Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Skin Disease

I've been reading up on Epidermolysis Bullosa--a life-threatening skin disease in which the epidermis does not attach to the dermis, due to lack of the protein collagen. Consequently the skin blisters with the slightest bump or scratch. The blisters are painful and cause scarring, which leads to deformities in the extremities. A child with EB knows only a life consumed with daily wrappings, ointments and dressings, constant pain and emotional suffering. It was all I could do to get through each heart-wrenching paragraph and picture describing this gruesome condition.

And then I realized I have the same disease.

My physical epidermis is attached just fine, but I have a skin hyper-sensitivity of another sort. Call it the "disease to please," the fear of man or public opinion, or plain old being too sensitive--the fact of the matter is, I blister inwardly at the slightest bump to my ego. I'm constantly dressing new wounds and nursing old ones it seems--as a result of what someone said to me or thought about me. I tiptoe my way around people at times, careful to not get my too-thin skin scratched. It's a nasty ailment, this approval-addiction affliction.

The good news is, unlike EB, there is a cure for my particular skin disease (for more on the cure, read the post, "Have You Seen My Self?"). I am in recovery. My skin is slowly but surely thickening. I'm finding that I'm more and more able to survive the bumps that result when I say something bold--or stupid for that matter. Stares, whispers and bad opinions--real or imagined--are becoming but the brush of a feather against my increasingly resilient skin.

More and more I'm able to walk away from a people-encounter without suffering for hours over things like, Did I talk too much? Was I too opinionated? Did I sound immature? Ignorant? Was I a busy-body? I am so misunderstood! I was misjudged! (Should I have announced this blog post on Facebook--or will they think I'm tooting my horn?)

I'm hanging what people think and going to take the bandages off.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Unarians

I watched a documentary about the Unarians--a group of interdimensional pseudoscientists who believe aliens of higher intelligence--the "Space Brothers"--will soon come to earth to show us the right way to live and be. They will make us people of peace and not war, love and not hate. After showing us the way, they will make for us a new and eternal home, full of everything good.

Poor souls. You can't blame them. Wouldn't we love to believe that someone very human but also very perfect would call Himself our brother, come from a heavenly place and live among us, show us how to live, offer to make us just like Him, and then promise us a better and enduring home than what we now have?

Imagine that.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Christian Genius

I'm pretty sure he's a genius. Definitely one of the most intelligent persons with whom I've ever conversed. A graduate of Berkeley and Cornell, he spends his days playing with chemicals and debating the difficult questions. He can speed-read a page faster than I can say, "Did you really read it?" What's more, he remembers every detail.

I enjoy spending time with this fascinating Chinese-American who eats deer hearts, makes music and speaks a few languages. But it's not his brains that impress me the most. It's his heart.

"Jason the Genius" is a born-again Christian. As if this isn't paradoxical enough, it was how he converted that amazes me the most. I would have guessed Jason saw the light while debating intelligent design and evolution on campus, or while reading apologists like McDowell or Zacharias. For years I've insisted that we can only reach intellectuals through reason. "The mind is their door to the heart." Jason proved me wrong.

It wasn't through philosophy, new scientific discoveries or historical evidence that Jason came to Christ. Amazingly enough, he heard the simple gospel message at a vacation Bible school as a twelve-year-old. Rather than reason it away with his sharp mind, he embraced it with a humble and receptive heart. Something clicked in his spirit when he heard the truth--We need a Savior. It can't be us. It can't be just God. It must be God becoming one of us. In an instant, it all made perfect sense and a young boy made his way to the altar.

But Jason didn't check his brains at the door. I'd love to see any agnostic challenge him on matters of faith.

Jason moved away recently and our family will miss him greatly. He is an inspiration to me, and an example of one who is truly sold-out to Jesus and trusting Him with his entire life. His is a solid faith, the stuff of devoted saints willing to go the way of the Cross. I'll never forget the night we sat around the computer with Jason, watching his idea of a great movie--a document of the suffering underground church of China. This--more than seeker-friendly, happy-clappy church is what attracts Jason. I was sobered.

Jason is living proof that what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2 is true: the things of the Spirit (God's Spirit) can only be discerned, understood, known, through our spirit--not our intellect. The wisdom of God is foolishness to man. And it is with "the heart"--not the mind, that one "believes unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10). That explains why people all over the world--of every shape, size, color and intelligence quota--are finding out that Jesus is indeed "the way, the truth and the life."

We will miss you, Jason. Keep the faith.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Church at a Bar

I was discussing spiritual things with a Jehovah's Witness several years ago and she made a comment that caught me off guard:

"You Christians are always bickering over petty issues. You're hopelessly divided over doctrines and methods. You've got your splits, cliques and denominational walls. Who would want to be a part of that?"


Having nothing to say and knowing she was right, I changed the subject.

I wish I could have known back then to say this: There is a difference between uniformity and what she claimed to have in her church--unity.

Uniformity depends on everyone seeing eye to eye, agreeing on all points of the law, worshipping the same way and holding to all the same convictions. Been there, done that.

True unity, on the other hand, is not dependent on any of the above. In fact, the more diverse the crowd, the more meaningful the "unity of the Spirit," as described in the book of Ephesians. When believers are unified, the only common ground they need is love for our Lord Jesus. All differences fade away in the light of Who He is.

Ephesians says Jesus came to tear down the walls we put up between ourselves. While so many Christians insist on keeping those walls erected, some are choosing to keep them down. I saw evidence of this today, of all places, in a nightclub.
Passersby on route 352 in Big Flats may have wondered what was happening at Tags on this bright Sunday morning. They may have been surprised to find out that we were having---church?

Yup. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we should hang out in the places He did. And scripture makes it clear--he liked being with "nonnies." He had lunch in their homes and sat in their taverns. It was the religious folk who were disturbed by this habit of His.

But what I most enjoyed about this morning's gathering was not just our willingness to rub shoulders with "the world," but the fact that five churches closed their doors today and gathered together to celebrate our common thread--Jesus Christ. What made it so remarkable was the diversity in the crowd. I know most of the ministers represented, and many people in their churches. Let me tell ya, we aren't cut from the same mold. We worship, believe and baptize differently. We vary in all things color, age, education and political persuassion. Why last year even the local Rabbi and his wife joined us. If there were ever reason to raise walls, the several hundred people gathered at Tags today had them.

But our unity centered on our love for a Man Who loves us all.

The service began with a time of praise and worship, led by band members from different congregations. A dance team performed a very hip-hop rendition of "Awesome God" and then we enjoyed an inspiring message by Bob Cornwall, a man not affiliated with any church, but who travels from place to place encouraging believers to stay unified and fulfill the Great Commission. Afterward people purchased food prepared by Tags and sat around catching up on each others' lives, or getting to know one another for the first time. I looked around; people of Catholic, Methodist, Weslyan, Pentecostal, CMA and Baptist backgrounds were smiling, laughing and stuffing their faces. No one seemed to be quibbling over predestination and free will. It was a little (and quite literal, to be sure) taste of Heaven on earth. There is simply no other religion in which members can be so divided and yet united at the same time.

Then again, this isn't exactly a religion, is it? The Church is a family, a group of people in relationship. You know how your own family members can differ in points of view, yet the family name unites you. We have the same family name. What's more, because of the cross, we're blood related! I could start preaching right here.

It was suggested we send a thank you card to the owner of Tags for the free use of his facility. I hope many people follow through. It is my hope that someone looking on at this event today took note that: we are grateful for such a lovely meeting place, we left it clean, and we love one another. Who knows, maybe that girl I talked to years ago was looking on with curiosity....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Have You Seen My Self?

I was recently browsing videos at the local library and glanced at one entitled, "Zen--the Search for Self." I thought, Yuck.

Please don't misunderstand--I'm not bashing Buddhists. I deeply love and respect people of all faiths. But if you don't mind me saying so, I'd rather not go looking for "self." I'm trying desparately to lose it. And strangely, the more I succeed at doing so, the better I feel about myself!

I'm discovering myself really for the first time--the enhanced version, my truest self, the person I was intended to be. As songwriter Sarah Groves said, "I just showed up for my own life."

I've chosen a "religion" (if you want to call it that) that teaches that in order to find one's "self" (or "life"), one has to lose it. Self has to be buried, reckoned as dead. One's life has to become "hidden in God." How different from endless meditation on "self," trying to find oneself, to make a name for oneself.

Every now and then I lose perspective and get full of "self" -- either through feeling like I've said or done something really special and that everyone should applaud me, or through facing my own stupidity and feeling swallowed up in the foolish words of my big mouth. I have to say, whichever way, being so "full of self" feels really gross.

A humble harpist came to our church some time ago and told the "sock" illustration: I am like a sock and Jesus is the matching sock--my soul mate. The man then interlocked the socks together like one does when folding clean laundry and said that God wants me to be lost in Him, and He in me, like that mated pair of socks. I rather like that idea.

I don't think any one of my socks, if it were alone, and could talk, would be going around saying, "I need to find my self." Drawers full of unmated socks are bothersome.

I recently was at prayer and asked God, "Show me where I'm proud and arrogant." Then I quickly changed the request to, "Better yet, just let me hide myself in You. And what I don't know won't hurt me." And "my meditation of Him became sweet" (Ps. 104). It's really a wonderful thing, the loss of self.

Friday, March 21, 2008

God Wants You--RICH?

I was raised in the Bible Belt and still remember falling asleep on carpeted convention room floors under the voices of great men of God like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and the like. I was only a kid but knew that the faith they preached about was what God wants us to have. I knew I served a God that yearned for us to ask that we may receive. My Heavenly Daddy wants to bless.

But I fear that much of the church has taken the beautiful truth of the Word/Faith teachers and twisted them into a "God wants you rich" prosperity doctrine that makes God look more like Santa Claus. Get your list ready, He's coming to town.

I recently heard a minister say, "Financial lack makes you depressed and envious. It hinders God from using you in the world."

Are you kidding me? It's the response (the wrong response) to lack that makes you this way. Can you imagine someone telling Mother Teresa that God wants to "prosper" her, that she doesn't have to remain under a "spirit of poverty?" What if the prosperity message was taken to the underground church in China, to the saints who are joyfully imprisoned and impoverished for their loyalty to Jesus? Would the Fransican monks have wanted to drive around in a Lexus? Would someone dare tell missionary Heidi Baker--who willingly lives with the bare minimum among the poorest of the poor--that her material lack is an "attack of the devil?"

The apostle Paul did very gladly "spend and (was) spent" for people's sakes, suffering hunger, near nakedness and unspeakable hardship. He never once implied that He was waiting for his "financial breakthrough." And what's more--he wasn't depressed or envious either. Why I'll bet he was the happiest man of his time, and he was dirt poor. And what income he did generate wasn't through leaching on the local believers. He made tents.

Perhaps we should stop blaming financial struggles on the devil and the curse of our ancestors. Instead of acting as though God will wave a magic wand and get us out of debt--why not get to the real issue? We're stupid with our money. Bring in the Larry Burketts to teach the church how to handle finances wisely, and we won't need any more prosperity sermons.

For that matter, what if we had a paradigm shift that caused us to start seeing the needs of the world more than our personal comfort?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

For Thinking People Only

I suppose many nonbelievers assume I'm like a lot of "religious people" who are going on blind faith. Nothing could be farther from the truth! As a matter of fact, it was the employment of reason, intelligence, logic, scientific and historical evidence that set me on the journey to belief in the God I've come to know and love.

Calling all scientists, philosophers and other thinking people: If you're at all interested in exploring whether Christianity might actually be based on something more substantial than emotional prejudice and blind faith, I'd like to introduce to you Ravi Zacharias, who produces a radio broadcast entitled, "Just Thinking." Dr. Zacharias travels from university to university defending the Christian faith with astounding answers to the most challenging questions. You can hear the recordings of these archived Q & A sessions on-line.

It's been said that if a person does not believe in the God of the Bible it's due to either a mind issue or a heart issue. For some, there's a willingness to believe, but a simple lack of information keeps the mind from embracing the Truth. For others, all the scientific and historical evidence in the world will not ever convince--for there is a heart that truly does not want to believe.

I hope someone decides to open his or her mind and/or heart (which ever is necessary) and take a listen to a Zacharias podcast:

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I've had my fill of emerging church books for a while. They were delicious, but I have a truth ache. Time to put aside the king's delicacies and have some fruits and veggies for ten days. Please pass the Bible, with a sprinkling of Lewis, McDowell and Zacharias on the side.