Saturday, September 26, 2009

On Changing Your Mind

I was reading this morning, and somehow got stuck on a couple of verses found in the Gospel of Matthew. You can read them for yourself in Matthew 14: 7 and 9, but the gist of the story (found also in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Mark) is that Herod offered his step-daughter anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom, because she did such a good job of dancing for him and the guests at his birthday party. Salome’s request (she wanted the head of John the Baptist) took Herod by surprise, and he would have liked to renegotiate, but ‘because of his oath and his dinner guests’ he kept his promise.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that as a general rule it’s ok to break promises, just think about how long your kids remember broken promises, but this was a dumb promise to begin with; and that must have been some fancy dancing to warrant such a big tip. Things would have been quite a bit different, at least for John the Baptist, if Herod had been willing to admit that he had spoken without thinking, and ‘please accept my apology, but that wasn’t quite what I meant to say’.
Bottom line, the king thought he had to save face, and live up to his extravagant claims in front of his friends.
Sometimes we all get in over our heads, and it would be nice to know that it’s ok to pull back and reconsider. We all make decisions that later we wish we had never made, and in a perfect world, there wouldn’t ever be any question if we changed our mind. Of course in a perfect world we also wouldn’t make mistakes. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes the decisions we make on the spur of the moment, aren’t the best ones we could make.
We’ve all heard that it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. I think that men should have that prerogative too. On a personal level we make decisions regarding education, relationships, careers, housing and finances. Leaders make decisions that impact the future of the organization, and by extension, the future of the people that work there. Politicians make decisions that impact their constituency, and at whatever level, it seems that people get locked into the idea that once a decision is made, there is no turning back.
We don’t want to be seen as weak, or indecisive, or worse that we don’t know what we are doing, but there are some decisions that should never have been made and it’s actually a sign of strength to admit the mistake, and change direction.
I guess I don’t want to be so much like Herod that I let what other people think control how I think. Part of being human is our capacity to make mistakes, but in a lot of cases we also have the capacity to do something about those mistakes. Sometimes we need to back up and reconsider, and often instead of being a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the Center of God's Will and Stuff Still Happens

Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do to have a perfect life was to become a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or liberal, a vegetarian, a used car salesperson, a doctor, a telemarketer, a religious leader, or even an ordinary Christian? Just think about how nice it would be to not worry about getting behind on the mortgage or car payment, adolescent anguish, sickness, accidents, marital strife, midlife crisis, growing old, and even death.
For years people have been looking for the fountain of youth, or a magic elixir that would make you invincible and immortal. No one has come close to finding anything quite like that in this world, but that doesn’t stop us from looking. We keep looking even though 2000 years ago a man named Jesus told us what the secret was to eternal life. Many people grab on to that bit of information and then get disappointed when ‘stuff’ still happens. A big problem for the 21st century church in America is that we often confuse things and forget that Jesus didn’t say that things would automatically get better for the duration of our time here, but rather that He was talking about salvation and eternal life.
History students remember that the early Christians were persecuted for their faith and belief in Jesus. And in some countries today professing belief in Jesus Christ is still a dangerous thing to do. In many cases we’ve dummied down the Gospel message to the point where a statement of belief is supposed to guarantee a fairy tale ending to any life. If we want to be a little more realistic, we look at things the way Eugene Peterson explains them in his wonderful book Leap Over a Wall (Harper, 1997): basically he said that no matter how devout of a Christian life style we follow, illness and accidents are still going to happen, we’re still going to feel pain; and when that stuff happens it will hurt as much after we accept Christ as it did before we made that decision
Yeah, the bad stuff still happens to us, but Jesus didn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t, what He did promise is that there was something much better waiting for us. Eternal life. Abundant life.
Our problem is that we don’t always remember that. We don’t remember that God is more interested in healing us from our sin so that we can have eternal life, than He is in healing our physical frailties so that we can be comfortable for whatever number of years that we will be on this earth.
But this me oriented generation assumes that if we turn to Jesus then we must be in the center of God's will and He’ll protect us from anything that might pop up. Sorry, that’s not what the Bible tells us. There are lots of people in the Bible that seem to have been fairly centered in God's will, and I’m not sure that there were living what I would call a life of ease. Jonah had to face the Ninevites, the bad boys of his day; Daniel ended up in the lion’s den; Shadrach and friends got thrown into the furnace; David had some really bad hair days; James was beheaded; Paul and Peter were flogged, arrested and martyred. Even Jesus, the ultimate center of God's will, ended up going to the cross. So much for being safe and comfortable.
So God's will may not be the safest place for us to be, at least according to the standards of the world, but from an eternal perspective, it certainly is the best place to be. Are you moving closer to the center of God's will, or are you still trying to move God to the center of your will?
Guess what, if you’re trying to move God, you need to remember that God won’t fit in your man-made box. Let Him tell you where He wants you to be and what He wants you to be doing, and without even realizing it, you’ll be moving closer to being in God's will. Then buckle up and get ready for the ride of your life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


School has been in session for a few weeks now, and I’m sure I speak for any family with school aged children in their immediate or extended family, when I say that I would like to end the school year with as many children as I started it with. The problem is that there is a whole lot of stupid going on out there.
I live in Utah, so it’s a given that if it’s not snowing, you’re going to run into road construction if you drive any farther than say, out of your driveway. When we factor in the orange cones, the flaggers, cell phone users and texters, it doesn’t seem like there’s much room for a margin for error. In other words we need to be paying attention to driving rather than a lot of the other stuff clamoring for our attention, because it’s obvious that the other people on the road are thinking about something other than the safety of our children.
I drive my son back and forth to school every day so I get to see the best (once in a great while) and the worst (several times a day) of traffic etiquette. In the past few weeks I’ve seen all this and more, and it makes me wonder why there aren’t a lot more accidents than what makes the news every day.
-male driver, looking in the rear view mirror, using a battery powered razor to shave as he drives through a school/construction zone.
-female driver, putting on eye makeup, again with the rearview mirror.
- driver apparently eating cereal: holding the bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other, moving something from bowl to mouth. But traffic was moving slowly thanks to a previous accident.
-male bicyclist weaving in and out of traffic, no helmet, talking on cell phone, and oh yeah, carrying a small child (also no helmet) on the handlebars.
- bicyclists riding 4 abreast, playing a game of catch
- bicyclists insisting on their right to be on the road, until it’s more convenient to be a pedestrian to avoid waiting for the light
-multiple drivers who are sure they have the right-of-way while making a right turn on a red light.
-skateboarders coming down their sloped driveways into the street, no checking for traffic
- pedestrians stepping into the street without checking for traffic, about 50 feet from the crosswalk, or in the crosswalk but against the light, walking slowly and usually at an angle so it takes longer, but gosh, they have the right-of- way!
- people who must be trying to be polite so they suddenly slam on the brakes on a through street/green light so that the guy at the stop sign/red light doesn’t have to wait his turn.
-those who drive on the shoulder to get to the front of a long line of stop and go traffic, and then think that they have the right to enter in the flow of traffic ahead of those who have been waiting.
Sorry, your time is not more precious than mine; just because you overslept doesn’t mean that everyone else needs to make allowances so you can get to where you’re going. My kid is going to the same school yours is, if you cut in front of me and cause an accident, both of them are late anyway. Leave home a few minutes earlier, respect the rules of the road, and those with whom you share it, including flaggers, construction vehicles, trucks, strollers, bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians, and even cars. There’s already too much stupid happening, don’t add to it!
BTW, most of the time, stupidity on the road is not a valid reason for a 911 call, and if you’re driving, texting the make, model, license plate number to the local police department isn’t a good option either.
Yep, there’s a whole lot of stupid going on. I just pray that with God's help we’ll get through the next few weeks until it starts snowing, and a whole new set of stupid kicks in!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pushy Salespeople

Don’t you just love those pushy salespeople that won’t take ‘no’ for an answer? They call at suppertime and don’t seem to understand that you’re just not interested. Make the mistake of going to a timeshare presentation in resort areas and the 90 minute presentation gives a whole new perspective of the word ‘eternity’. Granted many of the salespeople are in it for the commission, and they’ve been very well trained in overcoming objections, but still. But did you ever wonder if there’s maybe another reason? Like perhaps they really believe in the product that they’re selling?
Sometimes I wish that Christians were as persistent as pushy salespeople in sharing their faith. I don’t mean being obnoxious about it, but persistent, as in acting like they were, or better yet being, passionate about wanting to introduce their family and friends to Jesus. Believe in the product!It’s not even trying to beat someone over the head until they agree to say the sinner’s prayer: Jesus often seemed to love people into the kingdom rather than drive them in. Besides we want transformation, not just an outward display of conforming.
I had an opportunity to speak to a rather mixed group,theologically speaking, a while ago. One of the men there later told me that he really respected me for trying to share without starting out by saying that I was right and he was wrong. Now I certainly could have started out by telling the group that I had all the answers and they didn’t, but as this man said, he grew up as Native American with the accompanying spirituality of that culture; further complicating things was that his background also included Catholicism and a little LDS theology. Regardless, he had an idea, based on his background, of what he needed to do to make sure the afterlife was as pleasant as it could be. His ideas just didn’t match mine.
Did he tell me that he didn’t want to hear anything I had to say? No. What he said was that he was willing to at least listen to what people had to say if they said it respectfully, and might even want to hear more, but if I had started out saying he was wrong, he would have been done listening. By respecting his values and world view, I earned the right to tell him more about mine. By the way, his children were also there, and he was getting tired of the Christians who were ever so willing to tell his small children that they were going to the bad place unless... He didn’t mind that his children were hearing another perspective, he just didn’t like the way that it was being presented. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. I might be willing to listen unless you try to shove your ideas down my throat!
We do need to care enough to be persistent about the things we’re passionate about, and if we are, perhaps we eventually get to the place where we can point out the misconceptions in another’s theology; or perhaps we plant the seeds and someone else gets to see the plant grow and bear fruit. But sometimes we have to be willing to push the product in smaller doses than at other times. Not everyone is ready to hear and respond to the good news. That doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility for sharing, it just means that on any given day we need to understand that we might not see results with 100% of the people we approach.
When I was growing up, it seemed that everyone in my small hometown was either Methodist or Catholic, and most of them even went to church. Witnessing is a lot easier when everyone has basically the same concept of God! Today before we start to talk about Jesus, we might have to lay the groundwork and explain who Jesus is. At least define the way we are presenting Him. To a Muslim, Jesus is a historical figure, but he’s a prophet that isn’t as great as Mohammed. Jewish people for the most part don’t view Him as the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t really have much of a place in the Native American spirituality, and when you talk to a Hindu or Buddhist even the concept of one God has to be explained.
One size no longer fits all when it comes to sharing our faith, so let’s learn to love people into the kingdom rather than try to beat the kingdom into them. After all, nobody likes a pushy salesperson.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Did you ever have one of those days when you doubt your Christianity? You think you’re doing the right thing and then somebody says something, questions you, challenges you, and God tells you to think about it. I really dislike those days. They want silver and gold, and you just don’t have any left to give.
The other day was like that for me.
Periodically people show up at the door wanting something, and regardless of what they say they want, it’s usually money. Just about the time I was leaving the church for the day, (I’d already said goodbye to the custodian) someone knocked on the door. “I just need a minute”, I let him know that I was leaving, which direction I was heading, and why; but that I would take the risk of being late, and talk with him for a few minutes. He started out with all the reasons why he wasn’t like everyone else who was asking for help, and after I explained what we could do for him, he let me know that our help wouldn’t be enough and proceeded to tell me what he expected me, as a Christian, to do for him. For the record, it involved giving him a ride in the opposite direction of where I had already told him I was going, and by the way the bible said I was supposed to give him the money that he wanted.
I explained once again that the church benevolence program includes several things, but that we don’t hand out cash. Finally he decided that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted, and left calling me everything but Christian.
He walked off, and I got in the car to go pick up my child from school. The whole time I was driving south, my stomach was churning: what would Jesus have done? Should I have given him the ride and made my son wait, without knowing why he was waiting? Should I have emptied my wallet even though our church and most others in the area have decided that handing out cash is not always the best way to help people? Was I assuming things about him that weren’t true, was he really all that different from the other people that have come to our church asking for a handout? Am I really not a Christian like he declared?
The dilemma comes not so much because I doubt that I’m a Christian, but because I don’t always know how to discern who really has a need, and what that need is. Jesus told the rich young man to sell everything and give to the poor, but Peter and John met a beggar, and when he approached them Peter said “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6). So there is are precedents for not handing out money. Paul wrote in one of his letters “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10). But with the job market as bad as it is, is there a difference between ‘will not work’ and ‘really can’t find work’.
As much as I would like to be the perfect Christian, there are times when I wonder if I’m following as closely as I should be. And quite frequently people see that button and know how to punch it.
Sometimes I do give people a ride, and we do contribute to certain charities; when there is a verified need, out comes the wallet. So my question for you is how do you decide when you can/should say ‘yes’, and when to say ‘no’, and then does saying ‘no’ make you feel guilty?
I guess my concern is that I don’t become jaded and miss the true opportunities; I’d rather get taken once or twice and not pass on those times when there really is an opportunity to make a difference, than miss out on real opportunities to help because nobody’s story sounds convincing enough.
Silver or gold I may not have, but I can pray for those in need (want) and share the gospel with them. Sometimes that may have to be enough because I don’t have the resources to hand money to everyone who comes along asking.