Monday, January 31, 2011

The World is a Village

The world is a village. That’s what my local church has been talking about. We shared these statistics of what the population would look like if we were a village of just 100 people.

Out of 100 people

60 would be Asian

14 would be African

12 would be European

8 would be Latin American

5 would be American or Canadian

1 would be from the South Pacific

51 would be male; 49 would be female

82 would be non-white; 18 white

67 would be non-Christian; 33 would be Christian

I've seen these statistics with a few variations, but this particular set I got from The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, pg121.

I don’t find these stats alarming, but I do find them surprising. I think, if we’re honest, we all do. The fact is we can all get so narrow-focused in our own little part of the world that we forget the rest of the world may not look like us. Guess what? They also don’t always think or respond like us either.

But there is one stat this chart leaves off, no matter which version I look at. For every village, there is at least one idiot. Who knows, it could be me. But regardless of whether we admit it or not, this is often how we view those people in the village who do not think as highly of us as we tend to think of us.

In some of Jesus’ stories we come across a person who perhaps did not stand still while they were pouring in mental power. Or as my dad used to describe me, ‘when they were passing out brains, I thought they said ‘trains’ and figured I was going somewhere. Thanks, dad.

One of the parables of Jesus reveals a man who thought that burying his coin was a better idea than investing it with the bank. Another story shows us a son eating pig slop while his father had a daily feast. We can read of rich men storing treasures, bridesmaids not bringing enough oil for their lamps and builders choosing a beach for their home.

Dim bulbs? Perhaps, but who am I to judge? Yes, Jesus was often painting a picture of foolish thinking in connection with how we should think of God and His kingdom. But none of us are perfect. Since all of us have a little plank-pulling left to do (see Matthew 7:1-5), maybe now is the time to enjoy our differences instead of categorizing them.

The world is a village. To put it differently, we are a family. Each one of us is a son or daughter of God. I believe it’s time we started treating one another as such.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Lion, The Mouse and The Dawn Treader

The Lion, The Mouse and The Dawn Treader is a book by Carl McColman. The subtitle says it all; Spiritual Lessons from C.S. Lewis's Narnia. This is an e-book, so there was no jacket description, but the title leaves little to guess at.
Honestly, I am really not sure what to think of this book. On the one hand, having read C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it was fun to have this quasi-conversation about what is really going on in the book. After all, I'm not sure I ever knew The Chronicles of Narnia to be just a story. On the other hand, I think I may just prefer to read the chronicle rather than the lesson book.

The stories of Narnia have some very clear spiritual implications and lessons to teach.

However...

I don't know anything else about Carl save for what he has written in these pages. I sometimes wondered if Carl was stretching things a bit. I had just recently read the chronicle that was being addressed here, but I wondered how deeply between the lines Carl was sometimes reading.

Don't get me wrong. Carl writes very well. It showed creativity and much thought. It's not that he didn't make sense. But at points it felt like a pastor who really wanted to use a clip from a movie yet struggled to make the spiritual connection.

Then again, who am I? Maybe I don't read enough into what C.S. Lewis was writing. At 94 pages, this was a quick read and offered many positive points to consider.

I received this book from SpeakEasy, a special e-book edition. They give me books. I tell everyone what I think. They don't tell me what to think.

You can purchase this book here.
Carl's amazing blog is at http://anamchara.com
A YouTube trailer for the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4o1gXKxfnM #SpeakEasyNarnia

Friday, January 28, 2011

God's Will....Oh, Scary!

Jennifer and I have not yet gotten to the point of pushing our children for a decision on their careers. We are waiting for them to at least hit double digits before we ask them how they plan to take care of us in our golden years. But the subject of what they want to be does come up.

So far Jacie, our oldest, has discussed being an astronaut and a teacher, but her real dream is to be a dolphin trainer. She should probably learn to swim first, but she has time.

My son has also batted the idea of education around, right after his career in pro sports is done. I'm ok with that plan. It makes retirement sound much more possible.

It's our youngest that has me concerned. At the tender age of 4, she has decided that she does not want to go to college because that could mean that she wouldn't be living with mom and dad. It warms the heart now, but it won't pay the bills later.

If my children seem oblivious now as to what to do with their futures, wait until some pastor (likely their dad) adds on the detail that they may want to consider 'God's will for their life.' I think I just heard you groan while reading this.

What is it about God's will that has us all worried and bothered? Is it the concern of how to hear God's voice? Is it the fear of being struck by lightning for getting it wrong? As a child, I remember being very afraid that God would call me to be a missionary. How would I take hot showers and order pizza to be delivered? Unthinkable!

As I sit in my cozy chair, basking in the glory that all youth pastors receive, I sometimes look back and consider my calling, as we like to refer to that auspicious day that a decision was made and we could blame God for whatever happens next. Did I hear a voice? Or did I simply feel some indigestion? Either way, it was a bit uncomfortable.

If you're looking ahead and you're wondering what to do with your life, have you considered God's will? Are you scared to ask? Do you ask God's will for everything, including which fast food restaurant to head to for lunch?

I will admit that God's will can be a bit unnerving. After all, who knows His mind in order to know what's coming? This is where approaching decisions like my children will be helpful. Follow your passions (if your passions are God-directed) and assume (even naively) that God will take care of you. After all, everyone around you says you can trust God. Either you do, or...gulp, be afraid.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Changing Plans

Flexibility is a good thing. If you watch Winter Wipeout on ABC, you'll find out why. This is my family's newest weekly dose of shared fun. Winter Wipeout is the winter edition of a the original, where contestants attempt to run a course in the best time. But this isn't your run-of-the-mill course. Here's how they describe their show.
Twenty-four thrill-seekers will compete in the world's largest extreme obstacle course designed to provide the most spills, face plants and wipeouts ever seen on television.
Basically the show is for the viewers who enjoy laughing at people who fall in very awkward ways. More than once my kids have laughed, and my wife has winced, as a contestant face plants and finds their feet by their ears.

Like I said, flexibility is a good thing.

The group who tried to attend a concert this past weekend also learned about flexibility. We expected to be able to buy tickets at the door. Alas, they sold out before we got there. I assumed the concert promoters would have seen that we posted the event on Facebook and expected us. That did not happen.

So our group of twenty-one went and shot lasers at one another. This was fun too. It pays to be flexible. It also comes in handy when following God.

The brother of Jesus, Jim, had something to say about all of this. (You've never heard of Jim? He signs the letter James, but I've heard his close friends called him Jim.) He said we should be very careful about making long-term plans because we can't even control tomorrow. "Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).

Flexibility in life isn't nearly as fun, or funny, as watching people fall down. Admit it, there's about 3.6 seconds that pass from when you initially laugh to when you think to ask if they are alright. At least we can prepare physically for stretching, or at least take pain medicine when it happens by accident. But when our schedules are suddenly changed or destroyed, there is very little we can do.

Like many things, the difference afterward will be our focus. If we are concerned with our goals, we might show our inflexibility. If, however, we are focused on God and His plan, we'll be able to laugh when our plans do a back flip of sorts that we did not see coming.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't Overlook the Obvious

Oh the whim of a 4-year old! They are less reasonable than a teenage girl, make less sense than a government document, are more stubborn than a pack of mules, and yet they often don't miss a thing.

What should have been simple was not. After eating lunch together, my wife and the aforementioned 4-year old, Jerica, were going to go shopping. Except Jerica did want to go. She made her feelings well known by using the universal sign for obstinate 4-year olds; she fell down on the floor and refused to move.

My wife was trying to get her boots on while I helpfully tuned my guitar. (It had to be done. Out of tune guitars do not sound very good.)

Wife: Put your boots on Jerica. We need to go.
Jerica: I don't want to.
Me: Does that E-string sound right?

Seeing that my wife was struggling, yet not wanting to put the guitar down, I started telling my daughter a story. (I'm sure my wife appreciated this help.) Here's what I told my daughter:

'Once, when I was in prison, I made up a song. It's called Breaking Out. Do you want to hear it?' (Then, without waiting for a response, I started sliding my guitar pick along the low E string, mimicking the sound of a file on a prison bar.)

Jerica, distracted from her crying, asks me, 'Why were you in prison?'

Good jokes are wasted on 4-year olds. However, I was impressed that she did not miss the major details. For her, prison is reserved for bad guys who do things like speed and take toys from their sisters. How could I, her dad, possibly be a bad guy?

Then again, how do we miss the major details in our lives?

Anyone who has been to church longer than 5 minutes knows what I am talking about. Pettiness abounds in the place purposed to dispense grace. Selfishness is found all over when focus should be on God. Pride exists where self should be crucified.

Why do churches exist? Do you remember?
"Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Ephesians 2:12-13
Oh, yeah.

Too often we get distracted by things that simply will not matter. We think they matter. We argue as if they are important. We let these minor details about life separate and divide us. Why?

Because we overlook the obvious.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Soul Print

If you've ever wanted a pastor to weigh in on the uber-important topic on whether or not King Saul went #1 or #2 in the cave where David hid, then I have the book for you.

You've never wanted that? Well, I still have the book for you.

Mark Batterson, pastor of the National Community Church in DC has written quite a powerful little book in Soul Print. It is full of great Twitter-sized quotes. It took me until I was halfway through the book to realize where I had read some of these quotes before. (I follow Mark on Twitter.)

Don't let the idea that an idea can fit in 140 characters or less lead you to believe that this book has nothing to offer. From start to finish, this book has great insight as we ask the important question, who am I?

Here are just a couple of nuggets;

'Perceived disadvatages often prove to be disguised advantages because they
force us to develop attitudes and abilities that would have otherwise gone
undiscovered.'

'It's not our experiences that make us or break us. It's our interpretation
of and explanation for those experiences that ultimately determines who we
become.'

It's really quite a simple idea (I wish I had thought of it). Just like each of us has a unique fingerprint, Mark describes how we each have a unique soulprint. It's classic truth told in a very engaging way. God made you who and how you are for a reason, but how do you discover it?

To guide us on this quest, Mark follows the life of David, showing us that key moments in our lives are windows into our soul, telling us who we are. But don't be fooled. This isn't simply a feel-good, God made you special type of book. Mark delivers truth that can sometimes be difficult to accept, much less live out. That's what pastors do. That's what Mark has done here.

I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah for the purpose of reviewing it. They don't tell me what to think about it, they just ask that I display those thoughts for all of you. So here you go. You can purchase your copy here.

Oh, and he does the answer that question about King Saul. The answer is more important than you might think.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Don't Feel a Day Over 600

The other day I read about how Adam and those first few generations lived until they were in their 900's. Besides the fact that it sounds like there would have been multiple generations of grumpy old men telling us how much better it was in their day, I think the idea kind of intrigues me. I mean, there was so much time. How would having all that time change the dynamics of life and aging?

This is how I think life would be different if old people were those in their 800's, and not those in their 80's.

1. 20-somethings living with their parents would not be looked down upon. Heck, you could probably live in your parent's basement until you were 300 before people really started to question it.

2. No girl would look down on any guy for not wanting children until his mid-200's. So we'll only have 700 years to build a good father-son relationship. I think we'll find the time.

3. Settling down and having a family may not happen all that quick, because let's face it, if you've only been dating for 50 years, how well do you really know each other.

4. 500 is the new 400.

5. When 100 year olds start spouting off about how much experience they have in life and how they are experts at everything, I believe a line of 600 year olds would form as they start beating the young whipper-snapper with their canes. They could simply say, 'Come talk to me when you're 400', but let's face it, 600 years is a long time to get really grumpy.

6. Guy would have their mid-life crisis around 450. This could possibly mean checking out younger ladies, you know, those girls who are only 200 and still looking fine. At the very least it means quitting the job you've had for 375 years. Honestly, if you're still middle-management at this point, no promotion is coming.

7. Brett Favre could have played football for another 300 years, but he'd always leave us wondering if he was coming back until the second week of training camp.

8. Unless you bring in Cake Boss to make great-great-great-grandpa's cake, you may want to think twice about putting a candle for every year on his cake. Perhaps just icing on the number will have to do this year.

9. When a 900 year old says they have seen it all, you believe them.

I'll leave #10 for you to fill in. What difference do you think we'de see in lives that last until 900?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

If I Believe It, I Should Expect It

Last night I called my children up from the basement to supper. Jerica, our precocious 4-year old, said, 'I don't want anything yucky.' Ahhh, expectations.

You should know that she would define 'yucky' as anything not on her pre-approved list of meals. That list would include peanut butter, grilled cheese and McDonald's chicken nuggets. So yes, by comparison, supper was 'yucky'. But she ate it.

Expectations are funny things. An experience can be shared by many people, but interpreted differently depending on what each person expected. If you show up to a U2 concert only to find out that Bono is sick and The Wiggles are filling in, you will likely be disappointed. On the other hand, if your wife dragged you to a Wiggles concert and U2 came out instead, your experience would rise above your expectation for the day.

I think something similar is happening in Genesis in the story of Abram and Sarai. Abram has received some pretty big promises from God. You're going to be a great nation. Your name will be huge. Everyone on earth will be blessed through you. That's a tall order.

There is just one problem. Abram believed God. And so he struggled. You can read all about it from Genesis 12 through 22. We can see an up and down relationship between God and Abram, all of it on Abram's side. There were lies and doubts, as Abram tried to make sure the promise was fulfilled.

Abram struggled with what God said to him because he actually believed that God was guaranteeing what He promised. You may read that last sentence and think to yourself that it doesn't make sense. Shouldn't Abram have believed God would do what He said He would do? Well, yeah. But I don't think we actually believe it.If we do, we probably struggle to live it.

Abram struggled against his expectations. Because God promised such great stuff, Abram expected to experience it. Maybe the reason we don't struggle with God more is that we really don't have high expectations for Him. Or any expectations at all.

Where is the longing in our hearts? What happened to the little child in us that believed that anything was possible? Have we listened for the promises that God has for us? They are all over the Bible.

If we believe the Bible to be true, why doesn't it show in our lives? Shouldn't we all be a bit more eager to see God's promises fulfilled in our lives? Shouldn't we be talking to God and asking Him questions? Abram was asking details. I believe that true expectancy should be coupled with anticipation.

If I believe it, I should expect it. So should you. Do you?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Time is Ticking

Is anyone else out there tired of hearing about resolutions yet? I've already discussed my feeling on resolutions here, here and on New Year's here. Oh my, perhaps I should be tired of writing about this stuff.

Nevertheless, with the start of a new year comes the starting over of everything else as well. One of the things I've started over is the Bible. And I'm just Type-A enough to always start at the beginning. So there I was reading the Table of Nations in Genesis 5. This is where we read about guys living into their 900's. (If you thought your grandparents were old at 80, imagine being a teenager and having to travel to see your 700 year old ancestors.)

Maybe it's because I just got done listening to teens tell me how bored they were over a 2-week Christmas break, but I started wondering how you spend 900 years on Earth.

At first it sounds like a fun idea. After all, you'd be able to finish things like a game of Risk or finish reading War & Peace. You could pick up Peyton Manning's great-great-grandson in your Fantasy Football league, just knowing he'd be great. Heck, even people with a dial-up connection would have more time to download music and movies.

But then I realized these poor guys did not have such things in their life at the time. No internet, no gaming systems, no TV or movies. Why even bother living 900 years, if you call that living? What were they supposed to do, spend time with their family and friends? We read about God limiting our days to 120 years and think of it as a punishment. I think He did us a favor.

I digress, and of course, I jest.

All of this did make me wonder about how we spend our time. After all, 120 years may not be as much as 900, but it is still a lot of time. Rather than spend it being bored, I believe we should take some time to read what the Bible has to say about time and idelness. Then we should spend the rest of our time finding ways to do God-sized stuff.

Reading wisdom of Solomon and Paul would be a good start. Here are just a few;

Proverbs 31:27, Ecclesiastes 10:18, Ecclesiastes 11:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13.

Even if it will take a long time, it seems as though we have plenty of it. So go ahead, resolute all you want. But make sure it's a good use of your time.

Anyone else out there have good suggestions for how you spend your time?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Am I Happy?

New Year's resolutions are an interesting creature. I can recall a time when I felt guilty if I didn't have a grand list to match how holy I thought I should be. Most often I felt guilty because it didn't dawn on me to resolve anything until around January 5 or 6. Then I would resolve to come up with resolutions sooner the following year.

I even recall feeling like a failure if I didn't start my new resolutions on January 1. I mean, after that, what's the point? There can't be any real self-improvement if you start after the New Year has already been in full swing for a week, right?

This year it occurs to me that many resolutions stem from discontent. I'm not saying I shouldn't eat right and exercise regularly, but some of my past resolutions came from a place of envy. You can see how I am fixing that problem this year.

There are many things about which we look at ourselves and decide we can do better. Some of them may be fine things to work on, but I believe there is a deeper question we should answer first. Am I happy?

I don't want to know if you are giddy like a school-girl. I don't even want to know if you've just wiped away tears form crying at a new Chuck Norris joke. (Although I would like to hear the joke.)

Am I happy should be asked with a larger view of contentment. Exercise should be done to show God we appreciate the body He has given us, not because we are comparing ourselves to magazine covers. Eating right should happen because God gave us one body to take care of while on Earth, not because we made ourselves sweat trying to pull on a pair of jeans.

Every year we resolve to better ourselves in countless areas because we believe that these improvements will make us happy in life. How much better would our lives be if we resolved instead to be thankful for what God has given us?

Each day is a gift. It is filled with people and experiences who are gifts in themselves. Are you happy? If not, perhaps you need to take another look at what you have been given.

Happy New Year! Find your happiness in 2011 in the only One who can truly give happiness.