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I grew up in a "Christian" home. We attended church twice every Sunday and once every Wednesday. I was also there many other times for activities involving kids my age. The church was the center of our life.

Mom was deeply in love with Jesus. The real deal. Dad died when I was 10, and my stepdad was something of an enigma. He professed to be a Christian, but in his daily words and actions, it was hard to tell. Nevertheless, we were seen by those who knew us as a family of Christians.

I am the first of seven brothers, boys who grew up in the church. And as we came to adulthood and made our own choices, three of seven chose to live as followers of Jesus. The other four walked away from what they grew up in, seeing it as empty and a fraud, or at least unworthy of consideration. Three of seven is appalling, and a failing score by nearly any measure. But it could be far worse, I suppose.

Ever get frustrated?

Do you ever get impatient with your church? Or with church in general? I do. I struggle with church. What I mean is, I don't like churches that have no depth or sense of purpose in them, beyond making their own members feel good. Nor do I like churches that have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. That includes a great many of the churches I have encountered. I have patience neither with self-centered churches nor self-centered people, especially when they profess to be Christians.

Merry Christmas: A Reflection


Well, here we are again, at the best and worst time of the year. Christmas. I love it and I hate it. I listen to endless hours of Christmas music (www.pandora.com is wonderful), but refuse to hear musical triteness like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Christmas is depressing because, for most people, it's a tawdry orgy in honor of materialism run wild. It's an event unworthy of those bearing the image of God. For others, however, it's a time marked by hope and excitement at the dawning of a new day.

Despite this paradox, it's perhaps my favorite time, because it marks - admittedly inaccurately - what is the most astonishing event ever: God becoming a man. It marks the day when hope was born, a day when we began the journey from darkness to glorious light.

Abortion: right or wrong?

It's a tough question, and one where nearly everyone has an opinion. However, it seems to me that most of the responses have not been carefully considered. Is abortion right, whether it is legal or not? Or is it wrong? A sin? Even murder? Or is it just another choice? And whichever side you come down on, why?

If you have easy, immediate answers, you probably need to think longer and more carefully. This is a very important question, because the answers we give affect many other parts of our lives.

Bubble-wrapped people

"Bubble-wrapped people." Sounds a little weird, doesn't it?

It certainly did to me, though bubble-wrap is not a new idea. We all know "bubble wrap," a plastic packing material with small air "pillows" in it. It's used to surround some object to isolate it from what's around it and protect it.

But people? Did you ever think of bubble-wrapped people? Probably not, though they're not uncommon, walking through life securely protected from the evil and pain in the world. I think to an extent, at least in western culture, most people live with some degree of insulation protecting them from whatever they perceive as a threat.

Here we are again, at the best and worst time of the year. Christmas. I love it and I hate it. I listen to endless hours of Christmas music (www.pandora.com is wonderful), but refuse to hear musical triteness like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Christmas is depressing because, for most people, it's a tawdry orgy in honor of materialism run wild. It's a disgrace. For others, however, it's a time marked by hope and excitement at the dawning of a new day.

A lesson from antiquity

When I ask people what is their favorite portion of scripture, I usually get an answer that has to do with individual salvation, such as John 3:16 or some other verse that reassures us of God's love for us.

When I am asked for my favorite, I have a hard time choosing. I love the interaction between God and Moses at the burning bush in Exodus, and I think the accounts of the conversations between Moses and God on Sinai are fascinating, sometimes very funny. Hard to pick just one.

Resurrection Day

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, the traditional holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus. Most Americans don't associate Jesus or his resurrection with Easter. So here's the question: Is Easter about a real, historical event, where the man/God Jesus, who was killed and buried, physically came back to life? Or are people who agree with that statement living in a world of delusions?

'I was robbed!'

Perhaps like many of you, I grew up in a white, middle-class, suburban American family. We were not really typical, but we did fit some of the mold. We attended a conservative, evangelical church, and I was shaped by that environment, as was our entire home life.

At our church, I learned "Christianity" as a set of truisms and principles to which I was expected to give mental assent. And as a result, I would, of course, live according to a certain standard of conduct: I would not drink, smoke, cuss or chew. Neither would I play cards or attend most movies. You perhaps know the routine. It was more a cultural than a spiritual thing.

The Joys of Secularism

I just listened to an interview with one Sam Harris, posted on the CNN website, about how "we" should ditch religion. Religion, he says is not a good tool for making moral decisions, and modern science works much better.

I also saw some comments on Facebook about this, about what a wonderfully clear thinker Harris is, and how more people should think like him. So I want to post some thoughts from a different perspective. Perhaps they will start a conversation.

Poor me? Or cherished by God?

You know, sometimes nothing seems as appropriate as a good old, wallow-in-the-muck pity party. Know what I mean? Like, once in a while, someone needs to remember Me, that there are things I want in life, a lifestyle that I deserve. That's only reasonable, right?

But it seems like the life I want and deserve isn't happening, and I don't like it. After all, it's my life, and it's only reasonable that I have just a bit of what I was made for.

Don't misunderstand me: I don't mean luxury. A modest house, a pickup truck, and perhaps a smallish sailboat, and I'm a happy man.

Or not.

It's that time again

Well, it's that time of year again. You know, the one everyone says they look forward to, but are glad when it comes only once a year. The time when Americans go on a materialistic spending orgy, wiping out the progress of the past year toward a debt-free life.

You know what I mean, of course. It's Christmas. Just a few more days, and it'll be here.

Christmas is a topic of disagreement among Christians. Some want to celebrate it to the full, while others say it's a pagan orgy, and should be avoided.

Jesus said we would always have poor people among us. In a broken world such as ours, it seems a fact of life. But should it be? Is it necessary that most of the world struggles simply to survive? That children die by thousands for lack of clean water? That "poor" in America equals "rich" in much of the world?

It's true, you know. There is appalling pain and hardship around the world. And the American church - the wealthiest church in history - is making only a small dent in the problem. This is not a good thing.

About four years ago, I had a major life change. I retired. I moved to a new area and became involved in an urban church. My vision of retirement included writing and teaching at a college or perhaps a church. I thought it was a good plan, but it seems that when God got my proposal he just rolled his eyes and laughed.

Learning to be retired - especially for a country mouse trying to be a city mouse - has been difficult, but not without benefits. Our church is nearly half refugees and immigrants, and it's nice to know there are refugee kids, new to America, who consider me their grandpa, and who look to me for help and advice.

If indeed you call yourselves Christians, and rest on grace, and make your confidence in God;

If you say you know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the Word;

If you are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in your mind,

You, therefore, who would teach others, do you not teach yourselves?

You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?

You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery?

You who abhor idols, do you rob God, even worshipping yourselves as idols?

You who make your boast in grace, do you dishonor God through making His grace a small thing? Know this: "The name of God is blasphemed among the people because of you."

(Romans 2:17-24, paraphrased)

A "Spirit-ual" Puzzle

I've been reading N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope. It's a fascinating read, about heaven, resurrection and the mission of the church. The premise is that we can't understand the mission or purpose of the church - that's you and me - without understanding heaven and resurrection. And of course, heaven and resurrection can't be addressed without considering the book of Revelation, one of the most fascinating of biblical books. Some years back, I read Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder, the best book I have read on Revelation.

So Bishop Wright got me thinking about Revelation again, and I decided to read it once more. It's not going smoothly. Even in the first chapter, I get hung up on things I have read many times, but that now make me stop and say, "What does that mean, anyway?"

Jesus likes me! Really!

If there was ever a question with a predictable answer - at least among Christians - here it is: "Does God love me?" Of course He does. God loves everyone, doesn't He? I mean, we all know there's only one acceptable answer to the question. Even if we don't really believe the answer.

A more interesting question might be, "Does God like me?" That, as they say, is "a whole 'nother matter."

As I have asked people these two questions, invariably they answer, without hesitation, yes, God loves me. But very often, when I ask the second question, they get a distant look, sort of a sad expression, and shaking their head, they say, "No, I don't think so."

Memorial Day 2008

Today, as I write, is Memorial Day. It's a day that is important to me, one when we remember and honor those who have died in American military service. It's a moving time for many - myself among them - and a party time for others.

Memorial Day is important to me for a couple reasons. The first is obvious: We owe honor to those who sacrificed their lives in our place. Our freedoms - which we take so much for granted - came at a high cost. Many men and women have shed their blood and given their lives to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to live in the greatest freedom and opportunity of any nation in history. And much of the world looks with longing at the great blessing it is to be an American citizen.

So who's the fool?

I need to blow off some steam for a few moments, about something that just bugs me a lot. Please bear with me.

I am amazed by the number of people who (1) profess to be a Christian, but define the term according to their own whims and convenience, or (2) simply blow off the entire "God-thing" as unworthy of their consideration, which is perhaps the same thing in different words. These groups are large, and the two have some common characteristics. We find many of the first group in churches, but a lot of them are staying away from "organized religion." We also find many of the second group in churches, and others who would not set foot in a church. They have some things in common.

"...I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'but the righteous man shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).


A few days ago, I wrote about the secularization of America, and the powerless American church. While I believe everything I wrote is true, it's incomplete. I have long subscribed to the philosophy that anyone can complain and point out problems, but unless the complainer also brings potential solutions, he's part of the problem.

So, here's part two of my take on the state of the American church.

John Ortberg recently wrote this on the Out-of-Ur blog: "The recently released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that faith is going down across the board."

Ortberg is not the only one discussing this latest survey. A number of people are writing about it, and generally, the conclusion is that America is fast becoming a secular nation. Christianity is diminishing in influence and significance at an increasingly rapid pace.

Friday, I had a pleasant evening, with dinner at a small Mediterranean place near our home, followed by a movie, Evan Almighty. The dinner was passably good, but the movie, to my surprise, touched me deeply, and has had me thinking ever since.

The story is about a guy, Evan, who is out to change the world, and who gets elected to Congress on that platform. His life is radically rearranged when God takes his "change the world" talk seriously, and gives him a job to do: build an ark.

Hurting? Discouraged?

I had breakfast with a good friend this morning, as is my Sunday habit. Pleasant conversation. My friend, as it happens, is a professional counselor, and we sometimes talk about how we live and grow.

This week, we talked about medication for depression, and I expressed my concern that Americans might be medicating ourselves out of some good things. We don't like to be in pain or discomfort, physically or emotionally. As soon as we become depressed or unhappy, we reach for a pill. It's very similar to the too-common practice for unruly children. Medication.

To live or to die

I was listening to a sermon Sunday, and suddenly the phrase "grain of wheat" struck me and wouldn't go away. I have been struggling with the adjustment from employment to retirement. It's the hardest adjustment I have ever faced. Going from a lifetime of challenging jobs, supervising people, solving problems, having a purpose and goal every day, to...what?

Now nobody cares if I get up in the morning. Nobody cares how I spend my day. And from my perspective, the matter of my own significance is undecided. I want to be significant. I want my life to matter, to make a difference. It's too hard not to have something important as the outcome.

Reality or imagination?

Sometimes I struggle with reality. Know what I mean? It's not that I'm hallucinating or anything like that. And I have never used mind-altering substances, even without inhaling. Yet I struggle. It's not that reality is hard to take, though the shape the world's in isn't very encouraging. The problem is in knowing what is reality: What's really real?

My problem is wondering if my idea of what it means to know God and follow Jesus is all just wishful thinking. Am I just off in Loonieland, all by myself?

Healthy? Or slowly dying?

How do we know if we're healthy? How do we know if our bodies are well and can be expected to serve us in good fashion?

I suggest that the mark of both health and illness is change. For example, if our body temperature suddenly rises, we know that our body is under attack and defending itself. If there is sudden pain, it's a signal that something is amiss. And even on the good side, we experience change, though more subtle. A healthy body is in a constant state of restoring and renewing itself. We are less aware of these changes, but when they stop, we know. When the changes in our body stop, we are dying, and it's only a matter of time before our bodies have no life remaining.

How do you spell success?

Perhaps it's a sign of age, but I keep coming back to this topic: What is a successful life? Put another way, what do we have to do now to be certain of two things: First, that it will be a good day when we stand before God and give an account; and, second, that the sort of legacy we leave to our children is one we are happy with. How do we want to be remembered?

When we stand before God, will we hear, "Well done. I'm proud of you." Or will he shake his head, with a deep sigh? When our grandkids talk about us, will they do so with pride, or with amazement at the mess we made of things?

Every now and then, something will come to my attention that I find somewhat startling. Often, these things prompt questions that some folks consider outrageous or worse, but that response doesn't bother me. After all, what's life without a little controversy now and then? Boring.

Here's what I noticed, and I wonder about the significance of it.

What have you been doing?

What have you done lately?

No, I'm not talking about getting the latest technotoy or buying a new car. Nothing like that.

What have you done lately that matters? What have you done that changes the world, helps others, and lives on after you?

Anything?

One of the saddest things I ever read was from the Greek philosopher Aristotle: "The masses choose the lives of grazing animals." Utter insignificance. Profoundly disheartening, and the most depressing part: "choose." People choose insignificance.

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