Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thank You

Yesterday was nuts. Without boring you with intricate details, I can tell you that the simplicity of getting an insurance check co-endorsed by my mortgage company to pay the roofer for his work took three days, 300 miles of round trips to the bank, four completed forms with six different signatures, five phone calls, five different checks, five individuals, a notary public and a partridge in a pear tree. The actual roofing was done more easily and faster.

Then this morning I opened my mail from yesterday (a task put off due to the aforementioned fiasco) and I read two amazing stories; one about a friend who just returned from a trip to Mexico and the other about a beggar’s donation to Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta.

My friend’s story recounted how he was blessed to participate in building two new homes in Reynosa, Mexico in six days. That’s right, two homes built in six days. Here’s the run-down….

One home was for a 74 year old man and the other one was for an 87 year old man. Both men were living in squalor and filth. The more significant of the two was the older man who lived under a tarp. I’ve been to Reynosa and I can testify to the dominance of its poverty. For the American mind that has only seen our version of poverty, it is almost impossible to describe. These two men would likely be classified as the worst of the worst among our homeless population. But for Reynosa, they are more likely to be among the average poor.

So, building two houses in six days to replace sticks, bricks and a rotting tarp was fairly simple. My friend celebrated the crowning touch on both houses….doors.

Then I opened a devotional based on some of Mother Teresa’s life experiences. One story immediately grabbed me. A beggar came to Mother Teresa with his handful of a day’s worth of begging. He insisted on giving it to her. She stood for moment staring at the man and she knew that to take this money would mean he would go hungry and to not take the money would be unfair and painful to him. She received his gift and celebrated the joy that filled his face.

I am suddenly and outrageously thankful for the hassle I went through to pay for my new roof. I am filled with gratitude for the insurance money that paid for 20 to 30 more years of a roof over my head. I love my mortgage company and all the people who make my house a dream come true. I love my insurance agent. I love my contractor.

I love my church family who sacrifice to give week after week and those sacrifices, great and small, make my salary look like a king’s ransom for most people living in Reynosa or Calcutta.

I don’t have construction skills and my back wouldn’t last a day digging ditches. My dad, an earthy east Texas oil drilling, truck driving, Teamster Union loving Irishman, once said (out of his definition of love for me), “It’s a good thing you can preach, because you can’t do nothin’ else.” His world was filled with sweat, blood, bare knuckles negotiations, cursing as second language and Chicago traffic jams. His slice of fame came from a picture on the front page of the Chicago Tribune when his truck slid sideways in an ice storm at rush hour and blocked the Dan Ryan Expressway. What’s my point? I am thankful that I live the life of relative ease I am living just by the sweat of my “voice”.

Thank you, all of you reading this, who have given me irretrievable pieces of your life to read my ranting. I love my extended spiritual family from near and far who speak and give blessings to me for nothing more than my ministry gift. Wow…thank you!

Thank you God, I am over yesterday’s nuttiness. Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Gobble, gobble….

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing?

"There is more hunger for love in this world than there is for bread."
~Mother Teresa~

If what Mother Teresa said is true, and it is, then doesn't it ultimately mean that if the people of God genuinely and authentically LOVE that the world will crash our gates?

I dream this.....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Too Much of a Good Thing is...WONDERFUL!" Mae West

“Too Much of a Good Thing is…WONDERFUL!” Mae West
The Radical Power of Love

I have said for many years now that the greatest unused power of the Church is love. Oh yea, I know…our bumper stickers shout the contrary. “Honk if you love Jesus”, “I love you, and God loves you MORE!”, “We Love you at (fill in the blank with your church name)”. I am personally allergic to bumper stickers. I break out in curmudgeon like sounds every time I see one, particularly embarrassing Christian bumper stickers.

I’m sorry…I verbally did what I physically do when driving my car and seeing stupid bumper stickers…veer off the road and head for the ditch.

Leonard Sweet (E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew Theological in Madison, New Jersey) said, “If Christianity really wanted to get radical, the first thing it could do would be to stop privileging Western rationalization.” What this means to me is that we must intentionally take a dive in the deep end of the pool of God’s true character.

For instance, the rational Western theologian looks at a scripture passage that says, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:3) and deduces that men are the only legitimate power brokers in the church. The problem is that rational thought and the radical love of God are quite often incompatible. The radical love of God proclaims that now, in Christ and His obliteration of the letter of the law through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the Right Hand of God, there is now neither Jew or Greek, male or female, for we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

This messes with my head! No pun intended. How can one verse be so permissive of male dominance and the next one explicitly rip that notion right out of my manly hands? It can because now we believers are no longer permitted to be in the lock-down of the law and prophets. Jesus said in Luke 16:16 that John the Baptist was the exclamation point of the law and prophets and now the Kingdom of God, and its radical law of outrageous love is being proclaimed, and everyone is fighting their way into the atmosphere of this new message!

Here’s an instant replay of I Corinthians 11:3 through the rose-colored lens of Love: “Christ is the head of men. He told his believers before He left the earth, ‘you’ll do My works and even greater works than Me’, thus providing that ‘headship’ is love’s empowerment, not the law’s need for external controls. Furthermore, God is the Head of Christ which is easily understood when you know that Christ said, ‘If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father’, and with that Word Jesus lived out His Father’s love with an obedience born from intimate unity. And man is the head of a woman by being so filled with the Love of God that he is not afraid of her empowerment.”

Love goes where the Law stops.

Ah, this love thing might just catch on! Would you like another example that explodes harsh legalistic religious bigotry? OK….any suggestions? What’s that? You two there, waaaay in the back row….say it loud. Ah yes, politics and lifestyle choices… Well, maybe I shouldn’t….but since you asked, I’ll take a stab at it.

Remember that annoying sermon Jesus preached from a mountain? Matthew heard Jesus say something like this, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Here’s something that really juices this up…ready? Jesus literally took an Old Testament scripture, in this case, and tore it to shreds!

The reference is from Deuteronomy 23:3-6. I will spare you the rigid details in this venue, but I would invite you to read for yourself the complete history behind this narrative. Here’s my take; Jesus is saying, “Remember how God told you that you should not seek to bless or support an old political rival with peace and prosperity? Blam…that’s done. Now I want you to pray blessing and prosperity on Republicans, Democrats and Independents all in the same breath! AND do it with your heart completely healed by the irrational reach of real love for your very real enemies. I want people to look at you and honestly wonder what ‘side’ you are on because your love is so completely all encompassing.”

“BUT, if I love people like that they’ll think I’m approving of their lifestyle! If I love like that my Christian friends will think I’m compromising! If I love like that people won’t know what my moral stand is!”

As to “lifestyle” question, Jesus completely loved one group of people so much He was called a “drunk” (Matthew 11:19). As to what my “Christian friends” think, I have found that living to please them is too exhausting and soul draining to matter. And, on the “moral stand” matter, if I am not being perfected in the Love of God, my moral stand is completely irrelevant and without merit. Christianity in 2009 can not afford to be known more for moral convictions than we are known for fanatic love!

There’s a lot of talk in church circles these days about, “world-view”. I have not read it all nor have I had the inclination to do so. What I have seen simply makes me nervous because it takes a squeaky-clean, hard edged approach that our culture and the church is in trouble due to an anemic Biblical “world-view”. Frankly, I think if the church really had a complete revelation of God’s true world view, some church folks might want to have God excommunicated.

The only world view I want is LOVE. God’s value for the world is in direct relationship to the value He holds for His own Son (John 3:16). That love THEN is the same love NOW, for THIS world. Crazy, huh? Yes, it is. But that’s the wonder of love out of heaven’s unlimited bounty. Mae West was right! “Too much of a good thing is WONDERFUL!” Does that make me a friend of Mae? I sure hope so.

Monday, November 02, 2009

2012 is Yet Another Y2K

I’d like to get a jump on the current end of world fad. For anyone who has the blessing of not being in front of a TV set, or has missed movie previews of late, here’s the scoop…the Mayan Calendar has some kind of end predicted within it that points to December 21, 2012. Actually, some have a tick of the clock attached to this…11:11a.m.

I feel fairly confident to announce that I will likely be here, tapping words into my computer at precisely 11:12a.m. December 21, 2012 and beyond. In fact, I plan to be publishing another book…or writing a blog at that precise moment calling on everyone who profited from this fraud to donate all their ill-gotten gains to local food pantries and homeless shelters. I have experience in this kind of behavior. Allow me a moment to elucidate.

When a herd of noisy Christians were advocating that we should be storing food and water for the coming Y2K cataclysm (late in the year 1999), I was busy being a pastor. I told my flock that if they were storing food when their neighbor might be potentially hungry, repentance was the only option. I told people to empty their cupboards, basements, bomb shelters and every secret storage facility they had and give this bounty to the poor. Most people joined me in my good cheer. A few people quietly disagreed and shook their heads in disdain at my ignorance of prophecy.

Our church actually planned a fireworks display on News Year’s Eve 1999. We thought it was a nice touch to illustrate our disgust for this kind of sadness. When the clock turned 2000 without incident it was as if the world breathed a sigh of relief that yet another thief of hope had been exposed.

I am personally committed to the notion that Christianity must completely separate itself from every thief of hope. One of the most common examples of this is the “end of the world” predictions that make a run at us every so often. I hate it when, at best, too many Christian leaders take a stance sounding like, “Well, no one knows for sure” and, at worst, some high profile hucksters seize the moment for raising funds for their ministries and scaring people into faith or church. Yuck!

Let me recommend some enlightening reading for your spiritual edification: “Surprised by Hope; Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church” by N.T. Wright. “The Rapture Exposed; the Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation” by Barbara Rossing. And, “Victorious Eschatology” by Harold Eberle and Martin Trench.

We have ignored the incalculable damage done to the Name of Christ by this junk for too long. We have allowed ourselves to be guilty by association, at best, and guilty by outright manipulation, at worst. I will not stand by, I will not be silent, I can not let innocent hearts be soiled and I decline to accept the end of man (see William Faulkner’s speech in accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1950). There is a far more soul enriching manner in which to read and enjoy the scriptures than to be force fed with the notion that God is focused on His stop-watch.

For the record, the popular TV preachers, Jack Van Impe and John Hagee are promoting an interpretation of scriptures I find completely and egregiously flawed in this regard. It is based on a school of theology that slices and dices the scriptures in so many directions you can hardly trust any verse to mean what it really says. Note, I am not saying these gentlemen are evil or false prophets….I don’t personally know them. I just know that their interpretation of the Bible requires a catastrophic vision of the future. In my opinion, that interpretation is unacceptably damaging to the character of Christ which is the heart and love of God for the world.

Catastrophic events come and go, but they are, by and large, the result of our sowing and reaping and not God’s sadistic thirst for misery just to “get our attention”. The Bible actually promises the complete healing of all of nature. It speaks of every nation being healed and streaming to the people of God for visionary answers. Scriptures predict that all weapons will one day be converted to agricultural purposes and military academies will no longer be required to train for war. God actually set in motion a momentum for the reversal of the food chain mentality, in humans and the animal kingdom. (Isaiah 11, 60, 61, Micah 4)

I happen to believe that our participation in the scriptures has always been required for any promise of God to be activated. From the salvation of an individual to the salvation of the nations, we are co-laborers with Christ. Our will and consent has always mattered!

So, while I am sure that the Mayans were lovely people and ahead of their time in art and culture, I am equally certain that their calendar is predictive of nothing in particular. Some scholars suggest that the 2012 reference in the Mayan calendar is simply a point at which the dates are a “do-over” and not at all a cataclysm. Unfortunately, that interpretation won’t sell movies or promote a ministry.