Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Here I sit in Denver International Airport surrounded pretty normal people. It's weird that there's not more weirdness. Airports are usually a comic writer's paradise. Oh well, I guess I'll have to settle for "normal."

There are a few things that have been buzzing through my head, as, apparently, I'm the only unusual person around. So here you go:

1. Why do I always want to talk about plastic explosives when I'm going through security?
2. Will even typing "plastic explosives" get me in trouble?
3. Why, if signage at airports are for anyone that is on an 8th grade learning level, is it so easy to get lost?
4. Why is my gate always, and I do mean always, the farthest gate away?
5. Why do airports make people fall asleep in unusual positions?
6. Shouldn't they get rid of morbid and ominous words like "I'm-to-young-to-die-terminal" "I'm-not-a-cow-gate" and "I-don't-want-to-go-anywhere-stewardess"?
7. Why do airports look like something out of Star Wars? And wouldn't it be so cool if I was in Star Wars, running around and shooting Storm Troopers with my laser gun.
8. And finally, why aren't people terrified out of their minds? I mean we're about to get on a 5 ton piece of metal and other stuff and GO UP IN THE AIR!

Anyhow, I don't have much spiritual stuff to write today, but I've decided to write more often the short thoughts I have, as well as keep up the devotional writing. Thanks for reading. I hope I don't die!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Gerbal has a "Word from the Lord!"

"To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit." - David.

"The Lord told me blah, blah, blah... and blah." I can't calculate the ammount of times I've heard this in the past week. Christian conferences always seem to be a potent breeding ground for this phrase. Words from the Lord multiply like rabbits at big Christian conferences. So does my cynicism.

It's frustrating to me because I know there are times when God seems silent. And for me, it's almost always at Christian conferences. (By the way, I think that's kind of unfair God.)

So people casually saying they heard this and that from the "Spirit" can strike a really weird chord in my heart. It goes something like this: "twang." No it goes something like this: "Come on, you heard from the Lord again!? What, are you sure it's not just the double shot of caffeine you had this morning in your coffee? That's when I think I've heard from the Lord."

But we see here that David cried to God that he would not be deaf to him. So God does seem deaf, like he doesn't even hear us. And for me, specifically when everyone and their pet parrot are claiming to hear "A word from the Lord."

If God seemed deaf to David, I can feel a bit better about myself. God's still with me. Big sigh of relief. And I don't have to go into any deep introspection to figure out the sin that's constipated my spiritual life. (I'm reminded of the toilet Ernest unplugged in "Ernest goes to camp." What a visual!)

Does God go silent when we aren't living the holy, victorious, totally surrendered Christian life? I don't think so. He speaks. He rescues us in our deafness and sin. He hears our pleas.

You know how Jesus had God's ear. We do too in the exact same way. We forget that. It has something to do with our old sin nature and all that. But like the "Jesus Story Book Bible" says, the big sin is doubting that God really loves us.

So when everyone, their in-laws, pen-pals in the former Soviet Republic and pet gerbals are hearing from God and you aren't, don't just grow cynical like me. Rejoice in the FACT that God hears you even when it doesn't feel like it. David didn't feel it a lot, so you're in good company.

Monday, July 11, 2011

God a Maniac?

"... the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces." - Leviticus 9:23.

I've shouted and fallen on my face plenty of times. Never on purpose though. And to my shame it's normally proceeded by an "Oh shit!" which I do believe, if I don't die of "natural causes" is pretty high on the list of the most likely last words of Philip. I hope not, but you never know.

I read and wrote about one of my favorite authors last week - Terry Pratchett. I've always been curious about his take on Christianity as he makes some interesting comments in his novels. So I did some reading on him, and being a British intellectual and all that, he seems to fall into the group of those who dismissed God at an early age.

In his particular case, he read through the Old Testament in "one go" at age 13 and came to the conclusion that if this is God he must be a "maniac". I don't think that's the wrong conclusion to make for a 13 year old. But to stick with that thinking for the rest of your life? It's sadly typical.

But, as I read out of Leviticus this morning, I stumbled upon a passage that I didn't have to sleep-read through (mostly because of the explosion of fire!!!). In the passage above, after a long process of ordaining Aaron and the Levites to offer sacrifices in the Tabernacle, God shows up. Kaboom!

In fact, the Israelites, with mouths still munching on dirt because they had just seen "fire come out from the presence of the LORD" may have had the thoughts similar to my friend Terry, "Are we dealing with a maniac?"

Now I'm going to do a quick google to see the definition of "maniac." Here you go: "a person exhibiting extreme symptoms of wild behavior"; "a person who has an excessive enthusiasm or desire for something."

The definitions do seem to fit don't they? God is wild and shows extremely wild behavior. And God has all kinds of excessive enthusiasm and desire.

Our God is impossible to put in a box. We think he should perhaps be a bit more tame and safe. He should be a bit more like Santa Claus, but he's not. He works in history, he works in our mess and sometimes he reacts violently, exhibiting what we would consider maniacal behavior.

Israelite: "Come on God, surely your holiness is not that big of a deal..."

Wait for it...

"Oh shit!" BOOM!

This is the God who's self-definition is "I am the LORD your God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. But I will by no means acquit the guilty..."

The error that barbs our thinking and has caused such confusion in Terry Pratchett's England and I guess all over the west forever, is that since God tends to wipe people out, whole nations in fact, he can't be loving, consistent and merciful.

Maybe since we're dealing with God, we should think of him in different categories. Rather than constantly suspecting his actions, because he makes a big deal out of things, we should look to see what he's making a big deal about.

And maybe, just maybe, God isn't so easy to define. Maybe he looks a little more like a maniac, albiet a loving and merciful maniac, than many of us Christians dare to discuss. Maybe God's excessive obsessions and violent tendecies are a good thing, something we're called on to discuss, ponder and revere, not over-look and dismiss with "Let's just skip to those pretty passages" (you know the ones, they're on web-pages with music and pictures of dancing cherubs).

Like I've said before, God gets violent and shows obsessive excessive tendencies when he sees his creation and creatures being religiously raped, violated, persecuted and murdered by a race that's hell-bent against God and focused on self. God doesn't mind getting messy and he stays holy. He's totally involved and totally seperate.

It may be a good thing that we selfish creatures come to wrong conclusions about God. Because if we thought God was "all-good," or simply one of us, we'd be in trouble. Big trouble.

There, I'm done writing about stuff I have no idea about for the day. Sorry about that. I better stop before something blows up.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Friend Terry

"Who knows what evil lies in the heart of man? I do and it's scarry." - Captain Vimes (in Terry Pratchett's Night Watch)

I just found out that one of my favorite authors is dying - Terry Pratchett. He's a British humorist/satirist/fantasy writer who's been quoted as "being better at being Douglas Adams than Douglas Adams." I think he wrote his first novel at 13 and hasn't stopped since. He's written hundreds of children's stories, plays and novels. The guy is a marvel.

I was talking with a friend this morning about all the reasons I love Pratchett, and it struck me, as it often has, that one of the major reasons I like him is because of his thorough-going grasp of reality. Oddly, he sets his reality in fantasy.

In his fantasy he is able to portray so many human foibles, flaws and outright ridiculousness, that I always find myself sniggering and, if I don't open my mouth to snigger, snotting on his books. Melissa gets tired of me raving over Terry Pratchett. His thoughts are a rare gem, as are many "non-believing" authors.

As a Christian, I've often thought that since I have fuller revelation, there's not too much to be learned from non-Christians. What a fool! In fact, I'm finding that sometimes the opposite is the same. Sometimes Christian literature is vapid, emotional, religious, safe and boring. Kind of like some "Christian" music.

I forget that we're all humans rotating on this ball in space. We all face the same basic stuff, under the same God, in the same creation. So I shouldn't be surprised that people who don't follow God have a lot to say.

And for those of us who do, and try to produce safe, clean art, I sometimes wonder, is that what defines Christian art?

It's a big conversation, but one that I heard on the NPR yesterday as they were interviewing a Christian band, asking them what defines Christian music. The band-members gave a decent answer, that it is music that is focus on goodness in all of the facets of the word "good." A pretty good answer coming from the two band members - 15 and 31 years old.

But when they were being questioned whether they are offensive, I think they should have said "Hell yeah!" They answered that they weren't offensive but were in fact seeking dialogue, discussion, shared ground and connections with "non-believers." I thought it was another decent answer. I think they should have said they try and be offensive like Jesus, taking religious righteous prigs by the collar and shaking all the sin out of them.

So this brings me around to what's been bouncing around in my noggin for the longest time. When are we going to consistently going to preach the Gospel of Jesus? That Jesus hated religiousity. That Jesus hated oppression. That Jesus hated self-righteousness. Of course I'm kind of being a self-righteous prig in writing this, so ironically, he'd shake me around a bit too, or a lot!

Last week I had the huge privelige of being a part of a ancient Jewish market-place. It was for VBS, and my church was commited to really bringing Jesus' world to life. I was John, Jesus' favorite disciple and spent most of my time in early disciple (probably late too) mode: stealing from booths, hamming it up with the Romans, cutting deals with the Tax-collector, whining about how there was no fish booth, telling kids to get out of my way and talking about how confusing Jesus was. My take on the disciples was evident.

Jesus did a great job. He was kind to the kids, gentle and I felt like following him. But one of the ways we view Jesus was evident in the way we set up the skits. Jesus came into the market-place for the miracle or whatever and left. Umm, I don't think that was Jesus. In our fake-Jesus' defence, he had to get to work.

Our VBS Jesus couldn't help being good looking and tall (and Joseph Wingfield, if you're reading this, sorry for outing you). But apparantly Jesus wasn't attractive, and he was probably around just like everyone else. He wouldn't float in and float out popping off miracles from his finger-tips. That's what made Jesus so shocking. He was just some dude right? Raised in red-neck Galilee right?

Which brings me around to why I find so much in Terry Pratchett. We don't become saints when touched by Jesus, we don't always even see that much better, and Jesus doesn't descriminate between giving insight to believers only. He's in the mix with everyone, giving anyone a chance to come home in him.

So I may meet Jesus in Terry Pratchett. Of course there can't be the special kind of communion of believers between us, but God's grace is everywhere, and I've got to keep this in mind when hanging out with my "non-believing" friends. It's not "us/them" it's "us/Him," period.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stephen's Short History Lesson

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." - Stephen in Acts.

Apparently the apostle Stephen hadn't read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. My guess is he tossed the book over his shoulder with "what a bunch of uncircumcised hogwash" and then picked up the book How to Instigate a Riot and Get Yourself Brutally Murdered in Under Ten Minutes.

I've got to hand it to Stephen, he was bold. He didn't back down from the truth, however much it hurt (or made people want to kill people).

I've always been struck by this passage (there's a really lame pun in there that I shouldn't even bring to light) by Stephen's skill at ticking people off. But I've also been amazed at his short history lesson, which sets the scene for his tirade.

Stephens been accused of speaking against Moses and the Law, and Stephens like "Oh yeah, I'll speak on Moses and the Law for a while." And the irony is Stephen's face was glowing "like the face of an angel." Does that remind you of anyone?

What took someone like Stephen, who took off in a blur in the Garden of Gethsemane and made him this pillar of Godly strength and true righteous zeal? Only the power of God.

"How does this passage make me feel?" Umm, sort of like a chump.

I think the reason I've always been so mesmerized by this episode is that I can barely relate. I like to say the stuff that people want to hear. Got itching ears? I'll scratch them. I'm a people-pleaser. Especially when those people are Ancient Near Eastern religious zealots with rocks and mean expressions.

Also am I a rock tosser? I guess I am. I tend to turn people off when they strike a little to close to home. My walls go up and I begin to figure out some way to dismiss them. In my defense, none of those people have glowing faces.

But this is really making me think of how I listen to those in spiritual authority over me. Do I really listen? Or do I simply pick apart their message when the over-all gist was just making me feel a bit too uncomfortable.

I don't know. Stephen is a healthy, or unhealthy, reminder of speaking the truth even when it hurts real bad. It makes me think that if the same Spirit that was alive in Stephen is alive in me, God will help me to swallow the truth even when it doesn't taste so good.

So, sorry for all the rambling, but this passage has always popped out of scripture with it's captivating visual of someone saying something that gets them killed, immediately. May God give us the courage not to look to go around ticking people off, but when the Spirit kicks in, humbly speak with our eyes on something better: a better hope, a real home and a real God. I think that would make Stephen proud. Also I think he'd be pleased if I didn't pull the fuse our of every message I hear.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Bloody Mess

"They offered at the dedication of this house of God 100 bulls, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goates, according to the number of the tribes of Israel." - Ezra 6:17.

Gross! Can you imagine the stinky, slimy, stomach-turning, bloody mess it would be to be part of slaughtering 100 bulls, 400 lambs and 12 goats! 12 goats wouldn't be so bad. That's just 12 bleeting necks to slice, plus goats are really annoying. But 400 lambs! They're so cute and cuddly. It'd be like killing 400 chocolate lab puppies. And 100 bulls, that would just be plain scary.

I don't get animal sacrifice real well. Perhaps, because the closest I've come is the 1/2 of a cow I've killed in a life-time of eating McDonalds. Which is a major reason I'm writing right now. I find that picture of Ronald McDonald so offensively annoying that I have to have another post to look at. So forgive me if I write a bunch of garbled, meaningless fluff about sacrifice. I just want to not look at Ronald McDonald anymore. And I would choose such an easy topic as biblical sacrifice.

But my cousin was asking me the other night why God chose sacrifice. In particular why God chose to sacrifice Jesus. It's just so offensive. Clearing my throught, girding up my Ancient Near Eastern loins and putting on immense ammounts of humility I went on to explain that God chose sacrifice because our sin has to be carried and paid for. And that the cross wasn't so much about sacrifice as it was about ruptured relationship. I was trying to help her see how it wasn't so offensive. Silly me.

Now that I think about it, destroying God's creatures in sacrifice is supposed to be an offensive thing. Offensive enough for us as humans to reflect authentically on the repugnant nature of our sin. For example, can you imagine being there to see 400 bulls slaughtered? And that just to dedicate God's house, and that's just for dedication. I won't touch the 1000's (I think) that were slaughtered in Solomon's dedication of the original temple.

I think as I watched something like that I would begin to get a sense that since in God's good creation murdering animals wasn't a part of God's reality, that all this slaughtering had something to do with me. I might even feel a slight twinge of guilt. Actually, I could slaughter goats all day and not feel guilt. I really hate goats.

But I think that's a point being made by God in all this sacrifice stuff. He is other. He is good. We are filthy, rotten and broken. We have taken his good world and made it a sham. A place where it takes a lot of blood to cover our sinfulness.

So I've written all this and I still don't really get it. And perhaps I'm not supposed to. But the reality is God required it of his people and therefore it's to be searched out not brushed asside as God just trying to speak the pagan language of OT times. There is great realities and meaning behind all of God's actions. And sacrifice is a big deal.

So when we come to the cross, God's ultimate sacrifice, I think if we have a fully orbed (whatever that means) understanding of sacrifice, it can help us to understand what in fact God was doing. If we simply say, as I did, that it had to do with Jesus carrying our sins and a ruptured relationship, I believe we're getting the gist. But are we getting the offensive depth of the payment our sin/relationship-we-ruptured requires.

And when we add up all the sacrifices in scripture it adds up to millions of annoying bleeting goats, cute little lambs and tons of really mean bulls. And I am not about to chalk it up to "Oh they lived in a primitive, uncivilized culture, where people were stupid and didn't where deodarant and stuff." We're the primitive ones, we're the uncivilized ones and we're the stupid ones when it comes to understanding the depth of offense that is our sin.

Now I can not look at that picture of Ronald McDonald anymore. Thanks for bearing with me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Perfect Patience

"But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." - Paul to Timothy

I'm not a very patient person. In fact just writing about patience is making me feel impatient. I am so impatient that by the end of this sentance I will want to be done with this post.

Well, it's not that bad, but I am pretty impatient.

Take yesterday for example: I had to wait 10 minutes for my #1 value meal at McDonalds. I thought we were underwater or something, people were moving so slow!

Then I went to get gas as I'd impatiently not stopped for a long time and was running on empty. Of course the gas station's system was down. So I huffed and puffed my way to one down the street. Then this lady in front of my really wanted a specific type of cigarette that she just couldn't see on the shelf. She repeated over and over and over, yes, and over again, "No, not that one, not that one, not that one..." I think that would be my hell, listening to her try to this obsessive compulsive cigarette shopper find the right package of cigarettes... FOREVER!

Then I got on the highway and they were doing work. The guys with pretty (pretty annoying) flashy lights and orange vests had broken the highway and it wasn't working. So I got off and quickly got lost. I found two dead ends, and I was beginning to wonder, "Is God trying to say something." Probably, so I tried my best to ignore it.

Then I was driving up the mountain and I got behind an out-of-towner from Alabama who was worried about all the curves. I love curves! If you aren't on two wheels going up and down Lookout Mountain, you aren't going the speed limit, dang it!


But just that morning I had read the verse above in Timothy. It's a real testament about God. He's a patient guy. Can you imagine following around spiritual slow-pokes like us? And if Paul is saying he was a slow-poke, imagine where we stand. Very still. Barely moving. I could walk faster! Why are you even driving a car! Just get out and walk!!!

And then there's the whole thing of God's patience being perfect. I guess God's not really a perfectionist because he's perfect. And in Paul's life this perfect patience is on display as an example: God can and will save and work with anyone.

It's a good thing. I'm too impatient to read my Bible this morning. Hopefully I'll get to it for my sake, and others. I think I have a patience hang-over from yesterday. I just want to ride my bike and fill my day with fun stuff. Isn't that what Fridays are for? To cut out early on work and go fish or something?

We'll see... Maybe God's patience will rub off on me today and I'll experience a little eternal life. Life that continues, life that's not just a series of flittered away moments. I pray that I will.

(Note on picture: Ronald McDonald is on my list of the creepiest people alive. I think he should be exiled to Siberia and forced to watch all those creepy commercials of himself from the 80's. Also he should watch Barney.)