Saturday, July 29, 2006

All Rise

Every once in a while I find myself sitting in a courtroom. No, I'm not a lawyer or in need of a lawyer. I'm not suing anyone for some injury I may or may not have suffered while driving, climbing a ladder placed in front of a door, or placing a cup of scalding coffee between my thighs. I'm just an observer. But it's obvious that the position of judge carries with it a boatload of respect. How do I know? Because whenever the judge enters the courtroom, Rusty the bailiff instructs everyone to "All rise."

We show our respect for the office of judge by standing when the person filling the office walks in to proceed with the actual business of judging. There aren't a lot of other jobs where this type of respect is shown. I've never met a sitting U. S. President, but I'd bet most everyone stands when he enters a room. I've met my fair share of other politicos -- governors, congressmen, etc. -- and I've stood when greeting them, but no more so than when I greet the trash collector. There just aren't many jobs which carry with them, a certain amount of respect.

In days gone by, preachers used to get a bit of that respect. Those days are long gone now, many thanks to Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and countless others who tried to cover up the fact that they were simply fallible human beings. I heard a rabbi once mention that whenever he gets pulled over by the police, he always places his "CLERGY" sign cleverly in the left front window of the car... just in case it helps him get a warning instead of a citation. Me, I figure there are enough people gunning for preachers, that I keep my calling to myself in such cases unless I'm asked!

Ever think about the amount of respect we give to our Creator? I do. The position of earthly judge has nothing on the position of heavenly judge. An earthly judge enters the room and we rise to our feet. Seeing the heavenly judge before should make us at least drop to our knees, if not fall prostrate on our face before Him.

But for now, we aren't blessed with His physical presence, so let's think about the respect we show Him anyway. It used to be that we would put on our "Sunday Best" every weekend and toddle off to "God's House" and be on our best behavior, all as a show of our respect for God. Of course, eventually we figured out that even though we were in God's presence in the church building when we looked all pretty, we were also in God's presence on Monday afternoon when we were all grimy and sweaty and a couple of miles away from "God's House". Respect is more than physical posture. Respect is more than the clothes we wear, or our location, or our outward behavior.

Respect for God begins inwardly and is then expressed outwardly. Maybe we express it in the way we dress, but it's so much more than that. It's the way we are.

In my sinfulness, I give God nowhere near the respect He deserves. In my selfishness, I give God only leftovers after I have pleased myself first. In my shallowness, I fail to give God much of anything meaningful at all.

All rise? Yeah, right.

"Lord, I pray that You would continually remind me of who You are and who I am, to help me remember just how marvelous and awesome You really are."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Farmer Tan

After I got up Monday morning, I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. Let me tell you, it wasn't a pretty sight. But besides the usual early morning ugliness, I noticed something about myself. I have a farmer tan.

If you're not familiar with that terminology, let me clue you in. A farmer tan on a man is where the forearms, hands, head, face and neck are a deep golden tan in color, while the area generally covered by t-shirt or other short sleeve shirt is almost shockingly white. The term comes from the tradition that a farmer will work outside with a shirt on at all times. (If you've ever baled hay, you know it's a bad idea to try it shirtless unless you're mighty fond of itchy skin.)

The typical farmer tan isn't noticeable unless the man's shirt is removed. At which time planes will aim toward the brilliant white skin, pilots sure that it must be the searchlight at the local airport. But if the shirt stays on, no one is the wiser.

My farmer tan became very noticeable to me because I was outside watching a baseball tourney most of the weekend under unbearably sunny skies. My t-shirt had a few buttons in front which were undone. The result was a bright red three inch line extending from beneath my throat like a miniature necktie.

"I really need to get a little more sun," I told myself. But with a physique
like mine, I figure I'm being merciful by keeping my shirt on.

The world arounds me sees a man with his spiritual shirt on. Beautifully tanned arms and neck. A real healthy glow.

But God sees me as I am -- a sinner with a spiritual farmer tan. But God sees through all of that outside stuff. He knows what a wreck I am. He can see that I am in the same state as the Apostle Paul -- the chief of all sinners.

Even though the world may not notice my farmer tan -- my imperfections -- I know that God isn't fooled. And I strive not to be fooled either.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Barrier

As I looked through the newspaper last weekend, I read the accounts of a protested military funeral in the same town as my denomination's headquarters.

You've certainly heard of the foolish people involved -- Rev. Fred and the Kansas Krew. OK, that's not the exact name, but it's already more respect given to them than they deserve. These are the folks who claim that the U.S. is being divinely judged for embracing homosexuality by having our servicepeople killed in Iraq. So in the illogical extension of their thinking Fred and the Krew show up at the funerals of soldiers who are killed in the Middle East to hold up stupid signs and shout about their misguided beliefs.

So that's what happened. RF&KK showed up outside the church to... whatever it is they think they're accomplishing. What a painful sound for the family grieving the loss of a young man who gave his life in service to his country -- without regard to anyone's position on homosexuality.

What caught my eye in the newspaper story was that there were a couple of motorcycle groups who decided to do something about all this. They parked their motorcycles on the street directly in front of Rev. Fred and the Kansas Krew and revved the engines. No one could hear the protesting Jayhawks. The surroundings weren't silent, but the air wasn't filled with the sound of hateful idiocy spoken, supposedly, as the voice of Christ's followers. Instead of the cries of the foolish reaching the mourning, the motorcyclists formed a barrier against the hatred.

What an interesting concept. Instead of argueing with someone who won't listen, cushioning the blow of those who are grieving.

Often we can't shield the hurting from the pains that life has in store for them. A hug and a casserole doesn't stop the pain of grief anymore than a dozen motorcycles revving their engines can quiet a crowd. But sometimes we have to be creative to offer that cup of cold water in Jesus' name.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


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Sloth. No, not the cute little critter with either two or three toes. More like the innate desire we have not to bother to lift either two or three toes to do something. Meet Sammy the Sloth.

There are days I can be the laziest man on the face of the earth. I'm not proud of that, although on those days I doubt I'd put up a good argument to refute the charge. There are days when I'm content not doing anything, if at all possible.

The reason why Sammy the Sloth has come up is from Kelly's comment from my post, Doubt, Pride and Shame. I fully understand Kelly's point. Many days I live Kelly's point. But let's look at laziness, or sloth, and see what it really is.

My contention is that in it's basic form, laziness is simply selfishness. Think about it. If I'm too lazy to read my Bible or to pray, isn't it really that I don't want to read it? Or at least that I don't want to read it or to pray enough to put down the bon-bons and the remote to pick it up and get to it?

I know that there are days when I come home from a long day of work and I really don't feel like doing anything more. Last week was one of those weeks for me. I was filling in, taking on extra assignments at work while my boss was on vacation. By the time the whistle blew at the end of the day, my mind was fried and I had no desire to use it without significant sleep. Could I have done something I really wanted to do? Sure. There were things I would have gladly done, given the opportunity. However, most things last week didn't motivate me enough to get me going.

So too with the busy schedule excuse. I hear ya', soccer moms and little league dads. I'm with you, not only in spirit, but also in body. Shoot, we're all pretty busy little beavers these days. Society tells us we should be, and our kids should be, so that's what we do. The little squares on the calendar fill up and each day becomes a sort of challenge to see how we can manage to get everything accomplished. So who can take time out for prayer? Being a busy little beaver leads to being a lazy little sloth.

But from where I sit (and it's not far from where you're sitting), our business is a matter of choice also. And it comes back to self. We make committments or fill in schedules with things we want to do (or think we should do) and then wear ourselves out for the things we are called to do. So when we collapse on the sofa after a long day of picking up kids, dropping off dry cleaning, picking up groceries and dropping off projects we are left with our sloth. Not that we are too lazy to pray, but that we've chosen other alternatives -- alternatives which make us happier, or which make us more impressive to the people we know. Or as Kelly put it, "I make time for all the other things in my life that are important, don't I?" Yup. That we do.

So I really can't accept laziness as an excuse or a reason why we don't pray. Because laziness comes back to selfishness, and selfishness comes back to pride. We don't find ourselves too lazy to pray. We find ourselves to have chosen things that give us satisfaction in other areas, then use our own pride as an excuse for ignoring the One who gave us life, and gives us eternal life.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

How To Get Here - 7/13/06

Still here. I've been busy paving new routes to Attention Span. Just look at the new search strings people used to end up here:

installing a clothesline - Apparently I may have to do a series with "installing a clothesline" "hanging a picture on the wall" and "changing the roll on the toilet paper holder" for some of the manually challenged cruising the blogosphere.

My father was a semi-professional curler - Did he keep his amateur status as a shampooer? I still have four years of college eligibility in beard maintenance.

"semi-permanent" lip - OK, what's the deal with the "semi" stuff? I keep going back to the old George Carlin bit about "semi-boneless ham". Does it have a bone? Then it's a bone, it's not a semi-bone. Perhaps a semi-permanent lip operation can be done by a semi-professional curler?

cat disease balding head - Oh great! I have a cat disease?!?!?!?!

loudest clapper - Personally I don't worry about how loud a clapper is, I just turn the light off at the switch like most people.

does lionel richie sing cherish the love song - These days, Lionel would probably sing anything if the price was right.

what side of the bed should the wife sleep on - Well, obviously the right side. You don't want her waking up on the wrong side of the bed, do you???

romal numeral - You know what they say... "When in Rome, do as the Romals do."

what do you get when you cross an insomniac - With an elephant? Someone who doesn't sleep and can't forget about it.

Enough for now. Real content coming when I get a chance to catch my breath. I promise.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Doubt, Pride and Shame

A good writer doesn't give away the answers to the question too quickly. So, call me a hack.

I asked the question, "So, why don't we pray?" and I've already given you the answers that I've come up with right there in the title. Doubt, pride and shame. I thank those who offered their comments, which I believe fit into these three categories.

When I first started hashing this thought out in public, it was at Meg Logan's Blog. (Meg was away from the blogosphere for awhile, but is back at it again. I heartily recommend a trip over there.) But in one post on prayer, I mused about this subject and Meg, very bravely, admitted that her problem was doubt. It is very easy for us to doubt that our prayer will make any difference at all in the situation we pray about. Why is that? Because we've all prayed for something and not received what we prayed for. All of us. I've met no one who is batting 1.000 in the GWPF's (Getting What we Prayed For's). In fact, I'd say I know more people who are closer to .050 than to .500 in GWPF's.

So doubting is natural for us. Since we often think of prayer as a way of getting what we want instead of remembering that it is a way for us to want what God wants, we can get discouraged watching request after request go unanswered -- or at least not answered the way we want.

If we don't think something is going to "work" it becomes a less attractive way for us to spend our time. But prayer is not about getting God to change His mind, it's about molding us into the image of Christ Jesus. "Thy will be done" -- remember?

The mental image I use when explaining how prayer works is of a person in a rowboat holding a rope which is tied to the dock. By pulling on the rope, the dock is not brought closer to the boat. In fact just the opposite is true. Prayer is most effective when our will is brought into line with God's will. But the doubting mind keeps us from seeing the true purpose of prayer, and so drives us away from prayer. We may not really hate the idea of praying. We just can't find a pressing reason to make it necessary or even efficient.

Then comes pride. Pride makes us think that prayer is unnecessary because we can handle the tough stuff ourselves. Pride makes us believe that we're not in that bad shape. Pride says that we are rugged individualists who have no need for a crutch. Pride tells us that "God helps those who help themselves" yet forgets that this old saw is not taught in Scripture.

Oh, pride. It's just our own poor perception of ourselves taking action. It's usually more of a "male" thing, but it brings down plenty of females too. Urging us to "be strong" and to "deal with it" and the like. Funny how Jesus never had any real problem with being too proud to pray -- and I doubt we think we're stronger than Him!

We do so love to have a good opinion of ourselves. Self-actualization, self-worth, loving yourself before you can love others... the world tries to sell us that whole bill of goods daily. Scripture teaches something else entirely. And the Bible is full of examples of godly people who weren't too proud to come to their Creator.

Shame. There's a word we don't hear much anymore. I suppose it stems from the whole pride nonsense. But deep down we still have shame, even when the world tries to tell us we shouldn't. And that shame can get in the way of our relationship with Christ.

John and Martha have each sat down in a room together. This married couple hasn't spoken to one another since Martha was caught lying to cover up an adultrous relationship. John and Martha try to make small talk -- about the weather, the kids, work... but they are not alone. Also in the room is the 1200 pound gorilla they both seek to ignore, but which refuses to be ignored. How awkward and uncomfortable John and Martha each feel. Both are fully aware of the problem, but neither is willing to address it. They wish to avoid a confrontation.

I think it's that shame which drives many away from prayer. We are fully aware that God knows our sinful hearts. He knows what we shouted at the person at the coffee shop yesterday. He knows what we were fantasizing about the attractive young person in the next car at the stoplight. He knows that we're so self-absorbed that our efforts at a relationship with Him are superficial at best. And since we know that HE knows all that, we wish to avoid the confrontation.

I'm not big on confrontations myself, but even more I hate having the gorilla in the room. Many years ago there was a young lady I worked with who had a problem with something I did. I heard through the grapevine that she was upset with me, but whenever I went to her to discuss it, she left the room at breakneck speed. She hid in her office with the door shut. She sneaked out of work via the side door at an unexpected time. All this to avoid a confrontation which needed to be worked out. Running from confrontation seldom accomplishes anything but delaying the inevitable. Yet still many people run. By the same token, many run from prayer, too ashamed to go to God to get rid of the 1200 pound gorilla.

Now maybe I'm just being simplistic here. But I think prayer avoidance comes down to these three categories. Again, not having time is just an excuse. Claiming to not know what to pray or how to pray or even not knowing we should pray are childish rationalizations meant to make ourselves feel better about snubbing Almighty God. It's back to doubting in prayer or God's ability to answer prayer, being too proud to ask for help, and feeling too much shame to come to the One we continue to sin against.

But isn't understanding the reason for our running a step toward getting that prayer life on track? I'm challenging you and me both to deal with the reason why we don't pray, then let God put it as far away as the east is from the west, and get back to a deepened relationship with our Savior and Lord.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

So... Why Don't We Pray?

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There's a scene at the end of the movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (or the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the movie with Gene Wilder, not the creepy version with Johnny Depp which I didn't bother to see. But I digress...) In this scene, Charlie has been told he has won the grand prize, and he, Grandpa Joe, and Wonka get into the great glass elevator (Wonkavator, technically). The small passenger compartment has hundreds of buttons to press, each one corresponding to a different room in the factory.

Anyway, ol' Mr. Wonka tells Charlie something to the effect of, "You know, Charlie, I've pushed every button in this elevator except one. And I want you to press it now." So Charlie hits the button and the Wonkavator shoots out the top of the shaft and becomes a tiny, glass-encased hovercraft. Then there's the happy ending, and so on and so on. But I always found it odd that this eccentric candy-maker who could do pretty much whatever he wanted to do had actually tried everything but one little button on the elevator.

Why wouldn't he have pressed it at some point? In my mind, I've concocted all kinds of scenarios as to why Wonka kept his mitts off that button. Perhaps it would have given away some sort of secret about his identity to the public, or aroused the interest of his competitor, Slugworth. Certainly there must have been a good reason. Right? It's a perfectly good button. It seemed to work just fine. Why not use it?

Fantasies about chocolate-makers and oompa-loompas aside, I've found there's a button that many Christians seem reluctant to press as well. The prayer button.

Apparently it's not a new phenomenon. James chides the readers of his letter that "You do not have because you do not ask God." Or in the Wonka version, "You do not have because you never press the button." So, why don't we pray?

I don't buy the argument that we don't have time or that we don't know what to pray for or that we don't know we should pray. I've used all those excuses many times and I know they are nothing but empty excuses stuffed with rationalization. We know we're supposed to pray. To paraphrase the New Testament, even the heathen know that! Most times we know what we are to pray for. Needs and people come to our minds and to our attention often. I've even caught myself thinking, "I need to pray for that family," only to let it slide from my attention. And I know we're all incredibly busy, but there is always time to pray if we make the time.

So why don't we ever make the time? Why don't we follow through? Why do we leave prayer as the button we never press, the weapon in the arsenal we never deploy?

I want to explore that problem this week. In the meantime, help me out by offering your own experiences, excuses and explanations as well as those of others you know in the comments section here. Thanks!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thinking About the 4th

Wow, what a busy week! I'm finally getting caught up around here, but there have been so many things rumbling through my gray matter that it's going to take a while to get it all fleshed out. Plus there's a worship service to prepare for today, so I'll regale you with a rerun. I actually posted this back in January, but it's much more appropriate this weekend.

I posted a couple of days ago about the way the minds of so many American Christians link patriotism and Christianity as almost one and the same. This was an extension of my July 4th post about the American flag's presence on church property. Anyway, in the comments section, Bob of gratitude and hoopla pointed out,
I hear all the time from people who have mistakenly equated Christianity with Americanism. It sounds foolish to our ears, perhaps, but where did they get that idea? Did we give it to them? I think the answer is yes, unfortunately. We have to work at correcting this misunderstanding, for we bear that responsibility. I thank God for my country, but it does seem that we American evangelicals are far too "at home in this world".
Now I can argue that personally, I didn't give these people that idea, but I realize that Bob was using "we" to refer to Christians in general, especially teachers and preachers. But the responsibility to correcting this misunderstanding falls on me and upon all who are reading this. So how do we do it? How do we get people to see that Christian does not equal American? Here are a few ideas:

(1) Get the American flag off of church property. We don't have to fly flags, right? And flying the American (or Canadian or whichever) flag forces us to put Christianity and patriotism on the same level, or if both flags are on one pole it's the Christian flag which is pushed to the bottom. You can't tell me that the symbolism isn't noticed at one level or another by the general population. I went off on that topic

(2) Preach about Christian sacrifice. What should we be willing to give up for Christ? Think about this: Almost every church in America has people sitting in the pews who would gladly lay down their lives for their country, but who wouldn't in a million years give up their lives for God. You know it's true.

(3) Along with that idea, preach about the advantages of being a Christian. Those who would die for their country realize that they want the advantages of being an American to be available to others. They will give their lives so that others can continue to enjoy those benefits. But do most people understand the advantages of being a Christian? Aside from being "fire insurance", what about the value here on earth -- peace which passes all understanding, hope, strength, faith, etc. Does the average person in the good ol' U. S. A. know about these things? I'd bet not. Perhaps the idea of Christian sacrifice wouldn't seem so foreign if we realized the benefits we're already using.

(4) Teach priorities. Do not denegrate this country. It's a great country. I'm sure Canada is fantastic too. But this is not our home. Our first priority is to our Creator and Savior.

(5) Don't allow anyone to inject "America" into the Scriptures. I've heard so many people interpret
2 Chronicles 7:14 as applying to the United States, yet in context the promise to "heal the land" is for the nation of Israel. Americans are not the "people who are called by my name". Not that we shouldn't humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, but the promise is not for America.

At least those are my ideas. Feel free to argue any of them or suggest more. But a clear teaching of Scripture is needed to give a clear understanding that we are called to be Christians before we consider our home country. I argued in
my last post that we are to be Christians before we are doctors or fathers or any other role we fulfill. Being a Christian first makes us better doctors and better fathers and so on. In the same way, making sure Christ is our first priority will make us better citizens, and it will put God solely on the throne as He deserves.