Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: The Year I Take a "P"

Well it’s the last day of the year 2010. And this is the day when traditionally I sit down and write out all my 2011 goals. I set my resolve to accomplish them. I break them all down into small, achievable segments. I post them somewhere visible where I can always keep them in front of me. And I tell someone my goals so that I can be held accountable by another person; who now partners with me in the accomplishment of each and every one of them. Hey, that’s the plan on planning, right? At least that is what I have heard from every mentor on goal setting. But today was different.

I woke up this morning in a sort of a funk. Maybe it was because I had another birthday yesterday and I really felt “older” this time. Maybe it is because other than a relocation at the end of January, I really don’t have any earth shattering goals to write down and stick on the mirror. Make more money…yawn. Lose weight…been there, done that. Spend more time with God…yep…every year that one gets written down. But a scripture kept coming to me in my quiet time this morning that I can seem to shake.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.” Luke 14:28-32 (New King James Version)

It’s as if God was letting me know that planning is a major part of goal setting. In that passage, Jesus was saying “who doesn’t plan?” And the answer is: a loser! Having a plan goes way beyond having a goal. A goal is the end result. A plan is how to get there. And I got that in my quiet time this morning.

So the real revelation came as I took the dogs for a walk to the lake. And two scriptures that should be very familiar to everyone came to my mind:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9


“Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the LORD protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” Psalm 127:1

I guess having a goal is good. And having a plan is even better. But unless I understand my purpose, than all of that stuff just won’t work. So I guess my challenge to every one that reads this is to find out what your purpose is. Because until you do that, you will just have another January 1st exercise in dreaming. And I think I’ll end with another over-preached scripture to ponder:

“If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves. But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.” Proverbs 29:18 (The Message)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Part 1 of 3: The House on Village Court

I found out recently that the home I grew up in is being demolished because it had become a crack house. Apparently the walls had been torn up and much of the sheet rock had been bashed in by people who either planned to, or actually did put in a meth lab. I heard this news recently and didn’t really think about it much. But somehow at the time it didn’t surprise me.

Remember the part in the movie Forrest Gump where he and Jenny walk by her childhood home, and she runs up and starts throwing rocks at it? The home is abandoned and dilapidated. But somehow she still has a connection with the property that Forrest doesn’t really understand. I remember taking my wife into my old neighborhood a few months ago. I think she was surprised at how poor we must have been as kids. Because my old neighborhood is now the barrio. I guess that is what they call Mexican ghettos these days. I left there to go to college in 1977 and every time I went back after that the condition of that street just seemed to get worse and worse. I used to chalk it up to the fact that nobody there really gave a crap about where they lived. But now I have a different hypothesis.

There are places mentioned in the Bible that were strongholds of evil. Take Nineveh for instance. Zephaniah and Nahum both prophesied the utter and complete destruction of Nineveh. But look at what happened when Jonah arrived on the scene. Here is what Jesus had to say about an Assyrian capital that was a serious center of evil:

“The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.” Matthew 12:41

Was there ever anything good spoken about Egypt in the Bible? I love studying that culture. But except for Akhenaten who came to believe that there was another God other than Ra, that place has always been considered yet another stronghold of evil. God pretty well pounded them at the Exodus. And what is even more interesting to understand is that Pharaoh was willing to let them go. But God changed his heart so that He could show the Jews how much He loved them by pillaging and then destroying much of Egypt.

And let’s not even talk about Babylon. After having been in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin last summer, I could write for days. Even with Daniel there, Nebuchadnezzar still ate grass like a horse. How about Aleister Crowley’s Thelema Abby? The Italian government still keeps its true location hidden so that occultists won’t come and receive dark power there. My wife and I prayed at Hitler’s bunker this year. But I digress. Let’s get back to Village Court Drive.

Due to my highly dysfunctional childhood, there were a lot of really bad things that opened spiritual doors and sowed satanic seeds in that house. That house saw drugs being taken and pot being grown, incest, porn, atheism, bestiality, pedophilia, anger, hate, rebellion, witchcraft, occult, and Satanism, teen pregnancy, Catholicism, alcoholism, spirit manifestations, and lots of secrecy. LOTS of secrecy. So after my dad died and the house was sold, the new residents had lots to deal with if they desired to turn that property into one that served and honored God.

“Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse will not land on its intended victim.” Proverbs 26:2

Did the people who moved in there deserve all the curses that came with the property? Probably not. But then again, do children that are born into evil families deserve that fate? Did Job’s children deserve to be destroyed? Did all the firstborn of Egypt deserve to die? I guess the point of this rambling blog post is that maybe it really doesn’t matter the cards that we were dealt in this life, or the curses that were set against us undeservedly. Maybe the point of all of this is what we do with the houses we bought. My childhood house could have been a cute, happy, Godly, peaceful home. But when crack heads are your tenants, and meth is your god; then destruction surely comes. And when the whole neighborhood is of one mind, then so goes the street.

I hate what I did in that house. Many of those things still haunt me over 40 years later. But I wasn’t saved when I lived there. Now I am. Yet I still want to either drink or cry when I relive many of the things pertaining to that house. And since Jesus told us that what was done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops at the Judgment, it will probably be pretty ugly. There is nothing I can do about that now. And Paul nailed it best:

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

I guess the plans for 5126 Village Court Drive is to demolish the house down to the foundation, and start again. And isn’t that ironic?

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (New Living Translation)

Let the demolition begin!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bear Hugging God

There are many different kinds of hugs in this world. There’s the hug where you and somebody creepy press upper bodies together, yet bend at the waist so that everything south of the equator is as far apart as can be. There is the man hug where you pat each other on the back. There is the sideways hug where you hug a female, but you are both facing in the same direction in case you accidentally (or on purpose) touch a boob. There are the European pseudo-hugs where it looks like a hug actually happens, but upon further examination there is space between the both of you; just like in pro wrestling. And then there is the thankful power hug.

Everybody knows the story of the man in Acts 3 who was crippled from birth and sat begging daily at the beautiful gate of the temple.

“Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John.” Acts 3 New Living Translation

I want to point out something in this story that I have never heard another Bible teacher point out: the hug! Yes the guy was healed. Yes he went praising and leaping. But then came the hug. And it wasn’t one of those “thumbs up” thank yous like in the Mentos commercials. It was a power hug. Look at some of the other translations of verse 11:

“While he was clinging to Peter and John…”

“And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John…”

“While the man kept holding on to Peter and John…”

It makes me wonder about my thankfulness. Do I even say thank you when somebody does something great for me? Is my thankfulness shallow? When God does a miracle in my life, do I drop to me knees and “cling to him” prayerfully. There is much said throughout the entire Bible about thankfulness; or man’s lack of it. Like the ten lepers who were healed in Luke 17:

“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?”

So here’s my deal: 2011 will be the year I cling to God. I will thankfully bear hug him until He has to pry me off with a crow bar. There! I out it down. Now the ball is in my court. What about you?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh Brothers Where Art Thou?

There were a lot of things I didn’t learn being raised in the Catholic Church. I don’t mean it to be a slap on that denomination; simply a fact. One of them was that Jesus was not an only child. Actually, he had at least four brothers and at least two sisters.

“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” Matthew 13:54-56

So can you imaging being raised in a household with Jesus as your big brother? Was he bossy? Did he wrestle Judas to the ground? Did he ever punch Simon in the arm in jest? Who was the best student? Somehow we have mystified Jesus so much that he doesn’t seem to be a real person. So when Jesus became filled with the Spirit at his baptism, and his ministry started at the age of 30, what happened to his brothers and sisters?

When Jesus went to a wedding in Cana, John chapter 2 tells us that Jesus, his mother, and also his disciples were there. Although it doesn’t mention his brothers or sisters, I personally believe they were probably also there. I mean, who would invite Mary, Jesus, and 12 stinky fishermen, and not the rest of the Christ family. (small joke…get it? His last name was not Christ)

The next time in scripture we see mention of his brothers is a very peculiar incident indeed. Jesus is teaching to a large crowd and they show up wanting to get to him.

“As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.” Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” Matthew 12:46-50

There must be a reason Jesus blew them off at that time. I think they were probably worried that big brother had lost his mind and went off the deep end of the religious pool. I personally believe that they were there for a mini-intervention. If they just wanted to tell him that granny was dead, I’m sure he would have received them. But he didn’t.

Conspicuously absent from Golgotha where he was hanging on a cross beaten and bloodied were his brothers and sisters. Mary was there, to the very end. But where was his family shouting to Pilate? Where were the brothers trying to get Jesus freed from the temple guards? There is no mention of them at any time during the Passover week of Jesus. Again I believe that they probably had families of their own to worry about and not crazy Uncle Jesus. Living like a good Jew would have meant marrying, having kids, attending Hebrew school, and making a kosher home.

So where do we finally see them together again? Anyone? Buellar? The funniest mind picture in the Bible might be all those on the ground looking up as Jesus ascended into heaven. Were their mouths agape and did they squint staring at the clouds? Maybe that is why God sent down a couple of angels to tell them to leave. But who was with them when they went home?

“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), and Judas (son of James).They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. During this time, when about 120 believers were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them.” Acts 1: 12-15

Who’s crazy now? Huh? They saw their brother come back from the dead. And then saw him ascend to heaven. No wonder they were all together united in prayer. So of the four brothers, which two became strong Christians? Anyone? Buellar?

The book of James has to be one of the best books in the entire Bible. And James is the brother of Jesus. He was a strong pillar in the church in Jerusalem. The book of Jude is the same brother named Judas in the above text. It also is an amazing book. Simon and Joseph, Jr. have nothing written about them. Not in the Bible. Not even in the writings of Josephus. I’d like to think that they did amazing things. But who really knows?

So know this: if your family thinks you are crazy, you are in good company. If your family seems to abandon you or come against you because of your belief system, your king knows exactly how you feel. Keep this in mind as you wander through this holiday season.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Meth Labs, Bad Choices, and 2010

My friend Tim did an interesting thing this week. He told me to watch a television series that had never crossed my mind; especially since it is being rebroadcast in it’s entirety on AMC. The series is titled “Breaking Bad”. Here’s the premise of the series: a 50 year old high school chemistry teacher finds out that he has terminal lung cancer and will only live a couple more years. His life drastically changes when he decides to use his knowledge of chemistry to enter the world of meth labs. I’ve only seen two episodes so far, but I love it. This is not family friendly television. One of the drug dealers can’t believe that a middle aged man from suburbia is manufacturing methamphetamine. When he asks the main character played by Bryan Cranston why he is doing it, he answers with an amazing line: “I woke up”. Pretty amazing answer, right? This is an underlying theme that seems to run through many of today’s current media stories. Remember the movie “The Bucket List”? Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman think they are dying. So what do they do? They try to accomplish the things they have always had on their list of things to do before they die.

If you think about it, there are lots of movies where the plot is that someone who thinks they have only a short time left to live throw caution to the wind and vanquish a foe or do something absolutely amazing. What is it about death that seems to be such an efficient motivator? Does finality beat procrastination like rock beats scissors? Why do football teams always seem to find a second wind during the last two minutes of the game? Didn’t they try hard enough during the other 58 minutes? I think I’m starting to “get it”. In a couple of weeks I’ll turn 52. And yes, it means that I really don’t have much time left on this earth. I have been in a funk this weekend because it occurs to me that I have wasted pretty much the majority of my life in endeavors that really aren’t significant. My wife will beg to differ with me. Being the quintessential optimist, she always looks at the brighter side of things. God how I love that about her! But she is biased by unconditional love. Sort of like the mom on Jerry Springer who defends her hideous child by saying things like “he’s such a good boy” etc. I’m sure Hitler’s mom spoke highly of him. But I digress.

Jesus's brother James said it best when he asked the question: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, which appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.” 2010 flew by like a vapor. Last January it seemed like I had all the time in the world. But now I wonder how it could have passed so stealthily. And in retrospect, I didn’t do very well. In fact, the entire last decade has been a showcase for decisions and burgeoning endeavors that seemed good at the time. But history shows them to be miserable failures. And so as I write this, I hear the faint “tick tock” of my life’s story serenading me as an ambient noise. Like a person who lives by the sea shore yet doesn’t seem to notice the crashing of the waves, I really don’t detect it anymore. But whether the sands of time are perceived or not, they still flow undauntedly through the hour glass. And what is stored below far outweighs what lies in wait to squeeze through the tiny gauntlet.

I need a plan for 2011. And here it is:

I hope the words of this song will stick with the kids who sing it. And some day as they look to an approaching year, with the scales of their past accomplishments tilting towards the negative, they will take the lyrics to heart and formulate a game plan for the time they have left.