Friday, December 31, 2004

Essence of Essential 2

I do not like the question, "What is essential for salvation?"

#1 Problem: It is reductionistic. It's kind of like saying, "it's the least I could do," and meaning it. An intentional effort to reduce something into the very least one could do does not exactly jive with being in love with someone. I rememeber guys in college complaining about always having to pay for dates. OK, I was one of them. OK, I didn't date very much, but let's not talk about that. Anyway, if a guy approaches a girl and says, "so, what is the least I could do for you such that you will commit the rest of your life to bless me?" what do you think will happen? Alone forever is a long time.

#2 Problem: It is selfish. It smacks of what I can do for me. Brian Mclaren in his book A New Kind of Christian, talks about evangeliscals being too concerned wth getting the butts into Heaven. It's like this: You know the Tsunami is coming and you pass by 100 people who don't know anything about it just so you can get to safety. Then you either laugh at, condemn or feel sorry for these sorry souls who were too dumb to know about the oncoming tsunami. What you don't do serve them, talk with them, tell them about what is coming. Or you just yell at them for not getting to higher ground when they don't even know what you are talking about.

#3 Problem: It assumes the meaning of salvation. What this assumes is that salvation is a salvation from Hell. OK, yes, I'm not into going to Hell. But the way I don't get into Hell is to be saved from my sin. What's the difference? Hell is later and sin is now. I can be saved from my sin right now when I could just keep sinning and not experience Hell. Also, I am saved, at least in part, from the immediate consequences of sin. Not completely, but some what.

Anyway, I do not like the question, even though it seems to be a pivotal question from my family of faith and evangelicals in general.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Essence of Essential 1

Most evangelical groups have essentials for salvation - the things that must be there in order for one to be saved.

Baptism, communion, speaking in tongues, praying Jesus into your heart...etc. It all too often turns into a list - a list with with bullet point scriptures following each point.

It becomes the dogma that answers the question, "what must I do to be saved?" before it is even asked. Answers are fine, but not when the question is not even asked.

So, what is essential to salvation?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Happy Holidays

December Holidays

I’m not sure why so many holidays get log-jammed right here at the end of the year. Let’s see, we’ve got Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. And oh yeah, there is Ramadan too, although I never really know when it’s going to show up. I think it operates on the lunar calendar, which is a few days shorter than the “normal” calendar.

This December, I decided that I would learn a little bit more about these holidays so I could figure out which was the right December holiday to celebrate. Now, my lifelong practice has been Christmas. I’m a fan of the Christ-child. I like Mary a bunch, too. The star, the shepherds, the wise men – all good. I love Christmas, so it is going to be difficult for any other holiday to knock it off the top of the heap.

But in the spirit of exploration, let’s try out Hanukkah first. About one and a half centuries before Christ, Greek Syrians tried to take over the Jewish Temple. In fact, they tried to get the Jews to bow down to an idol and eat pig flesh. If you know anything about the Jewish people, worshiping idols and eating pork products are not high on their religious to do list. A Jewish revolt was unleashed on the Greeks. This revolt was lead by Mattathias and then carried on by his son Judah Macabbee. After three years of fighting, they reclaimed their Temple and went to rededicate it. Many Jews martyred themselves for the cause. Part of their rededication was lighting the menorah. They had only enough oil for one night, but it burned for eight nights. A miracle.

Hey, not a bad holiday. Heroes of faith. A miracle. You know, I wonder if Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. He would have known the story. He was Jewish. Hmmm.

Moving along, let’s try out Kwanzaa. This one is touted as a non-religious, African-American holiday. Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966 after the Watt’s Riots. Kwanzaa means “first fruits,” in Swahili. Hey, that almost sounds religious since I first heard of the term “first fruits” in the Old Testament. Any way, there are seven principles that serve as the foundation of Kwanzaa: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. I understand the origins of Kwanzaa being rooted in African-American culture, but I do not see anything about the seven principles that are exclusively African-American. When my marriage, family, church, community, nation, world follow these principles, each of these is better off for it.

Another not bad holiday. Healthy principles for living. A positive response to something negative. I wonder if Jesus would celebrate Kwanzaa if He were walking the planet today.

Let’s try one more holiday. According to (the first result when I Googled), Ramadan is a holy month of fasting wherein Muslims, who are physically able to refrain, do not eat, drink, smoke or engage in sexual activity, from the first sign of dawn until sunset. This month is a time for spiritual reflection and discipline. Pious adherents remember past sins. They express gratitude to God for his guidance. Many read through the entire Qur'an during this month. The traditional Arabic greeting for Ramadan is "Ramadan Mubarak," meaning “may God give you a blessed month". Response is "Ramadan Karim,” meaning "May God give you a generous month.”

Ramadan is a pretty decent holiday. Fasting is good…I’ve heard. Spiritual reflection and discipline can’t be all bad. Showing appreciation to God for guidance – again, not too shabby. This is not such a bad holiday. Now, I’m not likely to cuddle up with a copy of the Qur’an night after night for a month, but I might bust out my own sacred book for some reflection.

All of these holidays bunched up at the end of the years can be troublesome for people. I know of a lot of people who want just Christmas. I wonder if rather than doing the annual holiday bashing that I hear so much of, we can embrace the embraceable from any of the holidays that appear on our radar during December, or any other month.

Christmas is still on the top of my list. At the same time, these other holidays are not without merit. There is good to be drawn from each of them even if you are not African-American, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The problem that reveals the problem

Problem Posted by Hello

What if a couple had the problem of not being able to solve a problem, but was never confronted with a problem? Do they have a problem?

Well, this is a common reality for couples, more specifically, newly married couples. They are awash in feelings of happiness and excitement. It is beyond their imagination that anything could ever go wrong.

However, when money gets tight, when holiday plans don't mesh, when the first baby shows up, when _____________ happens, the problem solving deficit is exposed. Then there is a double-crisis.

Not only is there a problem, but there is no clear process to follow in order to solve it. The problem-solving deficit is the biggest problem, but it is not typically addressed because the crisis of "the problem" gets all of the attention.

So, the attempted solutions to the problem only serve to make the problem worse. The couple seeks to solve the problem as two distinct individuals, not one couple. This distinction is not merely semantics. Two individuals can pull a rope, but it will be a tug-o-war. A couple can pull a rope and move a huge object.

Although it isn't sexy and it doesn't have racing stripes, couples should figure out how they are going to solve problems before they have problems. It is their only chance for problems to pull them together rather than pull them apart.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Dads don't babysit

Scared of the baby Posted by Hello

When a mother takes care of her children, she is referred to as being a mother. But when a dad takes care of his children, he is all to often spoken of as babysitting (and let's be honest, women are just a guilty of this language as men are).

NO! The dad spending time with his children is being a father. Dads of the world unite! This babysitting thing has got to come to an end - the sooner the better.

You are babysitting if, and only if, you are taking care of somebody else's children. You can't babysit your own children anymore than your wife can.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Expansion of Ignorance

I believe it wise to prepare for the expansion of my ignorance. In anticipating this inevitability, I hope to starve disappointment.

The difference between overwhelming and mysterious is measured by the amount of control I insist on exercising over the situation.

Seeking to eliminate risk is a boogie-man factory.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wal-Mart Makes Me Stupid

Posted by Hello Posted by Hello
Here is a short-list of things I do not have to know because of Wal-Mart.
Feel free to add to it.

1. Where food comes from.
2. How to churn butter.
3. Sewing.
4. Woodworking.
5. Where other stores are located.
6. Where to go to buy Christmas gifts.
7. How to bargain hunt.
8. How many days there are until Christmas.
9. What season or holiday it will be in two months.
10. How to change my oil.
11. How to cook.
12. What to buy my children for school.

Freddy Krueger and the Emergent Church

Freddy Posted by Hello

I am reading a lot about the emergent church (and the people leading the charge) these days and I like what I read. These people are radical, unafraid, and determined. Mainly what I see are evangelical from various backgrounds trying deeply to de-evangelicalize themselves in church form and advance the Kingdom of God. Not a bad plan. What I also see are people struggling with that task because it is not like changing your shirt. I tend to think many of them thought it would be that easy. Rather, it takes a change of heart.

I know this from personal experience. I have been trying to quit being a Pharisee for just over a decade and I can't quite pull it off.

My faith walk began in a conservative (rigid) evangelical church. Right and wrong were the sum of spiritual formation and when you got the "right" answers, then you were good to go.

When I was about 17, I was introduced to grace. I mean more than a word with a definition. I learned it as a reality for my life. It applied...Abundantly. It took several years to believe it, but I now believe it to the extent I believe I am capable - which leaves lots more room for growth on that front, but at the same time, I am lightyears away from where I was.

I was 24 or so when I began to really believe that not only can God move in mysterious supernatural ways, but that he does. That was really exciting.

I later learned that he does not just whip up a miracle at my command. That was a little less exciting.

In 1996, I found the perfect church, free from all of the baggage of my church past.

In 1997, that church spilt in a bitter and disgusting abuse of power and is no longer in existence. I had to learn forgiveness on the giving end this time. It was hard work, especially when the people who need forgiveness think you are the one who needs it. Yeeeeeeouch!

Over the course of these years, I found myself becoming less and less of a Pharisee with my judgments, addiction to being right, condescending attitude, and all of the great traits that bundle together to make a terrific Pharisee. I came to detest the Pharisees. I learned how to detect a Pharisee from a mile a way.

Then I looked in the mirror and realized that I was using the same old tricks. The only difference was my target. Instead of judging sinners, I was judging Pharisees.

I was disgusted and humiliated because I just knew I had killed that Pharisee in me. Nope. Just like Freddy Krueger, he looked dead, but then haunted me again.

Friends, I can't kill that stupid Freddy Krueger Pharisee in me. He keeps reinventing himself.

When I hear this exciting conversation about the emergent church turning into a movement of church planting new kinds of churches that younger people (and some older) would see as genuine and authentic, it stirs up something good inside me. However, it also stirs up some caution. I have been guilty of churcholatry in the past. I know I still have a staggering and stammering Freddy in me that just won't die. I wonder if there are Freddy's in this movement as well.

I hope these emergent people take it really fast and really slow at the same time. Fast to seek change for the better; slow to believe they have it. In fact, I hope they never find what they are looking for. I fear that when they do, Freddy will show up and wreak all kinds of havoc. When they arrive, they will risk losing all of the humility it took to get them there.

I have a feeling the 1st century church never had the idea that they "had it." The ones that did usually got a letter from Paul taking them to task for it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Divorce & Remarriage: Watch Your Step

Did you know that the divorce rate in America is 45%? Yes, of course you did.
Did you know that the remarriage (with children) divorce rate has been reported to be nearly 60%? Maybe you did. Did you know that stat is wrong? Aha, got you there.

Here is the low down. Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington is one of the most respected scholars in the study of divroce (which frankly sounds like a very depressing topic to study, but someone has to do it). Hetherington states that when 1 person brings a child into a remarriage (a "simple" stepfamily), the divorce rate is about 65%. When both bring in children into the remarriage (a "complex" stepfamily) the divorce rate is over 70%.

You got about a 3 in 10 shot of staying married. You have even less of a chance of being happily married.

Now before you get all cranky about what I am saying, I am the child of divorce and I know what it is like. My mother remarried a terrific man and they are one of the very few happily married. I like that when it happens. At the same time, it took her about a decade to be ready to marry again, and she waited until there were no more kids in her home or his. Most divorced people say they want to wait it out, but they do not.

Actually, they do, but they get married while waiting it out. Huh? Although on a legal level, sexual level, and sometimes on a financial level they remarry, on an emotional level, they do not remarry. They protect themselves from getting burned again. They do not trust first and then get married, they get married and hope trust comes. Or they do a surface trust just so they can get married and then the real mistrust surfaces later.

Sadly, when mistakes are made and their expectations are not met...when they see one familiar thing from the past, their temptation is to say, "I have seen this before and I'm not going to let it happen again." The rush to divorce court in a second marriage is triggered far more easily than in a first marriage.

Strange as it might sound, the things remarried people do to prevent another failed marriage is the very thing one might do if they wanted to end the marriage. Mistrust, split loyalties, fear, and all kinds of things muddle remarriages.

My advice, if you are divorced, marriage is not the answer to you question. I'm not saying don't remarry, but I am saying it is not the answer to your question. And my further advice is WAIT!!!! I don't care how many books you've read, YOU DON"T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING INTO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let wisdom guide you rather than excitement, denial, fear or desperation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Grabbing Oil

You can't grab oil. To touch it is to lose it. Posted by Hello

Grabbing Oil

I am a marriage and family therapist. I work at the Better Life Counseling Center. I love my job. I get to listen to people share their deepest pain, their most intimate knowledge, their struggles...and I get to try to help them. Sometimes I am helpful and sometimes I am not. Either way, I see what happens from an extremely close view because I have the best seats in the house.The most common question I hear about my job is, "How do you do that? How do you sit and listen to people's problems all day long?"I guess I am a chronically hopeful person. I believe something good can happen. And if a person is hurting so bad that they need to see a counselor, I very much respect that they are experiencing pain I do not know of. I try to learn of their pain the best I can. I seek to enter their world. Sometimes I get close and sometimes I get lost.I do get to see a lot of good, a lot of healing, a lot of reconciliation happen right before my eyes. I applaud my clients who do this. They are the heros - not me. I can speak, but only they can do. I can make metaphors, but the make changes. I can console, but they can heal.What is hardest about my job is not that I listen to people's problems. No, problems are ripe with potential for good to happen. I am all for listening to problems. What is hardest is a day like today, when I received a letter from a former client. It ended in dovrce. It breaks my heart when healing to marriages and individuals does not comes. When they come to me for help and all I seem to be able to do assist in things getting worse. All of efforts, experience, training, time are not enough to help.I understand when they want to blame me for their marriage falling apart. I want to save them all. I would if I could. Sometimes I feel like I'm grabbing oil. It just keeps slipping through my fingers and make a big mess.My prayer is that I will serve the people who come to me for help with authenticity, skill, and compassion.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I Hate Satan!

When I see good people get hit with knock out blows, it drives me mad. When I say good people, I mean humble, honest, sincere, genuine people. I know a few of them. They are not out for gain of their own, they give out of their poverty, they believe not just in God, but they believe God. So, when people like this are ambushed with evil, I get mad!!!

I hate Satan, especially when it seems he/she/it (whatever Satan is) is winning. Isn't there anything that can protect people from the rage and viciousness of the Evil One? Just when all the ducks are in a row, Satan shows up in camoflauge and blows them away with a shotgun. Evil enters from a surprise trap door and starts mowing down everything good.
Where is the justice!!!!? Yes, all have sinned and fallen short, but the Comforter has come. The justice that grace provides is the justice I am talking about. Why does Satan have any say so in a person's life who has given himself of herself to God? It makes me want to draw my sword!!!

The only thing I find that is acceptable about these situations is that though these people are beaten, bruised, and burned, they are not buried (at least their spirit is not buried). There is something inside them that, through the tears, fear, pain, and anxiety, they get back up. How do they do it?

I have to believe that God looks in their hearts and knows something that even they do not know. Or maybe God is not so much looking into their heart as much as He is looking out from it, since He's taken up a steady residence there.

I believe that God takes everything Satan does and stands on top of it, ending in God being exalted all the more. I like it when God is exalted. My problem comes before the exalted part. Perhaps my faith is so small that I get swept up in the moment, feeling helpless at the carnage to really have the confidence that something good is going to happen.

I believe; help my unbelief.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Good Clean Fun

When those crazy members of the Indiana Pacers, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson jumped up into the stands and started knocking out those crazy fans, I just could not believe it. Sure, an elbow here and there is going to happen between players. And yes, an occasional shove in the lane is bound to occur. Okay, the bench clears every now and again for an I’m-gonna-get-all-up-in-your-face fracas that amounts to nothing but highlight clips. But all of that is between players.

The interaction between players and fans has always run off of a different set of rules. There is an invisible wall between the court and the stands.
Sure, there are always going to be hecklers in the crowd – it’s part of the game (not a pretty part, but a part nonetheless). In fact, I recall as a teenager heckling Jose Canseco from the left field seats. "My mom could play left field better than you." I’m sure that one got him a good one. And then when a fly ball came his way, there was, "you couldn’t catch a cold, Canseco." Again, piercing his ego, my words reduced him to a mound of warbling flesh. And then there was the ever popular (when I couldn’t think of anything else to say), "Canseco, you suck." I think it was on the fiftieth repeat of this mantra that I got his nonverbal that I was #1. Not bad on his part, it took seven innings of heckling and three strike-outs to get a rise out of him.

Looking back it is kind of embarrassing, but I figured it like this: He wasn’t a person, he was a baseball player. He wasn’t a human being with feelings, a family, and a life off the field; he was a player on the Oakland A’s. Truth is, besides his batting average and his ability hit homers, I knew nothing about him. He was a threat to my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, and that was all the reason I needed to unload all kinds of verbal poison onto him. He was a punching bag, not a person.
On the contrary, he knew that I was all talk. I wasn’t a person to him either, I was a fan. It was an unwritten rule that we were not people to each other. We were the roles we played, not the people we were. Although this kind of relationship was not healthy, with the protection of the invisible wall, it at least had the feel of being harmless.
The boys of the Indiana Pacers changed all of that last week. When they went up into the crowd, the relationship between fan and player went from harmless mutual dislike to criminal behavior. The invisible wall is gone.

I believe this outbreak of violence is the result of the confluence of several things. First, when a fan pays over one hundred dollars for a seat and twenty dollars for two dollars worth of food, he feels entitled to some say so about how to game is going to go. Second, when players "earn" millions of dollars per year to play basketball, it is easy for them to feel entitled to some r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Third, anyone who downs half a dozen beers in a public place is bound to degrade into an idiot. Fourth, professional sports (the NBA being the worst offender) has opted to tap into the hip-hop, gangsta rap, street tough, Snoop Doggy Dog image which promotes idol worship. Fifth, extremely gifted athletes get special treatment at a young age in order to "nurture their gift." Responsibility to help them achieve in their sport trumps responsibility in just about every other area of life. Sixth, culturally we have degraded such that being labeled unsportsmenlike is no big deal. It’s like being called grumpy – although it is not desired, it is no deterrent either. Seventh, when parents of school age children feel compelled to beat up referees and other parents when the game does not go in favor of their child, the children are taught that violence is the path to success. Eighth, winning is exalted and winners are worshipped.

Although I could go on and on, aren’t you glad I’m stopping there? What I want is an image of sports which reminds us of good, clean, fun. Where did that go? Competition is fine, a beautiful thing when it’s value is understood. Winning is not the point – it’s just something that happens. It is even acceptable to want to win and celebrate victories, but when winning becomes the point, everyone loses.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Mad as a Wet Hen

"Mad as a wet hen." My mother's terminology to describe someone's anger who was crazy mad. So mad, in fact, that there was no telling what that person would do any more than predicting the next move of hen who had been doused with a large abundance of water. Not that I could ever figure out what a dry hen was going to do next, but I think that the point was a wet hen was not merely unpredictable, but potentially violent.

Frankly, my experience with wet cats deserves a mention here. I remember trying to put my cat in the toilet as a kid. I tried it once. That cuddly, cute, purring, little sweet thing turned on me with an unmatchable viciousness.

Most people think cats don't like water because of how it makes them feel. Frankly, I believe it has to do with how it makes them look. Have you ever seen a totally drenched cat? I dare you to find something more pathetic. The vanity of cats will drive them to violence in order to avoid too much water.

Well, today, I am mad as a wet hen (cat). It's a long story and I won't get into it, but the main point is that I have been done wrong and will be "handcuffed" by the powers that be for a while. Grrr!!!!!!!!!!! By the way, if you are trying to guess why I am mad, just stop. You won't figure it out. I will give you this: It is not in any way family related, house related and I still work at my same job.

Monday, December 06, 2004

What if...

What if there were no church buildings? Boom, they all vanish in an instant! Gone!

What would happen to the church? I bet people would find a way to be together.

Better yet (better?), what would happen if all churches sold their assets - everything - and began renting only as needed?

300,000 churches times $250,000 in assets is what?

75 billion. I am certain to have underestimated this amount. I don't know how many churches there are or what they own.

How many poor could be served with that kind of money? How many houses built? How many missionaries sent? How many churches planted? How many ______________? Yeah, you get the point.

For 300 years, the church did pretty well without buildings. Since buildings were introduced, the money of the church has been absorbed into them far more than money has gone to help the poor.

I'm not a militant anti-church building guy, but looking at the numbers (whatever they really are) is almost obscene.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Perpetual Clay

Is there anything in life that sits outside the realm of spiritual formation? Sure, reading my Bible or praying are included, spiritual expereicnes are a part as well. Church meetings? Sure, when my head and heart are in it. Service to the poor? Yeah. Probably should do some more of that.

But what about when I am driving? Oh yeah, K-LOVE...Chrisitan radio. Whew. Still got some spiritual formation there. But what about if I am listening to Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh or National Public Radio? What about when I am going to the bathroom, shopping, reading a novel, wathcing TV? How can spiritual formation be happening then if I am not intentionally and overtly doing something Christian?

Here is an axiom of spiritual formation: You cannot avoid spiritual formation. So much is said about spiritual formation from the side of positive spiritual formation that negative spiritual formation gets lost in the shuffle. Every experience is an exercise in spiritual formation. I am influenced by everything I experience.

Now, the same stimulus may be a different experience for different people. For example, when my wife and I watched the movie, "Runaway Bride," she was watching a romantic comedy. I was watching a story which reveals the systemic nature of the interactional dynamics of a family and community on an individual which guide her choices and the second order change which was required for her to break free from the system. (And it was a cute movie). We had exact same stimulus, but very different experiences.

So, spiritual formation is not merely doing something, it is an interpretation of what is being done, witnessed, or experienced. Some people read the bible to gain knowledge while others read it to see themselves, while others read it to pass the test...and on and on and on. Yes, it is what you do or experience, but it is also how you experience it.

Some people have never seen a trace of God anywhere while others cannot go anywhere without finding him there. Both people are being spiritually formed. The question is: In direction are they spiritually formed? Toward God or away from God?

So when one person sees "The Matrix" as a brilliant allegory to the spiritual walk, it means something altogether different than the person who watches because he thinks Trinity is a hottie decked out in leather.

Our spiritual formation is in perpetual motion and we cannot avoid it. We cannot avoid being clay either. We are shapable, moldable, and influencible (I think I made that last one up, but you get my point).

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dallas Willard Bends My Mind Straight

I am plodding, and I mean really plodding through "The Divine Conspiracy," by Dallas Willard.

The church (more pointedly, me) in large measure practices the gospel of sin management. It seems that no matter which direction I try to take myself, I am merely managing sin rather see, I can't even finish the sentence. Churches are structures set up seemingly to create systems by which sin (or consequences thereof) are managed.

Is this what we are called to in the Christian life? Is this a life of abundance - manage sin until we die? Good grief. No wonder so many people take a peek at the church, shrug, and walk away (disappear out the back door, church hop, or turn bitter against it).

I want a way of life that is free, pure, healthy, and good. I want to be transformed into something better than I am, not just appear better becasue I have acces to some really slick spiritual cosmetics.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

When Right Is Wrong

A lot of people are addicted to being right. It is their goal. It is their means and their end. Being right is all there is. However, let's consider what you do not have to be while being right.

Bascially, you can be right and yet have no other virtue whatsoever. As if right is enough.

When all you are is right, right is wrong.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Now What? (Redux)

My wife and I are in this long conversation about God's will, our future, and church planting. We resume the conversation about every three to four nights. I think we don't talk even more about it because after each conversation, we must digest. It is kind of the same reason you don't always eat.

We are praying, looking, listening, and wondering. We have no plan, no time clue. All that we do know is that there is this feeling, yearning...sometimes haunting, that says that although where we are and what we are doing is good, something else is looming.

My hand is on my forehead blocking the sun as I stare out to the horizon over the ocean. I can't see anything yet, but I am just sure something is going to emerge. It's not so much I am waiting for my ship to come in, but more so that I am wondering when my ride is going to show up.

Vision. Wisdom. Courage. Faith.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tick Talk

Thanksgiving Day, I will be a turkey tick - ready to pop. I do like the Thanksgiving meal...and football. But there is more to the holiday than getting fat and vegging out.

I'm thankful for what I got. Being thankful is healthy. Withholding thanks, appreciation and so forth is emotionally similar to being insulted and just taking it - and not in the Jesus way. When a person receives, there is an emotional reality that refuses to go unexpressed. Sadly, when we withhold appreciation, it rots inside us and degrades into selfishness (and becomes intolerable), into greed (and becomes insatiable), or into depression (and becomes inconsolable).

Withholding thanks gets you emotionally constipated real fast. Thanksgiving is the soul's laxative.

You Could Be Me

Now Jesus, you say that I am your body, or at least a part of it, since I am a Christian. I am in you and you are in me. It almost sounds like I am you and you are me. But why? Can't you get things done a little better without me? Isn't it easier for you to be you without being me? Why do you desire to work in me, live in me, partner with me - why be me when you can just be you?

I can understand you saying, "you could be me," to me. You've got something to offer. But it seems like you look at me, hoping I'll say it to you. What do I have to offer that you have without me, besides just me? Sure, I'm nice and all, and I help people from time to time, but do you really require my existence to pull off these services? I'm not all that convinced you actually need me.

In fact, I know you don't. All I can figure is that you want me. But even that begs a bunch of questions.

Your love is pure, but is it that pure? Your love is unconditional, but is it that unconditional? Could you love me for my good? Could your desire to make into you be for me?

With quaking knees I say, "You could be me. That is what I want. I release myself out of my isolation into you."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Me and the Gov

Here I am with Governor Mike Huckabee. Posted by Hello

I got to meet the governor of Arknsas, Mike Huckabee, a few weeks ago, as noted on an earlier BLOG. I have since learned how to insert pictures and links into my posts. Very cool.

Mike Huckabee is an inspiration to me and to many. He lost over 100 pounds, which pretty much took care of his diabetes. Nice Work Gov.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Mulligan Again

This used to be a perfectly flat golf course...until I hacked away at it.  Posted by Hello

You should see me golf. I do it about once every 24 months - and it shows. I could lose a golf ball in Kansas. Flat and treeless terrain is no match for my slice. I take with me about a ball per hole (and that is living on the edge), just to make sure I can finish a round.

I am gifted, as well, at teeing off with some sensational blunders. I have done quite a few "practice swings," providing some good entertainment for my golfing buddies, but my favorite blunder is the time when I somehow almost hit myself with a golf ball on my drive. It did not take a bad bounce off a tree, as you might be thinking - it literally came off the club and at my face. Go ahead and try that one at home. I bet you can't even begin to think of how this is possible.

What would I do without the mulligan? I need an extra shot for about every shot I take. Usually, I need a couple of 'em. Now, I'm talking life. I enter about every situation with a mixed bag of emotions, motives, and objectives. Sometimes I get my junk together and hit the fairway, but more often I'm off in the rough "trying to find my butt with both hands," as my father likes to say in proverbial tones.

To many people Jesus is a friend, to others he is a revolutionary, and to others still he is a king or savior. Not bad ideas...and pretty theologically sound. I take no issue with them, but to me, Jesus is a Mulligan. He's my permission to have a do over. He doesn't mark anything against me. I get to play. I get to keep playing.

On another note, I work here.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Marriage ain't fair...And that's a good thing

In my therapy practice I see couples everyday in conflict, deep and entrenched conflict, with each other...the person they are in love with. Almost to a person they are fighting for what is fair.

If there were one sure way to make a marriage fail it would be for the couple to seek fairness. Business is fair. Playground games are fair. Marriage - it's not fair.

For all of the good press fairness gets, it's bad medicine for marriage. Think about it. If my wife does me wrong, or I think she did me wrong, I must (get to) do her wrong back to make things fair. On the other hand, if she does something nice, I probably deserved it.

When does it ever get even? I mean, when is it even and both partners agree that it is even?

Sadly, I can answer that one. In divorce court...and even that is rare.

Rather than "fair" being the measuring stick for a functional, healthy marriage, how about "goodness." Goodness is something you can take responsibility for, while fairness is really, really, SUPER REALLY subjective. Fairness begs for one person to control the other, while goodness seeks to free the other. Goodness, pure goodness, requires nothing in return and requires nothing to get it started. Fairness is the road to revenge while goodness is the road to forgiveness.

Mental Floss

I lifted these questions from a magazin called Mental Floss.

1. Why can't you tickle yourself?
2. Why does a snooze give you only 9 minutes of extra sleep?
3. Which can fist, can openers or cans?
4. Why does Hawaii have an interstate highway?
5. Can a pregnant woman drive in the carpool lane?
6. What is a sea-monkey?
7. Is it possible to own property on the moon?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Praise Goes On

I am listening to a song by Chris Rice called, "The Praise Goes On." It's a beautiful. He makes a case that God is worshiped by all of creation, constantly. Stars twinkling, the moon glowing, the coming dawn, the wamth of morning, the chasing of the stars and moon by the sun, forests arms raised...and people. God is praised whether people praise Him or not. We merely join in on something that has been happening forever.

Even in death the praise goes on. The grave cannot silence the voice of those who love God.

I think praise to be a romantic expression which notices what is true. God is good, beautiful, strong, gently, compassionate, loving. It's not that God demands our praise, but rather that praise is telling the truth.

Monday, November 15, 2004

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Pharisee

Being an effective Pharisee is not as easy as it might sound. Sure, the fathers of the Pharisee movement speak with such ease that their hypocrisy is almost undetectable. But it did not come by mere gifting. They had to work long and hard to achieve their position. Here are a few pointers meant to help hone your Pharisaic presence in this world, and believe me, this world needs some more Pharisees.

1. Use God for self-promotion - You will never become anything as a Pharisee if you overtly promote yourself. No. All language must be couched in God-language. If you can speak religious words in humble tones, then you can promote yourself all you want. When a person believes that you are promoting God, then self-promotion will be easy.

2. Let Other People Do The Heavy Lifting - Once people believe that you are promoting God, then they will do just about anything you want them to do. They'll not merely do your heavy lifting, but they will lie for you, condemn others just to please you (I mean God, right?), just about anything that you want that you can make sense of for them.

3. Promote Intermitent Insecurity - If people who look to you become too confident of their salvation, you lose power. Never let them be sure they are saved. Let them be sure they are saved if... You fill in the blank. And whatever you fill in the blank with, make sure it appears to be within their reach, but is not.

4. Create Legalists - Give them every single minute fact of the law and tell them that this is how God likes it. Their success is to measured only on results of follwing the letter of the law. Never let them dwell too long on grace or mercy. Sure, let them use these words, but reframe them into laws to follow. Grace is dangerous to the Pharisee in care of souls.

5. Live By Technicalities - This is your insurance policy. There will no doubt come a time wehn someone starts questioning you. Obviously these are rebellious and ignorant people, but they must be dealt with gently in order to maintain their help for the cause. Know your law and your reason for doing what you do. If you cannot explain what you do, then be prepared to be humiliated. Always be able to quote something that explains your actions. One good way to do this is to have special knowledge that no one else has. Let them come to the conclusion that they are too stupid to understand. That works mush better than telling them.

6. Micro-obedience Masks Macro-defiance - Several little obediences that are observable by others is enough to convince people that your heart is Godly. "Tithe in pennies," as the old proverb goes. You will avoid 99% of all questions if you follow this principle. You'll get people so busy either being impressed by you or copying you that they will not question you. Image over integrity works every time.

7. Perpetuate Hypocrisy - Consistently make sure you appear to be something everyone else longs to be. Never let them see you struggle. There is no struggle in our way of living. They must believe this. If there appears to be struggle in our way of living, we will lose credibility. We cannot afford that. We must always leave them desiring to be one of us. We must appear worthy of worship. That is our best position. Then we become desirable and unattainable at the same time. There is no greater power than that.

8. Emphasize Content and Process Will Not Matter - Always focus on what, but never focus on why. Be correct in content and the things that you do. Never let the process bother you. The reason you do things is because those things are right, end of discussion. Compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love only complicate matters. Keep things black and white and pretty much on the surface. The last thing you need is to get into a discussion of process. It'll be your doom.

9. Condemn the Past - This technique is effective. When you condemn past hypocrites or anyone in general, it is very hard for someone to call you a hypocrite or anything bad. Rant on and on about how foolish people used to be, thereby implying that you are in no way foolish like them. It is also a good way to indirectly condemn the people you speak with. You know good and well the foolishness of the past is going to be repeated. So, when you condemn poeple from the past, the people of the present won't dare disclose that they struggle with the same thing. They will feel like they should have gotten past this by now.

10. Creative Blame - Probably the best weapon in your arsenal is blame. However, people are catching on to blame these days, so you'll have to get creative with it. Clumsy blame will get you discounted. Creative blame will get you revered. The best blame is condescending encouragement. Use it with the people you mentor. It'll keep them coming for more.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Tool Man

I despise handyman work. I do it only for selfish reasons. If the reward is large enough, I'll do it. But seldom is there a reward large enough. For example, some wood under our kitchen sink is going bad. I am sewriously considering selling the house rather than try to fix it, or (Heaven forbid) replace the cabinets. I can't think a reward large enough to do that job. I've doneit once in my life, doesn't that count forever? When I say I ahte doing this type of thing I know what I'm talking about.

I moved a light fixture today from one room to another. I feel like a hero because the job is done and I did not get electricuted.

I can say that I have, with the moving of the light fixture, surpassed my father's capcity for tools. I went beyond duct tape and bungy cords. I actually used a power tool. In fact, simply owning a power tool puts me way ahead in my family of origin.

Friday, November 12, 2004

You are what you worship

There is a verse in one of the psalms that says people who worship dead idols became like them. Is that like the feeling I get after one too many Dr. Peppers or having watched news for too long or eaten at an all you can eat buffet? I feel pretty dead after those things. I tend to believe that it is that and a whole lot more. Sometimes I get really focused on myself...a dangerous thing to do. That would be some bad worship. I can get pretty busy. Another dead idol?

Jesus said that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and immediately after that said he was the God of the living, not the dead. So, that implies that people who have already died and are with God are more alive than people who who are alive, but worshipping idols.

Exactly when does eternal life begin? Do I have to wait for it, or is it right here and now? If I worship a living God, I become like Him, alive. If I worship a dead idol, I become like it, dead. So maybe eternal life is not about when it happens, but rather about what I worship. Whoa.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Covenant Marriage

Today we hosted a minister's meeting at the Better Life Counseling Center on the topic of Covenant Marriage. The governor of Arkansas is leading the charge for 5000 couples to get Covenant Marriage licenses in the state of Arkansas on Feb 14th, 2005. It will be a big to do in the Altell arena. Our counseling center is the center of operations for Northeast Arkansas. I got to meet governor Huckabee a couple days ago in a meeting about this event. It was cool getting to shake the governor's hand and say, "hey," which is about all I could get out because I couldn't think of anything intelligent to say. If I ever figure out how to properly use this BLOG, I will upload a picture to prove I met with gov...for those of you think me to be a liar :-)

It seems these days that marriages are more and more arrangements than relationships. People enter into mariage to get fulfilled, for personal satisfaction. But the problem is that happiness cannot be extracted from one person and consumed by another. When happiness is the goal and then there is no happiness, then marriage becomes irrelevant, or perhaps even worse, it is negatively relevant.

I hope that through Covenant Marriage and other forces in politics, churches, and communities, that people will begin to enter marriages for something a little more substantial than personal satisfaction. I hope that they become contributors, people of sacrifice, people of love.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Better Life Counseling Center

I Work Here


Brother Lawrence has something to say about keeping focused on God rather than self. He mentioned that when his mind strays to things other than God, he confesses it and moves on in the presence of the Lord, or something like that. "Is that it?" I thought, "can it be so simple?" It can be. Certainly God does not delight in our sin, but He does not delight in our guilt for the sin either. Resorting to self-destruction, even in little doses, no matter what the reason, is not God's desire. Freedom comes long before it is experienced as freedom. Believing freedom exists to the extent to which it truly exists makes guilt and self-condemnation tantamount to silliness and absurdity.

PS Brother Lawrence is the fame of the book entitled, "The Practice of the Presnece of God."

Monday, November 08, 2004

Now What?

The idea of planting a church has faded on and off my radar. It's on again. I get so full of anxiety just thinking about it, yet at the same time, there are forces in my life that come from various directions at unpredictable times that will not allow me to forget the idea.

I have this aversion to fear, you see, and I find church planting a fearful thing. What I want is comfort, security, safety, predictability, control and all the things that I believe (falsely) make The idea of church planting allows me none of these things. So, I avoid church planting. However, I cannot avoid internal crisis as easily as I avoid external crisis.

I am a therapist, not a pastor. How could I plant a church? I am introverted and have a hard time initiating conversation. I can respond to conversation very well. I just can't bring it up. If no one ever talked talked to me, I might never talk again. Also, I am poisoned by the experience of really lousy church plant experiences as a child. I have never witnessed a (what I would call) successful church plant. I've seen some pretty lousy and sectarian church plants that were about as seeker hostile as you can get. Their impotence in their communities...their rotten fruit is their testimony. The last thing I want to do is a crappy church plant.

Anyway, here I sit looking over the edge again, wondering what it would be like to jump.

Now what?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

More Pressing Issues?

With the vote on a gay marriage ban in the senate now concluded, and defeated, we can get on with the more pressing issues. That seems to be the mood of opposers of the amendment. I guess I should apologize for caring about a moral issue. Poverty of all kinds wreak havoc on the fabric of our society. Finanacial poverty is a problem, environmental poverty is a problem, but so is moral poverty. Homosexualty is an issue of moral poverty.

The problem, however, is complex. We (the United States Government, churches, etc) have lowered the bar on marriage so far that any justification for banning same-sex marriage rings hollow. Adultery is winked at, divorce is epidemic, and the grwoth of cohabitation is outpacing every other kind of family construction.

We microwave outselves into marriage, consume it, and dispose of it. We treat our marriages in the same manner as we treat a frozen dinner. On what grounds do we have the moral credibility to do this?

I believe it is a moral issue, but who can stand for preserving marriage as between a man and a woman in a convincing way? Mother Teresa, where are you?

This is the Second Civil War.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


When the sun sets during a storm, sometimes its rays bend through the sky shining one last glimpse of light, brilliant pink and purple, blue and green, off the towering thunderheads, in original tints and shades. Sometimes the sun invents new colors, used only once in all of time, to paint the clouds of the fierce storm before giving way to the horizon's cover. Then lightning dances its web through the colored cotton clouds; here, then there, every time a surprise, every time a wonder. The clouds are washed down to the earth like the wisp of a child's watercolor smear. Beauty and danger dance like lovers. The fearsome and wonderful thunder gives rhythm to the dance.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004


I was made to go to court yesterday as a witness. Hated it. I imagine life is like court. You get asked trick questions. You get bullied into positions you don't want to be in. You get cross-examined. Accused, discredited, manipulated, blamed, and on and on. Satan is a tough prosecutor.

However, thank God for a gifted defense attorney, Jesus. No matter how the accusations come, Jesus turns them back around in order to get to his own agenda. He does it every time. The harder Satan presses, the more empowered Jesus is because he uses Satan's energy against him. Amazing.

At the same time, I imagine Hell to be much like life, with all of the accusation, blaming and so on, but with no defense attorney. There is the slick and malevolent prosecutor and you gotta defend yourself. Pack-peck-puck, the charges against you snipe away at your confidence and you realize you've got no defense...because some of them are true, even though most of them are false.

And the thing you can't do for yourself that Jesus can is take your place. Not only is Jesus the defense attorney in life, but he is the judge. Not a bad position to be in whe Jesus is going to bat for you. The judge is likely to side with the defense attorney if they are the same person.

Finally, I imagine Heaven to be the day after court. Relief. Finally, it is over and we won! No more anxiety. No more tight stomach. No more wondering what will hurt me next. All that is over. A victory celebration is the next order of business. What a terrific joy.

I can't wait for that day.

Friday, June 25, 2004

A little escape

I like to escape for a while. When everyone else is asleep, I can escape into my own little world. Thinking, pondering, drinking diet Dr. Pepper...the good things in life. I think it helps me get to the real thoughts in my mind. You know, the things that go beyond automatic pilot. I get to have a little unrestricted creativity. And I like it.

I am grateful for a little escape.