Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Life Overseas

Please check out, a blog where I will contribute some of my thoughts as a contributing writer.  My first post will be on Friday.  It's called:  "Politics: Always great dinner conversation." 

Please check out some of the other posts, too.  I'm by far the least qualified and least skilled writer.  Obviously.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Red and yellow, kill a fellow

Angela and I were talking about all of the old sayings, and how silly some of them are.  In some instances, we hear them and know how ridiculous they are.
"Sneeze in threes and you may be pregnant."
Other sayings we've heard so many time in our lives that we don't really know if they are true or not.
"Chocolate causes acne;"
"Pull one gray hair, three will grow in its place;"
"You lose most of your body heat through your head;"
"Sugar causes kids to be hyper."

If they aren't literally true, oftentimes you can pull a helpful metaphor from it.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" 
This does not mean apple on the breath will deter a doctor like garlic to Dracula.  But eating well will certainly cause less health issues in the long term.

One that holds true and literally and metaphorically is
"Red and yellow, kill a fellow."
Literally, it refers to comparing the skin patterns of coral snakes to king snakes in order to tell which is poisonous.  When the red and yellow rings touch, you know you are dealing with a poisonous coral snake.

Metaphorically, I believe it's also quite true.  Below are a few examples of how you can recognize many common, every day situations that if you could get too close could cause a slow poisoning of your person.  Many businesses choose colors based on "color psychology."  Based on these principles, an organization often chooses red since it is quickly noticed and related to excitement and yellow because it can often be associated with feeling happy.  Some also see these two colors as a way of encouraging a "quicker stay."  Here are a few examples.  The list is not conclusive of the "poisonous snakes" out there, but it's helpful to have a starting point.
Drastic action should be taken to protect the poor and desperate in our communities. Some Texas cities are doing too little too late I fear.
Here's a satirical website pointing out the evils of Predatory Lending.

Ahhh, comfort food. And salads? Maybe they are changing their image.
To paraphrase a professor of mine: "How do you define 'bueno'?"
Would you prefer extra corn syrup or more deep fried? At least there is an alternative to the meal I grew up on.
Welcome to the biggest, baddest snake around. Everyone knows, but we keep going back.
I'll probably catch some flack from friends and my mom who swear the vegetable plate is a healthy option.  It could be if you stick to the lighter options.
Even from a distance, it looks menacing, doesn't it?
While you may not have seen this one coming, a brief viewing of "The Office" reminds us that these guys are causing smaller, local companies to close down.  But I guess any big box store could be put in this category.
Anybody need a mortgage through possibly unethical behavior?
The light and the way to get your car going.  An opportunity to get the poison airborne.  Oh, Big Oil.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any to add?  Am I off-base?  I'd love to hear your thoughts about my claim that these are big "snakes."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Goodbye, first car. Thanks for the good times.

Last week I said goodbye to my first car -- my 2002 manly VW Jetta TDI.  It wasn't planned, but it turned out to be a blessing.

Angela and I were in Wichita Falls for the Spook'n'Spoke bicycle ride the day before.  Sunday morning we packed up the car to join our friends at church in Dallas.  It was the second night in a row with freezing temperatures.  Angela's parents said goodbye quickly before going back inside to the warmth of the house.  Since the Jetta has always had a difficult time starting on cold mornings, I knew we would be there for a few turns of the key.  After the third attempt, however, we thought we should use the smartphone to problem-solve.  As we're looking up a few websites, Angela noticed smoke rising from the edges of the hood.  I quickly stepped out and noticed an orange glow on the ground below the engine.  A quick look under confirmed that a fire was building.  I told Angela to get out and check for a fire extinguisher in her parents' place.  I then advised her dad to call 911.

By the time the fire department arrived, the car was finished.  I have a few pictures below.  Unfortunately, none of them show the three foot flames coming out of the sides of the hood.

I'm thankful for the Jetta.  It served me well for 10 years.  I'm also thankful for the people at Augustine Insurance in Dallas and Gene Litton's people in Wichita Falls, both Allstate people.  They turned my car into a sort of phoenix:  Rising from the ashes, a check appeared.  Finally, thanks to my parents for a great car.  It served me well for 169,000 miles.  Though I don't recommend VWs to others due to their cheap, plastic interiors, this one had a great engine and took me to LA and back many times.

Do you have any good stories about how you ended your relationship with your first car?  I'd love to see how you said goodbye.

Now for some pics.  (By the way, I hate Blogger when it comes to pictures.  Apologies.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A selfish kind of gospel

This morning I experienced one of the most selfish versions of salvation I've ever experienced.  Here are the five points of why "I would become a Christian today":
  1. God wants me to become a Christian.
  2. The Christian life is better/healthier/more beneficial.
  3. My life could end unexpectantly.
  4. My heart could harden.
  5. Jesus could return today.
While those things may be true, I left church this morning feeling like something was missing.  I felt as if someone was trying to sell me eternal life insurance -- better to have it just in case -- rather than a loving God.  In the end it just came across to me as selfish.

Since I was visiting the church (and I have a problem with arrogance), I refrained from sharing my thoughts with the preacher.  But I was saddened by the prescription for a sickness that is really just a symptom of the deeper sickness.

I kept waiting to hear the word "love."  The only mention was in a quoting of the KJV John 3:16 used as evidence of point 1.

I wanted to hear that "God is love," the key part of that being that we are to love others.  I walked away thinking, "If I don't have to love others this is the easiest -- and cheapest -- way to eternal life ever.  That is a 'good' reason to become a Christian."

I wanted to hear something about "community."  Instead I was left thinking all I had to do was repent and be baptized -- this was something I did all on my own.

I knew it wouldn't happen, but I was longing to hear something about serving "the least of these."  Unfortunately many church congregations would rather ignore the list of things we are called to do in lieu of the list of things we should not do.

When we are "signing the papers" looking toward the future, we ignore the fact that Jesus has already come once.  During that time he taught us how to live as if heaven was already here.  The key: love.

Without the key ingredient of love, the gospel is reduced to the selfishness of being all about you.  That is cheap and misses the point of the Good News.  The Gospel is anything but selfish -- that is the reason you should become a Christian.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A good lesson for me to learn: Stop teaching

"I've been teaching empty classrooms for years."
After reading several good bloggers's posts, I recognized something different about my blog posts.  Whereas many great posts end strongly with a question, my posts -- attempts at reflection -- often end with something that I don't set out to do:  A lesson.

If you blog or have read just about any article about blogging, you can probably tell me that I'm not supposed to end it with a lesson; I'm supposed to end it with an invitation for a response.  Even most (maybe some) preachers with blogs know that.

My problem seems to be rooted in how I relate to people. 

If you've seen The Hangover part II (please don't if you haven't), you might remember a scene where Alan Garner flashes back to the night no one else can remember.  He sees himself and his friends as 12 year-olds.  It explains a lot about him.  The scary thing is that I sometimes act like I see everyone else as a 12 year-old.  The exception is myself:  I'm the adult.  And what do adults do?  They teach children valuable lessons.

How jacked up is that?
Not really sure what's happening here, but it's jacked up, too.
It's another sad reminder that I pretend the world revolves around me.  It's like I've already forgotten that which I don't want to be reminded of.  I am so thankful that I'm not as important as I pretend to be.  But why do I keep pretending I'm so important?  If anything, I'm the 12 year-old boy in a world of people who know better than me.

I'm far from a prolific blogger, but that's no excuse for not loving people and recognizing how important and how smart they are.  I think that's the reason for it deep down.  And it's definitely something I'm trying to recognize and change.

This is where I'm supposed to end with a McGuffin, a film device now used incorrectly in social media.  This is also something I'm not good at.  Maybe this will invite a response, though: 

I think many of us struggle with everyday struggles against selfishness and ego.  Mine exhibits itself in the need to teach a lesson.  I'd love to hear [read] about any ways you see this in yourself, and -- even better -- how you have battled against it.  Hopefully this will encourage Angela that there is hope for me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hire this man

If you see the header below show up on your desk, I recommend you contact this person immediately.
You're probably thinking, Wow. Is that Calibri font? How original. Hired!
I'm primarily looking to reengage in the world of higher ed again.  This time I want to be working at the intersection of social justice, service-learning, and global experience.  If it doesn't exist at your university yet, let me know.  I'm preparing my project proposal.

Angela and I would appreciate your prayers during the search.  We're both nervous already, getting ready to return.  Searching for a job just adds to it.

Blessings and thanks for the help you can offer.  If you know of any opportunities, let me know.  Also, if you think there is a better font than Calibri for a resume, share your recommendations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Self-Reflection #18 (or thereabouts)

I keep thinking of this quote from a "30 Rock" episode a while back:

Liz Lemon [to Jack]:  "I'm sorry you got caught up in another one of Liz Lemon's adventures."
Jack Donaghy:  "My adventures!  I am the protagonist!"
I laughed a lot when I first heard this.  It's a great line -- after all, we're each the star of our own life.  Then I thought more about it.  As I did so, it became even more true:  I think I'm the star.

It's definitely what led my wife to say, "Justin thinks he's cooler than he really is."  I didn't laugh as much when I heard this, but it definitely got me thinking.

I remember when I was a big-time 8th grader.  I was on the bus heading home having a conversation with a 6th grader.  In a nonchalant manner she called me a "nerd."  I began to make my case as to why this was not true.  After arguing away her claim, point by point, she simply said, "I still think you're a nerd."  This girl was simply saying the same thing that Angela told me:  "Justin, you think you are cooler than you."

I just wish it hadn't taken 18 years to realize that it is so true.

Since I've been living my life as the protagonist of "Justin Schneider's Adventures," I haven't stopped to ask myself whether this is really my story.  In a way, it is.  But in a major way, it is not.

As a follower of God through Christ, the big story is his.  His love adds import to my role, but I'm not the protagonist. I keep thinking of the line by Kundera (or Stanislavsky), "There are no small parts, only small actors"  (said long before height-challenged Dustin Hoffman or Tom Cruise).  Being a part of his story doesn't make us less important; it just makes him more important.  Our role is to play the hell outta what we're given.  That means all of what Jesus said, which Paul does a pretty good job of paraphrasing in Romans 12

Like Angela and that 6th grader did for me, Paul clearly reminds us "Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us" (Romans 12:3, NLT).  

That's enough for today.  It's about time to start again tomorrow.  I'm going to begin with this prayer from St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

But the Wilderness Is So Nice

I just looked at the Lent calendar and realized how close Easter is.

My first thought should have been getting excited about eating brownies made from scratch again.  But it wasn't -- that was the second.

My first thought was, "I don't want it to be over already."

Beginning before Lent, I began seeking God in a more open and direct way.  But during this Lent season, my daily devotionals, my meditating, praying, and scripture reading have increased to almost be where I'd like them to be.  Many mornings have skipped my viewing of "The Daily Show," and instead read or listened to teachings of faith. 

In addition, my relationship with Angela has reached a new sincerity that my own sin and selfishness and fear prevented.  It has certainly been tough.  Opening to Angela and remaining honest is not something I'm good at.  In fact, the only reason I used to be open to Angela or anyone else was to share "just enough" to appear open and honest.  Only through God's grace and mercy and Angela's, have we come to a point where joy is always near even in times of hurt.

I wonder how Jesus felt.

I'm not sure when God revealed to Jesus the path to death.  He probably knew it all along.  In the wilderness, though, he wasn't going to die.  Jesus was tempted in major ways, but he knew he wasn't going to die there.  In Matthew, after the temptations, it says, "Angels came and were ministering to him" (4:17 ESV).  That must have been a wonderful experience.

So wonderful that I would have been tempted to stay.  What if that was the last temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness:  Just stay and be fed spiritually and intellectually. 

That's where I am right now.  Sure I want desserts, but my connections with God is such that I don't ever need something sweet again (I know I never did -- I just always wanted it). 

More than dessert, I'm scared about what will happen with this connection that is so strong.  And even if it continues until we leave Thailand, how can we keep close contact with God when life in America tries to get in the way again?

I really like the part of Fireproof when she asks what day he's on, and he says, "43. . . . Who says I have to stop?"  That's the complete truth. 

There are 40 days of the Lenten season.  But once it's over, who says I have to stop?

Each day is a new day, and each day I continue to seek God.  Luke tells us that when he left the wilderness, "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit" (4:14 ESV).  Each day we are seeking to be filled with the Spirit.

One day at a time.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

I spent a lot of time focusing on this song, listening to Sufjan Stevens's performance of it.  He changes it up a bit, but I've included the original lyrics by Robert Robinson (1778).

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

(The verse that speaks loudest to me)
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rest along the way

"It's a long road ahead."

I've heard this statement a lot lately.  My initial response is "I know, I know." 

When I stop and think about it, though, I wonder, do I know? 

I'm notorious about having great ideas, getting them started, and then passing them off to someone who will continue it.  Either that, or the project dies due to my lack of follow-through.  This doesn't happen all the time.  Maybe not even the majority of the time.  But it happens.  What I want to know is why.

After thinking a lot about this for a few days straight, it comes back to my need for control and my sense of fear. 

I see things in the big picture.  The postive in that is that I try to look at things holistically, getting to the root.  A negative is that I can see how hard and how far one needs to go to accomplish the vision.  Having the vision is great; getting there is hard and sometimes overwhelming. 

This is where the fear comes in.  With such a long road ahead, the chances for failure are much greater.  So instead of pushing through, I checkout and give up.  I've done this with relationships, workout routines, news articles, fighting temptation, and just about everything else. 

I want the results.  But I want them now without the journey.

That's why I think it's so important to follow up the "long road ahead" comment with one that is just as important: 

"One day at a time."

Rest and reframing are so important each step of the way.  It's the same idea as "baby steps" in What About Bob?

Angela had a great run this morning.  She said she usually poops out early because it seems so far.  The key was to mark "halfway."  It's not a physical stop, but the mental marker gives her strength to regather her motivation and strength.  She can shout, "I made it this far.  No way I'm giving up now!" 

That's what we need on this long and bumpy ride:  rest stops. 

The opportunity to refresh our minds, get a little nutrition, clean out the "waste" that has been stored on the journey so far.  This is what I'm praying for now.  I want to keep running the race, but I have to do it each day.  I don't need to and can't run the next 50 years today.  I just have to run today.

How the heck did Jesus hang out in the wilderness for 40 days?  Despite the few paragraphs dedicated to this time in the bible, I'm almost certain it was just one day at a time.

Lent is long.  The wait is long.  Seeking reconciliation can be long.  Life is long.  You have to rest along the way.

It's a long road ahead.  But it happens one day at a time.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dying to self

This is exactly what I've been fighting recently:  Dying to myself.  I've spent a good part of my life creating an image of a man who is seeking God.  Part of it was sincere, but at some point, I became obsessed with the image rather than the truth.

It was exhausting, and I'm so thankful that I'm ready to be honest.

Here's the video from Rob Bell's Nooma project.  Feel free to fast forward 4 or 5 minutes if you're short on time.

I hope you are encouraged to continue to seek God through Lent.

I've had this song stuck in my head all day:
I want to know Christ,
     And the power or His rising,
     Share in His suffering,
     Conform to His death:
     When I pour out my life
     To be filled with His Spirit,
     Joy follows suffering,
     And life follows death.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A thought from C.S. Lewis

I'm a patient of the Great Physician, but it cannot be all about me.  The new "C.S. Lewis Bible" is now available, and, along with it, this nice little piece from the Huffington Post.  I took this from slide 6 at the bottom. 

It's a reminder that we are called by God, even though we need Him just as much as anyone we serve.

C.S. Lewis "'Thy will be done.' But a great deal of it is to be done by God's creatures; including me. The petition, then, is not merely that I may patiently suffer God's will but also that I may vigorously do it. I must be an agent as well as a patient. I am asking that I may be enabled to do it." -- from "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer"
Bible Passage "Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed." -- Luke 11:4
Keep serving this Lenten season. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Beautiful Things

Angela shared this song with me yesterday after it moved her to tears.  You can get the lyrics here along with another interesting blog to follow.
When Angela sent this to me, I had just finished a chapter in Scott Todd's Fast Living where he discussed quite well how in one slum the "excrement was integrated with the soil" after 20 years of "flying toilets."

I realized that in my own life, my soil and dust were not the pristine soil of a Garden of Eden, but rather the dirt-excrement combination of a slum.  Yet, God makes beautiful things even out of this -- even out of me.

During this Lenten season of wandering and renewal, I have to keep reminding myself:  This isn't all about me.  God is renewing me.  But he also renewing all of us.  Lent is not only fasting in our lives, but also fasting to glorify God through serving others, not ourselves.  Read Isaiah 58.

I have been selfish all of my life.  Now it's time I fast from myself.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Strong Enough

I'm not a big fan of Christian Contemporary Music, but you can't argue when somebody nails the lyrics so well.  Take a listen, or put it on mute and just read the lyrics. 

Continue to reach toward God this Lenten season.  We're not as strong as we pretend to be.

Matthew West's "Strong Enough":

We don't know how to confess anymore

As I continue to realign myself with God during Lent, I continue to recognize how broken and misled I am.  I have created an image of a man who seeks God, but in fact have become a man who seeks this image rather than seeking God.  In other words, I have a heart that would make me God rather than seeking the true God.

I've been reading Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart (or here).  It has been speaking powerfully to me about who I am.  As I continue to share and confess to others, I desire to do it right.  Here is an excerpt (pp. 59-60):
The Necessity of Remorse

To prosecutors and judges in our court system, as well as to people in ordinary situations of life, it still matters greatly whether wrongdoers show signs of remorse or seem to be truly sorry for what they have done.  Why is that?  It is because Genuine remorse tells us something very deep about the individual.  The person who can harm others and feel no remorse is, indeed, a different kind of person from the one who is sorry.  There is little hope for genuine change in one who is without remorse, without the anguish of regret.

Much of what is called Christian profession today involves no remorse or sorrow at all over who one is or even for what one has done.  There is little awareness of being lost or of a radical evil in our hearts, bodies, and souls -- which we must get away from and from which only God can deliever us.  To manifest such awareness today would be regarded -- and certainly by most Christians as well -- as psychologically sick.  It is common today to hear Christians talk of there "brokenness."  But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them.

Few today have discovered that they have been disastrously wrong and that they cannot change or escape the consequences of it on their own.  There is little sense of "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5, KJV).

Yet, without this realization of our utter ruin and without the genuine revisioning and redirecting of our lives, which that bitter realization naturally gives rise to, no clear path to inner transformation can be found.  It is psychologically and spiritually impossible.  We will steadfastly remain on the throne of our universe, so far as we are concerned, perhaps trying to "use a little God" here and there . . . .
As my confession grows, I expect ruin.  It is only by the grace of God that I am saved.  Not by my hand, nor by any others.  It may cost me my life, but I am guilty and should expect no less.

My journey through the wilderness continues.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A prayer to God from a non-god

My prayer today as I navigate the wilderness of Lent.


You are my Lord.  You are God.  I am not God. 

I have tried to be God in my life for a long time.  But I am not.

I'm human -- a pretty undisciplined one at that.

I am not in control.  I cannot stop depending on you for every breath.

Please, please, please do not allow me to forget:

You are God.  I am not.

Monday, February 27, 2012

We Are All Addicts

As a man who struggles with sexual sins and addiction and has battled for many years, I have grown to see that, in one way or another, we are all addicts.  My Lenten thoughts today are about this.

The world teaches us to place ourselves above others--above God.  We're taught that beauty and sex are basically the same thing, and if you don't have them, you need to hurry up and get some.  Alcohol and drugs destroy countless lives, yet we're quick to deny their effects on us as individuals.

Even shopping and consumerism are addictions for many people.  We have become addicted to buying and then buying again as soon as the new [insert device or product] is released.  Some of us even wait in line for hours.

As good as we are at having addictions, we are horrible at fighting them.

That's why I love the approach of AA and Celebrate Recovery:  One day at a time.

Jesus was in the desert for forty days.  I have a feeling he wasn't marking the days like Robinson Crusoe.  He was fasting one day at a time.

I'm trying to do this for these next forty days:  One day at a time.

I've discovered a great series by Central Vineyard called "Taking Root."  I encourage you to check it out.

To close, I want to leave you with encouragement to seek help with your addiction--whatever it may be.  Celebrate Recovery is a fantastic 12-step program that will help point you toward God while helping you overcome.  A quick Google search will hopefully turn up one close to you.

Finally, I leave you with the powerful Serenity Prayer or Reinhold Neibuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and
supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

When you come out of the wilderness

Something my dad told me today:

No matter how long you're in the desert, as long as you come out closer to the Lord, then it's worth it.  If you're not closer to God, well, you know where that's going.

Basically, he was saying that if you better learn from your mistakes, and you better learn to lean on God.

Here is Psalm 51 to reflect upon:

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.
 3 For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.
 18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
   in burnt offerings offered whole;
   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

He Was in the Wilderness

Angela and I read the beginning of Luke 4 when Jesus was in the Wilderness.  I don't know how many times I've read that and then dissected it. 

"What were the temptations he faced?"
"How did he fend off the devil?"
"The devil uses scripture; what should our response be?"
And more.

Very rarely do we stop to remember that Jesus was in the wilderness.

I feel like I've been in the wilderness for awhile.  I was trying to claw back to God as soon as possible, but I wasn't doing it in a way that was effective.  It was still about me.

It's so easy for us to give up something and make the struggle about us.  It's just another New Year's resolution.  I've been eating sweets like crazy lately, so I'm fasting from sweets for the next 40 days.  I didn't initially decide that because this is the problem that is getting between God and me.  I've stopped eating my wife's delicious brownies because I'm getting fat. 

But my inability to control eating sweets is symbolic of something greater:  my selfishness and lack of discipline in all areas of my life.

That is what has kept me in the wilderness for so long.  It's also much harder to fast from.  It's become who I am in so many ways.

So I'm going to try something in addition to giving up desserts while I'm in the desert.  I'm going to add things.  I want a Lent that explores my own selfishness and seeks to rid myself by serving others

It's hard to see others when you're too busy looking in the mirror.  It's even harder to love others.  But that's what I'm going to try to do.

I'm going to keep track of the selfish things I do.  This will be how I face temptation head on like Jesus did.  Instead of stopping there, I will give my list up to God each day.  In addition, I will seek opportunities to love others.

Jesus was in the wilderness, preparing and growing closer to God.  This is my time to be in the wilderness, too.

We'll see how this goes.  I wish you well in your wilderness these next 40 days.  Feel free to share what you've been thinking about as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Breathing in Ashes

I don't usually honor the Lenten fast.  I come from the Church of Christ tradition that says "every day is Easter."  But I'm trying to be more purposeful this year.  All I can truly say I know or have done in the past is give up something minor for the 40 days.  But that's only part of it.  So I'm trying to be more purposeful beginning yesterday (Ash Wednesday for me) and today, I'm getting out of my selfishness and it God's selflessness.

Here are some quick thoughts:

The air quality in Chiang Mai is horrible right now.  You can see the smoke hanging in the air.  It's a combination of the seasonal "burn everything" tradition, the pollution of vehicles, the cooler than usual temperatures, and the lack of wind clearing the valley basin.
Reading and thinking about Ash Wednesday and Lent (here and here) today, I realized that the feeling of an impending apocalypse is the perfect way to start this season of focus.  Ash is hovering in the air around us--we're even breathing it in--and the mood is set.

When the world feels like it's going to end, you have the perfect setting to reexamine your life up to this point.  I'm going to use this time to explore the ways I've been selfish for so long, the ways I haven't been the man I want to be, and the ways I can achieve significant growth in Christlikeness this season.

I pray you are able to do the same.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Would You Boo Jesus?

There really is a strong disconnect between what Jesus said and what many of his followers practice, isn't there?  I guess that's why this spoken word piece below is getting so much buzz.

Then we get the following piece where Ron Paul is met by a booing crowd after he supported the Golden Rule in foreign policy:  "I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don't do to other nations what we don't want to [be done] to us.  So we endlessly bomb these countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?"  Of course that was met with boos. 

As one of my friends on Facebook noted, "What do you want to bet that not a single one of these booing psychopaths would disavow the New Testament if asked? And yet here they are, technically blaspheming it."  Ouch.  Not the "psychopaths" part, but rather the part about blasphemy. 

I can't say he's wrong. 

The debate took place on Martin Luther King Day, so, of course, plenty of people made reference to him.  Rep. Paul among them.  I have no doubt Dr. King would support Paul's statement.  But, then again, when King was alive he was called a Communist and un-American, so that doesn't surprise me.  In fact, I'm sure he'd still be called this and worse by most of the men sharing the stage with Paul.

My point is that I wonder what it will take for people to recognize that arguing for the current foreign policy and pre-"defensive" measures is booing Jesus.

Then again, I used to irritate my brother with everything I could.  Then, when he finally hit me, I'd cry and run tell my parents.  Two differences:  One, I was a child.  Two, our nation is in the practice of hitting other countries (with bombs and assassinations), then we cry foul when they speak out against us. 

I can't say I agree with everything Ron Paul says or believes, but he's right on about the Golden Rule.

It's time to not run with the status quo.  It's time to take a stance for love.

One last note from an individual in one of the most oppressed groups in our world out of Burma:  "Now I realize that we made a mistake in 1988 by not showing the Burma Army generals love. The students called for punishment and the generals reacted by cracking down until today.  The next time, we must show love and forgiveness to the generals. Then we will win."

We keep fighting, but we fight with love and nonviolence just like MLK.  Just like Jesus.

That's how you glorify God and cheer on Jesus.