Messy Lives

I wrote this devotional for HomeWord a couple of years ago…I was looking over some old files and contemplating whether to delete them from my computer and I hung out on these words for a bit.  They still ring true for me…what about you?

“Turn to me and have mercy on me, for I am alone and in deep distress.  My problems go from bad to worse.  Oh, save me from them all.  Feel my pain and see my trouble.  Forgive all my sins…may integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you.”—Psalm 25:16-21

The other day, I woke up with a bad cold and an even worse mood.  I don’t like having a cold.  It makes me feel lethargic and it saps my initiative.  Since I wasn’t feeling too well, I laid around and watched one of my favorite musicals that just came out on DVD: The Phantom of the Opera. This operetta is deep, tragic and full of real life. I was talking with my wife after we watched the movie together, sharing with her the fact that movies or plays with unhappy endings are usually the ones we remember the most. I went through a whole laundry list of shows that we had seen together to prove my point.  I noted Saving Private Ryan, Romeo and Juliet, Gladiator, The Patriot, Revenge of the Sith, and Braveheart (just to name a few).  In every one of those movies, it is the same story of the reality and struggle of human existence.  There is something about those types of artistic expressions that simply feels right.

Have you ever wondered why? It is because that is the way life is. Not every human story has a happy ending, what current culture wants us to believe. Our culture teaches that if you have the right system, laws, or technology, you can assure your own happy ending. Television and movies give us the impression that any and all human dilemmas are only 30 to 90 minutes from the happy ending they were meant to have.  Many people have bought into the lie that happy endings are what every human being is entitled to live.  Improvement, happiness, material blessings, easy living and progress are things God owes us.  Unfortunately, this is the reason why much of modern culture is failing us:  it is just NOT real. What is real is unpredictability…struggle and pain…brokenness and desperation…sometimes joy and sometimes weariness.

In a life of unpredictability, what can we count on? Jesus. As we journey through this life, Jesus is the only ONE upon whom we can surely bank. He and His Kingdom provide the only hope that can transform the shattered dreams and broken lives that accompany most of what we call “living.”  Remember, Jesus understands what our lives are like. He could have spent his time on earth selling a new product that would have cured all of life’s problems, but He didn’t. Instead, he spent much of his time hanging out with people whose lives were complete messes – lives that look a lot like yours and mine. Why? He knew that what matters most wasn’t creating a happy ending in this life, but rather, the transformation of peoples’ souls in the midst of their struggles. Today, He’s still working that same plan. Now, that’s something I can buy into! How about you?

Here comes Everybody – for those who are interested

51dvs5irdwl_sl500_ What peaked my interest through a presentation on TED eventually motivated me to drop some $$ for the book.  Clay Shirky’s book (click on the pic for a direct link to Amazon) is simply amazing…the subtitle speaks volumes, "The Power of Organizing without Organizations".  Shirley’s thesis is that most of the barriers to forming groups have collapsed and people are exploring new (many of which are technological) manners of enjoying community.   He analyzes the "transfer of organizational capabilities" as they have evolved from various professional classes and systems to the general public.  In other words, what used to take an organization now takes simply willingness and some simple tools to organically not only come into existence but to thrive.  I found Clay’s journey fascinating and inspirational.  You see, the Church has for a long time felt that people "needed" them for vibrancy and true life as a Christ-followers.  To put it another way, you couldn’t be a faithful believer without the "Church" because the institution held unchallenged sway on the issues of community and relationships.  NOW, as Clay asserts, things have changed.  Relationships, connectedness, participation, social organizing and cooperation has become "viral"…which is forcing many to rethink what the concept of spiritual community.  Christ-followers are connecting in chat rooms, blog, IM, social networking sites, and in numerous other ways…they are "worshipping" and doing life in countless manners that are unpredictable and vivaciously and playfully undefined.  In fact, it is bringing the "child" out within many who are wading in these fresh waters.  SOOOOOOOO – without belaboring the point, you might want to take a look at the book and ask yourself, especially if you are a church leader, what does this mean for the future of ministry gatherings?  You might find yourself answering the question with some fresh perspectives.  By the way, here’s the LINK to Clay’s talk on TED.  Enjoy!

It’s worth watching this short video

Whether any of us are Roman Catholic or not, at least someone is making something that is worth seeing without pushing a specific candidate.  This is what I have mentioned before in terms of what issues lend themselves to spiritual leadership and which do not.  I am not going to publically critique any leader/teacher or pastor who wants to promote a specific candidate…that’s a call I can’t make due to what I believe.  I’ll challenge the people I know who have done so privately.  What I do know is this…this video brings up "worldview" issues that transcend the candidates and it calls Christ-followers to do what we should be doing…seeking God for wisdom and voting in a manner that is consistent to our values as people who live for and find meaning in the Kingdom of God.  If you haven’t seen this video, it is worth taking a peak at:

Words I hesitate to post…but have to

This is an article that I read on a blog I read regularly, The Internet Monk.  I read it twice…prayed…read it again…prayed again and then decided to post it.  The issues alive in the culture are deeper than we can ever dream.  This is not a public proclamation of who I am voting for or who Christ-followers should support.  As I have shared in this blog, I do not feel that I am under a call from God to proclaim my personal political leanings.  I believe that those who are called into pastoral, missional and community leadership are to remain primarily allied to a different empire and thus must retain the ability to speak prophetically no matter WHO or WHAT party is in charge of the American "empire".  But these thoughts are too powerful not to share. 

Here is a powerful column from Uwe Siemon-Netto, the German journalist who runs the Institute of Lay Vocation at Concordia Seminary In St. Louis. I post it in full, with his permission. Please read it to the very end, where you will find a detail that will haunt you to your core.

Remembering Collective Shame
By Uwe Siemon-Netto

This column requires a caveat: I am not an American citizen and therefore neither a Republican nor a Democrat. But as a German residing permanently in the United States I believe that I have a duty to opine on at least one aspect of the upcoming elections – the question whether years from now Americans will have to wrestle with collective shame, just as I have had to deal with collective shame over what has happened in Germany in my childhood for my entire life.

It was West Germany’s first postwar president, Theodor Heuss, who coined the phrase, “collective shame” contrasting it with the notion of collective guilt, which he rejected. No, I cannot be expected to feel guilty for crimes the Nazis committed while I was still in elementary school. But as a bearer of a German passport I have never ceased feeling ashamed because three years before I was born German voters elected leaders planning the annihilation of millions of innocent people.

I am certain that in 1933 most Germans did not find the Nazis’ anti-Semitic rhetoric particularly attractive. What made them choose Hitler, then? It was the economy, stupid, and presumably injured national pride, and similar issues. This came to mind as I read the latest Faith in Life poll of issues Americans in general and white evangelicals in particular consider “very important” in this year’s elections.  [click on the link below for the entire article]…

 Download remembering_collective_shame.docx

It’s beginning to look alot like…Christmas? No, Halloween!

ImagesWhen I was a kid (yeah, a long time ago in a galaxy far away), we used to "celebrate" halloween simply…a pillow case in hand, a fun costume and a night going trick or treat in the neighborhood.  Nothing too bad about that!  There would be pumpkins around and sometimes some sort of stereo "soundtrack" of "scarey" sounds but everyone knew what halloween was about – kids and candy and neighborhood fun.  For something a bit more "diabolical", there was Devil’s night (the night before Halloween) where the older kids in the neighborhood got a bit routy but it was still only a preclude, in fact THE only preclude, to halloween.  Well, I just finished walking my dog around the my new neighborhood here in Boise and it was beginning to look alot like halloween ALREADY.  It has been growing over the past years, but now people are decorating their homes, yards, and blocks like many of us remember doing for Christmas.  In fact, this year it looks like we have more halloween decorations up already than we had for all of last Christmas.  It kinda snuck up on me…the culture is "celebrating" death, horror, skulls, fear, etc. more than Christmas.  I know it has to do with a bit of political correctness…I mean, you can’t talk too much about Christmas in public schools, etc. without being seen as a religous bigot but evenso, what has filled the void?  Halloween?  Come on!  It is hard to believe sometimes.  Just when your mind starts to doubt whether there really are cataclysmic cultural shifts occurring in the 21st century, you look around and they smack you in the face.  I tell you, I much prefer manger scenes and reindeer and snowmen to skulls, tomb stones, huge spiders and nooses hanging from trees…which are, by the way, what is being proudly displayed in my neighborhood on October 12th of all things.  Dude!

Clear on values at age six! If only…

Oh, funny story that my daughter shared with me…my 6 year old granddaughter, Abby pulled the "we don’t celebrate ghostes" line on her piano teacher.  The girls are playing a piece called "Witch’s Brew" for a halloween recital at a nursing home and when the teacher first showed it to her, she said "we don’t do witches".  My daughter was sitting nearby and the teacher tried to move past it but Abby wouldn’t let it go.  She kept looking at me and saying "but we don’t do witches".  It was hilarious.  But seriously, I talked to her about not being legalistic, I think she got it, who knows!  Here’s a six year old digging in her heals on what is right and wrong for her and her family.  No matter what you think about halloween, the issue is if only we could all be firm with what we believe and hold on to it even in the most challenging of circumstances!  Way to go my dear Abigail!  Glad I’m not your piano teacher!Dscn4154_2