Thursday, March 25, 2010

Power to the People

Right from the get go, God wanted Israel to be different. He wanted a "kingdom of priests and a Holy nation." As soon as he delivered them from Egypt (as soon as they found freedom) he gave the proclamation that this was what they would be. After this invitation, he challenged them with a frightening show of lightning and clouds.

We see the people of Israel move away from this position. The priesthood rises and becomes more powerful, until Jesus arrives. And Jesus once again tells the people that they can be the priests, they can be holy. Yet, the priesthood rose again.

What is keeping you from connecting to God on your own? What is keeping you from reading the Bible for yourself? Why don't we learn to feed ourselves? Why don't we become what God has repeatedly call us to be?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Weapons and Warfare

"For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have the divine power to destroy strongholds."

What's a stronghold?
It is those things that hold us back, that keep us from being who we were created to be. A stronghold is a lie that we believe - a lie with some supernatural support. Picture this...

A young girl from a broken family eagerly awaits her next birthday. It is one of the few times she sees her father, one of the only times she sees her parents in the same room anymore, one of the only moments she feels normal. Leading up to the big day she gets a call from her dad and he asks what she would like for her birthday. She tells him she would love a new pair of jeans. She tells him her size and says it doesn't matter what brand or shade, just that they were from him. She tells him how excited she is, how much she misses him and how she can't wait to be a year older.

Finally the day arrives, the party is a success, everyone is there. There is cake and ice cream and balloons and dresses and toys and laughter. There are no jeans. When the party is over and the crowd has passed, she looks back on the day. She smiles at the fun and friends, she remembers the balloons and the cake. She realizes there were no jeans.

Soon, the other memories fade and all she can think about are the missing jeans. Why? Why didn't he buy me the jeans? Doesn't he love me enough? The days go by and the questions persist. What did I do wrong? What is wrong with me? How can I be so worthless that my own father won't even get me a pair of jeans for my birthday? Over time, the questions grow and become stronger. If he can't love me, how could anyone love me? I must not deserve to be loved. How could anyone love me? I must not be lovable.

When Jesus was on the scene, demons were apparent. His very presence brought them to light and flushed them out. We don't see that today. In fact, we've got scientific explanations for some of those demons. Epilepsy. Disease. Schizophrenia. Even if we can't explain their expulsion, we can reason away the causes of the demons we see in the Bible. Can we do the same with how a small slight becomes a life-changing belief?

Satan is the father of lies, that is his native language. When he works in the world today, he works with these lies. He uses the fallen world we live in, the broken homes, the broken relationships, the diseases and disasters we face. He uses our flesh, the clothing we need, the stuff we desire and the people we admire. And he uses lies. He speaks into them and makes them grow. He puts them in front of us, knowing we'll fixate on them, knowing we'll feed into his plan by feeding the lie. He helps us jump to the next conclusion, the next assumption and he makes our landing there seem safe and secure.

If you want to see demons today, look at the lies you believe. That's where you'll find them.

"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good Grief

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

I wonder if this is what Charlie Brown was talking about.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mysterious Ways

But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up for three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Namaan the Syrian.

God loves how God loves. God shows himself how he shows himself. We can't understand why one widow gets overflowing jars and another doesn't. We can point to her faith, but that doesn't mean there wasn't another widow down the block with the same faith. Why was Namaan cleansed when so many others weren't? His faith saved him, but that doesn't mean that someone else's lack of faith condemned him. He moves in mysterious ways - ways we can't understand, can't comprehend - Godly ways.

Straight Talk

Sometimes rules are nice. They are simple and clean-cut. They provide clear direction. Here is John the Baptist laying out some straightforward rules:

And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?" And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise." Tax collectors also came to him and said, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone with threats or false accusation, and be content with your wages."

To the point and challenging as all get out. Why do we make things so difficult?
If you've got it, share it.
Don't cheat.
Be content.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Teachers & Fathers

For though you have countless guides (guardians, tutors, teachers, instructors) in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you then, be imitators of me. - 1 Cor 4:15-16

Did you ever get something stuck in your teeth? Of course you have. Let's say it's a piece of popcorn and there is no floss to be found. What do you do? You play with it. You tongue it absent-mindedly. You try to dig it out with your fingernail when no one is around. It keeps bugging you and bugging you. That's what this verse has done to me the last two days.

There are a lot of people who would love to be your teacher in Christ. Turn on the TV or the radio or the newspaper, go to the bookstore. There are a ton of teachers out there. Heck, I'll try to be your teacher.

Everybody has an opinion, everybody has a view, everybody has an understanding. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are intriguing. Some are disgusting. Some make you want more. Some make you want to run away. Some make you think. Some make you feel. Some are right. Some are wrong. Some are milk. Some are meat. Some are attractive. Some are destructive. Some help you. Some hurt you.

None of them can fully satisfy what we really need.

There are so many teachers, because teaching is easy. Observe, interpret and deliver. In a nutshell, that's what teaching is. Observation of the scriptures or the world plus some thoughtful interpretation of how those different parts interact with one another and with the audience, coupled with a memorable, thought or emotion evoking delivery is teaching.

That's something anyone can do. That is something everyone should do. It isn't something we should depend on others for.

I don't have a spiritual father. I've had a ton of spiritual teachers. I've had some spiritual leaders. I think I had a spiritual uncle once. I've had some spiritual temporary-custody situations. I may have had a spiritual step-dad or two. But, I've never had a spiritual father.

This is part of the popcorn-in-the-teeth situation. I've been going over what that means. I've never had a spiritual father. What does that mean? Am I a runaway? Were there potential fathers out there that I ran away from? Am I unlovable? Were there people who tried that just couldn't handle it (couldn't handle me)? Was it a situational thing? Did I just come from the wrong place, where people didn't deal with this wishy-washy feelings junk? How am I supposed to be a spiritual father if I've never had one?

I might not have a spiritual father, but I have a fantastic dad. I've got the kind of dad who supported me in everything I did. I've got the kind of dad who sacrificed for me. I've got the kind of dad who let me try and fail. I've got the kind of dad who coached a team for half a little league season without his son on the team so I could get called up to the majors. I've got the kind of dad who taught me the hard lessons. I've got the kind of dad who cried the first time I flew away from home alone. I've got the kind of dad who still calls to see how I'm doing. I've got the kind of dad who gets excited about what's going on in my life. I've got the kind of dad who asks me for advice. I've got the kind of dad who taught me what it means to be a man. I've got the kind of dad who loves my mom. I've got the ind of dad who loves me and lets me know. I've got the kind of dad that all of you should be jealous of.

That's that kind of spiritual father we all need. We all need someone who will dedicate themselves to us, who will make their life about helping us to live as spiritual fathers too. Jesus called them disciples fishing for men. He called them shepherds feeding his lambs. It's all the same, it is people loving other people more than themselves.

That's the kind of spiritual father I've been called to be.
There are plenty of teachers out there. Teaching is easy.
Teachers say, "Be good." "Be brave." "Be honest." "Be free." "Be encouraged."
Fathers say, "Be like me as I follow Christ."
That's hard.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nowhere to Run and Nowhere to Hide

My wife and I belong to one of those members-only 24 hour gyms. The only reason for this is because we can walk there from our house. We figured it was worth spending a little more money for a gym we would actually go to. The front of gym is all glass and from the front windows you can actually see the roof of our house.

This morning I was on the treadmill, right in front of the windows. Headphones on, listening to Rick McKinley, I was doing my best to escape - to get away from the stresses of going to drop off our taxes later this afternoon, from the stresses of things at work, from all those pressures of life.

It didn't work. About 2/3 of the way through my run, as Rick was hitting his stride in what Christian justice looks like, two guys appeared at the corner of the building. They were walking slowly by the gym, looking through the front windows, their breath fogging the glass as they went.

When I saw them, my mind froze. I instantly recognized them as two of our guests from Outreach, we'll call them S & K. They are there constantly, especially in the winter, because it is warm and it gets them off the street. They are regularly intoxicated, and frequently make reference to getting more so with their next stop of the morning. They are salt of the earth guys, hit hard by life and still staggering. I froze because I was afraid they would see me.

You know how little kids think that if they cover their eyes you can't see them? I did the grown-up version of that. The top of the horizon suddenly became very interesting. Nothing could draw my gaze down to their eye level. Nothing except them pulling on the door handle... which, of course, was locked. This is a private gym to keep certain people out, after all. By the time they walked by again, I was done with my run and stretching - safely in the very back of the gym.

Did you ever see one of your teachers outside of school? It was weird. All of a sudden they weren't just a teacher - they were a real person with a whole life before 8 and after 3. You always knew that was the case, but you never had to see it. I knew these guys walked the streets in my neighborhood, but there were places I didn't expect to see it - and I didn't know how to respond.

I couldn't let them in the gym without forfeiting my membership. I didn't have any money to buy them a bagel. I wasn't going to take them back to my house - "Good morning, honey! We have company..." I was completely unprepared and confused. Two parts of my life came crashing together and I didn't know what to do. So, I did nothing.

When Jesus was on earth he fought to have his time of solace and peace. I can say this was that time. But, Jesus also dedicated his entire life to the service of others. He didn't have times when he was on duty and off duty. His mission was a full-time, 24-7 gig. We're called to follow him full-time too; not during business hours, not when its convenient, not when it fits into MY schedule. This is the life I signed up for and I'm still learning what that means.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pressure Balance

This summer we had the greatest shower on the face of the earth. It might not have been the biggest or fanciest or prettiest or cleanest, but none could compare with the water pressure. IT was glorious. You really didn't even have to use soap because the force of the water would just knock the dirt right off of you. If you stood alongside the stream of spray you could feel the wind it produced. Heaven.

As the weather got colder, we realized that we may have a few flaws. The temperature of the water would begin to decrease after only a few minutes in the shower, so you'd constantly be re-adjusting the hot/cold ratio. We got a new shower curtain and the breeze created by the spray would pull it a little too far into the shower, usually getting it stuck to your legs.

This weekend all of that changed. We did some research into the hot water problem, draining and inspecting our hot water heater. It's a 50 gallon tank, so that shouldn't have been the problem. We drained it and discovered it wasn't full of lime or some other contaminate. We removed the temperature & pressure valve and peaked inside. We thought we saw the problem. We couldn't find the fill tube, the piece of pipe that makes sure the cold water gets to the bottom of the tank and isn't forced out the top along with the hot water. We put it all back together, thinking we knew what we needed to do from there. We were wrong.

After we turned the water back on, the Temperature and Pressure valve blew - spraying water all over the floor. This valve is designed to prevent injuries from occurring if the temperature in the tank goes above 210 degrees or the pressure reaches 150 psi. (Normal house hot water is 120-140 degrees. Normal pressure is 50-60 psi.) We turned off the water, reset the valve and turned the water back on - it blew again. Again. Again. Again. We went to the store and got a new T&P valve and (because of my hunch) a pressure gauge.

We got home and hooked up the pressure gauge to the basement sink. We turn the water on and watched the psi on the gauge. 10 - 30 -50 -80 - 110 - 150! At that point the T&P valve blew. It wasn't broken, it was finally working. Our house had well over 3x the recommended water pressure for a house! No wonder we broke so many faucets. No wonder we had 3 hoses explode this summer. No wonder the toilet tank refills so fast.

One more trip to the hardware store for a new pressure regulator and our house is now "normal." We still have some work to do on the hot water, but our faucets don't leak anymore and the noise of water running through pipes doesn't fill the whole house. And I'm pretty sure our water bill won't be nearly as high as it was before.

Pressure is an fickle thing. The plumbing in your house requires it to work - that's how water that comes into the house downstairs winds up in the sink upstairs. Without pressure, we'd still be using wash basins. But pressure is also dangerous. It can burst hoses and cause faucets to leak.

In Genesis, Judah was Jacob's second oldest son. When the brothers rose up against Joseph, Judah was among them. It was Reuben who said, "Don't kill him... let's just throw him in this pit." Fast forward years and years - when Joseph in disguise has ordered the brothers to bring Benjamin to Egypt - Judah and Reuben both accept the pressure. Reuben says to Jacob that he will put his own sons up as collateral for Benjamin's life. Judah says that his life will be forfeit for Benjamin's. The pressure of being the oldest wasn't enough - they raise the stakes and pile on the pressure by including their own lives and that of Reuben's sons.

It would seem that this was a good thing to do. After all, look at the outcome - the family is reunited and they all live happily ever after. (Well, happily until a new Pharaoh comes around and they all become slaves.) But imagine what is going on in Reuben's mind when Joseph plays the trick with the silver cup. He plants it in Benjamin's bag. We don't hear a thing from Reuben. He's paralyzed with fear and dread. He's failed. He's given up the lives of his sons. Judah is the one who does all the talking. He's the one who stands up to Joseph. A little less pressure - a lot more result.

But neither of these guys is the hero of this story. That's Joseph. What pressure did Joseph have? He never puts his sons up as collateral. He never puts his own life on the line. He's not putting pressure on himself by looking for someone else's approval. He simply follows God and seeks his will. In the pit, in Potipher's house, in prison, in the palace. A whole lot less pressure, a whole lot more result.

Taking a shower at our house isn't so great anymore. We miss the pressure. We got used to it and thought we needed it. But, we still get clean, we don't have faucets breaking and there is a lot less chance of a catastrophe. A lot less pressure is tough to get used to, but that's how things were designed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pooped On

There's no easy way to say it. I got pooped on this morning.

We had yet another bird in our attic. (Guess what I'll be doing this weekend...) This one was a little different than some of the others. He was very persistent in trying to get out of the windows. Maybe this is because outside actually looks like outside through the new windows, but he wasn't giving up.

I entered the attic and opened the window closest to the door. My entrance spooked him away from that window and he fled to the another one. So, I went deeper into the attic, closer to the other window, in order to try to herd the bird to the open window. No dice. He just tried harder to get out the window I was headed towards. I saw this wasn't go to go smoothly, so I just went to open the window he was banging against.

As I reached for the window catches, he finally flew over my left shoulder and out the other window - leaving a present on my left arm as he went. Well, at least I had already taken a shower.

It's hard to blame the bird. He was trapped, he was scared, he was frustrated, he did mean to poop on me - right? Right?

What if we weren't talking about birds? What if we were talking about people? Because, plenty of people poop on us too. The driver who cuts you off, or doesn't hug the line when making a left turn so you can't get around or doesn't use their turn signal. The shopper who leaves their cart in the middle of the only open parking space. The weightlifter who leaves the weights on the bar and their sweat on the bench. If we think about it, we've all been pooped on in one way or another.

This morning I changed my shirt, washed off my arm and moved on. I hope it doesn't happen again, but in some form or another it probably will. That's life. That's the broken world we live in and the sinful flesh we're encased in. The problems really start when we let these little things build and get out of control. That's when our heads get filled with lies (or poop, if you will) and we start to be the ones who poop on others.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I hate Wii Fit

I got my wife a Wii Fit for Christmas. She loves it. I hate it.

Basically it is a jerk. The thing is rude. Maybe it knows how I feel about it, and that is why it treats me the way it does. I don't know. Every time I step on the thing it tells me I'm obese. Now, granted, I know I can lose a couple pounds, but obese? C'mon now. It decides that I'm obese because it thinks that at my height (6' 2") I should weigh 185 lbs. I haven't weighed that much since I was a Jr. in high school. All I wanted to do at that point was gain weight. It doesn't seem to understand that there is more to obesity than your height to weight ratio.

I hate the treadmill too, but not as much. It waits for me in the morning - its little lights glowing green and yellow and orange. It taunts me with all the flashing and blinking, trying to make me believe that it is fun in some way. It isn't. It is the modern day equivalent of the old stretching machine torture device. It pushes my body to its utter limits, trying to break me - but I can watch TV while it happens! At least I get to sweat all over it with reckless abandon.

So, why does the Fit rank above the treadmill on my hate list? It measures the wrong thing. I connect my phone to the treadmill and it records my workouts. When I get home I can upload the workouts to Nike+ and it tells me what I've done. It keeps track of how faithful I've been in my runs. The Fit just tells me if I'm fat or not. It's all about success; according to the Fit I'm a long way from success. (But that doesn't stop it from telling me each time that I've failed.)

Way too often we look at God more like the Fit than the treadmill. (Bet you've never heard that one before.) We think that God wants success, that he wants us to win, to conquer and to triumph. He doesn't. (He's the winner, the conqueror and the triumpher, not us.)

In Matthew 25 we find the parable of the talents. The highest praise the master gives is "Well done my good and faithful servant." He never says, "You've won" or "You succeeded" or "You raised more money than the other guy" or "You could've done better". He says, "You were faithful."

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit." So what is that fruit? "But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Notice anything missing? "Success" is not a fruit of the spirit. Yet I try to make it one.

So does the Wii Fit - and that's why I hate it so much.