LakePoint blogs

From 2008-2010 I planted LakePoint Fellowship in Lehi, UT. During that time I blogged regularly. Here is the blog from that period.

2010  

on a trip to the museum

A few months ago, the whole family was at an art gallery. We walked through and saw DaVinci’s designs and sculptures. Many of the greats were represented: Rembrandt, Picasso, and Van Gogh.
Then it happened. My nine-year old Emma daughter touched one of the paintings. Immediately a man walked toward her and firmly told her not to touch the paintings. My wife and I were mortified. We thought we had taught her better museum manners.
After I got over my embarrassment and talked to my daughter about why it was important not to touch the paintings, I couldn’t help but smile. I have to admit that more than once I have stood in front of a Van Gogh and wondered how it felt. The paint is so thick on the canvass it is almost asking the viewer to touch it.
So, I asked Emma, “How did it feel?”
“It was rough.”
I shook my head.
Emma did not want to merely view the pictures, she wanted to interact with them. Yes, the museum was the wrong place for touching. But, she has the right idea.
In fact, I asked her what she thought of the museum and she said her favorite part was an interactive kids section where she could make art herself. She said looking at all the paintings got boring because she wanted to do it, not just look at it.
Too often, we become passive observers. We are watching what other people are doing and standing in awe of it instead of interacting with it. We ought to interact with life, not just watch it go by. Sometimes you have to touch the art.

Metaphorically that is.

 religionless Christianity?

Just finished Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas) and I am more intrigued by Bonhoeffer’s idea of “religionless Christianity” than I was before I read the book.
Two points stuck out. They make the idea of a religionless Christianity make sense. Bonhoeffer was deeply disappointed on two occasions.
First, Bonhoeffer came to New York twice. Both times he was deeply troubled by Union Seminary and Riverside Church. Both had left the Bible behind and he had harsh words for their Christless constructs. It disheartened him to see theology abandoned.
But, the bigger problem Bonhoeffer had was with the German Church. Many German Christians rolled over and joined the Nazis. The resistance Bonhoeffer helped organize was not nearly as strong as Bonhoeffer would have liked. In the end, he was on his own.
Bonhoeffer was man who felt disconnected from the organized church. The only church he felt at home in was the community he formed when he led an underground seminary shortly before he was arrested. Otherwise, the church disappointed.
I fear there are a great many people in our day that feel the same way. They love Christ, but the church is a colossal disappointment. They try to connect, but they do not find what they are looking for. They are aliens when they should be family.
I’m not a church basher. I know it not is fashionable these days, but I actually love the church. But, in this one way I am very disappointed: We steamroll a good many people and we just keep going. Many times we do not even know we have run anyone over. I’ve met too many people who have been run over by the church. With a kind of hollow sadness, they tell me what happened to them. They are not bitter, they are sad.
Whenever a church becomes focused on its own movement, the people become secondary. It was true in the time of Bonhoeffer as churches tried to grab political power and left truth and morality as second-class citizens. It is true today, as churches obsess over their own empires.
I love the church. I will never leave it. The Bible says Christ died for the church. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other organization.
But sometimes, I must confess, I understand a desire for a religionless Christianity.

 what a waste

This week certain United States Senators released the 100 worst stimulus projects. Stimulus money is given to certain projects in order to stimulate the economy and help us recover from the recession. The problem is that some of it is being wasted on ridiculous projects that will not do any long-term good. Among the 100 worst projects:

$554,763. New windows for a closed visitor’s center near Mt. St. Helens in Washington. The center has been closed for years and there is no timetable for reopening. In fact, they do not even know what to do with the building.
$1 Million. California Academy of Sciences to study exotic ants around the Southwest Indian Ocean and East Africa.

This report comes just after last week’s revelation that $9 Billion dollars is unaccounted for in Iraq. Yes, BILLION. And when I say it is unaccounted for, I do not mean it was wasted, I mean they do not know what happened to it.

I shake my head. I wonder how we can exist with so much incompetence. What a waste.

And that is the easy thing to do. It is easy for me to point my finger outward and talk of the failures of others.
But what about us? If an audit was done on our lives and it came to light how we spent our money.
There’s the $5 Mocha at Starbucks. Yes, I have a perfectly good espresso machine at home that will make the same drink for less than half of the $5, yet there I am in line.
There’s the $15 shirt I bought and wore once.
I once bought a $20.00 concert ticket and then did not go to the concert.
When I was 20 years old, I bought a new car at 10% interest. (Biggest financial mistake I’ve ever made.)

My point is that the audit of my life reveals a lot of waste. I would be willing to bet that your life would reveal a lot of waste as well.
Instead of pointing fingers, maybe would be better to look at our own waste. Should the politicians be accountable? Absolutely. But, I shouldn’t let myself off the hook either.

 explaining away the truth

The poet T.S. Eliot once said, “Man cannot bear very much reality.” I have found this to be more true than I would like to admit. We are constantly spinning reality to fit our own preferences. When reality tries to force its way in, we do our best to find a reason to dismiss it.

One of the great moments in the third chapter of Lewis’ Abolition of Man comes at the end of the third chapter. He confronts those who seek to explain away certain positions. He says that eventually we have to come to truth. Lewis says:
“You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it…If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”
There are people who are always looking for an angle. They aren’t looking for the truth, they are looking for the angle to dismiss the truth. They think that once they see through an idea and find its “real” issue, that they can reject the idea altogether.
Paul called such people those who are always learning but never coming to an understanding of the truth.
Eventually, we have to face the truth. We can dodge, justify, and explain away as much as we can, but the truth remains. The truth about who we are. The truth about who we ought to be. These are not truths we can bend to our liking. All the science, psychology, and sociology do not explain away the fact that we are not who we ought to be.
The sooner we face reality and quit trying to explain away our behavior, the better we will all be.

 anything you want to be

In her book Generation Me, Jean Twenge tells the story of a class lecture at the University of Kansas. During the lecture, the large professor introduced the class to the idea that jobs and social status had a lot to do with background and unchangeable characteristics. The class simply would not believe it.
“You can be anything you want to be,” they said.
Without any embarrassment as to her size, she asked the class, “You mean to tell me I could be a ballerina?”
“If you really wanted to,” they replied.

One of the great mantras of my generation is: “You can be anything you want to be.” I remember teaching an 8th grade class a few years back. I told them they could not be whatever they wanted to be. They looked at me like I had just shot their dog. Then they argued with me.
I’m not sure why we keep repeating the phrase, but it will not die. Maybe it is because we want to believe it. And we want other people to believe it as well.
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. I was one of the better players at my elementary school, so the dream was alive. But, once I got into junior high, some realities began to raise their ugly heads. I was not tall enough, fast enough, or athletic enough to even compete with my peers. I was an average player that could not jump and had chronic foot and back problems.
I tried out for basketball my Junior year, but I got sick the second day of try outs and that was that.
Sometimes it does not matter how much you want it or how much you try – it simply is not going to happen.
Do we really want kids to walk around with the belief they can be anything they want to be? Doesn’t this set them up for a tremendous amount of disappointment?
I’ve had kids tell me what they want to be:
President of the United States
Actress
Singer
Model
Writer
Basketball player

Sheer numbers reveal the reality: It is not going to happen.

Telling people they can be anything they want to be does not just breed disappointment. What if what they want to be something God does not want them to believe? What if what they want to be will turn them into a rotten self-centered person? What if they want to be something that is immoral?

The answer is not bloating people up with the false notion that they can be anything they want to be. They can’t.

They answer is found in telling our young people, and ourselves, that we can be what God wants us to be. That does not mean God wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and famous. God may be best served if we are struggling through life without ever getting where we want to go.
But, God has always called His people to faithfulness, with or without success.

 moving forward

It does not matter how far we get, Christ calls us further. It does not matter if we surpass others in our journey to transformation, Christ calls us forward. We cannot be satisfied with going a certain distance and telling ourselves we have changed enough for now.

In her masterpiece To The Lighthouse, novelist Virginia Woolf wrote of the difficulties facing the Ramsey family. The novel portrays each of the family member’s frustration because they are stuck, they are trapped, they never became what they wanted to become. One particular example of this frustration is found in the husband Mr. Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey is frustrated because he wrote a great book of philosophy early in his life and then could not ever do any work that was as good as the first book. In the novel Virginia Woolf, explains his frustration like this:

For if thought is like a keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is arranged in 26 letters all in order, then his splended mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q. He reached Q…but after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it would be something.

Some know that frustration. Some know the frustration of being stuck on Q. Spiritually some are stuck on Q. Some come only so far and, for one reason or another, they don’t seem to be able to move forward. Some are stuck on the ABCs. They should be further, but they are not. We all are somewhere on the journey. We cannot let ourselves get stuck. We must take the challenge to continue our journey by dedicating ourselves to move forward in our Christian life. We must commit ourselves to Christ and His teachings as we seek to change everything.

 professional fakes

In his book The Christian Atheist, pastor Chris Groeschel admits there was a time when he was a great pastor and a terrible Christian. It is all too easy to fake Christianity in the pursuit of success as a professional. Even in ministry. Especially in ministry.

I have met, and continue to meet, a steady stream of “professional” ministers. They are great at what they do, but they are terrible people. They backstab, they lie, they manipulate, they throw anyone who gets in their way under the proverbial bus. All in the name of Christ.

The thing is, they do not even realize they are doing it. It becomes part of the dark underbelly of ministry. And I swore I would not get myself into such a false faith. I swore I would not be like that.

Then one day I tried to be like that. I made a conscious decision to do something I hated in the name of ease. I was helping administrate a private Christian school. We were considering hiring a teacher, but ultimately decided not to hire this particular person. No one wanted to make the call to let the person know of our decision. So, the lot fell to me.

I decided to go with the ridiculous phrase: “We think God is leading us in a different direction.” The phrase itself is not ridiculous, but the way so many Christian professionals use it is ridiculous. The way I was going to use it was ridiculous. Quite frankly, we owed this person a better explanation, but I was too cowardly.

So, I decided the great catch all would work: “God is leading us in a different direction.” It sounded so easy. I wouldn’t have to explain anything.

I made the call and dropped the line. “We decided God is leading us in a different direction.”

But then the unexpected happened. This person said, “What does that even mean?”
Oh No! I was suddenly caught in my own cowardly idiocy. What does that even mean? What was I saying? I fumbled around (I sure I sounded like the idiot I was.) Finally, I told the truth. I explained why we came to the decision we did. I actually had a real conversation with a person who deserved a real conversation all along.

Thank God. Thank God that a person who was fed a line of garbage called me out. It was embarrassing. But, God accomplished something that day. It was as if he said, “I thought you were going to be like that.”

I don’t want to be a professional pastor. I want to be a godly person who helps lead others down that path. And may God call me out each time I try to play the game of professional pastor.

 stared down by a mountain goat

I was hiking in the Lake Mountains the other day, when I rounded a corner and came within about 50 feet of a mountain goat. We stared at each other for a moment. At first, I thought it was great. I got out my phone, took a couple of pictures, and enjoyed the opportunity to view wildlife.
But, it kept staring at me.
At first, I was amused. Perhaps it was as fascinated with me as I was with it.
But, it kept staring at me.
And the stare became somewhat unnerving. I actually walked to the other side of the road in order to put a little distance between myself and the beast. If it charged me, at least I would have a little room to work.
And it stared.
So, I began to descend from the mountain, hoping it would carry on with its business.
Still, it stared.
I found myself turning around every few feet just to make sure it was not coming for me. I made sure that I knew where I would run if it charged me. I began seeing my life in terms of making it to the next tree. I’m not a paranoid person, but this goat was telling me I did not belong on the mountain.
Even when I was hundreds of feet from the goat, it stared at me. It was actually twisting its head so far around to look at me that it looked painful.
Turns out these goats are rather territorial. They do not like people in their area. They have been known to get aggressive when they feel their space is invaded.
So, I didn’t feel welcome on the mountain that day. I was stared down by a goat.
Not all goats live in the mountains. Some goats live in the neighborhood, or at work, or even in the church. People can get territorial. They don’t want anyone else on their “mountain.” They let you know subtly that they don’t want you around. They stare you down until you get uncomfortable and leave.
Sometimes I am afraid that churches have too many goats guarding their territory instead of welcoming others in. They are more afraid of what they might lose rather than on what they might gain. That is too bad, because there is enough room for everyone.

 a michael jordan parent or a david robinson parent?

The 2009 NBA Hall of Fame induction ceremony revealed two distinct ways of parenting.

Michael Jordan, the great Chicago Bull, stood at the podium and attacked everyone who ever slighted him. The slights did not even have to be real for him to go on the attack. And, when he actually mentioned his children, who were sitting in the audience, he told them he would hate to be them. He felt sorry for them because they had to live under the shadow of his greatness. The speech was so petty and self-centered one sports columnist from Chicago said, “I miss Jordan the hero; I don’t want to know Jordan the man.”

David Robinson, the great San Antonio Spur, stood and thanked everyone who made him who he was. He closed his speech with the parable of the 10 lepers in Luke. 9 lepers did not bother to turn and say thank you. He did not want to be like the 9, so he took a moment before all to say thanks to God. He took a moment to recognize his children as well. He said he hoped he had set an example for his children. He said he hoped a high standard had been set, a standard that they would seek to live up to. It was obvious Robinson’s great desire was to see his children follow in the legacy of greatness that comes from living the right way.

I think the two speeches were two ways of parenting. Some people are so caught up in themselves that they never take the time to take their children on the journey with them. They are so busy carving out a life for themselves that they don’t bother to include their children. Other parents do all they can to take their children with them on the journey. Their greatest concern is to pass on greatness. Your own greatness lasts one generation. Your family’s greatness keeps on going long after you have passed into memory.

 o.j. simpson and heroes

16 Years ago today, one of the most bizarre events in the history of American crime unfolded before the eyes of the watching nation. It began with negotiations between police and lawyers. The accused murderer would turn himself in that morning. He never showed. And then no one knew where he was. The accused wrote a suicide note, which was read to the world by his lawyer. It ended with a slow speed chase on the freeways of Los Angeles. The accused had a gun to his head as he drove around the streets of LA, but surrendered to police that evening. O.J. Simpson was charged with double murder.
At the time, I worked in a warehouse that manufactured house windows. One of the guys I worked with was from Buffalo, New York. His name was Ed and he always told me he grew up with two heroes: His father and O.J. Simpson. Simpson played for the Buffalo Bills and has the best player on the team during Ed’s childhood. He said he had a big poster in his room growing up. His family had season tickets.
By the end of the whole circus, Ed had one hero left. There were times he would try to mount a case for Simpson’s innocence. For a few days he even walked around saying, “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit.” But, he knew. And he tried to pretend like it didn’t matter, but it did.
I guess big stars never can live up to the hype. But, what about fathers? As we approach father’s day, it is important to realize that parents play the role of hero every day. And if we as parents fail to live up to the role of hero in our children’s lives, where else can they turn? Everyone else will let them down.

 what is your legacy?

Recently, one of the best coaches in the history of basketball died at the age of 99. Coach John Wooden led the UCLA Bruins to a college basketball dynasty that has never been equaled in major college sports. He won 620 games, including an amazing 88 in a row, 10 NCAA titles, including an amazing 7 in a row.
Despite all of his accomplishments on the court, Wooden’s influence on his players is his lasting legacy. Players said he was more of a father than a coach. In fact, when Bill Walton became a father, he used to write Coach Wooden quotes on his children’s lunch bags just so they could receive the same instruction Walton had received.
Wooden was one of the few coaches who really did believe his role was to shape men, not just win games. He developed a list of sayings that he became famous for and these sayings reflect what he tried to instill in the young men he coached. Some of his quotes include:

Never mistake activity for achievement. (My personal favorite.)
Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.

I guess my question is what will you be remembered for? What shape are you giving to the people around you? What sayings are you passing on?

 oil spills

This week, the oil leak in the gulf became the largest oil disaster in the history of the United States. Current estimates have the amount of oil between 250,000 and 500,000 barrels of oil. There are 42 gallons of oil in a barrel so somewhere around 21,000,000 gallons of oil have flowed into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. A tragedy by any stretch of the imagination. We want BP to pay for what they have done and I am sure they will.

We tend to be more lenient on ourselves. In fact, you may not know that average Americans dump far more oil into the environment every year. The EPA estimates Americans annually dump 193 million gallons of motor oil in storm drains and trash cans around the country.

We often look at sin the same way. When someone commits a “BP” sin, we shake our heads in disbelief. But we quickly forget to see the sum total of all our “little” sins. Yet, denial of sin only serves to protect, preserve, and perpetuate that sin.
If I live in illusions, sin only grows uglier, larger, and more powerful in me. Yet, how often do we still attempt to hide the sin so no one can see. Instead of taking out the trash we allow it to pile up, all the while we light candles and fill the room with perfume, hoping no one will notice that smell.

The next time you are ready to shake your head in disbelief at someone else’s failure, ask yourself if you might be guilty as well. Ask yourself if you are giving yourself a pass.
Too often, when I’m ready to condemn and I look inside of myself, I find the very sin I am looking to condemn. It’s just smaller and more easily hidden.

 risk and opportunities missed

In November 2006, rumors had Memphis Grizzlies center Pau Gasol headed to the Boston Celtics or the Chicago Bulls in a trade.
In January 2007, Gasol asked to be traded. The most likely team to trade for Gasol? The Chicago Bulls. Despite all of the rumors, Chicago never made an offer. In 2007, one columnist wrote “there’s uncertainty on Chicago’s part over whether getting Gasol will make them a better team.”
On February 1, 2008, Pau Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for an expiring contract and a couple of minor players. The Lakers never looked back. Since Gasol joined the team, the Lakers have gone to the NBA finals in 2008 and 2009. They are on track to go again this year.
Other NBA teams complained about the trade. How could the Lakers get such a great talent for next to nothing? Some even thought the NBA should look into the trade and see how it could have happened.
Chris Wallace, the Memphis Grizzlies General Manager, said that they spoke to several teams about trading Gasol. The Lakers offer was the best offer they received. Now, whether that was true or not remains in question, but the truth is other teams had plenty of opportunities to acquire Gasol for years before the Lakers slipped in and closed the deal.
The bottom line was that many teams were not sure Gasol would be worth a trade. They were hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal.
And they missed a great opportunity.
My thought is this – it is easy to miss opportunities. It is easy to look at reasons to maintain the status quo rather than step out and take a chance. The more we play it safe, the greater the regret later.

 on friendship

In July 2002, 9 miners were trapped in the Quecreek mine in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The miners accidently breached the wall separating their mine and an old abandoned mine that happened to be full of water. They managed to survive in an air pocket, but they were trapped in 55 degree water for 77 hours.
Though they wondered if they would make it out alive, and at one point they all wrote goodbye letters to family, all of them managed to survive. How did they survive the 77 hour ordeal? They decided they would live or die as a group. One man would get cold and all the others would come and huddle around him to keep him warm. But more than the physical, there was also the psychological pressure the men faced. So, not only did they help each other out physically, but psychologically as well. Harry Mayhugh, one of the miners said “Everybody had strong moments, but any certain time one guy got down, and then the rest pulled together. And then that guy would get back up and someone else would feel a little weaker, but it was a team effort.”
The Scriptures speak of that kind of team effort in order to make it through life. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is one of the great passages on relating to one another. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift of his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Though we are more connected than ever before, though we are more accessible than ever before, though we are closer together than ever before, it seems we are also more isolated than ever. Studies in America show that 25% of people do not have a single close friend. Not one. When asked the question: ‘Who knows the real you?’ 50% answered ‘Nobody.’

Our faith is not meant to be lived in isolation. Christ always calls us in the context of a community of people. In Christianity, two is better than one.

 on insanity As I have mentioned before, I am a word geek. I think words matter. The way we define words matter. Albert Einstein once defined insanity this way: “Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” People have picked up that definition and it has become a mantra for our times.
I hear that definition repeated again and again and each time I cringe.
Do we really believe repeated action that expects different results is crazy?
When we repeatedly go to the gym expecting different results, are we crazy?
When we tell our children to stop a certain behavior time and time again, expecting different results, are we crazy?
When we read the Bible and pray over the same issue again and again, expecting different results, is that crazy?

I know we throw words around like they don’t mean anything, but the truth is, words matter. The concepts we place on words matter. Those concepts form our principles and our principles become our worldview.
In Einstein’s world, it is crazy to do the same thing again and again and expect different results. He was a scientist, so it works for his field of study. The broader application to all of life is a disaster.
Can you imagine living life according to that definition? You never would have learned to walk or talk or eat. You never would have learned to love. You never would have learned to relate to others.
So, you might have been “sane” but you always would have been a quitter. Because a quitter is someone who tries something once, fails, and then does not want to be crazy, so they stop what they were attempting.

 on dwarfs 3

Brian Griffiths a Goldman Sachs VP said, “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest.” So, loving others, really means I ought to love myself. And what is the best way to love myself – take as much as possible.
Is there a limit to how much Goldman Sachs employees should receive as compensation for ripping off clients? CEO of Goldman Sachs said, “I don’t want people in this firm to think that they have accomplished as much for themselves as they can and go on vacation. As the guardian of the interests of the shareholders and, by the way, for the purposes of society, I’d like them to continue to do what they are doing. I don’t want to put a cap on their ambition. It’s hard for me to argue for a cap on their compensation.”
“We’re very important. We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

Then he grinned and said, “We are doing God’s work.”
And finally, in the past few days, Warren Buffet spoke up and said Goldman Sachs did not do anything wrong. I take that with a grain of salt because Buffet has billions invested in Goldman.

In this series of posts I have compared Goldman Sachs to the dwarfs of The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Several times in the book, the dwarfs repeat, “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs.” There is a passage in the book that best describes the cluelessness of greed:
Soon every dwarf began suspecting that every other dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on quarreling, til in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes and trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said…‘We haven’t let anyone take us in. The dwarfs are for the dwarfs.”
Aslan comment on the dwarfs saying, “They have chosen cunning instead of belief.” They are so busy grabbing all they can that they cannot see beyond their desire to consume. They are blind to their own foolishness. They probably even think they are doing everyone a favor.
They might even think they are doing the work of God.

 pigs, demons, and fear

I was reading this week in the 8th chapter of Luke and came to the story of the demon-possessed man. Jesus cast the demons out of the man. He allowed them to go into some pigs; the pigs ran off and died.
How did the locals react to the miracle? Luke 8:37 says they “Asked Him to leave them, because they were gripped with great fear.”
They asked Him to leave. They were afraid. But, what were they afraid of? Maybe they were afraid they would lose even more business if He kept casting out demons. Maybe they were afraid of the fact that the demon-possessed man was now healed.
The bottom line is they did not want Christ there. I guess the question I have for myself is this: What am I afraid to let Christ do? What places of my own life am I asking Him to leave?
The sad truth is that there are times I resist. I shouldn’t, but I do. In my own stubbornness, I don’t want as much change as I think I do. I’m afraid of the pigs I might lose.
We cannot allow our fears to outweigh the benefits of being set free.

 on dwarfs 2

This week, after damaging e-mails showing disregard for their clients surfaced, and after their stock began to slide, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein responded by saying, “It’s inexcusable.” I think Blankfein would like investors to believe they still matter.
The truth – investors have not mattered for years.
In the 1980s, Wall Street giant Salomon Brothers wasn’t looking out for their clients. In fact, they said they wanted to “blow the customer up.” This was the phrase used to explain ripping off a client.
In the 1990s, Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley wasn’t looking out for their clients. In fact, they had a phrase they used to explain ripping off their customers. They said they wanted to “Rip the face off of someone.”
In the 2000s, Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs continued the great tradition of ripping off its customers.
Each company sought out investors who did not realize the risk they were taking. Once they found a client who did not understand, they took advantage of the clients. As transactions have become increasingly complex, investment banks have used such complexity to rip off more and more money.
All this stealing is not good for the investor and it is not good for the taxpayer. As I mentioned in my last post, the dwarfs are for the dwarfs. They have been and will be. The financial system is full of dwarfs.
Until someone steps up and tells them no, they will find more ways to take advantage of the rest of us.

 on the best basketball player you’ve never heard of

New York City has a history of producing great basketball players. Most now agree that the greatest player from New York is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But, many say the greatest player to play the playgrounds of NYC is a guy you’ve probably never heard of. They said he was like Magic Johnson, but had a better outside shot. Lloyd Daniels was once considered one of the best basketball players in the world.
Why have you never heard of him?
He didn’t attend classes and could only read at a third grade level. He began smoking marijuana when he was 10. He was thrown out of UNLV after he was arrested at a crack house. In 1989, he nearly died when he was shot three times during a drug deal.
His talent was so great, that despite all of his problems he still made it to the NBA. He played for five years on five different teams and average 7 points a game.
He is now called one of the laziest and arrogant players ever to have played. He blamed everyone but himself for his failures.
Greatness squandered. That is the legacy of Lloyd Daniels.
There is nothing more tragic than to waste what we have been given on things that do not matter. We have all been given gifts and talents. We ought to closely guard ourselves against wasting them.

 on dwarfs

Listening to Goldman Sachs testimony in front of Congress on April 27th, one thing became really clear. Goldman Sachs looks out for Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs only looks out for Goldman Sachs.
I was amazed at how each person who testified said that they would not look out for their client’s best interest. They said they were looking out for Goldman Sachs’ best interest. They are not in finance to make money for people, they are in finance to make as much money, as quickly as possible, for Goldman Sachs, and for themselves. Everyone, from the CEO down, said Goldman existed for Goldman.
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Last Battle, the dwarfs cannot trust Aslan, the Christ figure of the Narnia series. They cannot receive his gifts or embrace him as their leader. They are bound up in one phrase, repeated throughout the book, “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs.”
Goldman Sachs did not care about their clients. They cared about Goldman Sachs. They were willing to call up potential clients and sell them bonds they knew where no good. Internal memos revealed that they knew the bonds were no good. But, they sold them as if they were good. They destroyed others to save themselves.
Goldman is just another in a long line of dwarfs. The tragedy is, just like the dwarfs, they cannot and will not stop looking out for themselves. That is why more financial, moral, community, and religious crises lie ahead. The dwarfs are for the dwarfs and therefore they cannot be for anyone else.

 what are we teaching?

John Gatto tells the story of a time he gave a workshop at Southern Illinois University. Towards the end of his talk, a young man stood up in the back of the room and said, “I’m twenty-five and I don’t know how to do anything except pass tests! If the fan belt on my car broke on a lonely road in a snow storm I’d freeze to death. What have you done to me?”
The young man was obviously frustrated that his education included no real life skills. It is no wonder that we speak of young people leaving school to live in the real world. We recognize school is not the real world.
The question that rings in my ears – What have you done to me? It is the question that ought to ring in the ears of anyone who seeks to share Jesus Christ.
Or to ask the question another way – What are we teaching other people? Make no mistake about it, we are constantly teaching other people about Christianity – for better and for worse. We teach other people by what we say, what we do, and what we believe.
What kind of faith are we reproducing in other people? Is a faith that can withstand the difficulties of life? Is it a faith that can survive in the real world?

 OKC Bombing

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Bitter from years of twisted thinking about the U.S. Government, Timothy McVeigh built a giant bomb in a Ryder truck, lit the fuse, and walked away. The blast killed 168 people, injured hundreds more, and damaged over 300 buildings.
I have been to the Oklahoma City memorial site where the Federal Building was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh’s truck bomb. I walked among the empty chairs symbolizing all those who died that day. I walked by the playground of empty swings where the kids at the daycare would go out and swing. I stared at shoes, keys, wallets, and money, never claimed by the victims.
I will not forget the images.
That memorial reminded me of the misery hate creates. It reminded me retaliation is not the answer. The memorial forced me to focus on the event. It reinforced the pain of the moment. It created an intensity I was not prepared for. I spent the entire journey through the memorial with a lump in my throat and I spent a great deal of time trying to keep from breaking down. I’ve never been so moved by a memorial.
A good memorial makes all the difference in the way we remember events. We need memorials. As a nation, and as individuals.
In order to remember in a way that will change us, we need to place markers in our lives to remember important moments in life.
God tied so many of His teachings to concrete moments in the history of Israel and then had them symbolized with memory cues. In Joshua 4, God instructed Israel to lay down memorial stones at the banks of the Jordan. Why? Joshua explains, “Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” The people were told to use the stones as a reminder of God’s goodness, not just for themselves, but also for the generations who would come after them. They would serve as a reinforcement of God’s goodness to the people. We do not use these kinds of cues as often as we should. This is one of the main reasons so many people live lives of disorder. We deceive ourselves into thinking we can remember without any kind of aid and then, at critical junctures, we fail to recall what is needed.
To forget the important parts of our lives is to forget who we are.

 greed and financial meltdown part 2

I wrote in my last post that greed destroys societies. But, it is not merely the greed of multimillionaires who rob us on Wall Street that send our society into financial meltdowns. Yes, they are easy targets, but they are not the whole problem. Really, they are a small part of the problem.
The greed problem is in the mirror. See greediness is not only trying to accumulate as much as possible, it is also trying to hold on to everything you can.
In my own state, we have a school district that is in real trouble. The Jordan School District took a big hit when the district was split in half. One part, the wealthier part, became the Canyons School District. Jordan lost crucial revenue. It was projected to have a $30 million dollar shortfall.
First, they tried to raise taxes. They wanted to place a 40% property tax hike on residents. The residents rebelled. The school board reduced the tax hike to 20%.
After taxes failed make up the deficit, they decided to lay off 500 teachers and staff. Teachers and students rebelled. So, now only 250 will be laid off, but no teachers.
There was a proposal to cut way back on extra-curricular activities. That too was struck down.
So, where does that leave Jordan? In real debt. It currently is taking money from its building fund to help pay for operating costs.
What is my point? My point is that no one wants to give up anything in order to solve the problem. There is no talk of reducing anyone’s pay or benefits. There is limited lay-offs, limited tax-raising. Homeowners don’t want to help anymore than they already have (in fact, the new budget has no new tax increase). Teachers don’t want to give up any of their salary and benefits. They don’t want increased class sizes. They don’t want any of the outside activities to end up cut.
And as I have watched this unfold, I’ve been thinking:
If I was a homeowner in the district, I would fight tax increases.
If I was a teacher I would fight increased class sizes, and would not consider take a cut in pay or benefits.
If I was a student I would demand as many options in extra-curricular activities as they have had in years past.
In short, I would not want to sacrifice.
And that is greed.
What has played out at Jordan School District is what is playing out all over the country. No one wants to give up anything in order to succeed. We cannot look beyond our own interests.
So, it is not just the big-time Wall Street greed that is destroying our country. It is my greed. It is my unwillingness to realize we all need to sacrifice.
Wouldn’t it be great if all sides got together at Jordan and said, we all must sacrifice: Homeowners, Administration, Teachers, Staff, and students. We all have to cut back or else the whole thing is going to collapse.
I know, it won’t happen. We are too busy protecting our own interests.
Philippians 2 tells us, “Do not merely look out for your own interests, but also the interests of others.” Until we do that, cities, states, and the country will continue to sink under the weight of our unwillingness to let go in order to do what is best for everyone.

 greed and financial meltdown

Perhaps the entire last 70 years can be summed up by the notorious insider trader Ivan Boesky. On May 18, 1986, Wall Street tycoon Ivan Boesky stood before the University of California’s business school graduates to give the commencement speech. By many accounts, the speech was boring and full of clichéd platitudes. All of that changed however, when Boesky paused, looked up from his notes, and said, “Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greed and still feel good about yourself.” The students cheered.
Perhaps Boesky did feel good about himself. But, no one else felt good about him. In December, Boesky made the cover of Time Magazine with the title “Ivan the Terrible.” Even though he became an informant for the Department of Justice, he still spent two years in prison for insider trading and had to pay more than one hundred million dollars in fines. His in-laws called him a piece of sewage. He and his wife divorced. He received a twenty million dollar pay out and two million a year from his ex-wife. She called him a rat and said he ruined her life.
The problem with greed is that it does not merely destroy individuals, it destroys societies. Greed destroyed the company RJR Nabisco, it destroyed the housing market, it destroyed thousands of people’s retirements, and it continues to undermine the economy today.
I guess a person like Boesky can feel good about himself and remain greedy. As long as he doesn’t care about destroying everyone around him. And that is the greatest problem with greed. It looks at everything and asks, “How can I use this to my advantage?”
The Bible calls greed idolatry. It becomes something we worship. When we worship money, everything else becomes secondary. And that is a dangerous place to be for individuals and societies.

 i don’t want to be the older brother

A couple of books (MacArthur’s Tale of Two Sons, Keller’s Prodigal God) have recently shed light on the fact that the story commonly referred to as The Prodigal Son is really meant to focus on the older brother’s reaction. You know the story. Young son decides he doesn’t want to wait for his share of the inheritance. His dad gives it to him and he goes out and wastes it all. He decides to go back and live as a hired hand on his dad’s estate. The dad welcomes him back as a son, not a hired hand. The older brother gets mad and refuses to come to the party.

The story Jesus told was to the Pharisees. It was the result of a criticism the religious people made against Him. It was told about the Pharisees. Yet, throughout the ages, the church has focused on the younger brother aspect of the story. Why do we focus on the younger brother and neglect the older brother? Why are we most likely to identify with the younger brother? Why do we never see ourselves as the older brother?

I’ve come up with 4 reasons I think we don’t like to think of ourselves as the older brother. Here they are in no particular order:

1. The older brother was legalistic.
He did not want any grace to be extended to his own brother. Though we may wish other people would get what is coming to them, we certainly don’t want to admit it – to ourselves or anyone else.

2. The older brother was greedy.
Welcoming the younger brother back into the family meant his portion of the inheritance would be reduced. He would rather his brother be kicked out of the family. We would never admit to such a greedy position.

3. The older brother was envious.
Envy sees something someone else has, wants to take that something from someone else and keep it for himself. The older brother could not believe his younger brother got a feast. He said I deserve a feast, not my brother. He wanted to take the feast away from his brother and have it himself.
In all my years of interacting with Christians, I have only met one person who admitted to being envious of another person.
Why won’t we admit to envy? It is so petty, so childish. I don’t want you to have that thing. I want to take it from you. And I want to keep it for myself. Even as we feel that way, we hate ourselves for it.

4. The older brother had an overinflated sense of his own goodness.
He tells his dad, I never did anything against what you said and yet you never gave me a feast. He was bringing judgment on his own father’s actions while inflating his own. In the story, the dad is God. So, it is like telling God we know better than He does.
We are not willing to admit that we sometimes sit in judgment on God. But, if we are honest, sometimes we do.

Let’s face it – the picture is not pretty. The older brother comes off as a self-centered jerk. The younger brother starts out as a jerk, gets humbled, and then submits. The older brother starts off as a saint who is willing to wait, and then is exposed as a jerk.
We don’t want to be the jerk. We don’t want to be the pompous, legalistic, greedy, envious, overinflated jerk. So, rather than facing those qualities, we pretend they don’t ever exist in us.

So, let me say it (much to my embarrassment): Sometimes I am an older brother. Sometimes I am the legalist who wants other people to get justice instead of grace. Sometimes I want more for me, even if it means less for others. Sometimes I envy what others have and wish I had it instead of them. Sometimes I have an overinflated sense of my own importance.
The story Jesus told is for me. Not because to talks of grace extended to the younger brother, but because it tells of a stubborn religious brother who thought he was better than he really was.
Interesting that the story ends without a resolution. It ends with the dad pleading for the older son to come into the party and embrace the grace given to someone else. It is as if Jesus were asking His listeners, Well, what are you going to do now?
God give me the grace to celebrate with others, to enjoy the grace they receive, to gladly sacrifice for their good, to give up myself for the good of another.

 the life raft debate

Each year the University of Montevallo in Alabama holds “The Life Raft Debate.” In the debate, professors from various academic disciplines explain why students should let them take the remaining seat on a life raft. All of the world will perish except for those on the life raft. Who will be chosen to help the world start over? The professors make the case for the importance of their knowledge and understanding of the world. At the end, a “Devil’s Advocate” comes on to explain why none of the professors should get a seat on the life raft. Each year, some professor is chosen. Never in the history of the debate had the Devil’s Advocate convinced the students in the audience to vote for no one.

It is supposed to be a debate about why certain academic disciplines are so important. But, by 2007 it had turned into an absurd comedy. One professor led the audience in “We will rock you” in order to show leadership. One professor actually dressed up in a super hero outfit. The English professor read some stupid poem he had written about a woman kicker on a football team.

Finally, the Devil’s Advocate stood up to give his final analysis. The Devil’s Advocate was an English professor who called out the professors and the audience for turning the debate into a ridiculous jokes. He said, “You may have been entertained…but you have not been intellectually challenged.” And he told them to vote for no one to send a message.

The students voted for the Devil’s Advocate for the first and only time in the history of the debate.

I think people do care about substance. Yes, they wanted to be entertained, but they also want to be informed. And those two things are not mutually exclusive. I fear that sometimes we set the bar so low, that we treat our audience as so unintelligent, that we pander to the lowest common denominator when we do not need to. I am convinced that people want substance and not a bunch of fluff. Anyone who teaches, preaches, or even converses with other people ought to keep this in mind.

 politics and the death of moral conscience
The 2010 legislative session for the state of Utah ended March 11th. It ended with a representative admitting to an immoral act with an underage girl many years ago. He admitted he paid the woman $150,000 dollars when she threatened to go to the press. Since the news was going to come out anyway, this representative confessed.

Something unexpected happened when he finished his admission. The entire Utah House of Representatives stood up and applauded. A man admitted to immoral and criminal behavior and the House of Representatives cheered him. In fact, the Speaker of House told the entire House he hoped this man would not resign.

Apparently, if you commit these crimes earlier in life, time makes it okay. Time makes it more than okay – time makes you brave to admit your “youthful indiscretions.” Time means you should be applauded for your confession. If it had happened two weeks ago, he would have been arrested. Because it happened in 1985 (with the bribery occurring in 2002), he must be applauded.

Thankfully, the people of his district did not feel the same as the House of Representatives. Under pressure, the Representative resigned two days later.

But, what does it say about our world when our elected leaders are applauding the confession of a man who destroyed the life of a teenager then paid bribe money? Have we sunk so far down that we are no longer horrified by evil?

In the early 70s, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book called Whatever Happened to Sin? In it, he says, “Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty perhaps of a sin that could be repented and repaired or atoned for? Is it only that someone may be stupid or sick or criminal…Wrong things are being done, we know…but is no one responsible, no one answerable for these acts? Has no one committed any sins? Where did sin go? What became of it?”

In the few years after 9/11 it seemed like the idea of “evil” and “morally wrong” were making a comeback. People began to see that this world really does have a right and wrong. I believe those days are behind us now.

 going the wrong way

Last week two Northwest Airlines pilots surrendered their license to fly. Back in October, they overflew Minneapolis by 150 miles and remained out of radio contact for more than an hour. The air national guard was put on alert. The White House prepared for the worst. Finally, when they figured out what happened, the pilots radioed in.
During the NTSB investigation, the pilots said they were distracted by working on their laptops. Most experts question this explanation and believe the pilots fell asleep.
One thing is clear, they were not focused on flying the plane.
I’ve met a lot of people who intended to go somewhere and ended up off course. I’ve met many people who had big plans and good intentions. In his book The Principle of the Path, Andy Stanley says, “Direction – not intention – determines destination.” Far too often, decisions we make in the present do not line up with our intended destination. Far too often, we think the small decisions have nothing to do with the destination. Far too often, we think we can divert from our course and return to it whenever we would like.
And it only takes one bad decision, one step in the wrong direction, to send us miserably off course. When those pilots started out their flight that day, I’m sure they had no intention of losing their pilots license.
Every decision matters because every decision is like a step in a direction. And each step brings us closer to our desired destination, or it is takes us further away. Ephesians tells us, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise; making the most of your time because the days are evil.”

 the problems of overload

In her excellent blog post on the topic of always being somewhere else (http://annetteselden.blogspot.com/ the article is entitled Nowhere), Annette Gysen tells the story of a youth who was at her home as part of a church group. Instead of enjoying the activities, this girl was texting. Annette said:

She’s not unlike many other teens and even adults out there who try to escape the here and now. Not satisfied just to be in their cars driving someplace, many drivers must talk on their phone at the same time. Not content just to be shopping, shoppers must be conversing with others on their phones at the same time that they’re checking out the clothing racks. The need for constant entertainment has become the school’s nightmare, as students leave the now of their classrooms to text their friends–who may be sitting somewhere else in the same classroom.

Our whole world is full of overload and it seems that we cannot simply be in one place. When I go to the gym, I am amazed at how many people are texting or talking on the phone while they work out. I have been preaching when people have been texting on their phones. (I know they thought no one could see, but people on stage see a lot more than you think.)
Can we no longer just do one thing? I have heard too many people say that they like to dabble in a lot of different things and not stick with any one thing. They say this as if it is a strength. Instead, it is an incredible weakness.
Shifts in attention produce a mind that can’t keep focused on anything for an extended period of time. In his book The New Brain, neurologist Richard Restak writes that it is difficult for the mind to adjust to such fragmented and rapid stimulation. “As a result of increasing demands on our attention and focus,” he writes. “Our brains try to adapt by rapidly shifting attention from one activity to another- a strategy that is now almost a requirement for survival.” Even our best attempts fail to adjust to the rapid overflow of information. Restak states, “In study after study both young and older listeners recall less from materials told to them at a rapid rate.”
We have convinced ourselves that doing multiple things at once will make us better people. We think we can then cram more into our day than would otherwise be possible. While it may solve some practical problems, this kind of multitasking undermines serious thought, skilled action, and real relationships. Restak says that “switching back and forth from one task to another involves time-consuming alterations in brain processing that reduce our effectiveness…multitasking actually results in inefficient shifts in our attention.”
If we are prone to ineffective thinking in simple everyday shifts in attention, how much more difficult will it be when we try to think about life-changing decisions, skilled application of what we know, or even a simple conversation with another person face to face?

 get out of the fishbowl

In July of 2004, the town council of Monza, Italy passed a law banning goldfish bowls. You know, the round bowls that we fill with colored rocks and a treasure chest? Yep. Monza, Italy banned them.
Why?
Glad you asked. According to a council official, “A fish kept in a bowl has a distorted view of reality…and suffers because of this.” Some claim that the distortion is bad enough to cause blindness in those little orange pets.
Rome followed suit in 2005 and banned round fishbowls as well.

I was not able to find any science to back up the claims that round fishbowls made indeed cause distorted perspective and blindness. Honestly, I don’t know if this is true or not.

But, the whole story made me wonder about fishbowls, distorted perspectives, and blindness. At the heart of most of our problems in this life is the fact that we look through fishbowls, gain distorted perspectives, and eventually go blind.
Here’s what I mean. When I start wanting something, I easily lose perspective. Let’s say I want something really bad – a new car. That is like looking through the fishbowl. I have perfectly good working cars (well, for the most part). Do I need a new car? When I look through the distortion of the fishbowl, of course I do. My desire messes up my perspective. I can’t see straight.
Because what I want has distorted my perspective, I now need to convince myself that this really is a wise decision. So, I make up reasons. After I convince myself, I am blind to my own foolishness. When anyone confronts me, I can give my list of reasons.
It is only a small step to complete blindness to reality. I get so focused on the new car I can’t see any other path.
This is what happened to me when I first left high school. I wound up making a bad decision. I bought a new car. I paid for it for years. Literally and figuratively.
We have to be careful when we begin to want a thing. We have to step back before it is too late and ask ourselves to look at the situation outside of the fishbowl. If we don’t, we are in danger of going blind. And one day, we will end up where we do not want to be and wonder, “How did I get here?”

 what I learned on a plane from Denver to Houston

There are two types of air travelers. There is the talker. This is the person who loves to converse the whole plane ride. And there is the silent person who reads or puts on headphones. I am reading/headphone air traveler.
A couple of years ago I had to fly from Corpus Christi, TX to Denver, attend a meeting, and fly back to Corpus, all in one day. It was incredibly painful when I accidently left my ipod at home and read the only book I had before I even reached Denver.
On the flight from Denver to Houston, I sat next to a second grade girl and her mother. Across the isle was the girl’s father and brother. I’m not sure why, but this girl decide to strike up a conversation with me. She told me about her school. She said she attended a Christian school even though her family did not go to church. She said she became a Christian at the school. I told her I taught at a Christian school and that her decision to become a Christian was the best decision she would ever make. She told me she had to read out loud and asked if I would be willing to listen.
Her mother tried to stop her and told her I might not be interested in hearing her read out loud.
I told her I would be honored to hear her read out loud.
The mom was completely engaged in the life of her children.
The dad sat back, with his eyes closed, and listened to an ipod.
I was struck by how easy it is to disengage from life. At that moment, in a plane somewhere between Denver and Houston, I didn’t want to be that dad with his headphones on disengaged from his family. I kept thinking – That is not who I want to be.
I’m embarrassed to say that far too often, I am that guy with the headphones on while real life spins all around me. Some second grade girl doing homework on a plane reminded me people want to connect. Some disengaged dad reminded me it is far too easy to disconnect.

 what every church can learn from a small town

In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was popular for small, dying towns to offer free land and cash to get people to relocate. Hazelton, ND was one of those towns. Hazelton offered free land and cash to entice people from around the country to prop up their dying town of 240 people. Hazelton offered families two free lots and $20,000. It offered businesses free lots and $50,000. The idea sounded progressive.
But, a strange thing happened on the way to revitalizing their small town. While you can offer all kinds of gimmicks and incentives to get people to move to your town, you cannot make the town accept newcomers.
A family that moved to Hazelton from Miami said:
“No one really wants new people here.”
“People prejudge you without getting to know you.”

Now, to me this sounds like many churches I know. They spend incredible amounts of time, energy, effort, and money to draw people in, but once they come in, they are not welcome. I have visited many churches in my travels and I am amazed at how many times I can walk into a church, sit down, worship, and leave without a single person talking to me. I would like to say it is only one kind of church, but it is not. Big churches, small churches, and everything in between seem to ignore people when they come in.
Just before I began my church plant, I visited a popular church several weeks in a row. No one talked to me. This church spends tens of thousands of dollars on outreach, but once I was there, they ignored me. As much as I liked the service, if I was looking for a church I would not have continued to attend.
People who do the research say if you do not develop 7 significant relationships in the first six months of attending a church, you will leave that church.
Every church says they are friendly. I have yet to meet a church that said they were cold and distant to outsiders. But, we are too quick to dismiss newcomers who leave. We say – I guess they didn’t fit in. Hazelton city leader Tom Weiser said, “Not everybody fits in a small town.” While this is true, I wonder if more people would fit if they were included. And, I wonder how many more people would stick to our churches if we tried to include newcomers rather than ignoring them. Show some interest. Reach out. Do not just stick to the people you already know. Do not rely on gimmicks. Relationships matter.

 a good book is hard to find

I came across the line in Mere Christianity that says, “One of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the world.” The book Lewis is referring to is Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s book was written in the 1600s, yet it has never been out of print. The book remains influential in literature and culture today.
But the phrase made me think: When was the last time a Christian book has ‘astonished the world’? Sure Christians have had their share of popular books. In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey sold millions of copies of his books about the end of the world. In the 80s, Frank Peretti sold millions of copies of his spiritual warfare fiction. In the 1990s, it was Tim Lahaye’s turn sell millions with his end of the world fiction. More recently, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen sat at the top of the bestseller list with his book on finding purpose in life. Some would point to those books and say – Look of course Christians still produce books that astonish the world.
But, to be honest, those books have the value of a happy meal. Sure, they will fill you up, but they are without much in the way of nutrition. They are not likely to be classics that change lives years from now. They are fluff. I can’t help but wonder if any of the Christian books that sold millions in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, will be around in 400 years. If they last another decade, I will be surprised.
We sell a shaggy dog when it comes to Christian books. A shaggy dog is a lot of fluff with a little dog. You get the dog wet and you find there simply isn’t much there. That is the way I feel about most of the Christian books I read.
Honestly, it is the way I feel about most Christian thinking in the last 40 years.
I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing the disappearance of good theology in churches. We talked about how theology had essentially vanished in most preaching. I realize I am painting with a broad brush, but ask yourself – when was the last time you heard a message on the Trinity? And really, can one message do justice? A better question is when was the last time you heard a series of messages on the Trinity? Or sovereignty? Or providence? Or sin?
I think a Cheap Theology is not going to work as it has in the past. There was a time simplicity could succeed. Towns were small, people were not exposed to so many cultures, ideas, and beliefs, and simply stating some beliefs was enough. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.
But, we do not live in that world anymore. More of the world lives in cities than at any time in the history of the world. In this world, Cheap Theology does not hold up. The fluff is exposed for the junk that it is.
My hope is that substance replaces style. My hope is that people who can communicate with clarity and conviction will be able to speak to our generation in a compelling way.
My hope is that fluff does not win. If it does, I wonder what the church will say of our books 100 years from now.

 Experts

I admit I have a love/hate relationship with “experts.”
On one hand, I think many people who claim to be experts are nothing of the sort. I think we put far too much weight on “experts.” Far too often, experts are an excuse for our own laziness.
Those of you who have read the blog for a while know I have very little esteem for the “Experts” of education. They appear to me to be like drunks in a fog, wandering from idea to idea with little understanding of how broke the system is and how band aids will never fix what is fundamentally ruined. I’ll give you yet another example. One of the accepted educational practices in dealing with Autistic children is to spray them in the face with water in order to get them to obey. That is right – spray them in the face with a water bottle. Why do they think this is a proper way to deal with Autistic kids? According to one “expert”: “They don’t like it. So, they will do what you want them to do.” Needless to say, my daughter who is battling PDD – and currently hanging in there – is not going through the special education provided by the state.
Take the medical field for another example. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 people died of heart attacks brought on by the drug Vioxx. 50,000 people died needlessly because “experts” at Merck could not agree that Vioxx was deadly to a segment of the population. Of course, Merck didn’t want to pull the drug because it was an incredible moneymaker. “Experts” tried to say the drug was not responsible for the deaths.
We trust far too many people that should not be trusted. Far too often “experts” are placed in our lives to manipulate and tell us what we should do – even when common sense says otherwise.

On the other hand, I think people who claim there are no “experts” are stupid. We are not all on the same level of knowledge. Unfortunately, we have given far too much credit to those who do not deserve our attention.
I am disturbed by the rise in the average person thinking they are an expert in a field they know little or nothing about. It is not wise to get cancer treatment advice from former actress Suzanne Somers. And yet, she has published books on cancer treatments. In the book, she promotes doctors who use alternative methods like massive amounts of nutritional supplements, enzyme treatments, and even bizarre treatments which I won’t mention. Overall, the science simply does not back her up. If I get cancer, I want a cancer expert, not a patient who once survived cancer.
If you look at the history of theology, the majority of cultists and crazies knew just enough to sound like they knew what they were talking about. They were amateurs disguised as prophets. They told the experts they did not know anything and set themselves up as the real authority. A little learning would have done them good.
When we put blind faith in the “experts” no matter what field of study, we foolishly believe other people know better than we do.
The truth is somewhere in the middle of these extremes. We should never be afraid to evaluate all information we are given, no matter where it comes from. In the Bible it is said the Berean Christians were noble because they searched the Scriptures to see if what they heard was true. We should be willing to research what we hear – gain all the information, from all side, and then decide if a given expert is worth hearing.

 notes from the teaching underground

There was a moment in my teaching career where I knew I was teaching at the wrong school. I completed the first six weeks of teaching at a public high school and I was called into the curriculum adviser’s office.
“I wanted to see you because too many of your kids failed,” she said.
“I know. It was terrible,” I said.
“That is not acceptable,” she said.
“I agree,” I said.
“You need to do more to make sure your students pass.”
It took me a minute to consider what she was saying. I needed to do more?
It sunk in when she gave me a video to take home and watch. The video was about breaking students up into teams and allowing them to work in groups. This group approach was supposed to produce higher quality work. Anyone with common sense knows working in groups means one or two students will do all the work and everyone else will copy. Everyone knows this except educators.
I say all of this because one of my great passions is teaching. And I think in school and in church we are doing it wrong. I was reminded of this when I heard J.D. Salinger died last week. As I read through his biography, I couldn’t help but notice he flunked out of a Manhattan private school and then dropped out of NYU.
I have heard so many stories of people who have dropped out of school and how they still became incredibly successful. So, here are a few of the names of recent dropouts.
In Writing
Ray Bradbury said “I never went to college, I went the library.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton.
Robert Frost dropped out of Dartmouth.
Herman Melville was a high school dropout.
Mark Twain dropped out in elementary school.
Walt Whitman dropped out in elementary school.

In Business
Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and started Microsoft
Steve Jobs dropped out after one semester of college.
Larry Ellison dropped out of University of Illinois and found Oracle
Walt Disney and John D. Rockefeller never even finished high school.
Frank Lloyd Wright never even went to high school yet still became a world famous architect.
John Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire, dropped out of high school.

My first rule – the rule I taught to all of my students on the first day of class: You are responsible for your education.
Yet, far too often we have allowed the Sunday School teacher to give us religion, the school teacher to give us knowledge, and the TV to give us entertainment. And, we did this willingly and without hesitation. I think the maverick educator John Gatto was right to say, “Parents regularly betray their children to school people because of invisible assumptions they never examine.”
I think we all hold on to invisible assumptions that church and school know what they are doing. And, as an insider (school teacher for 8 years, pastor for 15), trust me, most of the time they do not know what they are doing. They run from fad to fad, gimmick to gimmick, and idea to idea, without really knowing how to teach anything meaningful.
I’m still trying to unlearn some of the terrible ideas I received from elementary school all the way through my Master’s degree.
We would all do well to remember, that in the end we will be responsible for our own education – in this life and the next.

 damaged masterpieces

Last, Friday a visitor to the Metropolitan Museum in New York slipped and fell into Picasso’s ‘The Actor.’ Museum officials said 80 million dollar 6 foot by 4 foot painting received a 6 inch tear in the lower right hand corner. Officials believe they will be able to repair the piece by April. Still, it is a tragedy that a 100 year old painting can suffer such damage because of one slip.

But, the story got me thinking how one slip can damage years of work. Ecclesiastes 10:1 says, “Dead flies make a perfumers oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.” One slip up does so much damage to the thinks we have worked so hard to construct.

A carelessly timed word can break apart a relationship.

A desire indulged can undo years of discipline.

A shady business deal can ruin a reputation and cause financial ruin.

Be careful how you walk around the masterpieces of your life. One slip can cause tremendous damage. Even if you can repair the damage, you can see the tear.

 on Haiti and Christian response

A week ago, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. Hundreds of thousands are believed dead. More than a million are homeless. I’m sure most of you have seen the horrible pictures and heard the heartbreaking stories. And we have become all too aware of how bad it is and how bad it was even before the earthquake.
One thing was struck me as I’ve watched the coverage. I am amazed at how many missionaries were doing work in Haiti. So many Christians were doing part time and full time work to help ease the suffering of country.
But, it is not just this response to tragedy that strikes me. It is our response to 9-11. It is our response to Katrina. It is our response to the tsunami.
I don’t know what this country would have done if the Christians did not step forward and help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many churches stepped forward to open their doors for those who evacuated New Orleans.
I can tell you that South Texas received hundreds of evacuees. I can tell you the hundreds of church people volunteered time and supplies. I can tell you that our church went down to help – we gave a bunch of clothes. Then we asked what they needed at the shelter and we went out and bought what was needed. I can tell you this story played out hundreds of times over in hundreds of churches throughout the Southern part of the United States.
A Baptist camp site in Florida took in 150 evacuees. Florida Baptists disaster relief went in September of 2005 to Hattiesburg, MS and cleaned up 1,200 sites and fed 150,000 meals. The day after the storm Southern Baptists were feeding 5,000 in Biloxi, MS. In all, Southern Baptists sent 500 cooking units and 30,000 volunteers.
In 2006, during Spring Break MTV teamed up with the United Way to send college students to New Orleans to help rebuild. 100 students volunteered. That same Spring Break Campus Crusade for Christ sent college students to New Orleans. They wound up with 7,000 volunteers.
Time prevents me from going on about the work Christians have done.
Several book have popped up over the last few years detailing how bad Christians are to all of society. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have written bestsellers detailing how bad we are for all of society. It was become popular to attack Christianity and Christians.
However, atheist Roy Hattersley wrote about the Katrina response: “Notable by their absence were teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs, and atheists’ associations…” His conclusion: Christians “are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.”
One of the great untold stories of the past ten years is how much of a difference the church has made in the face of incredible suffering and devastation. While anyone can throw money at a problem, it is Christians who are getting their hands dirty with the hard work of making a real difference on the ground. We are taking light to the darkest places. We are risking all over the world.
We don’t need the world to recognize it. There will come a day when the Master will say to His servants, ‘Well done.’ If you aren’t taking a risk for Christ these days, you are missing out – both now and later.

 The Simpsons @ 20

This past week The Simpsons – Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie – turned 20. I remember when The Simpsons first came on the scene. Those little yellow blobs were like nothing else on TV. I remember a preacher speaking out against Bart Simpson and his disrespectful rebellious attitude. Mostly, Christians didn’t know what to say about this family and their fictional home of Springfield. At least they dealt with religious issues. Most shows still pretend religion doesn’t really exist. The Simpsons has always been religious. At times, the show has done a great job at exposing ideas and people as frauds.
Yet, I have never been able to watch for long. It took me a long time to figure out why, but several years ago I figured it out. I don’t like the Simpsons because they make fun of everything. Everything is a joke.
In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is often personified as a lady. In Proverbs 1, she asks, “How long will the scoffer delight in scoffing?” The scoffer is the one who is always mocking. They are defiant, freethinkers, cynical of everyone and everything. They never embrace any single idea because they keep everything at arm’s length; they don’t believe in anything because they feel there is nothing to believe in. When all else fails, the skeptic falls back on a convenient kind of agnosticism, because, after all, can anyone know anything? This skepticism is wedded to sarcastic detachment from all things and the result is a scoffer.
Perhaps the greatest problem the skeptic encounters is that he is ultimately against everything and can ultimately stand for nothing. The skeptic has no loyalty because there is nothing he will ultimately trust in. He advocates condoms at school and then sends his own daughter to private school to keep her away from the condoms. He demands tolerance and then is intolerant of others who are intolerant. He claims the breakdown of the family is undermining society, yet he runs off with another woman and destroys his own family. The skeptic’s inability to accept any single idea results in his failure to find a foundation on which to build his life.
The scoffer is looking to reject rather than embrace people, ideas, and circumstances. He thinks his criticism is a sign of his intellectual strength and that it justifies his rejection of anything that is of a lesser quality. The problem is the scoffer thinks everything is of a lesser quality.
Our world is sympathetic to the scoffer. We tend to appreciate his willingness to challenge, to remain distant, to refuse to subject himself to the confines of any person or idea. The biblical world was not at all sympathetic to the scoffer. Numerous proverbs warn those who might consider a life of detached mockery. Proverbs 30:17 says, “The eye that mocks a father, and scorns a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.” Proverbs 19:29 adds, “Judgments are prepared for the scoffer.” In fact, the advice of the proverbs is to get rid of a scoffer before he destroys others around him. Proverbs 22:10 says, “Drive out a scoffer, and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease.”
After looking at the biblical case against the scoffer, our contemporary tendency is to wonder if the Bible isn’t going a little too far in its condemnation of the scoffer. Perhaps there is another way to look at the question however. Perhaps, in light of the Scriptures, we ought to ask ourselves if we haven’t been too generous and kind toward the one who has rejects everything.

While there is plenty to make fun of in our world, I don’t want to make fun of everything. I don’t want to be a person who mocks everything. Some things should not be mocked. When you mock everything you embrace nothing. The more I watch shows that make fun of everything the more I tend to make fun of everything. And that is why I left The Simpsons a long time ago.

 what I learned from the dentist

About a year ago, I went to the dentist for an infected tooth. This was a very fancy dentist with all the latest equipment. I even got to watch TV while they worked on me. They took x-rays explained every problem my teeth have or could potentially have and mapped out a year-long plan to do the work that needed to be done.
I kept reminding them I wanted the infection taken care of and they assured me that I had nothing to worry about. They worked on me and, despite my skepticism about the infection, they assured me it was taken care of. Two days later, I was in such incredible pain I called them and demanded they prescribe me an antibiotic to kill the infection. To their credit, they phone in a prescription. Within three days, my swollen face was back to normal and the pain was almost gone.
I don’t think they are bad dentists. I don’t think they were out to get me. I think they lost focus. They had such grand plans for my mouth that they forgot to treat the problem.
I think we’re more like those dentists than we would like to admit. We make our grand plans and fail to take care of the problems at hand. We are so busy looking to the future that we neglect the present.
As the New Year starts, it is good to ask what we might be neglecting right now. We tend to think about the grand plans for the year: spend more time with the family, exercise more, eat better, spend less, save more, read more, or anything else we think will be beneficial to our lives.
But what needs to be done right now. What nagging problem needs to be taken care of? What choice today needs to be made? No planning, no wishful thinking necessary – just simple action.
What relationship needs to be repaired with a simple action like a phone call?
What task needs to be completed that you are only half way through?
What thought needs to be stopped?
What desire needs to be eliminated?
Act now before it gets worse.

2009

 10 best Christian books of the decade

Ten Best Christian Books of the Decade

Above All Earthly Pow’rs David Wells

The culmination of his magnum opus 4 book overview of theology in contemporary culture. Though probably the worst of the 4 books, it was still more readable and compelling than any other theology book of the decade.

Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller

I normally do not like the memoir essay genre. Especially Christian memoir essay genre. Most often it is full of people trying to be profound who wind up being shallow. Miller’s story can make you laugh and cry in the same chapter.

The Reason for God Timothy Keller

I know many people talk about NT Wright as the next C.S. Lewis, but Keller’s book is much more in the tradition of Lewis than anything Wright has done. Reason for God deals with obstacles to belief in a compassionate, yet unapologetic way. (Unapologetically apologetic?)

Simple Church Thom Rainer, Eric Geiger

Not a big fan of church methodology books. I own many and like very few. This one is different. Instead of loading ministers down with what we should do, the message is to simplify. Do a few things at church and do them well. When too many churches have become shopping malls of religious consumerism this was a much needed word on church life.

Heaven Randy Alcorn

Just the fact that someone finally gave Heaven the kind of treatment it deserves is reason enough to include it. He creates a compelling vision of Heaven and clears up many misconceptions along the way. Sometimes he slips into speculation, but all of it is fascinating and enjoyable.

Renovation of the Heart Dallas Willard

I think this will be the decade when we look back and see that philosophy and brain science finally unseated psychology in understanding humanity. Christians, thankfully, embraced the change and became more biblical along the way. Willard’s book was a step in the right direction in understanding who we are and what needs to be done to find transformation.

Feeling and Faith Brian Borgman

For the last 20 years, philosophers have turned their attention to human emotion. That trend only accelerated in last 10 years. Borgman shows the Bible supports the philosophers interpretation of human emotion.

Spiritual Emotion Robert Roberts

An emotional tour de force through the Bible. Develops a strong theology of emotion.

Uprooting Anger Robert Jones

Once again, part of the new school of Christian thinking on emotion. Insightful and biblical look at anger.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years Donald Miller

I hate to put one guy on twice, but this book is nearly as good a Blue Like Jazz.

 Good Riddance Day

Yesterday marked the third annual “Good Riddance Day” in New York’s Times Square. “Good Riddance Day” is an opportunity for anyone to get rid of a bad memory by using a shredder, a dumpster, or a sledgehammer to dispose of an unwanted memory. Computers, offices, snacks, letters, and pictures were all destroyed. One person shredded a the sport’s page from a newspaper. “Maybe next year will be better,” the person said.
So, as the year comes to an end, what are we supposed to do with our past? We have all had our moments in the past when we just want to forget about what has happened and move on. We would love to shred certain events, take a sledgehammer to our disappointments and failures, or trash mistakes.
But the longer I live the more convinced I am that everything works together for good. I am convinced of this because the Bible says it is true. But I am also convinced of it because I see it happen in my own life. If I had not failed in certain areas I often wonder what kind of insufferable jerk I might be. If I had not been cut down by failure and disappointment I wonder how pompous and arrogant I might be. If not for loss, would I value what I have? If not for bad, would I understand good?
There are moments I am tempted to wish away all things bad. But, honestly, when I look beyond the event, beyond the pain, beyond the failure, disappoint, or tragedy, and look at what happened as a result, I am humbled.
There will come a time when Good Riddance Day will come – when all things will be made right. But, until that day, let’s realize that even the most painful things in life can work to conform us to the image of Christ. And, after all, even in tough years and tough decades, isn’t that what it is all about?

 on traveling

I love to travel. When I am not traveling, I am thinking about somewhere I have been or somewhere I would like to go. I love new places, new experiences, and new people. As with everyone who travels, I have stories of danger and stories of kindness.
I’ve had some close calls while traveling. In a Philadelphia train station, I was stalked by a raving lunatic. Yes, he was raving and yes, he was a lunatic, so, no exaggeration. Once in San Antonio I was nearly the victim of a couple of pickpockets.
I’ve also met some helpful people along the way. Once, our groups ran out of gas about 30 minutes from Reno, Nevada. I walked toward Reno as the sun rose. A man who finished delivering newspapers offered me a ride to a gas station. Once in a tiny town in Idaho in the middle of a snowstorm, my car slid off the road into a ditch. The only thing open in the town a small bar. They let us stay in the bar and wait for a wrecker to come from another city. A man in New York’s Soho noticed we were lost and took the time to point us in the right direction. When a co-worker heard I was going to Hawaii for my honeymoon, he told me to go to Hunauma Bay and snorkel (Best traveling tip I ever received).
One of the Christian metaphors is the journey. We are all on a spiritual trip. Some people help us out, and some people do not. Some people try to take advantage of our journey, use us for their own selfish benefit, or pass by without giving notice to others in need. Some stop to help, provide refuge, or stop to point us in the right direction.
I want to be a better spiritual traveler and I want to help others travel well. I don’t want to be so absorbed in my own life that I fail to see the needs of other people. We ought to be ready to help when we see a need, or offer a tip when we see someone going where we have been before.

 Ellie and The Box

One of the therapies used for Autism Spectrum kids is something called ABA. Most people call it “The Box” method. The Box is a collection of puzzles and games designed to stimulate thought and obedience to simple commands. Using simple commands, the kids are told what to do with the item in front of them. If they do it incorrectly, the worker says, ‘Nope’ and the command is repeated. If they still fail, the worker provides help to show the child exactly what is expected.
Think of Autism as a series of locked doors that you are in a race against time to unlock before they are closed forever and you can get the idea of Autism Spectrum issues and treatments. The Box seeks to open the door of the analytic mind. Most Autistic kids like The Box.
We do The Box with Ellie all of the time. Here is the problem – she picks up on the tasks rather quickly. When this happens, The Box becomes twenty minutes of easy work. It is easy on us because we tell her what to do and she does it. It is easy on her because she immediately knows what to do and how to do it. It is easy to take the path of least resistance. No meltdowns. No bewildered looks. No pain.
But, each time we realize it is too easy, we must think of ways to make it harder. How can we increase the degree of difficulty? What new concepts can we introduce? Where is she still weak in her development? Where are there clear delays? After thinking on these things, we attempt to introduce new elements to break through the locks on her doors.
As I am in the middle of building a new box for Ellie, strategizing new difficulties to force her to grow, I can’t help but wonder why I am so frustrated with God when He puts new obstacles in my way. Could it be that He is trying to unlock some doors that I am perfectly willing to leave locked? Why do I have such a hard time believing obstacles are for the best? Why do I see every setback as a bad thing? It is painfully obvious I need a box of my own.
Resistance is good.
Ease is the enemy of growth.
Now if I can just apply these realities to my own life…

 Hamsters, Death, and Real Love

My older daughter’s hamster Bella is dying. Half of the fur has come off of its body. It has become fidgety and tense. It is just a matter of time. Yet, I have to give Emma credit. She seems more intent on taking care of it now that it is clearly moving toward death.
She never has wanted to hold it or play with it. She has always been afraid of it. Even when it was soft and fluffy, she made me get it out so that it could run around in the hamster ball or so her friends could get a look at it.
But now she feels a growing connection to it that has nothing to do with its appearance. Honestly, the hamster looks more like something from a New York City street than a pet store. She is not taking care of it out of obligation. But, she is more mindful of its situation and more concerned about its well being.
There are times in life when we really do love out of genuine affection. Not out of appearance, performance, or even moral duty. There are times love wells up within us and we can’t help it. It is a kind of love appearance, performance, and duty cannot conjure up even in their best moments. And I think that is when we really come closest to a glimpse of the love of God.
I was once asked to conduct a funeral for a woman in her 80s who wasted away with Emphysema for years until she finally died. And the family asked me to read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
It was one of the few times I’ve ever conducted a funeral where the family’s most pressing desire was for the world to know how much they loved the one who had died. The value of that mother, Grandmother, and wife was Real. The depth of affection was tangible.
We love people when they become Real. What we need are eyes to see, a heart to feel, and hands to act in order to understand Real.
The Apostle Paul said it does not matter how well I speak or how many acts of benevolence I do, if the motivation is not one of Real Love, all my work is nothing. Even great acts of sacrifice are worthless if I do not have love. Imagine the cross without love and the whole sacrifice lacks motivation, it rings hollow. Imagine Christ’s death based on appearance and performance and we have favoritism. Imagine serving others because it is the right thing to do and we find moralism. Only love can take my actions and make them Real.

 have we lost our minds?

On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River burst into flames. The fire was the culmination of decades of pollution and contamination. Though it was the most famous moment in the river’s history, it was not the first time it had happened. The river fire of 1952 caused over $1 million dollars in damage. The river fire of 1912 killed five dock workers. Cleveland’s industrial district was no stranger to Cuyahoga River fires. In the early days, the citizens of Cleveland saw river fires as a sign of progress, a reason to celebrate the prosperity of industry.
Since the 1800s, the Cuyahoga served as a dumping ground for industrial waste and eventually became one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. During much of the second half of the 20th century, the lower portion of the river supported no life whatsoever, not even sludge sucking leeches and slugs found in other toxic waters. Time Magazine said the river did not flow, it oozed. The people of Cleveland sometimes joked that if someone fell into the river they would not drown, they would decay.
So, in the early summer of 1969, the river, which had already destroyed everything beneath the surface, destroyed things above the surface as well. The floating fire burned down a bridge and left an embarrassing blight of shame on the city of Cleveland. The fire of 1969 changed everything. Cleveland finally got serious about what it had done to the river.

In the same way what happened beneath the surface of the Cuyahoga resulted in destruction above the surface, the interaction between our surface actions and the depths of our heart cannot be ignored. Actions rise to the surface because of what lies beneath. Our mind is constantly moving, processing information, incorporating new thoughts and ideas, wrestling with reality and our place in it, looking back on what has been, looking forward to what will be, and imagining what may or may not be possible. If our thoughts, perceptions, imaginations, and memories are clean, the inner life will prosper and our actions will be right. If, on the other hand, we allow our minds to be a steady dumping ground for garbage, we will suffer the consequences. We can convince ourselves that what we give our attention to, what we imagine, what we perceive, and what we remember will have little influence on how we live life, but the mind is too central to spiritual formation to be diminished in such a way.
The Bible clearly calls us to transformation through a changed mind. Romans 12:2 says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Colossians 3:2 adds, “Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.” God’s plan is clearly transformation through a dramatic change of thinking. In fact, the fundamental idea of transformation is a two-fold change of mind. Biblical commentator H.M. Carson says, “In the face of the constant battle with temptation on the level of the thought-life, the believer must not only resist evil thoughts, but positively set his mind on the things of God.”
Despite the Biblical emphasis on the centrality of the mind, the general Christian population has failed to grasp the importance of the mind. Dallas Willard said, “Today we are apt to downplay or disregard the importance of good thinking to strong faith…” Charles Stanley adds, “As long as we don’t follow through with what we are thinking, we usually don’t consider our thoughts much of a problem.” The river of our mind has been neglected, allowed to flow unfiltered. Like the people who ignored, or even applauded, the pollution of the Cuyahoga, we tend to turn a blind eye to the way we think.

H.G. Wells once said that we are in a race between education and catastrophe. If we do not recover the importance of Christian thinking as well as a willingness to consider our God, ourselves, and our world, we run the risk of faltering when we should be flourishing. As long as we don’t think our mind is the real issue, we will never change. Until we are ready to take the mind seriously, we will never be transformed from the inside out.
The challenge of cleaning the streams of water is a tremendous challenge but it must be done if Christians are going to make any real change. The Cuyahoga River has made a significant comeback since the fire of 1969. The industrial practices on the river were changed, major reforms took place, and contamination was cut dramatically. The river has slowly cleaned up and now some life has returned. Even the most polluted mind can be cleaned if one is willing to understand the problem and make the necessary changes to live with the mind of Christ.

 gas leaks and responsibility

Today makes the 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India. Within hours, hundreds were dead, within days, thousands. The impact on the community lingers to this day.
How did it happen? Among the factors cited by investigators into the incident was the problem of communication. Workers used English manuals to understand the way the machines worked, but few had a good grasp on the English Language. Union Carbide management did not do a good job of communicating with the plant in India. Some said they could not get over the cross-cultural barriers.
The result of Union Carbide’s attitude toward its Bhopal plant was decaying machinery, poor management, and an exodus of the best workers.
How did they respond to the disaster? They claimed it was not their fault. They said they were sabotaged by a disgruntled worker. They never named this mysterious worker and no charges were ever filed against him. They never presented proof the worker even existed.
The injustice of it all makes me sick. The unwillingness to take responsibility
Among the many lessons Bhopal teaches, I think one important lesson is to dispense justice and take responsibility. When we do wrong, we ought to make it right. But I do wonder – how many times do we try to shift the blame for our failures? Instead of coming clean, admitting the mistake, and changing, I wonder how many justifications we make when we have wronged others.
I do not think the people of Bhopal will ever see justice – the courts, corruption, and greed have just about guaranteed they will not see the compensation they deserve. The people in our lives can see justice and responsibility. They can see it when we are willing to right the wrongs we commit.

 is sin really that private

‘What I do in my private life is no one else’s business.’ Right.

Every day in the world the social implications of sin play themselves out in families, friendships, communities, and churches. The adulterer fails to consider the family he is unraveling, humiliating, and destroying. After the divorce, that destroyed family now has difficulty surviving financially and becomes dependent on the state welfare system for help. At this point the man’s adultery has become a problem for every tax paying citizen. The children grow up without a parent at home because the mother has to try to make some money to help the family and the father is long gone with his new wife. The boy begins to hang out with some questionable friends and begins stealing property in the neighborhood. The daughter becomes pregnant at fourteen and immediately begins to draw money from WIC. The state will pay for the prenatal care as well as the birth.

The irony is the man who committed adultery will not see the avalanche he caused. His conscience has already convinced him he had to do what he did.

In the book of Joshua, a man named Achan took some items from a city. God specifically instructed His people not to take those items. Achan got greedy and took them anyway. So, the next time God’s people went into battle, they were beaten and several people died. When God’s people asked God why they lost the battle, He told them someone had disobeyed. Someone’s greed resulted in someone else’s death.

We would like to convince ourselves that our sin has nothing to do with anyone else, but it is simply not true. Sin is not as private as we would like to believe. My sin impacts the people around me – my family, my church, my city, and my country.

 on truth

In 2006, Google entered China. They did so at a great cost. Instead of their standard practice of helping connect people with accurate information they seek, Google submitted to the censorship of the Chinese government. The results for a search on Tiananmen Square reveal directions, shopping information, and happy people going about their way. There is no mention of the hundreds killed when tanks and troops turned on their own people. There is no iconic picture of a single man stopping a row of tanks. The Chinese googlers will see no pictures of “The Goddess of Democracy,” a statue created by students and erected in the square shortly before the violent crackdown. They will not read about the hundreds who died protesting Chinese Communism.

In order to enter China, Google had to compromise. Marketshare defeated truth. Manipulation won out over full disclosure. Myth won out over reality. The great irony of it all is that Google has a corporate philosophy page (http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html).On that page are the ten things they know to be true. Number 6 reads: “You can make money without doing evil” and number 8 states: “The need for information crosses all borders.”

The largest collector of information in the history of the world has intentionally misinformed the largest population in the world.

This should bother us, but I’m afraid it doesn’t. We almost expect to be lied to. In a world of spin, fabrication, manipulation, and outright lies, we do not find misinformation to be that shocking. If someone says our current president is foreign born and should not be president, no one stops them and says: ‘You had better prove it.’ If someone says 9-11 was an inside job perpetrated by the Bush Administration no one stops them and says: ‘Where is the evidence?’

Sometimes I am tempted to say with Petronius: “The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.” But misinformation is a dangerous thing in the hands of those who are reckless with truth. Truth matters in every area of life. The moment we allow misinformation to go unchallenged we have cheapened our world and everything in it.

 On communicating

Yesterday, I sat in a small cubicle, with four other people, for over an hour. I listened while they showed my two year old daughter a series of pictures, blocks, shapes, and colors. All of the questions they asked were specifically geared to assess the possibility of developmental delay. The psychologist went over the tests and the score was in the “highly likely” Autism category.

I think the most frustrating part of the whole time was watching her fail to understand some of the questions they asked. Sometimes she would answer a question they did not ask. Sometimes she would just repeat some aspect of what they said. Sometimes she would try to get the purple bear that was “sleeping” on the table.

She could have performed nearly all of the tasks she was being asked to perform if they just asked the questions the right way. I knew what the point of the test was, I knew they were supposed to ask the questions the way they did. The father in me still cried out, ‘ask it differently, use less words.’

The whole episode got me thinking about communication. We communicate best with those we know best. Much has been made of the disappearance of relationships as people become more anonymous in big cities. Part of the fallout from a lack of solid relationships is a failure to communicate.

I’ve met many parents who could not communicate with their children because they did not know them. Many times, I thought: ‘If you really knew your child, you would not talk to them that way.’ I’ve met many husbands and wives who could not communicate with each other. I’ve met many Christians who have no idea how to communicate with their non-Christian neighbors, co-workers, and friends. I’ve met many church members who could not communicate with each other.

There is a great irony to the fact that we live closer together than ever before and yet are more isolated than ever. My experience in that small cubicle reminded me to take the time to know the people I am communicating with. Otherwise, I run the risk of talking in a way they cannot hear.

 BEST of 2009

Thought I would do a best of 2009. So here is my best in books, movies, and music.

BEST BOOKS

A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS
Donald Miller

Entertaining and at times inspiring. The couple of pages on his friend who turned his family around by building an orphanage in Mexico is worth the price of the book. I’ve read those pages 3 times and nearly cried each time.

UPHEAVALS OF THOUGHT Martha Nussbaum

Yes, I know it came out in 2001. I encountered it this year. Academic and engaging, Nussbaum takes emotions and pulls it away from psychology and sociology and gives it back to philosophy. With so many psychobabble, self-help emotion books polluting bookshelves, it is refreshing to find something worth reading on the topic. Some parts are only to be skimmed, but it is insightful.

A PERSON OF INTEREST Susan Choi

Yes, technically this is a 2008 book. But it was one of the few fiction books I read that deserve a mention (along with The Road and Falling Man). This book is so disturbing because it manages to place us inside of a person who is so self-absorbed he is both sociopathic and yet normal. He is everyman and yet we hope he is no man. Professor Lee is the man and he becomes a person of interest in the homicide of a fellow professor. Kind of falls apart at the end, but until then, a masterpiece.

BEST MOVIES

UP

An animated movie about an old man who wants to be left alone. Not only is the movie magical, strange, and unique, but it delivers a striking message without beating you over the head with it. Best movie I’ve seen in years.

STAR TREK

I hate to admit it but this was a good action movie with surprising depth to it.

BEST MUSIC

NO LINE ON THE HORIZON – U2

Occasional silly lyrics and not enough rock still does not stop U2’s NLOTH from being another great offering from U2. Moment of Surrender takes its place among great U2 songs.

UNION – The Boxer Rebellion

Nothing groundbreaking, just well crafted pop-rock.

FANTASIES – Metric

Help! I’m Alive is the best song, but the whole record has a post-techno feel that I like.

MY MAUDLIN CAREER – Camera Obscura

60s throwback with thoughtful lyrics.

LONG FALL BACK TO EARTH – Jars of Clay

Safe to Land is a haunting song that sticks with you long after you are done listening. Two Hands is the classic struggle between self-centered and Christ-centered living. Another solid offering from the Jars.

 everyone has story to tell

Everything I’ve been reading lately seems to include something about the story we want to tell.

Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is about the story we are telling and how to correct a bad story.

Randy Alcorn’s If God is Good has a chapter defending the goodness of God in the face of evil based on storytelling.

Andy Stanley’s The Principle of the Path includes a section about the kind of story we are telling and how it should impact our decisions.

All three books are great reminders of the fact we are in the process of telling a story. As I reflect on those books, I find myself asking people: What story do you want to tell?

It is a legitimate question for us all to ask. People will tell and retell our story – what will they say? Is it going to be the story of a person who couldn’t control their anger? Will it be a story of a person who couldn’t get past that one event in life? What about the story of the person who threw it away because one stupid decision? A story of what might have been if only…

Or will it be a comeback story? A story of success in the face of incredible odds? A story of faithfulness in the midst of heartache and difficulty?

Two truths come out of all of my recent readings:

1. If your story isn’t currently worth telling, get off of the couch. I’ve spent a lot of time with people who are dying and no one every told me they wished they had spent more time watching TV.

2. If your story is about to take a turn for the worse, do something about it. If you see your children about to crash and burn – take drastic steps to change the story. If you see something in your own heart that is leading you toward a bad ending, take drastic steps. Far too often we see trouble brewing and then do nothing to change our direction.

What story are you telling today?

 Thanksgiving 2001

I bought plane tickets for Thanksgiving 2001 during the summer of that year. In September, the world changed. Terrorists used planes as weapons and we entered a new world. Then, just one week before we were supposed to fly, an American Airlines plane crashed in a Queens neighborhood.

In the hours after the crash, before they determined the Queens crash was a result of mechanical failure, I talked to my mom about staying home. “It might better to eat the cost of the tickets rather than take my chances flying,” I said.

My parents were flying out of Atlanta on the same day. When my mom heard me hedge on the trip, she would not even consider staying home. “If it is my time to go, it is my time to go. I’m not letting this stop me.”

One of the long running debates between me and my mother is the debate over God’s sovereignty. My mom believes in sovereignty, just not in the same way I do. So, throughout the years, we have gone round and round on the topic. I always thought I had a better grasp on God’s sovereignty. God is in control of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. My arguments were solid, my belief firm.
Then September 11, 2001 happened and I was afraid.

As I later reflected on that conversation leading up to Thanksgiving 2001, I had to conclude that my mom’s view of sovereignty was closer to my view than she led on. I also had to conclude that it impacted her life in a much deeper way than it did mine. I said I believed God controlled everything, but was still afraid to get on a plane. I was ready to cower under the danger instead of living confidently in God’s hands. If it hadn’t been for my mom, I might not have flown. She made me see God’s sovereignty in real life.

It is one thing to say God is in control. It is another thing altogether to live like it.

 Agendas

Dallas Willard said, “Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.” I was struck by this quote before because it is underlined on page 58 of Renovation of the Heart. This week it hit me because I was discussing agendas at our small group meeting.

Wanting God to be God is the willingness to pray – “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” As long as we don’t think to much about it, we can pray for God’s kingdom according to His will.

But what if God’s agenda for His kingdom is different than ours? After all, the pattern in the Bible shows God’s agenda really disrupts lives. Jonah found out God’s agenda and tried to run from it. When he finally embraced God’s agenda he did it with bitterness. When Moses heard God’s agenda he made excuses for why he was not the person to do what God wanted done. God’s agenda led Joseph into slavery, Isaiah to speak to people who would not listen, Jeremiah to a pit, most of the disciples to death, and, of course, Christ to the cross.

God’s agenda is very disruptive. Henry Blackaby was right to say, “You cannot stay where you are and go with God.”

The reality of “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” leads us to an important crisis – We have to submit to God’s agenda. We cannot walk through life wanting God to rubber stamp all of our ideas. We cannot say – “My kingdom come, My will be done.” We have to ask for God’s will to be done God’s way.

And then we have to follow His lead.

 WHY 5

Answer # 5 – Rethink everything

God spends 38-42 asking Job a series of questions. Job has waited for God so he could ask God to answer his question and instead God shows up and asks His own questions.
So here is Job’s big chance. God has come to converse with Job. The record will be set straight and Job will be vindicated. Job will be declared the winner of the fight. But something must be made very clear here – we don’t win fights with God. I think this becomes abundantly clear by the end.
So, God gets His hammer out and begins to pound away on Job with question after question – all which prove God’s supremacy.
Job keeps questioning why? why? why? He wants to hear from God about what his life has become. And you would think that when we get to the end of the book we would find God giving us some answers. Yet we come to the end of the book of Job and what do we find God saying? In Job 38-42 we find God asking a series of questions – as if He were bringing the hammer down on Job over and over again. Blistering questions like Job 40:2 “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” like Job 41:10-11 “Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” As well as a whole host of questions about creation – like Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” And all of those questions center around 1 issue – Job, who do you think you are to question me? How dare you doubt what I am doing. God did not answer Job’s questions. The only way God chose to work in his relationship with Job was to simply real the fact that God is in charge. He gave Job nothing more but to say ‘My ways are best Job.’ God refuses to allow His perfect character to be questioned simply because things don’t work out as we hope. God is in control and His ways are right.

Question #1 Who has ultimate understanding? 38:1-7

I choose these few verses because they illustrate the point but this question is asked throughout God’s monologue. Who do you think you are to question My understanding and My ways? Why are you talking about things you do not understand? If you know so much why don’t you instruct me about the way things are.

All of this theological talk Job and his friends have discussed throughout this book comes to an end – God says enough. Enough of all this endless speculation about things you know nothing about. There is a time to shut up and realize you have reached the end of your understanding and that some things will be left in mystery. To a large degree suffering is one of those subjects – figuring out God in suffering is another subject that may be left in mystery.
G.K. Chesterton once said “the riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

Question #2 Who has ultimate power 40:15-24, 41

God mentions two fierce creatures – Behemoth and Leviathan and says that Job would tremble before these two creatures. He describes these creatures in detail – and there has been a lot of speculation as to what these two creatures might be, but the point of the passage is not the creatures, it is the God who created these fearful creatures and how He is in charge of even the deadliest and fiercest creatures in existence. Man tremble at created things – how dare they try to come with power against the Creator of all things.
Job has no right to judge God because in doing so Job is claiming an authority he does not have. The creature does not get to talk back to the creator and say – why was I made like this? This is the exact argument Paul makes years later in Romans 9:19-21 “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?”

Question #3 Who is ultimately in control? 38:35

“Can you send out lightning bolts, and they go? Do they report to you ‘here we are?’”
Indeed, God must be in charge of everything. The scriptures say that even a sparrow forgotten by the world, is remembered by God. In the beautiful passage in Colossians Paul writes of Christ: “by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Without the glue of God sustaining the universe things would completely break apart and our world would not hold together.

Question #4 Who do you think you are to question Me? 40:8

Really this is the implied question which is the basis for all the other questions God asks. If I am ever asked the question – what is God getting at with all of His questions to Job I always say that the bottom line for all of the questions can be found in this one idea – Who do you think you are to question Me? Listen to 40:8 “Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?”

Job’s Response: Change

40:4-5 “I am insignificant. How can I answer You? I place my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not reply; twice, but now I can add nothing.”
42:2 “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted…Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…I heard rumors about You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.”

There are two realities that strike home for Job
1. Job didn’t understand

So many times we try to figure out things we just don’t get. And this is what Job learns – he just didn’t get it; it was above him. And all his thinking led to a bitterness that was in the process of spoiling him. We look at suffering and it doesn’t make any sense. And so we lash out at God. But really we just don’t understand.
Our 3 year old daughter Ellie is on the mild to moderate side of the Autism spectrum. We have her in these play groups twice a week. And one of the purposes of the play group is to stretch her to do things that are uncomfortable so that she will expand into areas she would not naturally. If we don’t there is a chance she will lock into certain patterns and never go beyond them. The last couple of weeks I’ve taken her to the group. She doesn’t like to swing – but I hold her on the swing anyway. At first she cried a lot and did all that she could to get off of the swing. She really has a tough time with food. There are only certain foods she will even try. She cries and pushes away any attempt to give her food. But each time I shove the spoon against her closed mouth and leave some of the food there on her lips. As she cries she licks the food off.
And if I was to sit down with her and try to explain to her how important these times are and how she really needs to expand things she doesn’t like or she will lock into patterns that will severly limit her ability to function and thrive in this world, she would not understand in the least. And as I was thinking all of this over, I couldn’t help but think about God. If God were to sit us down in the middle of our suffering and try to explain we just wouldn’t get it. It is beyond our understanding. This is what Job is saying – I didn’t get it. I’m sorry.

2. Job encountered God

And here is the bottom line for those who are in the middle of the WHY? There is meaning in the midst of it all. We can cynically look at the book of Job and say Job suffered tremendously because of a cosmic bet between Satan and God. But this is not Job’s take on the whole thing.
I didn’t know you – is what Job says. Now I know you. Mike Mason says “What has really been happening throughout his ordeal is that…God has been getting bigger. God does not change, of course, but our perception of Him does.” Through the ordeal Job came to know God in a way he never would have otherwise.
There is something about pain that forces to look to God in ways we never had before. C.S. Lewis said God whispers to us in pleasure, but pain is God’s megaphone to wake up a sleeping world.
Mason says, “In every season of suffering there comes a turning point. The turning point is not usually the point at which the suffering itself is alleviated. Rather, it is that time when it begins to dawn upon the sufferer that there may actually be meaning to his pain.”
Job found God in a way he never anticipated. He found that his suffering was not in vain. And when we give ourselves over to God, we find our suffering is not a random cosmic joke.

 WHY 4

Answer #4 – To wake you from your blindness to your own sin

Zophar steps up and offers his statement – you are blind to your own sinfulness and this is to wake you up to reality. 11:5-6 “if only God would speak and declare His case against you, He would show you the secrets of wisdom…” 11:11-12 “Surely He knows which people are worthless. If He sees iniquity, will He not take note of it? But a stupid man will gain understanding as soon as a wild donkey is born a man! As for you, if you redirect your heart and lift up your hands to Him…”
The thing is, this sounds so right and many times it is right. Many times we are blind to our own sin and we need a violent jolt of reality to bring us to the realization that we sin. In pain, we seek answers. In pain, we are humbled. Many times this is where we should look when suffering comes. We ought to ask: Is God using this to change us, to bring our puffed up, stubborn heart into submission to His system?

Zophar does not even bother with any kind of authority but his own. He is just bringing what, in his mind, is straight forward tough love.

Job’s Response: I need to talk to God

13:1-3 “Look, my eyes have seen all this; my ears have heard and understood it. Everything you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. Yet I prefer to speak to the almighty and argue my case before God.”
Blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard all of this before and it does me no good. All this banter about my situation is becoming more and more worthless. I do not need all these “answers,” I need to speak with God.
As helpful as other people can be in the difficult times, we will only be satisfied when we hear the ultimate WHY. We can bear nearly any burden if we only understand why. Job refuses to give up and we would be wise to follow in his steps.
Tenacious followers have found answers. They often find much more than they are bargaining for, but an answer is there.

 Answers to WHY 3

Answer # 3 – People get what they deserve

Bildad, a second friend who has been with Job during his time of suffering speaks up. He takes a similar Eliphaz’s answer and expands it. Job 8:4: “Since your children sinned against Him, He gave them over to their rebellion.” Your kids got what they deserved. If you turn back to God, Bildad goes on to say, He will move and will restore you. And it turns to a similar argument Eliphaz made – look you are the problem.

Bildad does not claim to have a revelation from some shape at night, as Eliphaz did. Bildad broadens his authority by looking to the past. He appeals to the authority of tradition. 8:8: “For ask the previous generation, and pay attention to what their fathers discovered…” 8:20 “God does not reject a person of integrity…” This is the wisdom passed down – God is good to the good and punishes the sinner. And who can argue because generally speaking that is the way it works.

Job’s Response: I need someone to intercede

Right, right, Job says in chapter 9, I get what you are saying. And then at the end of chapter 9 he longs for someone to mediate the situation. 9:33-35 “There is no one to judge between us, to lay his hand on both of us. Let Him take His rod away from me so His terror will no longer frighten me. Then I would speak and not fear Him. But that is not the case; I am on my own.”
Many have felt just like that – they feel completely alone in their situation. Everyone who tries to help does no good.
Their focus sharpens and their gaze turns upward for a solution because every piece of friendly advice fails to make sense of the reality.

In the midst of pain and suffering, we would do well to continue to sharpen our focus and seek God’s word on our situation. As helpful as some advice can be, in God and His word we find the final statement. This is what Job continues to long for and it is what we have to seek as well.

 Answers to WHY 2

Continuing to look at possible answers to the painful question why the obvious answer is now presented as a possibility. Your trouble has come on you because of your sin. You are simply reaping what you have sown. This answer is presented throughout the book by all of Job’s friends, but is first introduced by Eliphaz.

2. Answer # 2 – Because you sinned

Eliphaz, one of the friends who has come to comfort Job in his time of grief, speaks up. Why did this suffering come on you? Because you sinned. Job 4:8 “In my experience, those who plow injustice and those who sow trouble reap the same.” In 4:7 the implication is clear: “who has perished when he was innocent? When have the honest been destroyed?”
As if the charge of injustice, dishonesty, and troublemaking have not been enough, Eliphaz then introduces how he came to this conclusion about Job.
What authority does he have to say these things? A spirit – a vision in the night – perhaps a dream. 4:15 “A wind passed by me, and I shuddered with fear. A figure stood there, but I could not recognize its appearance; a form loomed before my eyes. I heard a quiet voice: ‘Can a person be more righteous than God, or a man more pure than his maker?”
There it is – the vision confirms it – Job is guilty and God was not going to let him get away with it. Job was guilty because God would not do this to him if he wasn’t.
The answer is clear Job – it is your fault.

Job’s response: State your case against me

Job tells Eliphaz – look if I have done something wrong tell me, I can take it. 6:24 “Teach me, and I will be silent. Help me understand what I did wrong. How painful honest words can be! But what does your rebuke prove?”
Job says that such a proposition is not out of the question. Perhaps sin is a problem, it usually is in these case. The principle of reaping what we sow is a principle for a reason.
Just one problem – I am not guilty!
I haven’t done anything that would qualify for God’s destruction. And at the end of Chapter 7 he turns his words toward God in prayer – Why have you made me a target? Why not forgive? Whatever I may have done, I am sorry. Please help.

Anytime trouble comes we ought to look at ourselves and thoroughly examine our lives to see if the answer is right in front of us. The crook should not be surprised to find himself in jail. The parent who neglects to instruct should not be surprised to have a wild, unruly child. These things sometimes surprise us when they shouldn’t.

But sometimes it isn’t because of what we have done. And Job lets us know that every difficult situation, every heartbreak, every painful moment in life does not necessarily come from my own sinfulness.
Jesus explains this when His disciples ask about a blind man. “Who sinned,” they ask, “this man or his parents.” Jesus says – The blindness was so God could be glorified in the miracle of sight.
Before we tell everyone we can see their sin has finally caught up to them, we ought to remember Job.

Job, having rejected the second answer, continues to seek out God. This is what keeps us headed in the right direction through suffering.

 Answers to WHY? part 1

I was asked to post the sermon from a couple of weeks ago onto the blog. Instead of posting it all at once, I will post each of the possible answers to the question Why? one at a time.
All of these answers come from the book of Job. Job has lost all his children and his wealth. Then he loses his health and he sits down in a pile of ashes and scrapes the boils to relieve his pain. And as he does this a long conversation begins as to why all this is happening. Throughout the book possible answers are given – I do not claim that I will address every answer, but we will hit the big answers.

1. Answer # 1 – Curse God and die

There are those who find there answer in the idea that God is just out to get them. Therefore, they should just turn against Him. This is the perspective Job’s wife come up with.
2:9 “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” In other words, his wife is abandoning God. Turn against God – hate Him and curse Him for what He has done to us. Don’t stay on His side – turn away. The implication is that Job had trusted in God all of this time and what good did it do in the end.
It is worth noting that we never hear from Job’s wife again. She is never mentioned again – not even at the end when it speaks of everything being restored. If she doesn’t leave physically, the implication is she is abandoning him spiritually. Now Job is isolated – on his own. The only surviving family, his wife, has lived only to turn against her husband’s faithfulness.
And this is some people’s answer to the question Why. They say – the only answer is that a sadistic God is out to destroy you who have been faithful. Where has all of that faithfulness gotten you.

Job’s first Response: You don’t understand

Job rejects his wife’s solution, says she speaks and one who has no knowledge. 2:10 “You speak as a foolish woman speaks…Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?”
I will not only serve God when times are good.

So, as tempting as it can be to sometimes say that there is no reason to it, Job rejects the idea. The answer has never been, and never will be, to turn against the only source of deliverance.

 answering a question

This week marked the 40th anniversary of the moonwalk. It still amazes me to this day – we landed on the moon! As I reflect on this accomplishment, I thought about my trip to NASA.
Several years ago, I took an 8th grade class to Houston’s space center and we spent the afternoon considering the wonders of space.
At one point, we were brought into a room where we watched a video of NASA accomplishments. At the end of the video, students had a chance to ask questions.
I have to mention that I told my students the one problem I had with the moon landing – I can’t understand why the flag was waving when there is no atmosphere.
Let me tell you I am not a conspiracy wacko. I absolutely believe we went to the moon. I have no doubt that we walked on the moon and planted a flag there. But that flag should not be floating in the “breeze.” All of the answers I’ve heard – and there are many – haved been underwhelming at best.
So, you are probably guessing where this is going. One of my students asked, “Why was the flag waving?”
I cringed when I heard the woman’s response. The woman answering the questions became defensive and hostile. “The shaking of the pole as they planted it caused the flag to wave.” It wasn’t what she said, it was how she said it. It was as if the question was a personal attack. She seemed less believable because of her approach to the question.
And I think back on that brief exchange and it makes me think about my own exchanges with people. Do my encounters pull people closer to the truth or push them further away. If I am defensive and hostile when people ask real, difficult questions, they will not respect the answers.

Over the last several months we have been asking people a question: If you could ask God one question what would it be?
The number one question: WHY? Why the death of a loved one? Why do we have a handicapped child? WHY?
A great question. And we do not need to be defensive or hostile in our answers. Let’s always make sure we respect the questions we are asked as well as the people who ask them.

 Connecting

Yesterday, I listened to my daughter Ellie attempt to sing The Wonder Pets song. She can’t sing it – she makes noises that sound nothing like words. She is now 2 and 1/2 and has a limited vocabulary. Still no offical diagnosis, but it looks like she has autism.

Shortly after her show ended, she came into the room where I was working. She was speaking to me, but I had no idea what she was saying. I wanted to be able to communicate with her, I wanted to know what she understands and I wanted to be able to understand what she said. How can we connect? I wondered.

I’ve been reflecting on that moment. I think we would all be better off if we took a moment and thought about how we can best connect with other people. Too often we have conversations with each and we do not understand what other people are saying. I’ve heard it said that most conversations are conversations of the deaf.
If we don’t take the time to connect with other people we are just wandering through life in isolation.

 Teamwork

The Los Angeles Lakers are again NBA champions. As you know, the Lakers are my favorite team and have been since I was a child.
During the critical stretch of Game 4, Kobe Bryant was trying to do too much. I turned to my wife and said, ‘Now is the time for him to trust his teammates. He has got to trust his teammates.’ The Lakers went on to win the game in overtime and the hero was not Kobe Bryant, but Derek Fisher. With about 6 seconds left he hit a 3 point basket to tie the game and send it to overtime. Then, in overtime, he hit another 3 to put the game away and give the Lakers a victory.
Kobe Bryant finally learned he cannot do it on his own. 1 on 5 just doesn’t work – even when the 1 is an incredible player.
The church is a team. No one player can do it all, no matter how spiritual, talented, or gifted. We are all in this together. If we win – we win together.
We all have to know our role and step in and do what is needed. And that is the only way to have a championship church.

 North American Missions

I’ve done more traveling these past two years than I’ve done my entire life. Most of my travels have to do with preparing for and continuing the work of LakePoint Fellowship. I’ve met a lot of people who are living the life of a missionary.

Tim works with the Afghan population in Northern California. He lives among them and has poured hi heart into reaching them for Christ. He has even traveled to Afghanistan in order to reach them.

Allan who works with the Koren people in Colorado. They are brought to the US because they are persecuted in their own country. They have no idea how to maneuver the system in order to get help and they do not speak English. Allan has been an advocate for them.

Danny planted a church in Miami and is working towards reaching the city for Christ.

Sara works with a church in the suburbs outside of New York City trying to share the gospel through family ministries.

The Ims who are working with the Chinese population in Canada.

I’ve had the honor of hearing their stories and listening to the passion they have to share Christ with their part of the North America. I wish you could hear their stories and get to see the excitement they have for their work.

It is inspiring to know that people are giving their lives for the work of Christ. Whatever we do for the sake of the gospel, we don’t do it alone. All over the country missionaries are working to proclaim the message of Christ.

Pray that God will do a great work through each of these.

 networking

I like words. I am one of those people who think words matter. I watch the way words change and the way ideas change when we change words. I firmly believe that words have meaning.

I am at the NAMB (North American Mission Board) commissioning for missionaries and at this meeting I heard that we are to “network for evangelism.” I’ll be honest, from the moment I heard the phrase it didn’t sound right to me. Being the word geek that I am, I looked up networking and Webster says: “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”

I wonder if the people who decided we should network for evangelism knew what the word network means. I’m sure they did not mean that we are to cultivate relationships for employment or business. I hope they do not mean that I should reach out to people because it will help my business (church) and my employment (pastor).

I hope we build relationships with other people because we want to see them come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. If my motive is using people for my gain, I am building my own kingdom and no longer interested in God’s kingdom.

Bottom line: not sure networking for evangelism is the best way to express what I do. In a world that tends to love stuff and use people, we need to clearly state that we love people and use stuff.

 God’s best

We have been discussing the reality that God is in control. That can be a frightening thought if God did not care. We are promised in Romans 8 that God will work everything for good. Remember, that does not mean everything is good – but He works it for good. There is no wasted part of my life.
Though we have not told many people, there is a chance our daughter Ellie might be autistic. So far the closest thing to a diagnosis we have is PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified), but even that is not an official diagnosis. More test are being done.
I was driving down the road the other day, I cried for Ellie. Not because of the problem, but because every parent wants the best for their child. It is that simple. Every parent wants the best for their child.
And that is when God spoke to me. The heart of God is the best for His children. God wants the best for us. And He will do what He needs to do to achieve the best for us. God chose the title Father to reveal Himself to us in order that we might understand His heart is a parental heart.
Paul understood this and said “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
If everything is shaping me for the glory to come, then I see my life, my circumstances, and God in a different light. God has the best in mind. His heart is the best for His children.

 wild parties, ashes and repentance, and moderation

Here comes Mardi Gras, the wild party where people throw their inhibitions to the wind and get drunk and party.

Followed immediately by Ash Wednesday, the day of repentance and fasting as the religious begin to focus on Easter.

Even people who don’t participate in wild parties understand them. And even people who don’t fast and repent understand those religious practices.

What we fail to understand in our day is moderation. We overeat and crash diet – both somehow make sense. We spend wildly, going into debt to support a lifestyle we cannot afford, and then we radically reduce spending and live strictly to get ourselves back in line.

Yes, we are all children of Mardi Gras and we are all children of Ash Wednesday. And I suppose there is a time for extravagance and a time for deprivation. But for the most part we are called to live in moderation. Proverbs 25:16 says “If you find honey, eat only what you need; otherwise, you’ll get sick from it and vomit.”
The problem is that moderation requires discipline and our world constantly tells us we can do without discipline. Moderation requires us to say enough, and the world tells us there is no such thing as enough.
We need to ask some really tough questions – when is more just… more? Not better, not greater quality, just more. Is that second piece of cake really better, or is it just more? Is that extra this, that, or other thing really better or is it just another thing? Is another event in our schedule important or is it just more stuff to do?

2008

 Christmas thoughts and the hope for a new holiday season

Christmas marked the arrival of Christ to earth. Those faithful to God longed to see His appearance on earth. Many Christians still try to recreate that longing of history through Advent. I understand Advent – the focusing of our life on the anticipation of the arrival of Christ by fasting and abstaining. It is supposed to make the Christmas celebration that much greater. Many Christians don’t observe Advent. In a thought provoking article, theologian Stanley Grenz said: “As members of the fast-food generation, we have become so eager to get to Christmas that we bypass Advent. Whereas our forebears enjoined fasting and reflection, we try to enjoy days filled with more Christmas festivities than we can endure. Christmas has displaced Advent on our calendars.”

But, honestly, I don’t mind our failure to observe Advent. It is hard to anticipate something that has already happened. It is much easier to celebrate what has happened than it is to anticipate it. What troubles me is our contemporary failure to anticipate The Return. I wish there was one more holiday season for Christians. Christmas is great! Easter is as good as it gets. But I wish for a season of anticipation. A season where we focus on The Return of Christ. For too many Christians the reality of The Return of Christ has little or no impact on their real every day lives. I wonder, wouldn’t it make a colossal impact on how we live. See, the early church really believed Christ was returning and they lived in light of that reality. We don’t.
So, wouldn’t it be great to have a holiday season which we really looked with anticipation, not to the first coming, but to the second coming? What would it look like, this holiday?
I Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 About the times and the seasons: brothers, you do not need anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “Peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers, are not in the dark, so that this day would overtake you like a thief. 5 For you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We’re not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then, we must not sleep, like the rest, but we must stay awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, we must be sober and put the armor of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet of the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.”

 thanks

Several months ago, I met a refugee family during a trip to Denver. This woman and her daughter fled persecution in Burma because they were part of the Karen (pronounced co-ren) Christian community. The husband was killed in the persecution and for a long time they were trapped in a refugee camp with no way to get out. After a long hellish experience, they made it to America. They were living in poverty, with no way to even understand how to get help. Local Christians were helping them get the aid they needed, which is how I came to meet them.

I was particularly impressed with the daughter, a teenager struggling to learn a new language, in a new city, in a new country. I thought all of the troubles she had been through would have beaten her down. What I encountered was joy. She was so thankful to be alive, so thankful to be getting help from the Christian community in Denver, so happy to be settling in.

I’ve met a lot of people who have everything. And none of it means anything. They are always focused on what they don’t have rather than what they already received. And, ironically, none of the new stuff makes them any happier.

Pause this week and look around at what you have been given. I think the Apostle Paul asked a great question to the Corinthians, a group full of unthankful complainers: “What do you have that you did not receive?” What do we have that wasn’t given to us? It is all a gift.

Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, let’s be thankful for what we have. Instead of complaining about the life we don’t have, let’s enjoy the life we have.

 a gap that needs to be filled

I read a book this past weekend called Reality Gap. The basic thesis of the book is that parents and teens have an incredible gap between them. Parents tend to minimize the pressures teens face and teens tend to hide the problems from their parents.
It was a sobering book because my experience interacting with teens is similar to the conversations the author has with kids in his book. So many kids told the author that they hid their real problems from their parents. So many kids I taught did the same thing.
There was the A student who broke down one day because she was being pressured into a physical relationship with her boyfriend. She wasn’t ready, but her friends, as well as the boy, kept pushing her. When I discussed the issue with her she begged me not to tell her parents.
There was a whole line of students who admitted they had suicidal thoughts. When we contacted their parents, the parents got mad at us. They just could not deal with the reality that their child might not have it all together.
There was an entire class who learned about sex from Carly Smith (not her real name). All of these teens, placed in a good Christian school, learned from a girl who had far more knowledge than she needed to have at that age. I’m sure most of the parents thought they had more time before they got detailed, but they were wrong. And I’m sure all of them would be horrified to learn what their kids found out from Carly Smith.
The reality gap terrifies me because this is real life. I have an 8 year old daughter who is already deciding what to tell me and what to keep from me. I don’t want there to be a reality gap between us.
So, I went to a tea party Saturday afternoon.
That’s right, I went to a tea party. My wife and I were both busy and we told my daughter we would not attend the party. She set it up anyway, in the hope that we would change our minds and come to the party. She even made real cheese and crackers. When the party was ready she came to get us and we again told her we were not coming. She was sad and went downstairs to have the party alone.
I turned to my wife and told her about the book Reality Gap.
And we went to the tea party. Why? Because we want to create a track record with our kids. A track record that tells them we are genuinely interested in their world. We don’t want to be outsiders, looking in, wondering what is going on. And I believe that begins with making time for what is important to them. It begins with the statement: You are important, and that statement cannot just be in words, it has to be in actions.
So, my wife and I went to a tea party and sat with a stuffed bear, a stuffed dog, a stuffed bunny. We ate cheese and crackers.
The cynical might say – A tea party? You think that will solve the reality gap? The answer is, I don’t know. But, I tend to see it more as a series of bricks in a foundation of trust. And each tea party, each movie, each TV show, each song, represents a brick in a foundation of trust. A foundation that I hope one day will be strong enough to eliminate the reality gap.

 take a risk

As we were heading out the door this morning, my daughter asked me for an invite card for our opening weekend. She told me she wanted to give it to her teacher. She hoped that he would at least come to the festival on Saturday (and maybe even church, she said). On the drive to school, she looked over the card to make sure all the necessary information was contained on it and discussed what she would say when she gave it to him.
The things is, she likes her teacher. And when she likes someone, she wants to share what is most important to her.

I did a lot of thinking after I dropped her off. I thought about the way we adults share our faith with people we like. Usually, there are two problems:
1. We don’t even know anyone who is not a Christian. So, even if we wanted to share, we wouldn’t even know where to start.
2. If we do know someone who is not a Christian, we excuse ourselves from sharing because we are afraid it will “mess things up.” At work we don’t want to mess up the chemistry we have with our co-workers, so we keep quiet. In the neighborhood, we don’t want to mess up our relationships because, after all, we have to live next to these people.

Far too often we rationalize our silence or insulate ourselves – instead of giving ourselves away to the cause of sharing Jesus.

Jesus told a story about risk in Matthew 25 – we usually call it the parable of the talents. A master gives 3 servants different amounts of money and leaves on a journey. The servant with 5 risks his money and doubles it. The servant with 2 risks his money and doubles it. The servant with 1, buries it. The master says well done to the servants who risked. The master says “you wicked, lazy slave – get out” to the servant who buried what he had been given.

Risk is not an option, it is a demand. So, risk what you have been given. Take a risk in your neighborhood and get to know the people around you. Take a risk at work and invite a co-worker to an event at your church. Take a risk at school and invite your teacher…
God just might double your efforts. If I understand Matthew 25, I believe He will. In fact, the more we risk, the greater the return.

 who is raising our kids?

About six months ago, I attended a church conference. One of the speakers was Mark Batterson, a DC pastor. He spoke about how he was taking an active role in discipling his young son. He spoke of a plan – a plan to help him grow physically, mentally, spiritually. Using Luke 2:52 “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” as a template, he developed a plan for his son.

We don’t talk much about discipleship in family life. I’ve read dozens of books on discipleship and I have only read a single paragraph about family discipleship in all of those books. One paragraph. I hate to say this, but my 8 years of teaching middle school and high school taught me that the dominant parenting model is passive. Parents tend to let the church teach them spirituality, let the school teach them academically, let the TV entertain them, and let the computer teach them social skills.

All of this is not some rant about contemporary parenting. It is very personal. I have a soon to be 8 year old daughter. She entered public school this year, after years of excellent instruction at a great Christian school. She is at least a year ahead of the public school. God is no longer the center of her school. This is no rant against public school, they are doing the best they can, but it is not where my daughter is at.

I kept thinking about how Batterson had a plan, a plan to disciple his son. So, I began thinking of ways to invest in the life of my daughter. We talked about her need to be challenged academically and her need for a regular time with God. I went out and bought her some books that are more on her level. We work on math, reading, writing, and Bible every day. It is her homework and she earns small rewards along the way to keep her motivated and focused.

I don’t want to be a passive parent. I don’t want to just let things happen to my child. I want to have a plan. I don’t want someone else to raise my child for me. Yes, I want all the help I can get, but ultimately I want to parent on purpose. I want to disciple my children.

 famous fakes

This week, the world learned another famous Christian personality is not what they seem. Michael Guglielmucci, a famous preacher and singer from Australia, admitted he faked his two year battle with cancer and is addicted to pornography.

Guglielmucci was featured on the most recent Hillsong record and critics hailed the song “Healer” as the defining moment of the record.

But his whole story is fake. He is another in a series of famous frauds. A manufactured evangelical superstar.

The easiest thing to do is blame the frauds, blame those who are fooled by the frauds, or blame the machine that is creating the frauds. And all of those issues probably should be addressed. But not here.

The Christian thinker and speaker Ravi Zacharias tells of a conversation he had with a man who drove him to the airport after a series of speaking engagements at a Midwest university. The man told Ravi that his wife had invited a woman to the meetings. “Do you want to know what she thought?” The man asked Ravi. “She said, ‘Very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his personal life.'”
Those words have stuck with me. Above everything else people want to know if we are for real. Is the faith making a difference in our real life?

In college, I lived in a dorm my first year and a half. The RA of the dorm had a sign that said, “Real life is not wished but lived.” I like that phrase so much I made my own sign, “Real Christianity is not wished, but lived.”

And I still believe that. I believe that we all are looking for real faith lived out in real people. I believe that we must go beyond empty belief and allow the faith to change us from the inside out.

So, Michael Guglielmucci becomes another name in a long list of famous fakes in the faith. It is too easy to curse the darkness in others. Let’s instead look at ourselves. Because the world is watching and they are saying “Very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his personal life.”

 the education of a teacher part 5

In the 1980s, I read a story about how gangs were infiltrating the wealthy areas of the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. The article detailed the story of two best friends Mark and Tony. Though unrelated, they shared the last name Miller and they were often referred to as the Miller boys. Though they came from the same area, they came from two very different families.

Tony Miller’s family saw what was happening to their son and decided to send him away for nearly a year. They spent twenty thousand dollars to keep him from falling prey to the streets.

Mark Miller’s mother, Karen, watched their teen become a gang leader. Mark’s father thought there was not enough discipline, but his mother said, “My kids didn’t have to do or be anything but what they were.” Eventually, he was shot and killed outside a club.

The older I get the more impressed I am by the parents who sent Tony away to get out of the gang life. They were willing to do whatever it took to save him.

When I first started teaching, I wondered why some parents kept their children at our school. The kids struggled, some even seemed disinterested. It seemed these parents were wasting money. But then I realized they wanted the best for their children. There is nothing as stubborn, as ferocious, as dedicated as a parent who is demanding the best for their child.

In a conversation I had recently, someone asked me why the parents of a certain young woman kept trying to help her. After all, she was beyond help. Everyone else had given up. Why couldn’t the parents open their eyes and realize they should quit wasting their time?
I couldn’t let my friend’s statement slide. I said, “A Parent ought to be the last person who is still fighting for you.” When everyone else has given up – the parents still do all they can do to help. A parent’s love is an anchor, a safety net, and a catalyst all at once.

When I think of this kind of love, I don’t blame parents for refusing to give up. In fact, I think of the story Jesus told – the fahter waiting for the wandering son and throwing a party when he returns. Instead of hiring him as a servant, he welcomes him back as his child.

You just never know when someone will come home. And if God loves like that, and parents love like that, perhaps we would be better if we showed that kind of love more often.

 the education of a teacher part 4

I once sat in a meeting with a textbook representative to discuss textbooks. At one point in the discussion, I mentioned we used their 9th grade books for 7th grade. He was surprised. Actually, he found it hard to believe.

Every year students walked to my desk and told me the assignment, the reading, or the work was too hard. Each time I would patiently walk them through the work. And often they end up doing some of the best work of their academic lives.

I’ve learned that people don’t like to be pushed beyond comfortable, but when they do, they end up with excellence they did not know they could achieve.

When Christ pushes me, I am often like the students I have taught. I complain. I want to make it stop. It is too hard – I just want to be good, not great in Christ’s school.

But Christ reminds me. real Christianity isn’t easy, but it radically changes me with each year I spend in Christ’s classes. We do not often call ourselves students in Christ’s classroom. But that is a primary picture Christ gives in the New Testament. The word ‘disciple’ is primarily one who a student of a teacher. Some of us want to take a semester off, if not a semester, perhaps a week, if not a week, perhaps an assignment. The next time you are pushed further than you planned to grow, know that excellence is never found by ease and comfort.

 the education of a teacher part 3

A famous teacher of screenwriting said his mother once asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He said he would like to write stories, but would probably go into dentistry because it seemed a better career choice. His mother said, “What are you going to do when they find a cure for bad teeth?”

I’ve thought about that response for a long time. I think his mom’s response was so wise. I think she was saying that the one permanent need in life is the need to hear great stories. I agree.

I agree because I love stories. Growing up I thought I was alone in my love for good stories. Teaching has taught me that everyone loves good stories.

Every year I tell certain stories that really connect with kids. The story about how my brother and I came face to face with a child killer while playing baseball in a field; the story of my mother’s encounter with a machete wielding maniac when she was younger; the time a student stole one of my shoes after obsessing over them for weeks; the one time I told God I was going to do whatever I wanted no matter He said.

I am known for telling stories. It is one of the first things new students ask me to do. Many of them have already heard them because these stories get passed on to friends and families of the students.

I am amazed at how everyone loves a good story.

It shouldn’t surprise me. Jesus spent most of time teaching in story form. His best known teachings are stories: A greedy and selfish son demands his inheritance and runs off to spend it all on partying. Humiliated, but homeless and helpless, he goes home – and finds a party is given in his honor. All because he came back home. A traveler is beaten up and robbed on a road. Religious people pass him and ignore his need. A “loser” walks by and helps the man. A man builds on a rock and another man builds on sand. A large storm comes and only the house on the rock remains.

I could go on and on.

I love good stories. I’m dedicated to telling good stories. I’ve taken as a motto the phrase – Tell good stories. In fact, there are times when I have a sermon completed and I’ll look back over it to see if it is as packed as possible with stories.

Whenever people tell me a message has touched their life, it is almost always a story that has made the difference.

So, I’ve learned that the best form of communication is a good story – it’s not well reasoned logic (as important as logic is) and it is not well defined application (as important as application is) – it is a well told story that speaks above everything else.

We have the best story. We ought to find the best ways to tell it.

 the education of a teacher part 2

People need acceptance

I have heard it said that the first question students ask when they come into a classroom is “Do you like me?” No, they don’t say it out loud, but they might as well. I can look back on my own experience and find that growing up I excelled in classes where I felt the teacher I liked me and I did poorly in classes where I felt the teacher did not like me.
I have always been a demanding teacher, but one thing I wanted the students to know without a doubt – that I thought they were valuable people, that I liked them.
The fact that students want to be liked made me look at all of my realtionships. Because, honestly, we all are asking that same question – “Do you like me?” We move toward the people that like us and move away from those who do not.
For Christians the answer to the question “Do you like me?” should be yes. Jesus told us to love others as He loved us. Does this mean we accept everything a person does? No. Does this mean we ignore accountability or discipline? Again, no. It means that we are patient, and rather than push people aside, we take the challenge to help develop them into the people God wants them to be.
In Matthew, Jesus tells a story about the final judgement. He says everyone will be separated in two categories – sheep and goats. The goats ignored the least of these. The sheep helped the least of these. The goats never understood that life was about helping others. The sheep understood life was all about helping others.
The next time someone comes into your life, remember they are asking – “Do you like me?” and the answer to that question will decide if you help them or push them aside.

 the education of a teacher part 1

Last week I completed my 8th year of teaching. As a bi-vocational pastor, my “other job” has been teaching Language Arts to middle school and high school students. Over the years, I have received a different kind of education from the education I had in college and seminary – and, in the interest of space, I want to narrow my education down to 5 basic realities.

One bad apple will spoil the whole bunch.

When I first started teaching, I was more interested in the unreachable kids, the students no one had been able to reach. I took for granted the “good” kids and focused on the kids with the most issues – the angry student who couldn’t get past family issues, the arrogant student who thought they were always right about everything, the loud mouth student who argued every point no matter how trivial.
But, over the years my attitude has changed. I learned that some people do not want my help, they do not want to be one of my students. In fact, the more I put up with them, the more they ruin the class. So, over the years, I have learned to focus on turning good students into great students.
Maybe this runs counter to the “romantic” ideal found in some movies where the teacher reaches the unreached child, but I am willing to set romanticism aside and focus on what will make the biggest difference to the most people.
When we allow bad apples to bring the rest of the class down, we cheat the majority who are willing to strive for excellence. We cheat them intellectually and spiritually. We starve excellence to feed mediocrity.
Proverbs is particularly straight-forward when it comes to people who refuse to learn, it calls them naive, foolish and scoffers.
Each person mentioned – the naive, the scoffer, and the fool – all share one common bond, they are content with their own way of thinking. There is no deadlier roadblock than to become satisfied with our own way of thinking.
The problem with those who become satisfied with their own way of thinking is that they ultimately take other people down with them. They are not content to destroy themselves – no they have to infect other people around them.
This is why Proverbs 22:10 says “Drive out a scoffer and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease.” This is why Proverbs 14:7 says “Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge.”
Yeah, the more I teach the more I recognize that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. One student who doesn’t care to learn can spoil 5, 10, 15 who actually come ready to learn. Bad apples destroy excellence and what I really want to see more from Christianity is spiritual, intellectual, and moral excellence.
Jesus had His own problem with people who did not want to learn – The Pharisees. And at every point they were keeping people who wanted to learn from knowing more about Christ. At every point Jesus resisted them, refused to let them infect others, called them out publicly and exposed them as non-students.
I think we tolerate to non-student far too much, we accommodate them – in school, in church, at work, even in our own family. Perhaps a little more accountability and a little less tolerance might change a family, a class, a church, a school, a city, or even a nation.

 cutting and pasting

 I’ve been thinking a lot about the internet and its intended, and unintended, moral shifts. As a teacher, I’ve told my students each and every year that they are not allowed to cheat. I carefully explain what cheating is and why it is wrong. I painstakingly detail the rules of source material and how to use it in a paper. Yet each year students cheat. They usually take a variety of sources and cut and paste them into a single paper without giving any credit to the sources. They steal information that is not their own.
Cheating is no new moral crisis – it has existed for centuries. The new twist to cheating is the response of the students when they are caught. They don’t care. They don’t think they did anything wrong. In fact, I once asked an entire middle school of Christian students (about 60 students) if they had cheated in the last week. All admitted to cheating. With a smirk.

And they don’t care because they have been stealing for most of their lives. They steal music and movies and video games without apology through file sharing, they steal friend’s passwords and use their identities on-line, and they steal answers to tests and daily assignments. And all the time, they do not feel they have done anything wrong.

Every new technological shift brings cultural shifts and, ultimately, religious and moral challenges as well. In the age of cutting and pasting, I hope we can remember that cheating and stealing are still wrong – even in the world of the internet.

 we are living in a wikipedia world…

If there is a site that sums up the good and bad of the internet, it is wikipedia. I have to confess that I like the fact that wikipedia has information on just about everything and that it is easy to find and digest.
But there is a big problem with wikipedia, anyone can post information and edit entries on any given topic. So, the PHD from Harvard has as much pull as the 5th grader in some elementary school in Idaho. I once asked a class of 22 7th graders how many people edited information on wikipedia and 5 people raised their hands.
What concerns me is that so many people doing research rely on wikipedia for information and they do not realize one of my 7th graders was their source.
The problem is not so much wiikipedia in and of itself, it is that we live in a wikipedia age. An age where everyone has a say, whether they know what they are talking about or not. The same weight is given to a 7th grade student as a Marine Biologist with 3 degrees.
I’m afraid that in the wikipedia age, Jesus is just another voice, not The Voice, just another person we can listen to and add to the variety of voices we hear every day. Even worse, we begin to think our opinions are just as important as any other opinion. And in our bloated self-importance we fail to recognize ourselves as students of Christ. It is hard to be a student when you think you should be teaching.
Wikipedia is not the problem, it is a symptom. The wikipedia age is the problem because it reveals our approach to learning in the age of information – learning that is always absorbing new things without any impact, learning that is democratic without a final truth, learning that has little room for listening because of all the talking. Perhaps, we are all too quick to share what we know rather than listen to what we need to know.

 Amusing Ourselves

In the mid 80s, Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book about the problems television brought to public life. His big idea was TV had convinced us that all communication must be packaged in the form of entertainment.

Postman died before You Tube, but what began in the age of television is coming to full fruit in the age of the internet.

The other day a group of teenage girls convinced a girl to come over to a house where the girls waited to attack her. They beat her unconscious and videoed the whole thing so they could put the video on You Tube.

We live in a day where we think of all things as a form of entertainment. In the words of Oscar Wilde, nothing is good or bad, only charming or dull.

In the midst of a You Tube world, Christianity has something serious to say – something that matters and is not just another form of entertainment. Christ on the cross tells us that there are things that are worth taking seriously. That people matter and they are not merely pawns meant to be moved in a way that entertains me.

Everything is not a matter of our amusement, but once we allow ourselves to believe that, something important has died.

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