need to better understand the need for humility, self-awareness, and peace. Humility is working for peace and harmony and the inability to live peacefully is a sign of pride, sin, and separation from the will of God for all men to live in harmonious communion.

In April of 1943, a body washed up on the southwestern coast of Spain. This body was dressed in the uniform of a British Marine and his ID said his name was William Martin. Attached to his waist was a briefcase containing several official-looking documents. Spain was a neutral country in World War 2, but its military was pro-German, and as you might imagine, the Germans became very interested in William Martin and his briefcase.

The Spanish government never told the British they had found the body of Major Martin, and the Brits began sending frantic telegrams looking for him and his briefcase. They made it plainly clear that they needed to recover him as soon as possible.

What the Germans found in the briefcase was startling. Basically the documents outlined the entire Allied plan in the Mediterranean. It seemed that the Allies were going to launch an invasion on the coasts of Greece and Sardinia, which is what many in the Nazi high command had expected for some time. In fact, the Nazi intelligence office was so confident that William Martin’s information was genuine, they refused to hear evidence to the contrary from the Spanish coroner who did the autopsy. He tried several times to give them proof Martin wasn’t the victim of drowning, but instead had died of pneumonia.

The British knew the German intelligence service would be overconfident, they were counting on it. “Operation Mincemeat” as this exercise was called, relied heavily on a combination of overconfidence and an intense desire to please superiors which led to the false information making its way up the chain of command and onto Hitler’s desk. He responded by sending a tank division and extra troops to Greece. The German commands in Greece and Sardinia were put on high alert. 
The Allies were coming.

On June 6, 1944, the Allies did invade. But instead of invading in Greece, they landed on the coast of Normandy, France, in the largest amphibious assault in the history of the world. This invasion won the war for the Allies.

Pride is like a disease. It affects everything you do and can cause massive mistakes. It clouds your judgement, and like the Germans in “Operation Mincemeat,” you’ll ignore the truth when you see it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Freezing and Satisfied

This post originally appeared at www.twcd.wordpress.com, for more information on TWCD, and to donate to our cause, please visit www.twcd.us

There's nothing like a thirty hour drive clear your mind and give you time to evaluate recent events. We dropped off three incredible volunteers in Branson, Missouri. Three volunteers we didn't know only a week before. Three volunteers who did everything we asked of them and were as flexible as humanly possible as circumstances, jobs, and the weather constantly changed.
The way our time in New York ended was nothing short of Divine. We had been all over the New York metro area doing odd jobs and clearing trees. We needed a job to lift our spirits and remind us why we were there in the first place. A contact I made had given us a list of several homes on Staten Island that desperately needed help with fallen trees, but the list had about 40 homes and we only had one day left. We narrowed our focus to about six homes and I began calling them one at a time until we had three solid leads. We worked at two of them in the morning, ate lunch, and then headed to what would be our last job of the trip.
Pablo's house was the first I called and the last we helped. He walked out of his front door and reluctantly showed us the 130-year-old tree that had been cracked like a twig in his side-yard. The trunk was ten feet high where the tree had fallen and at least eight feet around. This beautiful 60-foot tall tree was made garbage by an indiscriminate storm and it needed to be cleared out of the yard Pablo had owned for nearly 30 years.
We assured him that we would do our best to cut this giant into manageable pieces by the end of the day. Two of our volunteers grabbed tomahawks and began working on the larger branches while the other cleared already separated limbs. Matt and I began using our reliable chainsaws on the hulking trunk. As smoke and sawdust filled the cold, humid air, Pablo continued to bring us homemade cookies, coffee, tea, and offered us his help clearing branches. His generosity far exceeded normal hospitality and bordered on Grace.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about the Last Days, when He will separate the faithful from the unfaithful. It is here where He says the famous phrase, "whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Christians have used this phrase to support humanitarian aid projects for years, yet they often miss the heart of this lesson. When we act in a generous or compassionate way to those going through a hard time, we aren't being Jesus to them. In Christ's lesson, it is the less fortunate who represent Jesus to us.
Pablo went through a difficult day. His house was spared destruction as the tree missed it by a few feet. He needed help he couldn't afford. We were there to assist him and he blessed us as much as we could have hoped to bless him. That's the way this works--as much as you give away,  you are met with more. What we learned in New York is the same thing we learn on every trip we take: there's no greater surprise than the way helping someone else can bless your life.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Slowing Down for a Sip

I've spent the past few days all over New York City doing cleanup in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Our team has been on Long Island, Staten Island, and even Harlem as we try our best to help this area recover from one of the largest storms in recent memory. Today, we had the afternoon off after we finished work in Marcus Garvey park, and our intrepid young volunteers were set loose on the city. It was exciting seeing three first-timers set off on a quest to see everything New York has to offer in one afternoon, but didn't want any part of joining them. All I wanted was a good cup of hot coffee.

If you don't know me very well, you need to understand something: besides traveling and eating, nothing lights my candle like finding the best coffee shop in town. That, and stoking the vibrant mystical fire from the Holy Spirit that dwells deep inside of me, of course. I texted a coffee-loving friend of mine named Nate and asked him if he knew of any shops in New York. Of course he did. He informed me of a particularly good cup served at Grumpy Cafe in Brooklyn. I looked at my trusty subway map and realized it was going to take four trains and 50 minutes to get from where I was staying to the coffee I needed. 

A good cup of pour-over coffee is an exact science. Each cup is brewed individually as the brewer carefully measures the water, weighs the grounds, and meticulously brings them together. It's a chemical symphony that takes about five to ten minutes to complete, with only about three minutes of actual brew-time. Nothing about this process can be rushed and no one would mistake it for fast or easy. 

In total, I spent over an hour between wanting coffee and receiving coffee. I traveled almost 10 miles and under a river to get a cup of coffee. 

After watching the cup fill and finally taking it from behind the counter and letting it roll around my tongue for a split second before falling down my throat, I decided I'd have gone 40 miles further for the same cup. Not to say the cup itself was the point, because it wasn't. The journey getting it was far more important. 

The best things in life require us to slow down. Reflection and gratefulness go hand in hand. A friend of mine recently took a job after being unemployed for several months. My only advice to her was to think back on everything that happened leading up to that interview, to let the story of her past few months roll around on her tongue, and then finally digest it. As she starts a new journey, the only way to fully appreciate it is to slow down and to reflect.

Once you see how loose ends have found their place together around your life, you can't help but be overwhelmed with a spirit of gratefulness. When you enter into a place where you are grateful for each moment leading to the next, you have captured what living life to the fullest is all about. You've begun to digest life. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

City in the Dark

(New York Times)
Right now between 5-8 million people are without any kind of electrical power. Hurricane Sandy was hyped as the "storm of the century" by many on news channels obviously eager to cover something aside from the looming American election. It has lived up to its billing.

Have you ever done something that you knew was useless? I mean, have you ever worked really hard on something that you knew wasn’t going to matter or mean anything? There's an old expression in the south that says, "Don't paint the fence while the house is on fire." Nothing seems more idiotic than that. Imagine the work that goes into painting a fence. Several men painting the fence in front of the house while flames lick up the back porch, moving to the living room, and engulfing the kitchen. 

What color are they painting it?

Who cares?

Sometimes I think about the time I’ve wasted on relationships that were doomed to fail. Gifts I’ve bought girlfriends weeks before breaking up with them. Gifts they’ve bought me. The amount of effort spent trying to get the right card, to pick out the right flowers, to wear the right shirt. Then 2 months, one month, or one week later realizing that was a huge waste of time, that the girl I was trying to impress had a boyfriend already. That’s happened a lot actually, it seems to be a recurring nightmare I get to live.

When disaster strikes and your house is underwater or burning to the ground, reality hits you in the face. Certain things become really important. Certain things seem stupid. It doesn't matter what color the bedspread is while the bedroom is engulfed in flames.

While our friends in the northeast are getting slapped with perspective, we should consider this a learning opportunity. We should re-evaluate our priorities and huddle around what matters the same way most of Manhattan is huddling around the few working outlets in town. As they desperately try to find cell-phone service, we should be reminded of how precious life and human connections are.

In the first century, a man named Paul wrote to a church in Collosae. This church was struggling with the guilt and hardship of trying to work their way into heaven. Paul brought a fresh word to this church.

You aren’t working in vain.

Because Christ took away the guilt and the fear of death, your work has no end. The work of the Master is work that will last forever. You are accomplishing something that will be part of God’s new world. 

N.T. Wright once wrote that “Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nature, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the Gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in all the world--all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”

While your labor won't get you into heaven, it will last for eternity. It will be brought into the new creation because working on earth out of love is bringing heaven to earth--which should be our goal. Right now I am gearing up with the company I work for (TWCD) to send a team to New York to do disaster relief. We will be trying to show hope to people on the darkest day of their lives. I am encouraged by scripture and the Holy Spirit's reassurance to me that I am not working in vain, that my labor will be blessed, and that He will make all things new.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Buffalo, an Elephant, and a Tiger

I used to live in Denver. Sometimes, when I felt I needed to pray or meditate, I would drive up to this area in south Denver called Daniel’s park. From here you could see this whole panorama of the foothills and the Colorado front range. There was a ranch up there too that was right next to the gravel road I would use. On this ranch was one American Buffalo. Here was a representative of the largest land mammal species in North America. A species whose numbers once numbered in the millions. The rancher kept this buffalo in a small pen surrounded by nothing more than chicken wire. The same thing that keeps dogs out of tomato plants is holding an animal that weighs 2200 pounds.

I have never trained an elephant. In fact, I’ve only seen an elephant a few times in my life. Apparently, the way you train one is you chain it to a tree, or a post, or something really big. Then, over time, you can take the tree away and replace it with a tiny stake, something this giant animal would easily be able to pull out. It won’t matter by that point.

One of my favorite bands is called mewithoutyou. On their most recent album, they tell a story about the wreck of a circus train. This train was full of animals and went off the tracks on a cold and snowy night. Train car doors burst open and an elephant escaped. In fact, all the animals escaped that night, except one. The tiger had been in his cage for so long that when the train crashed and his cage was broken away, he just kept pacing back and forth. The tiger was convinced he was still unable to escape, even though there was nothing keeping him caged, but himself.

A chicken wire fence stops a buffalo.

A tiny stake can keep an elephant at bay.

A tiger is trapped in a cage that doesn’t exist.

Scientists call this “Learned Helplessness.” Animals, and people, can be conditioned to believe they simply can’t succeed.

This is one of the Devil’s best games: convince people that not only are they inadequate, but the all-loving God of the universe’s unconditional affection doesn’t apply to them. Let’s deal with these lies. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and told them:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

A new creature! In other verses Paul refers to the old self, the old man, the child of wrath, but says that man is dead--crucified with Christ. Now you are new. You aren’t tied down by those sins or decisions of the past, you just think you are. Which leads us to another story. A long time ago, God had prophets that He would use to warn people they were moving too far away from God. He used these prophets to point His children back to Himself. One prophet was named Elisha. Once, the people from a nation named Aram were moving to attack Israel. Elisha knew this, and He knew God had told him he would be protected. His servant was a little less sure.

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?"16 So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."17 Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

We need our eyes opened. We need to see the fences around us for what they are--meaningless, easily trampled by our new creation legs. You’ve heard a lot about your identity, and that is good. What you need to remember is that you are Free, You have been Fulfilled, and you are now a Force for good. God has already torn down the chicken wire fence, He has already broken your chains, and he has ripped open your cage. There is nothing left for you to do to become better. You are fulfilled. You are now called to do good, to spread this freedom and fulfillment everywhere you go.
Whenever you break through those boundaries, you’ve let God take that darkness from your past and change it into light. 

The psalmist says “He has turned my weeping into whirling dancing, he has taken my sackcloth and clothed me with new clothes.” Those things become new, they become trinkets on your shelf--trophies representing the Victory in your life. Let us cast aside all the shackles in our mind and see ourselves as the free, fulfilled, force for good that God calls us to be.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Everyone The Same

"For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe." Duet. 10:17

In Dallas, where I live, the difference between rich and poor is extremely obvious. Just Saturday I parked my car next to a Bentley and went into REI. When I left, a Ferrari had taken its place. Almost a million dollars worth of automobile had been next to my car in less than an hour. 

Watching the Presidential debates, it is obvious that both sides are willing to show partiality to rich donors, or at least to those in the middle class. The moderator never steps in and asks, "What about the poor?" 

This isn't another blog about reaching out to the poor, although I am in support of that, this is me asking whether we are still guilty as Christians of treating the rich as superior. On the other hand, are there times we condemn the rich and focus solely on the poor, making us guilty of favoritism on the other end?

In the days of the Hebrew temple, there was a festival each year called Sukkos. During that festival, a sacrifice of water was poured on the altar. There was dancing and celebration and giant lights lit throughout Jerusalem after this sacrifice. The Talmud says that "whoever did not see this party did not see a party in all his days."

We need more crazy parties like this in our churches. Could you imagine your local pastor leading a party out into the streets of your town? 

Pouring out water symbolized something deep in the heart of the Jewish people. Sukkos happens after Yom Kippur, and takes place during the harvest season. Farmers who harvest a lot of crops each year might have a tendency to look down on others, creating divisions in their mind and falling in to the temptation of thinking monetary blessings are indicative of God's favoritism. What's worse, sometimes when we have all we need, we forget it came from God in the first place. Paul wrote of Jesus that, "in Him all things hold together." All things. Your car, your house, the tree in front of your house, the molecules in your eye, and the rings of Saturn are all held together by the Star-breather Jesus.  When we forget this, problems begin and our minds become clouded with delusions of superiority or inferiority. 

Usually fine wine was poured out on the alter. Wine that was expensive and precious. When the priests poured out water on the altar, they were symbolizing that whether fine or plain, whether rich or poor, God accepts us if our hearts are pure. David, the Prophet-Poet-King of Israel, wrote in Psalm 51 that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." 

Let's celebrate that God loves us so much, that it does not matter if we drive a Ferrari. Let's celebrate our status as equals before the Creator of everything from gravity to groundhogs. More importantly, let's celebrate. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why Are Christians Turning on their Own?

The other day I was talking with someone about the debates. As ludicrous as this blog post already is, stay with me. This person began disparaging President Obama and calling him names while describing his political ideology as "stupid."

I mentioned to this person, "at least he's a Christian," in order to appeal to common faith we share with Obama.

"Yeah, but not really," they said, "he's a fake Christian."

Excuse me?

Nothing infuriates me more than people questioning the faith of someone else, simply based on political affiliation. So, you don't agree with his tax code ideas or his health care plan...does that qualify you to pronounce his faith a lie? I know we are supposed to call our brothers and sisters out when they are in sin, or being hypocritical, but no one I know has that sort of relationship with the President. Instead, they just talk about him behind his back and are somehow OK with voting a mormon into the White House.

I know what you're thinking. It doesn't matter what faith Romney subscribes to, you should be voting for his policies. That's your prerogative. However, if you were one of the people who voted for Bush and talked about his faith as a reason to support him, you have some thinking to do. What changed in the past four years that made faith not an important criteria? For years the religious right has looked for Christians to get into office, but now faced with a choice between a Christian and a Mormon, they are changing their tune.

What policies of Obama's make him a "fake?" Is it his stance on abortion and gay marriage? When Bush was president, the congress and supreme court were both majority conservative, and the abortion law still wasn't changed. What makes you think bringing another republican into office will finally change that? I hate to say this, because I am extremely pro-life, but the abortion law will never be overturned. Ever. The only way to make abortions go away is to provide cheaper pre-natal care to impoverished young mothers who have no other option. Make adoption a widely-accepted option, take the stigma away from it, and you will see the numbers plummet. Organizations like BraveLove will do more to change the abortion number in this country than a simple administration change ever will. Think about what you can do to make abortions go down without legislation, because that's what being pro-life should really mean.

I'm not telling you to vote for Obama. I'm not telling you to vote solely based on your faith. What I am saying is that hypocrisy and judgement has no place in Christianity. When you believe that God loves you, has a plan for the world, and sent his son to die for them, you have an obligation to show that love to others. ESPECIALLY to other people who believe the same thing.

So before you vote, and before you blast me for supporting the President, watch this video.

Let's stop calling people "fakes."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Real Human Being.

The gospel was never intended to turn the world upside down. I've heard so many pastors and speakers say the message of Jesus was so controversial and opposed to the teachings of this fallen world, that His kingdom was literally turning the world on its head.

As if the One who created the world was opposed to its intended operation. 

For one second suppose that you made a table, or a canoe, or a birthday cake. Now take the thing you've supposedly made and turn it upside down. How well does it work? If you created something to work a certain way, turning it upside down usually means it won't.  If you discovered someone turned your table upside down, however, there is an easy way to remedy your problem.

You turn it right-side up.

The way the world operated before Jesus' birth wasn't the way it was supposed to be. At creation, when man had perfect communion and shared God's glory while walking with the Almighty in the garden, all was right with the world. It was operating the way it was designed to operate. Then, pride and selfishness entered the world and turned everything around. People's efforts to find God became like trying to grab water. They made up laws and rules that, if kept, would assure them of right standing with gods they carved out of stone. They tried their best to regain what they, in their hearts, knew had been lost. 

Ayn Rand, a philosopher and author that has gotten a lot of publicity recently from how much VP candidate Paul Ryan seems to like her, once said that Christianity is a contradiction. She said the "Christian" idea one's personal salvation is of upmost importance, but to achieve salvation one must live a life in service to others was a contradiction which can't be made to work. The problem with her statement is Christianity is not about achieving salvation. It's about making things right. 

This idea of earning your salvation with doing good works for others is another example of humans trying to grab water. When you try and fill your life with something in order to find "meaning," you are guilty of the same thing. I know the feeling. When I try to find my identity or my meaning in girls, or friends, or money, I'm grabbing water hoping it won't slide through my fingers.

It's not supposed to be that way.

N.T. Wright writes in his book Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, "That is because the whole point of the Gospel is to put the world--not upside down, because that is where it already is, but the right way up."

Jesus shows up, and the world is shifted back on its feet. Reality is that the world has already been made new, the old way has passed away, and heaven has already come to earth. It may not seem that way to you right now, but that's the thing about reality, it doesn't require your acceptance. When I am searching for meaning or acceptance through what the world tells me is important, I am buying into a synthesized reality, a false reality, a reality that ceased being true 2000 years ago.

Jesus came so that you could be truly and gloriously human, because a real human being is the thing God created you to be. A real human being in perfect communion with the burning white heart of God. When you see people on the street, you are looking at luminescent spirits housed in bodies designed by God for good works that speak to the new reality He has created. 

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.