Thursday, August 31, 2017

Time for a Change

As the calendar roles over to September tomorrow, we know that fall is on the way. I appreciate the rhythms of life, like the changing of the seasons. We get to experience the changing seasons in North Carolina. If I were ever to live somewhere else, I would surely miss them.

I lived for a few years in South Georgia, where it feels like summer all the time. I have been to Uganda where they only have two seasons: wet and dry. But there seems to be no general consensus about when those seasons arrive, and there are multiple wet and dry seasons through the year. And the temperatures are about the same every day. Rarely does the mercury get below 70 or above about 88.

So, I look forward to this next season in NC. I want to go apple picking, camping, hiking. I want to cook another big stew in our cast iron pot. I want to have the neighbors over. And, of course, I want to watch some football.

God has blessed us with rhythms in life. Those rhythms are different in different places. But we all enjoy that predictability. It reminds us that God can be counted on. He's reliable. He's there. And he has placed us in a world that we can study and marvel at. This world pours forth the glory of God.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Questions for God

I'm thinking of creating a list of questions for God. Probably when I meet Jesus face to face I won't care about these issues. But from this point of view, I'm full of questions. There's a popular personality who calls himself "The Bible Answer Man." Sometimes I would like to be the Bible question man. There are so many good questions that arise out of God's word, and out of his creation.

Why does our harnessing of the earth's resources so often harm the earth?
How can people know with such certainty when another person is looking at them?
How does a baby know to look into her mother's eyes, and not her mouth or nose?
Why do reasonable people so often see things from such different perspectives?
Why is the meaning of life so hard to determine?
Why is the Bible such a rich tangle of truths?
How does love conquer all?

That's just a start for me.
What would be on your list of questions for God?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Pulling Together

The news out of Texas shows the devastation of a historic storm. The cleanup and rebuilding will last years. But there is an encouraging side. Story after story shows people sacrificing to help one another. All the lines of division are erased as together Texans fight for survival. The rest of the country is right there, giving, encouraging, coming to help.

Finally there is a big story in the national news where everyone is on the same side. We are pulling together. We really can pull together.

Maybe this spirit of cooperation can carry over, even a little bit, to our other national issues.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Justice and Sin

One of the chief causes of injustice is sin. I suppose you could argue that all injustice is the result of sin, such as greed, selfishness, pride, abuse of power. Some of us fail to love our neighbors by turning a blind eye to their problems. In doing so, we fail to obey the second part of the Great Commandment.

So, one key way to fight injustice is to repent of sin. The more we live in obedience to Christ, the more we conquer injustice.

It does seem, however, that people today are much more willing to point out the sins of others than they are to notice their own sins. I can point out your sin, but I can't repent for you. If you would just quit sinning, then the world would become that much more just. And if I quit sinning too, then justice takes another leap forward.

The key is for me to start with me, and for you to start with you. We all certainly need reminders to keep us (get us) in the repentance mode, but those reminders will be much better received when they come from humble sources. The louder and more obnoxious the voice telling me to behave, the more likely I am to ignore it.

But let me drill down further. I have secret sins, and so do you. Even those secret sins, the sins of the heart, will impede justice. But my sins aren't hurting anybody. Yes, actually, they are. The sins that appear to be victimless actually do hinder the work of God in the world.

Do you want to bring more justice to the world? Start with your own sin. Start with your own sins of the heart. Stop justifying and excusing your sin. Find in Jesus profound forgiveness. Find with his Spirit a desire to do and live as the Spirit directs. As he frees you to live abundantly, he can really work through you to bring justice.

Other people are to blame for this world's injustice. But so are you. Come to Jesus for forgiveness, for eyes to see, for a heart to care about both the oppressed and the oppressors.

No wonder this world needs justice so badly. Let's be part of the solution.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Devastation and Help

The devastation from Hurricane Harvey defies description. News outlets call the flooding unprecedented. Photos and videos show submerged cloverleaves and floating vehicles. As the rain continues to fall, we can only wait to see how severe the damage will be.

Soon will be the time to help with cleanup and rebuilding. This is the time to respond to our neighbors in need.

May God lead us to reach into our schedules, our wallets, and our hearts. May the kingdom of God rush in where the wind and waters have brought destruction.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hurricane Hunker-Down

Harvey is churning over the state of Texas now, dumping dozens of inches of rain. It was a powerful storm, Category 4, but its greatest damage likely will be the torrents of rain.

Last I heard, this storm has stopped moving. It is parked over Texas, pounding that dry state with more rain than we get here in a year. I imagine that streams will be rerouted when the storm finally leaves.

Sometimes crises come upon us like this hurricane:
  • Suddenly. Harvey was barely a tropical depression just a few days ago. When he hit the warm Gulf waters, he grew up quickly. Our smooth sailing in life can quickly be interrupted when life whips up a storm from nothing.
  • Lingering. A storm is bad enough, but for the storm to park over our lives--now that's painful. This is why the psalmists asks, "How long, O God?"
  • Untold damage. In life's storms, we may not be able to assess damage to our souls. We have to wait the storms out, trusting in God's protection, and waiting for the time to see the wounds that need to heal.

Life will bring us storms. Some storms will linger much longer than we expect. And so we learn to hunker down in Jesus. If we live as he teaches us, then the storms of life won't wash us away. We need to build our lives on the Rock.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Campfire Medicine

There is something about campfires that opens up conversation. On our Crossroads men's retreats, campfires are the highlight events. Even with the warm temperatures, we love our campfires.

As the daylight fades, we hear the bugs singing, and the noise in our souls subsides. We watch the sparks and hear the stories of our friends. We know that we are not alone. We know that God meets us at the campfire, wherever we are spiritually. We can see deeper into our own hearts. God is at work.

Campfires with friends are good medicine for the soul.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

I'm feeding a groundhog

A groundhog has set up residence under my driveway. For real. He has dug a burrow under the concrete pad where we keep our trash cans. I sincerely hope that he has only one room in there.

So how do you get rid of these critters?

A little research tells me that they are typically loners, so there should be no family in there. They like cantaloupe, so I'm baiting my live trap with it. So far, I'm just feeding him. He waited for a couple of days after I set the trap. Then, this morning I noticed that the fruit is all gone. And the trap has not sprung. *sigh* Yes, he apparently is a very clever fellow.

So this time I baited the trap with small chunks of cantaloupe. (Good thing I bought a big one...) Now I'm waiting again to catch him.

And I have to figure out what to do with him when I catch him. Anybody need a groundhog?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Phone Free

I did it. I spent a whole day without turning on my phone. Last Saturday, while on our church men's retreat, I left my phone in my tent all day long, and never even turned it on. There were a few moments when I reached for it to take a picture, but managed to survive without it. I did have my camera available, so I could still take a few photos.

I can't remember the last time I went all day with no phone. I need to make a regular practice of it. It gives me a sense of freedom. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago I had no smart phone. Life was slower and simpler then.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Football and Spirituality

Football season is upon us. As August yields to September and the thermometer surrenders a few degrees, we know that we are ready for some football.

I have a friend who was a pastor in Chapel Hill, and he noted an interesting correlation. The people at his church were much more spiritually sensitive when the Tar Heels were winning. In football season or basketball season, as long as the Heels were winning, the spirit of the church was thriving.

I'm not sure what that really means. Could the depth of spiritual commitment really be subject to the feelings of a sports fan? We are all happier when our teams are winning, and that could translate into more sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Maybe our hearts are more open to him when we are joyful.

(There is also a lot of evidence that hardship draws us to God more than good times.)

But if a joyful spirit helps us listen to God and cooperate with him, maybe we should be looking for more ways to cultivate our joy. Why should we let our spirituality be held hostage to a win-loss record?

I'm still going to pull for my football teams this fall. And I will try to surrender my heart to the Lord, regardless of what happens on the gridiron.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pondering the Eclipse

I noticed today, as the eclipse began, that there was no traffic noise to be heard in my neighborhood. The only vehicle I finally heard was the mailman. We were in the driveway, in our zero-gravity chairs, so I met him at the mailbox. I offered to let him peer through my eclipse glasses to see the sun about 40% obscured. But unfortunately a cloud covered the sun at that moment. He assured me that his wife was videoing the event. Uh, not the same.

We resumed our peaceful moment of eclipse-watching. And then the neighbor began mowing grass. At least that did not keep us from an excellent view of our favorite star. Just surprised me that anyone would willingly miss the spectacle.

I marvel that astronomers can predict so accurately these events. I also marvel that the two great lights of the sky, so of such vastly different sizes, appear to be almost exactly the same size. I saw an annular eclipse on May 30, 1984. The moon was farther away from the Earth at that time, so at its peak, the moon left a ring of the sun's light around all its edges.

This time, those in the path of totality saw the sun disappear behind the moon. The sky became dark as sunset for a couple of minutes.

Seeing the wonder of this eclipse today astounds me--that God would make this world so fascinating, predictable, beautiful, and stable. What a privilege to witness the glory of his creation.

You can't really tell it from this picture, but the sun
was about 70% eclipsed at this point today.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

So Much Sun

As we anticipate the total solar eclipse tomorrow, I'm learning so much about the effects of this event. The temperature will drop. Birds will go to roost. Crickets will chirp. Stars will appear.

We take the sun so for granted that we rarely consider how significant are its effects are on Earth. When the sun goes away, everything changes. Our very existence on this planet depends on the radiant heat from this star. Its electro-magnetic waves include far more than the visible spectrum. There's solar wind, and, well, more than I really know about.

When the sun is gone, everything changes. An eclipse helps us understand that.

There may be moments when God's face is hidden from us. He's still there, but when his face is hidden, we understand so much more what it means to bask in his light.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

I Love the South

I was born and raised in the South. In fact, I have never lived anywhere but the South (assuming that Texas counts as Southern). But I have traveled a little bit. And I have heard what people from other parts of the country notice about our region.

Here's what I like about the South.

Sweet tea. Oh yeah.

College sports. The colors you wear here say much more than the casual observer would realize. My dental hygienist keeps trying to give me a Carolina Blue toothbrush. Are you kidding?

Waving at strangers. I wave at people I have never seen before as I ride down the road. Sometimes they wave back.

Conversations in the checkout line. Weather is always a good starting point. People matter, even strangers, and small talk lets people know that they matter.

The sounds of summer nights. I was at Hanging Rock last night and the sound of the bugs--or frogs or whatever they are--was pleasantly deafening.

Seasons of the year. Okay, in the deep South they don't get much winter. But here in NC, we get four discernable seasons, all glorious in their own way. I like it hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I don't like it when the thermometer skips spring or fall.

Respect for others. We don't treat people unkindly as a general rule. We may bless their hearts, but we don't speak rudely.

The food. I miss grits when I'm in other parts. Why would anyone not like grits, especially a Southerner? Bless their hearts.



Friday, August 18, 2017

Stick it to the Yankees


I get an uneasy feeling when I see Confederate monuments. It seems that such monuments say more about those who built them than those they honor. When the South lost the Civil War, Southerners were forced to give up important social and economic conventions. Building monuments seems to be a passive-aggressive way of holding on to unhealthy attitudes.



The surrender at Appomattox meant that outwardly the South had to change. Somehow hearts did not follow suit. Changing hearts takes more than pointing a loaded gun. So while the South had to end slavery as an institution, many Southern communities held on to all the trappings of slavery that they could: separate water fountains, restrooms, hotels, restaurants, types of employment.



As a way to stick it to those damned Yankees, Southern communities did all they could to hold on to the idea that they were right. Just because they won the war doesn’t give them the right to tell us what to do. They weren’t all that noble themselves, those Union soldiers. So decades after the end of the Civil War, Southerners were still constructing monuments. Cold soldiers on horses proudly looked down on all passersby, reminding everyone what the South was all about.



I hope that is no longer what the South is all about.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Confederate Monument Debate

The debate over the removal of Confederate monuments prompted me to list the reasons to keep and remove the monuments. I'm seeking to be as objective as possible, listing all the reasonable or almost reasonable arguments I can think of. Saving my comments for later, I present my lists.


Monuments should be kept in place because:
  • The monuments stand as reminders of our country's bloodiest war.
  • The monuments honor the cultural pride of Southerners.
  • The time is not right for removal. Maybe they should go, but not yet.
  • Those who appreciate these monuments deserve the respect of keeping these familiar landmarks.
  • These monuments aren't hurting anything. There's no compelling reason to remove them.

Monuments should be removed because:
  • The monuments honor those who fought for an abusive, reprehensible institution.
  • The monuments represent a cause that was rightly lost.
  • The monuments offend Americans who believe in justice and equality.
  • The monuments do not represent soldiers of the United States of America.
  • The monuments were erected by the descendants of a vanquished cause who will not accept defeat.
  • The monuments are better kept in museums where Americans can remember the enduring feelings of rebellion among Southerners.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Growing Up at Serving

Our church had the privilege of serving at LOT 2540, a salvage ministry in Mayodan last Saturday. We served food, helped clients shop the market, and carried groceries to their cars. A couple of us, including myself, interviewed the clients before they shopped. God met me there.

I find that my attitude toward helping needy folks has developed a lot recently. I see now that in helping ministries we find the kingdom of God.

Not long ago I had a bad attitude about helping people. I say this as a confession. I would wonder why the person would not get his/her act together, why they needed help again already, why they couldn't make better choices. My attitude must have tinged and tainted my ministry.

But now God is helping me realize that both the helper and the recipient together get to participate in the work of the kingdom of God. This is the time and place where God shows his love. I get to be part of that. It is a joyful occasion. It's a time of celebration. It is a moment of heaven touching earth.

It becomes a joy, a delight. I get to work through the power of the Spirit to make a difference in someone's life. And even if they take it for granted, or don't really need it--that doesn't even matter. Because through this time, regardless of their attitude, God is reaching out to them.

When I need help, I'm so grateful that those who help me allow God's love to flow so freely. I'm only beginning to know how to do that. It's about time.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Blood on the Page

I heard a podcaster today talk about writing. Luke Norsworthy said that writing is simple. You just find a vein, open it, and bleed onto the page. That's really graphic, but makes so much sense.

My problem is finding the vein. Sometimes I poke and prod and search for that thing to say. My brain allows so many deep thoughts to rattle around. I have to catch one of those flying shards of truth and craft it into a sensical presentation, something worth saying in a form worth hearing.

Sometimes finding the vein is fun. Sometimes it is frustrating. Sometimes I have so many veins begging to be bled that I can't begin to tap them all.

Now maybe I can un-mix my metaphor. The flying shards can, with a bit of guidance, pierce those veins of the heart. A shard of truth slicing into a vessel of life--now that can shed some serious blood.

Seriously.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Write

Having lunch with a friend recently, the subject of writing came up. He's working quietly on a book. I mentioned that I also enjoy writing. I just don't write as much as I wish I did.

He said, "I can help you do your writing." Oh cool. I need all the pointers I can get. I took the bait.

"OK, so what's the secret?" I asked.

"Write."

That was his answer: Write.

It took me a moment to realize that he had completed his admonition. He repeated it. I processed the simple clarity of the imperative.

Even though I'm not currently working on a book, even though I journal daily, even though I lack focus in my subject matter, I simply need to write. You are reading part of my writing experiment now. I have committed to post a blog every day in the month of August. Some posts are more profound than others. Some posts get more hits than others. But at least I'm writing.

It may not be doing any good to others, but it's at least therapeutic for me.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville

I kept thinking that the stories of white supremacists were overblown. Wow am I naïve. The events of Charlottesville this weekend show the dark underside of American society.

Demonstrators have the right to express their opinions just as counter demonstrators have the right to express theirs. When we start killing each other for having differing points of view, we've really got problems.

Freedom of expression, at the heart of the Bill of Rights, would probably be defended in principle by protesters on both sides of yesterday's violence. But all too often someone resorts to force, thinking that silencing dissenters wins an argument.

Ideas are much more powerful than a floored Dodge Charger. Heather Heyer lost her life yesterday, standing against hate. In the days ahead, thoughtful people will dig into the ideas that met head-on in Charlottesville.

It will be easy to dismiss all of "those people" who stand up for their own superiority. Somehow they believe they are right. Reason may not win them over. Love may not even win them over.

But those who pursue truth must not lose hope, and must not resort to violence. How can such wicked hearts dwell in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Good people must stand up, stand firm, and stand for truth. May God change hearts. Start with mine.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Whom to Hate

Some people bother us. We all get bothered by them.
Politicians
Corporate fat cats
Religious people
Atheists
Liberals
Conservatives
Welfare cheats
Corporate management
Labor Unions
Tree huggers
Climate change deniers
White supremacists
Professional demonstrators

We think the world would be better off without those people. We can explain how wrong they are, and all the problems they cause. Every chance we get, we rant against those people.

The problem is, all those rants, all that vitriol, does nothing to improve matters.

Trite as it might sound, we need to learn to love those people. Even the terrorists. Even those we disagree with. Of course it's not easy. That's why Jesus gave us his Spirit, to change us so that we can allow his love to flow from us.

We all think that we have identified that class of people that causes all the problems. The truth is, we are all part of that class that causes problems. We need forgiveness, then we need to share that forgiveness. It takes the intervention of the Lord.

Instead of identifying whom to hate, we need to surrender to the love of Jesus.


Friday, August 11, 2017

WWJT -- What would Jesus think?

Our actions are controlled by our thoughts. It seems reasonable to look beneath the WWJD question and ask what he would think. What would he think about North Korea right now? about America's addiction to entertainment? about the effectiveness of the Church in America? about climate change?

Now, you may have your pump primed, and you are ready to tell exactly what Jesus thinks about any
of those issues. But be careful. We can quickly ascribe thoughts to Jesus and proclaim them as undeniable truths, when we are really spouting off our own opinions.

We can only really know what Jesus would think by deepening our relationship with him. We learn who he is through the Bible, through prayer, through life's experiences, through his people. It takes time. It takes humility. It takes listening to God. It takes an attitude of love toward others.

We can be sure that Jesus would think deeply, not superficially, about whatever the issue. He would pursue truth above ideology. He would love those who disagree with him. He would value the hearts of others over winning arguments.

In most cases, Jesus would not think like I think. His Father said as much: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." 

By God's grace he is changing my thought patterns. I hope I think more like Jesus today than I did yesterday. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Do what is just and right...

The prophet Jeremiah warns Judah of God's coming punishment, and he urges them to, "Do what is just and right..." (Jeremiah 22:3). The prophet goes on to explain what that means:
  • Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed.
  • Do no wrong or violence to the alien, fatherless, or widow.
  • Do not shed innocent blood.
  • Defend the cause of the poor and needy.
God expects his people to treat others as though they matter, as creatures created in the image of God. But history shows that people in power nearly always abuse it. It can be official power or informal power, but people always tend to treat their subordinates poorly.

That's why it's so rare to have a really good boss. It's why corruption always seeps into government. It's why corporations can't be trusted to put health and safety above profits.

I heard a man on the radio today describing his experience growing up in the Soviet Union. People in authority could never be trusted. In fact, he said, Russians can't imagine being treated fairly by the one who has power over them. They expect power to be used against them at every turn.

People matter. Even those who are powerless and needy matter. God expects his followers to treat all people with respect, especially those who are on the margins of society--the alien, the fatherless, the widow, the poor. It is so simple, but so hard to live. We need the Spirit of Jesus in us to do what is just and right. We can't do it on our own. He has to change us inwardly, and that is a life-long process.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Korean Missile Crisis

News keeps rolling in and ratcheting up between North Korea and the United States. While Korea threatens to fire a missile at U.S. territory Guam, the United States threatens "fire and fury."

I realize that diplomacy has not worked well with North Korea. But matching threats with threats seems unwise as well.

Some have compared this situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis. One obvious difference is that the Cuban Missile Crisis was all handled behind the scenes. The public only learned about the threats, tension, diplomacy, and resolution after the threat was removed.

Today the public watches the volleys of volatile words. It's scarier for the public, and may cause leaders to take unwise actions to save face. Thousands of innocent people could be put at risk.

We need to pray for leaders around the world. Cool heads must prevail.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Disappearing Spider Webs

I enjoy sitting by the creek, reading, praying, planning, relaxing. Recently I spent several hours there, and noticed something about the early morning sunlight. As the light filtered through the trees, I could see spider webs illuminated, easily seen, spiders in the center, ready to process a meal. How could an insect not see those webs?

As the sun continued to rise, however, those webs vanished. Other webs appeared. With light on them, the webs gleamed. Without direct light on them, the webs faded into branches. One moment a web cried out, "Here I am!" The next moment, it retreated in silent hiding, as though it never existed.

The light of life shines on us in different ways at different times. Some ideas seem so obvious to younger people. In their early years, my daughters vowed that they would never say to a child, "My how you have grown!" It was so clear to them that such an annoying comment could never be appropriate in polite conversation. As life's light shifted through the years, they saw things differently. Of course.

What is so obvious to me may be invisible to another. What is so obvious to another may be invisible to me. Just because I can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. In time the light will shine just right, and I will see it. And they will see it.

Patience. Give me some patience. I'll be patient with you. The light will shine just right.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Framing the Marginalized

I respect those in law enforcement. I met a Guilford County Sheriff's deputy today, who was very kind and respectful to a family who lost a loved one. His presence and thoughtfulness was comforting to the family. Most people in law enforcement are like this deputy and carry out their mission to protect and serve the public.

Unfortunately, the few officers who abuse their authority give cops a bad name. I saw on ABC news last week two reports of cops who planted drugs at crime scenes in order to frame someone. The body cams make it harder to hide those misdeeds.

What would motivate a law enforcement professional to plant evidence? Here are some guesses:
  • grudge against an individual or group
  • need to meet quotas of arrests and convictions
  • desire to impress peers or superiors
Actually, I think it takes a really disturbed person to frame someone. I want to offer some solutions, but it boils down to the sinfulness of humanity. The crooked cops have a warped sense of morality. Maybe they had difficult childhoods. Maybe they had a bad breakup.

But there is no excuse for such abuse of power. I wish there was an easy solution. It's going to take something like a work of God.
That's why we pray for the kingdom to come. And that's why we need to work to bring the kingdom.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Old School Obedience

Reading Dallas Willard's book, The Great Omission, I was struck by his observation about obedience. While Jesus clearly teaches the importance of obedience ("teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..."), Christians rarely emphasize it today.

Somehow we want the depths of spirituality without the tedium of obedience. Wouldn't that be easier? Obedience seems so oppressive. Can't we just call it cooperation with God? We do hear occasionally about repentance. But repentance must come back to obedience.

Maybe we think of obedience primarily with outward requirements: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal. And many of us may believe that we have long ago mastered that kind of obedience. Please don't nag us with reminders about such elementary matters.

But Jesus calls his followers to make some more difficult choices: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, don't lust, deny yourself. These are less visible, but still important matters of obedience.

Being required to "obey" Jesus seems like oppression. Obedience is such a harsh word to twenty-first century ears.

We have somehow lost the connection between love and obedience. Jesus loves us, so he calls us to obedience. If we love him, we will obey his commands.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why Church?


More than ever, people are asking why they should attend church. There are good theological reasons, obviously, but folks tend to look for the practical reasons. Broadly speaking, I see three primary reasons for church attendance.

On one level, church attendance give you resources for more successful living through scripture, prayer, and fellowship. Life works better when you do things God’s way, and having friends makes everything better. You feel better if you believe you are cooperating with God. It is a way of loving God.



On another level, church involvement gives you mission opportunities, so that you can make a difference in the world. Churches organize food pantries, clothes closets, marches for justice, mission trips, homeless ministries, prayer meetings for important causes. You feel better if you are actually doing something to make the world a better place. It is a way of loving people.



But if church only makes life work better, or connects people with causes, then it is not going deep enough. Faith is not about feeling better. It is about being better, through Jesus.



On the third level, church involvement should help us see that our own daily lives are a mission from God. In this journey, he helps us to love him, and he helps us to love others. But along this journey, he is changing us, making us more like Christ.



Church is the delivery system God designed for drawing us into relationship with him. He wants fellowship with us. He wants us to become like him. He wants us to experience the deepest levels of fulfillment. He wants us to have real life.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Time Zones and Urgency

My wife and I just spent a day in Blowing Rock this week to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. We left our hotel about 10 a.m., walking through downtown. Most of the stores open at 10. At least they say they do. But at 10:05, about half of the stores had not opened. No signs of life through the windows.

One proprietor who had opened on time said that stores open "10ish." And that suits me just fine in a place to unwind. We did not come to Blowing Rock for a tight schedule.

Many years ago we spent our anniversary in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. Now that is a place to chill out. With a 6-hour time difference from home, all the day's news seemed old by lunch time on the island. Without the constant drumbeat of news updates and "breaking" stories, we found that we cared less about the latest crisis.

The time difference actually allowed us to think about the news, and decide if it mattered. So often the urgency of news convinces us that it's important. That 6-hour lag provides a step back from the frenzy. No wonder Hawaii is so relaxed.

With a more careful consumption of media, I find that here and now I can provide some distance between myself and the urgency of this world. That helps develop personal peace, and it gives time to think and understand. It allows time for God to get my attention. It helps me tune into reality.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Anarcists

I read in the paper this week that a group of anarchists protested the calling of a grand jury. A fellow anarchist was being compelled to testify, and these supporters oppose the use of grand juries. There are no records kept of the contents of grand jury proceedings, and this bothers the anarchists.

Now, maybe I don't know what today's anarchists believe, but true anarchy would get rid of the entire justice system, not merely grand juries. Anarchy would necessarily devolve into the tyranny of the strong over the weak. With no laws, and no justice system, life would be worse than unfair. It would be brutal.

As imperfect as our justice system is, it beats anarchy. After all, doesn't the pursuit of justice rule out anarchy? Christ calls us to pursue true justice, and we have a long ways to go. But anarchy is not the answer.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Falling

We fall asleep, fall in love, and fall for a joke. Of course we can fall literally, when we stumble. But all of these falls have something in common: losing control.


Sleep comes when we let go of all the cares of the day. We voluntarily release our worries, our plans, our regrets, our eager anticipation. At least ideally we do. The harder we hold on to those concerns, the more difficult it is to fall asleep.

When we fall in love, we abandon our defenses with our beloved. We let go of selfishness and willingly lose control, trusting in that special one. Some people, even married people, never fall in love. They still cling to control as much as possible, believing that warm feelings are the same as falling in love.

Falling for a joke can be embarrassing or humiliating. It happens when we trust in a person or situation, surrender control, and discover that we were wrong to trust. In the best of cases, we can laugh at ourselves, which shows a good bit of maturity.

Falling is all about losing, forfeiting, giving up, surrendering control.

I want to fall for Jesus.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The World's Oldest Profession


Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But there’s a profession even older than that one. After God created Adam, he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and instructed the man to care for the garden.




So, the world’s oldest profession is that of gardener. Of course our first parents made that job much more difficult for all of us. With their disobedience in paradise, they experienced a kind of death, and God expelled them from the Garden. In this fallen world now, our work comes through thorns and thistles with sweat and pain. So this is the inheritance of mankind: a fallen world where death reigns.



But God’s command to tend creation remains. As God’s only creatures made in his image, we—humans—have the unique responsibility to care for this world. The flora and fauna, the rocks, rivers, and oceans really do matter to God. It is part of the creation he called “good.” But unfortunately, some Christians consider this world disposable. The physical world will be ultimately be destroyed, they reason, so who cares what happens to it now?



Tree huggers carry too far the responsibility to care for creation. Many virtually worship the natural world. But those who abuse the environment err in the other direction. Maybe they think that the quicker we wear out this world, the sooner God will give us another one. And so the resources of Earth are used for selfish gain, rather than harnessed for good.



Whether we choose to accept it or not, we are responsible for this garden called Earth. And all creation groans in anticipation of the day when God will renew everything.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Search Me

At CentriKid camp this morning, the personal devotions material pointed us to a very familiar verse, Psalm 139:23-24:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.


I have read and heard this passage so many times before. But today I read it as a deeper prayer. The psalmist is asking God to search him and test him, to look for any wrong thought patterns, then to lead him in the way of truth.

We all have wrong thought patterns, and rarely do we want others to point them out. But a healthy soul requires healthy thoughts. Who better to find the wrong thoughts than God? I prefer to ignore those issues and work around them. God wants to find them and disarm them. He wants to expose them to the light of truth.

We can stop hiding from our messed up thinking. We can get God to find those corrupted, false patterns of thinking and free us from them. That's the only way to walk in the way everlasting.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Good at Being a Person

Life is not easy. There are all kinds of ways we can mess up life. And we all do. Personhood is harder than it looks.

Who is really good at being a person? And is that the same thing as being a good person?

Personhood entails a wide range of skills: walking, talking, listening, loving, eating, serving, creating, working, sharing, confessing, confronting, exploring, explaining... The list is endless. So personhood is about doing life. Some people are better at personhood than others.

I'm still learning how to be a person: how to navigate through life, how to keep (gain?) my sanity, how to develop my strengths, how to love others, how to worship.

It's not easy, but it is rewarding.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Tree of Life and Love

The maple tree in my mother's backyard.
It must be at least 45 years old.
This maple has a story. This tree reminds me of my dad's love.

Some time in the early 1970s my dad and I cut down a tall pine tree. We used a big bow saw, with one of us on each end. We teamed up to fell dozens of trees with that saw (which I still have). But I especially remember that pine.

Now anyone who knows about ice storms knows about the problem of pines in winter weather. Their roots are shallow, their trunks not especially strong, and they become top-heavy when laden with frozen precipitation. Such a pine tree doesn't belong in a planned landscape. It did not belong in my dad's beautiful yard.

And so we skillfully took out this pine, and cut it into firewood. When the stump was cut, Dad prepared to cut down a little maple sapling, sprouting by the pine roots.

"Wait!" I shouted.

"What?" he asked.

"Why are you cutting down that little tree?"

The question from this 8-year-old caught him off guard. "Well, it's just in the way."

"In the way of what?"

He envisioned an open space in the yard with no tree. I saw a little tree causing no problems, striving mightily to live. I reasoned with him that this maple, a hardwood, would not cause problems like a pine. This tree deserved to live.

The tree was spared, and it grew right along with me all these years. To this day it stands tall in my mother's backyard.

That maple reminds me of my father's love and his willingness to try things my way. You see, he and I often disagreed. We rarely saw life through the same lens. Yes, I would often find ways to disagree with him, constantly challenging his perspective on virtually everything. It surely wore on him over the years. But that day he listened. He did as I asked. The tree is there to prove it.

My dad never really understood me. But he loved me. It took me years to realize the significance of his sparing that tree. That act spoke volumes about our relationship, and had little to do with landscaping.

Dad died 16 years ago this month. I think of him often. And I remember how much he loved me.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Resistance


You don’t get to choose your situation of birth. You just arrive on the scene and have to make the best of it. It’s part of your inheritance. You don’t set the stage, but you do have to deal with it. You can exploit it to your own advantage, cooperate with it to your own comfort, or you can resist it to help your heirs.

Everybody’s inheritance is loaded. With it you can blow things up and cause damage, or can use it to fuel positive change.

Some have had the courage to see the problems with the status quo and worked to make things better. These people made a difference and left the world a better place. And they all paid a great price. Resisting the status quo is dangerous business.

  • Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white person. She resisted.
  • Nelson Mandela went to prison for standing against the apartheid system of South Africa. He resisted.
  • Mahatma Gandhi led a movement of freedom for the nation of India as they struggled under British colonialism. He resisted.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the murderous religious oppression of Nazi Germany. He resisted.
  • William Wilberforce worked to change the laws of England to abolish the profitable slave trade. He resisted.
  • Abraham Lincoln recognized the moral bankruptcy of American slavery. He resisted.

These people saw the problems of the society they inherited. And they took a stand. They made a difference. The world is better for their work.

Think of your own inheritance. Where are the problems? How can it be better? Effective resistance requires a strong moral foundation, a clear sense of right and wrong. Commitment to truth puts people on the “right side of history.” A true moral compass can show us what is wrong with the world. And with the foundation of truth one can stand against injustice, oppression, and evil.

Jesus is the Truth. He is the Moral Compass. He resisted. Then he died. Then he arose. He conquered death for us, so there is nothing more to fear.

Will you see the problems in the systems of this world? Will you take a stand? Will you resist? If so, be prepared to pay a price.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Cooperation


Everyone inherits a life situation. No one creates the setting for her own life. We arrive on the scene, surrounded by people who seem to know what they are doing, and we try to make the best of it. We can exploit the situation (see previous post), we can cooperate with the situation, or we can resist the situation.

I think most people opt to cooperate with life's situation. We follow the rules (mostly) and try to maximize our own comfort. We play the hand we are dealt, and we play to win--whatever winning means to us. It could mean making money, having toys, owning land, experiencing pleasure, enjoying peace and quiet, raising children, wielding power, achieving fame. We decide what matters most to us, and we go for it.

We aspire, adapt, accomplish.

Think about the world Southerners inherited in the early 1800s. In the antebellum South, many accepted slavery because there seemed to be no way out of it. The South had followed their “peculiar institution” down into a dark, wicked cavern, where they could only light candles and share blankets to deal with the wretched conditions. Finding a way out was impossible. Freeing the slaves was inhumane—what would they do with no one to feed them and house them? Within this entrenched, imperfect system, people had to live life.

So with this loaded inheritance, many chose to cooperate with life's circumstances. They learned their place in the system and sought to make the most of it. Landowners leveraged slavery to work their land and make a profit. It was all perfectly legal. Matriarchs learned how to run their households, caring for their children and managing the slaves. Merchants engaged in every kind of legal trade. Soldiers followed orders.

Some slaves, meanwhile, became resigned to their lot in life, and cooperated with the system for the sake of personal health and safety.

Of course we can find plenty wrong with the social and economic systems of the American South in the early 1800s. But it seems that most people accepted the system as it was, and made the most of it. They cooperated to their own comfort.

And today, most people cooperate with the system. They don't openly exploit others, but work the system to their own advantage. For some people this works well. Others become frustrated; they continue to aspire and adapt, even if they never accomplish.

Unfortunately this spirit of cooperation can be rather selfish. We work the system for our own advantage, never asking if this system is good, right, or fair. It's just our inheritance. We accept it, so often, without question. If it works for us--or if it might someday work for us--we just accept it.

As this attitude prevails, our world barely and rarely changes. Rather than making the world a better place, we make ourselves better suited for this imperfect world.

Next time
Loaded Inheritance: Resistance

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Exploitation


All we have is this moment. It is our inheritance. And it is loaded. What I mean is that the people before us blew it. Well, not all of them, but most of them. They blew it. They behaved selfishly in ways we cannot imagine. In ways that, well, we would never behave. And so we inherit a world that’s far from right, because of all those selfish ancestors. Yes, there were a few shining examples of virtue, but even these heroes and heroines had their flaws.

So, here we are, in an unfair world. It is full of abuses, corruption, and violence, with systems that protect the powerful and oppress the poor. This is our world. This is our inheritance. How do we live in such a world?

We have three choices:

  • We can exploit it to our own advantage.
  • We can cooperate with it to our own comfort.
  • We can push against it to make it better.
History books overflow with stories of the exploiters of inheritance. Alexander the Great inherited the throne of Macedonia after his father Philip II was assassinated in 326 B.C. He took the reins of power and marshalled forces to keep territories from revolting. After securing his throne, he kept the military spirit and took over much of the known world. He exploited his inheritance and seems well regarded by history.

All the rulers of Rome exploited their situations, from Julius Caesar to Trajan to Constantine. They made moves to gain and retain power. One strains to think of a figure in Western history who did not exploit his situation to personal benefit.
Trajan's Column in Rome


Even among the American Founding Fathers we see a struggle for power. George Washington's cabinet wrestled through a power struggle so painful that in his Farewell Address, he cautioned against the tug-of-war caused by the rule of alternating factions of power.

Closer to home, the antebellum American South sought to leverage their "peculiar institution" of slavery into an economic profit machine. They inherited this institution and exploited it (by brutally exploiting people) to their own advantage.

Later in the 19th century, the Robber Barons exploited the opportunities provided by the industrial revolution, amassing unprecedented wealth, often through unethical means. They seized the day for their own advantage.

Of course we know of all the evil dictators who gained and exploited power: Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, Hirohito, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot, to name a few.

And we all know stories of opportunistic bosses or relatives or neighbors who have selfishly manipulated people and circumstances to get what they want -- power, money, recognition, adoration, position, etc. They saw the system in place, played their cards right, and came out on top.

So, that's one way to deal with your loaded inheritance: just make the most of it, selfishly getting all you can manage of everything you want, disregarding others in the process. You will be in the company of many well-known people. Then again, do you want to pass along that legacy to future generations?

Next time:
Loaded Inheritance: Cooperation

Monday, February 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: The Human Condition


This may be our moment. It may be a moment in modern history when we can take a step back and really look at what we believe and where we are going. We need to be careful with this inheritance.

We all have inherited the societal situation we are in. We were plopped down here with no input on the matter. Our inheritance is loaded, too, like a powder keg. It can explode and create devastation, or it can burn with power, purpose, and direction. With our inheritance, we can do what is very good, what is very evil, or something in between.


Condemnation of history frustrates me. People criticize individuals, such as the racist N.C. governor Charles Aycock. They criticize the feudal world of the Middle Ages. They criticize the politics of the Vietnam War. They criticize the sexism of literature of every previous generation. They criticize the Europeans who stole a continent from militarily inferior Native Americans. And there is an abundance of criticism for the whole American institution of slavery.

Criticism of history is a lazy man’s self-righteousness. We can look so high and mighty when we point out the flaws of previous generations. But remember, we can’t change history. Of course it is flawed. Anyone can see that.

We can’t change history, but we can understand it. If we really want to understand it, we need to dig deeper to learn why people thought and behaved as they did. Why in the world would so many Southerners in 1860 support the institution of slavery? Were they that much more evil than we are? Were they just morally blind? How could they be that blind?

Once we understand the loaded inheritance of that generation, we can begin to make sense of their choices. Not that we would have behaved similarly, but that we can see how they got there. Critical looks at previous generations are most helpful to us if they do one thing: if they help us find our own blind spots.

I don’t want to defend any of those people, systems, or institutions. They were wrong. But those people inherited a world different from ours. In 100 years, many will look back at the early twenty-first century and wonder how we could have been so cruel and selfish. Every generation is blind to the wrongs of the world. If we don’t know any different, how can we think any differently?

Next time:
Loaded Inheritance: Exploitation

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Big Short F-Bombs


I watched The Big Short this week, a movie based on the events of the housing market crash of 2007-2008. It explained in a simple way the complicated events that caused the financial collapse leading to the “Great Recession.” I highly recommend it, for its entertaining, engaging way of telling the story of mass irresponsibility.

However.

However, the script is needlessly obscene. It seemed like about 40% of the sentences in the film included some form of the F-word. I don’t hang around Wall Street investors, but I have never heard such foul language in any context—sporting events, airports, coffee shops, housing projects, racing events, even construction sites. But I have heard plenty of it on cable TV programs. And that’s it. The movies and cable TV are the only places I hear such relentless pursuit of verbal shock value. I never hear it in real life. In The Big Short such language did absolutely nothing to advance the plot, and it genuinely distracted me from it.


I wonder how the actors feel, shoveling such verbal manure. What would their children think? Or their mothers?

And I wonder why the producers wanted to include such language. Are they trying to normalize the use of the word? If so, society will have to coin some other word for obscene emphasis. If Hollywood sets the tone for society, then we are heading for a raunchy world of limited vocabulary and shallow thought.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like whining. It’s really more of a lament.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What Happened to Trust?

Warning: I'm going to talk about another crisis. Scrolling through Twitter this morning, I saw a recurring theme: a lack of trust. Think about it.

  • You can't trust those scientists because you-know-who pays their salary.
  • You can't trust the government, because it's full of corruption.
  • You can't trust that political party because they are funded by that billionaire, and they just want to control everybody or help their buddies on Wall Street.
  • You can't trust big corporations because they just want your money.
  • You can't trust those high tech companies because they are mining all your personal information.
  • You can't trust lawyers because, well, they are lawyers.
  • You can't trust your doctor because he's peddling products by the big pharmaceutical companies.
  • You can't trust the news media because they are pushing their own agenda, and you know what that means.
  • You can't trust people different from yourself because they are up to no good.
  • You can't trust religious leaders because they are after your money.
  • You can't trust every news outlet because of all that "fake news."
So who can we trust? Patrick Lencioni says lack of trust is one of the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team." With no trust, every communication is suspect and loaded with incendiary content. But when trust is high, communication is almost effortless.

So, if we are going to recover trust, we have to be trustworthy. You go first.

But seriously, we need to be willing to take a step back from the toxic climate of public discourse, and listen to "those people." Even if they are nut-jobs, they may still have a point. Running people down and dismissing them does nothing to help us have a better society.

Let's have a conversation, folks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sports, Winning, and Love


Image result for clemson tigers

Congratulations to the Clemson Tigers for winning the National Championship last night. It was a game for the ages! And is was worth staying up for (since I was pulling for the Tigers). After the game, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said something powerful. He said that the key ingredient in his program was love. He made similar remarks after his team beat Ohio State on New Year's Eve.


I've been watching football all my life, and I've never heard a coach claim love as his winning formula before. It just sounds hokey... until you win a national title, especially against the Crimson Tide. Love and football seem so incompatible. But love and teamwork are very compatible.

Some teams may be motivated by fear--of failure, of letting down teammates, of disappointing coaches, of showing weakness. And fear is a powerful motivator. Fear has kept the masses in check in every oppressive regime. Fear often keeps dysfunctional systems functioning. Fear does work. That's why it is used so often. It seems like an obvious tool to use. The external motivation of negative consequences shapes our behavior all the time. Why else obey the speed limit? But fear is driven by self-interest.

Love, on the other hand, has an entirely different kind of motivation. It springs from the heart. It is driven by concern for others and it is fueled by others' concern for us. Love is reciprocal, and it spirals upward. When someone fails in a loving relationship, he or she is picked up and restored. When someone fails in a system based on fear, the offending party is castigated and punished. That person may even be rejected entirely. There are others to step in and take that role.

Now I'm probably reading way too much into the program of Coach Swinney. I know nothing about the team's graduation rate or even the success of his players at the professional level. And I know even less about the Alabama program. I'm not implying that their team is fear-driven.

But I do know that love is more powerful than fear. It is much more difficult to operate with love, because love demands selflessness and humility. It demands listening and understanding. It demands sacrifice. Love is more difficult than fear, but it builds people up internally for all the right reasons.

Would I have been writing this blog if Clemson had lost? Who knows? But I would rather be on a team like Swinney's and lose than be on any team with less heart.

After all, the ultimate winning really has nothing to do with football.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Worship Together?

In a first (as far as I know) in Stokesdale, we are having a multicultural, bilingual worship service on Friday, January 13, 2017. Oak Springs Baptist Church, a predominantly black church, will host this event in cooperation with Iglesia Luz de Jesuscristo, a Hispanic church, and Crossroads Community Church, which is mostly white. I've known the pastor of Oak Springs for years, and recently met the pastor of Iglesia. I count both of these men as friends.

Why is this worship time a big deal? Maybe it's just a big deal for me. God has shown me how limited my perspective is. I am beginning to see how much Christians need each other, especially those from different cultures.

For too long I have seen my ways and perspectives as normative. That is, I'm normal, and everything else is a deviation from "normal." I felt like God saw me as normal, and saw everyone else as, well, different, but OK. Yeah, that's kind of sad. It's like the universe would need to be measured according to me as the standard. How much more egocentric can you get?

Now I see that God loves all kinds of people, and I'm just one flavor. But here's the big insight. I need other people who are different from me. I need to see how they worship. And I need to have some of what they have.

I'm grew up with dignified worship, where people are fully in control of every facet of expression: standing, sitting, unison, solo, loud, quiet. All of this is carefully scripted in the order of service. We don't want people getting too excited about God, you know. Just keep it under control. And with us in control, we have predictable, manageable worship. We keep God on a leash and arrange everything for him.

But I believe God does want us to become carried away with him. He wants us lost in his mystery, begging for his intervention, caught up in his glory. This is where cultures besides mine have it right. We can call out to God from the depths of our souls. We can sing our hearts out. We can get excited about the One who loves us and walks with us and gave Himself up for us!

So I need to be around people who get this. I need to see how inhibited my own worship is. I need to approach God with abandon. Now, it is possible that others can gain something from observing my worship, too. I'm not sure what it is, though.

Worshipping with people different from myself is only a start. I want to develop deep friendships. Jesus gave his life to break down the barriers that separated people. Over the centuries, we have carefully built them back up. We do need each other. We can serve together, do life together, enjoy social occasions together, build the kingdom together.

We are all created in the image of God. To understand God better and love him more, we need to appreciate the diversity of the people he has made.

Come, be a part of something new. Let God stretch you as we approach his throne together. We all have something to learn. And we all need to give glory to God.

Stokesdale Multicultural Worship Service
7 p.m. Friday, January 13, 2017
Oak Springs Missionary Baptist Church
9070 US Highway 158
Stokesdale, NC  27357