Monday, January 29, 2007

Where Do You Feel Close To God?

Yesterday I heard a friend of mine speak at church on the topic getting closer to God. She talked about prayer and Bible reading and being with Christian friends. These are the things you normally hear. However, she took a trip down memory lane and shared with us a few anecdotes from her childhood, adolescence and her current life as an adult. These were simple but compelling stories of how real and how close God has been to her through the years. My friend described wonderful answers to prayer. There were times where God comforted, guided, strengthened and simply gave a loving touch as a Father would to a daughter. Though she spoke only about 6-7 minutes it was probably the highlight of the hour of worship for me.

It got me to thinking. In this forum and others I’m the one that often shares how I’m seeing or experiencing God. Let’s trade places. How do you connect with God in ways where you feel close to Him? Would you share a couple of sentences with others?

I’m blessed to not only have a consistent readership from the Seattle area but many of you also check in from various points around the country. How about a little more of a virtual conversation today? Share a thought. Reflect and comment on the thoughts of others.

Where’s your place where you regain intimacy with God?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Bleep" bless you--Editing God Out

If you have ever traveled some distance by plane then you have likely seen an in-flight movie. Because the plane is filled with people of various ages and values airlines hire media companies to edit movies so that they are suitable in language for all audiences. That technically means editors search for and delete and/or bleep profanities and blasphemies.

Jaguar Distribution is one such media company that is employed by Delta Airlines to edit their movies. Currently Delta is showing on some if its flights The Queen, an Oscar-nominated movie about Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair in the week following Princess Diana’s death in 1997.

Surprisingly all mentions of God are bleeped out. In one scene in the movie a character is speaking to the Queen and the viewer hears “(Bleep) bless you, ma’am”, as the reference to God is deleted. Jeff Klein, president of Jaguar Distribution, says that it was a mistake, committed by an “overzealous and inexperienced” employee. Klein said that they are editing the movie again and leaving the references to God in.

I’m not picking on Delta or Jaguar Distribution. Mistakes happen. They are working to correct mistakes. I’m just wondering what’s going on in someone who is editing out profanities and hears the name God and in his zeal decides that God should be edited out.

Yes, I know that some people use the name God and Jesus Christ like swear words and frankly I’m offended when I hear people do that. One of the 10 Commandments forbids us to use God’s name in such ways. Some who are devout take that command so seriously that they won’t even speak God’s name at all for fear of uttering His name in a less than reverent way. However, to speak a blessing, as in “God bless you, ma’am,” cannot possibly be construed by a film editor as a questionable use of God’s name.

One is only left to conclude that this “inexperienced” editor has an opinion of God (and perhaps God-followers) that seems profane or offensive to him. Therefore it was an automatic reflex to hit the delete button when hearing God’s name.

The film editor has been exposed in his effort to edit out God. However, many of us edit God out everyday without others knowing it and many times without our knowing it. God is constantly pursuing us, whispering something of His love, His wisdom, and His guidance to us several times a day, every day.

When I was a kid I used to go visit my grandmother. When spending the night I would be awakened several times during the night by the sounds of trains that would speed past her house. The next morning I would ask, “How do you sleep here with all of the trains that pass through in the night?” My grandmother would just smile and say, “I’ve learned not to hear it.”

I’m afraid many of us learn not to hear, to sense, or to acknowledge God. We edit Him out. There’s not a lot of consequence to editing God out of a movie. There is an eternity’s worth of consequence to editing God out of your life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is Atheism Winning? Is Christianity Real?

Steven Weinberg is a Nobel laureate and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Texas. He has recently published a review of Richard Dawkins’ blockbuster tract for atheism, The God Delusion in The Times (London). In his review Weinberg argues that Dawkins is missing a very big point – that atheism is already winning the day in the West. Weinberg wants Dawkins to calm down and see the victory.

Weinberg points out that Europe is so thoroughly secularized that churches are virtually empty. And, millions of Americans claim to be Christians but have virtually no idea of what Christianity really is. Weinberg explained, “Although most Americans may be sure of the value of religion, as far as I can tell they are not very certain about the truth of what their own religion teaches.”

Weinberg shares anecdotes from his own experience. He says that he has good friends in Texas who are professed Christians but that they never try to convert him. He said, “This might be taken as evidence that they don’t really mind if I spend eternity in Hell, but I prefer to think that they are not all that certain about Hell and Heaven.”

Weinberg also recounted that an American priest told him that it is not so important what one believes; the important thing is how we treat each other. “Of course I applaud this sentiment, but imagine trying to explain ‘not important what one believes’ to Luther or Calvin or St. Paul. Remarks like this show a massive retreat of Christianity from the ground it once occupied.”

I believe that Weinberg is accurate in his assessment of American “Christians”. I hope he and Dawkins are both wrong about atheism winning the day.

Friend, if you have thought about examining Christianity and then thought not because of your observation of “Christians” around you I plead with you to once again give Christianity consideration.

I once had a family physician talk to me about eating right, exercising and staying away from tobacco. He was a smoking, fat, out-of-shape forty-something. However, I believe his medical counsel was correct though he didn’t practice it.

I’m nowhere close to a perfect Christian but I do take my faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His commands seriously. I know a lot of other serious Christians too. And by serious I don’t mean that we’re against fun, laughter, happiness and joy. Many of the Christians that I know and hang out with live deep, rich, connected, full and significant lives. They love others well. They are generous and sacrificial with their stuff. And, if they were a friend of Steven Weinberg, at some appropriate time they would bring up his need for Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Attention-Getting Baristas

I guess it was just a matter of time. In a world where millions of dollars is spent for a 30 second commercial spot during the Super Bowl, the question for all who market a product or service is, “How do I get attention?”

Seattle is arguably the coffee capital of the world. In most areas around here you’ll find coffee shops and stands on virtually every corner. A caffeine addict has many choices about where to buy their “cup of Joe”.

Some baristas put out a-board signs advertising, “free double-shot” today or “free flavor” today in order to draw you to their stand. Now, according to the Seattle Times, “Some Coffee Stands Get Steamier”. The story’s opening line reads, “In a short, sheer, baby-doll negligee, Candice Law is dressed to work at a drive-through espresso stand.”

As I said, I guess it was just a matter of time. Marketers use sex to sell cars, toothpaste and hamburgers. Now it’s coffee’s turn. “Customers pull their trucks up to the window, where Law greets each with an affectionate nickname, blows kisses, and vamps around as she steams milk for a mocha.” One coffee stand owner confessed that the tips are better when the skirts are shorter.

The story reminded me that many of us seek to get attention and we use a variety of means to get others to notice us. Attention somehow validates us and gives us a sense that we matter.

God one time told a young man named Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5) In the New Testament Jesus comments that our Heavenly Father knows when a sparrow falls to the ground and that you mean much more to Him than a sparrow. God knows you so well He even has the hairs upon your head numbered (Matthew 10:29-31).

Friend, you don’t have to use your sexuality, intelligence, prosperity, accomplishments or anything else to be noticed by God. He knows your name, your heart, your dreams and your failings. Still, He loves you so much He daily pursues you in order to have a relationship with you. An old Psalmist counseled, “Cease striving and know God.” (Psalm 46:10).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Obedient Motorist Crashes on Satnav Command

According to a Reuters’ story, a 46-year-old German motorist driving along a busy road suddenly veered to the left and ended up stuck on a railway track -- because his satellite navigation system told him to, police said Sunday. “He did what he was ordered to do and turned his Audi left up over the curb and onto the track of a local streetcar line. He tried to back up off the track but got completely stuck," a police spokesman said.

About a dozen trams were held up until a tow truck arrived to clear the car off the track. Several German motorists have crashed their cars in recent months, later telling police they were only obeying orders from their satnavs.

What’s guiding the navigation of your life this week? To what/whom are you turning to receive input concerning which direction to go with the thousands of decisions you have to make?

I saw some friends yesterday for the first time since coming home from the hospital with their new infant daughter. That wonderful, intelligent, loving couple is going to need a lot of wisdom beyond themselves in order to parent their child well. How do you know when to change jobs? Careers? Houses? How do you know how to love your spouse well? Be a good friend? Separate yourself from destructive habits?

God has said that if you ask Him to, He will be your Guide, your Teacher, your Wisdom (see John 14:26). And, there is no subject or destination in this world that God doesn’t know about. You won’t take wrong turns when following the prompts of God.

Friday, January 19, 2007

"Freedom Writers" Illustrates the Power of Hope

Yesterday my wife and I saw the Hillary Swank movie, “Freedom Writers”. I was pleasantly surprised at how inspiring the story is. The story line itself is predictable in that a naïve young lady goes to a racially/ethnically troubled school, finds creative ways to connect with her students and they get the education that they need.

Based on a true story, what we discover is that real life teacher, Erin Gruwell, goes to Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California and encounters kids who are having their friends killed, learning to survive on the power of hate and by being gang members, and overwhelmingly do not finish school nor receive an education that will help them escape their scary and deadly lives.

Gruwell cares about the students, builds trust with them, breaks down barriers and most of all instills hope. These kids didn’t care about their present or future because they were hopeless that anything would ever change. Through the exercise of reflection and writing journals these students began to see each other as people and not adversaries that need defeating. Gruwell introduced her students to the horrific tragedy of the holocaust and got them to read “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Gruwell exposed her students to museums and parks and other cultural experiences. Collectively these encounters raised the vision of her students so that they could believe that a better life was possible. Check out the Freedom Writers web site and see the movie.

Tonight I sat at dinner with friends and the observation was made that most adults actually don’t have the lives that they thought they would have when they were young. I live on the Eastside of Seattle in a suburb that is upwardly mobile, educated and affluent. In my world most people can pursue virtually any dream they want. Yet I see most locked into careers and lifestyles that they don’t like but won’t seek to leave. Why? They say that the money is too good for what they do and they don’t want to give up the “stuff”. Maybe.

I suspect that they don’t have hope that change is really possible and really worth it.

Biblical hope is not just wishful thinking or strong yearnings. Biblical hope is a confidence in God. God says that He is for us and that He has good plans for us. God invites us to follow Him and to trust His leadership. He can and will bring the change in our lives that make life full and meaningful.

Do you have the life that you want? Does the work you do matter and reflect your gifts and passion? If your life ended would your departure leave a significant “hole” in the world around you because you add value and joy to others? IT CAN! Your life can be all of that and more. Not by becoming religious but by building a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Like Gruwell with her students, Christ can show you the real world around you, raise your vision and release all of the wonderful qualities that God has already instilled in you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NBA's David Stern Separates the Personal & Professional

Jim Rome is host to a sports commentary program on ESPN. Today he interviewed NBA Commissioner David Stern. Stern is considered one of the most successful commissioners of a professional sports team in any sport at any time. Truly you can make a strong case for such an assertion by studying the profitability and popularity of professional basketball since he took over years ago.

As Rome brought the interview to a conclusion Stern brought up some of the exciting things that are on the horizon for the NBA. One of the things Stern mentioned was the NBA creating more of a presence and product in China. Rome quickly asked of Stern, “China doesn’t have the greatest record on human rights. Are you conflicted at all about bringing the NBA into China?”

David Stern paused, took a breath and then replied something like this, “Jim, I keep my personal beliefs about China separate from my professional responsibilities to my employers. Everyone else is doing the same. General Motors, Coca-Cola, etc. are all moving into the Chinese market and this is going to be very important to the future of the NBA.”

Stern’s separation of his personal beliefs and professional practices received no follow up from Rome at all. In fairness to Rome the program was about over and he simply thanked Stern for his time and gushed again about what a great commissioner Stern is.

I did a double take on Stern’s comments and then recalled hearing the same kind of line from several politicians just a few months ago.

A personal belief that doesn’t impact my professional decisions and practices is no belief at all. Someone who says they believe in honesty but their boss wants them to carry out dishonest practices for the sake of the business doesn’t really believe in honesty. He believes in expediency (I’ll do whatever I have to do) or relativism (sometimes it’s right to be honest, sometimes it’s wrong to be honest).

When beliefs are practiced personally and professionally, privately and publicly, that’s called INTEGRITY.

Sorry commissioner, congressman or CEO. You’re simply wrong and your character is lacking if you separate belief and practice.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I Don't Want to be a "Dead Man Walking"

A few years ago actor Sean Penn played the role of a convicted killer who had been sentenced to die. The title of the movie was “Dead Man Walking”. Now understand, Penn’s character still had a pulse, still had breath, still ate meals and slept at night and engaged in conversations with other people, but he was a dead man. He had no future. He walked the corridors everyday knowing that his life was over. It was just a matter of time before it was finalized with an electric chair.

Some of us are walking like dead men and women. We are zombies who get up in the morning, perform some tasks, eat some meals, interact with some people and then go to bed at night. Then we start the whole dead thing all over again the next day.

We have a pulse. We have breath in our lungs. But we are dead. Why? Because we don’t really live.

Life is being able to smell roses. Life is being able to see the forest and the trees. Life is being able to fully give love and receive love from others. Life is feeling the warmth of sunshine. Life is delighting in the laughter of children. Life is willingly giving yourself as a blessing to others. Life is holding tight to God and holding loosely to material stuff in this world.

What I’m describing is just a little of what it is like to have real life. Someone goes to see the Grand Canyon and the sheer enormity and beauty of it washes over the senses of a person and suddenly there is a heightened awareness of God. There is a strong sense of the greatness of life, the vast mysteries it beholds and for that moment we delight in it.

But, the question is, how can we sustain that sense of “aliveness”? How can we have that same experience in the valley? It takes a personal relationship with a living God to breathe that kind of life in us.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Stephen Pinker & the Rationality of Christianity

Stephen Pinker, Professor of Psychology at Harvard is one of our age’s chief atheists. When Harvard’s Committee on General Education suggested that students take courses under a “Reason and Faith” requirement, Pinker considered it scandalous.

“Universities are about reason, pure and simple,” he trumpeted. “Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these.” To give such significance to religion “is to give it far too much prominence.” Religious belief “is an American anachronism.”

In a TIME Magazine article Pinker said, “It’s natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth.”

One could conclude from Pinker’s words that:
Science = Reason; Faith = Irrationality

Who wants to be on the side of irrationality? I don’t.

Frankly, when you lump all the faiths of the world together under the heading of “religion”, there is a lot that is irrational and some of it fits my definition of crazy. After all, it is “religion” that is behind most of the world’s terrorist’s attacks today. It is “religion” that keeps millions of people hungry (can’t kill sacred animals for food) and in poverty (perpetual class systems).

Ironically, Pinker contends that once we have been cleared of the historical blight of religion, morality is really a rather simple matter: “to treat others as we wish to be treated…” If those words sound familiar to you then you recognize them as the Golden Rule, which is declared in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as well as by Jesus himself (Matthew 7:12).

At the risk of sounding elitist, I must point out that Christianity is not a “religion” (man reaching up to God) but rather it is a “relationship” (God reaching down to man). This is what separates Christianity from all other faiths. It is Christianity that upholds the sanctity of life, the virtue of giving rather than receiving, freely offering forgiveness and forsaking vengeance and serving others above self. I’d like to ask Dr. Pinker, is there anything irrational about those values and virtues?

I know that life is busy and hectic and many are doing all they can to maintain some level of sanity. Who has time to delve into weighty matters of science and faith? But, on the other hand, if Christianity is true, and if life is short, then friend the most important thing you can do is to settle the issue of what one is to do with Jesus Christ.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

"Fame Junkies" & the Power of Community

Every day the media is filled with stories and photos of Britney, Paris, Jolie and Pitt, Tomkat, and Lindsey. Where were they? What were they doing? What were they wearing (or not wearing)? We have entire magazines, newspapers and television shows devoted to reporting the every move of celebrities.

Jake Halpern has discussed this fixation in a new book, Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Favorite Addiction. Halpern argues that some people, particularly young girls, are literally addicted to celeb trivia. Paris Hilton was the most Googled name in 2006.

Halpern points out that we become addicted to things that have a mood-altering effect. The usual list includes drinking alcohol, using porn or eating chocolate. But now it seems that celebrity gossip is rising to the top of the list, especially for young people.

America’s youth hunger for fame. That fact is part of the reason for the success of America Idol. Young people are dreaming of becoming famous celebrities.

Halpern conducted a survey of 653 middle-school students in the Rochester, NY area. Given a choice of becoming the CEO of a major corporation, the president of Yale or Harvard, a Navy SEAL, a U.S. Senator or “the personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star,” almost half of the girls (43%) chose the assistant role.

When given an option to become stronger, smarter, famous or beautiful, boys in the survey chose fame almost as often as intelligence, and girls chose it more often.

Why? I believe two powerful legitimate needs are going unmet and therefore many are trying to satisfy those needs in broken ways. Everyone needs love and relationship. To say it another way, many people today are insecure and lonely.

There is so much exposure to the celebrities and many feel like they know these stars and that feeling helps them feel less lonely. And when we see photographers and fans falling all over these celebrities one will conclude that they are greatly loved. Conclusion: if I want to be loved I need to be famous.

The biblical word for being loved and connected to others is “community”. In the Bible it means more than neighborhood. Community has a connotation of heart to heart life connection and commitment. It is a state of being known, cared for, challenged and supported.

Granted, there are many churches that still play a religious game of ritual and legalism, but many churches are becoming tremendous communities where life is being lived well, deeply and with purpose.

Don’t waste your time seeking fame. Diligently search for biblical community. It makes an eternity’s worth of difference.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Boise State Goes For Win. Do You?

Did you catch any college football bowl games on New Year’s Day? I watched some of the Capital One Bowl and Rose Bowl and that felt like enough. However, I was intrigued with the match up in the Fiesta Bowl. Traditional powerhouse Oklahoma was scheduled to face the little regarded, non-BCS school from Boise, Idaho.

Even though Boise State was undefeated no one really gave the Broncos a chance to win. They play in the inferior Western Athletic Conference and achieved their record of perfection against so-called “mid-major” schools. So, it was a classic “David and Goliath” contest and I wanted to see how David would do.

In short the Broncos played well, led the whole game and almost lost in the end. The game was won because of exciting play calls and execution, and because Boise State chose after the final touchdown to go for two extra points instead of safely kicking for a tie. I don’t think I have ever seen a more exciting finish to a football game.

It occurred to me that many of us today play life too safe. We go for the “tie” rather than going for the “win”. We go after jobs that pay the bills rather than work that gives expression to our gifts and passion. We settle in to boring and trivial conversations rather than engage in thoughtful exchanges of ideas and beliefs. We substitute taking risks with recreation or simulation games rather than take relational risks that involve us with messy people.

I was excited that Boise State went for two points and the win. In the moment I thought, “Even if they don’t make it, hurray for them for going for it.”

What if we fail? We if we fall down and feel a little pain or disappointment? What if someone else second-guesses us and calls us foolish? In 2007 let’s take our shot at Goliath and see what happens!