Archives For July 2009

scorner1A few weekends ago a series of thunderstorms confined me to the house. I had no indoors chores and didn’t feel like writing or reading, so I watched a rented DVD “mockumentary” about religion by a professional comedian and “political commentator.”

In spite of the interviewer’s coarse language and “over the top” arrogance, the film offered some funny moments.

We human beings have an amazing capacity for complacency and self-delusion, and it isn’t surprising that we sometimes use religion for those ends. Extreme examples of religious foolishness, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy ARE funny…in a sad way.

But the mocking interviewer never acknowledged that all people of faith aren’t like the examples in his mockumentary. Nor did he acknowledge-or even seem aware-that foolishness, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy are often completely unrelated to religion.

Jesus said:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Lu 6:41-42 RSV)

He also gave a severe warning against judgmentalism:

“”You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt 5:21-22 RSV)

A mocker feels justified in scorning the foolishness, self-righteousness and hypocrisy of other people only because he ignores his own. (Proverbs 9:7-8; 13:1; 14:6; 15:12) Maybe that’s why the best way to respond to an inveterate mocker is to turn the cheek. (Matthew 5:39)

I was recently watching 100_1416the 2007 film Into the Wild. It’s based on the true story of Chris McCandless. Upon graduating from college in the early 1990′s, McCandless had become disillusioned with his conventional life. Without saying a word to his family, he up and sold all his belongings, withdrew entirely from the only life he new, and eventually ventured deep into the Alaskan wilderness—alone.

McCandless underestimated the rigors of the Alaskan wilderness and eventually died months later—alone. Before his tragic death, he appeared to have a change of heart regarding his decision to live as a loner. These last words were found scrawled in his journal:

“Happiness only real when shared.”

Being a loner is not what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it was the first human experience God spotted as unhealthy — “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’” (Genesis 2:18).

There are good things in life that  bring us joy. But they will only touch our souls when we share them with others.

We can’t get away from it. Our Creator wired us with a dual need for companionship with Himself and with other human beings.

Lasting joy can only be found within relationships.

Telling the Truth

Tim Jackson —  July 23, 2009 — 1 Comment

carfax.comDon’t you long to have people tell you the truth? I sure do. When it came time to replace my vintage Honda recently with a new one (well, it wasn’t “new-new”, it was “used-but-new-to-me-new”), I did my research. Computer searches galore in the evenings when I got home. CARFAX, Blue-book, you name it. I ran VIN numbers and talked with salesman and owners of the models I was considering. I just wanted to know the truth: Was it reliable? Repair costs? Miles-per-gallon?

Once I narrowed my search down to a specific vehicle, then I had to ask: Has it ever been in an accident? Does it burn oil? Has the transmission ever been repaired? Was this a one owner car? I just wanted to know the truth about what I was getting into before plunking down some cold hard cash for a new ride. I really wanted to know what I’m getting. Don’t you?

But truth-telling when it comes to a new purchase is one thing. I don’t want a lemon or to get suckered on the deal. But what’s hardest for me sometimes is telling myself the truth. I find that I’m often far more demanding and intentional in ferreting out the truth about something I want to purchase than I am about what’s going on just under the surface of my skin. What’s more disturbing is that what I often demand from others is what I’m just as reluctant to require of myself. Ouch! And if I’m honest (and I guess I should be if I’m writing about truth-telling), what’s even more unsettling is listening to others tell me the truth about me. Whoa! Now that’s a tough one! (Whew! too much for this brief posting)

But what David wrote in Psalm 51:6 reminds me that God wants me to be a truth teller on the inside first so that I can be a truth-teller on the outside: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (NIV) Where God wants us to start is being brutally honest with ourselves about ourselves. Truth telling about what’s going on inside sets the table for us to really begin understanding the deeper wisdom about who we are and where we struggle that leads to truthful living on the outside. And that changes everything–the way we treat others, our goals, our desires, our behaviors, our choices–everything.

So how about you? Does this have a “ring of truth” to it for you too? Any thoughts?

Do you want to get well?

Jeff Olson —  July 20, 2009 — 5 Comments

prison-fenceEarly in his ministry, Jesus ran across a man who had been handicapped for thirty-eight years. After spotting him lying near a pool in Jerusalem, Jesus approached him and asked, ”Would you like to get well?” (John 5:6).

At first, that sounds like a strange question. Of course the guy wanted to get well. He’d been handicapped for decades! In asking the question, however, Jesus acknowledged that sometimes people want to remain in a crippled and broken state more than they want to get better.

Ironically, for some, the journey to restoration from personal brokenness seems too scary. Even though the wounds of life have crippled and imprisoned them, it’s what they’re used to.

Anyone can get so accustomed to “living” in a state of brokenness that they’re too afraid to leave it. It’s called becoming “institutionalized”—a term inmates used in the prison film, Shawshank Redemption, to describe the state of a prisoner who flounders when he’s paroled. Afraid of the freedom outside the prison walls, some ex-cons would commit another crime in order to get sent back to the only way of life they knew.

This is the same frame of mind the Israelites slipped into shortly after God miraculously freed them from the bondage of Egypt. A life of slavery was the only way of life these people knew.  It was their normal. And just days into their freedom, when the journey became hard, they wanted to go back (Exodus 16:1-3). Following God into the wilderness towards the promise land was apparently too risky. They weren’t ready to “get well.”

How might you answer Jesus’ question: “Would you like to get well?” Is there something so familiar to you that too you’re afraid to leave behind in order to be restored?

Wrong images

Allison Stevens —  July 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

steeple-flickrWe may be giving the wrong message as Christians.

Do we send the wrong message that we Christians are perfect?  When a well-known brother or a sister in Christ falls into sin, it’s so embarrassing to the church. When a “famous Christian” does the very thing he’s preached against all these years, we want to run and hide. We either hang our heads in shame or we point our fingers; we’re just not sure how to feel or respond.

And then, to add to our angst, the world mocks us.  They mock us partly because that’s what Godless people do; but also could it be in part that we’ve implied that all our faults and weaknesses, and tendencies towards particular sins vanishes when we become followers of Jesus? Is the image of ourselves more important than the reality?

My reality is that I’m 100% human. I love deeply, but I can also be rude and angry.  I enjoying giving to those in need, but I’m tempted to buy in excess. I truly delight in God’s earth and the beauty around me. But sometimes I’m quick to point out flaws and unattractiveness in others.

But I also believe in Jesus and His power to save me, give me life, and make my heart clean and pure. He helps me reflect His character. He reminds me who I really am and that I matter to Him. He helps me release things that don’t belong to me. He gives me the courage and love to face my relationships in a healthy, productive way.

But I will fail. This is not meant to be an excuse for indulging in my weaknesses, but to understand that it is only through God’s power that, daily, moment-by-moment, I have any victory at all.

Hopefully my failures won’t be on front page news. More importantly, I hope my mistakes won’t discourage another person from trusting in the One who has given me a new heart.

But I’m no different than any other believer in Jesus, whether it’s a modern day celebrity Christian, or King David, Bathsheba, or Rahab. If 15 seconds of the worst of my life were shown on a life-size screen, no one would follow me.  But I hope they follow Jesus.  He’s the perfect One, not me.

Divine Disruption

Jeff Olson —  July 15, 2009 — 1 Comment

divine-disruption-flickr

I was recently thumbing through the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles when my eyes were drawn to the story of King Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25). The events surrounding the early days of his reign, in particular, give a glimpse into a surprising way God sometimes works in the background of our lives.

Amaziah took over the throne of Judah at the age of 25 after his father was assassinated. As the young king worked to restore a sense of stability to his country, he assembled a massive army among the men of Judah. He also hired the services of an additional 100,000 soldiers from Israel.

Before heading off to war, an unnamed “man of God” warned Amaziah not to let the hired troops from Israel fight with Judah’s army because the favor of the LORD was no longer with Israel. The unidentified man made it clear to the king that no matter how bravely his men would battle, if he proceeded with his plans, Judah would ultimately lose. He reminded the king that God has the “power to help you or to trip you up” (2 Chronicles 25:7-8 NLT).

The king was faced with a tough decision. Breaking the coalition with Israel was complicated. He had invested a lot of money to enlist their services, but it was an unholy alliance. So rather than wait for God to bring it all down, Amaziah cut his losses, trusting that God could make up for much more than he had spent.

The story reassures us that God is willing and able to help us. But it also serves to remind us, that when necessary, He will stick out His Divine foot and “trip” us up. As this happens, it can seem like He’s against us—but He’s not.

God is not out to ruin us, but He will ruin and foil what could destroy us. 

The next time something isn’t working out and it seems like God is against you, it may be that you’re experiencing a dose of Divine disruption. Sometimes God mercifully frustrates what may even seem like the best laid plans to save us from ourselves and to make room for something far better. —Jeff Olson

“Hold On Loosely”

Jeff Olson —  July 11, 2009 — 4 Comments

Soda TopThe other day I stopped at a fast food joint for a quick bite to eat. It wasn’t the healthiest of choices, but I was looking for something easy and cheap.

I placed my order at the drive thru, picked up my beverage and chicken sandwich (minus the sauce), and was good to go.

—or so I thought.

A few minutes later, as I went to take a sip of pop, the plastic lid on my paper cup, which I didn’t realize was just partially fastened, popped off. Instinctively, I squeezed the cup to minimize the damage, but it only made things worse. I can assure you that 20 ounces of diet coke can make quite a mess. By the time I arrived at my office, I looked like a little kid who had wet his britches.

Along with being certain I was born to spill things,  the incident brought to mind how much can go wrong in a relationship when we hold on too tight. If we become the clingy-needy type where it becomes all about us, it’s only a matter of time before we end up squeezing the life out of the ones we claim to “love.”

The New Testament speaks about a better way to approach relationships:

“Don’t look out only for your own interests,

but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians. 2:3-4).

Without mutual consideration, relationships become one-sided and oppressive.

If we feel the lid is coming off of a relationship, smothering and putting the squeeze on others is anything but mutually considerate. I’m pretty sure the 1980′s band 38 Special had this sort of problem in mind when they sang,

Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go

If you cling too tightly

You’re gonna lose control

Your baby needs someone to believe in

And a whole lot of space to breathe in

We all struggle with selfishness, but if we’re after healthy, Christ-like relationshipsholding on loosely is the best way to go.

Pulling Weeds

Tim Jackson —  July 7, 2009 — 1 Comment

boys-weeding-flickr1Weeds. I hate them. I remember as a kid that I always dreaded taking my turn weeding the family garden. Hot, sweaty, bugs, and those contemptible and irresistible weeds. The clay soil in our garden was so hard that pulling a weed was next to impossible. I sometimes secretly wondered if my dad just decided that he wanted to have a garden to torture me and my brothers with the chore of weeding.

So why do I find myself spending time off after work in the evenings and on weekends on my hands and knees or with a hoe weeding my own garden? I mean, I remember vowing to never have a garden when I grew up. But here I am, weeding again, and not because I have to but because I want to. I must be in need of some serious therapy. Right? Okay, maybe not, but how is it that what I loathed as a young boy is something I choose as a man?

It’s because the weeds aren’t the only things I remember from my boyhood home in Central Pennsylvania. I also remember the succulent bi-color sweet corn, the zucchini,  the scallions, and those luscious Big Boy tomatoes that came later. And I must confess that I devoured my fair share of BLT’s, fried zucchini, and butter-drenched corn that always ended up dripping from my chin. The joy of the harvest from your own soil tastes sweeter, richer, and is far more satisfying than anything bought from a  store.

The weeds are also theological to me. Weeding always reminds me of  Genesis 3:17-19, the gender specific curse on the man. “Thorns and thistles” are a product of the Fall and the Curse in the Garden of Eden. “Painful toil” and “the sweat of your brow” are the guarantee of a hard life that has its fair share of struggle and turmoil for each of us, regardless of whether we plant a garden in our backyards or not.  And the weeding–it never ends.

Weeding is a constant necessity if you want to enjoy fruitfulness in this life. Neglect the weeds, and you’ll be overrun, overwhelmed, and be tempted to just give up. And if you give up, the joy of harvest will be stolen.

So, what’s it going to be? Is there a plot of your “life’s garden” that needs some attention? Is your fruitfulness being stolen because you’ve been neglecting your weeding? Are you ready to get on your knees and start pulling those nasty weeds? I hope so.juciy-red-tomato-flickr

And remember: there is a delicious harvest if we do our weeding well.

Look under the hood

Jeff Olson —  July 6, 2009 — 1 Comment

under the hoodSome of my most profound insights have come while driving a car. Of course, I stay alert to what is going on around me, but I’ve noticed how God has this pattern of using certain incidents on the road to draw my attention to things that need to be addressed in me.

For instance, the other day I came across some construction on a two lane road where the traffic was shut down to one lane. The cars traveling in my direction were steadily passing through—until I came along. Wouldn’t you know it, as I approached, Mr. Construction worker turned the sign from “Slow” to “Stop.”

stop-sign-flickr1

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr…Anger.

I know. The man was just doing his job, but I was ticked. It didn’t help that he seemed to enjoy making me wait.

As I sat there fuming,  it dawned on me that something wasn’t right inside of me. My strong emotional reaction was out of proportion. It was signal to take a look under the “hood” to see what was going on.

Strong emotions like anger or fear can be like warning lights on the dashboard of a car—telling us that something important needs immediate attention. Whether it’s something selfish God wants to disrupt, an old lie that needs to be challenged, or a deep hurt He wants to heal, an honest, inward look can reveal what we ultimately need to take to our Father in heaven. —Jeff Olson