Monday, January 15, 2007

Resolution 2007: The Health Doctrine

Like practically everyone else, my goal for the year is to lose weight. However, this year I want to try a different approach. Instead of just saying “I need to lose 70 pounds”, instead I want to develop a biblical understanding of health issues like weight, exercise, etc. Hopefully, I’ll periodically begin to investigate scriptural teaching on these matters.

Ideally, my weight loss won’t be because I don’t want to die young and I don’t want to buy a new wardrobe. Instead, I hope it will be because I have a more biblical understand of God’s viewpoint on health and body issues.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Resolution 2007: Christianity Without The Mirror

I’ve been writing some curriculum for a seeker-oriented small group that we’re leading in 2007. It’s been a discouraging search for material, and it’s led to a serious New Year’s Resolution.

I’ve been to a pair of Christian bookstores, and it’s astounding to me how evangelism is nearly ignored on their shelves. I found stacks of books on how to be a better (fill in the blank).

Want to be a better father? We have a full rack of books. Need to spice up your sex life? We’ll be happy to help.

Need books on how to explain Jesus to a non-believer? Uhhhh, look on the back shelf of the bookstore, at the bottom of the rack. We have a couple of books that might have something to do with that.

What has happened to us?

How have we turned Christianity into “holy” narcissism? How did we turn the call of a holy God into a means of self-fulfillment?

I admit, I’m loaded with self-interest, but did Jesus really die for my emotional stability and vocational productivity? I’m sure he cares about those things, but the Great Commission places no priority there.

For 2007, I need to explore a Christianity that pushes me outside of myself and into the lives of others. I need to focus less on God’s blessings and more on God’s directive to Go.

I want to be more involved in activities that are redemptive in nature. I want to help people understand who Jesus is. I want to manifest God’s love for a fallen world by serving those in difficult circumstances. I want to spend more money on feeding the poor and less on feeding my ego. I want to reflect more of Jesus, instead of looking at my reflection in the mirror.

Don’t be deceived; this isn’t my personal call to asceticism. I don’t want to completely shrug off the legitimate blessings God has given me and my family. I’m not going to sell the house or get rid of the dog. I just want to evaluate the choices I make, and make them with a mindset that is more reflective of the Bible, and less reflective of the book topics at the local Christian store.

Taking this road makes my stomach churn.

I worry how much God might remove the blessings to challenge my commitment.

I definitely know my own weakness. I know how angry I get at God when my good deeds don’t "pay off".

Just this week, I was pretty ticked off. I wrote a $500 check to our end-of-the-year fund at church, and several hours later I was handed a completely unexpected bill for $622 in car repairs. Why don’t my good deeds make me immune to these things?

That, unfortunately, is the perfect example of my own self-centered worldview. Rather than recognizing the good that $500 might create in ministry opportunities at church, I’m primarily concerned that God didn’t fall to His knees in gratitude for my overwhelming generosity. Can I be any more arrogant? Exactly when did God become my manservant?

So, I begin this path, where my faith is more about God and others, and less about my personal fulfillment.

If I can make strides in this direction, 2007 will be a success.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Two Full Years

So, I’m thinking a lot about time right now.

The story of Joseph in the Old Testament really set me down this path. He is imprisoned after his boss’ wife makes a false rape accusation against him. He helps out a guy with a dream interpretation, and the guy promises to help Joseph when he gets out of prison. Instead, he forgets. So, more time in the pokey for Joseph.

In fact, Genesis 41:1 starts off this way -- “When two full years had passed”.


The desperation of that phrase really hit me. Two FULL years. TWO full years. Two full YEARS.

Joseph is already in prison because he stood up for righteous living by rejecting the advances of his boss’ wife (a rejection that led to the false rape charge). Then, he helps a fellow prisoner out. This guy reneges on his promise, and Joseph sits in prison for two more years.

104 weeks.

728 days.

17,472 long, lonely hours.

I wonder if he felt betrayed by doing the right thing, and being tossed in prison for it. I wonder if he ever shook his fist at God for forgetting him. I wonder how much his faith wavered.

It seems that one of the best ways God forges our character is to make us wait. He uses time to his advantage to mould us and force us to rely on Him. Our greatest mistakes happen when we circumvent time to get what we want on our own timetable.

There have been two occasions when the time thing really worked out for me, and one when it hasn’t.

The first was when I was single, and wanted to be married. I consciously chose to wait as long as it would take to find someone who would fit me emotionally and spiritually. During that time, people laughed at me, lectured me, and even questioned if I "liked girls".

It was 7 long years before I met Karen, but thank God I waited! Yesterday was our 18th anniversary, and it’s been sheer bliss to be married to her.

The second was when we wanted to move to Pittsburgh. We invested five years of praying before the doors finally opened. It was hard to wait, and we lived in a spiritual desert until then. But, when the timing was right, the circumstances fell together in miraculous ways. Living here is the first time since we’ve been married that we felt like we were “home”. The wait was worth it.

I’m struggling with the time factor in relationship to health matters. I’ve been waiting for a long time for the persistent pain I live with to go away. I’ve accepted the fact that the pain may be something God has chosen for me, for reasons only He understands. But, I still get angry and still think I’m being “picked on”. And, I want it to stop.

I don’t understand my circumstances, and I don’t always like them. I don’t always like trusting God -- but where else can I turn? He is in control, and He knows best. My challenge is to believe that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

God Is Stupid

I had a conversation with a friend last week about why the Christian life isn’t enough for us. Often we know what is best, but we choose to reject that for some sort of self-serving lifestyle choice.

It’s a question I’ve been considering every since that conversation. Why do I turn away from clear Biblical teaching, when I know better? Why is it that I can experience all the positive aspects of a righteous life, but still want the “benefits” of unrighteousness?

I’ve come up with three explanations for why I step outside God’s boundaries.

1) God Is Stupid.

Harsh, but accurate. Sand off the shellac of rationalization, and that’s the untreated wood beneath. Disobedience is often a result of our belief that God doesn’t “get it”. This mindset determines that God has no real understanding of my life, so I have to take matters into my own hands.

As an exaggerated example, consider a man who can’t find a job. If his God is stupid, then it’s logical to expand his employment options to include armed robbery, opening an adult bookstore, or becoming a pimp. After all, he can’t find a job, and clearly God is too dumb to figure it out. Going outside of God-defined boundaries to make some money is justifiable when you serve a stupid God.

The antidote to God-Is-Stupid thinking is trust. Trusting means that, whatever it is I need (and we would be well-served to stop identifying our wants as needs - a subject for another day), I can trust God’s timing in delivering it. It may be painful to wait, and it may not make sense, but I will trust God anyway. Trust is sometimes brutally difficult.

The caveat to trust is recognition that I may never get what I want (or think that I need). Hebrews 11 is filled with examples of people who trusted God in difficult situations, and lost their lives. They may have been trusting God to deliver them from the situation, but God instead chose to walk through the pain with them. I don’t necessarily understand that, but clearly God sometimes operates this way. Trust is refusing to step outside of God’s boundaries, no matter how painful.

2) God Is Small.

In this mindset, I know what God has said, but believe God isn’t powerful enough to make it possible. I have to help Him out. This is related to, but different from, God Is Stupid. In God Is Stupid, God doesn’t even understand the situation. In God Is Small, God understands the situation, but doesn’t understand the methodology.

A perfect example of “God Is Small” thinking is the story of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 16). God promises the couple they will have a child. However, when it doesn’t happen right away, Sarah decides God is too small to accomplish childbirth through an old woman. In an unbelievable act of stupidity, she actually encourages her husband to have sex with another woman (I wonder how hard Abraham resisted?) so Abraham can have his child outside the boundaries of marriage. Sarah believed that God would achieve the ultimate goal of allowing Abraham to have a child, but He wasn’t big enough to rejuvenate her own aging plumbing.

The antidote to God-Is-Small thinking is contemplating God’s omnipotence. When we accept (not just recognize) God’s power, we get a bigger view of God. As that view gradually expands over time (the way spiritual growth normally happens), we can increasingly trust God even during the course of His meeting our needs.

The caveat is that God’s power is often revealed in process. Seldom does God invoke the “presto-chango” methodology of Instant Divine Intervention. Instead, He works within the boundaries of time, probably to teach us patience and trust. When I’m able to wait for God, I’ve conquered God-Is-Small thinking.

3) God Is Sightless.

This is blatant rebellion. “I know it’s wrong, but I’m doing it anyway.”

Now, we can clean that up with a lot of rationalization (what about my needs?!?!), but the truth is we would rather do what we want instead of what God wants. This is Garden of Eden thinking. Adam and Eve knew what God wanted, but they chose their own path. God didn’t understand their need (I’m sure they didn’t view it as a “want”) to have more knowledge, so they ate from the forbidden tree.

That didn’t work out so well.

However, we are just dumb enough to believe that, for us, it will work out better.

Probably this error is the one most prevalent in our lives, when we’re honest. John Ortberg, in his book “God Is Closer Than You Think”, says the most common prayer among Christians is “Don’t look at me, God.”

There’s no way to sugar-coat this. It is pure rebellion. “I want my way, and I’m going to take it.” My experience has been that men are adept at this one in the realm of sexual behavior.

The antidote to “God Is Sightless” thinking, as odd as it seems, is recognizing God’s judgment.

That’s not something we like to think about. We like Happy Jesus who loves everyone, who plays with little puppies and is as placid as Perry Como.

We don’t like the angry Jesus who goes into the temple and overturns the tables and the benches (I’ve always wondered if someone was sitting on the bench at the time it was overturned), and who calls the Pharisees names. We don’t like the angry God who dispenses judgment over nations in the Old Testament.

But, it’s reality. God doesn’t put up with sin forever. It has its price, and God will prove to us that He’s not blind.

The caveat is that God’s judgment is rarely immediate (see “presto-chango methodology” above). God is often (although not always) patient, and that grace-laden kindness tempers His judgment. However, it does not quell it.

A person may get away with one affair, or one misleading expense report, or one month of stolen cable service. However, eventually, he or she will pay the price for the sin. God wasn’t joking when He told us we would reap what we sow.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

So, Alfie, what IS it all about?

We just started leading a small group for people with questions about God and Christianity. It's ultimately designed for non-Christians, but isn't that exclusive at this point.

Pretty scary and a big stretch for me to move into this arena.

One of the first questions someone asked was, "What is the purpose of life?"

Wow. Quite a starter! ;-)

Anyway, that question reminds me of a song from my childhood. It's an old Burt Bacharach song. I think it was the title song to the movie, Alfie. It asks the same question:

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?

Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?

And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it's wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?

As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.

I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie.

When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie

So, what *is* it all about? That question was rather jarring for me, because I don’t think about those questions often enough.

What is my purpose? Why are things so messed up? The election results look like we’re headed down the wrong path. There isn’t enough money to go around, and there isn’t enough food to go around, and not enough love to go around.

In the center of it all, there is You. That has to be enough for me. The problem is not your insufficiency; the problem is my inability to see you in the circumstances of my life.

You are there. It Was You, like the song says.

Father, I need to know your presence all over again. I feel lost and alone and sad. Especially sad. I miss you, and I miss the way I used to live. I used to be more disciplined in prayer. I used to read your Word more. I used to memorize scripture. I used to weigh less, which is disturbing to me, right until it’s time to eat.

I have a “used-to” spiritual life. That’s bad.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Dance?!?!

Megan has her first school dance today.

How can that be? How can she be 11 years old already??

Just yesterday she was wearing the little one-piece pajamas and watching SportsCenter with me before I went to work. She’s still the little girl who came home with rocks in her pockets, convinced she had just made the geological discovery of the century. She’s still the independent-minded 4-year old who didn’t want me to walk into her preschool with her because she wanted to do it by herself. She’s not old enough to go to dances … with BOYS?!?!?!?

All these parental changes create incredible, almost overwhelming, angst. I’m understanding more and more than my parenting is becoming less a captain of the ship and more of an attendant-- trying to get her ready for the time when she leaves the cruise and moves on to the dry land of her choosing. Yeah, I know she’s only in the 6th grade, but it's all going so fast.

Thank God I have 6 more years before she heads out for college. The trick now is to make those years meaningful.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. We seem to be on our way to being the family I’ve always criticized. When we eat meals together, it’s often rushed to get to the next activity. We don’t spend a lot of time together any more -- or at least it seems that way. The years are going by so quickly, and we seem to be spending them more in parallel universes. That troubles me a lot.

Parenting makes me realize how dependent upon God I really am for everyday survival. Good thing He’s there, He cares, and He’s in control.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

As a father has compassion ...

I’m struggling all the time to figure out this Daddy thing. I never know if I’m doing the right things by my kids, or if I’m forever damaging them with my incompetent approaches to parenting.

I’m thinking about this passage from Psalm 103:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

What does that possibly teach me about parenting? God’s approach to me is pictured by a compassionate father dealing with his kids’ transgressions.

Here’s what I know about God as my “parent”:

I don’t get immediately punished when I do wrong. Last weekend, Megan was determined to push the limits we set for her. They were good limits, and kept her from harm. They were also limits imposed by a proper authority, for whom she should show proper respect. All in all, our rules were proper and reasonable. No problem there.

The problem is, she kept disobeying and pushing the rules until I eventually had to sit her down and remove some privileges from her.

Everything here seems to be textbook Parenting 101 -- set clear rules, establish punishments, and consistently and quickly follow through when willful disobedience takes place.

Good enough so far … until I read “slow to anger, abounding in love”. How often do I violate God’s rules for life, and go by seemingly unpunished? I know that all my sins will eventually come home to me, but in the interim, God isn’t hovering over me and pouncing on me when I deliberately disobey him.

How do I square my parenting over the weekend with this passage? I want to just rationalize it away … but I get aggravated when people just rationalize away what seems to be a clear biblical teaching with “well, it can’t mean …” because the teaching would contradict conventional wisdom. If God says to forgive someone over and over, that’s what it means. There’s no wiggle room for “yeah, but, I have to protect my own self-respect … I have to teach them a lesson … I just can’t do that yet”. Where does that verse give me a time limit until I have to obey it? It says forgive … and when I don’t, I’ve deliberately disobeyed God. Christians are way too quick to dismiss the hard teachings with rationalizations.

So, I can’t do that with my parenting approaches either. “Slow to anger, abounding in love” seems to equate pretty clearly with “as a father has compassion on his children”.

Am I quick to anger? Absolutely. Do I abound in love? I think I do. I believe that I do. The kids’ reactions to me seem to indicate that. But, I still have to be slow to anger. Just because we still have pretty warm relationships doesn’t mean I can rationalize my quick to anger approach to parenting.

"Slow to anger" means just that. I think it means patience. I think it means teaching the same lesson over and over. I think it means being compassionate instead of angry. I think it means remembering that my daughter is a sinful being, just like her Daddy. I think it means explaining the same thing over and over before I become angry. I think it means being more willing to rely on teaching than on punishment/reward methods.

But then again, what the heck do I know …? ;-)