Thursday, June 28, 2007

I Saw & Liked "Evan Almighty"

I posted earlier about “Evan Almighty” and wasn’t sure at the time if I was going to see it or not. Today some friends called and said, “Let’s go see ‘Evan Almighty’.” So, we went and I loved it. I know several movie critics panned it and some Christians nitpicked some of the theology. However, it was fun (though a bit much on the bird droppings) and moving.

I’ll try not to give away the movie though you see a lot with the trailers and previews. I liked the matter of Evan saying a prayer and God choosing to answer it in unexpected ways. I thought there was helpful clarification on how God will often respond to prayer requests for change, patience, for better family closeness, etc.

I liked the way Evan had to deal with doubters and cynics. His sanity is questioned when he mentions that God had spoken to him. He is ridiculed when he pleads for his neighbors to get aboard the ark before the flood comes. I’ve seen that look on the face of others when I’ve indicated that I thought God spoke to me (though I’ve never heard an audible voice or seen an appearance of God like Morgan Freeman). Likewise, I’ve pleaded with others from time to time to forsake their broken plans and take a risk on trusting God.

Though Evan the politician is out to change the world in big and powerful governmental ways, I liked the story line that has him changing the world simply by having a changed life himself.

Most of all I was moved with the tracking of a life that is first seen as self-absorbed and unfamiliar with the idea of God, much less the Person of God, who grows and becomes connected and relational with God. I’ve given the last 30 years of my life to see that happen in person after person.

I saw “Bruce Almighty”, tolerated some of the sophomoric humor and loved the ending as Bruce becomes a transformed person. I liked “Evan Almighty” even better and likewise delighted in the ending.

If you see the movie let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Life's Hard. God Is Good.

Life’s hard. God is good. I believe both statements. I don’t hold those convictions lightly.

Tuesday was a hard day. After a morning at a cemetery with friends to say good-bye to a loved one I dashed by my house for a quick lunch before moving on to my office for the afternoon. While setting a plate in the sink I accidentally dropped it. Suddenly I felt so angry I picked up the plate and went through a partial motion where I was going to smash the plate into the sink.

Whoa. What just happened there? As my body and emotions felt super charged for something destructive I simultaneously heard a whisper that I interpret as being the voice of God. He said, “You’re upset about seeing a child buried this morning. Your heart is hurting and your mind is swirling with questions.”

Wow. I took a deep breath and gently laid the plate down. I knew that I was sad but I didn’t realize that I had anger boiling inside.

A few hours later my wife received a phone call with the news that someone we love deeply has been diagnosed with cancer. It was stunning. We decided to take a drive to the park, eat some fast food and walk the dog. I was drowning in sadness.

We got home and the phone rang. A friend had made a mistake and some information he had wrongly conveyed was now posted on someone’s blog and he wanted to share his blunder with me for a couple of laughs. I opened the blog and we laughed for a moment over the phone. Then he asked, “So, how are you doing?” I conveyed that it had been a hard day. He asked what was going on and I gave him the 3 minute version. Then he said, “Now I know why God wanted me to call you. Let me pray for you.” For the next couple of minutes my friend prayed over the phone for God’s presence and grace to wash over me.

Don’t misunderstand. My friend’s prayer wasn’t like a magical wand that instantaneously changed my mood. I was still sad. But I was also comforted by God’s presence and the care of a friend.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) God knows this world is and will be hard. He has given us the experience of grief or mourning as means to deal with hardship and loss. And, He has given us His presence to bring the comfort and strength.

God is good. Life is hard.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Life Manifesto

Mark Batterson is a pastor, blogger and author who often moves me to think out of the box. He’s written a manifesto about living life to the full that I’ve posted below. If it grabs you at all then I would encourage you to take a few minutes and re-read it slowly, allowing the nuance of words and phrases to sink in. Make it a prayer that God would work in you in such ways.

“Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.
Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions.
Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.
Keep asking questions.
Keep making mistakes.
Keep seeking God.
Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution.
Stop repeating the past and start creating the future.
Stop playing it safe and start taking risks.
Expand your horizons.
Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey.
Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can.
Live like today is the first day and last day of your life.
Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshipping what’s right with God.
Burn sinful bridges. Blaze a new trail.
Criticize by creating.
Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks.
Don’t’ try to be who you’re not. Be yourself.
Laugh at yourself.
Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Quit running away.”

Friday, June 22, 2007

What I Like About "Evan Almighty"

Today the much publicized summer film “Evan Almighty” is opening in theaters across the country. From the makers of “Bruce Almighty” this sequel features another appearance of God in the life of an everyday, ordinary guy named Evan Baxter.

I’ve not seen the film and I’m not writing a movie review. At this date I don’t know if this is a movie worth seeing or not.

But here’s what I do like.
1. I like the idea that God is real.
2. I like the idea that God is really involved in the lives of everyday people and not just ancient biblical characters.
3. I like the idea that God is still calling people to great challenges (Evan is called to join God in changing the world).
4. I like the story line that indicates that God will work in our circumstances to accomplish His purposes. For example, Evan becomes a “magnet” for animals. They just begin to show up and be drawn to him which is a helpful thing since Evan is to build an ark and load it up with animals.
5. And I like the portrayal that some people will believe you when you claim that God is at work in you, and some won’t. That’s real life.

All the items listed above are true in my life. My experience with God is relational and He places a call on my life that is about changing the world. His calling is my life’s purpose. God is faithful to give me abilities and gifts and favor with people and circumstances in order to accomplish His purposes. And, there are terrific challenges that are way too big for me and sometimes leave me surrounded by skeptics and cynics.

God may not appear to you in your rear view mirror as a passenger in the back seat of your car. But, God is there. God is pursuing you. God does love you and He has great plans for your life that won’t be forced upon you. If you’re listening, in this very moment God may be whispering to your heart. Will you open your heart toward Him?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

There Are Better Places to Look For Jesus

Once again Jesus has been spotted, this time on the trunk of a tree.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee so the story grabbed my attention. According to WMC TV members of St. Michael Catholic Church say the bark pattern on a tree trunk near their parking lot resembles the face of Jesus.

I’ve posted on this before when Jesus or Mary have been seen in chocolate or on grilled cheese sandwiches or on the belly of turtles. I’m not sure why the media gives any space or time to such things.

God is real and can be really found and experienced. You’ll find God in reading the Bible, attending a worship gathering, saying a prayer, having substantive faith conversations with a friend and by opening your heart to Him when walking on the beach or hiking up the mountain.

If looking at tree bark makes you think of God or turns your heart toward God that’s great, but let’s don’t make shrines and “holy places” out of these things or places. Let’s legitimately encounter God and approach Him with reverence and awe.

Everyday I have the privilege of encountering God via the personal relationship I have with Him by my faith in Jesus Christ. Everyday I encounter God in the life of a growing believer. You can also.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Long & For What Do You Want to Live?

Tomoji Tanabe is the world’s oldest living man at 111 years. Born September 18, 1895, he was certified by Guinness World Records earlier this month. He says that he doesn’t want to die and that he stays away from alcohol and smoking.

The world’s oldest person is also Japanese, Yone Minagawa, 114 years old. The number of people living past the age of 100 in Japan had quadrupled in the past 10 years and will exceed 28,000 in number.

Have you thought about how long you want to live? Not that you get to determine how long you live (though there are many factors that help prolong your life) because God is still the One that gives and takes life (Job 1:21). If God gave you many years what would you do with it?

I’ve shared with many of my friends that when I was 21 years old I was doing a study of Moses and took note that he lived 120 years and that God had mightily used the life of Moses through three generations. At that moment I felt prompted to pray, “God if you give me 120 years I’ll use them to serve You.” I have a desire in my heart to meaningfully minister to three generations during my lifetime.

I don’t know how long I get to live and I certainly don’t feel that God has given me a guarantee of any particular number. But, because I’ve asked God for many years I’m prompted to view life differently. Middle age for me won’t begin until I’m 60. I can’t afford to become locked into preferences and styles of my generation. I must be flexible and adaptable to comprehend the changing times. I must learn to effectively communicate with multiple generations. I must “run the race” as if it is a marathon.

I also must be prepared to outlive people that I love. The older I get the more I see my contemporaries die. I have to learn to grieve well. In a culture that worships youth I must learn to celebrate wrinkles, accept diminished strength and athletic ability, and guard against bringing up the past with the “I remember when…” lines.

Most of all I want to be able to walk with Christ well for a lifetime. I want my life to inform, inspire and encourage others about trusting God.

What about you? What’s your vision? What makes your heart beat faster and stirs you to get up in the morning? Are you not only prepared to “meet your Maker” some day but are you getting to thoroughly know Him in this life?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Good Ole Days?

What a difference a century makes: Life in 1902
*The average life expectancy in the US was forty-seven.
*Only 14 Percent of the homes in the US had a bathtub.
*Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
*There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
*Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union.
*The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
*The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour.
*The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
*More than 95 percent of all births in the US took place at home.
*Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as substandard.
*Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.
*Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
*Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason.

The five leading causes of death in the US were:
Pneumonia and influenza
Heart disease

*The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska hadn't been admitted to the Union yet.
*The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.
*Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented.
*There were no Mother's Day or Father's Day.
*One in ten US adults couldn't read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
*Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores. *According to one pharmacist, "Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."
*Eighteen percent of households in the US had at least one full-time servant or domestic.
*There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire country of the United States of America for the whole year of 1902.
(Group Publishing)

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Loved Ruth Bell Graham

I have never personally met Ruth Graham. I have watched and cared about her life from a distance for decades. Ruth was born in China a daughter of medical missionaries, sensed a personal call to missions/ministry as a young girl, and attended Wheaton College as a young adult and married the “Preacher” as Billy Graham was nicknamed.

Ruth was raised among disease and despair and the chaos of civil war and was convinced to the core of her being of the need of each human being to have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Only a Billy Graham could match her passion for seeing those outside of Christ come near to Him to be saved and transformed.

For a brief period Ruth lived the life of a pastor’s wife (an unusual experience I promise you) until Billy went into evangelism full time. While Billy traveled the world and met with presidents and world leaders and spoke before millions in stadiums and on television, Ruth parented their five children, all of whom follow Christ and serve in some form of ministry today. The state of the Graham children is as significant as the results of Billy’s global ministry in my opinion. Though some of them went through their “wild” years Ruth’s steady and firm love and guidance was the key factor in each becoming remarkable adults.

Ruth authored or coauthored 14 books. In 1996 she was honored with a Congressional Medal of Honor (along with Billy) for “outstanding and lasting contribution to morality, racial equality, family, philanthropy, and religion.” Novelist Patricia Cornwell, who wrote Ruth’s biography, concluded that Ruth Graham “was the loveliest, kindest person ever born.”

I loved Ruth Graham because of the way she walked through life with Billy; because of the way that she parented her children; because of the way that she inspired and influenced millions of women; and because of the way she loved and followed our Savior.

Ruth went home to be with our Heavenly Father, Thursday, June 14 at the age of 87. In her moment of “crossing over” what a delight it must have been for her to see the face of the Christ and to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
For a wonderful personal perspective on Ruth check out the comments of Ruth's editor Stephen Griffith.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

People Are "Objectified" When There Is No God

Today’s news carries the story of a Louisville, Kentucky high school teacher and coach resigning his positions because of a photograph of him taking a garter off of a female student with his teeth at the prom. Brett Coogle, 28, had been removed from the classroom since the picture surfaced on May 17 and given administrative type duties while the matter was under investigation. Now Coogle has resigned, thus ending the investigation.

As I read the story I winced as once again I learned of an adult in a position of trust and authority crossing a line with a person and abusing that trust. It seems to me that there is a story every week of a teacher, minister, officer of the law, politician, etc. who is behaving badly or acting criminally against someone entrusted to their authority.

I decided to read some of the comment thread and pick up a little conversation from across the country and was grieved at a deeper level. Several of the comments were of this nature, “What’s the big deal?” “He must have been a popular teacher who was reported by an unpopular teacher.” “America is so sexually regressive.”

Granted, with the anonymity of Internet commentary sometimes people just say outrageous things because they can. However, I found the comments believable and thus I was provoked to reflect.

Were those making the comments actually suggesting that our society ought to “progress” to a point of accepting teachers behaving sexually with students, even having sex with students? And, why is the line blurring and disappearing between those in positions of authority and those entrusted to them?

I realize that many factors play into the changing of society’s mores but I want to highlight one factor in particular. I wonder if a teacher would behave sexually toward a student if the teacher imagined someone else doing the same thing with his own daughter. In other words, because a teacher can suppress the reality that a student is a child of a mother and father he is then able to objectify the student. The student, though a person, becomes an object with which to address or satisfy a sexual urge.

And, how much do all of us do that everyday in multiple ways? When we forget or suppress the reality that others are sons and daughters of God we can cheat them at the cash register, flip them off in traffic, treat them harshly in the restaurant or refuse to offer help when they are in need.

Take the Presence of God out of our daily experience and we will treat others as objects for our advantage, pleasure, scorn, or ridicule.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dealing With the "Dung" of Life

Recently I received a prayer request regarding one of our international missionaries. She serves in India and she was visiting with a neighbor with whom she has been sharing good news about Christ.

As the missionary was talking and watching her neighbor prepare a meal she noticed that the neighbor was doing something unusual. The neighbor used a very old, flat basket with which to sift rice before cooking. The neighbor was preparing the basket for the rice by smearing something in the bottom of the basket, which looked a lot like mud. The missionary inquired, “What are you doing?” The neighbor replied, “The basket has holes. The cow dung fills them in.”

The missionary clarified, “Did you say cow dung?” and the neighbor replied, “Yes, cow dung.” The missionary went on to eat the meal with her neighbor.
For the sake of the Gospel the missionary had to put aside personal preferences and graciously handle a situation that involved cow dung.

The prayer request was asking God for grace to deal with unpleasant situations so that advancing the Kingdom might continue.

We who live in the civilized West would never consume rice prepared in a dung lined basket. However, we often have to deal with people and persevere through circumstances that feel like, smell like and even taste like dung.

The above story is why I like to hang out with our missionaries. They consistently make decisions that subjugate personal preferences for the sake of the Gospel and that’s the way that I want to live also.

As someone once put it, “We’ve only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Let’s purposefully deal with life’s dung.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Week of "Grace Experiences"

We all need the grace of God. Grace is technically defined as “unmerited favor”. Some choose to describe God’s grace as an acrostic:

I simply refer to grace as the “stuff God gives whenever you need it, even though you don’t deserve it.”

I’ve been in Memphis, Tennessee all week for a brief visit with my parents and to attend my niece’s wedding. I chose to come to Memphis making use of my frequent flyer miles. So, because of the way they limit seats when you try to fly free I had to go from Seattle to Las Vegas, to Detroit and then to Memphis. I left Seattle at 6:30 p.m. on Monday and arrived in Memphis at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

I just returned from a quick trip to South Africa and was not really looking forward to another long and crazy flight. In Detroit the plane had mechanical difficulty; we sat for an hour in the plane before they decided to put us on a different plane. When I arrived I discovered that the airline had lost my luggage. I was confident that the bag would show later in the day so no problem. I got to my parents house and their hot water heater went out. The repairman was on his way so no problem.

The short of the week was that my luggage has been lost for good, including my suit for the wedding and the hot water heater had a broken part that had to be ordered; translated, no hot shower for a week.

Meanwhile, my brother in law who is a minister and doing half of the wedding (I’m doing the other half) developed two herniated discs in his back, is in a great deal of pain and has necessitated that I prepare to do his part as well as mine in case he can’t stand up.

My mother who is mostly homebound was coaxed into getting out and going to a restaurant for dinner on Thursday. We were all very excited because this rarely happens. At the restaurant our waitress dropped seven large drinks just as she approached our table, splashing my mother and the food was served cold and had to be taken back.

Saturday morning, the day of the wedding, a florist oversight has several people scrambling.

I share this entire saga to say that I’ve had a great visit with good connection with my parents and my in-laws. My niece is one of the finest young ladies I’ve ever known and she is marrying a young man equally as special as she. With every inconvenience or problem God’s presence has been rich and manifest. I’ve known peace, patience, love and joy which are great gifts (undeserved) from God. I’ve got a new suit and a wedding message prepared and I’m looking forward to the wedding of this wonderful couple.

I plan to return to Seattle on Sunday. We’ll see what adventures await in the return journey.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Community Can Save Your Life

What a sad and tragic story that comes out of New Zealand. A 44 year-old mother of four was dependant upon an oxygen pump, couldn’t pay her electric bill and died within hours after her power was turned off. Her outstanding bill was only $122. It is a terrible tragedy and fingers are now pointing in several directions in the effort to lay blame. CBS tells the story here.

My immediate reflection was that this could never have happened if this woman had been connected to a community of men and women who are doing life together with love and commitment toward one another. I’m specifically referring to biblical community that is also known as church. I hesitate to use the “church” word because most people associate the word with a building rather than with a group of people committed to Christ and each other.

I’ve been a builder of and participant in biblical community for decades. I literally can’t imagine doing life without community. If this woman had been in community as I’m describing she would have had “brothers and sisters” that would have supported her in many ways (including help with a utility bill). Her children would have had several “aunts and uncles”. That’s the way I look at the children of my community friends. I’d do anything for them.

When I mention “church”, is community the first picture or thought that comes to your mind? If not you really need to get a fresh exposure to church. Yes, there are still “churches” that are reduced to places of rules and rituals but so many others are communities of life breathing, life building, and life blessing connections.

Perhaps this Sunday would be a strategic time for you to give church/community another chance. If I can help with that I’d love to. Please contact me. I’m praying for you about this matter today.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Power of Honor & Respect

Thursday the Reverend Billy Graham was recognized for 60 years of ministry with the grand opening of the Library that bears his name in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 88 year old preacher who is very frail and in poor health has been known through the decades as a friend and confidant to every President of the United States since Harry Truman.

By request of the Graham family three former presidents were in attendance and jointly brought the “keynote” message at the gathering attended by 1,500 people. Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton credited Graham with bringing a message of hope and freedom to people oppressed by segregation in the USA in the 1960’s and tyrannized by repressive communist regimes during the Cold War.

As I observed the three former presidents side-by-side I wondered about the emotions that might be churning within Carter and Bush. Recently Jimmy Carter had commented in an interview that he considered the presidency of George W. Bush to be the worst in all of American history. Those are not only strong words but unprecedented as there has been an unspoken “rule” that former presidents don’t criticize current sitting presidents. Tends to be bad for moral not only in the country but injurious to several international situations that need America to be strong and united.

Yet here was Bush the elder shoulder-to-shoulder with Carter, the critic of Bush’s son, for a public celebration of Billy Graham. How so? This was a great picture of the power of honor and respect. Because Bush and Carter were choosing to honor and respect Reverend Graham they were able to be with one another civilly, cordially, even friendly.

Billy Graham is a great man. God is many times greater. That is why it should be expected that when men and women who regard the greatness of God are in the presence of one another they should be able to get along. If we gather to honor and respect (aka worship) God then His presence at our gathering should govern our behavior as well as our feelings toward one another. Amen?

Jesus said, “By this shall all know that you are My disciples, that you love one another.”