Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Random Whining

(Disclaimer: Pay no attention to my last two posts on grace and humility…you’ll find little in this one.)

Okay, I know it’s the week before Christmas, but my Grinchiness is stirring! Here are my random gripes:

Gawkers & Squawkers
Gawkers (aka Rubberneckers) were already a constant danger on our roadways, now we also must deal with Squawkers…or those who insist on talking on their cell phones while they drive. Do they not realize that driving 60 mph on a crowded Interstate highway causes traffic jams of Biblical proportions???

Bumper Sticker Rage
I’m not one for cluttering my vehicle with stickers, but here’s one I’d like to make into a banner that unfurls from the rear spoiler of my SUV:


This would be directed at all Squawkers (see above rant).

Unintelligent Design
I saw a news story this morning on television about the fight in the Dover (PA) schools about Intelligent Design. A local proponent actually used the word “persecution” to describe what Christians in that town are suffering because of a recent court ruling. Now if that isn’t indicative of the problem with American Christianity, then I don’t know what is. A federal judge's ruling against the teaching of what amounts to religious theology in public schools is persecution? Who’s getting stoned or crucified in Dover, PA?

There, I feel better now.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

God is Love, Grace & Humility

I mentioned in my last post about the new book I just started, If God is Love by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland (see jpeg in righthand column). Incredibly, I'm already halfway through it and it is saying everything I've been thinking for the last 11 months! In a nutshell...

We don't know everything...

God does...

Salvation is a journey/lifestyle/process...

God is love...grace...and humility all rolled up in One...

We are to be loving...gracious...and humble, the way Jesus modeled Life for us...

I haven't yet read Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, but I'd bet it lines up in lock-step formation with the book I'm now reading. Interestingly, the authors of If God Is Love are Quakers. I say interestingly, because so much of the influence in other books and discusions in which I've been involved over this time of church detoxification have been Quaker, like Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak and many of my friends on the Ooze (link to it in the righthand column, as well).

I don't quite understand the significance of that--if any--as I don't know that much about Quaker beliefs/orthodoxy. What I do know is that I'm moving more to the left of my traditionalist, evangelical upbringing toward this theology of universal salvation. But I reiterate how limited is my understanding, so I'm not clinging to any one theology. I'm considering multiple points of view. At this time, all I can say is that I'm leaning that way. I still wrestle with the Scriptures that seem to paint an "us" versus "them"/"in" versus "out"/"blessed" versus "cursed" reality.

I'll post some very poignant quotes from the book next time. For now, let me give it a high recommendation to anyone who's grown tired/bored/disgusted with American Christianity.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Finding Grace in an Ungracious World

Okay, I ripped that title from the subtitle of a new book I started last night, If God Is Love. Good so far, but more on that in a later post. For now, I'm chewing on graciousness and humility.

This morning, I was correcting my daughter who had taunted me with a malicious-sounding "HA HA HA" because she beat me to the truck. I attempted to explain to her what it meant to be a gracious winner...and a gracious person in general. She quickly reminded me that I often taunt her in this same manner when racing around the her bedroom, the dinner table...


I humbly apologized to her, then explained that the way she feels when I do that to her is how she makes others feel when she gloats and taunts over others a "meaningless victory." I assured her that daddy was not being a gracious winner when I did that to her. I promised to do better and requested the same from her.

I thought about that all the way to work. The subtitle of the aforementioned book still fresh in my memory, I considered what true graciousness looks like. Soon thereafter, I was confronted with my own ungracious attitude toward others...

An aggressive driver almost caused two accidents within 5 carlinks of me approaching an Interstate on-ramp. His wreckless driving made me so angry because it belied the callous selfishness of the driver himself. It made me want to run him down, drag him out of his SUV and punch him in the head. I immediately thought of the story we know as "The Good Samaritan." What did my angry fantasy bely about me? Would I actually fit the description of one of the muggers in that age-old story of an ambushed traveller left to die along the roadside? Beating a man and leaving him bloodied beside a busy Interstate with at least one slashed tire, so he couldn't drive so wrecklessly on rain-soaked pavement? Yep, that would be me. Pretty gracious, huh?

The more I considered my angry thoughts...okay, it was nearly road rage...the more I could see my lack of humility glaring back at me in the rearview mirror. Seems to me that a gracious attitude comes more naturally when we think of ourselves in proper when we take on the attitude of the Shepherd and clothe ourselves in humility.

Humility...a concept I can't seem to escape no matter how hard I try to execute a counter trap play (football term, sorry). Now, I am left to consider my lack of graciousness, and how it seems that I can't do anything about it without the H-word coming into play. So chew on that awhile.

Monday, December 05, 2005

From My Journal...

It's a sleepless night in early December. I'm up--fully awake--at 11:00 PM contemplating the humanness of Jesus the Messiah. Okay, writing 11:00 PM doesn't seem that late, but I've been averaging a 9:00 PM bedtime the last few weeks. Anyway, I recently delved into the life of Jesus by reading a Bruce Chilton book titled Rabbi Jesus. Before that, I had explored the Mosaic Law to find evidence of grace, generosity and kindness toward aliens/foreigners/Gentiles there. To my surprise, these concepts were abundantly evident throughout the Law, so it is no surprise at all that Jesus expounded on them. The Old Testament states time and again that God's unmerited favor toward Israel was cause for humility, not pride, and that His grace was the foundation for faith (see evidence of the latter in Hebrews 11). The Law taught that Israel was to accept and even care for foreigners and aliens. It also taught that generosity was part of God's plan to bless the nations through them.

Considering all this makes it easy to swallow Jesus teaching these same principles to first century Jews. Interestingly, though, Jesus did not always live up to these divinely-inpsired ideals. I keep thinking about his ungracious response to the Syro-Phoenecian woman in Mark 7:24 (also in Matthew 15)...the Living Bible even calls her "a despised Gentile," while other translations simply say Greek. Either way, where was the compassion and grace toward this woman in need who Jesus compares to a dog?

Tonight was the first time I ever considered this episode as a glimpse into Jesus' own humanness. Now, I realize that it is possible that the prejudice of the gospel writer may have influenced his account of this transaction, but I also acknowledge the possibility that Jesus may have been acting in accord with his upbringing in that environment. If Galilean Jews really did look down their noses at these "despised Gentiles" and think of them as worthless--rather lowly--dogs, then I can totally relate to Jesus' very human reaction. Chilton even emphasizes the fact that the woman's response, her persistence clothed in humility, evokes a compassionate change of heart in the human Messiah. He heals her daughter. His gifts were not held exclusively for the Jew, but were available for the "despised Gentile" even when Jesus' humanness tried to interfere.

This New Testament story encourages me to act more graciously and generously toward those who maybe don't deserve it, at least in man's eyes. May God override my arrogance, stubborness, prejudice and hard-headedness when I'm met with an opportunity to bless others.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Three Word Adventure for Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving holiday was spent mostly on the road. My parents and siblings live in Central Indiana, so I loaded up the family truckster and travelled 800 miles with my wife and daughters to go see them. It was a long trip, as I travelled 14 hours straight through the night on Wednesday. Did I say LONG? After recouperating and feasting on fried turkey, my wife and I travelled an additional 120 miles, roundtrip, to go pick up a car she wanted real badly. That meant we'd be putting 800 miles on two cars for the trip home Saturday. That trip was long, too, but we broke it up with well-timed stops and a switch of vehicles at the Alabama border. After 13 hours on congested interstates and highways, we made it home about 1:00 Sunday morning. As my head hit the pillow atop my very spacious, very comfortable, king-sized bed, I uttered three words and fell to sleep.

I've now had a few days to recouperate and gather my thoughts...and all said, it was a very nice Thanksgiving holiday. Besides spending some rare time with my parents, siblings, neices and nephews, we received two welcome additions to the family: my nephew Peyton (born 11/26 at 2:33 PM), and a 1999 Volvo C70. Now, I'm not comparing babies and automobiles, but both of them were huge blessings...the baby for obvious reasons...and the car because we've been down to one vehicle for months and it's been a major hassle.

As I look back on all the blessings--both new and old--this holiday season, I'm left with the same three words I uttered as I began that belated night of peaceful rest on Sunday....THANK YOU, LORD!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Movies To Laugh By

After my last post--and watching Steve Martin's The Jerk over the weekend--I've decided to compile a list of the movies that make me here they are...

1. Fletch
2. Caddyshack
3. National Lampoon's Vacation
4. The Princess Bride
5. Young Frankenstein
6. Planes, Tranes and Automobiles
7. Christmas Vacation
8. Napoleon Dynamite
9. The Jerk
10.Meet The Parents

Honorable Mention: Monty Python's Holy Grail, Airplane, Revenge of The Pink Panther, Father Of The Bride, Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels, Meet the Fockers

There are probably others that I've omitted, but this is my best recollection of favorite funny movies. Feel free to list some of yours by commenting below.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Like The Sweetest Movie Ever!

In looking at my blog, things have been way too serious lately. So I thought it was time to lighten the mood with a little Napoleon Dynamite.

If you haven't seen the movie--and you appreciate oddball humor--then rent it this weekend. Then, enjoy reciting the lines with your friends for weeks to come.

If you have seen the movie--and you appreciate it's oddball humor--then you definitely need to check out the Utah State Fair TV commercials.

My wife and I were introduced to this movie earlier this year by some good friends. We hadn't laughed that hard in a long while. So there...I've done my best to lighten the mood of this blog...just in time for the weekend!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Separation of Church & Hate

I saw an interesting bumper sticker yesterday on the way to work. It read, "I am for the separation of Church & Hate."

Now, I'm not much on bumper sticker theology, but that statement gripped me. I wrestled with it overnight and here's what I've come up with...

At first, I applauded internally. I thought, rather smugly, of how true that is. The church SHOULD be called on the carpet for tolerating hate. They hide behind phrases like, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner," all the while casting stones at just about everyone, from abortionists to drugatics to homosexuals. I thought to myself, "I'll write a good blog about this when I get to work."

Then, the truth hit me. I AM THE CHURCH!!!

So I chewed on it a little while longer.

Today, I've been thinking about the residue of hate in my own life and how it has produced prejudice, bitterness, jealousy and the like. Heck, just yesterday I called my own wife a "jackass." That's right. I said it. I've been letting petty things about her bug me so bad that not only have I not loved her much, I haven't liked her much either. This is my wife, for pete's sake!

I've carried a piss-poor attitude around for more than a week. I've thought to myself things like, "He's such an idiot. I wish he'd just shut up!" or "She is so stupid. Why can't she listen?" These are things I've thought about other human beings, created in the image of God. Is that not sickening?

So when I think that the Church ought to divorce itself from hate, I'm left with a strong sense of guilt about my own thoughts and actions. Gee, thanks bumper sticker writer! Idiot...just kidding.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Shedding Death

Recently, I've been pondering the Lazarus story and how his story is really our story. The way I see it, we've all been called out from death to life by the Good Shepherd. But what still tangles and trips us are the filthy linens of burial. Even though we've heard His call and come out of the tomb, we're still dragging death around with us. Jesus calls us to live.

What do your "death rags" look like?

The Jewish zealot turned Jesus follower, Paul, spends an entire chapter of his letter to the "called out" in Galatia differentiating Spirit-life (i.e. real life) from the life of the flesh (i.e. death). Instead of selfishness and pride, he says that our life should be ripe with humility, patience and self-control.

These are the fruits of real living.

But notice at the end of the Lazarus story who has to strip him of his burial clothes? We cannot shed death on our own. Jesus can give us life, but unless we have help from others, we will not begin to live the Spirit-life. We need help to remove the bondage--the baggage, if you will--from the death that hung around us like a shroud. It covered our eyes and our ears. It bound our hands and feet. Death kept us from a life of service to others. As we shed death by dealing with our baggage with a little help from our friends, we can truly begin to live.

It takes humility to recognize this and ask for help. But real life--the Spirit-life Jesus promised--can come through no other means. That's why the ancient Jewish Scripture says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Are We Churchians?

After recently explaining to a pastor friend what I’ve been up to, he asked, “So where are you anchored in?” In church-speak he was basically asking, “Who do you submit to? Who are you under?”

I thought the answer was obvious. Scripture even calls Jesus our “anchor beyond the veil,” so why is it so important that I be “anchored in” to anything other than Jesus? Am I a Christian or a Churchian?

This article, shared with me by a good friend, sums up my feelings about church:

So I’m asking, “Are you a Churchian?”

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Are you a student of the Shepherd?

The Good Shepherd taught his flock, his students (talmidim), that their one identifying mark would be their love one for another (see John 13:34-35). This distinguishing characteristic is noted several times in the ancient text. For example, take the account of Luke in Acts 11:26-30. The students of the Good Shepherd are first identified as Christianos, Greek for followers of Christos, the annointed One. After a great famine strikes the Roman Empire during Claudius' reign, these Christianos "decided to provide help for [their] brothers." Out of love, they shared what they had with those who had none, so that no one perished.

We also see this theme repeated in 1 John 3-4. Here is an excerpt from the Good News about the Shepherd:

This is the message you heard from the beginning:
We should love one another...We know that we
have passed from death to life, because we love
our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains
in death...If anyone has material possessions and
sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,
how can the love of God be in him?...Whoever
loves God must also love his brother.

The truth of these passages hit home with me as I watch endless suffering on the cable news networks. This month it is the victims of Katrina, without homes, power, food and water, and some without their loved ones. How do we show these poor victims the love of God? Do those of us who have plenty give willingly to those who are without? Can our lives be inconvenienced one iota for those whose entire lives have been disrupted?

I am grateful to see the outpouring of compassion and generosity from around the country. Many church groups and parachurch organizations are stepping up to the plate. But that doesn't remove the personal responsibility from each one of us. As students of the Good Shepherd, we are commanded to put our actions where our mouths are. John says it this way, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

How will anyone know that you are a Christos follower, a student of the Good Shepherd? What are your distinguishing characteristics? Do your actions speak louder than your words?

Let's be true to our word and help our brothers in need.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Fair Wages

Fair Wages. Do your work well and get paid well. Do your work not-so-well; get paid not-so-well. We would typically call that a loss of wages, but in reality, the wages of not-so-well done work are lack, worry and stress. Wages are not lost. They are fairly distributed according to the quality of work done…in a perfect world, that is.

The Shepherd said “anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple [student], I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward”[1].

In the Greek, this word reward refers to wages. In other words, the person who does well by receiving a righteous man and giving water to those who are thirsty will be paid wages according to the quality of their work. They will be rewarded.

This principle is repeated often by the Shepherd…in word and in deed. He says, “follow me” and “learn from me,” then He goes about doing good to others. And in a final, humble act He gives His life so others might live. The basic principle is this:

A live given sacrificially, willingly, is a life gained eternally.

I came to this revelation over time, but finally journaled about it last night. This theme runs throughout the Good News about the Shepherd. His mantra was that you must give to receive. You must lose life to find it. He lived these principles as He taught them.

He wasn’t promising some future hope. He was bringing it to life in the present. He said that his students, who abandoned all, would “receive a hundred times as much in this present age”[2]. In other words, they would be paid for their work now, and paid well.

The Shepherd is a fair wage kind of guy. Follow His lead and you will be paid well now and in the future. As the Jewish Proverb says, “The wages of the righteous bring them life…”[3].

[1] Matthew 10:41-42
[2] Mark 10:30
[3] Proverbs 10:16

Friday, August 19, 2005

Mystery...Questions...Where's Velvis?

WHOA...33 days since my last post?!?! What is up with that??

Sorry to my half-dozen readers.

I just finished reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. Sorry Zondervan, I refuse to include that cheesy subtitle you added to help market it in your bookstores. The book was very good. Hey, it got me blogging again, so that counts for something...right?

An interesting undercurrent runs through the book--the mystery of God. I say interesting since that same undercurrent has been running through my mind for months now. I've been asking myself, "What do you really know about God?" Most of the time, no one answers.

If you want to know some of my thoughts on the mystery of God, look back at my April post, Is mystery back in vogue? This post also found it's way into the Faith articles on The Ooze.

In Velvis (my short title for the book...again, minus the cheesy subtitle), Bell uses the better part of Movement One (12 of the 18 pages) to talk about questions and mystery. Here are my two favorite passages:

The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can't be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not (p. 32).

Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know (p. 30).

Hmmm...mystery...questions...humility...I can relate to those things. Bell does attempt to put his faith into words, but he steps back from the Christian worldview and tries to take in the whole story from Genesis to now. He understands that WE are part of the story that is still being told...or as Brian McLaren would say, "The Story We Find Ourselves In" (another great book, by the way).

Where have you tried to box God in? Does your faith allow room for questions?

I'm glad a good friend lent me Bell's book to read. It got me blogging again. It also prompted me to pick up Chilton's Rabbi Jesus again and continue learning.

Thanks for stopping by...I'll try not to be a stranger on my own blog from now on. Good night.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Blog for Blogging's Sake!

My prayer journal and my blog are sitting untouched for several days. What have I been so busy doing? Well, for one, I've been building a fence in my backyard for our new puppy, Zack...

...and I've been fighting a sinus infection, which I think is finally clearing up. No pictures of that, sorry.

This Saturday is my daughter's first ballet recital. Tonight she has dress rehearsal and she is so excited. My wife has volunteered as a backstage mom, so I'm taking a "sit-in wife" with me to the performance. She's a good friend of ours from nearby Cairo (Georgia, not Egypt, though I consider South Georgia BFE).

I won't post any pictures of my daughters here, to protect their privacy, but any of my friends are welcome to e-mail me for copies. Well, except the one in my profile and it is really old. The girl in my arms is the future ballerina.

So that's my blog for this week, for blogging's sake!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Click to Fight Hunger Every Day

I recently discovered The Hunger Site, where you can click daily to fight hunger. Really, it's that simple. You can click from any computer once a day to provide food for hungry people around the globe. Sponsors of the site donate food in accordance with the number of individual clicks daily. So what are you waiting for?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Haircut Tuesday!

Well, it's not quite here, yet, but in less than 12 hours I get my hair cut! This week overdue appointment has me excited not just because I will shed close to one pound of hair, but because I get to see my good friend Katie who owns the salon. (Okay, I might have exaggerated on the amount of hair to be lost, but I digress).

Katie is a preacher's kid (PK) with a rapid-fire wit and a charming personality. I love talking to her about life. In fact, our most recent conversations have revolved around churches and why neither of us hangs out in them regularly.

You see, this PK grew tired of the overly sensitive, super spiritual, hypocritical church-goer at an early age. I share her lack of tolerance for such people, but I only came to my conclusions about them in my 30's.

Anyway, I've been gushing about all this emergent-type deconstructionist thinking I've been doing lately and she totally gets it. I guess co-owning and working in the city's trendiest and fastest growing salon helps one to remain more culturally aware and relevant. She has such a tender heart full of compassion for people who would never darken the door of a church.

Does she use her chair as a pulpit or soapbox? No. But she does have a keen ability to listen to and to sense when things are out of kilter with her clients. She doesn't always confront or even inquire, but she always listens and silently prays.

Katie is cool. And I can't wait to continue our discussion at the salon tomorrow. I'll get a chance to verbalize some of this rethinking of my faith and in the process get a really great haircut.

Oh, and by the way, one of Katie's stylists is featured on the upcoming season of MTV's Real World, filmed in Austin, Texas. Just watch for the skinny, shy girl from Tallahassee. She's one of this summer's house mates. Should be a hoot.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Living Water

This topic came up this week in one of the books I’m reading, Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton, and on a website I was perusing, Follow the Rabbi. The Jews believed “living water” came down from God in the form of rain or out of the ground as a flowing stream, so they would capture this watershed in pools near the Temple. The immersion pools, or milqvaoth, were meant to cleanse those who would enter the Temple. Bruce Chilton explains:

Everyone entering the Temple needed to bathe by immersion.
entire southern slope up to the Temple entrance was
developed with a system of canals, channels, and cisterns
(visible today as a result of excavation), so that all Temple-
goers might make themselves clean during this final ascent
into the presence of the Holy One of Israel (Rabbi Jesus, p. 27).

Against the backdrop of the Temple, the Good Shepherd promises to give living water to anyone who is thirsty and believes in him (John 7:37-38). The Jews around the Temple mount at the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) would have understood this to symbolize ritual cleansing.

An article, titled “Joy of Living Water” at Follow the Rabbi, makes this point:

There was another special element to the celebration of Sukkot,
and it involved living water. Sukkot took place at the end of the
dry season. The rains needed to begin immediately to ensure a
harvest the following year. Thus the celebration of God's
harvest was coupled with fervent prayer for next year's rains.
It would seem from this perspective that Jesus was not only promising to cleanse, but that he was also promising water for regeneration, as in the rebirth of the crops. The online article goes on to say, “The importance of the Jewish background to Jesus' work cannot be exaggerated. It gave him the context he needed to make his teachings relevant, powerful, and practical.”

Relevant, powerful and practical both then and now.

Thank you Lord for the streams of living water making me grow like a tree and helping to produce fruit in season (Psalm 1:3).

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

One Commandment

In recent years there has been much attention paid to the Ten Commandments because of all the media hype around public displays of these tenets of the Jewish and Christian faiths. My study of Scripture has led me to the conclusion that there is but one remaining commandment.


After Moses assembled all of Israel and read to them the Ten Commandments[1], he instructed them to love God with all their heart, soul and strength[2]. Jesus quotes Moses when he is asked about the Greatest Commandment[3]. Paul reaffirms Jesus’ command in his letter to the Romans when he concludes, “Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law”[4].

God was not satisfied to have the ritual obedience of the Hebrew nation. His goal was to circumcise their hearts, so that they could love him and have life[5]. He even sent prophets to serve as his mouthpiece to tell them:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6, KJV).

The Living Bible translation says:

I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.

In the new testament we are reminded time and again by the Apostle John that God requires love, plain and simple[6]. It is the one commandment that fulfills all others.

How am I going to obey this commandment today?

[1]Deuteronomy 5
[2]Deuteronomy 6:5
[3]Matthew 22:34, Mark 12:28
[4]Romans 13:10
[5]Deuteronomy 30:6]
[6]John 13:34, 15:12; 1 John 4:21

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Can I Be Trusted?

During my morning walk, I prayed and offered myself to the Lord as a “right sacrifice.” I fully placed my trust in him. I know that he hears me and accepts my offering[1].

The psalmist encourages me to “Trust in the LORD with all [my] heart and lean not on [my] own understanding”[2]. So I told the Lord that I trust him as the head of my household and Father to my family. But the question remains, “Can I be trusted?”

I’ve betrayed my family’s trust before. Lacking humility, I became self-obsessed to the dangerous point of nearly taking my own life. To my wife that must have seemed like the ultimate betrayal yet she places her trust in me still.

Can I be trusted?

In times of hardship, I’ve often wanted to throw in the towel or look for the easiest way possible. Sometimes that meant disowning my problems and shirking responsibility. I’ve learned that the easiest way out is often the most costly and detrimental.

Still, in this time of uncertainty about my job, I find myself wondering if I can be trusted. Lord, help me to be trustworthy like you. Keep my feet and my faith firmly planted in you. Let my roots run deep so that I never again get swept away by the tide of selfishness. Keep me humble…always serving.

[1] Psalms 4:3,5
[2] Proverbs 3:5

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Whenever I hear the word trust now, I think of Greg Focker and his breech of “the circle of trust” in the movie Meet the Parents. If you think about it, we have a similar circle of trust with God...and thankfully he’s not like Jack Byrnes, the distrustful, undercover-CIA-agent father-in-law, either.

Sadly, I am a lot like Focker. Even though I know my Father can be trusted, I don’t always remain in “the circle” or in my case the safe confines of His promises.

That whole trust issue is playing out right now in my own life. God is telling me not to worry about the future even though my salary is only guaranteed for one more month. He’s telling me that He has my family’s best interest at heart and in hand.

Will I remain in the circle by trusting Him completely? Or will I make some boneheaded, Focker-like move and fock things up royally? To be continued…

Friday, May 20, 2005

The One-Tenth Tax

Yesterday over lunch, I was discussing the issue of tithing with some friends. These questions were asked, “Will you rob God?” and “Why does God demand your tithe?”

The only places where tithes are mentioned in the New Testament are in Matthew 23 and Luke 11. There, the text seems to suggest that Jesus was less interested in the tithe than what he calls “the more important matters of…justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

So why do Christians get hung up on this issue of giving one-tenth of their income to the church?

The first biblical reference to this practice is found in Genesis 14:20. Abraham gives one-tenth of his possessions to Melchizedek, a priest later mentioned in the book of Hebrews as a shadow and type of the Messiah. gives a good explanation of why Abraham would have willingly given this “tax” to the king of Salem:

The tithe, the Babylonian one-tenth tax, was simply part and parcel of the cultural baggage Abraham brought with him from Mesopotamia. He was without any doubt at all completely familiar with the concept of giving up ten-percent of whatever goods as tax.

In our discussion yesterday, the word “firstfruits” was used in place of tithes, since most Christians believe a tenth of your salary should come off the top, not from what’s left over. This idea of a firstfruits offering is mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but Deuteronomy 18:4 calls it a provision for the Levites, or Jewish priests. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”

From these passages, I gather that the “one-tenth tax” is applicable to everything from money to crops, or possessions. Is that requirement, or demand, applicable to those under the new covenant? Hasn’t Messiah Jesus fulfilled all requirements under the old covenant?

What I’m learning is that all of God’s commands, including tithing, are more about helping us and less about helping God. God doesn’t need our help. He certainly doesn’t need our finances or possessions. Both Old and New Testaments talk about his need for our love.

Deuteronomy 30:6
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Matthew 22:37-38
Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Consequently, both testaments promise life to those who follow this “golden rule.” So the questions I’m left with are this…

Does God need one-tenth or the whole me?

Has he circumcised my heart or not?
, and

Will the tithe help him do that?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

A recent critique of the "emerging church" claims that "there is no sense of gospel wonder"[1]. The phrase itself made me chuckle. It sounds like Christianeze from some bygone era, like maybe the tent revivals of early 20th century America.

After a good chuckle, I thought more soberly about this statement and what it is really saying. Do I not hold Scripture in high enough esteem? Does it no longer arouse wonder?

I will readily admit that I do not speak for the whole of the emerging church. I am but one voice calling out from within the ooze (see 5/4/05 post for more on this). From my limited vantagepoint, it seems the good news does still arouse awe and admiration in many emerging Christians. I know that it does for me.

The problem comes when we hold the gospel over its divine messenger. If we embrace Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we in fact embrace his good news, not the other way around. It seems like so many Christians hold fast to the Word of God, yet they pay little attention to the Word Incarnate. (Note: I don’t like speaking in those terms because they sound so churchy, but I think they help to underscore the real issue here).

Scripture teaches that the Word is like water and we should wash ourselves in it[2]. Scripture also teaches that the blood of Jesus cleanses our consciences from useless rituals and gives us life[3]. If ever I were required to choose, I’d take the blood every time because "blood is thicker than water."

That’s not to imply that I discount the usefulness of water. It doesn’t mean that I read only the red letters in my Bible and discard the rest. But I do try to read the rest of Scripture—the Word—in light of my understanding about Jesus—the Word Incarnate. After all, it is him that I worship and not some shadow or type…meaning literally the type on the printed page.

In my limited understanding, the whole of Scripture points to Jesus. So as followers of him, we should keep his message central and remember that it is indeed good news…for the world, not just a select few. Isnt’ that wonderful?

[1] Thomas, Geoff, "The Emerging Church" at (For a good response to this critique, see Bob Hyatt’s blog at
[2] Ephesians 5:26
[3] Hebrews 9:14; Leviticus 17:11; John 6:54

Monday, May 16, 2005

Spiritual Fix Sunday

Too much life going on to post to my blog, lately.

I'll share briefly my first experience in a traditional church setting since Easter. I played drums at a local Pentacostal church on Sunday as a favor to a good friend of mine. It was interesting. Since I come out of that tradition myself, I totally get the formulaic approach to "moving in the Spirit."

I have to say that I honestly checked out mentally for half of the service, when I wasn't on stage. I listened to much of the pastor's sermon, but only really heard a small portion of it. The one think he said that I was able to relate to was something about relationship. The rest of it was standard fare about how "the devil may knock me down, but he won't keep me down" and how Jesus is gonna make a way, etc., etc.

This experience helped me to see how far I've strayed from the me-centric thinking of the modern church. It confirmed that there's really nothing in the formulaic approach to church that appeals to me anymore. I guess I just don't see the need in returning for a weekly "holy ghost" fix that doesn't really make a significant impact on my life or in my environment.

Did I really benefit from the hours I sat in a church building yesterday? Could I have spent that time more productively?

And what of that church building itself? On the one day it is most useful to anyone, it sat largely empty through two "worship services." Could that property not be used for a higher purpose than to provide a cavernous, air-conditioned place to worship for a handful of people?

The Spirit of God certainly doesn't need a building, a formula or a bunch of programs in which to move. He needs authentic people. He needs the Church. If we aren't about the Father's business outside of Sunday-go-t0-meetin' time, then what earthly good are we? If the Spirit isn't moving in our daily lives, then why do we expect some supernatural movement on Sunday? The Spirit doesn't want to move on a bunch of spiritual junkies. He wants authentic people who are about doing the Word daily, and not just hearing it on Sunday.

That's all for now...thanks for listening.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A Father's Prayer for Consistency

Moses, ancient emancipator of enslaved Jews, had a vision. His vision was of a burning bush that spoke with a voice he could understand. That voice identified itself as the God of Moses’ people. When pressed for a name, God said, "I am that I am."

Later Moses declares, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" [1]. To this day, the Jews hold the Shema as the central prayer of their faith. In the opening statement based on Moses’ declaration above, Jews are affirming their belief in the one, eternal, unchanging, all-powerful God [2].

This morning as I prayed over my family, I asked God to help me be a better father to my two daughters. I prayed, "Lord, help me to be consistent with my discipline." The moment I said that—yes I pray out loud to an unseen God—I immediately added, "Help me be consistent with my love, too." Then, I pondered the whole concept and realized that I just need to be consistent—period—so I asked God to make me more consistent in my life.

I thought about how I’ve always heard that consistency is the rule in discipline. I am reminded about it every week on television, whether its Dr. Phil or the Super Nanny. But my daughters need me to be consistent in everything. They just need quality daddy time, so I need to be consistently reliable.

That’s what I love about God and about the Jewish affirmation of him in the Shema. Although I do not wear the label "Jew," I do consider myself "the seed of Abraham" and an heir by means of adoption. I see the Shema as affirming God’s consistency. If he is "I am," with no one of higher authority to correct or change him, then I know he can be relied on to stay the same day-to-day.

Because of Jesus’ teachings, I know that "I am" is also "Father." I believe that he is approachable and always available to me. That’s why I pray. Its how I communicate with him. I believe he hears me, and he answers. He’s consistent that way; reliable.

For me, the Shema says that God is eternally reliable. I want to be that way, also. I want to be a consistent person in life, accessible to my daughters and always willing to listen. Thank you for hearing my prayer, Father. Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 4:6
[2] Dickson, Athol, "The Gospel According to Moses," Brazos Press, 2003, p. 33.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Emerging Ooze

Here are the first stanzas of a poem I found online by George Lewis Avery:

Once upon a time ...
there was a primordial ooze
emerging from a bit of frozen earth
where the sun heated the rock
in an age when all things sentient
lingered in the great oblivion of sleep

- an eon passed
and from that ooze
was borne a cognizant thought
what rose to the surface
of that stagnant pond
as a bubble does
and within its dome
was sealed
the recipe for transcendence[1]

Lots of good imagery here for what’s being labeled the “emerging church.” Are you emerging from “a bit of frozen earth?” Are you awakening to feel the sun on your face?

Because this evolving church defies definition, I will not attempt to wall it in. All I know is that I feel I am emerging from the frozen tundra of traditional, Western Christianity with its systemized theologies, evangelism and outreach programs and other synthetic wrappings.

As much as I dislike labels, there’s really no other way to describe this evolution of faith, this coming out of the ooze. It’s an emergence from what seemed to work in ages past to something a bit more relevant for today. The poem quoted above does capture the spirit of this metamorphosis as well as words are really able.

Unless you’re a sprinter, most journeys start slowly. I walk more than I jog and I rarely ever run full out. And so the spiritual journey that I find myself on is more of an ooze, inching along ever so slowly in thick, nutrient-rich globules like the primordial substance of all life.

If you feel that this imagery speaks for your journey, please post a comment. If it raises more questions than it answers, then good. Feel free to post a question, too. I’m all about connecting with others who are also inching along the path toward Life.

[1] From “The Primordial Ooze” at

Monday, May 02, 2005

Cultivating Spirituality

I plan to post more on this topic later. For now, check out what Ronaldo says about "Reaching People" in his blog from down under...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Communal, Not Individual

This walk down the emergent road with Jesus has me seeing this thing called Christianity in a whole new way. For so much of my life, my focus has been inward. And nowhere is that more true than in my "Christian walk." I have viewed my relationship with Christ in such a one-dimensional way, looking to make myself better, or at least have the appearance of better. Does that ring true for you?

Do you see this relationship--this thing we call Christianity--as a one-dimensional, individualistic pursuit of "better?"

Good. I was beginning to think I was the only simplistic, self-centered, "get all I can get out of God before I die" kind of Christian. Such an individualistic view of salvation can be detrimental to your health. It was to mine, almost resulting in my death (more on that in a later post).

Once I started down this emergent road, I began hearing Jesus speak. His words brought new life to the Scripture. And recently he’s been speaking to me through Thomas Merton, confirming that my individualistic view was quite off-center.

In his 1963 book titled Life and Holiness, Merton says, "…we see that personal faith and fidelity to Christ are not enough to make us perfect Christians. We do not go by ourselves as isolated individuals" but as one body (p. 112).

To echo this sentiment about becoming perfect or complete Christians, I turn to the book of Hebrews. The great Old Testament saints "were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40).

Again, Christianity is not about isolation and individualism. It is not one-dimensional and vertical. Perfection comes through living together as Christ’s body and letting his life of humility, sacrifice and service flow through us to others. Merton puts it this way, "our holiness is proportioned to our capacity to serve as instruments of his love in establishing his kingdom and building up his Mystical Body" (p. 112).

Doesn’t this sound a lot like Jesus’ prayer in John 17:22-23, make them one as we are one, Father, "that they may be made perfect?"

The way I read it, perfection comes only through community. That makes Christianity more communal than individual. How does that change your perspective? What will you do to live more communally and less individually?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Is mystery back in vogue?

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
- Albert Einstein

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
- Carl Sagan

I read these quotes recently and somehow missed their profoundness at first. Is mystery truly beautiful? Can I really know an incredibly mysterious God?

The more I try to wrap my pint-sized brain around truth, the more frustrated I become. The further I stretch my mind, the less I truly know about God. It’s a very frustrating reality. Parker Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak, advocates embracing our limits. He says, "God asks us only to honor our created nature, which means our limits as well as potentials" [1].

Understanding and even embracing my limitations has produced inexplicable freedom for me. I am finally learning to embrace my finite view of God and to see theology for what it is—a vain attempt to wrap our finite minds around an infinite God. I am actually freeing myself from some theological baggage, so I can enjoy the mystery of God.

As I delve into postmodernism, I find that there are so many on this journey who have already come to this realization. Artist David Wilcox says, "I have the ability to see life not as a problem to be solved but a mystery to be enjoyed" [2].

Ah, mystery…that postmodern buzzword that explains everything about God beyond our comprehension but defies explanation itself. Do I really think of it as beautiful? Can I truly embrace it? Do I have a choice?

I’ve seen authors like Brian McLaren and Leonard Sweet elevate mystery to a position of prominence. I’ve read articles where people like Rob Marus and Marshall Allen credit "a hunger for mystery" as the catalyst for a postmodern revival of liturgy [3]. I can search postmodern Christian websites and find mystery mentioned dozens of times.

This all leads me to the question, "Is mystery back in vogue?"

While the Bible is full of mystery, it seems the church has been less than eager to embrace it. By the church, of course, I mean followers of the Way. We are so prone to investigation and deductive reasoning that we have to follow all the clues until we have an "open and shut case." At least that’s how Bible scholarship has presented itself in Western Christianity in my opinion.

Sadly, many of our denominations feel that they have the market cornered on truth. But truth is not a commodity to be bought and sold on the Christian stock market; it is a person to be known in relationship. Truth, as revealed in Scripture, is Jesus [4]. And often times He relates that truth to us in parables. Why? I think it is because stories open our minds to see more of God than do propositions. Jesus’ stories often evoke more questions than they answer. That’s the beauty of mystery. It leaves room for questions and for exploration.

That is where the modern church has shortchanged us. They seem to have left little room for mystery or further discovery. To them, the Bible is an open and shut case. They have executed the theological equivalent of a slam-dunk. That is what causes so many of us to gravitate toward postmodern Christianity. We are no longer satisfied with having all the answers and filing mystery away in neat little theological pigeonholes. We don’t see Christianity in legal terms. Slam-dunk. Case closed.

But is this postmodern revival something new? As you can probably deduce from my use of the word revival, I don’t think it is.

Let’s look at how the Bible deals with the mystery of God.

Deuteronomy 29:29 explains that God has hidden mysteries not yet revealed to us and that we must rely upon revelation, such as the law. The revelation of Jesus provides even more clues to this mystery, as Paul explains in several verses in the New Testament.

In Romans 16:25-26, Paul explains that the hidden mystery of God spoken through the prophets was revealed in Jesus. 1 Corinthians 2:7 says, "we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." In Ephesians 3, Paul elaborates on this, explaining that "the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." Again in Colossians, he states that Christ Jesus is the mystery of God "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2:2-3) and that it was revealed to Christ’s body, the church, for the sake of the Gentiles (1:24-27).

Clearly Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles, so for him, that was a large part of God’s mystery revealed in Christ. He viewed it as God’s plan from the beginning. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to bless the nations through Abraham [5]. Ezekial and Micah both prophesied about this, which seems to support Paul’s claim. As Christ’s body and Abraham’s seed, Paul submits that we are now the repository of this hidden knowledge.

So does that mean we have been given the key to unlock all of God’s mystery? I don’t think it does. I refer back to Deuteronomy and the belief that some things will always be hidden from us.

I also hearken back to the words of Isaiah, who in chapter 40 says, "[God’s] understanding no one can fathom." He restates this in chapter 55, explaining that God’s thoughts and His ways are unknown to us because they exist on a higher plane. Paul quotes Isaiah on this topic several times in his writing.

That tells me that Paul never considered mystery a bad thing. As a student of the Law, he would have been intimately aware of the passage in Deuteronomy 29. It also tells me that Paul did not assume to know the mind of God.

We see, then, that the Scriptures do, in fact, embrace the mystery of God. They provide some clues--or revelations--into it, but they don’t account for the whole mystery that is God.

When in his first letter to Timothy Paul refers to "the King eternal, immortal, invisible," he is speaking of the unfathomable characteristics of God. Who can fathom eternity, immortality or things invisible even to an X-ray photoelectron emission microscope? Paul is referring to the deeply mysterious God who is all of these things. He has indeed embraced the Mystery.

For me, the Bible proves that mystery has always been in vogue. It is the fault of simple-minded humans that mystery has been relegated to such a nominal focus, especially in church.

The more I examine postmodern Christianity, the more I see mystery coming back into focus. I realize that it is not something to explain away, but rather to embrace…to treasure as something truly beautiful. Now I can honestly say that I agree with Einstein and Sagan. There is something incredible waiting to be known, but He is beautifully adorned in mystery.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
--Paul [6]

[1] Palmer, Parker, Let Your Life Speak, Jossey-Bass, Inc., Publishers, c. 2000, p. 50.
[2] Wilcox, David, "Going Deeper: An interview with David Wilcox,", 2/11/01.
[3] Marus, Rob, and Allen, Marshall, "Once and Future Worship,", 10/9/02.
[4] John 14:6
[5] Genesis 17:4-5
[6] Romans 11:33-36

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Shepherd's Voice

Those who hear the Shepherd hear God [1]. But simply hearing his voice is of no use if you choose to disregard what he says [2]. I want to be a follower of the Shepherd that not only hears his voice, but also does what he says and follows in his footsteps.

All too often I’m guilty of hearing only.

Do you hear the Shepherd’s voice? What is he telling you?

The voice I hear says, "I’m over here." I look and see the dusty face of a wayward stranger near the I-10 overpass. Then I hear him again.

"Look over here." I look down and see the longing eyes of a fatherless child at my daughter’s daycare. I hear the Shepherd’s voice yet again.

"I’m right here." I look around and see letters from prisoners who’ve taken the time to write encouragement to a bunch of men on a Christian renewal retreat.

I hear the voice of the Shepherd in sacred, ancient texts, too. A Hebrew prophet named Ezekiel speaks for the Shepherd who says:

I will rescue [my sheep] from all the places where they were scattered…I will
tend them in a good pasture…There they will lie down in good grazing land, and
there they will feed…I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down…I will
search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and
strengthen the weak… [3]

Because I hear these words, I choose to follow the Shepherd and to do as he did. I look for sheep that are scattered and looking for good pasture. I seek out the strays and welcome them back to the grazing land where there is good food. I speak words of encouragement and strength to the injured and the weak. I strive to be a doer and not a hearer only.

When I hear the Shepherd’s voice in the many places I go, I try to find ways to do as he did. I stoop down to pick up the fatherless child, to give the wayward stranger some direction and to be as humble and gracious as the thoughtful letter writer in prison. Because my Shepherd was humble [4], I too must take on that attitude daily. Because he was a servant [5], I too must stoop down to serve.

Do you hear the Shepherd’s voice? What is he saying to you?

(Blogger's note: I probably should have made this my first post, but I got ahead of myself with the first one titled "Prejudice Against the 'Unsaved'." Please accept my apologies, as this would have been a much better introductory post.)

[1] John 14:24
[2] Luke 6:46-49; James 1:22-27
[3] Ezekiel 34:12-16
[4] Philippians 2:5-8
[5] Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Prejudice Against the 'Unsaved'

The implication that one has "arrived" in the church’s long-held teaching on salvation is a dangerous one, I believe. It creates the divide between the saved and the unsaved. It is the "us versus them" mentality that is so pervasive in the world. And while Jesus paints such dichotomy in some of His parables, as in the sheep and the goats, I notice that He alone is the one who will divide them.

A friend of mine likes to say, "Jesus is the measure." In other words, He’s the measuring stick or shepherd’s staff, if you will, that will separate sheep from goat. I mean, for now, we are all lost sheep trying to hear and follow the Shepherd. It is not the job of sheep to know who the real goats are. The Shepherd will do the measuring and dividing. To some in His flock, He will say, "Depart from me. I never knew you."

The church’s problem, as I see it, is that it teaches mere sheep to believe we have transformed into little shepherds. This metamorphosis they believe occurs at an altar or wherever one says "the prayer." Because the sheep have arrived, we feel it is necessary to identify all the goats of the world and to convert them.

Those goats however don’t see themselves as such. They too are wandering sheep. They just haven’t tuned into the voice of their Shepherd. Many of them don’t believe He exists, so they continue to wander aimlessly. As sheep who believe we have found our way, we tend to hold prejudice toward the wanderers, those we think are goats.

Prejudice is never a good thing. In the hands of religious zealots, prejudice has sentenced many to death. Isn’t that what we do in the church? We condemn those who are unlike us. We judge fellow sheep for their inability to hear the Shepherd’s voice or to acknowledge that He exists. We take out the measuring stick of religion and tell them, "You don’t measure up." We label them goats and tell them of their sealed fate.

I think the church is rampant with this kind of prejudice. Rooted in fear, it keeps sheep locked up in pew-shaped pens, unable to relate to those on the outside. Prejudice pits us against them—sheep versus goat—in language, in thought and in deed. It stunts our growth. It limits our understanding. It chokes out compassion. It killed our Shepherd.

The next time you feel compelled to label someone "sinner," to judge them or to cast them aside, consider your Shepherd. He calls out to all sheep, "Follow me. I am the way." Let Him worry about who the goats are and simply love.