Do people see Jesus in you?

Sad_Eyes_Never_Lie_by_FS600 I came across a poem not too long ago…it was one that was written “anonymously” so I have taken the liberty to add a couple of phrases.  It asks a powerful question, “do people see Jesus in you?”  After you read it, pray that anybody and everybody would see your Lord in and through you today!

I SAW JESUS

I saw Jesus last week.
He was wearing blue jeans and an old shirt. He was up at the building we call our church; He was alone and working hard. For just a minute he looked a little like one of the people who regularly attend our church. But it was Jesus, I could tell by his smile.

I saw Jesus last Sunday.
He was teaching a Bible class.
He didn't talk real loud or use long words, But you could tell he believed what he said. For just a minute, he looked like my Sunday School teacher. But it was Jesus, I could tell by his loving voice.

I saw Jesus yesterday.
He was at the hospital visiting a friend who was sick. They prayed together quietly. For just a minute he looked like the guy I saw at the worship gathering last week. But it was Jesus, I could tell by the tears in his eyes.

I saw Jesus this morning.
He was in my kitchen making my breakfast and fixing me a special lunch. For just a minute he looked like my wife. But it was Jesus, I could feel the love from his heart.

I saw Jesus this afternoon. 
He was cutting the grass in the community where I live.  He was smiling and waving at everyone who was driving down our street.  It made me feel special even if it was only for a moment.  For a minute, I thought it was just another person we paid to keep our community clean.  But it was Jesus.  No one else has that much joy.

I saw Jesus tonight.
He was sitting out in the street looking for someone to help him.  For a minute he looked like just another homeless person.  But it was Jesus.  I could tell by the look of sincere suffering in his eyes. 

I see Jesus everywhere,
Taking food to the sick,
Welcoming others to his home,
Being friendly to a someone who needs love and for just a minute I think he's someone I know.

But it's always Jesus,
I can tell by the way He serves.

May someone see Jesus in you today.

How about a few questions on which to reflect…Where have you seen Jesus lately?  What was He doing?  How did it feel to see Him?  When was the last time people saw Jesus in you?  Ask someone close to you to tell you.  In fact, ask a person you trust how they could see Jesus in you more often!

Further Reading:  Matthew 25:31-46; Ephesians 5:1-2, Acts 7:54-60, 2 Timothy 1:6-10

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Breaking the Obsession with “ME”

NarcisiThe Obsession of “me”…have you ever considered how much time you think about yourself?  Wander by a mirror and catch a quick glance to check the “cool-ness” factor of your existence?  Browse magazines and circulars on fashion and imagine for hours how you would look in some snazzy new outfit?  Cut out your picture and hold it up so you can imagine yourself sitting behind the wheel of that impressive car?  How many of your sentences begin with “I” or end with “me”?  “I want…I need…I feel…give me…want me…look at me”.  When you are upset or worried or angry or depressed, isn’t it really all about you?  Aren’t you angry because someone wronged or betrayed you?  Aren’t you depressed because life isn’t going the way you want it to? Aren’t you feeling helpless, hopeless and hapless?  Isn’t it irritating when your will and your opinion isn’t automatically the opinion of others?  When there is something wrong on the job, isn’t it the bosses, or your co-workers, or your technology’s fault?  When you get a ticket from a cop, wasn’t he the one who got it wrong because YOU could never break the law?  When you get caught red-handed in some lie, manipulation, some sticky situation, isn’t the first thing that you are tempted to say or think is, “who, me?”.

The Obsession of “me”:  it starts early.  Moments after birth, the self demands its own way.  A baby will scream, pout or keep their unsuspecting parents awake for hours at night asserting its obsession with self. Many of us in my family laugh when we hear a powerful worship song, “It’s all about You”…not because we don’t like the song or are in some way mocking it…rather, the running gag is that the song has nothing to do about Jesus because life really is “all about me” (see the embedded video).  Life would be so much better for all of us if the world revolved around us…at least that’s the way we feel.  

There are not too many examples of lives focused on anything else but an obsession with “me”.  In other words, we don’t get much reinforcement in our culture beyond that of being compulsive narcissists.  Turn on the television set and you see talking heads obsessed with their own opinions.  Read a good newspaper (if that is possible) and follow the lives of your favorite sports teams being inhabited by players who are having a hard time accepting a paltry $20 million dollar salary.  It’s not enough money for them!  They don’t get the ball enough…they have to play second fiddle to a lesser player…the camera isn’t on them enough…the management doesn’t understand their fragile feelings…they don’t get the right opportunities…the doctor misdiagnosed their injury. “I want to be THE man”. Come on!  Get with MY program.  I work with college students who don’t like it when they receive a grade they deserve because of their work in class.  Many think they should get an A or B just by showing up and blessing the world with their presence.  How about one more…I can’t help it…how about the parent whose cooking at home resembles more of a diner; who caters to the individualistic needs of children as they yell in full force, “I don’t like that, I’m not going to eat it”.  I heard those phrases a few times when my kids were growing up.  It isn’t an astute observation to notice that there is only one word that gets repeated often in conversations with kids…”I”…and even the concept of “fairness” is interpreted through the “obsession with me” lens…because in many people’s minds – what is fair is only that which benefits “me”.   
 
Scientists should really drop the search for the origination of the universe…theologians should just stop their insistence on the existence of God…philosophers should give up the pursuit for a higher understanding of the meaning of life.  For most of us, life is all about us.  The solar system doesn’t revolve around the sun; it revolves around “Me”. The only god in this world isn’t the God who created me but the god who is “Me”.  The only meaning in this world is the meaning that I get when the world gives “Me” what I want. 
 
Had enough?  Gets sickening after a while, doesn’t it?  One of the most compelling sermons that I ever heard was one given years ago by the head of Moody Bible Institute, Joe Stowell.  I don’t know Joe but I think if Joe were to write something about himself, he would insist on him being your “average Joe”…someone just as stuck on himself as the next guy!  That’s why what he shared in the message I heard (and later in a book called, Simply Jesus) hit me at the core of my being.  One day, life won’t be about “me”…it won’t be about you…it won’t be about the guy with the $40 million salary or the house in some expensive suburb or the new 7 series BMW or the name on the science building at the local university. It won’t be about the covers of magazines, or CEO status, or diplomas or anything else that has to do with “me”. Life will come down to Jesus. Here’s a snippet from Joe’s message…maybe it can be your prayer on this day! 
 
“I’m only fifty-seven, and I already find myself weary of the hollow thoughts of what few accomplishments I may have mustered in my life.  My failures continue to embarrass me. The inadequacies I have carried with me since my youth still frustrate me.  My insecurities still trouble my soul.  And the praise of others has an increasingly hollow ring.  I am tired of worrying about whether or not the sermon I preached was good enough or whether or not someone will pat me on the back for a job well done.  I’m tired of worrying about what people think about me.  I’m weary of the carnal feeling that sometimes haunts me when someone talks about his favorite preacher and it’s not me.  Bottom line, I just get flat out tired of me. BUT I NEVER GET TIRE OF JESUS. After all these years, I still find Him more compelling, more engaging, more awesome, more surprising, more fulfilling, and more attractive than ever before.  I never get tired of singing His praises or of watching Him perform.  I find Him to be gripping.  Absorbing. Beyond comprehension.  And that’s why – along with Paul, my grandmother, Billy Graham, and countless others through the years – I find myself longing to know Him better.  I am becoming increasingly away that life doesn’t go on forever.  When we’re young, we think we’re bulletproof. We live like we’ll never die. But when your knees protest certain movements and your eyesight and memory begin to grow fuzzy, reality sets in.  I can see the day coming when there’ll be another president of Moody – and a better one at that. There’ll be other preachers who bless hungry hearts.  And me?  I’ll be sitting in the corner of some nursing home waiting for them to ring the lunch bell. And if life up to that point has been about me, that is going to be a sad and empty day – no matter what they’re serving for lunch.  Why?  Because all I will have will be me.  Which at that point won’t be much.” 

Doing life with Jesus and others is the best way I know of breaking the obsession with “me”.  Allowing Jesus and others to have access to your heart…inviting Jesus and others into recesses of your soul that even you haven’t explored.  Submitting to Jesus and others is an ancient spiritual discipline for one reason and one reason only – it is ONE way that God can break the “obsession with me” (if you haven’t read Richard Foster’s work on the Spiritual Disciplines, here’s your encouragement to do so).   But there are other ways…many ways that God can break the obsessions that we have with self.  Pray for a new focus on life.  Pray that life can truly be “all of You, Jesus”.  Pray and seek the Lord in the stillness of your heart for a new obsession that would parallel that which causes the heart of God to stir…that is, loving people and seeing the realities of God’s Kingdom break into their/our lives! Then enter your life and relationships with a new perspective.  You will be amazed at what happens when life is no longer about you!  You will be astounded how losing a bit of that obsession will make a difference in your life with and for others.  Take a new step! 

Discipleship…read and then jump in!

Discipleship-album1 I think we have gotten discipleship wrong and it is time to regain and then unleash the forgotten ways (thanks Alan!) of what it means to follow Jesus.  When some people talk about discipleship, they define it in primarily "privatistic" terms…as if being a disciple of Jesus is epitomized in a person's life as "private territory".  Some describe discipleship as something that emerges out of a person's belief system, or that which is seen in an individual's devotional life (prayer, bible reading, quiet times, etc.)…for others it has to do with what a person "learns" about Jesus via doctrinal, apologetic, or theological exploration as if the more knowledge one has about God the more of a disciple they become.  There is a problem with that though – cognition, mental assent, and doctrinal sophistication where never meant to be measurements of discipleship.  Trust me…there is nothing wrong with knowing more about God and knowing God more.  That should be one of the prime passions of every Christ follower.  Rather what did (at least biblicly) define discipleship was how the follower of Jesus responded in and through their lifestyle to the invitation to participate in the movement of God’s life in the world.  Make no mistake about it – there is a difference between being a "believer" and a "disciple"…they are not synymous.  Belief does not necessarily mean action…belief can lead and should lead to action.  Discipleship assumes belief but primarily means action.  Because of that, discipleship is best clarified in our lives by how much of the life and passions of Jesus are imitated in our daily experience.  Jesus defines the disciple’s existence as we share in his divine nature and lifestyle. Below are some "ideas" of what discipleship can "live like" in someone who claims Jesus as Lord:

"So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Jesus in Matthew 7)

  • Disciples don't necessarily just have principles that they are willing to die for…they also have a list of practices that mark their lives.
  • Disciples see each moment as one with an opportunity to be filled by Jesus – they sacramentalize each moment.
  • Disciples receive with a thankful heart and know what it means to worship God by giving things away.
  • Disciples are gripped by the things that are gripped by grace.
  • Disciples live out the significance Jesus placed on the gathering/community of His people, what is called the Body of Christ, as being the hope of the world.
  • Disicples know the difference between a "please, God" and "please God" prayer.
  • Disicples approach living for the Kingdom of God not as obligation but as an adventure.
  • Disciples know the difference between their effort, knowledge, experience, and energy and the potential that fills them when they are able to tap into the ultimate power-source, gift-releaser – the Holy Spirit.
  • Disciples are not into volunteerism because they know that Jesus calls them into servant leadership and dedicated, humble service to God.
  • Disciples understand the mystery of God and knowing that only by living the mystery will they understand what life is all about.
  • Disicples know that having "eyes to see and ears to hear" has to do with being on the lookout for the movement of God in every moment of life.
  • Disciples know that Jesus calls them to be the Church more than He does to go to church.
  • Disciples know that God is not through with them yet and that their life would be best lived with a sign around their neck, "under construction".
  • Disciples know that listening and loving is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than sharing their faith.
  • Disciples realize that prayer has more to do with their transformation than it does with getting God to do something.
  • Disciples know that when they are in the presence of one or more other disciples that the power of God is waiting in the wings.
  • Disciples know that there is a difference between being hearers and doers of the Word.
  • Disciples know that in the midst of every human contact there is the potential of a Divine appointment.
  • Disciples live out the reality that discipleship for them means discipling others who will in turn disciple others who will in turn…  In other words, Disciples understand that every person they come in contact with is "fair game" for discipling.
  • Disciples love expressions of worship but understand that true worship is embodied in the phrase, "living sacrifice".
  • Disciples know in their heart the cost of discipleship and that discipleship continues to cost.

How about you?  You have any additions?  How about some phrases that YOU can add to the list?  Post a comment and we'll continue to build on what it means for us to be Disciples/Followers of Jesus.



As Promised – Book Review of “Untamed”, by Alan and Deb Hirsch

Responding to the Call of the Wild


Book Review – Untamed-Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship, by Alan and Debra Hirsch (Published by Baker Books, 2010)

There
is nothing like seeing something that is wild. Fact is, people will pay
good money to see animals romp in an environment that mimics their
natural setting simply because it looks wild (even though it is not,
i.e. San Diego Wild Animal Park). There is something inherently
exciting and dangerous about being “wild”…there is anticipation and
uneasiness as well as the thrill of unpredictability. Yet, despite our
fascination with the wild, we seem to be driven by our desire to cage,
tame and domesticate anything that appears dangerous. Why? Because all
the talk of excitement and unpredictability is so often trumped by our
human and hidden need for safety, staidness, and certainty. As long as
something that is wild can be caged up or fenced in we can marginalize
and/or control it.

Alan and Deb Hirsch take a strong stance and
make compelling arguments for regaining and remembering what it was
like to be called to be “untamed” in their new book of the same title,
Untamed-Reactivating a Missional form of Discipleship. When I was
reading the book, it took me back to the feeling I got watching “Born
Free” many years ago…now, I know that sounds absolutely childish,
cliché-ish, and ridiculous…but hear me out. We were created by God,
called by the Jesus Himself, empowered by the very Power of God through
the Holy Spirit NOT SO THAT WE COULD BE domesticated, caged, clipped or
tamed. As long as the culture can drive down streets and see churches
that they assume house tamed Christians (complete with programs and
activities that keep us “in” our cages, fed and satisfied) they will
never know that we as followers of Jesus were not meant for
domestication…and we will never realize our full potential as being
inherently dangerous within our world for the Kingdom. Part of what is
needed in our world from a Kingdom perspective is disciples who are
invading and infiltrating the culture with the very power and presence
of God. Tell you what – you get the “animals” out of the cages,
convinced that being untamed is how God originally designed, saved and
empowered them to be and you have a dynamic that leads to life and
vibrancy. As a friend of mine has said, “unleash the disciple
within”…now, that’s an adventure that many followers of Jesus really
want to sign up for…many that I know, didn’t want to lay down their
lives for the predictability of the cage…they don’t want to be
tamed…they want to feel and experience the Kingdom thrill of being
empowered by God for something that will not only change their lives,
but the world!

Enough of me – the Hirsch’s take on the topic of
discipleship in this new book and they do it with biblical astuteness
and practical passion. Both have extensive histories in traditional and
missional expressions of “Church”…so they write with a personal
believability due to the fact that they have “been there, done that.”
Both are committed to a historically-based, sound and orthodox
Christology, as evidenced in the following:

“Jesus
is the key not only because Christian discipleship is about becoming
more like Jesus but also because it is only in and through Jesus that
we can get the proper, truly Christ-ian understanding of God. In other
words, Jesus gets defining rights in relation to life, discipleship,
theology and everything in between.” (page. 35)

The
Hirsch’s understand the biblical call to discipleship from a decidedly
transformational perspective. They call on us to understand what it is
to be “living versions of him – little Jesuses.” They warn about how
easy it is to fall into lies that convince us to love, follow, and
discover our identity in anything else but the true God. I loved the
Hirsch’s “boldness” in discussing the Holy Spirit – taking risks of
being labeled and pigeon-holed as “raving Pentecostalists”, both Alan
and Deb encourage followers of Jesus in the awakening of the power of
the Holy Spirit not only for life, but also for creativity,
transformation, risky mission and community. This section inspired me,

“…the
missional church movement in the West needs to seriously re-embrace the
role of the Holy Spirit as part of the Christian experience. And if we
really want to recover the lost ethos of authentic missional
Christianity, we are going to have to take the risk of encountering the
divine and personally experiencing god in wild and wonderful ways in
order to bring the kingdom into this time and place. It’s going to take
untamed disciples who, as lovers and pursuers of God, have no defenses
and are willing to lay bare their hearts before him to make this
happen. Amen, come Holy Spirit.” (p. 102).

All I can say
is “preach it!” Discipleship is about change…and God is too much of a
lover of our souls and a God of action to leave us as we are…to know
God is to change (allow ourselves to be stripped of rebellion, stripped
of rebellious religion, stripped of restrictive practices that prevent
us from a true experience and love of God).

In addition to its
theological explorations, ecclesiology and missiology are Untamed’s
true call…at the “heart” of the book (literally, the center of the
paperback that I have on my lap while I write this) is the pivot
section on disciple-making as mission and mission as the definition of
“Church”. In these sections, those of you who are familiar with Alan
and his past work (Shaping of Things to Come, The Forgotten Ways, etc.)
will not be surprised. The Hirsch’s make a passionate argument of the
“untamedness” of the priesthood of all believers and for a recovery of
understanding of the core message of the Great Commission –
Discipleship and Disciple-making. They take on sacred cows…they take on
old paradigms…they take on any and all comers…

“…all
of us are called to disciple others-discipling is the task of every
Christian….discipleship is not just for those who have accepted Jesus
as their Lord and Savior-it’s for everyone. We as believers are called
to disciple everyone who comes into our orbit of influence-it’s that
simple. If each believer understood discipleship in this way and then
took their biblical mandate seriously, we would have lots of people
growing and becoming more and more like Jesus – and hopefully at some
point coming under His Lordship. It’s not our role to convert them, but
to disciple them. Conversion is God’s business. How much better would
the world be? And the fun thing is that in many cases those who haven’t
accepted Jesus as Lord may have no idea that they are being discipled!”
(p. 147)

That’s Untamed! Without a doubt and without
apology, the Hirsch’s call for followers of Jesus to reclaim our
disciple-making prowess and passion is at the heart of what it means to
be “wild” for Christ. I could go on and on…as I already have for many
of your tastes. My enthusiasm for this book is based on its
readability, sound biblical exploration and praxis-orientation. It is
inspiring and practical and is bound to help you think through how you
are to be the Untamed follower of Jesus you have been called to be!

Some honesty about one of my other “loves” – all for fun!

DSCN3864 First of all, I'm a faithful man.  I stick with people…I am passionate about relationships and family and friends…I am loyal to a fault and will invest as deeply as possible relationally because I believe that relationships are key to understanding one of the reasons why God created us in the first place.  So…I have a tendency to be a lifelong and faithful friend.  The only realm where I am a bit "fickle" is in my relationship with my instruments. I had ONE love for a long time.  One love I was true to…one I desired and in which I found musical fulfillment…but then I strayed…now, I am returning to my first "love" (musically speaking)…let me tell you the story:

In 1980, my office at the church building in the Bay Area of California was broken into and the guitar that I worked hard for, and saved for, and prayed for was stolen.  Fact is, it was my second acoustic guitar…my first, a Gibson acoustic (SJ-Deluxe, now worth over $2000) was a beautiful instrument, purchased for me by my dad…but it had to be sacrificed for me to be able to buy a Takamine dreadnought that was the "top of the line" at the time.  I loved that guitar but, alas, it was stolen…taken from my heart by some ruthless vagabonds with nothing but malice in their hearts (truth is, I never found out who stole it…cops never found it).  Well, as things turned out, I was "doubly-covered" by insurance…so my settlement enabled me to go out and buy the "guitar of my dreams".  Yes, the picture embedded in this post is my 1979, Martin D-41.  We've had a long relationship together, Marty and me.  We've toured the Western USA and Canada with three bands…played at innumerable campfires at numerous youth camps, led more worship songs at youth/college/denominational conferences than I could count, and have been musical partners in 1000s of worship experiences…and this doesn't include the songwriting sessions, funerals and weddings, practicing, reflecting times, recording opportunities we've had over the years.  We've played "A mighty fortress", "How Great thou Art", "Day by Day", "Look all around you", "Casual Christian", "I love you Lord", "I walk by Faith", more 70's and 80's and 90's praise songs and children's/VBS songs than I can even think of…and that doesn't include the 100's of songs written in the past ten years that have crossed our paths.  Not only is my love deep for Marty but my wife loves him too!  I played that guitar at our wedding…so, what more needs to be said?

But, alas, I must admit (finally, confession is good for the soul), I mess around with other guitars…yes, I am a flirtatious type…over the years, I've picked up a baby Taylor…oh, yes I also bought a Taylor 3 series…and a Fender and Anderson electrics came into my life, I hate to admit, by my own brazen choice.  Even in the last couple of months, I've brought a ukulele and a mandolin into my music room, yep, to share space and time with my beloved Martin.  The truth is, I even had a year or so in my life where I called ANOTHER GUITAR my favorite…I even posted that on my blog back in 2009 (I am ashamed to say)…well, it serves that guitar right…after tempting me to be unfaithful to my Martin, I came to my senses and I got the final revenge recently – I sold it.  It was cool though to have an Anderson Crowdster Plus in my family…I would have it back in a heart beat if I could justify it financially…oh well. 

So, after having some months of instrumental confusion…coming to the realization that I had to admit the unmanagableness of having too many "love interests" with guitars…owning up to the fact that I have to come clean and turn the issue over to my God…I have now returned to my undying affection for my Martin D-41.  No, I'm not getting rid of the others…I'll just convince Marty that despite the others, I will remain true in my heart to our relationship.  HEY…those of you who are ready to quote the problem that Solomon had with his 300 wives and 700 concubines…back off! 

 Smiley-face-usb_2

Today’s Challenge? Do you know where this is from?

HeadFunStuffWhen I was a kid, I loved Vacation Bible School.  Fact is, I'm a "little older" and I still love it.  No, I'm not going to admit how many VBSs I've been to…let's just say it is a "big" number. 

One of my fondest memories of being a kid in VBS is when our pastor would announce that during the opening ceremonies that we would be having a bible finding contest.  No, it wasn't like an Easter egg hunt where you search for bibles around a room…rather, he would get as many eager kids on stage with their bibles in hand and he would lead an elimination game.  He would shout out a bible book and get us all scrambling to see who could get to the book faster than anyone else.  The key to the game was to find that book in your own bible and then hold up the bible so that everyone could see that you had the right section…Pastor Bernthal (yep, remember him like it was yesterday, he was the longtime pastor of Redemption Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan) would wait a few moments and then yell, "stop".  At that point in the game, anyone who hadn't found the book he initially shouted out would be "eliminated" from the game and asked to have a seat with the rest of the kids.  At first several, then a few, and then one by one, kids were eliminated from the game as Pastor Bernthal attempted to find the "fastest bible book finder" of the day.  Well, as you can imagine, it was a fun and competitive game in those days as dozens of kids would be frantically attempting to find that one obscure bible book in order to be proclaimed as the "bible finding champ for the day".  I can't even begin to tell you how many days I'd come home from VBS and pour over the minor prophets or the pastoral letters getting ready for my moment of bible book finding glory!

Anyway, I digress – today's challenge for you (your mission if you decide to accept it…ominous, huh) is to find/remember which section of the bible the following passage is from – I'm not giving any hints.  This section is taken from a new "re-telling" (not a translation) of the bible that I've been reading and enjoying called, The Voice.  I like the way this section reads…so, try this one on for size!  Post your reference in the comment section or email me @ rdugall@apu.edu.  Ready!  Set!  Go!

"We know we have joined Him in an intimate relationship because we have lived out His commands.  If someone claims, 'I am in an intimate relationship with Him,' but this big talker doesn't live out His commands, then this individual is a liar and a stranger to the truth.  But is someone responds to and obeys His Word, then God's love has truly taken root and filled him.  This is how we know we are in an intimate relationship with Him: anyone who says, 'I live in intimacy with Him' should walk the path Jesus walked."

Why oh Why do I blog?

Question-why I'm a "wonderer"…I like to think, imagine, and dream.  I'm fascinated with original ideas and looking at realities of life from unique or different perspectives.  I also like to think out loud…some say that is a problem and, yes, it has been over the years because my verbal impulsiveness can sometimes be the equivalence to having a permanent "foot in mouth" disease.  Even so, people tell me that I'm an honest and real person…and, to tell you the truth, that's my goal.  No pretense, no false fronts, attempt to be as forthright and authentic as possible in the moment…that's how I pray God will lead me through my life.

So, as one way of exploring more of who God has made me to be, I blog.  For over 4 years I've hammered away at the effort.  In the past years, I written over 600 posts…I've received 400 comments by friends and readers…there have been over 22,000 lifetime page views.  Some days, over 100 of my friends, acquaintances or even the curious stop by for a look…other days, I'm lucky to get a handful of people who even bother…that's OK by me.  A blog in my mind is just what it presents itself to be – on the web…logging in perspectives on life.  My blog is part public journal, part idea-popper, part airing of thoughts (sometimes crazy as they may be), part reflection, part devotion, part public confession, part linguistic playfulness…I love commenting on what I see in the culture, in books, on television, in my own relationships, and what I see God doing in our lives.  From people who know me around the globe (from Marius and Dorina in Romania, to Nathan in Ontario, to the Hixsons in Vancouver, Judith in England), to people in former churches I've pastored, to students in my college classes, to young adults who know me from conferences, to friends here and there – my blog gives me an opportunity to share my life in "snapshots"…perspectives on what's going on in my heart and life in the moment.  In addition, because I love communication, the blog-sphere is a great way to be able to continue to practice "wordsmithing"…exploring ways to write that are engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking. For some people, blogging is public voyeurism…not for me.  I like reading the blogs of people I know, people I don't know, people I will never know, and people I wish I never run into…it is one way in a digitally driven culture to be able to communicate and connect and build communities…it is a way to have your finger on the pulse of what many, many, many people are thinking and feeling.  I'm not a "digital native" but I am a curious digital immigrant who wants in on the conversation.

So, there you have it…those are the thoughts of the morning.  "Why I blog?"  Aren't you glad I don't get into explanations of why I don't all sorts of other things in life…talk about a sleeper! 

By the way, just finished reading Alan Hirsch's new book, Untamed.  I'll be posting a review of it this weekend for your information and enjoyment.  Here's a quick, tasty morsel:

"More is at stake in discipleship than our personal salvation.  The gospel cannot be limited to being about my personal healing and wholeness, but rather extends in and through my salvation to the salvation of the world.  To fail in discipleship and disciple-making is therefore to fail in the primary mission (or sent-ness) of the church."

More to come…

Ah, a cartoon that says what really needs to be said!

Mywife  Yes friends, sometimes you run into things that not only are editorial or thought-provoking or entertaining but you run into things that spell out (or in this case, illustrate) the truth.  One of the blogs that I read (in this instance, view) regularly posted this cartoon today…in a moment that is sure to sound like pure, unadulterated "mush" to some of you, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Lord Jesus for my wife and pal and partner and best friend and confidante and fellow music lover and prayer partner and companion in serving the Lord and…and…and (somethings I'm not going to spell out, just because!)…I would say, "praise you Jesus" for Vicky.  No, you cynics out there, it is not our anniversary…I tell her that I love her daily and often…I appreciate her more than I can ever say…I am so humbled to be able to call myself her husband…and I am so grateful to the Lord that He has blessed us in the many ways He has…to be able to let you know how much she means to me is an honor I will enthusiastically embrace!  Oh, and one more thing…she is not with me for my looks!  That is the one thing that made me smile!

Another quote that is true…

Status-quo For those of you (us) who feel like you are constantly beating up against the "what has been", "what always worked", "the way we've always done it", or "we don't do things like that around here", the words below will be a breath of fresh air.  The farther down the road my journey takes me, the more I see that that which is fresh, new, inspired, pushing the edges, causing people to think/re-think, making people a bit uncomfortable is that which the Lord uses to cause productive change.  Status quo leadership or thinking is only going to lead to more "status quo".  I've often wondered what the Jesus movement of the first few centuries of the early "ekklesia" would have looked like if everyone simply accepted the status quo.  Fact is, the resurrection essentially condemns the status quo…"behold, I am making all things new", says the Lord.  When God does new things, people's lives and history changes.  As Seth says below, there is no "Tribe of Normal"…believe me, those words are prophetic!

"There is no tribe of normal" by Seth Godin

People don't coalesce into active and committed tribes around the status quo.

The only vibrant tribes in our communities are the ones closer the edges, or those trying to make change. The center is large, but it's not connected.  If you're trying to build a tribe, a community or a movement, and you want it to be safe and beyond reproach at the same time, you will fail.

Heretical thoughts, delivered in a way that capture the attention of the minority–that's the path that works.

A Very thought-provoking Article – “Nature’s god” and the culture’s adherence to Pantheism

Nature-desktop-wallpaper Dennis Prager brought this to my attention…no, I don't know him personally.  Yet, I was listening to his radio broadcast last week when he was speaking about "environment worship".  He referenced a column that was written before the first of the year in the NYTimes (which is very surprising once you read this).  Here's the article big point – "nature has one commandment – eat or be eaten, kill or be killed" – contemporary environmentalism is one manifestation of pantheism that is becoming more and more common in the USA.  Radical environmentalism (nature worship is the best worship – that the environment is "holy" – god is is trees) is counter to what followers of Jesus actually adhere to.  Genesis, by the way, came along to counter the worship of nature – if you care about right/wrong, you can't worship nature.  Nature doesn't care about right and wrong (no tree says, "be kind"…no animal says "don't steal from your neighbor") – that's why God says to Adam that he has to "subdue" nature (no, not abuse it).  Dennis Prager (he is Jewish and a commited student of the scripture) says, "the environment is created for humanity – it has no intrinsic purpose without man to appreciate it."  So, how about a read of a very thought-provoking article – that should keep you going!

Heaven and Nature By ROSS DOUTHAT (December 21, 2009 Op-Ed Columnist)

It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.

But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi (Robin's note – Na'Vi is Hebrew for “prophet”, you think that is an accident on Cameron's behalf), an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi.

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.”

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.