Friday, August 29, 2014

Forgive Me for Praying

When I pray, I feel like I am not accomplishing anything.  I get distracted.  I fail to pray for the obvious concerns, in which I really need God's intervention.  I forget to ask him for wisdom.  My mind wanders.  I fall asleep.  Sometimes I really connect with God, but too often I do not.  Or at least I don't feel like I connect.  Here I am, a man who struggles with narcolepsy, doing work with my eyes closed.  Now that's a recipe for problems.

I believe that prayer is essential to the work of the kingdom of God.  But I feel guilty when I "work" without producing anything.  I would rather put dates on a calendar, make a list of sermon titles, look up words in the original language, even read a book.  Those things look much more productive than prayer.  And I have something to show for it.  That makes me feel better about myself.  It feeds my addiction.

But God tells me over and over that life is all about relationship.  He wants my relationship with him to deepen.  He is much less concerned about my production.  Jesus reminds us that the most important thing in life is to love God with all that we are.

Dallas Willard says that ministry leaders should, above all, live a life of satisfaction in the Lord.  If I am satisfied with Jesus, then life has a whole new electricity.  There is freedom, excitement, and joy all around me, when I'm already satisfied in him.  Production can freely flow, when I'm satisfied in him.

But production is only a byproduct.  When I grit my teeth to produce, I become frustrated, uncreative and dull.  I keep his life from flowing through me.  Prayer is the key to my satisfaction in Jesus, even though it looks unproductive.

But I feed my production addiction, and limit the power and presence of God in my life.  I need to get over feeling guilty about prayer, so I can really be with Jesus.  I can ask him for wisdom, let his power flow, and grow in my satisfaction in him.  Sounds like what Jesus had in mind all along.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson and Truth

The events transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri are troubling.  Police should not be bullies  Citizens should not rob stores.  Communities should trust their police force.  Governmental authorities should be honorable and worthy of trust.  Troublemakers should not work to stir up public unrest.

As the days drag on, I look for more people interested in truth.  All the events and all the evidence, seem like political ammunition.  One can barely ask if Darren Wilson is an honorable cop, or if Michael Brown was a law-abiding citizen.  These are legitimate, reasonable questions, helpful in determining the truth.  But people are afraid to ask such questions.  Merely asking them looks like taking sides.

Too many people seem to be for the cop or for the kid.  Who is for the truth?  Anyone who must spin the truth for the cop or for the kid is not really interested in truth at all.  That person wants to prove a point at any cost.  The point becomes more important than truth.

And so it is with nearly all public discourse.  Current events are nothing more than ammunition.  If it fits my agenda, I use it.  If it doesn’t fit my agenda, I deny it, explain it away, or discredit the source.  No one can hear the people who want to find the truth.  They are drowned out by all the knuckleheads who have an axe to grind.

While the knuckleheads try to prove their points, communities are torn up by the strife.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Waking Beauty

Throughout history, mankind has appreciated beauty in nearly every area of experience:  art, literature, architecture, engineering, design, arrangement, nature, astronomy, landscaping, music, mathematics, animals, gardens, food, geographical features, skies, birdsongs, rainbows, and human beings.  We find beauty in any location, medium or endeavor.  People seek out beauty.  While some argue that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the world skips the debate and covets beauty.  We are drawn to it.  We gravitate to the beautiful patterns of fabric, the beautiful flowers in a garden, the beautiful buildings on a tour, the beautiful paintings in a gallery. 

We are also drawn to beautiful people.  Sometimes it is because of their outward beauty, the Barbies and Kens of the world.  Sometimes it is because of their inward beauty, found in the plain, ordinary folks, those not glorified in dolls or action figures.  Obviously most people fall somewhere in the middle on the beautiful to ugly continuum.  And for most people, beauty is desirable.

We are drawn to beautiful people, and we want to be beautiful ourselves.  Untold billions of dollars are spent on weight loss, muscle toning, wrinkle ridding, hair coloring, and hair restoring.  It seems that everyone wants to look better.

Yet there is a cap on physical beauty.  Dustin Hoffman once broke down in tears as he described his realization about beauty during the filming of Tootsie.  Dressing in drag for his role, he was made up as a woman.  The makeup artists finished their work and revealed the Tootsie look to Hoffman.  He protested.  This “woman” was not so good looking.  If he had to be a woman, he wanted to be a beautiful woman, he said.  The makeup crew confessed that they had done all they could do.  His beauty was maxed out.  Suddenly he realized what women have struggled with since the beginning of time.  Facial beauty has natural limits.  He was only playing a part in a movie.  Women have to face this every day.  Merely recalling that moment brought him to tears.  His experience highlights the double-standard for beauty:  culture looks for beauty in women but generally gives men a pass.

But there is another kind of beauty, inward beauty.  We all  know the jokes about the blind date who has a great personality:  she may be a dog, but she’s fun.  We also know people who are physically unattractive, but magnetic on the inside.  For these people, it is almost as if no one ever told them that they were homely.  The joy of life radiates from their eyes.  Surely some have advised them of their plainness, but they have chosen to listen to the Voice of Truth.  When you see that they don’t believe they are ugly, you begin to agree.  You see the real beauty.

We also know people who seem beautiful until you get to know them.  Eventually the lovely face looks like a mask, hiding the hideous personality.  The real human monsters may look like Ken or Barbie.

I recently went to a fast food restaurant to get a breakfast biscuit.  A young woman took my order, and I noticed the joy beaming through her eyes.  I walked down the counter to pick up my order and another young female worker greeted me with a glow of confidence and happiness.  How blessed is that store manager to have two such engaged, willing workers.  They both did possess a measure of physical beauty, but what struck me was their inner joy manifest in their expressions.  With scowls on their faces they may not have appeared beautiful at all.

I began thinking about the relationship between inward and outward beauty.  Inward beauty can actually create outward beauty.  However, outward looks never create inward beauty.  Outward beauty has limits, but inward beauty knows no limits.  Outward beauty always wanes with age, but inward beauty can grow forever. 

Character always wins the battle for beauty.  Joy in the soul brings real beauty.  It even changes the look of the face.  The better you know a joyful soul, the more beautiful he or she looks.  Inward beauty actually creates outward beauty.

The health or sickness of the soul always comes through..  Acid in the soul trumps physical beauty and often brings a hardness to the face.  Maybe your mother was right.  Your face can freeze that way.  Ugly souls turn beautiful faces sour.

But here’s the irony:  In our culture we spend mountains of time, effort and money on any tiny drop of beauty to be squeezed out of our limited looks, while we ignore the unlimited source of lasting beauty.  We pound away at the ceiling of our outward beauty, missing the open skies of soul beauty. 

In September 2013 the Huffington Post reported that American women spend over $426 billion per year for beauty products.  Nearly half a trillion dollars go toward women’s beauty products.  Add to that the investment men may make, and we get the picture of a culture obsessed with physical beauty. 

Instead, we can pour energy into developing the limitless, lasting beauty that brings joy and enhances relationships.  How can one develop inward beauty?  We can learn to love ourselves, and recognize our genuine worth, declared by God.  We can change our self-talk, to speak good things to ourselves, even as we would speak with kindness to a friend—or stranger.  We can choose not to listen to the voices that put us down, and listen to the One who gives his beauty to us.  Most of all, we have to believe it.  We have to trust that God gave his Son for us to give life and beauty to us.  We may all have features we wish were different, but most of us are more physically beautiful than we will believe.

God has given us the capacity to appreciate beauty all around us, and to find beauty in people.  The classical writers even found some objective standards of beauty.  They made no apologies for pursuing truth, goodness and beauty.  I do not fault people for recognizing physical beauty in people or for striving for their own physical beauty.  We just need to recognize that it is limited, it is often unfair, and it much less important than beauty within.

Maybe the blind dates with good personalities really do have more fun.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Selfie Awareness

Taking selfies has always seemed awkward to me.  Even seeing others’ selfies makes
 me slightly uncomfortable.

Me, not smiling.  No one told me to say cheese.
I finally figured out what it is.  In the old days, people did not often take self-portraits.  It was too much work.  You had to set up a tripod or balance your camera on a steady surface; then set the timer to count down before the shot; then run quickly to your spot in the frame and wait for the shutter to click.  That was so involved that people rarely did it.

Photos normally were taken with someone behind the camera.  The photographer coaches, arranges and frames the subjects.  Then he calls out, “Say cheese!”  Everyone smiles for the photographer.  They smile for someone who is there.

Here’s what’s so different/creepy about selfies:  it is a solo experience.  You are not smiling for anyone else when you take the picture.  You never instruct yourself to say cheese.  It’s like you pretend that someone else is behind the camera, when really you are just smiling for yourself.  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems weird.