Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's Kinda How I'm Wired

It takes a while for things to sink in for me.  I'll hear something, and a month or so later it'll actually come to light.  My mind seems to be always consciously and unconsciously working things out.  It always takes a bit of time for me to "get it."  It can be really annoying.  It's kind of like a time bomb - I'll hear something insightful...tick, tick, tick, tick: Boom!  Enlightenment.

It's kinda how I'm wired.

The story goes that Brennan Manning asked Shel Silverstein what God's love was like.  His response was the short poem The Giving Tree.

I heard that story soon after Brennan Manning's passing, but didn't really think much of it.  I'd read the poem forever ago, but hadn't looked at it since childhood.

Finally last week, I got around to reading it again.  BOOM!

God's Costly Love - Grace - all in a children's poem that people all over the world have read.

Soooooo Good!  This is as beautiful a picture of God's love as I've read.  What's God's love like?  Maybe this will help paint a better picture you.

May it be a BOOM in your life!

Jer


The Giving Tree

Once there was a tree....
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree....
very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy."
"I am too big to climb and play" said
the boy.
"I want to buy things and have fun.
I want some money?"
"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy."
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time....
and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back
and the tree shook with joy
and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk
and swing from my branches and be happy."
"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy.
"I want a house to keep me warm," he said.
"I want a wife and I want children,
and so I need a house.
Can you give me a house ?"
" I have no house," said the tree.
"The forest is my house,
but you may cut off
my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time.
And when he came back,
the tree was so happy
she could hardly speak.
"Come, Boy," she whispered,
"come and play."
"I am too old and sad to play,"
said the boy.
"I want a boat that will
take me far away from here.
Can you give me a boat?"
"Cut down my trunk
and make a boat," said the tree.
"Then you can sail away...
and be happy."
And so the boy cut down her trunk
and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy
... but not really.

And after a long time
the boy came back again.
"I am sorry, Boy,"
said the tree," but I have nothing
left to give you -
My apples are gone."
"My teeth are too weak
for apples," said the boy.
"My branches are gone,"
said the tree. " You
cannot swing on them - "
"I am too old to swing
on branches," said the boy.
"My trunk is gone, " said the tree.
"You cannot climb - "
"I am too tired to climb" said the boy.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree.
"I wish that I could give you something....
but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry...."
"I don't need very much now," said the boy.
"just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.

By:  Shel Silverstein

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Greatest Miracle

"When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?" 
Psalm 8:3-4  

We are sub atomic particles on the atom of our solar system.  Probably even smaller.

We are more than just a little tiny within the scale of our universe.  

But for an infinite God, the universe is small.  The scriptures say, “God has measured the Heavens with the span of His hand.” (Isaiah 40:12)  The enormity of God is immeasurable.

In my humble opinion, the greatest miracle in the bible is that an infinite God would become finite.  And, not just finite - but super small.  Tiny.

God became a two celled embryo.  Then a baby.  Then a man.  This is the Christian story.

IF this actually happened, then all the other miracles in the bible pale in comparison.  How difficult would it be for the God - who created everything - to walk on water, heal disease, feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, calm storms, and raise the dead?  It wouldn’t be difficult at all.  God can do whatever He wants because - well - He’s God.  In the context of who He is - the miracles of the bible aren’t all that miraculous.  

But showing up?  Becoming a person?  

That. Is. Miraculous!  

Immanuel - God with us.  Jesus Christ.  Miracle of miracles.

There are only a handful of times that angels show up in the four gospels.  They appear at His birth, His temptation, and His resurrection. The birth stories though - it seems like the angels were everywhere.  It’s as if the angels themselves wanted to be witnesses to this amazing event.  This action of God was even miraculous to them!

There’s something cosmic about this part of the story.  Something big is going on.

It’s the Christmas story.

If it’s true - it changes everything.  If it’s true - the rest of His story is pretty easy to accept.  Could it be possible?

It would mean that God actually cares about us.  It would mean that, no matter how small we are - or how small we feel - we matter.  We’re valuable.  We are valuable to our Creator.  

The story of Jesus’ life backs this up.  Costly love.  Paid by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God Himself.  Jesus talks about this love and He lives it.  His parables point to this love.  His interactions point to this love.  His actions reveal this love.  

The fact that an infinite God loves us IS a big deal.  

I also understand that for many - it’s THE leap of faith.

And it’s a leap that many don’t take.  Some find it hard to believe that God cares.  Or that there’s a God at all.  For years, I was in this camp.

For me - the Christmas story is THE story.  It’s THE leap.  Personally, the hardest part of the Christian narrative to accept is that there actually is a God that cares about these tiny sub atomic particles (humanity) within a solar system the size of an atom (compared to the expanse of our universe) floating in the middle of nothingness.

My agnosticism comes out a little when I think of how small we really are.

But - for whatever reason - I believe it's true.  I choose to take that leap.

This little insignificant cartoon clip helped.  Year ago - when I was questioning it all - I happened to watch this seasonal christmas story.  I'd seen it before - it was nothing new.  But something clicked.

I felt something when I watched it.  Truthfully - this little story helped me make my leap.  And it's so simple.  It's almost funny.  For some reason - it all made sense.  A lightbulb went off.  It's hard to even explain.  

In hindsight - I couldn’t be more grateful for taking that leap!!!  Today, I believe the Great Story for many other reasons (mainly what I've witnessed in my short life and the study of the scriptures), but I'll always remember that big "Aha!" moment that started it off.

I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know everything there is to know.  But I believe.  I believe that God came near - and He truly loves us.  May you discover the same...

Maybe this clip will help you a bit as you search for truth too:







Have a great day!

Jer

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Future Hindsight


I’ve often gotten the question asked of me “If God is good and loving - how come bad things happen?”
The simple truth is - I don’t know.  

I do know that God didn’t shy away from tragedy in His life.

Here’s a few examples...

The Christmas story.  Jesus was born.  The angels came.  Good news and great joy!  The kings.  The shepherds.  Rejoice!

But there was also a massacre of innocents - children under the age of 2 were slaughtered because of His birth.  Go read the story - it’s in the beginning of Matthew.  For the families of these children - there was no good news of great joy because of Jesus’ birth.

At the beginning of Jesus’ mission, a man named John points Jesus out to the crowds and then baptized Him in the Jordan River.  As Jesus rose out of the water, a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, whom I love.  In Him I am well pleased.”  It’s a triumphant beginning - crowds are watching - people are amazed.  The ushering of the Kingdom of God is here.  And John - one of Jesus‘ favorites - couldn’t be happier.  

But almost the next scene, John is thrown in jail.  He was the first to point out Jesus to the world - and even he begins to doubt.  He sends some people to Jesus to make sure He is “the One.”  Soon after - John is murdered - his head is put on a platter.  Yet another tragedy.

And the most famous story of all time - the cross.  Jesus marched towards his own death.  He was tortured - beaten - mocked - and killed.  And later, His followers would go through the same.  Peter was said to have been crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die like Jesus.  Paul was beheaded.  Tragedy upon tragedy.

I know that God didn’t shy away from tragedy.

I also know that Jesus got sad because of tragedy.  

One of the smallest verses in the bible is: “Jesus wept.”  It was at the funeral of his friend Lazurus - who was later raised from the grave by Jesus.  So, if Jesus raised him, why did he weep?

He saw the pain that death causes for His friends (His kids).  He knew He was on the march towards His own death - and knew His friends would run away in despair.  He knew that death would haunt humanity throughout all of History.  And He was sad for us.

But that’s kind of why He came, isn’t it?  He didn’t stay dead - He’s God.  The tragedy of His death was followed by the victory of Life.  But for those living in that moment of tragedy - there’s was only fear, anger, hurt, and despair.  Jesus wept.  He loves His kids.

And when we feel the brunt of life’s tragedies - followed by fear, anger, hurt, and despair - Jesus weeps.  He loves us.

Jesus was sad from tragedy.

I also know that I don’t see the whole picture.  

I see through a glass very darkly.  I see with finite eyes.  I trust that God sees the bigger picture.  I’m really a bad judge of what’s “good” and what’s “bad” in this life.  I can recognize evil (for the most part), but I have a hard time understanding it.  I’m just a bad judge.

When I was younger - I used to get injured all the time.  It was really annoying.  But - I learned to play the guitar because I was stuck at home with nothing to do.  Looking back - I’m glad I got injured.  At the time - it was just pure tragedy.  I’m a bad judge of goodness.  Especially without the benefit of hindsight.

I know I don’t see the whole picture.  But I trust that God does.  And I trust Him.


I confess, I don’t understand why bad things happen.  I don’t have the perfect answers to life’s tragedies.  I can’t tie it all up in a nice theological bow.  That mystery is way above my pay-grade.

But I trust God.  I trust that He is good and He loves us because of what I see in the person of Jesus (the very heart of God).  In His life, He didn’t always give answers to the many questions people had about life - and tough times.  

And He leaves many of His stories unresolved.  

And that’s like real life.  Lots of questions - lots of unresolved answers.

Maybe one day - far from now - we’ll get to see our life - and all that goes on in this globe - with perfect hindsight - and we’ll understand.

But until then - we can focus on what is knowable:  Go explore His goodness - revealed in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  And open your eyes up to the love He reveals through His kids.  You may see a lot of stumbles - but His love is evident.

And we can pray with God while we’re at it.  He’s available today.  Now.

Go seek Jesus.  He may not give you all the answers - but He’ll show you a picture of love that is like no other.  

That is the one thing I know.

Have a great day!

Jer








Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Where is the Light?


“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Mr. Rogers

Not a lot of words for tragedies like yesterday.  (sad sigh)

But.

It’s very easy to focus on darkness - and miss the Light.

Don’t be fooled - the Light is at work through ordinary people during tough times.  He’s not trying to grab the spotlight or look good for the camera.  

He is humble - and easy to miss.  

But He is present - even in our questions.

Immanuel - God with us.

Don't wait to love those around you - love them now.  

And when tragedy hits your life - be a helper (a little ray of light in dark times) so that others might witness the love of God through you.

And if you're a little (or a lot) pissed-off because of this tragedy - tell God.  He's not afraid of your anger, or doubt - or frustrations.  I'm sure He'd appreciate your honest prayers - even if your language is a bit colored.  Go to Him and wrestle it out.  It might be good to get some things off your chest.  He's got some things to say about tragedies, for sure.  Go to Him.

May you hear His sweet and gentle voice of love during these turbulent times.

Jer

Saturday, April 13, 2013

All Is Grace - in memory of Brennan Manning...

I never got to meet Brennan Manning, although I did listen to him speak once down in Roseville.  He was so brutally honest - it was refreshing.  He was as jacked up a guy as you can get (total alcoholic - at one point he was a homeless bum wandering the streets looking for food in the trash - he was THAT guy) - and he knew God’s grace all the more because of it.  He is the male counterpart of Anne Lamott - for sure.  I was so sad when I heard he had passed away.  I look forward to reading his most recent book - All is Grace - a ragamuffin memoir.  

With him in mind, I decided to share some books that have helped me see a clearer picture of our Savior.  I believe that faith has a lot to say about death - and that's why I'm point in that direction today.

Outside of the actual scriptures - these guideposts have steered me to see Jesus as bigger and better than I ever would have imagined as a kid.  Some of these books are really challenging to those that are in the "normal" faith community.  My hope is that they would dare you to see Jesus in a new light - the light of uncompromising grace that is acted out in real life to everyone - including those in the margins of society.  Don't be afraid to stretch - stretching is good before running a race.  

So - yeah - I thought I’d pass them on.  Good stuff - especially if you're looking for something good to read.  Summer is coming!

I shared the title - gave a little commentary - then put a quote from each book.  You don’t have to read my thoughts - but read the books.  Good stuff!  (No links - just go to Amazon)



1.  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  This book was surprising.  I had read Blue Like Jazz, Through Painted Deserts, and Searching for God Knows What - and thought they were all good.  But - Million Miles was different.  It made me want to live a better life - actually get off my butt and do something.  I’ve read (and heard - I have the audio version too) this book at least 10 times.  For some reason, it doesn’t get old.  I laugh - and some parts - get teary eyed.  It’s definitely on the top five list of all time favorites.  

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn't remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.  But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”  Million Miles...

2.  “Love Does” by Bob Goff.  I heard about Bob Goff from “Million Miles” because some of the stories in Don’s book were about Bob.  These stories were ridiculous.  On the day it came out, I got the book (Don’s blog recommended it) and I really didn’t expect much, to be honest.  But - again - I was surprised.  Bob just thinks differently.  He trusts Jesus differently.  I can’t even put my finger on it.  I got to hear him speak about a month ago - and - again - there’s just something different with him.  He wasn’t the greatest speaker - no frills - or anything flashy.  But I walked away thinking “I want what he has.  Whatever it is - I want that.”  When you read his book - you’ll think - impossible.  But it’s not - I’ve seen slides.  I love his push for us to get off our butts and do something (Love Does).  One of my favorite quotes from the conference he was speaking at:  “We need to stop agreeing with each other.  We all sit in our churches and agree with each other.  And when we don’t agree - we go to a different church where we do agree.  We need to stop agreeing and start doing!”  We are not known by what we think - or agree with - we are known by what we do.  So convicting - and so good.  Read this book - it’ll change the way you live.  I know a book is good when I give it away to friends.  I’ve given this book to about 30 people... 

“Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget. Their dreams become one of those "we'll go there next time" deferrals. The sad thing is, for many there is no "next time" because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.” Love Does


3.  How God Became King” by N. T. Wright.  Finally - the gospel!  Jesus’ gospel.  In our culture - the gospel is a marketing plan of salvation - unfortunately.  This book will give you a better understanding of Jesus’ gospel.  It’ll challenge the predominant viewpoint that’s often preached in American Christian Culture.  I LOVED it - so good.  N.T. Wright is a bit on the deep end of thinking - but this is foundational stuff.  If I were teaching a class on the gospel - this would be one of my required texts. 

“The “kingdom of heaven” is not about people going to heaven. It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth.”  How God Became King


4.  Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.  This is the book that inspired me to read the Bible for the first time.  I knew a whole bunch of prominent scriptures, but didn’t really know the whole story.  I had even been a “Christian” for four or five years at that point.  This book helped me realize how ignorant I really was.  When a photographer takes a picture - he uses the negative to create the photo (at least, before digital photography).  This is the “negative” of the gospel.  It’s about demons - the devil - and temptation.  But it gives a great picture of the light - through it's negative.  Very clever.  Before reading C.S. Lewis, I thought all Christians were stupid.  Stupid, in the "not well-read - not academic - not deep thinking" kinda way.  He completely destroyed that stereotype - which led me to discover many other very intelligent Christians I didn't know existed. haha  Other amazing books of his to mention:  The Great Divorce (about hell), Mere Christianity (Lectures), Narnia (gospel in a children’s book), and the Weight of Glory (heaven). 

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Screwtape Letters.


5.  The Jesus I Never Knew” by Philip Yancey.  This book was instrumental in helping me look away from “religion” and onto Jesus.  It’s the simple story of Jesus through the lens of biography writer.  His insights into Jesus’ temptation were very eye opening for me.  I remember reluctantly picking this one up (not wanting to read it) and I was hooked after the first couple chapters.  This was one of those foundational books for my faith.  Another great book by Philip Yancey is “What’s so Amazing about Grace” - simply awesome - so good.  “Soul Survivor”, “Church, Why Bother?” and “The Bible Jesus Read” are also good reads.  

“When Jesus came to earth, demons recognized him, the sick flocked to him, and sinners doused his feet and head with perfume. Meanwhile he offended pious Jews with their strict preconceptions of what God should be like. Their rejection makes me wonder, could religious types be doing just the reverse now? Could we be perpetuating an image of Jesus that fits our pious expectations but does not match the person portrayed so vividly in the Gospels?” - Jesus I Never Knew


6.  God Came Near” by Max Lucado.  When I was a baby Christian (I didn’t even really know I was alive in Christ - ha!) my football coach pointed me to some books by Max Lucado.  I devoured them.  I read “God Came Near”, “And the Angels Were Silent”, “In the Eye of the Storm”, “Six Hours One Friday”, “When God Whispers Your Name,” “On the Anvil”, “Gentle Thunder”, and “He Still Moves Stones”.  These were easy to read books that gently steered me towards a better picture of Jesus.  It’s funny, I hadn’t read the bible for years and when I was convicted to do so from C.S. Lewis - I read it, I kept having these “Wait, I’ve read that story” moments - all over the scriptures.  It’s because of Max Lucado - I had been reading scriptures through his simple commentaries without even knowing it.  I’ll always appreciate these books because of that.  (I love his early books - but haven’t really read his new stuff)  

“Christ entered our world, and as a result, we can enter His.”  God Came Near


7.  Love Wins” by Rob Bell.  The first chapter of this book is brilliant.  It made me laugh out loud multiple times.  The rest of the book is good - but the first chapter - wow.  Anyone that’s ever been a skeptic and then worked in Christian ministry can relate.  He points out some of the greatest inconsistencies for the defense of the modern day gospel I’ve heard - it’s hilarious.  It’s interesting that Christians slammed him for this effort - yet he points to Jesus of the scriptures over and over again.  And the really fascinating thing is that many unbelievers saw what he had to say as good news.  Isn't that a bit odd?  I LOVE an author that has the balls to not shy away from controversy.  It’s a stupid controversy - but - gosh - so glad he went for it.  That conversation's still ongoing today.  Rob Bell also has a sermon out that’s called “Everything is Spiritual” - soooo good.  I highly recommend watching it.  His “Poets, Prophets, and Preachers” series is also really good. 

“Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here."I believe the discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the book of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with...a question.” Love Wins


8.  The Shack” by William P. Young.  I don’t know about you - but when certain Christians want to start banning things - that really peeks my interest.  The Shack was one of those.  I read it - and loved it.  The author wanted his kids to have a better understanding of the heart of God the Father - so he wrote this book.  In the Scriptures, Jesus would often tell parables (stories that reveal the heart of the Father) - and this book is along those same lines.  Some people confuse this story with a manifesto or something - and they get all bent out of shape.  It’d be funny, if it weren’t so sad.  But, what can you do?  Anyway - some themes from the book:  How does God view a serial killer?  What’s the trinity like?  What’s God’s judgment like?  Is God in complete control?  What’s God like?  Why do bad things happen - and how does God see it?  And so much more.  It’s a quick read - novel type story - until it takes a swift left turn at around page 80-ish.  Keep plowing through - it’s well worth it.  

“All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It's not your job to change them, or to convince them. You are free to love without an agenda.” The Shack


9. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey.  This book is amazing.  It helped me see Jesus’ parables in a completely new light.  I had always thought of the parables as just teachings on ethics - how to live as a Christian.  I discovered that I was very short sighted - they’re more about the revelation (revealing) of God and His teaching on His very costly grace.  I was way off.  Jesus Himself lived out His parables in His actual life.  This book helped me understand that grace is a costly love for God - even though it's free for me.  This book also changed how I view the Christmas story - at least - the popular version of Christmas we hear every year.  Bailey brings context to the story of Jesus.  It’s a bit textbook-ish in parts - but is sooooo worth it.  Paradigm shifting - no joke.  There’s a bit of “National Treasure”-ish to this book as well.  I began to see that there’s much more to the writings of the New Testament than I ever would have thought - hidden gems.  This would also be a book on my required texts if I had a class.  It’s not a casual read.  

“FOR SIXTY YEARS, FROM 1935-1995, my home was in the Middle East. With a childhood in Egypt and forty years spent teaching New Testament in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus, my academic efforts have focused on trying to understand more adequately the stories of the Gospels in the light of Middle Eastern culture. This book is a part of that continuing endeavor.”  Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

10.  My Upmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers.  This daily devotional is very challenging - almost like a wrecking ball to my assumptions in some places.  It’s amazing how deep Chambers can get in one page.  I’ve not really encountered anything else like it.  So short - so deep.  In my experience, this is a book that should be read with a group of people.  When I read it by myself - I often think - huh?  But with others - it opens up in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible.  It’s good to read it alone too - there are some really good entries, but - others have different lenses - and can bring stuff out that wouldn’t be seen alone.  

Do not look for God to come in any particular way, but look for Him. That is the way to make room for Him. Expect Him to come, but do not expect Him only in a certain way. However much we may know God, the great lesson to learn is that at any minute He may break in. We are apt to over look this element of surprise, yet God never works in any other way. All of a sudden God meets the life – "When it was the good pleasure of God."  Highest...


11. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.  There are two things about this book that I really loved.  First - grace.  Brennan Manning was a deep believer in the Grace of God.  Unconditional Grace.  This is the love we’re all searching for - and this is the grace he discovered in his life.  This book will make legalistic christians uncomfortable.  Maybe that’s why I love it so much.  Second - Honesty.  In the realm of Christian books - honesty is a rare commodity.  It’s not that authors or speakers try to be dishonest (sadly - some do), it’s that they don’t always tell the whole story - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Most authors and speakers talk about the good - and reference the bad in context - and stay away from the ugly.  Brennan lives in all three at the same time.  It’s refreshing.  It’s never finger pointing.  It’s just grace pointing.  No one is disqualified from God’s grace. 

“The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God. 'They won't let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.'  'What are you complaining about?' said God. 'They won't let Me in either.” Ragamuffin Gospel 


12.  Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott.   This book is another honest look at faith.  It’s about how God reached through the darkness of a person’s life to offer a love only He can give.  It also shows at what length God will go to reach a person - even after an abortion - in the middle of a drug and alcohol binge:  

“‘I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “Fuck it: I quit.” I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.” So this was my beautiful moment of conversion. And here in dust and dirt, O here, The lilies of his love appear.”  Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith 

13.  "Let Me Tell You a Story" - by Tony Campolo.  I had a big mistrust from media presentations of the gospel until I watched the sermon “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s a comin’!”  I would have to say that this sermon, and watching Charlie Brown Christmas around the same time, helped save my faith.  Skip most of those other books - I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that timely talk.  Tony’s written quite a few books, but his story book is one of my favorites - mostly because of the story at the end of the book - the Agnes Story.  I get teary eyed every time I read it.  In a previous blog - I linked to Tony telling that story.  I’ve been fortunate to meet Tony twice - both at Youth Specialty Conferences.  One of my favorite quotes by him at a Christian Conference:  “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”  haha.  Pretty much...  Love it.  Here’s a quote from the book - Agnes Story:  

“When I finished (praying), Harry leaned over the counter, and said, "Hey!  You never told me you were a preacher.  What kind of church do you belong to?"
    In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at three-thirty in the morning."
    Harry waited a moment, then he answered, "No you don't.  There's no church like that.  If there was, I'd join it.  I'd join a church like that!"
    Wouldn't we all?  Wouldn't we all love to join a church that throws birthday parties for whores at three-thirty in the morning?
    Well, that's the kind of church Jesus came to create!  I don't know where we got the other one that's so prim and proper.  But anybody who reads the New Testament will discover a Jesus who loved to party with whores and with all kinds of left-out people.  The publicans and "sinners" loved Him because He partied with them.  The lepers of society found in Him someone who would eat and drink with them.  And while the solemnly pious could not relate to what He was about, those lonely people who usually didn't get invited to parties took to Him with excitement.
    Our Jesus was and is the Lord of the party. . .”  Let Me Tell You a Story


Well - go to Amazon - get a book - and go get reading!  

And have a great day...

Jer



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Grace Butt!

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." Matthew 23:13

God's love is unconditional.  But do we really believe this? 

I often hear various types of "Grace, but" (Grace butt!) theologies spouted out from very influential Christians.  It can look pretty on the outside, but it's rotten to the core.  As I recall, Jesus had some pretty harsh words for people that share this type of theology. (Matthew 23)  There's lots of wolves in sheep's clothing out there.  So, how does one weed them out?

I remember a very long time ago that I'd do my best to err on the side of love. Unconditional love.  Love with no conditions... Could God's love be that good?  I decided I'd do my best to err in that direction (all inclusive) - sue me.

So, when I hear something opposite - I often cringe.  Unfortunately, I go to a lot of church services where the speaker shovels crap.  It looks pretty.  The music is good.  The smile is appealing.  Charisma is there.  But there's straight crap coming out of the mouth.  If the wrapping looks pretty, but the inside smells like crap - I throw it out.  I'm actually amazed at how often I'm a witness to this - but I see it all the time.  I spend a lot of time throwing crap out...

Let's have a little fun.    

Here's some various Grace butt! theologies I've heard over the years.  Of course, these ideas come in various forms - but these are some of the basics (and, yes, I've heard versions of all of these - minus the parentheses - they're my own little commentary on each, just to be clear):

Grace, but you can't live in that lifestyle (Gays are out!  Oh - and people who like Justin Bieber)
Grace, but you have to believe "X, Y, or Z" (Fire insurance? - Check!  Jesus is my homie!)
Grace, but you have to say these particular words. (Thank you that I'm not THAT sinful person next to me!)
Grace, but you can't be in that political party or take that particular political stance (Those Greens - they're definitely out! - and those backwoods redneck types! - don't even think about it)
Grace, but you have to be baptized. (Sprinkled or Submerged?  ugh - don't get me started!)
Grace, but you have to demonstrate a particular spiritual gift (I prophesy that you are reading this - gotcha! I'm in!) 
Grace, but you have to believe what I believe about hell (deep fried Twinkie come to mind? No?  Just me?  Actually - that sounds like heaven, never mind...ha!)
Grace, but you have to live like a Christian (fish magnets, cheesy slogans, 4 spiritual laws, Focus on the Family! - yikes)
Grace, but you have to show the fruit of the Spirit (Look good for the camera, and always wear clean underwear! people are watching...)
Grace, but you can't be Catholic (just weird - no comments...)
Grace, but you have to understand these simple truths (simple - like - atomic theory? or the complexity of a black hole?  Or women?)

I'm being a bit snarky again.  But these ideas are spouted quite often.  Usually they're a lot more subtle, but they're there.  Conditional love trying to lasso Jesus.  Ahhh - but Matthew 23 - love it!

So - are you in or out - in any of these?  Wow.  I think I'm out on at least three.  Shoot.

Much more to say on this - as well as another favorite theology that I often hear from pulpits:  PROSPERITY!!

But that's for another time...

Have a great day!

Jer

***Grace Butt defined:  You are loved by God - only if you do such and such...  "You are completely loved by God, but you have to...."  Conditional vs. Unconditional love.  Which is it?





Monday, April 8, 2013

Lent Reflections

Lent.  What a strange practice.  This year I actually looked up the history.  I had always thought Lent was a 40 day fast.  But Lent is actually 46 days.  The six extra days are called “Feast Days” and are the six Sundays before Easter.  They are a sabbatical from the fast (feast!).  Also - originally - people that practiced Lent gave up ALL food except bread and water - not just meat.  Who knew?  Now... THAT would be a difficult Lent.  Maybe I’ll try it one day.  

I’ve been practicing Lent for years, but had never really looked at the roots.  Interesting stuff.  Most years I give up coffee or soda.  I was on track to do that again this year, but decided to change it up a bit instead at the last minute.  I’m super glad I did.

This year I decided to do three things.  

First.

I went a somewhat traditional route and gave up meat.  Within the first week, I was astonished at how much meat I normally eat.  Turns out, for me - every meal is meat - or has meat in it.  Usually, when I give up coffee, soda, or caffeine, the cravings go away after the first week.  Not so with meat.  I craved meat every single day of Lent.  I failed 3 times (which is actually pretty good).  43 days meatless!  That's over 40 days.  But - I wasn’t doing the Sabbatical Sundays - so Lent for me was 46 days this year.  A fail is a fail, even if it was close and I could justify it.  ;-)  

And - failing an hour and a half before Easter???  Well, that’s pretty bad.  I admit.  hahaha. 

Second.  

I also decided to write in my blog every day of Lent.  I almost did it.  I did 43 days out of 46.  So close!  It was super difficult..

Here’s a few reflections from writing daily...

Ideas are out there.  There’s never a lack of ideas to comment on or write about.  Not every idea is a good one, but they’re out there.  It’s the work - writing - that’s the challenge.  

Writing isn’t easy.  Sharing thoughts from time to time is easier, but every day?  Quite demanding.  There are many challenges.  Coming up with ideas.  The mechanics of writing.  Capturing ideas with letters and words (easier said than done).  And humor?  Tone?  wow.  Let alone - editing.  Just editing itself can be excruciating.  Then letting it go - saying “I’m done.”  The finality of “publish”.  It’s all pretty difficult.  And deadlines themselves are interesting too.  There’s a bit of an added pressure when you’re writing with the clock ticking.  So fascinating.  I published quite a few blogs just minutes before midnight.  ha!

Writing has a mind of its own.  I know that probably has more to do with my mind - but sometimes writing takes you in places you weren’t expecting.  It’s really interesting.  I wrote about that a couple times in the blog.

I also learned that I still have so much to learn.  Gotta love this journey!

Third.  

I attempted to capture a photo on Instagram every day.  I completely failed in this challenge - I maybe did it half the time.  My ordinary day is pretty dang ordinary - I felt I’d be capturing the same picture over and over again with different lighting.  There were definitely moments I missed, but still.  I liked how doing this got me into the frame of mind of a photographer (at least more than ever before), but it was more of a chore than a joy.  I guess that’s why I tried it: I wanted to experience something new.  When I do look at the photos I published, I’m glad I attempted it.  I actually wish I had been more strict on this one, but that’ll be for next time... 

All three challenges made Lent pretty tough this year.  In one discipline, I gave something up - I restrained myself.  In the other two, I added something to my daily routine.  Like I said, thought I’d change it up.  I have to say - as hard as it was - it was really valuable this year.  I learned a lot.  It wasn’t a passive practice - and that was definitely good for me.

From a “Jesus sighting” perspective - I experienced:

The discipline of doing (as opposed to just thinking or dreaming) - Love Does... (the Word became flesh...)

The grace of screwing up - forgiving myself - and continuing on.  God forgives us completely.  His mercy is NEW every morning.

What it’s like to live under a self imposed “Law” and the lack of freedom I experienced from obeying it.  God’s perfection (Sermon on the mount) - how incredibly strong He was to never sin.

That sometimes limiting freedom can be beneficial (I lost some weight along the way) - God’s miracle of restraint, God limited Himself in the person Jesus (incarnation).  His restraint was super beneficial for humanity and was one way (of many) He revealed His deep love for us.

How I tick and how I see the world around me - in some new ways.  Jesus gives sight to the blind.

Freedom on Easter (eating a Porterhouse Steak for Easter dinner! yumm)  Freedom from the Law.  We are ALL acceptable by God because of His work/action.

And the JOY of Easter - Freedom and Resurrection (usually I just focus on Resurrection) "In His great joy"..."be joyful always"..."for the joy set before Him" - Temple Curtain torn.  Christ is Life!  Rejoice!

The really cool thing is that I’m still learning and reflecting.  Most Easters, it’s done when it’s done.  This one’s still working itself out.  

I feel like I can accomplish an actual task - or restrain myself from something - in a 40 day period (for the most part).  Maybe that’s a new way of looking at a first step - for goals and dreams.  I don't know...  

One thing I do know - I’m still learning...one day at a time - and maybe now - in forty day increments.  lol

Have a great day!

Jer


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

100th Entry!!! A Look Back...

I’ve made it to 100 entries!  Wow.  Crazy.  My first milestone.
This is not a pretty blog like many of my friend's work.  But - it’s a blog.  A journal of sorts.  When I began writing it, I was married.  I went through the painful process of divorce - and now am on the other side of it all.  It’s really interesting (on a personal note) to look back into the past.  I remember where I was and what I was doing when I wrote most of these.  Of course, a few I don’t remember writing at all.  Those are pretty cool too.  But - wow - strange...

I compiled a list of my favorites.  These were hard to choose, but I made an attempt.  I started out with 10, but kept finding little nuggets - so I’d add a few here an there.  I could have added more, but I held off.  There are 15 total in the first batch - and 7 in the honorable mentions.  I like more than that for sure, but these are a good batch for my first 100.  

I was considering adding a few that were less than good (downright awful! - haha) - but didn’t want to waste your - or my - time.  I tried to stay away from really recent ones too, but a few made the cut.  If they weren’t so recent - I would have probably added a few more.  

Anyway - if ya got time on your hands - maybe you’re bored - maybe you’re curious - click on the title of a blog - That’s a link to each individual entry.  I also included some other blogs that I read at the very bottom.

Now off to write the next 100! (well - after a little break - of course - and re-imagining it all over again.  ha!)

Hope all is well!  

Jer


Good News to All - I originally wrote this for a Young Life Newsletter and got a pretty good response.  In fact, someone said that I should write more often.  That’s actually why I started this blog - from that encouragement.  100 entries later - I still think this is one of the best ones I’ve written.  Short and to the point.  Seize the Day - was my first actual “blog” entry.  I was learning how to do navigate blogger - all that - and the topic was fitting.  I was “seizing the day” by writing.  Gosh - and such good memories of those days!  This is more of a personal favorite because of all that.  First blog - and great memories...

Fan Mail - One night, I randomly got a long message from someone I didn’t remember on Facebook.  I was shocked.  Completely shocked.  This is that email and my response.  Looking back - it’s HILARIOUS!! bahahaha.

Caught in the Act - Occasionally, I’ll read a story from the scriptures that I’ve read a million times - and something jumps out at me that I’d never seen before.  Often, it’s a controversial idea that contradicts a popular view of God that I’ve heard from the pulpit - and it’s right there - within the scriptures.  When I see it - I think, “how have I never seen this before???”  I usually laugh.  It happens quite often actually.  Here’s one of those - I love this one...

Christian Values - I hate the term “Christian Values.”  It has such awful connotations.  Christian “ethics” often lead people in the wrong direction, it’s frustrating.  So - I decided to write a play on words with this one - more about valuing others verses behavioral modification.  I don’t really know why - but I really like this one too.  God’s Judgment is another play on words that’s a pretty good... For What It’s Worth is another one that’s along those same lines...

Sucker Punch - I wrote this blog after I realized that my divorce was eminent.  I wrote it as a reminder to me - that someone actually cares.  I also wrote it as a reminder that life goes on.  I didn’t directly talk about my divorce in the blog, but the last line is how I was feeling.  And - yeah - this was that moment of knowing - the final nail in the coffin.  Sucker Punch... The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was another one of those difficult days - but it came out so hopeful.  So good!  I had edited it a super long time ago, but it didn’t publish - for whatever reason - so it’s my most recent blog.  However, I wrote it over a year ago - two months before I signed for my divorce.  ouch.  I think I wrote this when I found out my I was going to sign the papers...

Sin Riddle - Someone inferred that I was going to hell because I thought the idea of “substitution” was a bit simplistic and misleading.  I felt condemned and unaccepted.  I’m going to hell?  Gosh - and I’m even considered an “insider” - I’m in the faith community!  Wow.  How must “outsiders” feel?  Helped me remember that feeling.  Christian arrogance is ugly.  I didn’t want to write this poem.  I resisted - but it came out anyway.  It’s my my response to those hurtful and condemning words.  If you get all the references within it - it’s about the harshest critique I could give the state of our institutional church.  It’s pretty harsh, but I’m goin‘ to hell anyway - so why not?  haha.  Not Knowing Any Different - is another poem I love that I wrote about ten years ago about a homeless shelter - it’s always convicting when I read it...

 F’ing Earthquake - I’ve written quite a few memory blogs.  This is one of the crazier ones.  Well - gosh - that’s not totally true - I’ve definitely had some crazy stories on par with this one.  But, still - it was far from normal.  One sweet memory that I didn’t include was staying in San Luis Obispo after everything had settled, and calling my dad at his work - a radio station.  Chuck, Bil, and I were interviewed live on the radio station back home about this crazy experience that we’d lived through.  We didn’t include the story that I share in this blog - but the overall experience was quite memorable - on multiple levels.  A Bad Moment of Profanity - is another fun memory that was pretty unbelievable.

Truth - I sat and listened to the sales pitch of an alter call at a Christian Conference and barely had the self control to not leave (let alone throw things).  The talk was awful - and painted a picture of a very conditional love - and the speaker tied God to that idea.  But worse.  A young and innocent kid was sitting behind me and stood up wanting to receive an invitation to follow Jesus.  A person in their group told the kid “Sit down!  You shouldn’t stand up unless your actually serious about all this!”  It was such an angry and mean voice - it caught me off guard.  It was also a great picture of God’s love!  haha.  umm...no.  I didn’t write about that incident, but I did write a little about that awful talk.  Truth was the result.

What a Miss! - This one’s quite recent, but is intriguing to me.  It’s so interesting when I say one thing, people conclude something completely different.  Many people jump to conclusions.  This is definitely a topic that’s been swimming around in my head a lot lately.  On top of that - after a particular conclusion is made, then a person can get put into a category - a stereotype - of people.  It’s really fascinating.  I recently wrote about gay marriage - very tongue and cheek (no pun intended - haha) and suddenly everyone and their mom were making conclusions about what kind of christian I am - all of that.  Some messaged me privately for fear of showing support.  haha.  Some had some serious questions or concerns.  Soooooo interesting.  I think people like to put other people into nice categories so they believe they can understand them - or can dismiss them if need be.  I could go on with this idea - but - yeah - it’s where my mind been swimming lately.  Very intriguing!

Perfection Problem - Sometimes I share my struggles about the writing process.  When I began writing this blog - I was too critical about everything I wrote, and this led me to not finish anything.  Or worse - I didn’t write at all.  With this blog, I forced myself to write.  I just put my thoughts out there - good, bad, or ugly.  Even recently - I forced myself to write daily - for Lent.  Talk about difficult!  After you read this entry - you’ll see how truly difficult that would be for me.  But, it’s gotten easier.  And I’m slowly progressing.  Slowly.  But - there’s progress.  Well - I hope, anyway.



Honorable Mentions

Take the Money or I’ll Blow Your F’ing Head Off - and Abandoning Father are a bit about the same thing.  They’re about the frustration of Christian Dogma - the type that’s often sold from the pulpit or in “evangelism”.  These only get honorable mentions because they’re both a bit too long (it’s difficult to condense these ideas) and they’re a bit argumentative.  I know that Christianity isn’t an argument - but I hear such wacky crap from the pulpit that I want to throw chairs sometimes.  These are also “inside the faith community” disagreements.  I truly believe God is bigger and greater than our opinions - so there’s hope for all of us.  Many people within the faith community would disagree with me about these ideas.  Actually - most people would!  haha.  And many would think I was walking a road towards hell.  But - I want truth, not dogma.  God is greater than the marketing sales pitch He’s become in many Christian circles.  I’m trying not to attack people - but ideas.  Bad ideas.  But people that hold onto bad ideas often get offended.  Then - I get judged to eternal burning in hell.  Amazing how loving Christians can be, don’t you think?  haha.

I often write about death too.  This is a tough subject.  But - there’s hope in the midst of tragedy - at least in my experience.  Here’s a few of my thoughts...  

Grass  


Lastly - some shout outs:

Donald Miller  -  I wouldn’t have started blogging had it not been for Donald Miller.  His ideas are not always perfect - but he has some gems for sure.  The book - “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” is one of my all time favorites - and introduced me to Bob Goff who wrote “Love Does” - another favorite.  I don’t know Donald Miller - but I have a picture with him from a conference, and act like we’re best friends.  haha 

Here’s some friends that have blogs too - always like to give a shout out:

Austin Thomas - The first time I met Austin was on my Christmas Tree Lot adventure - that I actually write about in one of my earlier memory blogs.  I haven’t written that part of the story yet - but it’s coming...

Trevor Ganz - I should have met Trevor a long time ago - but the timing wasn’t right because I moved.  We met years later working in Young Life together.  Good thoughts from him - he just doesn't write enough... haha

Heidi Redmond - I met Heidi when I worked at Sizzler - and she was this tiny little girl in a high chair.  And I’d tell her and her family riddles in between cleaning up tables.  She rocks...  Her brother is a really good friend of mine and is featured in  Super Hero Names - as well as many other future blogs.

Dane Johnson - I met Dane forever ago too.  He’s an awesome musician and is in a great band called The Music Room.  You can find links on his page.  His sister and I used to sing songs way back in the day - another lifetime ago.  I envy his traveling adventures...  

Kyle Bryant - Oh - wow - I have some of my biggest laughs with Kyle.  And he truly exemplifies living life to the fullest - Seizing the Day.  Watch his TED talk - it’ll get you off your butt and into living a better life!  Some of my sweetest memories are with Kyle.  I look forward to riding bikes with him soon!

****If you have a blog that I’m unaware of - link to it on the comment section.  I love adding new peeps to my list of morning reads!