Sunday, August 4

Being a light

The local city of Flagstaff has been working with the LGBT community to work on anti-discrimination laws for them. This is a real mess for religion.

Once apon a time, as a shopkeeper, you could put up a sign in your shop saying, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone", and pretty much do as you please. But should you be allowed to refuse to serve people because of race, creed or gender? This country has a troubled history of doing that, and religion has shown up on the wrong side of this issue more than once.

And sad to say it, but Northern Arizona is one of the least integrated places I've ever lived. It is white white white. The waiters at the sushi restaurant are white, the cops are white. Even the homeless here are mostly white, with maybe a few Native Americans.

So can I believe that there's discrimination and harassment going on? Certainly. Do we need more laws? I don't know. Would those laws be an erosion of religion freedom in America? It could be, but maybe we could use a little more of that.
God is doing great in other countries where there is much less religious freedom. What if the top story on the daily news was a teacher being fired because they had a bible on their desk, or a manager being sued for sharing that he was a christian when asked.

God brings persecution apon us when we fall into the sin of apathy. All this focus on what the "religious right" calls "deviant behavior"? Its a smoke screen, so we can sit back and do nothing. Christians should be out there, protecting the persecuted and taking care of those in need; but we're not doing a very good job. Paul was pretty clear we weren't supposed to be judging what non-believers were doing:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1Cor5:12 NIV)
What we are supposed to do is love others. Even our enemies. Here's an example of opportunity lost:

A florist in Washington had a long time customer who came in to ask her to do the arrangements for his upcoming wedding to a same sex partner. She thought about it, and then asked him to use someone else, even giving him a referral to someone who ultimately did the wedding.

Unfortunately word spread of this, and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Florist based on the state's anti-discrimination laws which include discrimination based on sexual orientation. The quotes from the defendants just floor me:
The florist stated that she could not provide services in this case "because of (her) relationship with Jesus Christ."
The lawyer digs a hole even deeper: "She is one of the few people left today willing to stand by her convictions rather than compromise her beliefs," the lawyer said. "She's a very nice lady and doesn't have a discriminatory bone in her body, but she doesn't want to be forced to participate in an event that she doesn't believe in."
I'm sorry, but no where in the Bible have I read that Jesus Christ said to avoid interacting with non believers, or to do anything other than show them God's love. And the lawyer claiming that she doesn't have a discriminatory bone in her body?

Actually she has something worse, cowardice. She had been selling flowers to the customer, and had an ongoing relationship with him. But selling flowers for the wedding was going to create a public association between her and his lifestyle. I'm willing to bet that she realized that she would have to defend her selling flowers for the same sex wedding to her "religious" customers, and that she could potentially lose business, maybe even a lot of business. So she declined, and now the LGBT community has associated name of Jesus Christ not with the son of God who wishes to help every person have a relationship with his father, but as a shield used by the enemy to continue its discrimination.

Tuesday, September 23

How quickly we forget our sins of the past.

Last night's bible study was on David and Abigail, a story they tried to each in Sunday school to five year olds, without much luck. We tried to study it as adult men, and still needed some help. David spends a lot of time running around wiping out giants, various anoying countries, and other small towns that are on the wrong side of his sword; and on the face of it, this seemed like just another case. But in this case David over-reacted, and somebody had to go out and stop him.

Luckily, force has never been one of my strengths. As a 49 pound weakling in school, agressive behavior was not my first strategy. Hiding behind a trash can was. But it doesn't mean it never happened. I just had to think about it some to remember the good old days.

I'm a much larger person now, than in my youth, but I'm still not much into confrontation, at least not in person. Put me behind the wheel of a large beat-up truck, and its a whole nother matter.

truck front beatup truck

Driving in LA is not easy. There are several million people, all trying to get somewhere at the same time, and you're just in the way. On the best of days, the average driver's behavior could be described as 'rude'. On the worst of days, they shoot at each other. One weapon in my arsenal of survival skills was my large, aged, worn down, farm truck which I got from my grandfather for $1,500. Nothing is better at saying, "get out of my way", than a vehicle that obviously has been neglected.

More than once, I've gotten so close to the micro car in front of me that you could barely see them any more. Heck, I hid an entire CRX below the line of my hood once, driving down to San Diego. Only saw him again once I leaned on my horn and he scurried into another lane.

It got so bad, that one time, when I saw another guy pull out around stopped traffic on the freeway into the exit lane, that I drifted back a little, making an opening right in front of me that I figured he'd try and cut back in on. As he got almost up beside me, I gunned the engine and lept forward, closing the gap entirely and leaving him no room to merge back in and no more merge lane to hang out in. I waved merrily as he was forced off the freeway entirely. He was not smiling back.

So, I've had my run-ins with aggression. I just like to think that I'm past that now.

Thankfully, I no longer live in LA. I live in a much smaller town, where I drive about three miles to work, and the only rush hour traffic is on the first friday night when its snowed and all the Phoenix people come up to see the fluffy white stuff. I also try and leave more time in my life to be able to handle the bumps in the road without getting anxious, and I try and not sweat it when I am late.

I don't know how I'd do, back in the thick of it, in a 1977 chevy farm truck again; hopefully I'd be a better witness for Christ than I was back then.

Sunday, March 12

Just not my day.

Wife calls to check in. Lets me know its snowing a bunch. Suggests I stay out in the bay area longer. "Sorry, its a non-refundable ticket." I'll have to brave the storms whether I want to or not.

Call the airline just on the hope that they've declared Flagstaff a disaster area. "Oh, you're flight's been cancelled." "So Flagstaff is closed?" "No, actually, the San Jose flight was cancelled. You're rebooked at 6:20pm."

So now I'm supposed to be flying into Flagstaff at 11pm at night in the middle of a blizzard. The roads out of town are even closed. You can drive a car around hardly and they think they're going to get a plane in there?

Still no change in their optimism so I hand over my bright yellow bag of goodies to the luggage machine and wander through security.

The flight wasn't so bad up until the end when we hit the storms around Phoenix. That's right its a monsoon in the middle of the desert. Any guesses what's happening up at 7,000 feet? Snow maybe? Still the computer is showing on time so that's all they're giving me.

The flight's cancelled.

We're directed to go mozy over to the customer support desk and dutifully gather around while they come up with some creative solution at the rate of about two per hour. Being at the end of this long line, I get on my cell phone and call Flight-fund. They ask me what I want to do, and having no great desire to try driving a rental car up the hill without chains, I suggest that I go back where I was before and just pretend this never happens. They let me know that they can't re-arrange my schedule because the computer hasn't released the Flagstaff flight yet, but that I should run over to gate A30 and throw myself upon the agents there.

Being that I am at gate B7, I sort of shlep my way over to A30--which is pretty far out there (maybe half a mile). Sufficiently winded and a little over-heated, I pant in front of the gate counter while listening to the agents wring their hands over not having enough flight attendants to send out the flight on time.

After a bit, I finally get the chance to tell my story, and they graciously offer to re-direct me back to San Jose. After I get the new ticket in-hand, I embarrassingly point out that I also checked a bag on the way out. They give my 1 in 3 odds that someone is paying enough attention to redirect the bag. I don't really care--I just don't want to sleep in the airport for the next two nights.

We arrive safe and sound in San Jose after a rough start climbing back out of the storm. Its always a comforting feeling when right after take-off the engines wind down in speed and the nose pitches down. But some how we manage to stay in the air and make it back where I started several hours ago. Of course my bag didn't make it, so I fill out the appropriate paperwork and leave it at that. After waking my friend Tim up, who drove back down and then took a nap in the parking lot, we head back to his place for the night.

phone operator On a lark, I decide to call back and see about getting home eventually. After talking them out of sending my right back to Phoenix to be stuck all day again; I get them to book me for Monday. This takes about fifteen minutes on hold, as apparently the reservation computer still runs on cogs and belts. During that time they come back on the line and let me know that they've graciously decided not to charge me $100 for changing my reservation. Wow. You couldn't get me to Flagstaff tonight, and so you're not going to charge me extra to go another time.

I say nothing, as I'm too tired to respond with any wit or intelligence, and don't want to jinx my good fortune. Maybe I'll just go to bed now.

Friday, March 3

Just checking in

Spent all last night sorting out my technology so that I could pull the latest sermons from Northpoint. Just sitting there browsing what was available I got sucked into listenting to two of them right on the spot. They're just that good.

Some serious defficiencies in my life:

  • become one with my wife (in intention and spirit)
  • get my finances back under control (as I bounce funds from one place to another in a desperate attempt to cover the balance on the credits cards at the last minute to avoid finance charges)
  • know more God's will through reading the Bible so that I may do more than blow through life like a leaf on the wind of time.
Yesturday's focus: Proverbs 22. Some highlights: The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. and Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.

Saturday, September 3

A disapointing report card

The message tonight was on discipleship which was on target for me, because I've been thinking about that recently.

I had posed the question to myself a couple weeks back, "What does God want me to do?" And the answer I got back was, "be one of his disciples." When I look at what I've done with my life, compared to the twelve, its not very impressive. While there's some leway on how I go about interacting with the world (given my own skills and talents), the end results should be people knowing God's love due to my actions.

So far not much to show for it.

Part of my new focus is outside of my comfort-zone. When looking to help God, I now look beyond my own family, a few close friends, and the contacts I have at Church. My work needs to touch more people, and help knit the community closer together. This is where my metalworking stuff is coming in handy actually, as there are a lot more people around here that like to stick bits of steel together than there are ones that spend all day designing C++ classes (go figure).

Tuesday, August 23

A day of rest

Of all the laws in the Bible, I find it most remarkable that everyone has basically tossed the commandment to honor the sabath.

This has bothered me before, and I've dug around on the internet which basically led me to a few sites that said its ok not to rest anymore cause Jesus worked on the sabath. Well, yes he did, but I think he--more than anyone else--was in tune with the spirit of the law and knew that obeying the spirit was more important than obeying the letter of the law.

With the new job, the new kid, and summertime projects (when the weather is good); my life had been especially full of too much actiivity. I'd just finish one thing when there were two more things to look at. Moving boxes, digging ditches, nailing floors, carting the kids around, cutting firewood, leveling the driveway--it was too much. And when I got a chance to think (which wasn't very often), I realized that God wasn't getting much time and things were stressed out.

I understand that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and as he told the rulers, "If something needs doing, then do it." But I began to wonder what the spirit of the commandment was. Maybe it was to set aside time to clear one's head, to step away from the hussle and bussle. To avoid being too busy. And its not just an issue of burn-out. If you're doing what you love, then you can go non-stop for quite a long time (well maybe with a nap or two). I think it comes back to the decision between selfishness and thinking of God. Filling up one's schedule is focusing too much on ourselves and not opening ourselves up to what's going on around us. So I decided to plan a day of rest and see what happened.

Ok, so it wasn't quite that relaxing. Actually it was just a day without projects and without going anywhere. The kids were still running around at a 100 mph and little Oscar still needed toting around in the sling when he wasn't getting fed. But it was a slower paced day then normal, and I felt more relaxed at the end. Even the kids were able to occupy themselves, playing for bits and pieces of the afternoon. Overall I think things went well. We even had a friend stop by unexpected to drop off a water heater.

So maybe there is something to this day of rest thing. Its not easy to do when there are so many things waiting to be done. But like tithing, if you spend your time wisely, then God will give you enough time to get the things done that need to be done. And maybe some of those other things didn't really need doing. Something to think about ... while I take a nap.

Thursday, April 7

Why is religion so complicated

Justin wonders what the base class of a church is (he's being geeky here), and wondering if its too hard to abstract the common elements. The answer is, it is and it isn't.

While looking at scripture, we find the base class of God's law.

CLASS godslaw {
   ABSTRACT COMMAND honor_god() ;
   ABSTRACT COMMAND honor_each_other() ;
} ;
But that was too abstract for the israelites and for the new testament Christians. So we ended up with specializations:
CLASS tencommandments : PUBLIC godslaw {
   COMMAND no_othergods() ;
   COMMAND no_idols() ;
   COMMAND no_misusing_thelordsname() ;
   COMMAND honor_sabath() ;
   COMMAND honor_fatherandmother() ;
   COMMAND no_murder() ;
   COMMAND no_adultery() ;
   COMMAND no_stealing() ;
   COMMAND no_falsetestimony() ;
   COMMAND no_coveting() ;
} ;
Even that turned out not to be enough for the nation of Israel so there were hundreds of other rules and regulations that got to be a big todo. Living your life right turned out to be a lot of work, and infact, some Jewish people believe that the reason for all those rules, was to make it impossible to be blameless or perfect (there was always something to work on).

It is interesting to read some of the other things that happened back in the early days. God wanted the nation to be self-rules, with priests to help guide each person spirtually. But the people said, nope--not going to happen. They pointed out that they were not with-it enough to pull that off and that they'd better have a king or everything would be lost. So God had to give them a king, which turned out to be a disaster, but they muddled their way through for quite some time.

There seems to be something frightening to most people about taking complete responsibility for one's life. If we could do it, we'd just need those first two laws and that would be enough to guide us. But we can't.

Things had changed somewhat in the time of Jesus. It wasn't necessary anymore to avoid eating animals with split hooves (good thing, cause ham is delicious, we even eat it on Easter). It seems like about half of the ten commandments have been tossed out as well, I certainly don't see very many people honoring the sabath any more, and leaving elderly parents to the whims of social security and medicare is probably not fulfilling the spirit of "honor thy father and mother". Even so, Jesus spent months and years spelling out hundreds of ways we could trip up in our hearts, even if we didn't actually take action.

Matthew 5:21-22: "You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill."
So we have two troubling trends spelled out here: one is that we (as flawed human beings) need more than just the abstract laws (which are immutable and unchanging), the second trend is that the specific examples of sub-classed laws have changed over time. Some laws have gone away, and others have popped up to cover new ground.

So if there's at least two examples of conflicting rule-sets that implement the base class god'slaw, what's the chance that we're going to be able to create a common ground between all the modern churches with anything more specific than the abstract base class?

Wednesday, April 6

Astonishing God

While Justin has been listening to Podcasts and getting into the spirit, I was reminded of the Northpoint Sermon Archives gathering dust on my computer. I had used SDB do download a couple of streams and so was ready to go as I sat down to get some work done this evening.

I started with Aug 8, 2004 which is the first of six in a series called IGNiTE which is all about faith. He points to a story of faith in the bible which has always been a guiding story for me. Andy does a great job of making this story bigger than life, because there's lot of odd things about this story. For one, its the only recorded time in the bible that Jesus is astonished. And he's not even astonished by one of his disciples or anyone from the entire nation of Israel. It was a roman centurion that came up and asked for something, and when Jesus offered to go help him, he said:

Matthew 8:8: Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
That's the kind of faith I aspire to, and sometimes it feels like I even pull it off. I've told stories before about some early leaps of faith, but sometimes I can put a few verses together in an interesting way and experience some real power. Like we know while Jesus was on earth that he basically had command of everything. Whatever he wanted®Zap, and it got done. That's not to say he was always happy with what was going on, but he knew it was all part of a plan and so he went along with it.

car keys So what did he say as he was leaving? "Ok, here's the keys to the car, they're all yours." Basically all the power over the earth that he had, he handed off to us, his followers. That's some serious trust, but he meant it. Its real, and when you turn the key, it starts.

One example of that was during my trip to Promise Keepers last year. We get to this huge auditorium with at least a couple thousand people, and God starts in on me right away, "you need to work on your ministry skills." This is not a surprise to me, I mean, I scored a -15 in ministry on the church gifts evaluation test not that long before that. What I'm really good at is running the lighting board or folding up tables after an event. I'm kind of like the super invisible helper. Its an important job, things don't get done if we're not around; but it doesn't directly get anyone to Christ.

So what's my assignment that night? Well there's going to be an alter call after the last speaker, and they need a couple hundred volunteers to go down and pray with all the men that come forward. God says, "you should do that." Now you might think that I'm quaking in my boots at that point, but I'm not. I mean, I don't want to do it, but if I have to... Besides, if I totally screw up, its going to make God look bad more than me. So I figure, he's motivated to make this work out.

But I realize there's more at stake here than just me going down and leading a prayer for one or two other people. This is an opportunity for a lot of people to get straight with God and to really re-establish the connection in their hearts. While I'm not usually known for my empathy for others, I can sense that this is an important time. So I take it up a notch.

"Jesus, you have power over all the earth, and over all the beings operating here. And you've given that power to us, or more specifically to me. So here I am. I'm calling you on it. Protect this event, shield this event, cast out the forces of evil, of distraction, of avoidance. Let no one here today be connected to anything but your love.
That was my request, no, my command. The power was given to me, so I used it. And I thought that was it. At the end of the night, I went down, did my prayer with another guy (and didn't spontaneously explode on the spot), finished up, went home and went to bed.

What I wasn't expecting was the astonishment that the organizers felt from what they saw. The next day Reggie Dabbs got up in the morning and all he could say was, "whoa". They had already done more than a dozen weekends like this in other cities over the summer, but they had never seen a response like they had seen the night before. Over 15% of the men attending had come forward that night, and people were still making decisions the next morning. Nothing they had seen previously had come close to that. They were just astounded.

I was up in the stands that morning thinking cool, that's some power you gave us Jesus.

Sunday, February 27

Raising the bar

It's pretty easy to become a Christian (sort of), but it turns out its hard to live the life. Some people don't like to pay attention to what God really expects of us, but 1 John raises the bar pretty high. Like these lines:
1 John 2:17 The world and all its desires will pass away. But the man who obeys God and does what He wants done will live forever.

1 John 3:14 We know we have passed from death into life. We know this because we love the Christians. The person who does not love has not passed from death into life.

1 John 3:16-19 We know what love is because Christ gave His life for us. We should give our lives for our brothers. What if a person has enough money to live on and sees his brother in need of food and clothing? If he does not help him, how can the love of God be in him? My children, let us not love with words or in talk only. Let us love by what we do and in truth. This is how we know we are Christians. It will give our heart comfort for sure when we stand before Him.

Sort of raises the bar for me personally. I'd better get to work on stuff He wants done.

Thursday, February 24

Great one-liners

From IFindKarma:
Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.