Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankful for Lessons LIke This


What am I thankful for?  Lessons like this one.

A few years ago, I was on a mission trip to Mexico with a group of affluent teenagers from the Dallas area.  When we arrived in the village where we were building houses for families, one of our kids said, "These people have nothing.  I am such a spoiled brat!"  She later expressed to me how thankful she was for all she had back home.  

She was beginning to learn something.  The stuff we call "a blessing" is often nothing more than just stuff.  She was about to discover that while stuff is neither good nor bad, the value we place in it, is. 

By the end of the trip, she came to me with an entirely different attitude.  She told me that she no longer felt thankful for all that she had back home.  Her precise words expressing how she felt about all she had? "I am disgusted by it!"  

The veil had been lifted for her.  And through her words, it was lifted for me as well.  This 17 year old girl teaching her pastor a lesson of inestimable value. For lessons like this, let us be truly thankful.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Die is to Gain

Every time I grow in my understanding of the way of Jesus, I first have to leave behind some limited, corrupt or misguided idea about my faith.  So for me to grow, something about what I believe must first die.  Could it be that some of my doubts and uncertainties about my faith are not the attacks of the enemy, but are instead Spirit-led works of grace trying to prepare me for the wonderful experience of new growth?!  Mt 10:34-39  For some reason, this passage  inspired this post.  You can make your own connections.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stories for Lausanne III Congress

Tears and Truth: Lausanne III

All this week I’ve been at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism in Cape Town, South Africa. More than 4,000 Christian leaders from 197 countries have come together here to confront the critical issues of our time as they relate to the future of the Church and world evangelism.

Richard Stearns speaks at the Lausanne Congress.
I have wept more than once this week. Tears ran down my face as I listened to Libby Little passionately tell the story of her husband, Tom Little, the medical missionary brutally killed in Afghanistan in August. She said that his death provided the fragrance of Christ to those who killed him.

Read More

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rarity That Shouldn't Be

Some things happen rarely.  Depending on what it is, that can be good or bad.  Today, one of those good things happened that really should not be so rare, but for me, it is.

I was feeling just a bit beat up by the day - conflict and drama in abundance, some bad news about the tragic death of a good man I knew, two sick children, and not enough hours in the day to get everything off my tasks list. 

But as I hung up the phone from a call that drained me a bit, I saw that I had missed a call from an old friend.  I then had the kind of thought that is very rare for me.  My thought was, "God, I know you told Scott to call me."  I hit the call back button and Scott answered and asked, "What's up?"  I said, "I'm just calling you back."  Then he said, "I know.  I was calling you because the Holy Spirit just spoke to me and told me to call you."  I smiled.

My confession is that when I hear others talk like this, I get somewhat uncomfortable.  Little alarms go off in my head when I am around people who are  always "hearing from God" about this or that.  Maybe I've had a few too many experiences with people who were sure they had heard from God on things they clearly had not, as demonstrated by time and their lack of accuracy.

But this friend is different.  He hears from God all the time for one reason only.  He listens attentively.  Today, I am glad he did.  Just his phone call encouraged me and he offered to pray for me as well.  May Scott's practice of attentively listening to the voice of God become mine as well.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lie to Me, Please!

Crazies on the left want to believe that Bush lied about 9/11.  Now a growing number on the right want to believe that Obama is not telling the truth about being a Muslim.  What is this obsessive need to believe we are being lied to?

From ABC News blog . .

Growing Number of Americans Falsely Believe President Obama is Muslim

August 19, 2010 8:11 AM

A new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that the number of Americans who erroneously believe President Obama is a Muslim is growing.

In March 2009, the percentage was 11 percent. Today, it's 18 percent.

The percentage of those asserting that the president is a Christian -- which he is -- has gone down in that time, from 48% in March 2009 to 34% today.

A plurality of Americans -- 43% -- say they don't know what religion the president is.

Read More

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Obama Considers Fatwa . . . Funny

From . .  .

ScrappleFace: News Fairly Unbalanced. We Report. You Decipher

Obama Mulls Fatwa Against 24% Who Think He’s Muslim

(2010-08-19) — The White House today refused to comment on reports that President Barack Obama has considered seeking a fatwa — a kind of religious ruling — against the 24 percent of Americans who incorrectly think he’s a Muslim. However, the president did clarify that a fatwa, despite popular misconception, does not necessarily involve a death sentence.


Read More

Who Gives More? Rich or Poor?

The rich are different from you and me

They are more selfish

LIFE at the bottom is nasty, brutish and short. For this reason, heartless folk might assume that people in the lower social classes will be more self-interested and less inclined to consider the welfare of others than upper-class individuals, who can afford a certain noblesse oblige. A recent study, however, challenges this idea. Experiments by Paul Piff and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, reported this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest precisely the opposite. It is the poor, not the rich, who are inclined to charity.

Read more here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don Henley, the Prophet of Pop says, "How Can Love Survive in Such a Graceless Age?"

Have you ever wondered why it is so much easier to receive grace than to extend it?  I heard Ed Dobson speak recently saying the hardest part of living like Jesus for a full year was blessing and praying for those who persecute you.  I've never been persecuted, not really.  But even the opposition or criticism I do face, although quite mild, pushes me toward becoming a graceless person.  It is so insidious!
 

What happens is, I get tempted to use all kinds of religious language to make me feel better about myself, casting myself as the poor, unfortunate, righteous victim of the evil attacks of the devil and his minions - or something like that.  Whether I am right or not is beside the point now.  The truth is I am hurting, and the only thing I can think to do is hurt back.  Which of course makes me at least as bad as those who oppose, or persecute or criticize me.  And my soul begins to decay.

I want grace for myself, but not for those who oppose me.  They don't deserve it.  I do.  Never mind that this attitude reflects a lack of understanding of even the definition of grace.  I want what I want.


But until I begin responding like Jesus, and praying for and blessing, loving, reaching out to and forgiving those who curse me or persecute me, all of my responses only serve to dig a deeper hole for myself.  And if I do not respond like Jesus, one day not too long from now, I may find that I have dug the grave for my ability to truly, selflessly, unconditionally love anyone at all.  My love would always thereafter come with strings attached, which of course is not really love. 
  

So here's "The Heart of The Matter."  I ache when I go through conflict.  But my prayer is not so much to be delivered from it (although that would be wonderful!), but to be able to use it as an opportunity, by God's strength working through my weakness, to refine my ability to become a grace-filled person who lives and loves as Jesus did.  It's so hard, and so worth it.



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why God is No Longer Top Priority

Let me start off by saying, I don't like the idea of God being my number one priority in life. In fact, God should not be a priority at all, as far as I'm concerned. I say this with strong conviction and without shame. I have said this publicly for years in spite of the fact that most audiences to whom I speak it believe strongly that God is, and always should be their number one priority. I pray my children come to understand this. God is not a priority. Anyone believing such nonsense should abandon their faith immediately. 

You see, if God is my number one priority, what is number two or three? What are numbers four through fifty? And when I am working on, and giving full attention to, say, priority number twelve, where is God then? Does God just take a back seat? Is God just another one of many competing priorities to be clumped together and sorted alongside others of my life's priorities?

There they all are - my family, my short iron game, reading, Dallas Cowboys football, my kid's swimming lessons, Qdoba burritos, ESPN and God. Really?

No!  God is not a priority in life!

God -------------------- is -------------------- life!

With God as our top priority, we can remain ceremonially Christian. We go to church, give some money (slightly less per year on average than we spend on dining out), offer some prayers, host a small group, do an annual service project and attend a Bible seminar.

This mask hides our inactivity when it comes to caring for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. It provides the cover we need to ignore our call to win the lost and set the oppressed free. We simply point to our religious activity. We tithe mint and dill and cumin, but ignore more important matters of justice and mercy and compassion. We strain a gnat and swallow a camel. Because we strain the gnat, we claim God as our top priority.

But without the God priority, we are exposed. If God is life - all of life - then God's priorities must become ours. This means that the time, money and energy spent on other pursuits has to be prioritized alongside caring for the poor, investing in the under-resourced, visiting those in prison, standing with the oppressed, caring for the sick and reaching out to the spiritually lost or confused.

Now, church is no longer a cover allowing me to make my short iron game a top five priority. Now, God's priorities must become mine. This is how I must live. This is the life I must teach to and model for my kids. I have been caught. There is no escape, Praise God! I am free!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Resurrection

During Holy Week, I posted a comment about the significance and veracity of the resurrection of Jesus - the central claim defining Christianity.  A couple of my friends - wonderful people, both - challenged my post with the same counter claim that the body of Jesus was most likely stolen by his disciples, and by implication, there was no physical resurrection at all.

This is not news to anyone who has studied the resurrection, even in a cursory way.  Scripture even acknowledges this counter claim (Mt 28:12-15).  So does this rumor of body snatching mean the resurrection is less likely to have occurred?  Not at all.  The folks of Jesus' day were not stupid.  They knew people did not rise from the dead.  So of course there would have been such rumors when the story of the resurrection began circulating.  If there were no rumors of this kind, I would think it more likely that the resurrection was a fairy tale. But the truth is, such rumors would have arisen whether the resurrection was true or a fabricated myth.  So the existence of the rumors adds nothing to the conversation other than to tell us that these stories actually did begin circulating after Jesus' death.

I also find it odd that the body snatcher theory is still in use.  If Jesus had not been raised, most scholars argue it is more likely that he was buried in a mass grave with other executed criminals than in a private tomb.

My intent is not to argue the truth of the resurrection.  The evidence for it is substantial enough to stand on its own, even if those desiring more left-brain satisfaction are not willing or able to make that leap of faith.  You believe what you believe.  My intent is to give those of us who trust in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus as an historical event a reason not to be concerned about the challenge of the rumors of a stolen body.  Rumors could mean the body was stolen, or they could mean that people responded exactly as you would expect had Jesus actually risen as the Scriptures attest.  Given the witness of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, our faith in the orthodox view is still on very solid ground.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why Evidence is Never Enough

Acts 1 says;

"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

This passage paints a picture of the crossroads at which most of us live.  I know I do.  The disciples had experienced "many convincing proofs" of the resurrection of Jesus.  They had all the evidence they needed to be certain he had risen and was, in fact alive.  But it was not enough for them, and Jesus knew it.  I am like that a lot.

First I have the evidence of Scripture.  In spite of the challenges it has faced over the years and the often intellectually vacuous arguments made against its authenticity, the Bible stands as more authentic than the writings of Plato, Aristotle and the history of Julius Caesar. 

On top of that is the evidence from personal experience.  The veracity of Scripture has been proven to me over and over as I have pursued a life that is informed and guided by the heart of God as revealed in the words of the Old and New Testaments.  But as psychologists know, evidence never convinces anyone.

All people know it is best to eat right, wear our seat belts, work hard, be generous, let go of pride, and stop imagining that Jerry Jones can take the Cowboys to the Super Bowl again..  But we have such trouble doing it even when the evidence is right in front of us daily.  And Jesus knew that.  So in verse 4 of Acts 1, he says "wait."  He asks all of these people who have all of the evidence they will ever need to wait for something more. 

This is what is so cool about the Christian faith.  It gets how human beings really are.   It's almost like the God of our faith made us himself.  He knows we humans need more than evidence.  So what does this God do?  He comes to us as the person of the Holy Spirit and immerses us in his presence and power so that we can live with the kind of conviction, commitment and purpose in our lives that evidence alone could never inspire. 

On any particular day, I may find the evidence available to me about my faith quite compelling.  Other days I may have some real and serious doubts.  The truth is, I have doubts about almost everything in life to which I make commitments.  I commit to adventures and struggles and relationships about which I may have little evidence or serious doubts all the time.

In the area of faith, however, that ability to trust seems to be more of a challenge for some of us.  So every day, the Holy Spirit is there to fill my life and baptize me with the power to live with a reckless love and an unstoppable passion for the people and world that God loves so  much. 

This is the crossroads of evidence and faith.  Evidence, or lack of evidence may make you believe one thing or another.  But ultimately, faith is inspired by something more than evidence alone.  May you be immersed in the Spirit that inspires great faith.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An Apology to My Unbelieving Friends

There has been a lot of talk over the past couple of days about comments made by well-known Christian personality, Pat Robertson regarding what he sees as the reason Haiti was hit by such a devastating earthquake. I do not intend to respond to those comments in particular. Donald Miller has already done that about as well as anyone I know of.

What I do want to say is a word to my unbelieving friends about the larger pattern of comments and attitudes expressed by many Christians over the years that contain the same kind of ignorance, brokenness and sometimes, hatred and fear. Actually, I want to say two words. I'm sorry.

On behalf of followers of Jesus everywhere, I really am sorry for the kinds of words and attitudes you may have encountered from people who say they are followers of Jesus, and for the way they have represented God. I meet people every week who have such a negative attitude toward the church and people of faith because somewhere along the way, they have encountered religious people who have responded to them in anything but a Christ-like manner.

So if you have been met by persons who because they were Christians thought they were better than you, or of more value than you, or more loved by God than you, I'm sorry. I know that happens. It should not. And I am so sorry.

I think what happens sometimes is that a lot of really broken people who are desperate to find something to bring order to their lives embrace the idea of the Christian faith. But instead of being transformed by his love and grace and becoming people who live as Jesus lived, they use their faith as a way to control their lives and the lives of those around them, as Miller suggests in his response.

But this is not the way of Jesus.

Some of you may think that religion is the thing that makes people that way. All I can say is that there are far too many examples of Christ-followers who are made more loving, compassionate, open-handed and grace-filled as a result of following Jesus than such a claim would allow. And I would offer this challenge. If all religions including Christianity, went away tonight, do you think humans would stop judging, killing, stealing from, be jealous of, abusing, oppressing or manipulating each other?

Humans are what we are, regardless of the religions or philosophies we embrace. My personal experience of Christianity is that it exposes the darkness in my heart, brings me to the point of repentance, and then empowers me to change and become more like the one I follow, although very imperfectly so far.

So let me add my voice to those who say Pat Robertson does not speak for all, and really not even most Christians. And please know that I, and the vast majority of those who follow Jesus, believe you are valued and loved by God as much as anyone on earth. Grace and peace to you.