Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Know When Jesus is Coming Back

I thought the title might make you read this entry. Got you! Enjoy:

"For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever." - Psalm 9.

So some dude, calculator and book of Revelation (and Daniel now) in hand (always a dangerous combo) had it all figured out. I heard on NPR (NPR is the radio station that makes me feel super-intelligent because they're always talking about something I can barely understand. I turn it up when I'm getting out of the car. Well, that and ACDC, just because I feel so bad-good getting out of my car with them playing in the back-ground, even though my car is a broken down Ford Escort and not a flaming chariot from Hades. Perhaps I should stick with NPR.) that someone had crunched the numbers and Jesus was going to return May 21.

At least I think it was May 21, which is a Saturday, and would finally validate the beliefs of 7th Day Adventists everywhere. Who would have thought that the 7th Day guys had been right all along?! Or perhaps Jesus chose Saturday because he didn't want to interrupt any church services (with people worshipping him and all) and knew that everybody was putting off mowing their lawns anyway. This would give everyone something to do.

Well, surprise, surprise, Jesus was a no show. It's kind of sad because this dude and his followers were completely ready. This time they were sure on their numbers (apparently last time they had forgotten to read Daniel. Oops.), had packed their bags and had excitedly spent all their savings (Who wouldn't be excited to do that? I'd buy a Harley!). I packed my dop-kit just in case. But like I said Jesus was a no-show. "Now come on Jesus, when are you finally going to come and beem us up and blast the world to smithereens?"

Some people think Jesus is a crutch for the weak. I agree. But not in the sense people think. Doomsayers want to be rid of this world ASAP. And frankly, sometimes I can't blame them. It's not nice though.

But God seems to have different plans though doesn't he. He's kind of a patient guy. Millenia don't seem to make him age much. And for those who try and determine his plans or put him in a box, He's promised he will never return. It's written in the Bible in a few places, and you'd think people who read their Bibles carefully enough to find out that Jesus was returning May 21, would know where those verses are. I don't by heart. But it's in there somewhere. Am I being lazy? Of course.

Doomsayers do sort of use God as a crutch to escape everything don't they? God's not supposed to be stuck under our arm-pits and leaned on. But I've always taken issue with people who say God's a crutch and thought of this as the ultimate low-blow. "When you're broken you need a crutch," is what I always think. And when you think you're fine you may need to get your head checked.

I read the verse above today and it got me thinking about God and his desire for the poor and needy - those who truly lean on God. Those who truly lean on God don't want everyone to be judged, because they realize how much everyone around them needs God - even those who don't recognize the need, even guys with calculators and Revelation memorized.

For the poor and needy, God is their sole hope for revival, the renewal of all good, the making of all things new. So for the poor and needy I'll close with these words of David, for I can't say them any better myself, "Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men!" That should straighten out the doomsayers and the nay-sayers alike, as well as me. Happy end-times everyone!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Evil Meets Good

"Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself." - Matthew 14:13.

Can you imagine hearing that your cousin (John the B) had been beheaded for a trifle? Can you imagine walking in Jesus' sandals? I can't.

What was going through his head when he heard that his cousin, the one who played such an intimate role in Jesus' kingdom reign, the herald, had been brutally murdered? Not only this, but John was murdered AND his head given as a gift!

Why? Simply because John was good (as well as bold). He spoke out against the tyranical religious and political figures of his day. Maybe he figured, "I subside on locusts and live in the desert, I don't have much to lose." Somehow I doubt it.

There's something really mysterious going on in John's ministry and death isn't there? To be a herald for the king, I'd imagine you'd come in with trumpets blasting, wearing your finest and speaking with a conquerer's attitude. What is this humble herald? He did seem to have some of the conquerer's attitude though didn't he.

Maybe these were things that were tumbling around in Jesus' heart, mind and soul as he withdrew to a desolate place to be by himself. Maybe the powerful shock of two kingdoms colliding, the kingdom of good and God and the kingdom of evil and man was a little too much for Jesus. And perhaps-maybe he needed some time to mourn the tragedy of a friend. You think!

I'm sure he needed some time to swallow the bitter pill of what he was up against - very raw and real EVIL. Can you imagine being Jesus? Knowing a little of what bringing good into a world ruled by evil would do. Knowing that 11 of your closest friends would be murdered because of good. Knowing that you were about to suffer the most terrible fate... ever. Knowing that you were to drink down pure undistilled, unfiltered EVIL and drink it all, all evil, down to the very last drop.

I think I'd withdraw. I'd withdraw to someplace far, far away. Maybe to the joy of future Mormons everywhere, I'd run to the Americas and seek out a new life among the Indians.

I'd run. I'd hide. I'd lie. I'd do anything it took to ensure that what happened to John, wasn't about to happen to me. And on top of all this, if I knew that my furture involved my life being given as a gift to the Devil, I'd run for a long long time. I'm glad I wasn't Jesus.

So what does Jesus do? He withdraws to a desolate place and people chase. If I was Jesus, I'd have told the brainless sheep-people to buzz off. My cousin had just been murdered for crying out loud! Leave me alone!

But he doesn't, showing extreme mercy, extreme in that it had to drain Jesus to no end, he speaks to the people, continuing on his mission to share his goodness. He feeds them. Then he dismisses the crowds to pray.

Jesus faces the worst with humility, not pride, and he goes to his strength, the Father. And in the starkest backdrop, he finds in God the resource to continue spreading good. And he keeps taking the next step of obedience. Step, step, step all the way to the cross.

We have to commune with this Jesus. We have to learn the steps. We have find his humility and strength. We have to repent and depend. We have to find his obedience at work in us.

We have to and he does. That's the mystery. As much as we need to seek, we're sought. As much as we need him, we run away. As much as we must rest in his arms, we rest in the arms of any other lover.

But this Jesus, the Jesus who withdrew and drew near, this Jesus who drank evil, this Jesus who preached real goodness, good news for the broken, never gives up on us, his sheep-people.

We need to withdraw to be with Him for He knows the Way.

Monday, May 23, 2011


"Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.'"

I stared at the clock clicking softly. It's soothing cadence had me mesmerized. "Time," I thought, "is almost slowed to a stop when we watch it."

Of course I don't usually have such deep thoughts without anesthesia, and this moment was no different. Having have numerous surgeries, I've had many "deep" thoughts - like "Since my head feels like a pancake, will I still like waffles?"

Yet few of these thoughts stand the test of time. The thought I had on time above[after an unusually short (for me)shoulder-surgery] has stuck with me. And time is a weird thing isn't it? We never have enough of it when we're doing something we love, when we're in pain it feels like forever and when we're anticipating something good or bad it simply stops. Time can be kind of a jerk.

That's why I'm grateful that Jesus addresses time when his disciples question his sanity in returning to Jerusalem (where Pharisees with big muscles wanted to play dodge-rock). I know I would have questioned his sanity a lot. Like "Jesus, have you ever been checked for Palestinian God-Bugs?"

An Early Palestinian God-Bugs Definition out of The Early Palestinian Dictionary of Things You Should Know Don't Exist says: "... once inhabiting their host, God-Bugs turn the host's eyes blue and hair blond, and convince the host that he is God. The bugs also are known to work miracles, like flawless complexion and the occasional walk across water."

But going back to Jesus' statement on time. He simply answers the disciples fear with "Aren't their just 12 hours in a day? And aren't you with me, the light?" I love it. Jesus sees through their fears for him for what they are, fears for themselves.

Self-preservation can kill you. At least it can kill your faith. And Jesus is reminding his followers that a life of faith is as simple and beautifully complex as walking with him. And that in this walk with Christ, time holds no real fears.

And this isn't simply because Jesus had God-Bugs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

God the Baffling

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation." - God describing himself to Moses.

God doesn't seem to cohere sometimes. He's a little baffling and frustrating.

On the one side he's compassionate and forgiving and on the other he has storehouses of wrath towards sin. I simply have no idea when it comes to writing about God. Yet like the fool I am, I write on...

But God does cohere. His character is perfect and the picture Moses got when God said the words above was one of consistency.

The Gospel as "Good News" compels us to seek after God, not only because of his compassion but also because of his wrath. We need a God who HATES sin. We need a God who judges. We need a God "who will by no means clear the guilty."

It would and is so much easier to embrace God as a warm and fuzzy Santa Claus in the sky: A God who loves all, welcomes all and overlooks sin. A God who comes to us in many shapes, in many forms and in diverse religions and understandings. A God who doesn't descriminate. A God who doesn't care too much about creed and theology (God-study) and just wants everyone to get along.

We all are familiar with this God. And if I'm honest with myself, for some strange reason, I sometimes wish this was God. He'd be a lot easier to box up and put under my bed at night. He'd be a lot easier to explain to friends. He'd be a lot more fun at parties...

But in scripture God is both merciful and wrathful. He is a God who loves mankind and who thoroughly hates sin. I see this most clearly with Christ on the cross, God bearing on himself his wrath towards the guilty. A God driven by both mercy and wrath - two sides of his glory. A consistent God.

As I've written about before, a pluralistic God doesn't offer us much. Really all he offers at bottom are warm fuzzies and delusion. Our God, the LORD, who describes himself to Moses, is a God who deals in Reality.

This God both forgives and judges. That is the reason he can rescue. Without judgement of sin, I would still be enslaved. And without his forgiveness, I'd have been vaporized.

So I guess I'm writing all this down to see it in black and white. To try and better understand not "my God" but the LORD. For the longest time he's baffled me. And if he quits baffling me, I'll probably not be seeking the LORD. But writing helps me untangle me so I can better see God, I think...

Even as I express what I've heard described as "the kiss," God's mercy and judgement meeting at the Cross, I have to be careful. For I have no idea about mercy, and I have no idea about wrath. In honesty, I only have the faintest understanding of what went down on the Cross.

And if I'm really honest ("Just pull the splinter out Philip!"), I feel pretty smug about my profound insights in this post. But just hit me with "dashing babies against rocks" and see how smug I am.

My guess is God is confusing because we are confused. God seems inconsistent because we are inconsistent. The reason for such great issues as "the problem of evil" lies not with God's inconsistency but with ours.

Once again I can hear the words echoing in my head - the Jewish "Shema" or "Hear" prayer: "Hear Oh Israel, the LORD, the LORD our God is one." It follows that I am not.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Can You See Your Bottom?

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

I have a very narrow view of life. If you've spent any time reading my blog, I'm sure you've seen it. There's a self-obsession that I wrestle with every day.

I'm reminded of the time my son David, who's 2, wanted to see something on his bottom. He twisted his head this way and that and found that with a two year old body it's impossible to view one's hind-quarters. It kept his parents entertained(still does in fact as I picture it in my mind).

But at any given moment on any day, it's a pretty safe bet that I'm trying to figure out something about me. I like thinking about me. Little do I acknowledge that life isn't about me, it's about God.

Sounds discouraging doesn't it? We want life to be about us (and seeing our ever-out-of-view bottoms). We grow discouraged, bitter, resentful and ugly when people don't pay enough attention to us and our plans, our desires and wishes. But life isn't about us.

Which brings me around to the quote above. I rarely think that living righteously is a gift I have to bring to others. A guide to others. A way in which I can get outside of myself and truly love my neighbor and glorify God. But it is the way.

I just got off a phone call, in which a close friend of mine is seeking to be a faithful wheel-chair salesman. I'd have a lot more funny stuff to write about if he was evil and crooked, a villainous wheel-chair salesman. I can see the reams of great stuff that I'd be able to ramble on about.

But he's not (boring!), and he's attempting to be faithful to the task God's given him of going places, making contacts, pitching his product and making sales. And over all of this he's got the perspective that this is ministry - selling wheelchairs with integrity and looking for opportunities to share Christ in both word and deed. He's got it and he's a guide to me.

My friend probably doesn't know it but he's benefiting me, his neighbor. The exercise of his righteousness, or right-standing before God in Christ, shines a bright light on my life.

Why are we called to right living and good works? According to Proverbs, it is so that our neighbors will be benefited with guidance. And when it comes to being a light in dark and dying world, including that darkness that still lurks in our hearts, Christ works his righteousness to work wonders.

One of the dangers of righteous living is all the human definitions of righteousness. They tend to fall more in line with human-constructed restrictions, prudishness, legalism and elitism. This isn't at all righteousness according to God. Biblical righteousness is proactive, not reactive and restrictive. True righteousness is God's work of making all things right. And it involves us as we take tiny steps of obedience.

So with all these ramblings, I'm trying to just get my mind around the reason I want to walk close to Christ and live righteously. I guess most of the time I do it so that I will be blessed - me again. But the reality is that if I really do walk close to Christ, my neighbors will be guided by Christ in me.

According to Jesus, loving neighbors and loving God is where it's at. So all this righteous-living stuff is a good thing, and it's gotten a bad rap by people like me trying to do it on our own. People that are so self-obsessed that they think they can please God without blessing their neighbors.

It's just not right is it?

Monday, May 16, 2011

I am not I AM.

Melissa said, "You need to get back into writing Philip!" Apparently someone's checking my blog and noticed my week-long absence. It's good to be missed.

I'm trying to get back into a regular rythm of work, play and parenting. It's not easy. I like running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I like having wild ideas and plans, passionately pursuing a plan. And I've had a plan to keep me busy: I'm planning on riding my bike across the southeast for about 500-700 miles, visiting churches, friends and raising funds. Sounds fun doesn't it!

The problem is it's got my head spinning like someone in a horror film. I've turned into whacko-crazed Phil, the one with spittle dripping off his chin. The one who just will not shut up about his plan. The one who's obviously not spending much time meditating and spending time with God!

Yes it happens. Even saints (heavy sarcasm) like me put down our bibles for a while to pursue our own agendas.

But I picked up my huge ESV again this morning, no small feat as it weighs 300 lbs., and found in Ezekiel the phrase that cuts to the core of all OT biblical prophecy: "That you shall know that I am the LORD." It's funny, in the same passage God continues to say that "all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD." He's speaking of kings and kingdoms, but I find it funny anyways.

I can see Tree-Beard in Lord of the Rings not finding it funny at all. For Tree-Beard all trees are intelligent.

But this phrase reminds me of Jesus's words in the NT proclaiming that even the rocks and trees will raise up and praise him. So you see all this stuff is bouncing around my head as I write, making it difficult to admit how lazy I've been in keeping God first in my life, "Knowing that he is the LORD."

I think I AM. It's pretty twisted I know. But I feel everything in life exists to serve me in some sort of capacity. And if and when it doesn't, I get bitter, resentful and mean. "You better not frustrate my plans or I'll smite you."

That's why I wouldn't make a real good I AM, I would have smited everyone and everything by now. While I bet smiting would be real fun, I can picture myself with smoking fingertips standing on a pile of rubble, kind of sad because I've run out of stuff to smite. Sad and maybe a bit lonely, even though I'm an introvert. Perhaps there'd be a stray cat left that I could smite: "MEEEOUCH!"

So in all my pursuit of self, I really end up destroying everything and everyone. Not that I have the power to do that. But I do have the power to become a destructive force, a tool of the enemy. And basically I end up not all that fun to be around.

People don't like hearing my crazed plans, especially when I have blood-shot eyes and froth coming out of the corner of my mouth. "Back away from the guy with the plan."

So God's reminding me, ever so patiently that he's God, a lesson that, sadly, I'll be learning the rest of my life. It's a really good lesson though, because as I read the OT, I see a lot of destruction and despair there. I see people running from their creator and turning to all sorts of created things and plans and forgetting that God is the LORD, the great existence, the I AM.

I know I'll forget today. I know I'll forget that life isn't about me, its about Him. I know that I'll take his grace and forgiveness for granted. But to whatever degree I remember, to whatever degree I bow my knee, to whatever degree I become the real creature I am, Philip, I have hope. For last time I checked, God still reigns.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"With a Word"

"That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 'He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.'" - Matthew.

I've never been demon possessed, I don't think... But I think I know what it feels like to be oppressed by demons. Self-loathing, hatred, bitterness and strife - these guys aren't pixies, they're real meanies.

Maybe you caught some of it in my entry yesterday, if anyone reads these successively - "Anyone, anyone, Beuller, BEULLER!.." Yesterday I was in the throws of personal angst, and today I feel like I've had five coffees and three-point-eight energy drinks. Go figure. It's kind of scary being me sometimes. I've been blessed to grace the doors of many a psychologist and psychiatrist (actually I really have been blessed) and have been diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive, Manic Depressive, Generalized Anxiety Disorder-"ly conduct" and in one of my personal favorites "A worry wart." I'm sort of an anomoly to them. I think I'm human, that's why.

As you can imagine, wearing all these labels makes me a little suspicious of feelings. Feeling particularly high just means I'm manic and feeling low just means I've got a weird wart. I don't take depression lightly, because I've had it almost as long as I can remember.

In fact, part of my reason for writing, is to work through depression. To understand why and how I feel and to allow God to give me feelings that are appropriate. My big reason is to search for God, and get lots of page hits of course.

But for those of you who struggle with depression, you know it's got to be a lot like demon oppression. For those of you who don't struggle, you may have never thought of this.

But if any of you think depression is simply demon possession, please dig yourself a hole, get in it, live there for a week with only water, and then ask yourself the question, "Am I depressed or am I demon possessed?" My guess is you won't know. And it probably won't help to think you are. This is just a mean thought for those out there who dismiss depression, which I'm sure are none of you.

What would it be like to meet Jesus in the passage above? To see him healing demon oppression, sickness and athletes foot (I've got a really bad case) "with a word." This guy Jesus is powerful. More powerful than the tornadoes of emotions that have been swirling through my body for the past few days.

The reference to Isaiah in this passage is striking. Let me type it again: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases." Jesus didn't just dismiss illness and oppression, he took it on himself. I don't know how deep this goes, or even if I'm enterpreting this right, but there seems to be something in Christ's healings of him bearing peoples burdens. We see it in the cross, but in the healings as well? Hmmm...

But whatever it means, Jesus is familiar with depression. He's familiar with every disease that oppresses his creatures. And as my creator he knows me, intimately. This is sure ground for hope through emotional tornadoes. After all doesn't it say somewhere in our Bibles that "he was acquainted with grief and afflicted with sorrows"?

That's why I love Jesus. Because he's real and he can deal. As I've said before, he's the real deal, and I would certainly not have to ask him to dig a hole. Unless I was building dirt-jumps again, then I might ask him to do some of his fancy magic for me. I wish cause that would be so awesome and narly. Dude, I'd be so stoked!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tornadoes Don't Blow Sin Away

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress… O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.” - David in Psalm 4.

Storms absolutely ravaged this part of the country. 150 tornadoes ripped through the Southeastern US leaving 300 dead and missing, with multiple homes blown apart and businesses destroyed. We’re still tallying the damage but it’s evident that it will take a while for these scars to heal.

During the storm, we had a small community huddled in the basement. We spent time checking on the raging turmoil through the windows, calming our children and munching on home-made muffins provided by Melissa. It was a curious feeling, being so close with these brave few, calming our fears and praying for safety.

Curiously enough these storms did little to effect the Universe of Philip. It’s sad to admit, but I had a very mixed reaction to all the craziness. The day after the storm I felt compelled to get out and help in any way I could. As I searched, I felt completely overwhelmed, first by my incompetency (can you be an All-American Male without a chainsaw?) and second by the chaos and destruction. I didn’t know what to do. I felt paralyzed, anxious and depressed.

I visited folks, checked on my Grandparents and chatted with a family I knew whose house had been picked up and moved off of its foundation. People were wandering streets that looked like one of those end-of-the-world movie sets. One house had a 2-by-4 sticking out of the front of it, as if the storm had been playing darts. It was eerie.

Part of me, and I really have a hard time admitting this because it’s really ugly, rejoices when stuff like this happens. There’s a very deep evil that resides in me. My thought process goes something like this: “Maybe all these wicked sinners will wake up to reality through this tragedy. Maybe they’ll even fund me to do my ministry.” This thought enters my head almost unbidden, but something in me is drawn to it, to its alluring nature and to the energy it’s bitterness provides.

I think of myself as not such a bad guy. But thoughts like this prove otherwise. Little do I know God’s grace. Little do I know compassion. Little do I know how to react to real suffering.

At the risk of depressing everyone who reads this, I will delve deeper into my own inner struggle. Removing brush the day after the storm brought on a pretty severe allergic reaction to all the pollen in the air. I must have sneezed a hundred times. At one point I sneezed a wad of snot on my 4-year-old nephew who in true all-boy fashion simply wiped it off with the an unspoken sentiment of, “Oh that happens all the time.”

After the storm, my in-laws house was over-populated. Screaming and whiny children were getting the best of tired and pollinated parents. My feelings of ineptitude as a parent, a provider and a child of God were getting to an all time high.

How can I stew in my own personal depression when all around me is chaos and need? I find that I’m pretty capable.

“No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes…” This song just popped on and I think it’s pretty apt. Except I have hazel eyes.

But as I was saying, I’m pretty adept at stewing in my own personal storm of emotions when all the world is in chaos around me. Now I’ve got to give God some credit, it’s not like I laid in bed all day and bemoaned my state, at least not most of the day. It’s just that I was definitely in the place of feeling like the “terd at the center of the universe.”

And, instead of helping folks, I ended up going for some long mountain bike rides to try and clear my head. The exercise did a great deal of good and it reminded me that people, even people in crisis, are perfectly capable of getting by without Savior Philip.

So where am I now, why am I writing all this and how does it tie in to the Psalm above? This Psalm speaks to me of a God who answers his people who are being beset by lies. While my lies come mostly from within, I see that God will vindicate himself and will be honored. The lies that swirl through my head and tempt me to believe “vain words,” will be defeated by the God “who sets apart the godly for himself.”

Do I feel all that “godly?” Not really. Especially after describing the ugliness above that has been dominating my thought life. But through the wondrous nature of a real and powerful grace I am godly. I am God’s. I am righteous.

The lack of care for others, the bitterness towards “all those sinners,” the comparison, the escape, the depression, the feeling that I’m constantly being watched and judged, the selfishness, and the tendency to control, manipulate, pout and moan when stuff is simply not going my way and (on top of all this) feeling like my face is being rubbed in a huge tulip, is covered. It’s covered. God’s answers me when I call to him.

He is not only the God of physical tornadoes but he’s the God of personal emotional tornadoes. He is the God who “knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.” He’s the God who has compassion on his children.

It’s a good thing, because if I was God I’d be tempted to wring my little ungrateful neck. How in the world, in light of such tragedy, can I still think so much about myself? Rarely will someone admit, say after 9/11 or something, that they are still consumed with the fact that they have a head-ache or a really bad hang-nail. Most people say things like, “Wow, this really puts a lot into perspective.” Or “My prayers are going out to them.”

I’m a big sinner. And so the cross gets bigger, all the time growing in my life. Man I need this guy Jesus.