Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What I'm Learning from Jack Bauer

For six years I never watched an episode of “24”, the FOX series that features counter terrorist unit (CTU) agent Jack Bauer. I try to limit how much television I watch so in the past few years it’s been CSI (Las Vegas of course), LOST, a little news and a few ball games. Even though I was hearing the buzz I was not going to add another show to my watch list.

With the boring summer offering of zero fresh television programming I began watching season one of “24” on DVD. Okay I’m hooked. After a few weeks I’m in the middle of season two. Please don’t tell me anything about upcoming plots or that it gets even more ridiculous, etc. I want to stay on this ride for a while longer.

Meanwhile, I’m learning from Jack who consistently embodies perseverance, loyalty, creativity and even love for family, or at least broken attempts to love family. Jack is consistently placed in situations where he knows things others don’t know and he has to bear burdens that others don’t understand. I get that.

However, my little fantasy bubble around Jack Bauer took a hit yesterday when real life Kiefer Sutherland, the actor that plays Bauer, was arrested for the second time in three years for DUI. A selfish wave of sadness came over me because I wanted to keep Jack on some kind of pedestal for study and admiration. I think I’m going to be able to continue to enjoy the ride with “24” but it got me to reflecting.

Whose world would be rocked (a lot or a little) if I took a hit on my character? Whose world would be rocked if you took a hit on your character? I’m not advocating that we place people on pedestals. That’s not fair to others and it is a setup for disappointment for us.

But each of us has some measure of influence with others. We have some capacity to inspire others. Our presence has become a kind of motivating fuel to some degree. And, for those of us that follow Christ, our character and influence are ways with which we not only bless others but honor God. We have a stewardship and responsibility to live well.

BTW, at this writing it looks like Sutherland will have a suspended license for a year, probation for 5 years and may serve about a week in jail. I don’t know where he stands with God but I pray that these “troubles” will serve to draw him closer to Christ.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why Salvation is Cause for Celebration

Imagine that you’ve been in a car accident. When you come to you’re on a hospital table and you’re not having surgery but rather an autopsy! That’s what happened to Carlos Camejo, 33, of Venezuela.

Camejo had already been declared dead and he woke up in the morgue in excruciating pain as examiners were performing an autopsy. In the photo you see him holding the medical document that ordered his autopsy.

Camejo’s grieving wife showed up at the morgue to identify her husband’s body only to find him in the corridor alive.

Can you imagine the emotion of Camejo’s wife who thought he was dead but then found out he was alive? That is something close to the emotion that many of us feel when we discover that a friend or loved one has become a Christ follower.

The Bible declares that all of us, every person ever born into this world, are “dead” in trespasses and sin. That means that even though we might possess physical life we are dead spiritually. The act of becoming a Christ follower is referred to as a second birth precisely because the individual becomes alive spiritually or alive to God.

In my church it is common for people to shout or clap when they discover that someone has come alive. Baptism is the picture of a dead person being raised up out of a grave to a new life. We applaud and celebrate each baptism.

If you are uncertain about your own “life” in God then perhaps this would be a great weekend to take some of your questions to church

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Marital Unfaithfulness Not as Wonderful as it Seems

Adnan, age 32, was dissatisfied with his marriage. He turned to an online chat room for distraction and comfort. He connected with a woman who went by the tag “Sweetie”. Adnan could pour out his heart about his marriage and wife to Sweetie and she seemed to have amazing understanding. She also could say just the right thing to encourage and edify Adnan who went by the tag “Prince of Joy”.

Likewise, Sweetie’s marriage was disssatisfying and she was very unhappy. Prince of Joy similarly seemed to have amazing insight about Sweetie’s circumstances. She would also feel a lift every time she connected with Prince. Later Sweetie would comment, “I was suddenly in love. It was amazing.”

So, Sweetie and Prince of Joy decided to meet each other and have a date. To their shock and disappointment, when they had their rendezvous they discovered that they were having a clandestine meeting with their real life spouse!

That’s right, in their online persona’s they were seeking escape from their offline reality unknowingly with each other. According to The Daily Telegraph, upon discovering that each had been cheating they filed for divorce charging each other with unfaithfulness.

There is a reason that something that is illicit or forbidden seems so wonderful and desirable. The enemy of our soul, Satan, creates and designs temptations to be so. They are sweet to the taste and bitter to the stomach.

We often play around with temptation like a child playing with matches. Eventually we will get burned. Right now would be a good moment to resolve to put an end to whatever temptation has been entertaining and luring you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Weeks to Live

This past Saturday a friend of mine died after battling with poor health. For the past couple of years he had been receiving dialysis treatment and enduring a lot of pain. With the agreement of his wife he chose to stop the treatments.

My friend was informed that he would probably only have two weeks to live once he stopped the treatments. In fact it turned out that he had a little less time. He had an exemplary marriage, great kids and a lifetime of serving God and people. I believe he is now experiencing the presence of God in glorious ways and is receiving blessings and rewards from God.

I was caused to reflect about his final days. What would I do differently if I knew that I only had two weeks to live? What conversations would I have? What acts of love or kindness would I want to do? What forgiveness would I seek? What irritating issues would lose their bothersome power over me? How ready am I to leave this world and go to the next?

One of the values of reflection is when it stirs us to make desired changes. May we live with the reality of how fragile and brief life can be.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fred Thompson "Right With God" But Not Churchgoer

According to the Washington Post, recent Presidential candidate Fred Thompson made an appearance before about 500 Republicans in South Carolina Sunday. The WP made the comment that, “the supposed godsend for socially conservative voters…does not attend church on a regular basis.”

The former senator commented that he sometimes attends when he is visiting with his mother in Tennessee but does not belong to a church or attend a church in McLean, Virginia where he lives. Further, Thompson let it be known that his religious practices and beliefs will not be open to discussion. He concluded, “I know that I’m right with God and the people I love.”

Two reflections:
1. If faith is or is not an important factor in a candidate’s life I think that is relevant information for open discussion. If one is not a person of faith then their worldview and values have come from somewhere and I want to know where. It will guide their decision making. If one claims to practice a faith, I want to know what faith because it will likewise have influence on worldview and values. Granted, some of the more recent presidents claimed they were Christians and we were sometimes hard pressed to see how their faith was influencing them.

Senator, your faith or lack thereof is relevant and should not be taken off of the table of discussion.

2. Can someone be right with God and not attend church? I’m not specifically talking about Thompson at this point. I don’t have any gossip or sleazy stories that would undermine his integrity or credentials. I’m asking the broadest sense, can someone be right with God and not attend church?

Non-Christian groups who claim some belief in God would hasten to say yes. So, I’m really asking with respect to what Christians understand about God via the Bible and the person of Jesus.

One metaphor that is frequently used in the Bible to describe God’s relationship with His people is “marriage”. In fact the church is referred to as “the bride of Christ”. Among the ideas associated with that metaphor is closeness or intimacy. God can be known and experienced in a personal way, not just as a concept or idea or force.

If you’re married ask yourself this, “If you never came home and never spent any time with your spouse or the rest of the family in the house, would you be ‘right’ with all concerned?”

Here’s a quick political disclaimer: I’m interested in the 2008 presidential race. I’m following the candidates, debates, interviews, etc. Generally I’m interested to blog about how I see God at work in some circumstance or addressing some kind of God question. There’s going to be much to observe over the next few months.

However, you will not know which candidate I end up supporting by an overt endorsement, nor will I be campaigning in this space. I already wrote a post about Mitt Romney that gives another examples of how I will treat subject matter.

Therefore, if you choose to make comments, please do so with respect to the issue I raise in the post and refrain from political speeches, endorsements or slamming other candidates. Thanks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Dying is Living

Do you know what time it is? The time I’m asking about isn’t found on a watch or clock. The time I’m asking about is the time of God’s will, the time of God’s moving, the time of God’s purposes.

Jesus always knew what time it was. In John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus tries to teach His disciples about God’s time. In John 2 there is a wedding in Cana that Jesus and His disciples attend. The wedding party runs out of wine and Mary asks Jesus to help. How did Jesus reply? Jesus said, “Why do you involve Me? My time has not yet come.” What time was He talking about?

In John 7 it is the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus’ brothers say, “What are you doing here. You should be in Jerusalem for the Feast.” Jesus replied, “I am not yet going to this Feast, because for Me the right time has not yet come.”

In John 12 Jesus enters Jerusalem at the time of the Passover and He gathers His disciples and He says to them, “The time has come…”

What time? What had Jesus been waiting on? “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Now if you’re living 2,000 years ago and you’re one of Jesus’ disciples you’re pretty excited right now. You knew that there was coming a day where Jesus was going to enter into His glory. However, you thought Jesus would enter into His glory by some kind of exaltation. Jesus would be enthroned. Jesus would overthrow the oppressive government and religious institutions and He would usher in a new day.

But to your shock Jesus says, “It’s time for Me to die. Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit.” Dying results in true living.

Will You Die?
Will you die to your preferences? Following Jesus is not about how you like for life to go. It is about carrying out His mission. Some of you don’t like being single. Some of you don’t like being married. Some of you don’t like your job. Some of you don’t like your appearance or your health or your stage in life.

Will you die to your comforts? If you weren’t living to pleasure and happiness you could suffer a little and be a great husband. Did you know you don’t have to have a great wife in order to be a great husband? You just need to be dead for a great God to raise you up to being a great husband. You could be a great parent. You don’t have to have great kids in order to be a great parent. You could be a great servant in God’s church and mission. You don’t have to have a great church in order to be a great servant. But you have to die.

Will you die to money and stuff? You don’t have to have the cars you drive. You don’t have to have the house you live in. You don’t have to maintain the memberships in whatever clubs. You don’t have to take special vacations.

What time is it? It may be time for you to say yes to God by saying no to self.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Least is Greatest

When you think about “the greatest”, what comes to your mind? One of the first things that come to my mind is the boxer, Muhammad Ali. I do think that he was a terrific fighter. Even more than a success in the boxing ring he was a terrific promoter of himself.

He tagged himself as the greatest and he said it often and he said it loudly. He is partially responsible for the success and popularity of a rather obscure sports announcer named Howard Cosell because of the way they used to banter with one another in interviews. During such times Ali would declare his greatness over and over.

For the record, he splashed into the national spotlight in 1965 when he defeated the reigning world champion, Sonny Liston. Ali knocked out Liston in the first minute of the first round. It was unthinkable at the time. Ali went on to fight 61 bouts. He delivered 37 knockouts. He won 56 times and lost only 5 times.

Was Muhammad Ali truly great?

This coming week I can guarantee that you will see some names and faces in the news. Every week these stars are on the covers of magazines. They are featured in dozens of news stories and appear on all the talk shows.

Is Paris Hilton great? How about Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake or Ashton Kutcher?

Most of you may not be willing to declare any of these pop stars as great. How about towering historical figures like FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan or Clinton? Each was President of the United States and arguably the most powerful man in the most powerful country in the world. Do any of them fit your definition of greatness?

What about high achievers in business? Some entrepreneurs changed forever the way business would be done. Is Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Jack Welch or Bill Gates great?

Over the past couple of years Americans have been voting in record numbers concerning greatness. Is there any doubt that the winners of American Idol are great? After all, each of these winners received more votes cast by Americans than any elected President in history.

Fame is not greatness. Wealth is not greatness. Power is not greatness. We could all identify a lot of people who have been famous, wealthy and powerful and were far from greatness.

Jesus said, “Whoever is going to be great must be the servant of all.” (Mark 10:44)

Greatness is determined by what we give up. I think Jim is a great man. He wonders how I could think such a thing. I believe Jim is a great man because he willingly set aside his career, his goals and his aspirations in order to care for two little girls after the death of their mother. For the sake of loving his girls he sacrificed himself.

Every day we face opportunities and choices to serve, give, sacrifice and pour out something of our lives so that others are blessed. It all flies under the radar of a celebrity hungry culture but it is always noticed and celebrated by the One who matters most.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Losing is Finding

There once was a man who had the means to take any of life’s options all the way to the end. In his day he was the richest man in the world. He was able to buy anything and everything that he saw or wanted. His conclusion? Riches are empty.

In his day he was one of the most powerful rulers in the world. Other rulers esteemed him as the first among equals. He extended the borders of his country to their greatest lengths in history. He formed the greatest military. He built the finest and most ornate buildings. His palace was envied by the world. His conclusion? Power is empty.

In his day he was the most desired man by the most beautiful women alive. He literally had a thousand women desiring his affections and wanting to bear his children. His conclusion? Sexuality is empty.

In his day he had no equal with respect to intellect. He assembled one of the great libraries of the world. He wrote volumes of the most profound works that continue to be read and studied today. His conclusion? Knowledge is empty.

Of course I’m describing the life and times of King Solomon. Solomon wrote an account of these life experiments that turned up so empty and it is called, "Ecclesiastes".

Solomon’s life is a powerful testimony to the paradox that Jesus espoused, “losing is finding”. The more Solomon tried to find life the more it slipped through his fingers. At those points where Solomon willingly lost his life for the sake of God, Solomon found life to be fullest and most abundant.

Matthew 16:24-25 is the recording of Jesus’ declaration of this paradox. These verses strike a death blow to the contemporary trend toward self-centered consumption. Even within Christianity many seek to approach Jesus as a genie that would meet all their needs and fulfill their whims.

“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will find it.”

Christ calls upon His followers to pour out, spend and give away their lives. Your reputation, your security, your well-being and your future are all in His hands. The promise? When you lose your life to and for Jesus, you’ll find it.

I pray that you might have the courage to live in the power of this paradox.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Poor is Rich

A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement. In the world of communications one oft repeated paradox is “less is more”. On the surface it would seem that more is more. But, with respect to oral communication or written communication most of the time we actually communicate more if we say less.

What we have found out is that attention span, comprehension and retention seem to work against voluminous communication. In fact, many people have tried to reduce profound information down to a “sound bite” or phrase because it can be easily digested and remembered. Therefore, less is more.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

Here is the paradox. Being poor in spirit is not being lazy or indifferent. A person who is poor in spirit has no sense of self-sufficiency and recognizes he is spiritually bankrupt. That “poverty awareness” moves him to desire God. To desire God is to gain God and to gain God is to receive life’s greatest treasure. Poor is rich.

Let me say it another way. Suppose a mother is frustrated with her teenage son. The young man doesn’t follow through on school projects and underperforms with his grades. He sometimes hangs out with questionable friends. He sits around playing video games instead of working a part time job. He’s on the phone or instant messaging girls so much that he rarely engages with the rest of the family. Most of the mother and son conversations have an edge to them and most of the time they don’t enjoy being around each other.

Then one night the son is involved in a car accident. The mother is called to the hospital where the son is in critical condition and the odds are that he’s not going to make it. The mother is faced with the picture of what life will look like without her son. In the poverty of that moment the mother realizes how rich she is to have her son in her life.

You don’t have to have tragedy take place in order to live in that poverty. You can choose to envision or imagine what life would be like without whomever or whatever and that state of poverty propels you into a state of wealth. That is, you understand how rich you are because you have that person in your life or you have health or you have opportunity, or that you have God.

May you be blessed with “poverty” today and thereby enjoy your “riches”.

How Are You, Really?

I had 5 people Wednesday ask, “How are you?” I’m not talking about the “How are you?” like “How’s it going today?” I’m talking about the “I care about you and was wondering how your experience of life is going right now?”

The latter question of course takes time in order to listen and respond. The former can be said while you’re walking past someone and waving. It doesn’t require an answer.

I’m not picking on the casual question. Sometimes I don’t have time for in depth listening. But I am making a case for our need to have some number of people in our lives who will ask the probing questions.

The first time I was asked Wednesday was at a 7:30 a.m. coffee meeting. I was caught a bit off guard and had to take a moment to think, “How am I?” Then I tried to give a thoughtful and honest answer. After a few minutes I was able to return the question. Within 15 minutes we had a great connection and were ready to focus on the business that brought about our meeting.

The same scenario was played out in the other meetings I had through the day. It doesn’t always happen that way but it did on Wednesday. I had a couple of irritations and some stress associated with a project but mostly I moved through the day with a sense of being a blessed man because of the gifts of relationships I enjoy.

Ultimately each of the above mentioned contacts reflect to me the interest and concern God has about my life (and yours). The human exchange stirred a Father-son exchange, which served to draw my heart closer to my Lord.

This post is a “God moment” of His reach to you in the midst of your day and circumstance. God is asking “How are you?” Not because He needs information but because the question will cause you to self-assess in the shadow of His presence. This is a moment of His drawing you closer. I pray that you will lean in.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Nurture the Soul

Do you know what nurtures your soul and refreshes your life?

The past 24 hours have been a delight. I’m in Moses Lake, Washington watching the sun set over the lake having had a great day with my family. Today was a late breakfast at a local restaurant, playing tennis before the temperature reached 80 degrees, swimming in the pool, reading a book and enjoying cold watermelon late in the afternoon.

Tonight will probably be a slow drive back to Seattle amidst heavy holiday traffic. I have four messages loaded in my MP3 player for some reflective driving.

September is going to be a very busy and strategic month for me. Today is exactly what my soul needed as preparation for an intense run.

What works for you? Are you getting the time? As mentioned in the previous post, we all have slow leaks that regularly need a fresh infusion of inspiration.

Nurture your soul.