Sunday, November 30, 2008

"We need silence to hear God."

I read an article in the Tribune a few days ago about the shrinking number of nuns worldwide. They are particularly falling in the more "advanced" countries.

Sister Maria, 79, from Italy has a theory,

"The young in Italy have TV. They have cell phones. They have these laptops they carry around... when you are going to discos, how can you expect to hear the word of God? You need silence to hear God."

Is this not also true for all believers? We cram our ears full of sound from television, movies, youtube, gossip and increasingly... earbuds. Is there any space left for the still small voice, much less a loud booming voice?

Silence didn't use to take discipline, but it does today. And silence should be practiced as part of a Jesus followers journey.

Unplug, listen UP, obey. (repeat)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Proclamation... 1863

With a year full of drama, on this Thanksgiving day, I thought it might be good to reflect on a Thanksgiving past. The year was 1863, and Abraham Lincoln provided leadership and healing to a nation that desperately needed it during a tumultuous time. Here is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day proclamation in that year of 1863. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

~Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Eagles Are Still Flyin' High

I became a fan of the Eagles while I was a child because my older sisters listened to them. Much of my love for '70's music came this way. But by the time I became old enough to go to one of their concerts, they decided that the band was finished. Then came the "Hell Freezes Over" tour and my hopes were rekindled to see them again.

And that is exactly what happened last week in downtown Cincinnati. Stacey and I finally got to see Glenn, Don, Tim and Joe in person. After 40+ years of rockin' out, I was convinced that they could not sound as good as they did in their prime. And not only was I wrong, but I wonder if maybe now is their prime. They seem to be at peace with themselves and each other and making jokes about themselves and their past.

At 61, Glenn opened the concert by saying "Welcome to the Assisted Living Tour." He also dedicated "Lyin' Eyes" to his first wife, "Plaintiff". And he said that the band's wives think that "this next song is about credit cards", then proceeded to play "Take It To The Limit".

Dressed in black suits, white shirts and black ties, they played all of the hits that made them famous and some deep new songs from their new album from which they named their tour. "Hotel California", "Peaceful Easy Feeling", "The Long Run", "Take it Easy", with "Dirty Laundry"(great video primarily of FoxNews and Bill O'Reilly), "Life's Been Good" for good measure and ending with what else, "Desperado". And their "Long Road Out of Eden" song had a great rythym with deeply moving lyrics about America and the Iraq war. Showing that they still have great writing skill, here's a line from the song...
Behold the bitten apple, the power of the tools
But all the knowledge in the world is of no use to fools
And it's a long road out of Eden.
And for 3 hours and 45 minutes, these guys gave it all that they had. For someone just turning 40 (and I was one of the youngin's in the crowd), it was such an inspiration to see these men enjoying life and in top form at an age when most people would be playing parcheesi and counting their money.

So, my 40th birthday present (thank you Beard family) was one for the memory books and I can cross one more thing off of my bucket list. Next on the list, slightly younger rockers U2.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

American Grief

A new report came out yesterday that said that American influence around the world will diminish by 2025. It's rival at that time? China, of course. You can read the full story HERE.

It's a new world that we live in and it might take some getting used to. The age that I have grown up in took a lot of things for granted. Like...

  • Prosperity
  • Unlimited lines of credit
  • American dominance in the world
  • That when the market goes down, it must go back up
  • And that America always gets it's man

So much has happened over the last few weeks that has shaken many of these ideas. And a lot of soul-searching has begun for many Americans. It's almost as if we are entering in some sort of grief cycle. The reactions will vary greatly.

It is a great opportunity for the church to reassert the timeless truths of an unshakable God. Reminds me of one of the great songs that I've sung in church since I was a boy (and we will be singing it tomorrow as well). Markets, countries, kingdoms come and go but one thing is for sure...

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is


Friday, November 14, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts- (please read this one!)

I had started several times to write some post-election thoughts and did not finish. I had a range of thoughts and emotions with this election as it was charged with fervor on both sides. Sadly, it pitted a lot of christians against one another and resulted in the opposite of Jesus' prayer in John 17 (summary- "Father make them ONE as we are ONE").

John Ortberg, who is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California wrote an outstanding article that I read on Out of Ur's website that expresses better than I could my feelings about the election. So here is a shortened version of John's words and my heart in an article titled "The seven deadly sins of evangelicals in politics".

Messianism. The sin of believing that a merely human person or system can usher in the eschaton. This is often tipped off by phrases like: “The most important election of our lifetime” (which one wasn’t?); or “God’s man for the hour.”

Selective Scripturization. The sin of using Scripture to reinforce whatever attitude toward the president you feel like holding, while shellacking it with a thin spiritual veneer. If the candidate you like holds office, you consistently point people toward Romans 13: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” If your candidate lost, you consistently point people to Acts 4:10 where Peter and John say to the Sanhedrin: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” It’s just lucky for us the Bible is such a big book.

Easy Believism. This is the sin of believing the worst about a candidate you disagree with, because when you want them to lose you actually want to believe bad things about them. “Love is patient, love is kind,” Paul said. “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.” But in Paul’s day nobody ran for Caesar. There was no talk radio.

Episodism. The sin of being engaged in civic life only on a random basis. The real issues never go away, but we’re tempted to give them our attention only when the news about them is controversial, or simplistic, or emotionally charged. Sustained attention to vital but unsexy issues is not our strong suit.

Alarmism. A friend of mine used to work for an organization that claimed both Christian identity and a particular political orientation. They actually liked it when a president was elected of the opposite persuasion, because it meant they could raise a lot more money. It is in their financial interests to convince their constituents that the president is less sane than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Alarmists on both sides of the spectrum make it sound like we’re electing a Bogeyman-in-Chief every four years. I sometimes think we should move the election up a few days to October 31.

One Issue-ism. Justifying our intolerance of complexity and nuance by collapsing a decision into a simplistic and superficial framework.

Pride. I couldn’t think of a snappy title for this one. But politics, after all, is largely about power. And power goes to the core of our issues of control and narcissism and need to be right and tendency to divide the human race into ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’

What might happen if the world were to see those of us who claim to be the church vote, and speak, and campaign, and respond to the results in a humble and repentant spirit?

Thank you John. May we learn some valuable lessons and move together as ONE.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homeless in the Suburbs- my trip to Lazarus House

Last week I saw firsthand how homelessness is not just an inner-city issue. We have a small group (Life Group) from our church that meets in our home on Thursday nights. We are currently reading a book called The Revolution that highlights many of the global issues that affect our world. The book has many contributors and provides some scriptural guidance as well as some practical things that we can do to "right" some of the "wrongs" in our world. Our group concluded that we didn't just want to sit around talking about God, but experiencing him as we serve. We spend one week learning about a topic and then the next week actually doing something about it.

Our current topic is poverty. The week after reading through the chapter on poverty, our group brought urgently needed hats and gloves to the Lazarus House in St. Charles. Lazarus House is located about 5 minutes from our home in typical suburbia, west of Chicago. This is not an area where you would expect to find a lot of homeless people. And yet as we toured the house, Donna, the volunteer coordinator, shared with us that last month they had a record 78 people at the home. She also expects more as the economic downturn continues to snowball.

We were all very impressed with how they discourage short-term help but encourage a 1-2 year commitment to receive education, job training, counseling and financial assistance with the goal of transitioning to a healthy and stable lifestyle. The House is divided into two levels. The lower level is for the newcomers who are in need of immediate assistance. On this level the people all stay in one room with many bunk beds with separate rooms for families. The second level is used for those who have completed their training and are transitioning into the world.

As I looked at the bunk beds in the downstairs area, I was struck by the 2 laundry baskets on the beds. This represented their entire possession...2 laundry basket. It was hard to even comprehend. And Donna said that the number one issue people face when they come to Lazarus House is their low self esteem. Many feel ashamed and stunned that their life has come to this and they need loving, caring people to surround them.

Our Life Group has committed to a regular night where we will cook and serve the people and continue to monitor the urgent needs listed on their website. The night reminded me of a quote from Mother Teresa who was talking to people in the U.S. when she said...

"There is plenty to do right around you... don't fly to Calcutta. Open your eyes and get to work!"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. In case you didn't know, it is on November 11th because on the 11th hour of the 11th month of the 11th day of 1918, WW I officially ended. I am amazed that there are still veterans alive from this first world war. But in light of the election of our first African-American president, I thought that we should remember those who fought in the Civil War. The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict with casualties of around 1,100,000 and 620,000 deaths. Here is some incredible footage of civil war veterans gathered at the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How Storytelling Moved a Nation

We are a story culture; I think we always have been. The Master Storyteller (that would be Jesus) knew this as the Bible tells us that "he only spoke in parables (stories)." People relate to them, they are persuaded by them and they are motivated by them.

Drew Westen, Ph.D., professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University wrote about how Obama was able to use the power of story to captivate a nation and win the Presidency. He writes:

And in the last few weeks of the campaign, Obama finally began to control the four stories that matter in an election:

1. the story you tell about your yourself (that he was the candidate of change, fleshing out what he meant by change);

2. the story you tell about your opponent (that McCain was four more years of Bush);

3. the story the other candidate is telling about himself (McCain the maverick, which Obama countered by citing McCain's proud proclamation that he had voted with Bush over 90 percent of the time and parrying, "That's not a maverick, that's a sidekick"); and

4. the story McCain was telling about Obama (that he lacked the experience and judgment to lead, which Obama countered with his steadiness in the face of the Wall Street meltdown and his strong, steady performances in the debates).

Elections are won by candidates who control those four stories and in so doing inspire the electorate and channel their fears (in this case, fears about the economy trumping all else).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I Was There!

I bought a button that had those words on it as I made my way to downtown Chicago to witness history. I've always been a bit of a political nerd and I could not resist being this close and not taking it in.

I am out of town speaking to young people (on justice) for a couple of days, but when I return I will post my pics and blog about the experience. Many of you shared this with me on facebook (both Republican and Democrat friends...proud to have both).

Whatever our political persuasion, I couldn't help but stand in a crowd of incredible diversity and look into the teary eyed faces of African-Americans and not feel a sense of history unfolding before my eyes. Racism will not end because of this election, but it does reveal to us that America truly is the land of opportunity and true freedom. And it shows that we can overcome our past sins.

I leave us with this thought. Let all of us be reminded that true power is not in a party or a country or any one person, true power is in the hands of the Lord. Let's pray that those who are now in power lead with this humbling reality as their guide.

Monday, November 03, 2008

WWJD with Election 2008? (yes, I pulled out the WWJD)

Yes, the tired and worn out four letter question is asked again. A friend of mine just voted and asked me if he had done WWJD. It made me think a bit. I have tried hard to look at both sides in this election and try to allay fears and combat misinformation with truth. At the end of the day, I hope I was successful. But back to the question, What Would Jesus Do on election day?

First off, big surprise, I'm not Jesus. Now that I came clean with that one, here are some thoughts...

Jesus would pray.

No surprise here, but ask yourself this- "have I prayed about this election?" I have heard several pastors from the pulpit pray that God would have mercy on their country and let their guy win. But I'm thinking more along the lines of "Father, give me humility as I make this decision. Let me not vote out of tradition, manipulation, fear or selfish motivation. Your kingdom come, your will be done. Amen."

Jesus would vote.

And he would probably bring some friends along the way to share in the experience.

Jesus would rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Emotions have been running high with this election. Whoever loses, there will always be those who take it very hard and some who will be so distraught they will mention moving to Canada (or an undisclosed bunker). Jesus would most likely lighten the mood and graciously remind them of a much greater entity than the United States...the kingdom of God.

Jesus would go on living life just like he had before.

God is never taken by surprise and he doesn't need elections or democracies or countries to have his will be done. Jesus would not be shaken by the outcome of an election and he would continue his mission that God gave him from the beginning (see Luke 4).

Just some thoughts on election eve. Now don't ask, DO!

The United States of FEAR and MISINFORMATION

The one downside of our freewheeling, information society is how quickly fear and misinformation can spread. I have been amazed at the generous portions of both of these being dished up in this election. It's the one thing that unites us ALL.

But nothing like some humor to drive home this point and hopefully make us do something we really need to do...laugh!

note- facebook friends can see this video at my blog-