Friday, December 13, 2019

We need a Greta Thunberg

Time Magazine's person of the year, Greta Thunberg, created a stir when she spoke to the United Nations on September 23. She received a wealth of media coverage for her challenge to world leaders who are failing to address climate change. She spoke with conviction and passion. She also spoke at the 2019 Climate Action Summit, where she declared that failure to stop climate change has robbed her of her childhood. She spoke with urgency and conviction.

She called out leaders who care more about public appearance than actual solutions. She has some good points, although she seems to believe that changes in human activity can completely solve the problem.

I think that we need a Greta Thunberg to speak out against the U.S. debt. The debt is entirely within human control. It has possibly reached the point that it will never be paid off. Every president since Jimmy Carter has sounded the debt alarm while campaigning. And every president has allowed the debt to grow. Obama said that deficit spending was irresponsible, yet the debt doubled on his watch. Trump criticized Obama, yet he has proposed a budget with an annual deficit of $1 trillion.

How dare these politicians spend our money this way? How dare they waste dollars on anything but essential government services?

And a trillion is a lot. A million seconds is about a week and a half. A billion seconds is about 32 years. A trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. In other words, all of history has not yet seen a trillion seconds. We are $20 trillion in debt.

How dare our leaders not take this seriously? How dare they ignore this threat to our country?

What will happen when the dollar collapses?

Unlike climate change, we know that this is entirely our fault. And everyone wants to ignore it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

God's Helping Hand

So often we think of God as the cosmic cop, looking for all the ways you mess up. We hide from that kind of surveillance. And we resent it.

But God is not really like that. The word "satan" actually means "accuser." God is not our accuser. He's our helper.

"For I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear;
I will help you." --Isaiah 41:13

With divine tenderness and compassion, God reaches through all the clutter, busyness, sin, rebellion, fear, and anger in our lives. He reaches through and takes us by the hand. He is for us. He is with us. He longs to help us, right where we are.

God is reaching out his hand to us in the midst of all the pressure, travel, temptation, expectation of this holiday season.

Take his hand. He is with you. He is for you.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Tears for America

This morning I was reflecting on Veterans Day, and I thought of all my friends who have served in the U.S. military. I thought of the great privilege of living in our country. It really brought me to tears. My father, grandfather, and other ancestors fought for our freedom.

In our land, we live in peace. I don't have to worry about marauding gangs coming through town, breaking into houses and businesses. Soldiers don't stand watch on the corners because we don't need them there. People from all around the world long to live in the U.S. because of the great opportunities, resources, and freedom here.

We celebrate innovation in America. We allow creative minds to benefit from their inventions. Inventors can patent and market their new creations, bringing new products and technologies to the rest of us. We expect every gadget to be improved every year, from cars to vacuum cleaners to cell phones. And we also expect to be able to get any item in the world delivered to our door, often overnight. Our culture is all about better, faster, cheaper.

We are also a generous people. As charities thrive, our country shares love with all kinds of needy people--those with medical needs, financial needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. When there is some disaster, we respond with food, medicine, equipment, workers. We do that across the country and around the world.

Our great blessings bring tears to my eyes. But there are also other kinds of tears. We incarcerate more people than other countries. We don't always live up to our belief that "all men are created equal." Our free market has rewarded greed. There are high rates of suicide and addiction. We can monetize virtually any endeavor. We tend to be materialistic. We claim to value life, but often fail to protect people until they are born. We believe in equality, but minorities find that some are more equal than others.

We long for society to be just, fair, and free. Our highest ideals are lofty, and we often fall short of them. In spite of our imperfection, we also like to "encourage" other cultures to take on our ways of life and government, assuming that our way is best for everyone. Doesn't everyone think like we do?

At home, too many are at each others' political throats. The "gotcha" culture sets a trap for everyone who takes a stand. Our principles say that everyone has a right to free speech, no matter how absurd or offensive that speech may be. But some self-appointed guardians have created arbitrary rules of political correctness.

There is a gap between our principles and our reality. But our principles really are worth fighting for. Thank you to our Veterans for taking that stand and putting their lives on the line. May we seek to honor that sacrifice by living into the real American values of truth, honor, and justice.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Big Itch

Yes, it's a big itch. Somehow this stuff finds me. My last two bouts with itchy plants have been particularly severe, and I never saw the offending plants.

I am rather an expert at spotting poison ivy and poison oak. Poison sumac, I'm not so sure about. Apparently it was sumac that attacked me in August. Then last week I was pulling out kudzu when again I was exposed to urushiol, the poison in those poison plants. The gap between my work gloves and my long sleeves provided plenty of room for skin contamination.

I did wash my arms, but not soon enough, not thoroughly enough. Sigh.

I have heard that the reaction to these poison plants worsens with each exposure. And I've been getting the rash since childhood. I have gone for months and years with no breakouts, but this season has been brutal for me.

I want to find some spiritual lesson in this, or maybe a Bible verse about no itching in heaven. In the meantime, I can only try soaps and lotions to treat myself.

I promise to be more careful. I promise to wash my skin, way more than necessary. I promise to keep looking for something good in these plants. No, that's a lie. I just want to kill it.

A severed poison ivy vine by the farm creek. 
I blew through this vine with my 12 gauge one winter.
Die, hateful plant.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reparations for Slave Descendants

I need to start with a disclaimer here. I have not researched the case for giving reparations to descendants of American slaves. There may be some compelling reasons for the U.S. to make these payments. But in my ignorance, I have a few observations.

Americans of African descent live in a context that white people cannot begin to understand. A black friend of mine told me recently that if his car broke down at night along a highway near Stokesdale, he would not consider leaving his vehicle to find help. It would be dangerous for him to flag down another car or to approach a house nearby. People would feel threatened by him and could cause him harm. That is not the world I live in as a white man.

Money fixes everything. Or so we think. Our American capitalist society agrees that everything can be monetized. Spending money equals addressing a problem. If Americans of African descent have been wronged, then we can buy our way of it. The payments might not make things right, but they will make things better, the thought goes. And if things are not actually better, at least we did something. We tried. This mode of thinking minimizes the struggles of black Americans. It is based on a false assumption: that money will fix everything. But reparations cannot make my friend feel safe on a roadside at night. No amount of money can change that.

Reparations can actually be harmful to the recipients. An American Indian friend of mine believes that reparations to Native Americans exacerbated their plight. He talks about growing up on "the res" and the struggles of his neighbors to navigate in the broader American culture. Not only did the reparations fail to help, they actually hurt Native Americans. I must confess that I was unaware of these payments to Indians, but my friend saw a lot of negative fallout from them. Reparations for African Americans might work better than those for Native Americans. But we would do well to anticipate unintended consequences from reparations.

I think reparation payments are the wrong approach to the racial divide in America. This divide runs much deeper than dollars and cents. Hearts and attitudes need to change. And maybe that will get us started on changing law enforcement, food systems, the judicial system, hiring practices, lending practices, and mistrust.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Farewell, Dixie Classic Fair


So, we went to the Dixie Classic Fair for the last time on Saturday. Next year the Fair will have a different name. Now we know that the word “Dixie” is offensive. So much for Dixie Cups and Dixie Chicks.

The term Dixie actually comes from New Orleans, where French culture influenced the local slang. In French the word for ten is dix. The ten dollar bills that circulated were known as “dixes.” Over time people associated dixes with the Louisiana region and eventually all of the South was known as “Dixie.”

I have rejected the effort to change the Fair’s name because it attributes a racist, hateful quality to a word that has no such meaning. Or does it?

Thanks to an article in the Greensboro News & Record, I learned that there is more to it. The Fair began in 1882 as a grain exposition. A few years later they included tobacco in the exposition. From there the Fair grew. But in 1956 they changed the name from the Winston-Salem Fair to the Dixie Classic Fair. It was a whites-only event. The (Colored) Carolina Fair was the black version in the 1950s. Until 1963, the DC Fair remained for whites only. Hmm, does that look racist?

The article quoted a Winston-Salem resident who remembers being excluded from the DC Fair as a child. She surely sees the name of the Fair differently than I do.

I wish they would not change the name of the Fair. I have decades of Fair memories, especially with my children. The Fair represents happy, carefree times—times of cotton candy, funnel cakes, Ferris
wheel rides, petting sheep, feeding goats, seeing huge pumpkins, and admiring creative crafts. My associations with Dixie Classic Fair are all positive.

That’s not the case for everyone.

Would I be willing to accept a name change, even though I don’t like it? Maybe that is especially appropriate. African Americans for centuries have had things forced on them. Things that were not right, not fair, not reasonable. An event name change is a small annoyance for me. Maybe, just maybe, I might have some slight idea of the injustice our neighbors have endured for generations. Maybe this name change will help me see that many people look differently at the DC Fair. Events that bring me happy memories can bring painful memories to others. Maybe they should just get over it.

Maybe with the name change I should just get over it.

I wish they would not change the name of the Fair.

Even more, I wish that the Fair had never excluded anyone.

Monday, September 30, 2019

All the Right Answers

I thought that by now I would have a lot more answers. Turns out that I had a lot more answers when I was younger. I was in hot pursuit of the right model of doing church, the right theology (you know, the one that answers all the questions), the right way to disciple others, the right way to lead people, the right way to grow a church, the right way to answer the questions of a godless culture, the right way to vote.

I just thought that I would have more of life figured out by now, after 30 years in ministry. Maybe I know more than I realize. But it seems like I have more questions than ever. In fact some of the things I once knew, I don’t really know anymore. The more I study the Bible, the more depth and nuance I find.

What happens when a person dies? Does a Christian immediately go to heaven? Then what happens at the final Resurrection? Does that usher in the kingdom of heaven? What about all the visions of heaven that speak of heaven on earth? Isn’t there some final authority on end times? Doesn’t anybody have it all figured out? Who is actually going to be in heaven? Isn’t this earth going to be discarded?

At this point in ministry, I expected to be in a suburban church, a pastor of some sort, working in a well-oiled machine of ministry. We would have answers to all the questions. We would have discipleship programs for all ages and interests. We would take care of the needy, in a sanitized way of course. We would knock on doors and find people hungry for the good news, ready to join us. They would come to our VBS, our Christmas programs, our Easter shows. They would pray the right prayers at the right times to get right with God through Jesus. They would get baptized and invite their friends to plug into our ministry. They would all live nice, happy, Christian lives and smile at their neighbors.

My training never prepared me for a life of unanswered questions. I learned how a normal church should run. But there are no normal churches anywhere. Only churches with problems. Some problems and churches are bigger than others. Problems must be addressed right away, and then church will be right and normal again. But “normal” is fiction.

Life is deeper than I knew. There are grey areas. There are good questions without definitive answers. There are people who will challenge my assumptions. Even my role models and gurus don’t have all the answers. Life is mysterious, much more so than I ever knew.

Maybe that’s the big surprise: the more I try to figure out life, the more mysterious it becomes. I thought by now I would have fewer questions. I thought that I understood life years ago. Now I see that I don’t. While my understanding grows, the mystery grows more.

There will always be questions. I will never figure everything out.

But somehow there is joy. It is a profound joy. It is a joy in the swirl of mystery. It is richer and more satisfying than knowing everything. Thank God.

Friday, September 27, 2019

2 Words in Heaven

I recently heard someone on the radio say that he couldn't wait to hear God's first words to him in heaven: "Well done." This is a reference to Jesus' parable in Matthew 25, in which a master entrusts money to his servants to invest while the master is away. Those who invest well receive the master's commendation when he returns: "Well done, you good and faithful servant."

Lots of Christians serve God with enthusiasm and energy, hoping to hear those two words. Of course we want to use our resources well, to be good stewards. We Americans are achievers, and we want to achieve all we can for Jesus. We want him to be proud of us. We want him to wonder what he would do without us. We want to earn his respect.

Some of us may wonder if we are doing enough. What if Jesus doesn't give us the high five of superior production? What if we could have done better?

Sadly, the truth is that we all could have done better. Uh oh. Maybe we idolize those words of congratulations from Jesus. Maybe we really want to worship our resumes, and get God to follow us on Instagram. We achievers want some by-God recognition, especially there in heaven where everybody's watching.

Could we be missing the point?

I'm not sure that Jesus will tell me, "Well done." I have certainly not maximized achievement with the resources given to me. And frankly, I don't especially want to hear that from him.

The two words I long to hear from Jesus are:

"Hi Dave!"


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

7 Types of Friends


As I reflect on the power of relationships, I see that there are different ways that people approach friendship.  I'm just making this stuff up, but it seems to make sense.  Here are some types of friends that I see.

The Hider avoids relationships at every turn.  He enters every conversation looking for a way to end  He may fear being exposed, or may feel inadequate.  The hider wants to be discovered, but doesn’t feel worthy.  He wants to see the other person make the effort, because only then can he tell if that person truly wants to be friends.




The Diver jumps right in.  She has never met a stranger.  She tells you her life story in the grocery line.  Everyone is interested in her life, or so she thinks.  The diver gets in too deep too fast in nearly every relationship, and often gets hurt.  The diver shares so much information, that it overwhelms her friends.  Others may find themselves avoiding divers.

The Runner runs from relationship.  It’s hard to catch a runner.  He will avoid commitment, and cancel plans with flimsy excuses.  Runners are content to be alone, and don’t believe that Jesus wants to bless them through friendships.  Friendship is valuable, but he would rather observe it than experience it.

The Stone Waller is an easy person to get to know—at first.  This person makes friends easily, but only allows people to get so close.  When the relationship reaches a certain point, the stone waller refuses to go deeper.  Such people have experienced hurt with too much vulnerability, and they don’t want to go there again.  They may have lots of shallow friends, and constantly see people go in and out of their lives.

The Tiptoer goes into relationship slowly.  She gradually gains trust and earns respect.  The tiptoer counts the cost of friendship very carefully.  She wants deep friendships, but finds it difficult to open up.  When she feels betrayed or let down by someone, she takes that person off the deep friendship track in her life.  She may have lots of friends, but only a few close friends.  

The Clinger constantly looks for one person to escort him through life.  This is a needy person who will use up anyone who openly befriends him.  The clinger may turn on someone who begins pulling away.

The Normal Person is a fictitious creation that we all imagine is out there somewhere.  Well, maybe not. But I think that even normal people sometimes slide into one of the patterns above. Our challenge is to love people, even when they act weird.  And we can hope that others will love us when we are.  

Even more amazing is that God uses all these weird people in our lives to shape us into more godly people.  Only God could do that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tony Bennett, wow

University of Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett did a mind-blowing thing this week. He turned down money. He has enough.

What?

(See this CNBC.com article.)

Who turns down a raise? What national championship coach says, "No thank you," to more?

When the University of Virginia administration offered the new contract terms, Bennett said they were "very gracious in what they offered me as a potential contract, but I have a very good contract." He went on to say, "I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men's basketball], that's my desire."

Furthermore, Bennett gave a half million dollars to an initiative to help UVA basketball players with career training.

At 50 years of age, Bennett gets it. As rewarding as power and money can be, they are not what life is about. He obviously cares about people, relationships, and a well-rounded athletic program. He puts his principles into practice.

With his rejection of this lucrative contract, Bennett is saying more than mere words could possibly say. He's saying more than he could ever say by taking the money.

He is inspiring his players, his institution, and the world of sports to live for something that an agent could never negotiate for.

Maybe some of us have been chasing after the wrong things.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A New Thing

Nothing is older than God. But as old as he is, God still does new things.

He has been thinking about new things for a long time. In Isaiah 43, God says,

See, I am doing a new thing
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

God is still doing new things today. As we continue our "All Things New" series this Sunday, we will explore the new things God is doing today.

God is always doing new things. Unfortunately we may not perceive it. There's a new sunrise, a new opportunity, a new baby, new wine, new harvest, new moon.

God is doing a new thing today. Don't miss it!


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Are you ready for something new?

Every fall makes me think about newness. Maybe it's a throwback to my days as a student. Every fall is a new school year, with new notebooks, class schedules, maybe some new clothes; new classes, new teachers, new friends. As students go back to school in the fall, I feel the newness with them.

And God likes new things, too. He's always doing something new.

We're beginning a new sermon series in worship this Sunday, "All Things New." Just think about all the new things in scripture: new creation, new song, new thing, new birth, new wine, new command, new covenant, new mind.

Maybe it's time for something new in your life. When your faith feels old, tired, and dusty, it's time for the new that Jesus brings. God takes newness to a whole other level.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Super-Sized Serving this August!

At Crossroads we are challenging our folks to a 31-day challenge. In the month of August, we are urging our congregation to serve someone each day in an intentional, non-routine way. It could be as simple as making a special effort to pick up that piece of litter in the grocery store parking lot. Or it could be something major like committing to foster a child. 

The point is this: each day, do some act of service that you would not ordinarily do--or become more intentional about a customary act of service. Tune in to the leadership of God's Spirit, and let him show you how acts of kindness make a difference. To help you think of ways to serve, both big and small, we have created a list.  

Get ready for your month of service. Here are some ways to prepare.
  • Print out the list of Super-Sized Serving ideas and check the ones you could do.
  • Put on your calendar some of the time intensive service opportunities, like volunteering at a charity.
  • Ask a friend or family member to join you on some of your serving "capers."
  • Set a daily reminder on your phone, so you will be tuned in for random acts of service.
  • Get creative and brainstorm with friends about ways to serve.
  • Get ready to have fun and see the Spirit of God at work!
Image may contain: 4 people, indoor

Super-Sized Serving Ideas


Super-Sized Serving Ideas for August, 2019


Get ready to have some fun serving others! This list provides some ideas to get you thinking about how you can make a difference in people’s lives. There are easy, quick ideas and big commitment ideas. We have made four categories to help you think about various places for serving. Let’s take the Love of Jesus to a whole new level. Find some way to serve every day this August!



Home

Do someone else’s chores.

Text a friend to say you are praying for them.

Pray for a missionary or missions agency.

Pray for someone who is not on your usual prayer list.

Keep an exchange student.

Foster a child.

Complete the “honey-do” item that you have avoided.

Pray for the first 5 people in your Facebook or Instagram feed.

Leave a love note for a family member.

Bring home fresh flowers.

Ask a family member, How can I pray for you?, and follow up.

Give opportunity for a family member to take a nap.

Let someone serve you who offers.

Clean out the refrigerator.

Weed the flower bed.

Sweep the garage.



Neighborhood

Bake a pie for a neighbor.

Mow for a vacationing neighbor.

Babysit for a friend.

Offer to tutor others on tech issues.

Invite a neighbor to go for a walk.

Play music at a nursing home.

Take a friend to coffee and really listen to their story.

Host a “get to know you” meal for your neighbors.

Listen intently to a kid’s stories.

Sign up to coach a sport.

Host a bingo night at a nursing home.

Visit someone in the hospital.

Take meal to someone in need.

Prepare care packages for college students.

Harvest your garden and share with a neighbor.

Order a pizza (and pay for it) for a friend close by or far away.

Sign up to be a “lunch buddy” at a local school.



Public

Help a stranger haul groceries.

Buy a meal for a stranger at a fast food restaurant.

Visit a prison.

Leave a thank you note for a waiter.

Search Craigslist for someone in need and help them out (don’t go alone).

Sell a luxury item and donate the money to someone in need.

Teach a class about your passion at your church building.

Art, tech, business, fashion, d├ęcor, carpentry, etc.

Keep a cooler of water bottles in your car on a hot day; give them away to thirsty people.

Post on Facebook, “How can I help you?” and follow up with the comments.

Pick up (a piece of) trash in a parking lot.

Help someone holding a cardboard sign.

Read to children at a Public school.

Help serve a meal or snack for teachers and staff.

Provide gift bags for teachers or parents.

Provide gift bags for first responders.

Walk your dog among people (e.g. college students) who miss their pets at home.

Deliver Meals on Wheels

Join in a workday

Piedmont Land Conservancy, Mountains to Sea Trail, your neighborhood, Habitat for Humanity, Camp Carefree



Charity

Make a craft to sell for Operation Christmas Child shipping.

Buy some food to donate.

Harvest your garden and share with a ministry.


Join the bone marrow registry. www.Bethematch.org.

Mentor an ex-prisoner through Prison Fellowship.


Go through your closet and donate your unneeded clothes to LOT 2540.

Donate blood, or platelets, or double red.

Meet a need for your favorite charity.

Volunteer for a local helping organization:

LOT 2540, Good Samaritan, Operation XCEL, Library, Hospital, Nursing home

Play in a charity golf tournament.

Compete in a 5k charity race.

Help with a game night at Hannah’s Haven.





Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Moon Landing Nostalgia

I remember where I was 50 years ago, when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. It was late at night, and my parents insisted that we children stay up late to watch this historic event.

Just a few months before my family had visited Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The whole place was buzzing with anticipation and excitement. We walked through the tall building where the rockets were built. Our tour guide pointed out a huge sign on the ceiling of the facility, saying that the sign was the size of a football field. As a 6-year-old, I doubted that the sign could be that big. I also remember seeing a big digital clock counting down the days and hours until the next launch. The space program made a big impression on me. I proudly brought home a souvenir wall pennant from that visit, and I think I still have it somewhere...

It was an exciting time in our country. We were all cheering on the Apollo program, united in the spirit of exploration. Yes, we were racing against the Soviets, but everyone hoped for the safe voyage for our astronauts. I don't remember that particular launch. I don't remember the splashdown. But I do remember sitting in my den, late at night, with friends visiting from out-of-state, watching the historic step.

I didn't realize how significant that time was, when all our nation, and all the world, watched together as peaceful history was made.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Patriotism and Perfection

Patriotism seems to be suspect these days.

There has never been a perfect government on earth. Some governments are better than others, but none is perfect. That's because human governments are run by humans. Our selfish, arrogant, blaming, judgmental natures come through every time and mess things up. The best we humans can do is anticipate the bad actors and plan accordingly. And by the way, we are all potentially bad actors, especially when we are entrusted with power.

Our imperfect founders realized that only flawed people are available to lead any nation. They set up a system whereby no single person or group of people can run the whole government. The hope was that unwise or selfish policy would be avoided when responsibility is shared. With our Constitution, there are three branches of federal government, each with its own limited responsibility.

Unfortunately, these checks and balances have not prevented unwise government policies and actions. It took far too long for the U.S. to allow Americans of African descent to have rights equal to those of European descent. The battle continues today. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920. Agreements with Native Americans have been virtually worthless as our country has shoved that population into scattered reservations.

This country is flawed. It has a history of abusing its power and its citizens. It has rewarded those who exploit others. It has meddled in the affairs of virtually every other country of the world. It has fostered in its citizens a sense of pride and arrogance.

But...

The United States stands for high ideals that are worth celebrating:
  • The promise of opportunity, that lures people around the world to risk life and limb to enter our borders
  • The freedom to choose one's career, art, entertainment, religion
  • The hope that injustices may be corrected
  • The context of lawfulness in which one's life and property are generally safe
  • The belief that a population can be trusted with freedom
  • The incentive to be creative and reap reward for innovation
I do love this country. It is the only place I have ever lived. I choose to love this imperfect country, partly because it's all I know, and partly because its system offers the hope that wrongs can be made right.

I don't worship the United States, but I choose to be patriotic. Patriotism does not require perfection. This Independence Day let's celebrate this imperfect land of freedom and opportunity!

I'm trusting Jesus for the perfection piece.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Purpose of Trees

God did some spectacular setting up in the Garden of Eden. Somewhere in the creation process he made a garden, especially for Adam. In it he put some trees. Of course we know about the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Less well known is the Tree of Life, also in the middle of the garden. These were among all the trees that God put there.

But notice why God made these trees: "And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food" (Genesis 2:9).

Trees have a purpose. Trees are pleasing to the eye. I love to see the green leaves of an oak tree against a deep blue sky, leaves rustling in the breeze on a summer day. In the fall this same stand of trees turns golden, orange, and red, giving depth to the woods that changes with the hourly angle of the sun. When these trees lose their leaves, their lines show the simplicity and complexity of their skeletons. These lines gain depth again when snow marks them so carefully and individually.

Yes, trees are pleasing to the eye.

Trees are also good for food. We harvest their fruit and enjoy the sweetness of peaches and apples. Other trees are also useful. We can use their leaves for compost, we can cut the trees and mill them for lumber. We can hang swings from their branches.

Trees are beautiful, and trees are useful. Notice that beauty comes before utility in Genesis. We like to skip the beauty, and go straight to the utility. After all, what use is beauty?

Beauty is all around us. But we need to recognize it, encounter it, and let it transform us. God made this world both functional and beautiful. Among all God's creatures, only we are able to recognize this beauty. We have the capacity to engage with beauty, but so often we just ignore it.

Pondering, considering, absorbing, basking in, rejoicing in, resting in--this is how we encounter beauty. And this encounter transforms our souls.

Do we have time for that? When no one has time for beauty, we erode away into nothing but production. And there is so much more to life than production.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Anxiety: My Worry Box

I have found it. And I have opened it. It was scary. But that has changed everything.

You see, I have this imaginary box. In it I keep all manner of scary things, things that promise me harm. It throbs with foreboding. It rumbles. It keeps calling out to me with veiled threats.

So what is in this box? In general terms, this box contains things that will harm me unless I do something. Maybe I need to save money, fix something, do maintenance, have a difficult conversation, get disciplined, get specific direction from God, read a book, follow up with someone, plan something.

This box holds all those things that steal my joy. I know they are in there, but I dare not open the box. I could never cope with the crushing weight of so many problems and situations crying out for action. I keep the lid on the box, knowing that's the only way I can be safe. I preserve myself by ignoring the box, hoping it will just go away. Or at least be quiet for a while.

It's like the monster under the bed. Its existence haunts me. It rules my soul. Sounds from within it get my attention. It reminds me that I certainly must be scared. Now. I dare not let my guard down. I could not handle the catastrophe that would ensue. I would surely die, or be broke, or friendless, unemployed, miserable, a failure, humiliated, worthless.

Even when I deal with one of the items, I merely crack the box open enough to pull it out, refusing to look at the countless other burdens preying on my mind.

But now, with some considerable courage, I have dared to recognize this box for what it is. It is a huge deception, a bluff. When I do look in the box to see all those menacing problems, I realize that there is very little substance there. I look at the problems one by one and see that they are mostly empty. At worst they are complicated, but never unmanageable. Almost always they are no actual threat to me. When a truly unmanageable problem arises, I can trust that God is already handling it.

"He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord." Psalm 112:7.

Now I can laugh at the box. I can experience real joy. I can face those things that threatened me. I can stop putting off the tasks that I dread. They will not crush me.

What a relief!

What's in your box?


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Abortion Conversation

It's heating up now. Abortion has come front and center as states pass abortion restrictions, and the U.S. Supreme Court appears to have swung to the right. Other states have passed laws guaranteeing abortion rights. The NY Times compares the new laws in this article.

While many states legislate to restrict abortions, rallies across the nation this week called for abortions rights.

There are good-hearted, compassionate people on both sides of the debate. I know them. I have talked with them. Many pro-abortion folks care deeply about the young pregnant woman who feels trapped and confused. Many anti-abortion people recognize the fetus as human life and believe it should be protected as such.

So, both sides care about people. Unfortunately, many on both sides see the debate so clearly that they cannot imagine another point of view. In fact, they think, those with the opposing point of view are motivated by hate, ignorance, political agenda, or self-righteousness. Such people don't even deserve a hearing. They are stupid. We should silence them. They are the enemy.

The sides of the abortion debate seem more and more hostile to each other. The debate has become more about winning than truth or justice. Each side thinks that the other is unreasonable. No one is listening. Facts are used as weapons to beat down the opponent, while other facts are ignored.

If both sides really care about people, shouldn't we be able to have this conversation with more civility?

Here are some observations I have about the debate.
  • Abortion is a moral issue, too often hijacked for political purposes.
  • While both sides say the issue is simple, it is actually complex.
  • Stances for or against abortion rights always include some motive, often obscure.
  • One's views on abortion are informed by experience, beliefs, traditions, culture.
  • The Bible does not directly forbid abortion.
  • The life of a fetus is distinct from that of the mother. It is human life.
  • The abortion process legally requires that this life be terminated in the womb before the tissue is removed. Because of this requirement, abortion is different from other surgical procedures.
  • The abortion option only arises because something has gone wrong. A woman did not intend to become pregnant. A fetus appears to have abnormalities. A woman was raped. A woman doesn't want more children. Birth control failed. A woman fears the consequences of disclosing her pregnancy.
  • There are different ways to measure when life begins: at conception, at the first beat of the heart, at the first breath. The most visible of these is the first breath.
I believe abortion is wrong, but I don't want to demonize people who disagree with me. I do want to persuade them.





Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Artificial Meat

I have seen a lot of news lately about "meat" produced from plant-based products. I'm not sure what to think about that. Maybe it will taste just like real meat, although the meat substitutes I have tried have been rubbery and tasteless.

But what has spurred on all this research? A lot more people are becoming vegetarian and vegan these days. I think that the market is responding to demand.

What troubles me is the underlying assumptions about the morality of meat consumption. This is probably one of those things that I'll never understand and I'm sure my musings are unlikely to change anyone's mind.

Anyway, it seems to me that some believe it is a noble thing to avoid meat consumption. One celebrity declared that he would eat nothing that has a face. And so faceless creatures are less valuable than those with eyes? How can we arbitrarily say that? And does a shrimp have a face? What about potatoes? They have eyes.

One thing we fail to realize is this: For us to eat, something has to die. It may be a plant. It may be an animal. But something has to die. For us to live, something must die.

Chew on that.

Of course the Holy Grail of food production may be creating nutritious food from chemicals. Maybe food engineers are working to create that food which requires nothing to die.

But I think God knew what he was doing when he designed this place. I'm always skeptical of our "improvements."


Monday, May 6, 2019

Legalized Abuse

How could our laws be so bad? Today I read that it is perfectly legal in N.C. to tamper with another person's drink in a public place. Seriously? See the article. Further, it is legal to have non-consensual sex with an intoxicated person who willingly became intoxicated.

Who wrote these laws? How barbaric are we? How can we not respect the dignity of others? Finally some victims of sexual assault are sounding the alarm, calling our attention to these wretched laws. Sadly many have been harmed, and only after the victims cry out do we see these twisted rules of engagement. These victims sought justice, but learned that no crimes had been committed.

We must do better.

This makes me wonder what other laws allow the powerful to exploit the powerless. Please, let's find these codified injustices and fix them! Thanks to the courageous victims who have spoken up.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Jeopardy and Life

James Holzhauer is on a roll. He now has 21 victories on Jeopardy with winnings exceeding $1.6 million. He approaches the game with a unique strategy, which allows him to wager more money on the "daily doubles." He ignores the traditional game strategy by jumping from category to category, following no particular pattern, except going for the bigger prizes early.

His approach seems so obvious now. Why did no one think of that before? Of course it helps that he has quick reflexes and knows everything about everything.

But Holzhauer was willing to rethink the game. He does not let traditions and conventions constrain him. His fresh approach has probably changed the game forever.

I need to rethink some things too. I need to question my assumptions and consider what my real goals are. There are better ways to work, play, relax, plan, eat, travel, read, pray...

I can't stay stuck in the old way of thinking. This is what makes life get better and better.




Thursday, May 2, 2019

Speaking Truth to Power

Can we hold leaders accountable?

In Acts 23, Paul stands before a Jewish court to defend himself. In his opening remarks, he declares that he has faithfully followed God's instructions. The high priest immediately orders that Paul be struck on the mouth. 



Paul rebukes the high priest saying, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"

Apparently Paul did not realize this was the high priest. Those who struck Paul rebuke him: "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Paul quickly repents, confessing that he did not know this was the high priest. Paul quotes a verse from Exodus, "Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people" (Exodus 22:28).

This account seems very authentic. I can imagine Paul reacting just as he did. He did insult the high priest, but he also pointed out the high priest's hypocrisy. Is he repenting of the insult or the statement of truth?

Because we tend to respect people in authority, we also want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Often this benefit becomes ignoring or excusing their wrong behavior. This pattern then allows the leader to abuse authority more and more. No one speaks up because no one else speaks up. 

This leads to toxic cultures in corporations, communities, churches, and nations. It is a culture of oppression, in which power goes unchecked. 

And then someone dares to speak out. Often that first voice pays dearly for speaking truth. Then others come forth. And we have a #MeToo movement, or the uncovering of a pedophilia culture, or a politician in crisis mode.

We should respect our leaders. But we should also speak truth. We need to call out hypocrisy. We need to hold leaders accountable. No position places a person above the rules of morality. 

But somehow that is a mistake that we humans make again and again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Wrestling with Baptism

How many baptisms are there?

I have noticed many reference to "the baptism of John" in the New Testament. Jesus talks about it (Matthew 21:25); Peter talks about it (Acts 1:22); Paul talks about it (Acts 19:4). Somehow this baptism of John represents something different from the baptism of Jesus.

So, why does this baptism stuff matter anyway? Why did Jesus, Peter, and Paul all make a big deal of it? Here is my understanding of the various baptisms.

First, there is the baptism of ritual cleansing. This baptism is not mentioned in the New Testament, but it is a key part of the religious context of Jesus' day. Dozens of baptismal fonts graced the south side of the Temple Mount when the Lord came to Jerusalem. For Jews to worship at the Jewish feasts, they had to be ritually cleansed by immersion. Priests baptized the faithful just before they entered the Temple grounds, cleansing them before they made their sacrifices. This baptism made them outwardly acceptable for worship.

Baptismal fonts, called Mikvehs, at the south entrance to the
Temple Mount

John (the Baptist) probably baptized thousands coming to the feasts, year after year. He may also have served as the supervisor for a staff of other priests who actually baptized. He was likely known as John the Baptist while working at the Temple.

Being the prophet he was, John recognized the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. The priests schemed with the Romans to keep their place of privilege and honor, lording it over the ordinary Jews.

When John had enough of this abusive system he went rogue. He went out into the wilderness, to the Jordan river, to the place where Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. There he introduced another kind of baptism.

The second kind of baptism is the baptism of repentance. For John, it was not enough to be ritually cleansed. He called people to commit to turn from their sins. The baptism indicated their determination to be obedient to God, not complicit with the corrupt religious system. He was a famous prophet, leading a kind of loyal opposition. He was loyal to God, opposing the religious establishment. No wonder thousands went out to the desert to follow him. This movement prepared the way for Jesus.

Information about baptismal fonts near the Southern Steps of the Temple
Then Jesus introduced the third kind of baptism, the baptism of resurrection. When people followed Jesus, they received more than a determination to do better. They received new life. The old sinful nature was declared dead. They were raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

So baptism was practiced long before John and Jesus. But they gave the rite new meaning, deepening its significance. What baptism did you receive? It makes a difference.

And then, there is the baptism of the Holy Spirit...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hebrew Poetry

On our pilgrimage to Israel last month, I asked our tour guide every question I could think of. As we discussed human language, he described Hebrew as a "poetic" language. This was a new concept for me. English, he said, has such a large number of words (according to oxforddictionaries.com there are about 228,000) and Hebrew has much fewer (Google estimates 45,000).

With such a vast vocabulary, English speakers and writers can express ideas with a great deal of precision. We can differentiate between a chuckle and a chortle, or a wrist and a hand. With such a high level of precision, English often leaves little to imagination or interpretation. We often know exactly what a writer means, and the meaning is very narrow.

With fewer words in Hebrew, speakers of that language make statements that are often left to interpretation. When you look up Hebrew words in a lexicon, you find wide ranges of meaning. For example one Hebrew word (nephesh) can mean soul, person,or life. Similarly the word for "spirit" can also mean breath or wind.

The Hebrew language leans heavily on context. Who is speaking? What are the circumstances? What might the speaker mean? What is the speaker talking about? Who is he talking to?

Unfortunately we read the Old Testament like English literature. We expect precision. Translators often give a precise meaning, when the author may have intended multiple meanings. This robs the reader of the opportunity to think or puzzle.

So now I know that Hebrew is a poetic language, and I'll try to keep that in mind. The meaning might not be as simple as I assume.

I can be sure that there's more than meets the eye.

A sign along the Israel/Lebanon border, written in 
Hebrew, English, and Arabic

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Power of a Pilgrimage

Lisa and I went on a pilgrimage this month to Israel, along with 28 other folks from NC. As we prepared for the trip, people told us about how life-changing the trip would be. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've read and studied about Israel for decades. I've seen pictures. I've read commentaries. I've talked to folks who have been. How much could I really be missing?

Our Stokesdale group poses on the Mount of Olives with 
Jerusalem behind us.
The adventure began as we travel-weary pilgrims boarded our bus in Tel Aviv, having flown safely from NC to Germany to Israel. Our tour guide greeted us by saying, "Welcome home." I'm sure he says that to every group, but his salutation set the tone for our experience.  I expect to blog about many details of the trip, but for now I want to reflect on my overall impressions.

Religious pilgrimage has a long, rich history. There is no substitute for breathing the air, walking the landscape, touching the building blocks. Yes, a lot can be learned about Israel from books, pictures, and videos. Similarly a lot can be learned about swimming from books, pictures, and videos. But it's not the same as being in the water.

The Judean desert, seen from the fortress Masada,
with the Dead Sea in the background, right.
Ok, so now I'm a believer in the Power of a Pilgrimage. When I read the Gospels now, I can feel it. I know what it means to come to go from Galilee to Jerusalem. I know how desolate the Judean desert is--even today. I have seen the Galilean hillsides blooming with wild mustard plants. I have looked across the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum, seeing Tiberias in the distance.
Wild mustard plants cover the landscape around the Sea of Galilee, 
seen in the background.

Jesus saw all of this. His context informed all aspects of his ministry.

I feel like I'm only starting to get it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How to Do Lent

I'm no expert on Lenting, but I have done a lot of thinking about the season of Lent this year. It is the 40 day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which is March 6. I shared reflections last month on why Christians celebrate Lent.

Traditionally people choose to give up something during Lent. This season of sacrifice or self-denial allows followers of Jesus to focus more intentionally on spiritual matters. Any temporary change in our regular habits can help us pay more attention to God. When we give up something, we replace it with a time of prayer, meditation, service, or scripture reading.

With that in mind, here is a list of suggestions for ways to experience Lent.

Fast from:
  • sweets
  • beef
  • pork
  • chicken 
  • fast food
  • all food one day/week
  • coffee
  • caffeine 

Abstain from:
  • social media
  • television
  • favorite TV show
  • Netflix and all streaming
  • TV sports (beware March Madness...)
  • certain phone apps

Other ideas:
  • quietly watch the sun rise every day
  • eat only rice for lunch (the primary food for much of the world's population)
  • read two chapters of the Gospels daily, to read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by Easter
  • study 30 minutes a day to learn something that equips you to build the kingdom
  • treat someone else instead of treating yourself (e.g. buy coffee for someone else, not yourself)
  • write a letter every day to someone you want to catch up with

Remember that your Lent observance should be a stretch. It should be something that is a challenge for you. You can keep this practice up for 40 days, but not probably not forever.

Lent is a spiritual interval when you stretch and grow closer to the Lord. Get ready for Easter.



Monday, February 18, 2019

Oscar Cynicism

This Sunday will be the 91st Academy Awards. The hype has been going on for weeks. I even went to see a movie because it was nominated for Best Picture. (The Green Book is really a great movie. I'm amazed that Aragorn could grow up like that.)

The Academy sometimes looks like a huge mutual admiration society, as they fawn over one another. They created this Academy and the awards themselves, generations ago. It began as a quiet ceremony of recognition among peers. And then once it was televised, the whole world could watch the festivities. The ceremony and its build up has become a boon for Hollywood. They hype up their own industry and the public willingly goes along for the ride. TV networks sell ads, and box office sales jump with Oscar nods.

But sometimes it feels like the little people get way too excited about these celebrities. Do we really want to watch a bunch of pretenders congratulate each other for being great pretenders?

Apparently we do.

In our entertainment-driven society, we feed on this stuff. And the celebrities laugh all the way to the bank.

I can appreciate good acting. I just think that our culture values entertainment more than it should.

Image result for academy awards

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Open Your Mind

After Jesus rose from the dead, he taught his disciples. There was so much they needed to know. According to Luke (24:45), Jesus "opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures."

Apparently the disciples' minds were "closed." There was something inhibiting their comprehension of the truth in the Old Testament. They could read it, but they couldn't "get" it. They had probably been reading the books of the Old Testament all their lives. They may have thought that they understood it all. But they didn't. It took Jesus himself to open their minds.

Jesus has the power to open minds. He can open our minds to understand the Scriptures. He can also open our minds in any area where we need better understanding. A.W. Tozer said that he would read Shakespeare on his knees. We need understanding. We need Jesus to open our minds.

Where do you need Jesus to open your mind?
  • that difficult relationship
  • that important decision
  • that grudge
  • that addiction
  • your attitude
  • understanding those idiots who keep annoying you

Your mind is closed. So is mine. We don't know that our minds are closed about those things until Jesus opens them. What we do know is that our minds are closed somewhere. It takes the power of Jesus to reveal it.

Lord, Open our minds!


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Waste Not

After Jesus fed the 5000, he instructed his disciples to collect the leftover food. He had so multiplied the five loaves and two fish, that there were 12 basketfuls of uneaten food. Jesus wanted to make sure that it was all gathered. "Let nothing be wasted," he says (John 6:12).

That's one detail I had never noticed before. I wonder why that mattered. Why is Jesus concerned about waste?
Did Jesus want to make sure they knew how abundantly he provided in the miracle?
Did Jesus plan to share the food with people in a nearby village?
Did the disciples need to save the food for their own consumption?
Was Jesus teaching an indirect lesson on stewardship?

We never learn what happened to the 12 baskets. Maybe Jesus sent them home with needy families. Maybe they gave the food away in a neighboring town. Maybe the disciples kept the food for their own use.

When Jesus does something significant, he wants us to recognize his work. His work is never wasted, but sometimes we forget to look around and see the details of his goodness. We shouldn't let the details of his work go unnoticed, be wasted.

Gather it all up. Let nothing be wasted.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Scary Headline

I just saw a headline saying that China is ahead of the U.S. in developing artificial intelligence weapons.

What?

I imagine some computer deciding how to use weapons to kill people and destroy things. This sounds way too much like The Matrix. Computer driven tanks or planes could engage each other in battle, and we could just watch it all play out.

This also sounds like Robo-Cop. Some artificial intelligence machine could be used to take out enemies, both military and political. How can you survive interrogation by a computer? How could we let military decisions be made by any non-human entity?

Maybe I'm exaggerating the threat of these weapons. Or maybe these kinds of weapons should be banned like chemical weapons. It seems like the risks are far too great for us to start heading down this path.

If the Chinese are ahead of the U.S. in developing these weapons, then that means we are developing them too. Maybe we should rethink that.

Monday, January 28, 2019

What Are Borders For?

It seems like everyone can agree that we need immigration reform. We need to control our borders somehow. But what are borders for?

When civilizations were small pockets of people separated by vast wilderness or bodies of water, borders were not necessary. After these pockets grew large enough to bump into each other, borders naturally developed. 

Borders indicate which population group has claim to a given piece of land. That claim allows them to farm the land, mine the land, use its water, and live there. When two or more peoples claim the same piece of land, the dispute often is settled by war. The stronger group typically wins.

Borders, then, separate neighboring peoples. Borders identify by location "us" and "them." Many times the different people groups look different, and can be identified by personal appearance as well as location.

Borders serve as a way of sorting out the world's population, a kind of filing system to know who belongs with whom.

Historically many borders have been marked by barriers. Hadrian's Wall and the Great Wall of China were both built to keep out troublemakers who were "them." 

In modern times we think of the Berlin Wall, which was designed to keep people in, not out. 

The people in power, the ones with authority, and guns, bricks and masons get to decide where the walls go and whether the walls keep people in or out. Either way, the walls are used for restricting the movement of some people. Certain people are prevented from going where the people in power don't want them to go.

It's easy to get all self-righteous and say that all these walls should be dismantled. But I live in a house with walls. The walls help keep me warm and cool at appropriate times. But the walls also keep the wrong people away from my stuff and my family. These walls are a kind of border for me.

I bet you live in a house with walls, too.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Instant Replay and Life

I remember football commentators singing the praises of a marvelous new technology: instant replay. Right after the ref's whistle, TV viewers could see the play that just happened. Of course back in the '70s, the picture was grainy, and the refs themselves couldn't see the replay, and we were just happy that we could see that amazing play again.

Today instant replay is high def, from countless angles, and can be used to reverse a call. (Unfortunately for Saints fans, it can't be used to reverse a no-call, at least not yet.) The replay is instant, and can be slowed down, reversed, and zoomed. Analysts can study that play every way imaginable. In many cases viewers can know exactly when the ball hit the ground, whether the ball has broken the plane, and when the player is down-by-contact. We feel omniscient. We get to second-guess the refs, and call them appropriate names.

We don't have instant replay for our daily lives, but we can take time to think about and reflect on life's experiences. Sometimes you can't understand a football play until you see it again. Sometimes you can't understand life until you think about it. It's like slow motion for your life.

Obviously you can get too introspective. But, as Plato says, "An unexamined life is not worth living."

You can also use scripture to get different "camera angles" on your life. Different Bible passages look at the same concept from different perspectives. For example, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all talk about the marriage relationship. They all speak the truth about marriage, but from different points of view. When you put all the angles together and look at your life,  you get a more clear picture of the truth.

We can learn from life when we think about it. Reflection from the scripture can really help us see the truth.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Teenage Smirks, American Indians, and Viral Conspiracy

What makes a video go viral? Any web content can "go viral" when people see it and can't help but share it. Then their followers agree, and they also share it. The item becomes well known because lots of people agree that it's worth seeing or hearing. 

But some content reaches the attention of the masses in spite of its lameness. Such content may be boring, confusing, or pointless. Yet somehow, everyone is posting about it. When you see this stuff, you wonder, "Did I miss something?"

For example, imagine a video of a teenager standing in a crowd while a native American bangs on a drum while invading the teen's personal space. The teen smirks. The Indian bangs and chants. And then...nothing. That's it. The most compelling element of the encounter is awkwardness. 

How can something so dull go viral? Well, throw in some MAGA hats, and preface the encounter with jeers from some Black Hebrew Israelites, and you have...well you still don't have much.

It turns out that there are some Twitter accounts that work together to make certain posts appear to be blowing up the internet. These accounts create a feedback loop that grows larger and larger, until their chosen posts account for significant internet traffic. People look because it appears that everyone else is looking. Then "real news" reports on it because it has so much traction.

So, who is creating these fake virus conditions? How do they choose to which stories to promote? How are they spinning these stories?

Here's another question: How gullible are we? When we see/hear/read something on the internet, do we come to our own conclusions, or believe "everyone else" who says it is shocking, or enraging, or whatever?

If we are this gullible, then Russians could take advantage of it, stir up American rage, and divide us bitterly. Sound familiar?