Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Why are we so survival-of-the-fittest? We imagine and pretend with each other that we are an enlightened people. I am not saying there isn’t a light. There clearly is a light. Pretending there isn’t a light is half the problem. What I am saying is that proximity or conversation about the light is not the same as having it. We shape and form our theorems for life after our limited experiences imagining that we are giving to ourselves and others a Martin Luther-like-truth that will “set us free” but our broken half-truth has a shelf life of about 20 minutes. We think of clever ways to say things that mean nothing and make no real difference.

The tell-tale sign that we are not enlightened is that we hide our pain. Why is that so tell-tale? Because we are afraid that these “enlightened people” will throw the weaker version of ourselves under the buss “if they only knew.” The trouble is that it is just true. So what do we do? We do the worst thing possible. We form our own leper camps where all of the other similarly broken people come together to tell each other that we are not broken or that the non-broken people are just bastards for judging us. Let me disrobe the king’s new clothes on that one! We are all broken. There are no un-broken people judging us. We are our own worse critiques and we know we are broken. Getting around other broken people is still totally survival-of-the-fittest. Why? Because we want to secretly compare ourselves with the worst in others and say “see, I am not that bad.” And even this statement has a sliding scale of meaning. We could mean “See, we all suck therefore on a curve if we all suck then we all must be doing OK,” or we mean “Compared to the degree that you suck, I don’t look so bad.” You know what? There is no curve to brokenness. You are either broken or you are not, and everyone is broken.

So what about the light then? I will tell you about the light. Have you ever broken a bone? Imagine if you had convinced yourself you were OK and kept using that bone. I did this. I was in High School and I was catching a football and I broke my finger. My first reaction was, “Oh my gosh! I broke my finger. HELP!” My next reaction was classic, “MAN UP!” and so I grabbed the goofy broken finger and pull it further out of socket and tried to pop it back in. A few days later when the pain was unbearable, I went to the doctor and found out that my little self-adjusting fix had ruined a tendon in my finger. I wasn’t enlightened. The “answer” was not “within me all along.” If ever there was an answer in me it was my first response to the situation… “HELP!” To this day it affects my ability to play musical instruments. Sadly I have learned to live with it. When I play, I don’t have the hand strength to play really long without that hand going numb. Whenever it gets cold outside my finger aches. I will forever pay for my foolish self deception and classic ignorance in thinking I could do this on my own or fix the mess I was in.

We all tend to play a role in our demise. More importantly we play a role in our recovery. But you know what… recovery sucks too. Why? Think of a burn victim who fell asleep with a cigarette. Over the months of recovery as their body is replacing the destroyed skin, repairing nerves and the bandages are being replaced that person is going through unimaginable pain. Burning to death would suck. Recovery sucks too. What is worse? Who cares? Do you really want to live a life that keeps putting you to bed with cigarettes?

I think it is time to kill the survivalists inside us. You know that if you are honest you would last about 24 hours at best lost in the woods. The survivalist mentality is like a couch-potato telling other spectators how that last play should have been run. It is complete fiction. You are not a coach. You are not a quarterback. You are not a running back. You are not a doctor. And if you are then you know that you are simply qualified to “try,” brave enough to “try.” If you are, then maybe you are actually acknowledging that brokenness needs healing and not left to turn green and kill us slowly.

Like the burn victim at the hospital, we need a team of doctor surrounding us, helping us out. Gathering around us other burn victim who are all falling asleep with cigarettes is foolish. We are only in survival mode at best.

Enough is enough! Identifying the fact that you are broken is step one. Step two is getting help. Do me a favor. If you are like me and you have a bookshelf, then find all of your self-help books and rip out three quarters of the pages. What is left is a generous approximation of the value of all of your books put together. You were not meant to do this alone. Let me say that again. If you are trying to fix yourself on your own, then know beyond all hope that your plan will fail. Remember the last time you tried to fix some addiction or obsession you have on your own? Smoking, drinking, pornography, lust, OSD, etc. Go ahead and give up. It will be your best next step.

When I was younger I had a friend who had a lot of pain from his relationship with his dad. It was poring over into all of his relationships. He was so angry at his father and at what he was becoming as a result of his emotionally abused history. But he was a smart guy. He started to see how he was self destructing in the rest of his life. He acknowledged that he was broken and now causing his own pain. After praying together and talking together I felt like Jesus gave me some insight into both events in his past as well as perspectives he was carrying. One intense night, we dedicated ourselves to going to war over his life. He wanted it back and was ready to do whatever it took to get out from under the crushing pressure of his brokenness. Sometimes we have to get that desperate. This is because of the self-protecting nature of our truly unenlightened current reality.

We held a funeral that night. After hours and hours of sharing his pain with me, crying and yelling, punching at the air, laying on the floor and weeping, we eventually found ourselves in my backyard. I pointed at this spot on the ground and said, “Dude, your old self is buried right there, in the ground. That isn’t you anymore. It’s time to say a few words over your old self and put it to rest. But you don’t have to be nice.” I started us off, “Well, you moron. I am so glad you are dead. There is nothing more in life I want for my friend. I hate you and love that you are gone. Good Bye!” He started out, “You suck. You are week and I am glad you are gone. I want nothing to do with you.” By the end he had picked up any stone he could find and started pummeling his old-self grave! By the end he felt free from needing to be that version of himself. I shared a few thoughts with him, “Now you have a choice. From here on out you can be what you want to be, the best version of yourself. And if you decide to go back and dig up that rotting corpse you can. You can throw that smelling decomposing corpse on your shoulders and carry it around again, but that will be your choice. You are not subject to that ‘thing’ anymore. And if you do ever find yourself in that position then just go bury it again, immediately! That is not you anymore.”
I truly hate the world we live in right now that wants to hide our brokenness, or worse pretend it isn’t brokenness, or throw each other under the buss when we reveal our brokenness. I just want to be real. Not a jaded “we are all broken” kind-of-real that doesn’t take a single real step toward getting out from under the mess. I am talking about a “real” that is really ready to face the issues. If you are hurting, then come with me to the hospital. I think I am done convincing people that they need the hospital. I am fine with telling them where it is (i.e. get into a real church if your church isn’t more like a real hospital. Jesus and his people will help you. If you church is a club, then feel free to enjoy the club, just don’t replace the hospital with a club when what you really need is a hospital. If your church ignors brokenness or leaves you simply and acknowledging that “everyone is broken” but doesn’t do anything about it, here is some advice: stop wasting time and get a new church.)

It is time to face the fact that we need the light. We need Jesus. What he has been offering for 2000 years is needed more than ever. We are just goofy people that like to smoke and fall asleep with our cigarettes. We know it hurts us. We know we hurt others. We risk getting burned and when we do, we hide our burns. These risks are a waste! The costs are too high! We are too busy basking in our ability to break ourselves and others.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Christian Reality TV

ABC News has taken notice. On Sunday night they showed a news piece about two Christian reality-tv shows that are happy to make use of the medium but in a counter-cultural manner:

The Uprising:


On the show they talked with "cast members" about how even though they are willing to be real about heavy issues and conflict that they feel that people will benefit from shows that do not focus on rejection or disappointment but rather decisions and conflict resolution that is influenced by the reality of their faith.

So, in the spectrum of reality-tv, less "Roadrules" and more "Extreme Home Makeover" or "Biggest looser."

As a complete aside, I had no idea that Christian Hosoi had become a born-again Christian. I recall him skating when I was younger, pulling McTwists on a vert ramp with his long hair flowing in the wind. I recall him being pretty dramatic, into drugs and at one point running from the law. He even invented the move the "Christ air" which maybe got me praying for him originally. But it appears that durring prison and not too long ago he got saved. I remember praying for him as a kid. I was never a skater, but I loved their skills and their style and had a good handful of friends who were living that life. I remember thinking as a kid there is nothing so raw as people litterally sitting on a curb and talking about real life.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Foreign Policy and the Elliptical Trainer

The extent of my involvement in the foreign policy of the United States has been limited to simply not tarnishing the reputation of America while being some obnoxious version of the grand American stereotype while abroad. Other than that I haven't done a significant amount of international travel in a number of years and so I am less likely to speak intelligently about the topic from a first hand perspective. Having said that, because of what is going on in the Middle East (specifically between Gaza and Israel) as well as fairly recent announcements by president -elect Barack Obama, I thought I would post a few thoughts.

Foreign Policy and the Gym

Recently, I was at the gym trying to get back into my workout, which I have been nearly entirely absent from since last Thanksgiving. This mostly consists of running on an elliptical trainer for 30 minutes over lunch, listening to music (lately that means worship music by: Tim Hughes and Josh Baldwin) while watching -slash- reading the closed captioning on Fox New and CNN (which happen to be two channels right next to each other on the TV connected to the elliptical trainer.) I switch back and forth and watch for anything new. Fox has a neat show called “live desk” which riffles through the latest at light speed so they can offer a 20,000 foot view of anything current in a timely manner, while CNN does a lot of political interviews and commentary. The topic on everyone's political mind: foreign policy.

For the uninitiated, if you followed the campaign agenda of Barack Obama on a number of political topics, a big one was U.S. Foreign Policy and Iraq. The popular phrase throughout the campaign was that we needed an “exit strategy for getting out of Iraq.” Most of the folks I know personally want to get out of Iraq. Obama as recently as Thanksgiving has said it is a war he feels we didn't need to be involved in.

Skip this next paragraph if you already know about the UN 18th Resolution on Iraq:

For the record, it was the U.N. who set the plan in motion to enter Iraq and unseat Sadam Hussein if he didn't allow unfettered access and compliance with U.N. requirements: it's all in the 18th U.N. resolution on Iraq. Unfortunately, the U.S., Spain and the UK were the lead partners on following through on that U.N. promise to Sadam and it was the rest of the U.N. that threw us under the buss... but I digress... go read about the 18th resolution if you want to validate this yourself.

No matter how we feel about the Iraq situation, Obama has said he wants a plan that focuses on an exit strategy and I think most people are ready for that mostly because they like the idea of getting out of Iraq. With regard to Israel, Obama just recently spoke up about that particular Middle East situation. It would seem that Obama, while generally and seemingly respectfully leaving foreign policy statements to the seated U.S. president, is willing to verbally condemn Hamas attacks on Israeli communities that boarder Gaza. Personally, I was glad to hear that.

Hamas and Israel: An Israeli Perspective

It is good that I listen to positive and uplifting worshipful music while I run. This is mostly due to the fact that if I was just simply watching the news, I think my workouts would end early mostly because of the depressing nature of the news on a regular basis. After a quick workout I head back to the showers and typically there is someone else getting ready to head back to work and we start up a little chat about work, or weather or whatever.

The other day I ended up chatting with this young guy who had spent the last five years in the New York City area but is actually from Tel Aviv, Israel. I politely asked if he had any friends in harms way during the current conflicts and he said that his friends and family, so far, were all safe. Fhew! i was glad to hear that. After a bit of chatting I could sense that he was reluctant to share his real feelings on the issue. This might have had something to do with the fact that the news always seems to report the fighting as if Israel is the aggressor. You hear stuff like, “The U.N. is considering sanctioning Israel for crimes against humanity for not allowing the Red Cross to pass into Gaza,” or “Israel was non-compliant with the U.N. cease-fire demands.” What you don't often hear is that the day the U.N. passed its little cease-fire resolution, Israel did cease-fire... until it was pummeled by 30 rockets from Hama terrorists in Gaza that morning, at which point it stopped the traffic across the boarder and sent solders into harms way on the ground in Gaza to deal with those sites were the rocket fire was launched. Once the boarders were opened again a Hamas “soldier” shot a rocket into a Red Cross aid truck killing the driver. At that point groups like the Red Cross stopped trying to cross into Gaza (this time without complaining about Israel stopping traffic.)

To my new friend at the gym I decided to lay my cards out for him:

“I am absolutely nowhere near having the right to any real opinion on what is going on over there. I feel bad for Israel. They are surrounded by Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as other groups who have unapologetically declared that Israel will be removed from the face of the earth. Why do their neighbors seem to have it in for them?”

My new friend seemed to breath a sigh of relief and relax just a little. He replied:

“I don't know. Nobody knows. This isn't a day where fighting might result in land-rights or the securing of some resource. There is nothing to gain. There is hate. And removing Hamas will not solve it. There are too many others filled with these same feelings about Israel. Remove one and another springs up.”

I felt pretty bad for this guy and that situation. People around the world can get pretty upset about Americans too, but most often it is just a prejudice stereotype that drives people to hate. If you think I am wrong, check out the online episode of the ABC show "What would you do?" about Americans visiting Paris. As a Christian, I understand the religious history behind the regional fighting. And while I believe that is still a factor, I think the average person mostly deals in stereotypes when they are dealing with that sort of categorical hate. Sadly, the same ignorant stereotyping exists generally for “all things spiritual” when the topic of the Middle East battles comes up. It goes something like this,

“See, this just proves that religion is good for nothing other than giving people a reason to hate the person who isn't like them.”

I know spiritual and non-spiritual people who over-identify with that stereotype as well while they both attempt to disassociate themselves from religion. Oddly enough, “spiritual” Christians do this because they generally believe christian + religious = bad, while they think they can identify with the person without faith by agreeing that christian + spiritual = good. The bottom line is that for most people without faith, there is only a semantic difference between spiritual and religious. If you are christian then you are likely spiritual or religious and christian + religious = christian + spiritual = bad. Why? because of this stereotype. I believe in my heart it is better to address the general problem with “stereotypes” rather than trying to convince someone christian + spiritual is different than christian + religious.

My opinion: stereotypes are good for one thing: humor. If we can't laugh at extreme and ridiculous examples of ourselves then we are taking ourselves too seriously. But outside of taking our self-righteousness down a peg, stereotyping is never good, in any other case. A few quick Christian facts to validate my point: the Russian language was first turned into a written language by a missionary ( a good thing); The Red Cross was pioneered by brave Christians willing to run out into battlefields in the middle of fighting to save peoples lives (also good); Some of the worlds most cherished art was commissioned by people of faith painting about Christian topics (a very good thing). I could go on.

This takes me to the entire Middle East and the fact that Obama's Foreign Policy will take its first steps there. Well-meaning guys like Nicholas D. Kristof (world traveler and op-ed / writter guy for the New York Times) in predicting the coming Foreign Policy of America under Obama have said stuff like affirming that he will get us out of Iraq, or incorrectly stating that Pakistan already has nuclear weapons, or that Obama will likely perform nation-building activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan including negotiating with the Taliban, rather than sending in more troops or dropping bombs on Taliban-infested communities. With regard to the situation in Gaza, he has said that the “Israeli assault in Gaza is likely to create more terrorists in the long run.” (There is that Israeli aggression perspective again) Surely these are the popular things to say, that fighting terrorists actually creates more terrorists. I am not sure what his proposed alternative is, but that is also not the point of why I am writing this. I would like to take a look at what Obama is actually saying about the Middle East.

Around this last Thanksgiving Barbara Walters interviewed Barack Obama. In that interview she asked a few questions about the Middle East. Specifically she ask about...


Obama replied that we need an exit strategy for Iraq, which he said must include establishing Iraq as a stable element in the Middle East and specifically monitored to ensure that it does not become a breading ground for future terrorists. While it was not in the interview, Obama has announced a plan to build a permanent presence in Iraq with a world-class military / political / embassy to house potentially hundreds of Americans in the region. This would be a new base or headquarters in the Middle East. For those who were convinced we would leave soon after he came into office understand that stability and continuing to participate in fighting terrorist activity and growth in Iraq might just be an excuse for America never leaving Iraq. This is a wait-and-see-what-he-does kind of scenario.


At this point, Obama didn't mention anything about nation-building, though I imagine it will be in the cards, as it is today. Since the U.S. entered Afghanistan we have gone from fighting back the Taliban, to establishing the U.S. reconstruction team that has built dozens of schools across the country, and now a slow down in reconstruction to return focus to holding back new Taliban resurgence. Again, for what ever reason, writers like Nicholas Kristof decide to Bush-bash and contrast U.S. military dollars with the dollars a guy from Montana is personally raising and spending to rebuild schools in Iraq, but he doesn't bother to mention the success of the U.S. Reconstruction teams actively at work. How this type of journalism has gotten popular is a bit beyond me. I am not defending Bush here as much as I am frustrated at this one-sided sensationalistic journalist style. Kristof would have us believe that “schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country.” He is pitting one activity against the other as if this is an “OR” and not an “AND” scenario. So what does Obama think? Well, the Navy who plays a big roll in the U.S. Reconstruction team, says that they are continuing to build schools. At the same time they say that in some areas with new Taliban activity, the school building is slowing down. These are areas where the answer seems to be increase the military presence so that school and community construction can return (an “AND” response.) Obama seems to agree with this. According to his interview, once in office he will dispatch at least 3 additional battalions into Afghanistan. And rather than negotiate with the Taliban, Obama says he will work to return our military focus to hunting down the Taliban and specifically hunting down Osama Bin Laden. Kristof has some ideas and opinions, but in the end I think he is just serving the “Scoop De Jur” and not actually reporting or performing any reasonable analysis on news for that matter.

What I find quite interesting from that same interview is the idea that Obama dispels the myth that he intends to move at the speed of a miracle worker (as Barbara explains that it seems to be the expectation of many.) He responded to a question about not being able to rise to such a level of unreasonable expectations by saying that he feels people will be happy if they see progress. If people want and expect change i.e. outcomes, Obama is hoping that a reasonable pace toward that change in the form of some kind of progress will satisfy the American people. He said the same of his nearly 1 trillion dollar bailout plans. He hopes people reset their expectations to match the rate at which economies actually move: slowly and patiently. Sadly I think many people are a little bit ignorant and expect Obama to enter office with an ace up his sleeve that suddenly turns the entire economy around, achieves peace and stability in Iraq, brings the troops home, negotiates peace with the Taliban and pacifies Hamas (or calms crazy aggressive bully Israel if that is your political perspective.)

In my book, and based on some lessons from history and economics, that is the description of a miracle worker.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bailout: Is there another way?

My family has always been in the ministry. By that I mean that since being a kid I recall my mother and father pastoring churches and having downtrodden people over to the house for various reasons. A story that seemed to crop up from time to was always the reality of someone going through tough economic times. It didn't take an entire nation in an economic downturn for folks to find themselves on the wrong side of a soup line. Sad but true.

One less common story would be one of a person who was entirely debt-ridden and living on credit cards. I would overhear / listen in on stories of people who were struggling to keep their family fed and sometimes they would be running a small business that was deep in the red and groceries were being purchased using credit cards and cash advances. Imagine a weeks worth of consumable groceries depreciating in front of you, invested at a rate of 21%? Forget the national economy, that is a tough time no matter what decade you are in.

As a country, right now, we are hearing all about how the Federal Government needs to quickly take huge financial action or the immanent crashing of America will occur. Now, I have no idea if that is true or not. In fact, it reminds me very much of a statement that was made about Global Climate change back in the 1970s. It was said that climate change is now upon us, undeniable and without question. We needed (back in the 1970s) to take action to deal with the nearly unavoidable collision we would have with... THE COMING ICE AGE! That's right. 30+ years ago science had us in a dead heat race against time in hopes that we would avoid an impending ice age. Oh how times change, and the rhetoric doesn't. Now we are being told that we must act now or prolong (for who knows, how long) these dire times. The parallel in history, the lesson-teller, is Franklin D. Roosevelt and how the New Deal saved us. The basic idea here is very similar in theory to what is being proposed right now: spend our way to job creation and breath life into the economy. Secondly, to ensure that this happens in a responsible manner, increase over-sight / regulation. The devil being in the details, FDR: saw an average 17% unemployment rate throughout the New Deal, tripled taxes, rages against the evils of Big Business, increase business regulations that made it more difficult for companies to hire people, and underwent huge national infrastructure projects during the economic downturn. The only thing that saved the unemployment numbers in the end was World War II, when 12 million Americans left the work force to go to war.

If you want to read about a president that successfully fought an economic downturn, read about Warren G. Harding. But don't take my word for it. Follow this link here, to hear the other side of the economic story:

The Not-So-Great Depression

Under Harding taxes were significantly cut, corporate taxes were as well, certain regulations on businesses were removed (big business bashing disappeared), huge elements of government spending were removed, we moved away from FDRs increase in the national debt and toward paying off our national debt.

All of this to say: There is another way. I don't think the current momentum on Capital Hill would honestly consider that other way when certain democrat voices currently in Congress are already declaring that Obamas economic bailout / infusion will FAIL because he isn't prepairing to spend nearly ENOUGH money! If history repeats itself, unemployment will rise, taxes will rise and we will be digging ourselves out of debt for the next few generations. I don't want America to become that struggling family that pays $4 for a gallon of milk on a credit card cash advance only to find that it costs them $20 once it is all paid off later on!

It's a good thing my hope is not dependant upon the government.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Trading Up

There are plenty of opportunities in life where we have to make a trade. The hope is always that we end up with the good end of the deal. Not too long ago I bought a new car. In fact, while I have owned six cars in my life, none of them until the car I now own have been new. I am now on my seventh car and this car is new.

I remember the day I showed up at the dealership to buy the car. I had visited once before and sort of knew the car I was going for. Having had the car I was driving for years, I was completely aware of what I wanted from a car mostly because of what I was not getting out of my current vehicle. The bottom line was that while my current car was old, it was the car I owned and I was ready to part with it to trade up. No doubt people do not typically trade down, right? Sometimes, however, you do see this, but that was definitely not the case when it came to me.

This is life, I am convinced. We have some equity in the situation we find ourselves in, and surely we do not want to start from scratch in life. We want to trade up. But not unlike my car, it was far harder to bite the bullet and suddenly go into a little debt to trade up. I owned my car. The seat conformed to me! I knew exactly what was wrong with the car and likely when it would break down next! “Do I really want to trade at all?”, was the question. But it really isn't the right question. The real question is, “Can I get away with trading up?” Sometimes you have to get so tired of your situation that you are ready to go into a little debt to suddenly find yourself in a whole better situation. But it is sometimes difficult to break the momentum of what is known, to embrace what is not known.

Let me tell you about the best deal on the planet. I kid you not, even with the current financial situation that we all find ourselves in, you aren't going to want to pass up this deal. The debt is far less valuable than the deal you get in the end. Here is that deal:

Jeremiah 31:13

The young women will rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together, for I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrows.

Mostly people who don't spend much time with the Bible would likely be fairly well surprised to find that the Bible is filled with these sort of statements. This is God basically saying to people that they will be so excited about the joy that comes into their lives as a result of trading in their sorrows that the natural response will be to start dancing simply because they are happy. Not dancing to perform. Not a broadway show dancing, but more like a flock of 13 year old girls all giggly and jumping up and down when they get together and having not done so in at least a few hours. God is basically saying he will make us excited like 13 year old girls! Secure in my masculinity, I can say with all honesty, that is a good thing. That is pretty darned happy!

Here is the thing though: Like nearly all of the other statements like this in the Bible, God is really going for a trade. It isn't enough to want the joy. He wants your sorrow. Isn't that crazy? There is only one way to give up your sorrow. You have to trade it in. Sorrow is like a gas-guzzling car. The more you drive it, the more fuel it demands. The more fuel you invest in it, the harder it is to give up that investment and trade in. We invite the creator of our sorrow (ourselves or some friend or enemy) to ride along in our sorrow, but this is never good. They don't respect the investment we've made in this ride and their riding along only makes things more costly to us. The bottom line is that we have to unload this sorrow and the only way is to trade it in!

So how do you trade in your sorrow? Well, if you've recently traded in a car (in the last ten years) and were paying attention, the trade goes something like this. You and the dealer walk around the car and as well look inside. Your car is painfully on display. As the dealer walks around it, they point out blemishes and dents, scratches and missing parts. They sit in the seats and start fiddling with things that you fear will fall out or off or apart. The dealer does this for a reason. They want you to see everything that diminishes the value of the vehicle. After this fiasco, the deal begins. The offer is extended.

God isn't quite like this. Well, God is, but not for the same reasons. It ends up that God cares more about you than the car, in the end. At each blemish or dent, scratch or missing part, God knows there is a story. As the dealer, God stops and asks, “Tell me about this dent here?” God won't accept the short version of the story. If you are going to get the deal, then you have to revisit the whole ugly story with God. But rather than diminishing you, God says “That was a horrible wreck. I am so sorry you went through that. Now, tell me about this dent over here?”

You talk your way through each dent, each scratch, every missing part is inventoried and each story is listened to patiently. This is the deal. God wants to know and expose each piece of invested equity. God wants to know who hit you and who you hit.

At the end of the examination, God first tells you what you already know. The car is nearly totaled; God thinks it is a miracle that you are still on the road! But the thing is, God knows this financier and you are about to get the deal of the century. As you could have imagined, Jesus is the financier. He is standing there with a check made out in the amount of the new car. You don't have to pay a thing! Jesus is fully prepared to foot the bill. But there is a debt that you still endure as the result of this amazing deal. You have to let Jesus show you how to drive this new car. He will show you it's power, it's handling, every feature and how they work. He will ride along and show you not only how to make a safe left turn, but just when to make it. And soon, you will be driving it and he is like OnStar! Easier than hitting a button on the dash, you can get directions, help when you can't find the keys from time to time, as well as the fuel when yours runs out.

So here is the next challenge: If you are not used to making the trade, the first one is always the biggest one. And the older your car, the harder it is. Don't worry. From one traveler to another, it is totally worth it. Here is what you do:

The thing about the human heart is that unless you've made the trade, then you are carrying around plenty of old and new sorrow. The act of trading it in results in joy. So pick one sorrow and start to walk around the situation with God.

If you are anything like me, then many of my dents (not all of them) are the result of my poor driving. So after I walk around the situation, I have to get humble and end up saying, “I am a pretty crappy driver. Sorry about that. I want to be a better driver. I don't want to keep driving a car that is all dented up. It sucks.” And each and every time in response to your humility God says, “Well, yeah, you can be a pretty crappy driver. And in this situation, this dent was pretty much your fault / the fault of your poor driving. But I totally care about your driving and your ride and I want to see you become a great driver, for your sake and for the sake of others! So, I forgive you for your crazy impatient nutty driving. Let's take a drive together and I will show you how to handle this situation in the future. I can make you a pretty darned good driver and that will get pretty fun for you, you know? So let's do this deal. Give me this sorrow, and I will give you some joy in trade.”

And... BAM... you are into a new car, just like that. And dude... what a deal! I promise you that you will want to take the time to do more trading with God. And after all is said and done, you will have a garage filled with gladness. But just promise yourself to remember that each time you find that your garage contains a sad old rust-bucket, that you will go make the trade. Don't lie to yourself and say that the “character” of that old-piece-of-crap makes you who you are, or that you can't imagine parting with it after so many years (clinging to some old sorrow.) That is not who you are!... It is only holding you back!... You have to let it go and trade it in!...Why in the world would you keep driving around in that crazy old gas-hog at this point!? Right?

Disclaimer: God is not a car dealer. I acknowledge that sometimes the reputation of car dealers as a stereotype doesn't evoke good feelings. Sometimes when we think of car dealer we think of a sneaky, shifty guy in a leisure suite swindling and being swindled. The fact of the matter is that God will not swindle you, nor can you swindle God. The equity in the deal is your real sorrows... you can't fake humility or repentance if you contributed to your own sorrows. You have to be real... but it is worth it. The trade is totally inequitable IN YOUR FAVOR!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why Worship?

For some of us, we go to church every week and participate in what the western world calls worship. To some, worship is the attendance at a weekly church gathering, the worship service. In the most general sense, worship service then means a meeting devoted to God and God’s Kingdom. And that devotion amounting to an hour or more of time then equals worship. To others, worship is the act of singing, but even this might seem odd to many who don’t attend church meetings regularly.

The only time the non-church goer sings to people in regular life would be at either a birthday party or mockingly at the fans of some opposing team sitting on the other side of some sports venue. Now, go back a generation or two and men would “croon” swooning love-songs to their ladies. Any and all of this is, well, to a degree worshipful singing, even if it is a bit plain, expected or antithetical. So why do churches continue to sing worshipful songs to God if society has lost the knack for this way of expressing oneself? I am going to propose that it is not lost, nor is the act of singing the actual worship element within the church-related worship experience. Hang on to get my meaning...

I am going to throw down a Bible verse here which I will take the liberty to transliterate into a modern context (bare with me):

Romans 12, 1-2. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Now the Steve version:

OK. People, in light of the fact that due to the mercy of God on a daily basis and in an effort to remind ourselves of that mercy in the face of some not-so-merciful world circumstances, dedicate your whole self to the idea and act of uniquely being aware that you are and can be a blessing back to God. In doing this you are remembering God’s mercy and your very life will become the spiritual definition of worship. Again dedicate yourself to being aware that you can be an actual blessing to God in life in practical ways, but do this by altering your typical life-rut by rebooting your head out of your mundane view of the way things are and will be. Only by making the view fresh and new, seeing life through God’s perspective will you then be able to see the difference between what God wants for you, which is good, pleasing to you and perfect for you, contrasting that with all of the other typical crap that makes the rut that is your life if you just keep grinding forward without relating to God in practical ways and on His terms.

IN OTHER WORDS: God would prefer our “worship”… our “happy birthday” song in celebration of His mercy be in the form of living a grateful life dedicated to being a living blessing to God, so that we can dodge the crap of life and see the difference between the crap and the good stuff God would want for us.

In a sense it seems God is saying that our lives, if lived as an act of worship toward Him, on His terms, will result in getting a clearer view so we can grab on to His best for us. The act of living worship becomes this revolving door of blessing. First, He is merciful, THEN we remember by living grateful transformed lives that become the definition of worship, NEXT He in turn helps us walk into more blessings, and THEN we live more worship, ect. (on and on)

The singing part is just amazing. Being a musician, I have bumped into wacky facts about music over the years. In the context of my thoughts on worship here, I thought I would share one. Most people may not be aware that it is far easier to memorize musical lyrics than it is to memorize the spoken word. Why? Because something about music opens up our long term memory. In other words, when we sing about (1) how merciful and great God is toward us, or (2) sing to Him about our dedication toward being a blessing, or (3) to one another to remember amazing things about God or about God’s character, we are actually assigning those thoughts to our long term memory. I can say honestly that I learned a few songs as a kid that I would give anything to forget (maybe you know what I am talking about… to this day I find the song “Hang down your head Tom Dooley” completely depressing), but the long term nature of music ensures that once it goes in, it is far easier to access later when we need it. And in all of heaven and earth, if ever there was a time to learn or remember about the mercy and faithfulness of God on nearly a daily basis, this is that time.

So, in a sense, the singing part is really more for us than it is for God. It helps us remember like that Bible verse says. The real worship is in the remembering. But let me encourage you further…

Do you remember how awesome you are? OK that is a silly question. Of course you do, but it is nice to hear isn’t it? It is also nice to remember it when you are needing to be awesome and not a jerk or a bump on a log. Remembering attributes is generic praise, and generic praise is also a kind of worship. Better yet is specific praise…

Do you remember that time we went to the moon and bought icecream cones and sat in a crator telling each other jokes all afternoon? Oh, that wasn’t you? My bad. Likewise, it is far better to “remember” your own real memories. Don’t always let someone elses song become your song. That is fine too, but like the Psalmist says, let your song be “new every morning.” Each day is filled with cool little situations we can sit back and chat with God about at the end of the day…

“… and remember when Chris told that stupid joke and the two of us laughed for about ten minutes. God, thanks for making laughter. I totally needed that.” The thing is that our lives are all cluttered with crap to the degree that we don’t even see the neat little stuff that God places in our paths everyday. We step on or over them all of the time mostly because we don’t see them. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of stuff in life to get cranky about and maybe we should let ourselves get upset about that stuff. BUT… not at the expense of losing our vision for the good stuff God intends for us. That totally isn't worth it, is it? It ought to be OK to get pissed about bad stuff AND get thankful for the good stuff. Worship opens us up to the good stuff, changes our minds, clears our vision, changes our perspective and helps to remind us that God is at work around us and toward us.

If you are not used to talking with God about the good stuff, then here is a simple exercise for you:

After work today, well before you go to bed, sit down in that rut you have worn into your favorite chair or bed or couch. Get comfortable, but not so comfortable that you fall asleep. Now, just begin to review the day. If the first few times you do this only crap come to mind (i.e. "And God, my boss totally pissed me off today. He doesn't see how hard I work. He only ever mentions the mistakes. I don't want to hate my job but today I am seriously close!") well, that is totally OK! Here is where the Bible is pretty cool. In another scripture it says "cast your cares upon the Lord, because He cares for you!" In other words, until you finally hit that groove of getting a renewed and transformed vision of the world around you, he is ready to take on the burden of what is on your heart and mind. Do this for at least 14 days. At first, take only a minimum of 5 minutes to do this. I promise you.... it will make a difference! I am offering a moneyback guarantee! But wait... there is more! If you can't hit that groove, then find someone who can. They will likely be willing to help you see God's mercy in your life! This is important stuff.