Monday, December 28, 2009


In a 1/2010 Wired Magazine article entitled How to Fail, The Neuroscience of Screwing Up,  Jonah Lehrer explains that it has been proven that we really aren't objective, even in our scientific exploration. Every human has two parts of the brain that deter us from being completely objective, The anterior cingulate cortex, which he calls the "oh, sh*t." circuit leads us to set aside what we don't like or expect. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex deletes even the memory of what we don't like. In other words, we are prone not to accept and, therefore, learn from failures (failures being what we did not expect.) Yet many "failures," if pursued, lead us to new and unknown "successes."


I wish I could delete some of the things of which I am not proud. They were failures of my moral life. We all have them. Some big. Some not so big. Some in our past. Some current.


Hard as it may be to believe, Jesus took up all our failures on the Cross and made them his. He can handle them. He wants them because he knows we cannot deal with them.  They crush us if we deal with them alone. While I still must deal with the external things that arise from my failures (trust, consequences, etc.,) I am not flawed as a person and neither are you. No matter where you have been or what you have done, you are not flawed. God has pushed the "delete" button. Big, little sins are covered once we turn our life over (again and again) to God.


As we enter a new year, celebrate the fresh start God gives you. Remember who loves you – completely and unconditionally.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers      1 Timothy 5:1 (NIV)


Does anyone agree with anyone today? I watch Democrats and Republicans reach what seems to be a permanent impasse. "I am right –totally right – and you are wrong."  Maybe so (I don't think so.) People who have deep values disagree. Since no one is perfect or sinless, everyone needs some wiggle room for being completely off-base. Civility not only respects the convictions of another, it does not guess at motives and it leaves open the possibility that the other may be correct.


In other words, civility is a form of love. Yet love moves even beyond civility to encouragement. We who call ourselves Christ are encouraged to encourage. Certainly, not to encourage what we believe is wrong thinking but encouraging the other person. Most of us have heard, "Hate the sin but love the sinner (which is not easy task.)" We may also add, "Rebuke falsehood while being an encourager to those with false beliefs."  And it corollary, "Be open to the fact that you could be wrong." I am willing to walk this tightrope Christ has set out. I will err and sin and have to ask for forgiveness but the world will be a Godlier place. Isn't that what God wants?


Lord, I get so riled up when I hear falsehood. Help me to realize that I render the truth a falsehood if I deliver it with a death blow to a sister or brother. Keep me humble in my fantasies that I know all truth. Hold me steadfast when I look to abandon the truth in order to be nice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God

rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 (NIV)


Most of us would view ourselves as pretty modern folks. Definitely New Testament types. We would think it odd (if not disgusting) to sacrifice animals to keep God happy. Yet, quite honestly, our actions are often more Old Testament than New.


We fall into the trap that "doing" stuff that God likes or is churchy makes God happy. Carry a Bible, cook at church, teach Sunday School, forward Christian email – basically do Christian jobs and activities. I have even experienced people who work at church on Sunday but do not worship God. And, when we see burnout, we know that we have the "sacrifice" cart before the "loving" horse. So too, when we become "issue" driven Christians, caring more about being right than loving God, we know we are missing something.


God differs with our thinking (and actions.) He wants us to know him – intimately. He wants a relationship. Out of a loving relationship with God, we will do all sorts of things. But, if we do all sorts of things for God, but never get to know him (sacrifice,) we miss the whole point – knowing God. Knowing God saves us. Knowing God bears fruit. Knowing God brings love, peace and joy because I have to give up control in order to fall in love.


The mercy (extreme caring for the things that God cares for – mainly people in difficult circumstances) God desires is a natural outcome of loving God. Mercy naturally flows out of loving God. The acts of charity we then do are fueled by God. Things beyond our imagination and capability and resources begin to happen. Burnout NEVER happens.


God, let me seek you and a knowledge of you before settling for being busy as a Christian.


I saw a truck the other day marked as hazardous. From my oil patch days, I knew the contents were aluminum alkyls. These are used in making polymers (plastics.) Nasty characters, they spontaneously combust when exposed to air and can explode when hit with a fire hose (presumably, you are trying to put out the fire you started when you exposed them to air!)


People do not come with a hazardous warning sign. It might be helpful to know who was ready to blow if exposed to suggestions or corrections and who would blow when rebuked. I have met these people from time to time in ministry. Now we all are this way once in a while but some are this way most all the time. Powder kegs waiting to go off. We tip toe and hope for the best while we navigate life around them. This proves really hard if they are family, a coworker or a parishioner.


We, as Christians, mistakenly believe that we are supposed to be "nice." By nice, I mean that we are never supposed to do anything that would make anyone mad. Now I don't believe we should purposely go around picking a fight and I do believe we should respect others (especially those different) but I also believe that the rebuke is a critical tool God uses to correct us.


A rebuke is a correction. We all need correction and we all need to correct. We are as yet incomplete as humans. We have things to learn and we have habits to break. True, not all rebukes are grounded in God, but the Bible tells us that wise people correct others (in love) and accept correction. Only the fool avoids rebuke.


Lord let me listen to faithful correction and embolden me to offer it in love. Help me keep explosions to a minimum.



Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Leviticus 19:17 (NIV)


You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother's son.

 These things you have done and I kept silent;
       you thought I was altogether like you.
       But I will rebuke you
       and accuse you to your face.

 Consider this, you who forget God,
       or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:  
Psalm 50:20-22 (NIV)


My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline
       and do not resent his rebuke   
Proverbs 3:11 (NIV)


He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor
       than he who has a flattering tongue.  
Proverbs 28:23 (NIV)


 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Mark 8:33 (NIV)

Monday, December 14, 2009


There, I said it. I ran across this word the other day while reading. It is German and means the enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others. Another way to say this is "I feel so much better when I see how badly you are doing."


I don't think we cultivate Schadenfreude but I do think it is second nature for us to engage in it when given the opportunity. You get a new car. I have a junker. Yours gets hit and somehow the world seems fairer. You make a lot of money and I don't but there is a certain glee when my child outscores yours in the SAT's. You engage in risky behavior. I don't (at least none I will admit to.) You get sick or hurt. The world is now right. This may be our baser response but God calls out more in us.


Schadenfreude makes my life seem better and makes life sort of even out. Kind of like a cynical karma. The Gospel calls us higher, not shaming our nature but speaking to the Christ within us.


Advent calls us to ponder the Christ who comes into the world. Today, between his first and second Advent, his foray is through us. We engage those who have troubles. God loves those who have troubles. Troubles are a call to action. No time for Schadenfreude.


Hear Mary, God's Mother…


 My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."    

                                                               Luke 1:47-55 (NIV)


Hear her Son years later…


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No Wrecks

Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything

that slows us down, especially the sin that just won't let go. And we must be

determined to run the race that is ahead of us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus,

who leads us and makes our faith complete       Hebrews 12:1-2


I don't know the state of Tiger Wood's soul or the souls of Chris Brown, Bernie Madoff, or Mark Sanford. I cannot Judge. God says so. I am not unaware of their alleged or adjudicated actions. How could I not be? All seem sad to me. The truth does (always) come out.


I can assume that they took their eyes off Jesus. Maybe it was never on him. But even that is not my job as juicy as gossip is (as long as it is not about me.) I am to worry about me.


What Hebrews reminds me of is this…

Life is a long-haul enterprise. Things may look good today, but all my sins do catch up with me.

I get "slowed down" by a lot of things that are none of my business or of which I know little but provide a bit of titillation or righteous indignation.

I must keep my eye on Jesus, even in the minutest details of my day.


Pointing at others and wagging my finger is more fun than following Christ, at least in the short run. But I am running the race of my life (and so are you) and it is the little things that divert my gaze from Christ (and often look harmless enough. I mean, I have never crashed an SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree or stolen millions) that slowly but surely get me off course in life until I am lost altogether.


We are surrounded with so many people that can support us in our race. These witnesses can be both dead and alive. My mother is one of these supporters almost 25 years after her death. Choose to surround yourself with those who encourage you to keep your eye on Christ. Avoid the influence of those who would divert your gaze, even for a moment. Love them but don't turn over the wheel of your life to them. The prize is too great to waste.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Anyone in Christ is a new creation 2 Corinthians 5:17


Did you now that? If you turn to Christ and let him to lead you, you become a different person?


I get "stuck." That is, no matter how hard I try, by sheer will power, I can change little. I soon return to my "old" self. The Apostle Paul had the very same problem.


I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.         Romans 7:15


With all the self-help books out there, I see little changing of people unless Christ does it. The biggest impact of these books may be to make some people rich writing self-help books. There is something of my "old" nature that gets stuck and I am unable to really make the changes I desire. Some people even try to make Christianity a self-help religion. They stay stuck as well.


When I follow Jesus, I become "in him" rather than "about him" or "aware of him" or "sucking up to him." There is a big difference. Lots of people claim to be Christian and do lots of impressive Christian-looking stuff. And even the devil quotes scripture. But only a follower becomes a new creation.


New people change without so much will-power as God-power. Following does take practice and trust because Christ's way of navigating life seems odd to me. "Die to live." "First is last." "Deny yourself." "Forgive forever." "Love unconditionally and sacrificially." These are all, well, WHOPPERS. Yet if I follow Christ in these, I can truly become unstuck – a new creation. I like that.

Ideal Christmas

Author, educator, and environmentalist Bill McKibben  said, "There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, and traditions."


We are busy with Christmas here in the middle of Advent season. Is what you are doing a reflections of your true values? This time of year, I hear from many who are tired, feel coerced, and are overscheduled. My bet is that Christ would not want us to mark his birthday this way. Maybe even skip it if this was the fruit.


I want to communicate thankfulness and love this time of year. I am so blessed, not with everything I want (because I don't need it all and it will come to possess me if I am not careful,) but with a good enough way my express myself and make a living, the freedom to move around, fairly good health, a few good friends who I can count on no matter what, and a family that loves me.


What I do this season, I want to reflect the bounty I have in the last statement. What is your statement out of which will come your ideal Christmas?

Ultimate Bummer?

I noticed recently that no one has read the blog I write in a long while. Actually, I only have two who have subscribed. I write because that's what I do, not because I will be famous or even followed.


When we ask someone, "Who are you when no one is looking?," we usually mean " Do you try to get away with things when no one is looking?" But the converse is true as well. "What good do you do that goes unnoticed, especially in everyday living?" Those little things we do to grease the wheels of the lives of others?


In a very critical world, do you ever stop and recount what good you do? What good you do that was not forced, involves a sacrifice on your part, or even requested but just because? These times are Christ-Moments. Moments when our Savior was borne into the world through you and no one else.


Recount your day today. See what good you do for others that is so much a part of you that you take in for granted. God never takes it or you for granted. You are his special child. And, sometimes, it is because of what you do right. No forgiveness or lecture needed.


I thank God for people like you who unconsciously become Christ at a moments notice and change the course of a day for others.

Conventional Wisdom

The economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, is credited (1958 – The Affluent Society) with coining the phrase, "conventional wisdom." While we think CW is a good thing and back by lots of expert data, he meant it's connotation as negative. He said, "We associate truth with convenience....with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well being or promises avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We find highly acceptable what contributes most to self esteem."


In other words, CW is often cited as a way to make us feel better about ourselves and to avoid painful situations. We have conventional wisdom in order to fool ourselves that everything is okay, that we are really doing enough or engaged, and that no difficult changes are in order.


CW in the 1950's had doctors saying that cigarette smoking was not harmful to our health. They even appeared in ads.  CW can lead us to become inert, not open to new ideas (We don't have to adopt all new ideas but openness can often be an avenue to new life. Remember, CW once said the earth was flat.) If we believe CW that says all incumbents lose elections, we may not vote. Despite what we believe, people we know kill and abduct us far more than strangers do.


Modern Day Spiritual Conventional Wisdom has us believe that we are just fine and need only a minor tune up that will not truly interfere I with life as we know it. Listen to God.


If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.                   1 John 1:8 (NIV)


Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."             John 3:3 (NIV)


For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.              Mathew 16:25 (NIV)


3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 4Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 5Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 7Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 8Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
 9Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.
 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.                Matthew 5:3-11 (NIV)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Right Questions

Marc Kramer, the President of Kramer Communications and an instructor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the National University of Singapore, wrote recently on ( article) a blog on The 10 Questions You Should Never Stop Asking.
Beware if you cannot answer these, do not ask these or stop asking these.

The questions were...

  1. What is our purpose of existing?
  2. Who is our target customer?
  3. Why does anyone need what we're selling?
  4. If there is a need, is it enough to support a profitable business?
  5. What are our competitors up to?
  6. Can you reduce expenses — without harming the product?
  7. Do we have the right leadership?
  8. Do we have the right employees?
  9. How will we continue to drive revenue?
  10. How are your employees holding up?

What if we applied these to church or even to our own life as a follower of Christ?

  1. What is My/My Church's purpose of existing?
  2. Who are the specific people I/we hope to offer abundant life? ("everybody" = "nobody?")
  3. Why does anyone need what I/we are doing? Does anybody really care? Has it lost its importance/ Is its "season over?
  4. If there is a need, is it my/our calling and my/our best stewardship response?
  5. What are My/our peers doing?
  6. Is "more money/fresh blood" really the answer?
  7. Who is called and equipped to lead this specifically? (i.e, who is NOT?)
  8. Have I/we surrounded ourselves with the best team (or any team for that matter)? Who (what gifts) are missing? What gifts/people are not needed?
  9. How will I/we measure success/faithfulness?
  10. How are those around me/those in ministry holding up?

Beware if we cannot answer these, do not ask these or stop asking these.