Friday, December 30, 2005

Nowhere is Somewhere

It takes being in the middle of nowhere to discover the somewhere at which you live. Being out in nature, the quiet surrounds my soul. The absence of constant activity allows my body to rest and my soul to find its focus. It takes work to slow down.

At age 19, I came to the Harding’s ranch near Gonzales, Texas for the first time. We were it seemed in the middle of nowhere. I arrived with an 18 year old girlfriend. In one weekend, I was hooked on Texas and on a girl that has since become my wife, the mother of our children and my spiritual best friend. The isolated "middle of nowhere" became somewhere very special.

When I enter the expansive quiet of nature (which is actually quiet loud), I realize my small place in this world. At the very same time, I feel connected to something much bigger than myself. Smallness and bigness are odd companions.

However, being able to realize my insignificance and my great significance can come only from the external. I think it may even be a message from God to any human being. God is more vast than I can imagine. God makes me feel small. However, when my smallness is connected to the breadth of God, then I have significance and purpose.

And now . . . back to the middle of nowhere . . . when I slow down, it means that I stop pretending that I am god. I must trust someone else for a change. Let God be the limitless resource of my life. Being out in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere, locates me in the lap of a God who is big enough to take care of my worries and close enough to transform my small nowhere into somewhere sacred.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Do You Believe in Santa?

It is Christmas Eve and tonight I am wondering, "“Do you believe in Santa?" My Mom always told us kids that as for as long as we believed Santa then would come. So, I continue to believe and he continues to come. But, I long for something more than belief.

This week I decided how I would like my kids (ages 4 and 9 months) to "“figure outÂ" Santa. . . It is a strange idea, but it is an idea that is worth more than belief. It demands action.

This has probably been the best holiday season ever for our household. There is not one thing I can point to, but our family agrees this holiday season has been the best and holiest. Earlier this fall we had the privilege of making some new friends of people who survived both hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Our children have been right there with us, serving people, visiting with people who lost their homes, helping families move in, buying Christmas presents, eating dinners and on and on. Needless to say we'’ve made some great friends out of people who were strangers.

However, it has been a learning experience for our family. One tough thing is that sometimes our kids have gone to parties where they do not get any presents. Our kids have gone to parties and had to wait until the end to eat. Our kids have even gone to parties and been unable to see Santa, because we let other kids go first. This may sound like cruel and unusual punishment. I hope not. They are taking it very well.

Two nights ago we delivered trash bags to several families. They were thrilled to receive trash bags because they were filled with presents for their children. These angel tree gifts go to families who have some member of their family incarcerated. Again, there were our kids in the cold with red and green clothes on and even red caps with balls delivering Christmas cheer.

So, here is what I want my kids to "figure out" about Christmas. I hope that they become so caught up in giving gifts and spreading the joy of the Lord that they forget about Santa Claus. I hope that instead of wishing for the heavy set gift-bearing man in red that they will become like the real man known as Saint Nicholas. There is a difference between these two holiday fellas named Santa and St. Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was a historical figure who walked the earth in the third century. He was born in modern day Turkey and was raised a devote Christian. His parents died when he was a child, but left him an inheritance. Nicholas used this inheritance by taking Jesus' words seriously to "“sell all that you own and give it to the poor" (Gospel of Luke 18:22). He was a Christian man who tossed gifts in open windows, brought joy to the poor, the suffering and the hurting. He is best known for his help with three poor young girl's dowries. In ancient times, a female needed a dowry (financial sum of money or property) to get married. No dowry, meant no marriage and worse - slavery. Mysteriously three bags of gold were tossed in the windows of the poor man with the three daughters. The gold landed in shoes and socks hung by an open window to dry. This led to the modern day ritual of hanging stockings for gifts and of the giving of oranges. In essence, Saint Nicholas was a man who simply lived like Jesus Christ. (Learn more about St. Nicholas here)

I am ready to do more than believe in Saint Nicholas, my family and I want to become Saint Nicholas. Not that we put value in "“saints" or want to be granted some title. No, I want to become a person who lives a year-round Christ-like lifestyle.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I want to be a Rock Star

No, I am not a singer. No, I am not interested in fame. I do love music, MP3s and lyrics that sail, but I do not want to record CDs, tour with groupies or deal with limo drivers.

Better said, I want to be like a Rock Star. Oddly enough a rock star graces the cover of Time Magazine'’s Person of the Year 2005 edition. On the cover, he stands between the wealthiest couple in the world, but even more important he separate them from their cash.

Paul Hewson, known to the world as Bono lead singer of the mega-group U2, is an activist for justice. Bono has met with the Pope, spoken at Harvard, been found in the halls of Washington, met with Presidents, found himself on the covers of more than a few non-music magazines . . . all because his life sings to make God real today. The poor of the world are better because of this man's work. Hewson is just one person, using and expanding his circle of influence for the good of the Kingdom of God.

You can write me about his language. You can complain about his appearance. You may even gripe about his music and his beliefs. But do not overlook that this man is a third millennium Mother Teresa hiding behind shades in black leather.

I want to be like a Rock Star . . . a heavenly man who was born under the Star, lived the extreme life of God, died a delinquent and broke through the Rock to the other side. I want to be like a Rock Star named J.C. the S.o.G. I have a long way to go . . . and I still haven't found what I am looking for.

Monday, December 12, 2005

You Can Change the World

Not me. . . I need brains. Not me. . . I need millions. Not me . . . I need love.

One of the best DVDs of the Holiday is one you may as well purchase rather than rent. I had been waiting for this one to hit theaters and then anxious for its release on DVD. Two kids loose their mum (I mean Mom). Millions of dollars land in their playhouse one day. This is a powerful fairy tale that makes us believe that we can change the world . . . by giving . . . of ourselves.

You can change the world. Movies Like "Millions" and "Pay it Forward" put world change within reach. They alter our belief, our assumption of insignificance. Too often we believe that changing the world means that we must change everyone in the world or change the entire world to our perspective, dogma or worldview. However, within the Kingdom of God the earth is ripe for change.

Last week a frequent visitor to the "Lost & Found" blog emailed me. He informed me that my mass email made a difference. I had asked people to "give birth to Jesus" by being a presence of peace to others. I used the example of a frustrated parent of a teenager sharing exasperation with a fellow parent.

In the email I tried to communicate that you are a simple expression and an example of peace. No sermon is required. Remember our future is assured. We have certainty that God will bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Jesus (Paul's letter to Ephesus 1:9-10). . . God is patient. Let's be patient in our waiting for the coming of Jesus. Be patient with our struggles. Try to live today so that Jesus will find you at peace (Peter's Second Letter 3:14).

Oddly enough, he happened to be sitting on a plane reading my email after talking with a woman struggling with her teenager. The previous night this woman caught her 16 year old daughter climbing out of the window. The daughter was attempting to run away. She felt unloved. This mother-daughter talk had not gone well. He turned his computer screen to the mother and let her read. She wept. He writes, "Sometimes it feels great just to be a vessel! Thanks for letting me share God's love."

You can change the world. Show peace. Be an expression of the peace of God. No one may notice. No one may care. No one may send you an award. HOWEVER, you have changed the world . . . because you have changed you.

Friday, December 09, 2005


I just need someone to love. . . I just need a hundred thousand, maybe a million dollars. . . If it just could be me. . . then my life would be perfect.

Mack and Virginia were common people. Virginia was Mack's second wife. They lived pay check to pay check. Mack drove a forklift. Virigina made corrugated boxes. The best life offered was a blue-collar existence in a run down apartment.

As some say, all their dreams came true. In 2000, Mack bought a $3 lottery ticket that won the $65 million dollar Powerball jackpot. Any desire of the heart could be reality. They took the lump sum, which was $34 million, and split it 60-40. After taxes, Mack netted $14 million and Virginia took home $9 million. They separated. Bought lavish homes. He went deeper into alcoholism. She went deeper into drug addiction. His former wife collected on overdue child support. Her family came harassing. It is odd that the desires of their hearts brought pain instead of pleasure.

Just three years after his windfall, Mack Metcalf died of complications relating to alcoholism in 2003. Virginia Merida's partly decomposed body was found in her bed the day before Thanksgiving. She had been dead for several days due to a likely drug overdose. She was 51 and he was 45. The New York Times reported the story last week. Less than a handful of years to live out their desires.

One of Virginia's brothers related this wisdom, "Any problems people have, money magnifies it so much, it is unbelievable." And Mack's first wife remarked, "when you put that kind of money in the hands of someone with problems, it just helps them kill themselves faster." Maybe having our desires, just being who we are and living in total freedom is a dangerous thing.

Oh if only, "My Name Is Earl" had been on television in 2000. Then, maybe Mack and Virginia could have discovered Karma to go with their winnings. Seriously, our addictions to religion, sex, race, chocolate, football or drugs will kill us. We try to live and control a universe of our own creation. The center of this universe is not the earth or the son, but the self. This universe will implode.

I want my addiction, my center to be God. Something outside myself. Someone who calls me beyond myself to become more that I could alone.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tuesday Morning Hangover

By Tuesday morning we are already deep in responsibility and demanding needs. Anything we may have learned or experienced over the weekend is vaporized. I just need some caffeine. Doctor Pepper is more appealing to me than Latte, yet when it gets cool java can invigorate.

What would it take for you to keep spiritual conversations going past the weekend? I wonder if some "spiritual" caffeine might do the trick. Maybe an email reminder would get the soul moving. Maybe a quick read through a blog would re-open our tired eyes to share hope. It seems that by Monday or Tuesday, I realize that my life with God needs daily nourishment and exercise and rest. One time a month or week is not going to fight spiritual flabbiness.

What type of spiritual caffeine could I offer you to keep your soul going and growing?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

There Is No God

Belief in God is becoming more and more difficult for people today. People are becoming more and more sophisticated in their absence of belief in God. If honest, many of us struggle to believe in the God we were raised on.

I have been listening to “This I Believe” on National Public Radio. This weekly segment picks up a series started in the 1950s. Famous people are asked to share their credo. These are not necessarily religious, but they are personal. Two weeks ago, I listened to this segment with magician Penn Jillette.

Jillette makes his belief the absence of belief. God does not exist. Other than the blatant non-belief, several things were striking as I listened and then read his essay. Jillette believes someone can be a good person without believing in God. He does not believe that only Christians are good. In fact, he indicates that Christians refuse to enter honest dialogue about their beliefs because they hide in their faith. A believer’s claim that “I believe it and you cannot change me” is a cop-out in Jillette’s view. I agree.

One of the big fallacies with his essay is that Jillette blames suffering on a God who does not exist. He says that since God does not exist then there is the possibility of eliminating suffering. How is this possible? Many people say they cannot believe in God because of suffering or God’s lack of involvement. The problem is that if God doesn’t exist, then we are still left to explain suffering and evil. Eliminating God does not make the problem of suffering go away.

Another interesting belief of Jillette is his elimination of sin and the need for forgiveness. He says that if you get rid of forgiveness then it makes people better. They have to try harder to be nicer the first time. Rather than just beg for forgiveness. So, his answer to mistakes (or sin) is to try harder to be nice. This is his weakest point. And like suffering, Jillette leaves sin unexplained and unresolved. Trying harder will not make suffering going away. Trying harder will not make sin go away. Only a forgiving God who creates a forgiving person can reduce the power of sin and suffering.

Let’s leave Jillette behind for a bit. For now, let’s read how a man named Peter responds to a similar question. People living after Jesus’ death began to wonder if what Jesus taught was really going to come true. They wanted Jesus to come back – like he promised. “What happened to the promise of Jesus coming back?” they ask (2 Peter 3:4). Our ancestors have died and the world continues to spin pretty much the same as it always has. Really we could ask this question similar to Jillette’s. If God really cared about us and our suffering, then he would do something about it. However, God does nothing. Therefore, God does not exist. Every thinking and feeling person at some time wonders about the tardiness of God and is angered at God’s absence. Come back. Do something. Make a difference in this situation of my life now; yesterday would have been better but now works.

God seems slow and God seems absent. Peter gives a response about God. There have been times when God has stepped in and judged people (like the flood). God has been involved. But the primary answer Peter gives is one of time. God is not slow about his promise – God is patient because God wants repentance (2 Peter 3:9, 16). God is not bringing the world to an end because he is hopeful that more people will turn to him. Time is irrelevant to God. One day is the same as a thousand and a thousand can feel like just a day to God. God is outside of time.

The truth is God will eliminate suffering and evil – it is as good as done. It is in the future, but it is as if it had already happened. Picture God as he really is – outside history calling us to him. We cannot escape the future he has planed for us. His future is an eternity with him an eternity of service and work in the kingdom of God. Time is not the issue. Repentance is the issue. The longer God waits the more opportunity he has to draw people to him. Not force them to see how wonderful and loving he is, but time for them to come to see it on their own. Picture God standing in front of the universe. Imagine him waving us towards him like a Father calling his daughter to walk toward him. There will be suffering and a stumble and a fall. Sometimes even a bonk on the head, but God calls us to him. Our future, the future of the universe, is certain in the hands of God.

Do you remember the original question? Why doesn’t God intervene and return and set things straight. The answer is that he is patiently awaiting more and more people to repent. Repentance is the reason. Repentance is where you recognize that you make mistakes. You cannot make them right. Repentance is a turning from your own ability to make things right and trust the God who is waiting in the future to give you life eternal. The delay is not a sign that it will not occur. The delay is for the purpose of repentance and turning to God. God is patient so that the Penn Jillettes of the world can choose to embrace the God who created them. God’s patience equals our salvation (16). The identical twin Psalms 14 and 53 express that only fools say that there is no God. The end result of such non-belief is death eternal. God in his graciousness gives to Penn Jillette exactly what he believes – that this life is the best life he will ever have. Tragedy of tragedies.

John Fountain also has belief. He relates his belief in God in NPR's This I Believe series. He shares his belief in God by talking about his personal pursuit of his father. Listen to the story of this black man and his father and how it brought him in contact with another Father.
The God who created you does not lie in a casket somewhere. God is in front of you calling you to himself. He is waving you towards him. He is encouraging you to be holy and Godly. He wants you to anticipate his coming and to allow him to come into your life more today than you allowed yesterday.

I pray that the world will one day realize that God dealt evil a death blow through Jesus Christ. Jesus did not escape suffering – he entered suffering. As God entered into a suffering existence with his creation sin was destroyed. Will you love the God who loves you?