24 January 2013

The Great Does Not Happen by Impulse...

This quote is from Vincent van Gogh in the recent exhibit, "Becoming van Gogh" at the Denver Art Museum.
       It has stuck with me for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the work I do seeking to influence Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
       I believe that God is up to something great and marvelous in and through the three monotheistic faiths. I believe the Jewish people - as few as they are - have a unique calling as a light to the nations. I believe that Muslims - as numerous and widespread as they are - will become a force for God's Kingdom. And I believe Christians are to build bridges for the gospel to both Jews and Muslims.
       Over many years people have prophesied, guessed, surmised, and dreamed about how God is going to work out His plan for His creation. Systematic theologies have been created, books have been written, some have had "air tight" arguments about the end of the world. All of them have been wrong thus far.
       In God's timing and plan, He does great things a little bit at a time and brings the pieces together. Just like an artist who works at his craft for hours and days and months. Van Gogh was right - greatness happens as a succession of little things brought together."
       This is my hope as I seek to do little things - with Christians, Jews, and Muslims - so that the peace of Christ might be in people's hearts. One step at a time.

23 January 2013

Older Still ... with Perks!

I turned 50 years old in October. Among other things, it meant that I could get my AARP card (American Association of Retired People). I have no idea why one can be classified with "retired people" at age 50, but I nonetheless jumped at the opportunity to be an AARP member.
       Why? you may ask? DISCOUNTS!
       I know, some of you are rolling your eyes wondering why I would spend $16 per year for am membership to label myself "old," or on the downslope of life, or over the hill.
       That's a good question. Here's why.
The AARP reminds me that I am mortal. In the infamous words of Robin Williams in "Dead Poet's Society," some day I will be fertilizing daffodils! It is a good thing to remember that our days on earth are numbered (see Psalm 90 for Moses' words on this). Consequently we must "carpe diem," as Williams exhorted his students. We must SEIZE THE DAY!
       Back to the discounts for a moment. I proudly used my AARP card for the first time the other day at the movie theater. I got a popcorn and soda for $6.50 instead of $11.75! That is quite the savings. Now I go into stores and quickly ask if there is an AARP discount - a practice that will surely embarrass the people I am with at the time!

22 January 2013

Learning Restraint from Mark Driscoll

I want to thank Pastor Mark Driscoll for his comment regarding President Obama on Inauguration Day. Mark tweeted:
"Praying for our President, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe in to take an oath to a God he likely does not know."
       I thank Mark Driscoll for a number of reasons:
       First, he demonstrates arrogance and haughtiness so that other Christians know how not to respond to people of other belief systems or opinions. Thank you, Mark.
       Second, he shows the working out of Matthew 7:1-2, where Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." For a very good comment on Pastor Driscoll and judging, read Michael Hidalgo's blog HERE.
     Third, Mark has taught the rest of us in ministry (pastors and other leaders) the power of restraint, learning to remain quiet and reflective in moments of intense emotion, pressure and turmoil. Thank you, Mark, for your example of the opposite of this.
     I am curious what feedback is given to Mark Driscoll from some of his mentors - Tim Keller, Donald Carson, and John Piper to name a few. I wonder what their input they would have.

21 January 2013

Like Attracts Like ... and Repels the "Other"

It's an age-old reality: Like attracts like. We are most comfortable with people who believe similar to us, talk similar, wear similar clothes (Yea Kohls!), have the same pastimes.
     * Gun-toters with gun-toters...
     * Pro-gay with pro-gay...
     * Calvinists with Calvinists...
     * White with white, black with black...
     * Democrat with Democrat...
This gives us: A) a false sense that we are "right" and that we possess the "truth;" B) identifiable adversaries and enemies, those who are allegedly WRONG.
       I submit that while "like attracts like" it also repels the "other." And thus we see an increasing breakdown of civility in Western culture. And this saddens me deeply.
       In my little corner of the world, however, I have recently had wonderful discussions and debates with some of my more conservative friends about issues around guns. We have actually listened to each other (!), challenged each other at places, asked pointed questions, and mostly wanted to understand the "other" perspective.
       We are not alike in many ways - Ray, Roger, others own a bunch of guns and have strong convictions about the Second Amendment in ways very different from me. But, we have chosen to be in COMMUNITY.
       That is, comm - unity. We have something in COMMON which brings us into UNITY (that something is faith in Jesus). We are united but we are not uniform. We believe very differently about some things. We debate, argue, struggle to understand the other. And it is in and through this struggle that we must choose to continue in comm - unity.
       Oddly enough, these "others" enrich my life, broaden my perspective, force me out of my single story into other stories. They stretch me, challenge me to know why I believe as I do, and humble me with the realization that my views and understanding of the world is limited.
       To my comm - unity who believes differently than I do, THANK YOU.

Martin Luther King: The Best Extremist

"The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be ... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

19 January 2013

"Strangers in the World"

I am comforted and challenged by the opening words of 1 Peter in the New Testament:
"To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered..."
       For those of us who are followers of Jesus, we have a unique calling: To be "resident aliens" in our world. This is very personal and existential to me.
       I am more of a nomad than a settler - always have been, probably always will be. So the idea of a temporary location as a sojourner fits me well.
       The challenge that 1 Peter communicates is a close-knit community of Christians who, together, are aliens in the world. Peter is speaking of the Body of Christ living on earth in a way that is thoroughly different than the rest of the world.
       The community that Peter is speaking to is spread all over Asia Minor. They are culturally diverse, politically and socially diverse, rich and poor. The unifying factor is their allegiance to Jesus Christ and the common persecution they experience because of that allegiance.
       No doubt this community of "aliens and strangers" had its internal differences - Republicans and Democrats both following Jesus perhaps! But they were bound together "in Christ" (a favorite phrase of the Apostle Paul). This allows us to differ greatly over issues such as gun control, taxation, and a slew of otherwise divisive issues.
       Tax collectors and zealots learning to love each other and be resident aliens in community together! 

P.S. To read an outstanding reflection by my friend Brian Rice on being in the world, against the world, for the world, and witnesses to the world, click here.

12 January 2013

The Text Message said, "Leaving Amman, Jordan Now!"

The text message from my 21-year-old daughter Carly arrived on my iphone at midnight. It simply said, "Leaving Amman, Jordan now. Love you guys! I'll check in in a few days. :)"
       A flood of emotions and thoughts came over me.
       My first thought was, "Carly, you are not in Kansas anymore!" She and a group of students from her university are spending the next four months in the Middle East. Today they left Amman and headed north. Yes, toward Syria.
       Carly takes after her mom in a lot of ways - approachable, hospitable, empathetic. She takes after me in one primary way - she is an explorer, a nomad of sorts.
       And so part of me is envious of my daughter traipzing around the Middle East for months on end. And part of me is a tad nervous about the unknowns of that part of the world. But mostly I am incredibly proud of who Carly is becoming as a young adult and I am hopeful that she and her generation will make a great impact on the world.
       Last month the four of us were camping in California together. I snapped this photo of Carly and Steven as we sat around a campfire on the beach one night.
       I remember thinking of myself, "Enjoy the moment. It is fleeting." And so it is. Carly is in the Middle East, Steven is back at university beginning his second term.
       It is all very, very good.
       Life is full.
       And it's a bit quiet around the house.

07 January 2013

The Dream of the Beautiful

Last weekend we went to a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit of Vincent van Gogh works at the Denver Art Museum. It was nothing short of amazing.
       As you enter the exhibit there is a video which shows quotes from van Gogh. Along the way in the exhibit there are number of other statements made by van Gogh over his lifetime.
       In the last room is the quote I have posted here - it captures so much of what we had just experienced. And it captures so much of life in general. Anything that is to be beautiful, and good, and true, and wholesome requires energy and effort and work. And it requires endurance, perseverance, and disappointment along the way.

03 January 2013

YES! Guns for Groceries

Each year the city of Los Angeles sponsors a "Gun Buyback" program. This year people received a $100 giftcard to a grocery store for giving up a handgun and a $200 gift card for handing over an assault weapons.
       Last May the annual gun buyback brought in 1,673 guns. I am not sure of the number this time around.
       Well done, city of Los Angeles! I applaud this effort at seeking to make your city safer for people.

02 January 2013

Sometimes It's Good to be Quiet

I am (slowly) learning that sometimes it is best to be quiet. Keeping my mouth closed is a habit that does not come easily for me!
       Nonetheless, for the past 10 days I have been fairly quiet in the blogosphere, on Facebook, and generally in cyberspace. Why?
       Largely because I have been NUMB! On an emotional level it feels like I have been sleeping on my arm and I have that strange tingling sensation.
       I have been numbed because of three events or situations:
     1. Newtown, Connecticut massacre - I cannot begin to put to cohesive sentences what I am feeling about this tragedy. Before 1999 the word "Columbine" was not in the English vernacular much, unless you lived in the Denver area. Now it stands for so much that is horribly wrong with society in the U.S. What is even worse is that the most demeaning comments and even threats that I receive on this blog come when I say that our culture must holistically address the issues related to gun control.
     2. Fiscal Cliff - I feel embarrassed by the political leaders of the United States, but also by we Americans who are simply unwilling to share sacrifice and live within our means. Everyone wants to cut deficits, but I don't know very many people who are willing to pay more in taxes, or not get some pork project in their district arranged by their congressman. Those of us who consider ourselves the "middle class" want the wealthy to pay more (a Democratic favorite), others want capitalism and economic growth to solve our problems (A Republican favorite). Everyone wants to cut spending, except when it personally impacts us. Then we don't want cuts -
     * Non-profit agencies say that it will be TRAGIC is the charitable contribution deduction is limited or eliminated. We can't do that!
     * The many finance and mortgage companies and lobbyists say that limiting the amount deducted for mortgage interest will send America into Recession. We can't do that!
     * Groups such as the AARP say that it is morally wrong to make changes or even cuts to Medicare or Social Security because it will put seniors out on the street. We can't do that!
     * Some well-meaning people feel that we cannot limit Defense spending and that the military-industrial complex should continue to grow unrestrained.
       It feels like America is a country of pre-adolescents trying to figure out how to live through the awkwardness of growing up! And at the moment America has a bad case of ACNE!
     3. Incarnation - AND ... I have been quieted by the stunning proposition of God entering the world in the person of Jesus. He must have been absolutely crazy! Especially with the numbing realities of the American culture in the past month. Advent was a sober time for me, with more gravitas than in previous years. It has ben humbling for me, bringing a silence to me for these days.