Friday, December 30, 2011

Jello

"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment."  - Proverbs 18:1

It's funny, but when I want to sin, I begin to take steps towards isolation.  I make sure that the very people I should have around me aren't around.  I make preparations, and then I dive in!

I've seen this pattern not only in my own life, but in the lives of friends.  From what I've observed it's a twofold pattern: First, we hide because we want to continue in our sin.  And Second (after sinning), and perhaps most telling, we hide because we are full of shame.

One peaceful innocent day, (birds chirping in trees and all that) my little nephew Noah (who was 4 at the time) was playing with my 3-year-old David.  Melissa and Noah's mom (Rachael) were enjoying some quiet time together in the kitchen as the boys were finally playing quietly and not harassing them.  By "harassment" I mean stuff like hanging on their legs, whining through their noses for food and just plain being a pain in the poor mothers' hinder-regions.

Eventually Noah sauntered into the kitchen with a request/demand for his mom - probably something having to do with food.  Rachael noticed that he had a huge red ring around his mouth and asked what he'd been up to.

Noah - "What ring?  I haven't been up to anything.  Why would I be doing anything?  I have been doing absolutely nothing!"

Rachael - "Where's David?"

Noah - "I don't know.  How would I know where David is?  Where is David?  Why do you ask?  Have you seen David?  I haven't seen David anywhere!"

Poor Noah was totally losing his cool (and I added a little for dramatic effect - I wasn't there, so it could have gone just like I said).  Since Noah had "no idea" where David was they went on a David hunt.  And eventually they found two little feet poking out from under the bed in the guest bedroom.  (Knowing David, I'm sure the feet were kicking.)

When Rachael and Melissa looked under the bed, the mystery of Noah's red ring was instantly solved.  (Now if you're a mom, you're going to cringe because you've been here.)  Apparently David and Noah, had found some red jello powder and were feverishly licking it off (and into) the carpet.  Don't ask why, these things just happen.

Well, it's sort of like me.  When I want to do something I know I shouldn't, I isolate myself like in the verse above.  And then after I've done whatever misdeed I had planned (nothing so heinous as licking powdered jello into a carpet mind you) I am overwhelmed with shame.

So here's where my actions become very curious, especially as a Christian.  Rather than running to Jesus and    admitting my fault, I will typically wallow around in shame long enough until I feel I have either payed my dues, done my penance or straightened myself up.  Then I will repent.

A friend of mine said that there shame really has no place in the Christian life.  I think I agree.  Shame is prideful.  Shame is saying, "I deserve to feel really bad for what I've done, so I will, and when I've punished myself enough, I can go to God a little more dressed up - not quite so nakedly guilty."  Sounds like the garden doesn't it?

So here's to sticking close to our counselors, not isolating ourselves and when we have done so immediately running to our God with red jello still dripping off our mouths.  Now I think that that is real repentance.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Dies

"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding." - Proverbs 18:27

Christopher Hitchens, leader of the "new atheists" died this past week, and I have to admit my reaction was less than stellar.  I think I said something like, "Well I wonder what he thinks of his atheism now?"  Ugly.

The man is dead.  He now has to face the consequence of judgement.  I deserve judgement too.  I don't deserve the eternal life I have.

There was a part of me that was saddened by the loss.  A better part that saw the intellect, the impact and the keen pursuit of truth (albeit having gone in the wrong direction) that had made him a force to be reckoned with in academia.

Of course I'd never sat down and read anything he'd written ("so typical Philip"), but I had read stuff about him and had heard he made more sense than Richard Dawkins (which doesn't seem to be hard to do).  So I've been doing some YouTube searches this morning and listened to a few of his arguments and debates.

(OK, I watched this video after I wrote this post, and now I'm even more deeply saddened that he's gone.)

I guys like him and the "new atheists" for two reasons:  First, they are very passionate about faith.  Albeit they are passionate about not having any faith.  But their very passion,curiosity and intellectual curiosity remind me of their Creator.  Second, they are underdogs.  Now I'm not sure this is the case, but they consistently paint themselves as individuals who are persecuted for not having faith.  Perhaps...

As I read the verse above, I was struck by the biblical view of being cool.  Having a cool spirit, one who "restrains his words has knowledge".  How often have I been duped into arguments with atheists, or people with different opinions and have furiously argued my point without ever realizing that what I'm searching for is not truth or knowledge but being right and being better.

As Christopher Hitchens has now found out that he is tragically wrong, my hope is that we Christians, who hold the truth that has been given to us and not realized by our superior intellect, will find empathy and mercy leading the way in our discussions with those who oppose the faith.  At least that is my hope for me, and for the future atheists that cross my path.  Hitchens is getting what I deserve, and I should be more upset by this.

(These thoughts spurred on by Walt Mueller's blog post at: http://learningmylines.blogspot.com/2011/12/christopher-hitchens-is-dead-how-did.html)

Getting Systematic

My kind uncle just gave me some invaluable advice as I seek to be a resource for young people through my writing.  He encouraged me to look into Systematic Theology: "Don't assume you already know the faith well enough...  You don't.  Neither do any of us."

Now Systematic Theology gets a bad rap for all the wrong reasons.  "It's not practical." people whine.  "It's not readable." people moan.  "It's boring!" people chant.  "I hate it!"  OK, I've never heard anyone say that.

You know what I have to say to all of that?  Let's not be stupid.  Systematic Theology can best be defined as exactly what it sounds like, the systematic study of God and his word.  It's rightly dividing God's truth into categories or systems, so as to better explain them.

Now why should we be systematically studying God and his word in a world where experience is everything?  Because if we will be attempting any experience, like breathing for example, and we don't know the faintest about how to breath (like the system for breathing), um, we're going to die.

If we don't know what the Bible teaches about God, man, and creation, our theology will be dead.  And I don't want my theology to be dead.

Some contend that Systematic Theology is scientific in it's approach, and is informed by the enlightenment, and should therefor be replaced by a more spiritual approach.  Hogwash!  We need to know the doctrines that make life make sense.  Does gravity have a better explanation than what science has given us?  We could light scented candles sit in a dark room and ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand and explain gravity, but if you're really listening, he's probably going to go pick up a text-book.

So I rant.  And I rant as one who knows so very little about Systematic Theology.  But I know I have been a huge beneficiary of it.  So now it's time to get my hands dirty, time to read, time to study, and my hope it's time to find the roots of my faith so that I can better help youngsters interpret their experiences.  Here's the Marion Webster's Definition: it's "a branch of theology concerned with summarizing the doctrinal traditions of a religion (as Christianity) especially with a view to relating the traditions convincingly to the religion's present-day setting."

In case you're wondering, I'm starting with Knowing God, by JI Packer, a sort of Systematic Theology for the lay person.  Or if you're like me, the person who eventually always lays down to read.  It's a gravity thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Awesome-ness

"Say to God, 'How awesome are your deeds!'  So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name...  Come and hear, all you who fear God and I will tell what he has done for my soul."  - Psalm 65

I spend way too little time contemplating God.  I spend a lot of time contemplating me.

Real life-giving life-life stems from thinking on and telling the story of God.  I can never use too much hyperbole in describing God's power, love, justice, truth, mission, holiness and faithfulness.

But sometimes I feel like the gospel is a flat ball that won't bounce.  It's sad and deflated.  It's not good news, it's bad news, unless you just don't like sports.  The gospel's been boiled down to so many axioms, or so many facts, or so many doctrines, that it's something we say "Oh, that's right.  I get the gospel." and then go on about our days without even a thought of what just happened.

Relationship.  Friendship.  Brotherhood.  Sacrifice.  Betrayal.  Romance.  Rescue.  Intrigue.  Mystery.  Martyrdom.  Resurrection.  These are just a few of the themes in the gospel story!  And I can walk away from it and think it's boring!!!  That's crazy!

While "All of the earth worships God and sings praises to him" I too often go through my day whistling, say, "The Little Drummer Boy."

But "let me tell you what the Lord has done for my soul."  Along with King David, the man after God's own heart, I have been given an awesome place to live.  I get to live in God's house all of my days.  I don't have to spend one moment away from God.  I get to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord!  And bring all of my questions to him. (Ps. 27).

There is nothing like the life I have.  My cup runs over and goodness and mercy eagerly pursue me.  Is there anything better than being one with my Creator?

And still I yawn.  Still I think about biking, or movies, or my next cup of coffee, not recognizing and thanking God for all these gifts.  But these very "Creational" gifts are given to me to comfort me and enable me to enjoy God more.   They are not gifts meant to bring a rift into this relationship.

Having just celebrated the materialistic binge of Christmas presents with my kids, I can tell you that there is nothing better than having my child come up to me with their gift (or armfuls) saying "Daddy thank you so much, this is awesome."

On this note, I overheard our three-year-old David say (two or three times over Christmas) "I am so happy."  Try yawning when the human you played a part in creating says "He's so happy."  Try yawning when the God who loves you dances over you with delight.  Try yawning when He asks you not to just stay over at his place as long as you "do good," but forever!  (And by forever I mean forever-ever!)  Try yawning when you get to know, ask, live and bathe in the middle of it all.  In the middle of the presence that defines presence.

I hope you know that nothing will ever suffice as an explanation of the goodness of this gospel.  For the goodness of this gospel is God himself.  I hope you have a GOOD day.

(image above can be found at manyfacesofus.blogspot.com)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Post-Christmas Hope


So Christmas is over, it's gray outside and life goes on...

As I drove along in the early morning fog (which we get here a lot in Orlando) I saw assorted boxes from new toys on driveways, waiting for the garbage truck and eventually the landfill.  I also saw blow-up Santas and reindeer now half-deflated and soaked with dew in someone's yard.  It was kind of sad.

But it reminds me of the direction everything on this earth goes - towards decay.  The newness rubs off, becomes old and then dies.

As humans we fumble with this universal law of entropy, constantly propping up new newness hoping that it will stay balanced and give us the peace we want.  We watch movies, read books, buy cars, purchase technology, blah, blah, blah but it all gets old, loses it's luster and dies.

I'm glad it dies.  I'm glad that my towers of stuff/escape/entertainment/idols fall over.  They make me look around for something that will last, something that won't tarnish, something like a really, really nice pearl - all the colors of the spectrum in one tiny orb.

The pearl of God's kingdom.  God's kingdom doesn't fade and won't die.  While I'll grow old, feeble and will go back to being dust, God's kingdom will just go on getting brighter, better and more awesome than my feeble brain can handle.

I spend a lot of time wondering if am I in or am I out of this kingdom.  But the real question is, since I'm loved  by the king, am I willing to enjoy this kingdom right now, help see it alive and working in the world right now, ready to be the King's regent, messenger and servant, loving this world RIGHT NOW?

Now is the time to sell all and live for this kingdom.  Now is the time to live.  Now is the time enjoy being a child of God, and let that oneness with my creator pump through my very veins.  Now is the time to quit worrying about doing the right things and begin enjoying being led, walking and running with my father/brother/friend God.  Now is the time for the kingdom of joy.

Frankly, if God's kingdom is as good as it claims to be, maybe my eternal destination isn't as important for me to think about as is enjoying this kingdom now, and letting others know about this kingdom.  For certain, Satan has a mixed CD for me that I can listen to all day.  It plagues me with condemning sinful patterns and reminders of my selfishness.  It's last song is that I'm going to hell - that even Christ's blood doesn't cover, habitual, selfish, willful rebellion and sin.  But it does...

I could either listen to this CD and waste time trying to rebut it with scripture or philosophy or theology, or I could go out and play the music of the kingdom.  And if you're like me and you like having fun, playing kingdom music sounds awesome.  So I plan on playing kingdom music, earnestly searching for God, wrestling with him and hoping, believing and trusting that he can use me (with all my baggage) to spread something so GOOD that it trumps all BADNESS.

I'm trumped, may the cards fall where they may.  I admit it Satan has me beat, but I know my Dad can take care of him.  So I'm going to live today, for it's the only day I have today.  And I'm going to show some people this pearl, because it really is something.  And tomorrow, I plan on living for tomorrow and holding tight to this pearl.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Very Great Promises

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him..." - 2 Peter 1:3 

(This passage just gets better and better. So check it out as it paints a picture of how we are to live.)

I struggle with living out the fullness of God's promises. But they are full and comprehensive. They're a feast for our hungry souls.

Sadly, in my experience often I'd rather starve. I'd rather skip off to the spiritual equivalent of McDonald's and eat food that has the nutritional equivalence of cardboard. (But do I believe there will be a McDonald's in heaven? Of course I do. There it will have Big Macs that are better for you than a mouthful of asparagus.)

I neglect what God's given me - "all things that pertain to life and godliness" - partly out of rebellion and partly out of sheer ignorance. I'm so used to functioning just like everyone else, it's hard to learn a new way. But that's what God offers me.

I was at the skate park yesterday, doing some covert missionary work observing young people. What really hit me was the crazy insecurity. It was hard to watch: some kids skating really well and all puffed up, and some kids over-weight and scared of getting in anyone's way.

As I'm 35, getting older by the minute and was sitting on a mountain bike of all things ("boy he has nerve bringing a mountain bike to our skate park. What a tool!"), I could relate to the poor fat kids. I was beginning to let the insecurity wash over me, until I realized "Hey, I have Jesus in me and these kids need my Jesus!"

 In order for me to work right, I need to be reminded of my new identity and it's power. I am a partaker in the divine (it's not heresy, look it up in 1 Peter)!!! Peter, at the end of this passage, knowing he doesn't have long to live says "I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things."

Maybe he was feeling the same sentiment that had me say to Teya, as I was tucking her into bed, "You know, of all those those kids skating, so many of them don't know Jesus and know that God loves them. I think I'll try my best to let them know."

May God fill me and you today with his "very great promises" ("very great" is sort of an understatement).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

So Edgy: see how I insult my kids, dwarves and the English (all in one post)

"the gospel tells us that we find ourselves when we lose ourselves in loving God." - David Delk (The Dad in the Mirror)

I can't think of anything I want more than seeing my two children, David and Teya, grow up to love God and love people. Being a parent for the past 5 years has taught me one thing: I can't combine being selfish with being a good parent.  Dang!

And let me tell you, I've tried. I'm still trying in fact. Being as my children's outcome may rest upon my decisions, some of the decisions I make are really surprising.

I am positively astounded by the depths of my selfishness. (That sounds really English doesn't it? Have you ever noticed how anything that sounds uppity sounds English: "This Crumpet is astoundingly delightful!"). Well I have metaphorical mine shafts of greed that could house all of the world's dwarf population. (Please don't be offended if you're an actual dwarf. I would never say this to an actual real live dwarf. You might hit me on the head with an axe.  Tee-hee.)

Now I know about God's providence and all that mumbo-jumbo (j/k), and I know I can rest assured that he has secure plans for David and Teya. But I also know that I've been given a charge, a charge to love them as I've been charged to love Melissa - like Christ.

So this Christmas I'm hoping Santa will send me an "Easy" button for this whole death to self thing, because I'm sort of having a hard time with it. And that's just it, we can't put ourselves on the cross.

So I guess I've just got to keep/start taking small steps of obedience and enjoy the process of knowing God. I sound kind of begrudging don't I? So I'd say I should cheer up as well, since knowing God can be a ton of fun.

And someday, when I have reached perfection, I'll be a super-saint who only posts positive and encouraging stuff all the time. I'll get there, just keep reading.

First I've got to go get a Butterfingers from my kids' stash from Halloween. It's surprising they haven't caught on yet. Those little dodo-birds!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mr. Anxious


"...casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:7

I get anxious all the time. Little things make me anxious. Big things make me anxious. Even as I'm typing, I'm anxious about an errand I have to run today. (I've got to drive my bosses kids to the airport. What if I can't find his house? What if I get in a wreck? What if I can't find the airport? What if I run over my boss, back over his kids and then a plane wrecks on all of us?)

If I was in a Mr. Man book I'd be "Mr. Anxious". And since my favorite colour is blue, I'd be a hunched over blue dude with huge blood-shot popping eyes and big hands that I could wring constantly.

The verse gives Mr. Anxious hope. Its set in the context of Peter's last few pieces of advice to a group of Christians who were being persecuted. And prior to telling them to cast their anxieties on God, he encourages them to humble themselves. The two seem to be connected.

When I'm anxious, I'm not being humble. I'm trying to control things that are outside my control. I'm playing God.

I often go on and on about my fears, worries and anxieties, all the while thinking I'm being honest, transparent and humble. Now I may be the first two but I'm not humble. Humility is knowing my place before a God who cares for me.

And as I'm sitting here, I'm thinking, "Man, do I live in a constant state of sin or what?" Pretty much. But I serve a God who cares for me and each day is shaping me. All I've got to do is what Peter says earlier in chapter 4 - "entrust (your) soul to a faithfull Creator while doing good."

"Lord have mercy on me a sinner. Oh and have mercy on Mr. Anxious too."

(picture found at themistermen.co.uk)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Dojo of Complaint


"Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anquish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." - Job 7:11

My kids have mastered the art of complaining. As I was wondering in and out of their "Dojo of Complaint" (the kitchen) I caught this one from Teya (think naiselly whine - like the sound of an airplane's landing gear being deployed):

"This juice is gross! Mom, did you put anything in it?" Melissa (who's stirring powders and concoctions for my juice - yuck!) - "No, just love." Teya - "Love tastes disgusting."

Ah the lessons I'm learning from the Dojo of Complaint.

And Job didn't mind complaining did he? He refused to restrain his spirit and spoke in the anguish of his spirit. (Of course he was nowhere as fickle as Teya.)

This Sunday our pastor began his sermon with the question "Why?" He just threw it out there and let it hang, with all of it's weight. It was pretty awkward. But isn't it the question that's so often on our hearts, (especially near Christmas)?

I have often inched away from questions like that. In fact I've heard it said that we can ask "What?" of God but not "Why?" But I don't believe this anymore, I believe that if we're to follow this good God, he has capable ways of answering our deepest and most painful questions.

Why?

Our pastor went on to unpack the passage in Matthew of the flight to Egypt, the slaughter of the innocents and Jesus' return to Nazareth. He explained that Jesus knew, right from the beginning of his life, our deepest suffering.

As he went on to explain this dark side of Christmas, the babies Herod slaughtered in fear and rage, he illustrated on how this can answer our "Why?" Jesus was to live a full life of suffering right from the get-go. He was to know loss, rejection, slander, misunderstanding, hatred, pain, torture and death. Is he not qualified to answer "Why?"

He's not only qualified... The passage in Matthew quotes from Jeremiah who prophecies that God would lead out his servant from Egypt and would rescue his people, make a new covenant with them, and write his law on their hearts.

So if this Christmas season unearths your deepest pains and has you asking "Why?" Ask Jesus. He's qualified, and he has your answer. I think he is the answer. So dig deep. Go ahead and ask.

(picture can be found at http://www.bigwowo.com/2009/07/raising-a-karate-kid/)

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Teeth are Falling Out

"Do not let your adorning be external... But ley your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit." - 1 Peter 3:4

I um like to look in mirrors. It's hard to admit but there's this huge mirror at work here that's right behind the coffee bar. "These are a few of my favorite things..." I could probably stand there all day, pumping myself up with caffeine, doing push-ups and making crazy faces in the mirror. Or looking to see how devilishly handsome I can make myself.

I know have this proclivity for vanity. In fact just using the word "proclivity" makes me feel vain. But vanity is vanity right, and it will all pass.

As a guy I like to think of myself as athletic, ruddy and intelligent, but I've been having a reoccuring dream that's shaking up this thinking. It's a dream where my teeth start falling out. One by one they get looser as I wiggle them, and finally I pull them from my mouth. The most I've pulled out in a dream was about 8. I woke up really sweaty from that one!

So it happened again last night, and I'm beginning to wonder, why am I having these? It seems to happen on nights where I'm too lazy to brush my teeth. (And dental hygienists all over the US have given me the lecture about flossing. I have it memorized. I think they must get commission or something if they give it. And I always promise to forever floss from that day forward. There's something about someone with blood splattered rubber gloves on, a mask and a host of devilish torture devices on a tray that will make you say anything!

I think my dream has something to do with the spector of death that we all live with. The spector of growing old. The spector of losing our bodies and losing our minds. It will happen to all of us. I'm reminded of the scene in What About Bob where the boy shares with Bob right before bed, "We're all going to die Bob. We're all going to die." (Of course this is right before Bob shares with the boy about faking Terrets Syndrome, and they begin jumping around the room yelling profanities at eachother - what a movie! I wish I had Bill Murray as a roommate.)

Dwelling on dying is morbid (obvious statement alert). But we're given a different picture by Peter. From scripture we know he was a go-getter, probably a man's man and perhaps (and I'm just guessing) tempted by vanity. He was the first to sign up for everything, the first to try out Jesus' super-crazy-miracles, like walking on water, and the first to say "Hey, I'm ready to die with you Jesus!"

Peter seemed to think highly of himself. So something big must have happened to Peter, a radical shift in his ego to make him think of suggesting adorning oneself "with the inner person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit."

This gives me hope. This turn-around was even evidenced in Peter's death. He refused to be killed like Jesus, so he was crucified upside-down. Peter's perspective on adornment, gives us hope in aging, for as believers we have an inner person of the heart that is making us more beautiful each day. The path to God is one of growing realization of this beauty within, the beauty of Christ.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Seed

"...love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God." - 1 Peter 1:23

Encouragement is not hard to come by when you actually open God's word. As a friend of mine said, "Reading the Bible always seems like a bad idea until you do it."

I've learned this again and again... and again. And still I hesitate to really dig into this word. But as Peter says in the verse above it is this word that is living and abiding in us. It is the vehicle through which we have been born again and is the imperishable seed (think new life in Christ) within us.

In the next verse Peter emphasises the awesome nature of God's word again - "... the word of the Lord remains forever." Forever is time for a long time. Forever is good, isn't it, when it's "forevering" something good.

One of my cousins said something recently that's tumbling around my cranium for the past month. He said that most seminary students don't even know their Bibles. I cringed (while keeping a poker face - I don't want anyone to know how I take the Bible for granted).

If you were to have quized me in college, and perhaps even in seminary, my Bible knowledge would have been meager. And even though I've now read the whole Bible quite a few times, I still feel it is. Perhaps this is one of Satan's ploys, just to keep us away from this powerful imperishable seed.

But this Word is so good, so attractive and so powerful that it will grow in us. Why? Because it is God's work. The gospel is not simple bible trivia knowledge, but a deep knowledge of God's love and promises (found in the Bible) wed to an experience of union with God!

Teya said something a few months back that I've really cherished. She said she had hidden a word of God in her heart. She then shared a verse which I've subsequently forgotten - I blame Satan. Perhaps a seed is already growing in her heart. I sure hope so. I want more than anything for her to have my forever too.

So if all this stuff I'm typing about is really true - God's word acting like a seed (or planting a seed - the metaphor is pretty pliable) within us, abiding and living and growing, we're in for a really good thing.

Sure we will sometimes let our Bibles collect dust, and we'll drift, grow dull and hard, but God who saves has planted a seed in us, and it will grow. That is our confidence.

How fast it grows, now I believe that's where our earnestness comes in. But even this must come from God, and it may take the a headlong plunge into the futility of our self-seeking (for me it's sometimes depression) to make us thirsty enough to drink from our fountain - not really an actual fountain (unless you have one of those water-proof Bibles).

"Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water..." - David

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dude

"One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor." - Proverbs 12:26

It hit me a couple of days ago that my righteous behavior is not primarily for my benefit. "Dude, that is totally righteous," I thought (along with Bill and Teds the world over).

Attempting to raise Godly kids is a weight no mere mortal can bear. Every morning I wake up and see their little faces, I'm hit by the reality of trying to be something more for my kids.

And the problem is, pretending doesn't work with children. They see through my facades and happy make-believe that everything is OK as is. It's a sort of uncomfortably reality.

And they don't help much either. Slithering around and biting my ankles, these little "vipers in diapers" know exactly how to run their fingernails down my last nerve's chalkboard.

Sometimes, especially at dinner, when their whining and griping and makingstatements like "I hate this food! And I hate you guys!" I want to turn the table over and clear the temple.

But then, they're just like me, ungrateful to the core. Thankfully God is working on my core, and likewise I believe he will work on theirs. We're family, what happens to me happens to them and that includes righteousness.

When I seek God earnestly, desiring to know him and live in his "rightness" I'm doing so not just for my sake, but for my neighbors and it just so turns out my kids too. And if they keep whining and I am provedential enough to win the lottery, I think I'll move them out so they can be official neighbors.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Withholding

"He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty." - Job 6:14

I have this game I play with the kids where I tap my head with my fingers and say "Think, tink, tink, tink... I KNOW! I KNOW! I KNOOOOW! Ve should go eat purple butterflies!" I think that potentially, they love this game so much, that we could actually do it for 2 full hours. (That's a long time when you're 3 or 5 and have the attention span of a twitchy rabbit.) I come up with ridiculous things, and the kids laugh, snort and yell "Again!"

Something like this is going on this morning as I write. "Tink, tink, tink..." My brain doesn't seem to be firing. And the dangers of just writing down vapid (I love this word), meaningless, blah blah poo-poo, is a real danger. And when I write, it must be profound! Just kidding...

But this verse above, set in chapter 6 of Job, where he's being forced to stick up for himself, jumped out at me this morning (probably because I'd highlighted it). I've written over and over again about how being an always happy, cheerful, manic Christian is not really a help to anyone. So I'm not sure I want to go into my issue with "Happy Christianity" again.

What I do want to take a look at is why we shoot our wounded. Why we withhold kindness from our brothers and sisters. For example: Have you ever asked someone how they're doing, and had them respond with "I'm doing terrible"? When this happens to me I wish I could leave my body and take my soul and all the real essence of me somewhere else. I guess there are appropriate ways and places to share our hurts, and perhaps casual greetings is not one of those.

But I know I withhold kindness a lot. My kids want to continue wrestling, and I come up with some lame reason like, I need to get to work, or have my devotions, meditate, brush my teeth, wax my eye-brows, etc. Melissa has something she's really struggling with and brings it to me at the end of the day when I'm trying to escape my troubles (for crying out loud) by reading fiction, perhaps living fiction. Hey I don't want to talk. I withhold.

My car was dead this morning. I was riding my bike near a school where parents were dropping their kids off. I had no jumper cables so I stopped a few cars to ask if they'd give me a jump, and after about four "Sorry, I don't have cables." I was beginning to suspect that kindness was being withheld.

Real kindness is hard. I found it in the list of love in 2 Cor. 13. I don't think it means drawing little jelly Mickey Mouses on our kids sandwiches. Just like gentleness doesn't mean having really floppy wrists and a very soft voice.

I seem to be good at mimicking kindness and gentleness, but the real thing, now that's difficult. Why? Because it's inconvenient. But it's not as inconvenient as not fearing God.

Self and selfishness are hard to escape from, but I believe that fear of the Almighty is the key. For when I fear God, I'm more likely to make sacrifices, for he's a sacrificial guy (plus he could blast me into oblivion if he wanted). When I'm close to God obedience becomes less begrudging but a delight. "Jump a car? No prob!"

I'm learning really, really, really... one more really, slowly that obedience does not mean asking God to make me feel good about doing something good, but doing what's right when everything in me wants to do something else.

It's pretty obvious that this is fearing the Lord. Trust and obey kind of stuff. The kind of stuff I learned with flannel grams at Sunday School, but hey, when you're trying to "Think, tink, tink" of something worthwhile to write about, getting back to the basics is a good idea.

Love God and love man. Trust and obey, and don't shoot your wounded friends - or poor Job. He's been through enough already.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Crowd Alone

9/11. People were shaken. People talked about the horror with tears in their eyes…

The thought that kept coming to my mind was, “Did you know anyone who died?"

We live in a weird community - a tribe of individuals. A lonely crowd.

We’re constantly with our cell-phones, tweeting and facebooking.

Never before have more been more lonely while connected.

I’m not going to rant. It would be hypocritical!

But there is something really weird going on.

Being an alarmist isn’t helpful either.

So maybe I should just stop typing.

Maybe I should turn it off.

Put it down.

Stop.

.

Hi.

My name is Phil.

Where are you from?

Bed Time

"Resistance is futile." Not only is this true of the Borg in Star Trek (for all you nerds that can track on me with that one), but resistance is futile when it comes to God.

I was reminded of this last night, as all of the nightly duties of putting young kids/crazed monkeys to bed was. I was strolling down the hall, trying to think of a way to both get out of doing the dishes whilst not bathing, tooth-brushing, reading, praying, singing, leg-massaging, coaxing, pleading and begging my children for the love of my earthly sanity to just go to sleep!

It's around this time in our nightly routine (after the begging bit) that they ask me to get a glass of ice water from downstairs. I ask if water from upstairs would work. Of course not, it has to be ice water from downstairs. So like a grizzled and hardened mountain climber, I set my jaw and produce one last herculean effort, just to see them take one swig, roll over and go to sleep. Kids, you've got to hate them sometimes, even if you love them.

Well, imagine this, last night I was very, very hesitant to ask God to give me willingness to help in this whole circus we call putting the kids to bed. Since he's really been answering prayers these days, I really didn't want to ask. But I did, with sort of a soul cringe.

Not my will, but yours be done... So I asked, and guess what, he got me through, with minimal brain-trauma I might add.

And then after I had crawled, wishing I had one of those harness things that super-obese people use to swing myself into bed, I read this line out of "The Valley of Vision" (a book full of Puritan prayers): "Let angels sing for sinners repenting, prodigals restored, backsliders reclaimed, Satan's captives released, blind eyes opened, broken hearts bound up, the despondent cheered, the self-righteous stripped, the formalist driven from a refuge of lies, the ignorant enlightened, and saints built up in their holy faith. I ask great things of a great God."

And you know I'm thinking, "Amen."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

When Silence is Golden

"Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered." - Proverbs 11:12

I need wisdom. I need wisdom to keep my mouth shut sometimes: just not to bring something up; just not to seek other people's harm; just not to try and lift myself up by my words.

I'm a very social person. While I'm an introvert, I like to work things out through communication. For Melissa, who's not as verbal, this can drive her crazy. She's more of a doer.

For example, if Melissa and I were to build a shed, I'd like to talk to the pile of wood and nails until they got their act together and made me a dang shed! In my perfect world, stuff like what happened in Walt Disney's Fantasia would be going on all the time (I think dishes magicly cleaned themselves or something. I would kill for that formula!)

Melissa on the other hand, would make a sketch, do some research and get to work. Hmm, I wonder who's shed would look better?

So being a verbal processer, someone who likes to work things out with words, is my Achilles heal. If something is frustrating me about someone, it's going to come out. Unless (and here's the promise found in the verse above) I can have the wisdom to keep silent.

But how do I keep silent when people hurt me, or when my pride is wounded, I'm not affirmed, dismissed, or disrespected and people don't fall all over themselves to make me feel that I'm totally the awesomest? Or say, just theorizing here, you ask someone to read your blog and they never get around to it.

In the verses above it's simple. I can keep a thing covered. I don't have to bring it up. And I'm not talking "stuffing" here, I'm talking (ironically) about going to God with everything and asking for wisdom.

I think that some of the best stuff in scripture is dead clear, dead simple but totally impossible without God. Impossible without his wisdom. (For an interesting study on wisdom, check out the early chapters of Proverbs and the early chapters of John. You'll find wisdom in the person of Christ makes for really sweet parallels)

God help me to keep silent today. Perhaps my silence would be golden for someone.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tongue Fire

"No human being can tame the tongue... With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God." - James

I'm finding that sorting myself out in a new office is an interesting happening. While I'm fumbling around with Coffee machines (a priority), trying to hide the fact that I carry my lunch in a really dorkey grocery bag and attempting to bathe more often, there's other more dangerous monsters lurking.

Here's a few: the monster of being in control of my environment; the monster of being liked, respected or even reveered; the monster of being anything besides "Phil"; the monster of seeking people's weaknesses; the monster of writing people off... The list goes on beyond my finite reckoning. But as I found in James this morning, probably the most viscious monster I'm facing already, is the monster of my tongue.

Already, if I'm really honest, I've had a host of positive and negative emotions floating around in my head-space just waiting to be propelled into the world and perhaps unleash "a world of unrighteousness."

So the other day there was this whole refrigerater debacle (or at least it became one in my mind). Apparently refrigeraters are a "big deal" down here, perhaps because it's about 80 degrees in the dead of winter (the "cool people" are always huddling around them). But rather than taking it to God and asking him to tame my tongue, I went home and griped to Melissa. Tongue-fire was being kindled in my soul.

Then there are those personalities I don't get. And rather than accepting that everyone is created differently, I'm tempted to either make them like me, control them and finally if all else fails dismiss them as losers or jerks. It's ugly I know, but I'm a real sinner. And the sad thing is, these are great people I'm working with.

They're Godly people and made in the image of God. So why is my heart tempted to highlight or suspect their sin and then blab about it either to myself or someone else? I've just got to concur with James on this one, that it is absolutely true that no human can tame the tongue...

...but God can. And the truth is he can make my tongue an instrument for peace. As James says later that there is a "harvest of righteousness that can be sown in peace by those who make peace."

So when my eyes roll back and my tongue starts flapping around trying to set the world ablaze with evil, I pray that God will bridle me. My tongue needs God every mili-second. Lord have mercy.

Hold on... "Woa, did that guy just walk by me and look the other way when I said, 'Hi.' I hate him now!" Wait...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Was Jesus Misunderstood as a Kid?

"...this people's hear has grown dull, and withe their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed." - Paul qouting Isaiah in Acts

I don't know what's up, but recently I've been wondering a lot about Jesus' early years, his years as just a kid. And as I've thought, I've had a host of questions running through my poor brain ("poor" because it might over-heat).

Here are a few: Was Jesus ever in a fight? Did people think of him as a sissy? Did he ever swear? How did he express himself? What in the world did his parents think of him? Was he even thought of as a good kid, or like in his older years as a trouble maker of sorts?

Obviously, Jesus had to have been different from other kids. But my guess is something George MacDonald (CS Lewis' mentor/hero) grasped in his book "The Back of the North Wind." His main character in that book was a boy who knew goodness and lived it. People considered him odd, slow and perhaps even retarded. This didn't bother the boy a bit, as he knew that goodness was worth being thought ill of.

My guess is Jesus may have been like this. I can only imagine Jesus in a counselor's office these days. "My parents always yelled at me for being so obstinate, refusing to act like the other boys. My brothers called me a weirdo when I always took the smallest portion of pita, got beat up for standing up for the tax collector's kid, saved my scallions to give to "witch lady" and took time to talk to the beggars at the gate. I was always in trouble. I had a really traumatic upbring and just felt, well, hated by my parents and so misunderstood!"

The reason I believe Jesus would have been resented by his parents and family and most probably mistreated pretty badly, is that it's what happened when he began his public ministry. I know for a fact that we have no real clue what a truly good child would look like, because we are so blinded by the fall and the hatred that has corrupted us. I'm finding that this is my problem with parenting as well.

But I've been thinking about this a lot. So I just thought I'd share. I guess this kind of thinking on Jesus serves as a reminder that it's a good thing to be misunderstood for being truly good. But if we're going to even begin acting truly good, we've got to start sticking close to Jesus. Our culture should think of us Christians as weird for all the right reasons, not for not dancing, not playing cards and not cussing.

And while I'm thinking of it, could Jesus have ever taken his own name in vain, like in the video spoof I saw called "Vintage Jesus" on Youtube, where upon entering the temple, he says "What in the name of me is going on here?"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Love

"Love covers a multitude of sins." - somewhere in Proverbs

Whatever difficulty, sin or person you struggle with, there's nothing that love can't cover.

I am reminded of this this afternoon, as I just got off the phone with a missionary friend who's expressing his anger and frustration (perhaps even hate) at people for their lack of generosity. Yeah, I know hate too.

I am reminded as frustration boils in my own chest as someone in the office is complaining about who gets to use which refrigerater. "Stupid petty people," I think.

I was reminded of this as I shared with Teya at breakfast about Jesus' beloved disciple John, who lived long enough to be carried into church on a stretcher, and who's repeated refrain to his dying day was "love one another".

I'm reminded of this when I think of Jesus dying for this truth: love can cover a multitude of sins.

I guess if there's one thing I had to know, one thing I wanted or one thing I had to get before I died it would be this: love - how to love well, how to live it out, how to bask in it, delight in it and believe it. Love equals life, for God is love.

And that's the beauty of it. Love isn't just some abstract principle, or higher plain of consciousness, it's a person. John knew this, considering himself "Jesus' beloved disciple", so we should too. John boiled over with love. Maybe I too can boil over.

Do I believe that all of my ticked-off/anger/hate/depression/rage can be answered by the salve of a real Jesus who really loved?

For a word that gets parried around so much, it's a very difficult one to really live isn't it?

This world knows hate, and I can sing that tune, but the tune of love, now that's something different, something I've got to have.

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love..." - St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Renovation


"Give me to feel a need of his continual saviourhood, and cry with Job, 'I am vile', with Peter,'I perish', with the publican, 'Be merciful to me, a sinner'. Subdue in me the love of sin, let me know the need of renovation as well as of forgiveness, in order to serve and enjoy thee for ever." - Puritan Prayer in Valley of Vision

"Renovation", me could be needing some of that. I walked into the office (it still feels weird going into an office to work) to find one of my coworker's desk had been renovated. His desk is now a massive present, in the shape of a huge cubicle and he's resolved to keep it this way until Christmas.

It was wrapped by some of the girls in the office (definitely a girl-prank), and I believe it's going to have me up to some hi-jinks (I have absolutely no idea how to spell that) in the future. More to come on that...

But as I think about my life being a gift that others can unwrap (you have permission to let out a huge collosal groan for my tie-in), I need to ponder more and more the mystic union and communion I have with Christ. I'm not now just forgiven to live, I'm being renovated. And by a carpenter.

Anyone who's done much renovation (like me) knows that if you don't know what you're doing, are using all the wrong tools, perhaps having skipped lunch and working on coffee fumes, you're in for a world of pain condensced into a very small space, say one's cranium. If you find yourself in this place, like I have, I recommend just finally eating that dang insulation that looks so yummy.

As I'm pondering this quote above and the joy of knowing that God knows what he's doing, knowing the knower, it's a real comfort that this job on my heart is going to move forward. And while it may very well feel like God is slow on the job, hey, that's renovation for you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Second Day


"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." - James 1:5-6

I think I'm struggling with "Post-Traumatic Thanksgiving Syndrome." Some of you may be familiar with the symptoms: an increased desire to consume large quantities of food all the time, wishing that you could take three naps a day, avoiding all people interaction and just being plain dog-dang tired.

I'm so tired that I barely think I'll get through this entry. And I've done everything I can think of to do, aka pour a huge cup of coffee.

Here's my plight: after being here in Orlando for a week we traveled back to Chattanooga for Thanksgiving and came back, and now I'm on my second official day at the office. I'm super-duper tired, but I want everyone at the office to like me. But I'm simply hoping that no-one notices the a hunted expression that I must be wearing. I'll probably be ducking behind a lot of potted plants today.

No, it's not too bad, in the moment it's always worse. But I've been down the road of jumpy-anxious-balled-up-freaking-out-Philip many a time. It's just that I'm new to this job and I really want to make a good impression. I would absolutely love it if everyone just adored me, perhaps slipping me notes of encouragement letting me know how much it means to them that it's their second day of having the privilege of working with me, whilst not engaging me in direct conversation as that would freak me out.

I feel sort of like a cross between a jack-russel terrior and a dear - extremely skittish and ready to bite at a moments notice. Also really, really small, with the unreasonable desire to jump through screen doors.

It's on days like this that I am comforted by the truth that God is with us ALL THE TIME. My ego speaks so loud and seeks to control so much, that I need a God who sticks very, very close when I'm the new guy, desperately trying to make good first impressions and control every conversation so that they would have the best possible experience of Philip.

The verse above is an encouragement that I can live and ask for wisdom from God in the midst of "me-craziness," and most importantly that he will answer with wisdom. It's a pretty sweet deal.

Of course the following verse about not doubting makes me cringe. If anyone feels tossed about on the waves of life, it's got to be people like me, trying to be really ridiculously cool new guys while at the same time trying to rely on God's wisdom.

So this morning I guess I'm coming to a point of decision. Do I turn my will and life over to God this morning and just move forward ("dorky-new-guy-perhaps-with-bad-breath-and poor-wardrobe-decisions" and all) trusting that he will give me wisdom. Or do I go around biting people and getting hit by trucks. I hope I pick the former. Plus I saw a dear on the side of the road the other day and it was totally gross.

Monday, November 21, 2011

First Day


I am finally sitting in the Campus Crusade for Christ Headquarters in Orlando, FL. And I’m writing officially! Yeah!!!

I can’t say I’m uncomfortable. This place is nice. They used to have Starbucks coffee until they found something cheaper and nicer (it probably didn’t take long to look). They even have two latte machines!

As I’m sitting in this nice leather chair typing away and sipping on my coffee from our coffee bar, I’m feeling a “convolution” (I’m not sure that’s a word, or at least if it is I didn’t use it right!) of emotions. I’m really comfy and I’m not supposed to be.

Ministry is supposed to be a pain right? The only thing bothering me is the heat. There’s a trickle of sweat already beading in my bodily places that I’m constantly trying to get my kids to quit talking about. Apparently my blood hasn’t thinned yet. Apparently it will and I will find eighty degrees in the office comfortable as well. Then I’ll be as happy as the rest of the lizards around here.

Adding to my “convolution,” is that I just opened my Bible and read some really obscure passages out of Numbers and 1 Chronicles. The first one was dealing with the priestly ritual for a woman suspected of an adulterous relationship. She’s supposed to drink a curse drink sprinkled with dirt from the temple floor (yum) which will make her thigh “fall away” (doesn’t sound good does it?) if she’s been up to any hanky panky. If she’s guiltless, apparently it will just taste real bad. And here I sit drinking coffee.

Then I read about the whole Uzzah debacle. You know (or at least all you people who always had their hands in the air in Sunday School growing up, know), he was the dude who tried to steady the ark and was struck dead. It’s passages like this that are encouraging on your first day of work at a new place. Especially someplace as “holy” as a ministry headquarters. Stick your hand in the wrong place and YOU WILL DIE.

As I listen to people putting up Christmas decorations and talking about Oprah whilst wearing reindeer antlers, I don’t feel too threatened by the place. But I do feel a little confused, which as you guessed is adding to my “convolution.”

Isn’t a ministry headquarters to be a really uncomfortable place, run on a shoestring budget, where everybody is tired and overwhelmed and perhaps even bleeding from stress? Isn’t ministry supposed to be miserable? And here I am, first day on the job, sipping my better than Starbucks coffee in a leather chair just down the hall from a bust of Bill Bright (our ministry’s founder) and a beautiful atrium with one spiritual law written on each of the four walls. In fact I’m listening to the trickling waters of a fountain imported from Italy (Hmm, coffee plus fountain, I'll be right back)!

I’m not saying this place is swank, it’s just nice. And I’m a Presbyterian. Maybe that’s my problem. Perhaps I’ll get to feeling miserable and overwhelmed soon. That should clear things up.

Note to reader: Don’t take this the wrong way, most of what Campus Crusade has here is donated [the whole building (which looks like the White House by the way) and I’m sure the Italian fountain!], and they’ve just made really good use of their space. It has really positive “Chi.” Since we all raise support here to do what we do, we actually are on a shoe-string budget, it just feels funny to be working in a nice place is all. And it’s funny we’re in Orlando, just down the road from Mickey Land! Hmm, Jesus and Mickey Mouse, I knew the oddity would hit me, but I didn’t think it would be on the first day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stabbed


"Therefore, behold, I will allure here, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." - Hosea 2:14

I'm a fierce hobbiest. Totally savage. "Mountain bike I likey to do." As a teen it was "Soccer I likey to do."

I used to day-dream entire soccer games in my head, now I can day-dream entire bike rides. This, while fun, has become a problem.

A no-nonsense friend of mine who loves to give me the Proverbial stab in the chest, suggested I take a "fast" from biking. Argh! I love/hate friends that get to the heart of stuff. Especially when I'm pulling the knife out of my heart, hoping that it will beat long enough to stab them back.

But without friends like this, we wouldn't need enemies. I've learned that I'm perfectly capable of wasting/destroying my life one tiny moment at a time.

So I've gone on this "Stupid Fast" as my brother-in-law calls it. (He's just bitter because I found him a beautiful bike on Craigslist, drove down to Atlanta to pick it up, took him on a few wonderful rides, and then self-righteously announced to my freshly addicted brother-in-law that I can't ride with him because I'm "fasting".)

But God, in asking me to step away from a passion of mine, is alluring me speaking tenderly to me. The painful reality is that I don't really turn to God unless I'm in the desert. I'm aren't thirsty if I'm guzzling my gullet under a 7-Eleven Slurpee of escape.

In fact every Sunday I'm called to rest, to step back and recognize the God who cares for us, the God who provides. It's a fast of sorts. I don't do Sundays real well.

When I stumbled across this verse in Hosea, I said, "Yes, something that tenuously connects to what I'm going through. Now I can stop reading my Bible and get to my blog. Sweet!"

I don't know too much about this self-inflicted desert of mine, but I know that I'm growing less savaged by my addiction to biking. I'm finding freedom. Freedom not only to be more useful to my family and work, but freedom to pursue other interests, including God.

And one day, perhaps God won't only be an interest, but my sole hobby. My singular passion. But my guess is it's going to take a few more stabs to the chest.

I'll let you know when I get there. But you probably won't want to be anywhere close because I'll have a lot of knives to stab you with. Watch out!

Only 6 days till I can ride my legs off again. Yeah! "Lord help me, but don't let my next desert be braking my leg, OK? That's hardly 'alluring.'"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God's Not Far


"Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being.'" - Paul in the Areopagus.

I was meeting with a group of guys yesterday. A ragamuffin bunch. We were sharing our hurts and struggles, and then we were asked to share something we were grateful for. I really couldn't think of anything better than having such a group to meet with at the moment, so I said I was grateful for the group, truly engratiating myself to everyone. I like to be liked.

But then someone, who had shared that he was really struggling asked to pass. We continued sharing and I thought that there had to be something he could be grateful for. "How about oxygen?" I thought.

We take so much for granted, especially when life has us down. I know that when I'm feeling down, I walk around with my personal cloud of grumpiness, trying to fire off lightning bolts at anyone who says something totally irritating like, "You should be grateful for oxygen!" "Smite him cloud!"

But even in our worst times, those times when we can't see anything good, we have a God who is near.

I've always found Paul's words above really fascinating. Couched in his address in the Areopagus about the altar to The Unknown God, it's a really bold statement he makes. He's basically saying, "In all your searching, all this striving, all these attempts at religion, there is a God who is near, 'He's not far from any of us.' This is the God that your Greek philosophers said, 'In him we live and move and have our being.'"

We have a God who is close. And I can't seem to get this truth into my atrophied soul. No matter how much I say it, no matter how many times and ways I hear David express "dwelling in God's house", I still think of God sort of "out there somewhere," or "up there somewhere." (Of course rarely do I think of him in the ground as I associate that with Satan's domain of darkness. I've been caving and can attest to this first-hand.)

So I've been letting this idea bang around in my head for sometime now. In fact, I'm almost positive I've blogged this before. (My blog is getting so old that it's forgetting things.)

But I think that besides actually believing that God loves us, perhaps the second most difficult thing we humans are challenged with is that God wants to dwell with us and in us.

That's also why I'm thinking of buying a crystal and a Volkswagon mini-van and travelling the country. Because we have something in common with those crazed new-agers that lurk behind every bush, just waiting to pounce on us conservative Presbyterians and unleash all kinds of voodoo and mumbo-jumbo wack talk about the divinity within.

Don't we have divinity within too? It's not us, but in a sense, now that we're united with Christ it is us. We're united with God. I hear this kind of thinking got Henri Nouwen in trouble, but perhaps its less risky than we think and less risky than thinking of God out there and up there somewhere, or in our pet ferret Huey.

So even on our worst days, in our worst struggles, even when we're running straight away from God, we have a "near God." Maybe this can help us be grateful and hopeful.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gone


Look at all those fancy clothes,
But these could keep us warm just like those.
And what about your soul? Is it cold?
Is it straight from the mold, and ready to be sold?

And cars and phones and diamond rings,
Bling, bling, because those are only removable things.
And what about your mind? Does it shine?
Are there things that concern you, more than your time?

Gone, going.
Gone, everything.
Gone, don’t give a damn.
Gone, be the birds, when they don’t wanna sing.
Gone, people, all awkward with their things,
Gone.

Look at you, out to make a deal.
You try to be appealing, but you lose your appeal.
And what about those shoes you’re in today?
They’ll do no good, on the bridges you burnt along the way.

And you're willing to sell, anything?
Gone, with your head.
Leave your footprints,
And we’ll shame them with our words.
Gone, people, all careless and consumed, gone

Gone, gone, gone, everything.
Gone, don’t give a damn.
Gone, be the birds, when they don’t wanna sing.
Gone, people, all awkward with their things, Gone.

"Gone" by Jack Johnson

Melissa and I drove down to Orlando from Chattanooga this week, and I was scrambling around for some music I could drive to. And since I'm not really music savvy, I'm old and unhip, Jack Johnson fit the bill nicely. His chill acoustic sound seemed just right for going to Florida, perhaps it's because he's from Hawaii.

I was really taken by his lyrics as well. He speaks very thoughtfully about materialism, environment and media. A little too thoughtfully...

This song was a slap to my ear-lobes. "Gone. Gone, people, all awkward with their things... Gone peope all careless and consumed."

As I approach the materialistic mess that I understand to be Christmas, his message is timely for me. I like the stuffness of stuff. It's shiny. I want to fill up a bath with it and roll around in it. Stuff makes me feel less empty.

Left to my own devices, I consume this stuff, "nothing concerning me more than my time." And, in the end, I get consumed by that which I pursue. I become stuff. My soul grows "cold, straight from the mold and ready to be sold."

It's a sad state to be in. A state of real awkwardness. I can see God arresting me in this careless pursuit: "What are you up to Philip?" "Making a bath full of stuff." "Why?" "Because I like stuff." "Are you really going to get naked and bathe in that?" Awkward silence.

Contentment is a sparse commodity. And Jack Johnson is right to ask the question "How about your mind does it shine?" This drive to consume dehumanizes me. According to Jack Johnson, we're so out of touch with creation when we do this, that even the birds refuse to sing. The birds know better.

In the end all stuff will be gone. The word "Gone" has a haunting ring to it. Stuff that will be gone is not worth investing in.

So I hope this season to be about something bigger than me. While not forgetting the joy of God's gifts, and not forgetting to bathe, I want to give this year.

I want to give so I can hear the birds singing. I know it's sort of selfish. But one step at a time right?

And I guess I want to give so I can better hear the music of God, the real giver.

I'm going to go hug a tree now...

Tiny Muscles


"I am but a little child." - Solomon

I stumbled down the stairs in my getting-all-too-personal-morning-fog and into the kitchen this morning, just to be met by all the eager productivity that is my family. How did I wind up "Father" in this family? I don't know. But I'll take it.

Looking up, Melissa greeted me and asked David to show me something. David sauntered up to me (carrying his stocky frame with a confidence that only his new Batman pajamas afford him) looked up at me, took sort of a Sumo stance and began to flex/tremble until his face shook and changed color.

Later in the morning, as David and I were working on a task that required "man-muscles," I asked David to show me his muscles again. And though with all 3 year olds everywhere his muscles are tiny in proportion to his head, I was actually impressed. He's a strong little tike.

Now I've finally arrived at my work/caffeine-induced-morning-fog-reducer-Starbucks and I've just read the passage in 1 Kings in which God offers to grant Solomon a gift. Solomon's words "I am but a little child" just made something go click in my brain (I don't know, perhaps something just went click because I'm on my second cup of coffee).

The click is this: When we are asked to approach God and we do so as ourselves, in full knowledge that he is our father and the gift giver, there's something going on between father and child that is intimate, much like my rejoicing over David's new-found muscles. Now that I've written it, it's not really much of a "click". But I believe that God rejoices in us when we just come to him and show him what we can do.

In Solomon's case he's explaining to God his ignorance, what he feels powerless to do, rather than flexing his tiny muscles. And it's what everything in David was telling me today as he showed me his muscles and went about helping me in my task. He was showing me through all of his eagerness that he knew I was strong and I have real big muscles (I did do 10 pull-ups this morning by the way - in the middle of my fog as well), and he wants to be just like me, strong and capable.

All of this lit up my heart with a joy. God must rejoice over us no less when we come to him with our strengths and our weaknesses.

And apparently, as I read God's response to Solomon, he does. So my advice to any cyber-space people out there who may be reading this, is this: show him your tiny muscles. I promise, he'll be impressed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Me, My Problem With People


"Man in his pomp will not remain;
he is like the beasts that perish.
This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
yet after them people approve of their boasts.
...
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me." - Psalm 49

I feel a little defeated today as I write. Perhaps it's just a sugar hang-over from the stuff that I was shoving into my mouth last night. It is definitely not food!

At one point I was arrested by my daughter who asked me, "Did you get that Tootsie-Roll out of my bucket?" I did the smart thing and chewed with my mouth shut for a few seconds. In biding my time, her sugar-crazed mind was unable to focus on her interrogation and my indescretion. I watched in satisfaction as her heels became blur and she took off for the next house/candy-dispenser. Then I was alone with her bucket once more. It was a beautiful thing.

But what has me feeling a little defeated today is this: I'm moving from a place in a couple of weeks that I've never reconciled myself to. And it feels like escape. And last night was a confirmation of that it is in fact escape.

As we strolled the streets of our community last night, I was struck by the affluence, the posturing, the plastic cups full of alcohol everywhere and the keeping up of appearances. But most disturbing of all was my not so subtle feeling of superiority.

"I'm not like these wealthy snobs," I thought. "I'm a supported missionary for crying out loud." Where we're living right now seems to have many of the elements of the movie "The Stepford Wifes" - just the right combination of affluence, good-old boy connections and religiousity, to just make me feel like a real outsider. And since I don't like feeling like an outsider, I simply place myself on top of the heap.

This morning I was talking with my total-stranger-friend "Starbucks lady." From what I can gather she is an introverted thinker, philosopher and widow who feels deeply and has tried to make a go of it in this community. Her frustration and disgust for what I just described was thinly vieled.

I'm cringing even as I write, because many of the folks I know and love, friends and family are part of this community. And while they slot in just like I expect they think I do, they probably have much the same struggle with this place.

Basically what I'm getting at is how do you love the world when you feel rejected by it and at the same time "better" than it? Melissa, my wife turned to a group of women last night, attempting to engage them in conversation, only to literally have them turn their backs on her. You tell me, how are you supposed to love that?

So I'm discouraged, both at the beast within and at the uglyness of the culture without. I have not resolved myself to where I'm currently living. And now I'm moving in two weeks, and it feels like an escape. In many ways, I haven't lived well here, and now I'm moving.

The truth is that while this may seem like a indictment of where I live (some of you may know the place), I believe it's an indictment of both where I live and me. There's something in me, namely self-righteousness, that doesn't approach my culture with love, respect and empathy. Where's the humanity Philip? Where's the humility Philip? Where's your God-life Philip?

Melissa and I were trying to process this last night, and I said that what I believe God wants from us is to be aware of the "foolish confidence" and fakeness, but to love deeply because of our own realization that we are in hiding as well. We have the tendancy to be just as fake, the desire to be included at any cost even if it means shunning or making fun of others.

Thus my discouragement. Rather than doing the above, Melissa and I, a community of two, were attempting to make ourselves superior by pointing out the flaws of the community. We had no God-given agenda of change, just a restless feeling of rejection and lack of acceptance spurring us on to judge.

The Gospel is a deep salve to this very issue. "God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol. He will receive me." As others have reflected, what God thinks about us is the most important thing about us.

So when tempted to respond to a rejecting culture in kind, what should I do? Cling to a God who is my accepting culture. Then both God's awareness and humility will be my guide, enabling me to be a positive force in a hurting world. The same awareness and humility that enabled him to eat with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Can we be fountains of refreshment in "Stepford Wives" cultures? I believe we can. But first we need to be so rooted in the Good News that we really believe that we're sick and we're in this together with other sick human beings. Perhaps this is the attitude that had Paul considering himself the chief of sinners.

As a child of God, I will never be any "better" than anyone else. That's why I can echo with Chesterton, that the problem with the world is me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Let's Wrestle!


"I will not let you go unless you bless me." - Jacob in the wrestling match of his life!

I blearily stumbled into the kitchen and was greeted with the face of my 3 yr. old, a face that beamed with energy, perhaps the energy of a thousand energizer bunnies coursing through his little frame. And he asked me a question I could have guessed a thousand times over, "Daddy, do you want to wrestle?"

As he looked at me with those big hazel eyes, pleading for what I know would make his day, I deliberated the cost. Not much, I thought, five minutes of romping and rolling around on our bed in the hopes of making my favorite boy's day. So we wrestled, and I'm not sure who had more joy, Dad or Son.

I've been reading Tim Keller's Conterfeit Gods and I finally finished it. It was difficult to pick up. I am so swamped with idolatry that I wasn't sure I could handle a book that would blast through it all with the truth. I guess I was afraid that all I would hear would be just more moralistic bootstrap pulling thickly veiled under gospel language. The old "Just stop it" we here in our Christian religion.

I've tried to stop my idolatry and I can't. I need more. I need to wrestle with my God. I need to jump on his back, test his arms to see if they can carry my pain, get spun around on my head and laugh until my sides hurt as he tickles me.

My daughter always insists on stripping down to her underwear when we wrestle. We need to feel skin on skin, to feel the reality of closeness, to feel the muscles twitch and turn as we contort, twist and tickle.

This is what Jacob found in his WWF match with God. As Keller notes, this is what Jacob must have been thinking:
What an idiot I've been! Here is what I've been looking for all my life. The blessing of God! I looked for it in the approval of my father. I looked for it in the beauty of Rachel. But it was in you. Now I won't let you go until you bless me. Nothing else matters. I don't care if I die in the process, because if I don't have God's blessing, I've got nothing. Nothing else will do.

Could this be the universal cry of the human heart? Was it Jesus' cry from the Garden of Gethsemeny? God blessing, God approval, God wrestling? We were made in the image of God, made for this, made for bodies to lock, skin against skin, to twist, pull, push, grunt, sweat and laugh and to be overwhelmed by the power of this creator God, who limits his power for us, much like a Dad with a 3 yr. old.

So this morning I popped little David's hip out as well, just so he'd remember who he was dealing with. You have to keep them in their place after all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ain't Scared


I had a dream about a month ago that terrified me. My little nephew, who can be a little rascal at times, was really acting up. He was demon possessed! And I was the one given the role of casting out the demon. Finally when I did, a dark and oppressive power rushed over me. I woke up Melissa with my screams.

That dream gives me the willies. And I've talked with others who have experienced demon oppression, and their description is much like what I experienced. While mine was probably just having eaten too much sugar before bed (probably marshmallows or some-such demon possessed delectable), it was terrifying enough for me to realize what we are up against as believers.

And then I read passage of the father with the demon possessed boy out of Mark today. In it Jesus in effect is saying, "'If I can cast out your demon?' Are you kidding me? I'm Jesus!" Then in Hebrews, I read that Jesus was made our priest not by the power of being a descendant of Aaron, but by "the power of an indistructable life."

This Jesus we follow is bigger, stronger and more powerful than our deepest fears. My deepest fear is hell. This morning I was reading about it in Mark. Fun it is not. Hell is absolutely terrifying! Jesus says it's better for us to chop off appendages than to go there. Fun.

Last night I was watching the Animal Channel, and they were describing a house haunting and how this poor woman was woken up and held down by a powerful and dark presence that told her to "Get out!" in a deep voice. On the Animal Channel! What? Fun.

Now that I think about it, just last week we were having a little family outing in Chattanooga at the Corn Maze. Unfortunately the corn was about ready to harvest and the plants were wilting, which left in plane view their "Horror Fair" located right next to the maze. David and Teya kept commenting on the "interesting statues," which consisted of people chared black and impaled on poles (I think they burn them at night). I wish I still had the "unenlighted" eyes of a child that saw stuff like that as just "interesting statues." Fun.

So here I sit, in my comfortable little Starbucks nook, with the sun streaming in and everything here on Lookout Mountain absolutely exploding in fall colors. And I'm struck with the staggering beauty of God juxtaposed to the horror filled experiences described above. Why would anyone want to have anything to do with hell?

I imagine no one really does. But every day I make choices that seem to draw me closer to it's gates. I even question if I'm a Christian at all sometimes. I'm so ridiculously selfish and though I know I'm not enslaved to sin, it sure feels like it.

But my reality as a child of God is Christ. Not in some obscure metaphorical or simply spiritual way. But Jesus Christ is going on and on and on, pleading my case before God's throne. A case not based on "Look what Phil did, he really isn't all that bad, he just needs a little work, a tweak here and a tweak there."

No! Jesus is pleading my case because it's his case. He owns it. He's actually "living to make intercession for me" (Hebrews). What a relief to know that his work on the cross, while final, continues to be in play for the believer. That since Jesus holds his priesthood permanently "he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God."

Jesus' work continues in little old Philip. As scary as I sometimes am, Jesus ain't scared. That's a comfort during this season of so many contradictions: Thanksgiving and Halloween, beautiful changing leaves and haunted houses. It's a comfort when you get the willies.

Note on picture above: He looks like my Hebrew Professor in Seminary!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mark Twain and a Raging Bull


I'm not proud of this fact, but I haven't been reading my Bible much recently. How good is a missionary who doesn't read his Bible? Umm...

I've written on this before, my tendency to put my Bible down as I find it boring, difficult and just sort of a chore to read. But as a friend of mine once surmised, "Reading your Bible always seems like a bad idea until you pick it up and read." So true.

Yesterday as I was sitting in church, feeling like I was literally dying of boredom, the pastor said something that hit home. What do we say about the word of God when we leave it at home, collecting dust on some shelf? Are we not saying that we don't really believe it's important?

I tend to think like this: There's my Bible and it's antiquated reality and then there's my reality, and rarely the "twain" shall meet (I have no idea what twain means. Maybe it's a reference to Mark Twain. He's all over the place!). My reality seems more urgent, more real, demanding more of my attention. Heck, sometimes I just want to sit down with a fantasy novel and escape both realities, God and mine.

But the truth is that "The Lord is my light and my salvation, the stronghold of my life..." And if I'm to experience the joys of living life in a stronghold, I probably want to read about it.

I get so caught up in struggling with idolatry, materialism, greed, selfishness, ego, and the list is very very long, when I have a book that addresses all of these head on, like a bull charging a matador that forgot his red flag. It blasts through these issues. It literally consumes them.

Somewhere Paul encourages us to strengthen the weak and shore up the falling. I can think of no better way than digging into God's great book on Life with a capital L.

I forget every day that God loves me, so I leave his 6000 pg. love-letter on a shelf. I am a whore, but God loves this little whore, and will never, ever, ever abandon me, for I am his. Ironically this is probably the first thing I forget when I quit reading the Bible.

So that's it, I've got to get to his word today! May you too find in it what you're searching for. I bet you will.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Hero Gollum


Is there something good in all of us? Something redeemable? Something God can use?

I drink so much Starbucks that I've become friends with all the employees in the greater Chattanooga area. I've also used every restroom, regularly (lame pun alert). My goal is to befriend all of Tennessee, the US and finally the world. Then wherever there's a Starbucks, there's a friend of mine.

Anyhow, one of my better friends at Starbucks posed this question above to me as we talked about Tolkien and more specifically Gollum. His claim is that Gollum is a hero of sorts. That he is the one that accomplishes the mission of the entire Lord of The Rings Trilogy: He destroys the ring and defeats evil.

Sure he does so by biting off Frodo's finger, dancing about in selfish glee over the fires of Mt. Moriah and eventually falling to his doom. I'm not sure this is what Tolkien was getting at, but something within me resonates with the idea of Gollum being a hero of sorts.

Maybe it's because he was always the most fun to immitate. "Fishes, fishes, my precioussss." I can picture my brother Taylor and I scuttling about in our underwear doing our best Gollum impersonations. He was so much fun. In fact, in my early 30's I impersonated him in Vancouver at a swimming hole that was too cold for non-Gollumsies.

I swam across and dove down, revelling in the water, only to crawl up on the other side, perch on a rock with my fresh fishy, glare hatred at the weird humansies and hiss at them. I love being Gollum.

And in a lot of ways I am Gollum. I constantly learning the hard way about life. I strain against God's will and look for preciousses in other places than in Him. But what's fantastic about the Gollum story is that Tolkein uses Gollum's selfish desires to accomplish something really good, the destruction of the RING OF DOOM.

Perhaps he uses my selfishness and sin to do the same. Perhaps, in learning the hard lessons, I'm growing less like Gollum and more like my creator, seeking him more than all the glittering preciouses. Perhaps.

Tolkien definitely wants us to pity Gollum. He gives a detailed back-story of the poor guy, and we see the pain that has ruled his life. Deep pain and rejection. In the story Gollum even seems to begin to reform. I believe Tolkien wants us to relate.

Why? Perhaps because Gollum is a creature that has the imprint of a creator. He was created good. Evil has bent, twisted and corroded him to the point of bare recognition. But in the end, Tolkien uses the evil to accomplish good.

There's a lesson hear about God's good will being accomplished. That no evil can thwart his goodness. That even our own evilness, our hell-bent desires and selfishness, will ultimately accomplish his purpose.

It's an encouraging thought, and the hope of everyone who believes in redemption: God will bring good from the most evil of circumstances. Good will win. God will win!

It's the greatest hope of the believer that no evil will seperate us from the love we have in Christ - specifically the evil within.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Dear Lord Baby Jesus"


I've always have trouble understanding Jesus. I hear him referred to as "sweet precious Jesus" and I think, "What kind of Jesus is that? I don't find him in my gospels."

I love the scene in "Taladega Nights" (I don't recommend seeing the whole movie, unless you don't mind a lot of crassness.) when Will Ferrell is praying over dinner with his family, and prays to "Dear Lord Baby Jesus." This scene grows in hilarity as his friends and family members stop his prayer about 4 times to inform him that Jesus grew up and is no longer a baby. Will gets really mad raging that they can pray to "teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus or whatever kind of Jesus they want" but that that he prefers his "Christmas Jesus". He finally continues his prayer rubbing in his belief in a "Dear sweet tiny tiny baby Jesus, with gold, golden fleece diapers... Dear eight pound six ounce, baby Jesus who doesn't even know a word yet..."

We all do this. We all make up Jesus. My kid's books really do this. They never portray Jesus as looking like a normal 1st century Israelite. While they've gone away from blond hair and blue eyes, he always has a purple sash and is very handsome, if not a little iffeminate.

A couple of days ago, I was reading one at breakfast to myself (which is a good practise by the way - reading children's books on the gospel has a power that speaks directly to our heart.) I was reading from one of my favorite series (Archway Books I think) about the blind man Bartimaeus.

I got excited as I looked at the illustrations. They were terrific! So earthy and real. When Bartimaeus finally is invited to come to Jesus he is lead to one that I assumed was Jesus. He looked like a 1st century Jew! It turns out he was probably Peter, always the illustrator's punching bag.

The real Jesus was sitting on a marble slab in a tiled square rimmed with big porcelain vases. He looked like Plato, brooding and handsome. He was the image of the ethereal and Romanized Jesus of western thought. And later after "beautiful Jesus" finishes healing Bartimaeus, the illustrator does something that really gets my goat, puts the goat in a sack and tosses him over a bridge.

Bartimaeus and everyone are celebrating in the market, with their cute/ugly cartoon expressions, a really beautiful scene, when Western Jesus totally ruins it by serenely walking through the square, with his purple sash and with the two finger medieval wave he does raised in greeting to some dude in a window shaking out his rug. I can only imagine the rug guy's thoughts, "Who? What weirdo is this? Why did he two finger wave at me?" I would have drawn Jesus celebrating with the rest of them. Poor cartoon Jesus, always destined to have no fun and to be no fun at all.

This sort of Jesus is so detached. An emotional robot. A figment of our imagination. Didn't Jesus have no "beauty or outward appearance to draw men to himself"? Wasn't Jesus one of us? Isn't that the ENTIRE point of the incarnation?

Thanks for letting me vent a little on my blog. If this is the way we picture Jesus, no wonder so many of us have trouble relating to him.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Good" Morning


Drool was sliding peacefully between my lips when I heard Melissa moan, "Phil, will you get up with the kids?"

"Get up? It's still night right? No, it's just another pre-dawn morning with two humans under 6." David, with blanket in hand, was present and accounted for by a brain hemorraging whine originating from his impossibly small mouth (for the volume he produces anyways).

So I did one of those drool slurp things I've mastered, knowing I'd need all the fluids I could get this AM. And after cursing myself for being so stupidly self-sacrificial, I rubbed my eyes until I could see blurry shapes and said in a completely defeated and pitiful voice, "Yes, I'll do it."

I managed to roll/fall/curse again out of bed. Then I dragged David down the stairs, still pleading for Mommy, when he informed me that he wanted to get dressed. I patiently explained to him that "IT WAS STILL DARK! How are we supposed to get dressed in the dark?"

I knew this would just end up leading to more whining, and my growing morning-hangover (I hardly ever drink, but I always wake up with a hang-over. I think this is unfair.) was pleading with me just to do whatever the "little devil" (I don't really think of him this way. Just in the mornings.) wanted provided he stopped making that brain-getting-pierced-with-icicles-noise. So we fumbled around getting clothes in the dark, and at one point David dissappeared entirely only for me to realize he had simply left, gone on a 3 year's old errand of spontanaity. I hate spontanaity in the mornings.

So I sat there, in the dark, wondering why Melissa and I couldn't have just adopted a couple of 10 yr. olds that could take care of themselves and possibly me. Alas.

David eventually returned and we fumbled our way downstairs, AGAIN, and I poured cereal into a bowl of milk, poured him a juice full of glass and slapped my weary end down next to him.

Thinking of us in that pre-dawn morning light, we must have looked like a couple of bums, silouhetted against the kitchen window like in an alley - all we needed was an alley-cat routing through garbage. Of course one of the bums would be really small, awefully chipper, and the only thing noting him as a possible bum would be his eating cereal with hands and shirt on backwards. The bigger one, however, would be classic bum - hair totally disheveled, unshaven, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, eyes blood-shot right through, with a look on his face that just begs the question, "Why life now?"

The morning continued... I found myself building marble towers, hangover still chastizing me for all the pops of marbles hitting plastic and little-boy-whoops. Then I found myself wrestling on our bed while Mommy showered. I was basically sort of trying to sleep while tickling, throwing, bucking and having David and now Teya jump on my back for fun. It was the worst nap I've ever had.

God bless mornings. He better. Otherwise I would never get through. So to everyone out there in cyber-space reading this, "Morning." I hope he doesn't bless yours like he blessed mine. But now that I have coffee in my system am safely at Starbucks, I think I'll miss these mornings some day. Plus I'd do it all over again, "I guess so honey, if I have to. Yes? Crap."