Posts Tagged ‘God

02
Jan
18

An Unbreakable Resolution?

new-year-blogWelcome to the first week of 2018!

Welcome to the time of college football, Christmas put-away, refrigerator clean-out, and wistful dreaming of white sand beaches in warm, sunny climes.

Welcome also to the Time of Resolution!

When it comes to resolutions, I’ve got some of the usual suspects already lined up and ready to go… for 2018 I am resolving to lose weight, spend more time at the gym, be more disciplined in my daily devotions, connect more with friends and family, complain less, compliment more, complete stalled creative projects, travel more, etc.

Blah, blah, blah.

The problem is, I know me.

I know I am that guy who regularly talks a good game about vision, goals, and ideals and starts off with a BANG… but then gradually fades down the stretch… falling just short of carrying through with my grand plans.

And so – as a counterweight to this personal tendency toward entropy – I decided to devise another list of resolutions. I call these my “LHF Resolutions,” LHF as in, Low Hanging Fruit.

These are resolutions I will be easily able to keep. In fact, when you read a couple of these you will see that it would actually take MORE effort to break them than keep them.

My LHF resolutions for 2018 include resolutions to:

  • Always be clothed when going out in public.
    • And in a related resolution, that all articles of clothing are worn right side out.
  • Open the garage door before backing the car out.
    • … or before driving it back in again.
  • Exhale the same number of times I inhale.
  • Socks on BEFORE shoes. Never the other way around.
  • Walk on two legs rather than four.

There are more on the list, but I think you get the point.

I had the same list at the beginning of 2017 and I am happy to report a 100 PERCENT success in keeping them!

All kidding aside, do you think there really is such a thing as an UNBREAKABLE resolution? On the one hand, if a resolution really is a resolution, it should be VERY hard to break. The root word of resolution is the word RESOLVE that the dictionary defines as: “determination, firmness or fixedness of purpose.”

So if I really had a “determination” or “firmness or fixedness of purpose” about my goals for the year, wouldn’t it be impossible NOT to accomplish them?

Alas, sometimes even the deepest reservoir of firmness and/or fixedness cannot overcome the shortcomings this human flesh is heir to.

As we enter this New Year, it is good to be reminded that there really is only ONE resolution that is absolutely ironclad and unbreakable: that is God’s resolution to love us and forgive us. In no less than fifty-two separate times in the Old Testament, we are reminded, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

It is a resolution that has been tested again and again. Millennia after millennia of human sin and depravity have given our Creator ample opportunity to throw up divine hands in disgust and say, “OK… that’s it. The deal is OFF! You guys pushed it TOO FAR this time! From now on, it’s just STERN POLICEMAN GOD.”

Thankfully God has continued God’s resolution to love human beings, forgive them, and offer them another chance to love God and one another.

Maybe THIS year we will get it right!

 

Abundant blessings;

04
Dec
17

Seussical, the theology

Ever heard something like this?

dr-seuss-clipart-dr-seuss-round-ornament-9982-907Yes, I want a god…

I want a god all-knowing, all wise.
I want a god with the power
To light up the skies!

I want a god
Who is steadfast and true.
Who – when I’m in a jam
Will know what to do.

I want a god
Who will help when I’m stuck.
Who will answer my questions
Or lend me a buck.

I want a god I can hold
In the palm of my hand.
A god who responds
To my every demand.

I want a god
Who confirms
The truths I believe
A god who will validate
The things I perceive.

None of this world-shaking
Breath-taking
Ineffable, imponderable
Magnificent stuff.

Who needs mystery
And awe
And infinity
And all that ungraspable guff?

Who needs a god
That is higher, greater,
Farther, deeper
Than the limits of my mind?
That kind of God
Puts me in a bind.

I want my god like my power…
Ready to go at the flip of a switch.
Turned on when I need him
The scratch to each itch.

Yes… let there be god.
But let god be good
Let him grant each request
Like a good god should.

Made in MY image
So helpful… so convenient
Who will never intrude
With grace so prevenient.

I’ve heard that prayer more than once. And if you must know, I have heard it from my own lips more than once.

Am I ready today to let God be God?

31
Oct
17

The Real Deal

“To thine own self be true.”
– Polonius, in Hamlet

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,
and that is what we are.”
– 1 John 3:1, NRSV

“Authentic” is a word that has been crossing my radar screen with increased frequency lately.

Naturally, authenticity would be a theme that would come to mind on that annual holiday we spend dressing up as someone – or something – else.

It also popped up this morning on a local radio talk show. The guest was the owner of a restaurant in town that specializes in Ramen noodles. Yes… that is apparently a thing. During the show, many syllables and much air were employed in identifying the difference between authentic Ramen and… I guess the inauthentic variety.

Over the weekend I had the honor of officiating at the memorial service of a friend of my son’s who died of pancreatic cancer. He and many friends in attendance had spent most of their lives outside the institutional church. However, in the last months of his life, this young man experienced something powerful and convicting that led him to ask me to baptize him a month before his death.

I found myself wrestling deeply with the question of what an “authentic” celebration of his life might look like…. And then not being terribly sure I even understood the question.

Often we give very high “authenticity” marks to people in the public eye who don’t really take the time to weigh and carefully consider their words before speaking. We applaud them as “genuine”… “unfiltered” and “authentic.” We say that those folks are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the carefully crafted words of professional “spin doctors.”

And then it makes me scratch my head and ask, “So then what does the word authentic actually mean?” And then I follow up with myself and ask, “And how has authenticity become such a paramount virtue today?”

One answer I hear is that the word authentic must mean something like “core,” or “essential,” or “foundational.” It’s what is left over when you strip away all of the mystical window dressing.

hotfudge_sundaeBut then I have to ask, “Does that mean all of our efforts to enhance or improve something are fraudulent because they take us away from its ESSENCE? Should I just leave my vanilla ice cream alone and not add the chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry… in the name of authenticity?”

I also hear authenticity being defined more along the lines of “raw” and “unprocessed” or that other phrase currently in fashion, “… like it is.” The implication here is that the more spontaneous and unplanned something is, the more authentic it is.

I am not going to lie… as a guy who writes and re-writes and tries to think carefully about words and what they mean, this definition offends me. I am sure it offends me because it seems to assign a higher virtue to unplannedness and spur-of-the-momentness than to thoughtfulness.

And personally, I think that is one messed up set of virtues.

MYRIAD are the examples I can give of times when my ill-considered, spontaneous words caused hurt and complication in a situation.

MYRIAD+ are the examples of times when slow, deliberate, thoughtful consideration of words brought light and healing.

Think about it: what would it look like if we all really followed Polonius’ advice to be “true” to our own selves?

The next, natural question is: which self are we talking about?

  • Is it the self that feels like punching a hole in the wall when the home team fumbles the opening kick-off?
  • Is it the self that can’t resist taking a second helping of apple pie?
  • Is it the self that has deep doubts about its talent or worth?

And are we really the ones to be trusted to choose which of these “selves” we are supposed to be true to?

I believe personal authenticity is all about being the fullest, most complete version of ME that I can be.

And so for me, that includes being every bit of the goofy, thoughtful, impulsive, tender-hearted, self-centered, creative, emotional, dim-witted, spiritual, energetic, joyful, deep, shallow, inconsiderate Russell Brown God made me to be.

But mostly, it means going back to the Source and reclaiming my identity as a Child of God; infinitely beloved by the One who created the whole Universe.

THAT is really who I am.

And it is really – authentically – who you are, too.

Blessings;

26
Sep
17

Blessing? Curse? You pick…

Work in the labI heard a story on the radio last week that scared the beejeebers out of me.

(Sorry for the strong language.)

The report said that for the first time ever, scientists in a lab have edited a piece of human DNA. (All Things Considered program on National Public Radio… September 20, 2017).

Apparently, we always knew that DNA could be edited, but last week was the first time it was actually done in a lab.

The story talked about the fact that this breakthrough could give us the ability to correct certain genetic anomalies in the womb and drastically reduce the incidence of birth defects.

It also talked about the possible dark and sinister uses of gene editing… such as people being able to order “designer babies” that are a little taller, a little more athletic, a little blonder than other children.

In a very real way, the idea of gene editing revives memories of eugenics… The pseudo-science of selective breeding that helped give birth to the Master Race dream of Hitler and the Nazis.

Shivers literally went down my spine as I thought about the prospects of the “haves” (those who might afford designer babies) becoming stronger more beautiful and more intelligent, while the rest of us have to do it the old-fashioned way: taking whatever nature gives us.

I mean… if you think there is “class warfare” and divisiveness in our country now, it is probably a PICNIC compared to what it might be in a gene-edited future.

Can you say DYSTOPIA?

But then – as I sometimes do – I turned off the radio and kept thinking about the story. You can do that when you’re on a long drive.

And here is where that extra thinking led me: it led me to the question, “Has there ever been an example of one of humanity’s “great strides of discovery” that has NOT carried seeds of both blessing and curse with it?”

Grog the Caveman was no doubt excited when he discovered that fire could warm the inside of the cave and impart a lovely flavor to the mastodon steak he prepared. But he soon discovered his new invention could also burn down the entire forest.

Glo the Cavewoman was thrilled to find that a stone, cut into a round, wheel-like shape, could help her move heavy objects with ease. But she also discovered that it could be used to power a gigantic, gas-guzzling SUV.

The splitting of the atom gave us a source of energy that did not require us to rape the earth through strip mining or fossil fuel development. But it also gave birth to the atomic bomb.

We award Nobel Prizes every year for all kinds of scientific breakthroughs designed to benefit humankind, but then we remember that the man who started the prize – Sir Alfred Nobel – was also the inventor of dynamite.

Surely there must be some, but can you think of any discovery or breakthrough that can be accurately classified as “pure good”?

I mean, besides Jolly Ranchers.

The reality is, the “goodness” or “badness” of most things – including discoveries in science – is not inherent. They become good or bad as you and I pick them up and use them.

The way we use it gives money the power to be a blessing or a curse.

The hands at the controls are what make an airliner either a device for expedited travel or a tool for terror.

And yes, I’ll go there: it is our hands and our intentions that cause guns to be either good or evil. Their moral character is not stamped in at the factory. (Although let me quickly add: it is INSANE that we can’t/won’t pass more laws to limit their availability).

As Mark 7:21 tells us: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…” And it is also from within, from the human heart, seeded and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, that loving intentions come. (My paraphrase).

My hope and prayer today would be not, “O Lord, help us refrain from discovering things that might be put to dangerous uses,” but rather, “Lord, continue to guide us in your way so that as we continue to use our amazing minds to discover new things we will always choose to put them to use to accomplish YOUR holy purposes.”

AMEN.

30
Aug
17

“Unprecedented”

Flood evacueesFor the past few days, I have been utterly hypnotized by the news coverage of the recent events in Houston, TX and the visit of Hurricane Harvey.

I am guessing the fact that I have a son, daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren living in the Houston area probably makes me more attentive to Harvey-related news than the average bear.

But still…

(They are fine, by the way. Thanks for asking. They live in a part of the metro area that is on very high ground and is away from the worst of the flooding.)

I have watched spellbound as on-the-scene reporters from NBC, ABC, CBS, the Weather Channel, have all struggled to come up with new adjectives to describe what they are seeing.

When “incredible,” “amazing,” “unbelievable,” and “awesome,” all start to fall short, you know you are in the presence of meteorological greatness.

But the adjective that really caught my attention on Sunday was one that came from the mouth of the National Weather Service. It was the word “unprecedented.”

“Unprecedented.” As in, “…we have never ever seen anything like this before.”

And if THESE GUYS – the people who are supposed to keep detailed records of all the weather precedents – are using the word “unprecedented,” you know this is a BIG, DANGED DEAL. Maybe the biggest danged deal EVER!

See… when something has precedents you know how to behave. You say, “OK, the last time this happened, we did X. So we should probably do something very much like X again.”

But when you call it unprecedented (is it OK if I dispense with the quotation marks around the word now?), you are telling the world, “I got nothin’. Fresh out of answers over here.”

If I were a trained weather professional, I imagine I would be very reluctant to unleash the “U” word. I’d be afraid it would make me look… unprepared. Or unprofessional.

So why is it, do you suppose, that I have the sneaking suspicion that God continues to call me out into the “unprecendentednesses” of life?

I mean, it really seems that every time I discover myself standing at an intersection, between Path “A” and Path “B” with Path “A” representing familiar, precedented ground and Path “B” being strange turf, I could swear I hear God’s still, small voice whispering, “B, Russell. Go with B.”

It doesn’t help that you find stuff in the Bible like Isaiah 43:18 that says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Or Isaiah 65:17 where God says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Or 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

To be clear… I am pretty sure unprecedented floods with historic property damage and disruption of life are NOT on God’s “approved” list of adventures… Noah notwithstanding.

But when you read a few of these passages and see God’s handiwork, you begin to get the feeling God actually encourages unprecedentedness and newness… blatantly disregarding my preference for comfort and familiarity.

Who knows? Maybe he does.

Where does that leave a “safety seeker” like me?

Hmmmmm….

 

08
Mar
17

Mealtime

mealtime“So… what are you hungry for?”

If your household is anything like mine, this is a question that crops up on a fairly regular basis… usually an hour or two prior to the designated hour of the evening meal.

And if you are the one on the receiving end of this question, you have also discovered that there is a serious limit to the number of times you can get away with playing the, “Oh, I don’t know… whatever” card.

You have learned – perhaps the hard way – that if you are not going to do the work of PREPARING the food, you should at least be able to devote a couple moments of brainpower to narrowing down the options.

And yet… as much of a food fan as I am, I sometimes find this to be a surprisingly hard question to answer.

First of all, the question usually comes when I am not even thinking about food.

I find I have to stop and do about a minute and a half of mulling.

This mulling usually involves a very specialized kind of “belly discernment” exercise wherein I try to transform the abstract notion of eating into something specific and actionable.

For example: “Something delicious and healthy, please” is NOT a good response.

How about some shrimp skewers with grilled vegetables?” is much more helpful.

A good response to this question also calls for a good memory. You should try to avoid responding by suggesting something you just ate three days ago… even if you really, really liked it.

As a student of these matters I can assure you that the more care one takes in the answering of this critical question, the better the outcome – for all parties.

All of which leads to this further bit of pondering: what would it like if we all put a similar level of thoughtful discernment energy into answering that same question in relationship to our LIVES?

E.g. – What are you hungry for… in the grand scheme of things?

Of course one of the most classic answers to that question was provided by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. In his famous pyramid, Maslow laid out the “hierarchy of human needs,” starting with basic physical needs at the lowest level, moving up to the need for safety, then to the need for love (or belonging), esteem, and ending with self-actualization or transcendence at the top. Another way to say the word “transcendence,” of course, is GOD.

I have not read Maslow’s book, but as I understand his thesis, a person cannot move to the next level on the hierarchy until he or she has satisfied the needs of the last level. For example, you cannot move on to satisfying your need for safety until you have first satisfied your basic need for food, air, and water.

This concept makes some sense. But it leads us to the conclusion that the need for God – standing as God does at the very top of the pyramid – is something of a luxury; i.e., a need that can only be addressed once all of the other “ducks” of your life are in a row.

The problem I find with Maslow’s concept is that it is completely at odds with the teaching of the scriptures and our Christian tradition. According to those sources, the hunger for God resides at the most basic level of the human experience.

Augustine – the first bishop of the Christian church – wrote about this hunger in his Confessions when he said: Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

In his letter to the fledgling Christian community in Rome, Paul pointed to that same primal yearning with these words; “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19, NRSV).

And as you might expect, Jesus had the best version of the upside-down Maslow pyramid in this passage from Matthew’s gospel: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV).

And so in a very real sense, it might be easier to answer the question, “What am I hungry for in my life?” than it is to answer the question, “What do I want for dinner?

Feast on God’s Word and be well.

15
Apr
14

When you don’t know… lean

“I don’t know.”

Frankly, I hate that answer. I hate hearing it. I hate giving it. I try to do everything in my power to avoid it.

Because it is an answer that is not an answer. And depending on who just said it, “I don’t know” hints that there might actually not BE an answer to your question.

And really… what with Google and Facebook and science and wild imaginations of really bright people what are the odds that there is a question in existence that doesn’t have SOME KIND of answer?

I am a pastor. I am a father. I am a husband. In each one of those roles I frequently experience the demand to be both a provider and a seeker of answers to a whole host of questions.

Right now though, “I don’t know” is all I’ve got. And oddly enough I am pretty OK with that.

Today’s question is “WHY?”… always one of the toughest of the five standard queries of journalism. It is being asked in connection with the horrible events over the weekend here in Overland Park, Kansas in which a raging anti-Semite shot and killed three people… two United Methodists and a Roman Catholic.

Today is also the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing that took three innocent lives.

The “WHYs” are multiple. “Why did they do it?” “Why those people?” “Why then?” “Why didn’t anyone stop them?” “Why violence?” “Why killing?” And I know that there are a lot of people who also ask, “Why did God allow something like this to happen?”

Let me get back to you on that last one. As far as the other ones go though, all I’ve got for you is, “I don’t know.”

I don’t want to appear to diminish the need for finding those answers. Those answers might go a long way toward helping prevent future tragedies like these from happening. But for right now, I am not sure answers are the things that will do us the most good.

In fact it might even be better to avoid answers right now.

You see, Frazier Glenn Miller (or Cross as he also called himself), the alleged shooter in Overland Park, HAD lots of answers. He KNEW with utter certainty what was wrong in the world. He had NO DOUBT whatsoever about the solutions. According to interviews I have read with people who knew him, there was never any room in his vocabulary for “I don’t know.”

I believe our wiring as human beings leads us to abhor vacuums in our storehouse of knowledge and to seek answers to life’s persistent questions. This wiring is the reason we know there are microbes that both help us and harm us and planets that orbit the sun. That wiring is why we can now drive cars, fly airplanes, communicate across time and space, repair damaged hearts and brains, build skyscrapers and highways, and perform many other amazing feats.

No question… the drive to quench our “thirst for knowledge” has improved the quality of human life in countless ways.

But today I want to counsel us to be OK with “I don’t know.”

Because see, when we don’t know (and when we are willing to SAY we don’t know) we feel needy. We feel powerless. We feel vulnerable and dependent. And we yearn for nothing so much as a pillar on which to lean and from which to draw strength and support.

Something like a loving God perhaps?

Earlier I said that one of the “whys” in tragedies like the two today is, “Why did God allow this to happen?” I do not for one moment believe that God either allowed these events to happen or caused them. I believe that God’s heart is broken when innocent life is taken and needless suffering of people is caused.

However, one of God’s most precious and most dangerous gifts to humanity has been the gift of free will. With that gift we freely pursue paths of knowledge and joy. With it we also pursue paths of hatred and destruction. It is up to us.

I believe that when tragedy strikes us because of the existence of evil and hatred, God is there, waiting to enfold us in loving arms, to provide comfort and assurance in the middle of the storms. As the Wise One tells us: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10, NRSV. I reject as forcefully as I possibly can any idea that suggests God caused these tragedies in order that people might turn to him.

The thing I DO know with absolute certainty at a time like this is that God’s power to redeem is unlimited. God can and HAS – throughout the ages – taken the broken pieces of a fallen and sin-soaked world and used those same exact pieces to create something new… something beautiful… something life-giving and rich out of them. It is, in a nutshell, the story of Easter.

God’s done it before. God will do it today. God will do it again and again and again. Blessed be the name of God. AMEN.




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