Monday, March 29, 2010

Random thoughts

I had traveled to a distant Texas town over the weekend and got the chance to talk at long length to a type of person that I normally wouldn't find myself engaged in conversation with. He, in many ways, reminded me of my younger years. What I saw was a decent guy who seemed to have absolutely no sense of purpose in his life. He knew there was a right and wrong but was content not to worry about why it existed so long as he could keep chasing the pot of gold at the end of his rainbow. Until he found it, he would keep chasing the skirt of the woman in front of him. I was reminded that to have a blind or empty faith is as pointless as having no faith at all.

When I got home from my trek across the state, I decided it was time that I changed the oil in my car. It was way overdue and I still had some time left in the day, so I pulled the car up on the ramps, drained the dirty old oil from my car and replaced it with new, clean oil. Since we're supposed to recycle our used oil, I funnelled it back into the oil jug. I had some space in the jug left over and I remembered that I had an open container of used motor oil that I had kept on my back porch the prior year to lube my chainsaw. As I began to pour that oil into my jug, a big lump coalesced in the bottom of the container. On closer examination, I saw that it was a bird... and that bird's nest. I remember seeing a big splash of oil on my back porch last year, but I didn't realize the bird had fallen into the oil container and died. Apparently, the bird had built a nest just above the oil container and had seen the oil and thought it was a water birdbath. She went for a dip and then got covered with oil, so she couldn't fly. Her flailing knocked her nest into the oil, drowning her eggs and herself. It was kinda sad.

All my life I have been an "idea man". I've always looked at things and wondered "What if..." I consider that my gifting, my raison d'etre, so to speak. But I seem to see things so differently than the rest of the world, it's sometimes a bit discouraging that so few other people seem to give a rat's ass about my ideas. Well, tomorrow someone's giving me their ear. And not just anyone, but someone who can actually help my idea come to fruition. Maybe it'll be like all the other opportunities gone by the wayside, but at the risk of sounding like the 30 something that never found a mate, I'd like to think that this opportunity will be "the one". I'm certain that God has given me this odd brain for a reason, and I'm also certain that there's a reason why things happen the way they do, so I don't begrudge past "failures" if you will. I'm just ready for a success.

A while back, my good friend Rina introduced me to a book written by an Indian doctor/philosopher named Depak Chopra. In the brief amount of information that I have gleened from Chopra, some amazing new paradigms have formed in my brain. He speaks, for instance, of our cells and DNA - the essence and base building block of who we are as people - essentially being a story book of our lives, containing information about our past and our present and our predispositions of our future. From the study of these cells and DNA structures, scientists can often tell people what areas of one's genetics are weak and susceptible to disease. Chopra's basic assertion is that while our parents birth us with a copy of their DNA, we are continually in the process of writing our DNA with our lives. Thus, if we make a major life change, our DNA can actually change. This statement, to me, is congruent with the process of spiritual re-birth - a born again religious conversion, a revelation which can fundamentally alter someone's viewpoint on just about everything. It also backs up the statement of the Bible that says "the sins of the father are visited on the third and fourth generation, but the mercy of the Lord is everlasting." Negative patterns of behaviour do indeed often last for several generations, but the hope that I find in this scientific research is that the DNA predisposition towards these negative behaviours can actually shift when someone makes a conscious and meaningful decision to see things differently and align their lives accordingly. Thanks for the book recommend, Rina. I hope your back is feeling better.

Well, as I said earlier, I am hopeful that tomorrow might be "the day" that this lifetime of dry ideas ends. I should get some rest for it. If you're so inclined to pray for things like this, I could use the favor of the Lord on my life right now. I will covet your prayers.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I am blessed

Sometimes I'm blessed with the opportunity to just sit back and think about how many ways that I've been granted a wonderful life. Often times that opportunity comes when I get the chance to tell part of "my story" and I get to reflect on where I've come from and where I am today. Time has brought many people into and out of my life, in various capacities. Some were there in my youth, some in my early adulthood, and some are here now. Others have come, gone, and come back into my life. Regardless of when, the tapestry of experience that they all have brought to me is invaluable and beautiful.

Some have taught me what to avoid, while others have taught me how to overcome that which I am trapped in. Some have helped me to uncover just who I am while others have taught me who I am not and should not be. Some have given me a reason to cry for them and others have given me their shoulder as a means to transfer some of my burdens to them. Some have been the model of sacrificial love to me.

I am humbled by the people whom have come into my life. Humbled by the undeserved love that I have been shown, and humbled by my opportunities to share my life with them, and by the respect that I have been given. I have no question that there is a God, because I have seen him work through people in my life.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Empty Religion

Caution: This is a spiritual blog entry...

Philippians 3:17 Brothers, be imitators together of me, and mark those who walk this way, for you have us for a pattern.

Those words were penned by the apostle Paul to the early church of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago.

There is a temptation among those in the church to deify the apostles and other biblical figures - or at least make them into mythological super humans. When Paul wrote that the people of Philippi should be imitators of him, he was urging them to adopt the level of belief, faith and trust that he had come to know in the Creator. He wanted them to live their lives in accordance with those beliefs. Fast forward 2000 years. A typical church service today will spend an hour trying to convince "Christians" that if they don't start living their lives differently, the "non-believers" will not come to know Christ and will spend an eternity in hell. They see the great commission as some sort of traveling Lincoln-Douglas debate in which evidence is mounted on one side to counter the evidence of the other side. At the end of the debate, the non-believing foe will either concede defeat or will somehow manage to present evidence that the believer was unprepared to defend against, and the believer will concede that the unbeliever has "rejected God". Then this pseudo great commission goes on, and another debate partner (potential convert) must be found. In this scenario, the believer's mission is to get the non-believer to admit that Jesus really did live, really was God, and if he prays a prayer that says he believes in Jesus, he's "saved", an event which, depending upon which church the evangelist/debater belongs to, may or may not be able to be undone...and the new convert will now be assured a spot in heaven. God forbid the non-believer actually be allowed to present evidence that's compelling and thought provoking, causing the believer to want to examine it. That's very dangerous, as faith is fragile and the words of our religious leaders should not be challenged lest the people be deceived.

Such is the church as I see it today. Totally detached from what the Lord Jesus was teaching - encouraging neither a true relationship with him nor a seeking heart after the truth. Instead we are told that "when we can walk on water, we would be allowed to do some of the things that Jesus did". Or we are told of our arrogance if we claim to be, like King David, living a life after God's heart, because no one can really do that until we "reach the other side in glory".

My main contention is that the whole concept of salvation has been bastardized and grossly twisted. It should be quite simple. To "believe in Jesus" is no different than somebody today asking you to believe in them. To trust in Jesus is no different than someone today asking you to trust them. The idea that salvation is an intellectual exercise that can be debated into existence is ridiculous and misguided. To trust in Jesus means nothing more than to examine what he taught, said, and did and believe it based upon the same means that we would evaluate whether or not to trust anyone else in the world. Test his message, test his statements, test his character. One simply CANNOT do that without knowing what his message is. To claim trust without doing so would merely be blind faith and blind faith in anyone or anything is unwise. Salvation, as I see it, is not when someone prays a prayer or says some words, or avows some historical facts. Salvation to me is when a person finally realizes that creator God is indeed trustworthy and they decide to submit their will and ways of understanding to the ways of God, even if they don't make sense at first. Even if they don't know of Jesus, salvation occurs when a person of any faith comes to humble their pride and submit in full to the creator God that is behind the rituals and regulations that their faith encourages them to practice (so long as those rituals actually reveal God's character). This is a way of being, a lifestyle. And while the decision to submit one's life may occur in an instant the experience of proving it out through personal testing cannot be taken away nor can it be debated away, because it is something that develops bit by bit over time. It is not some silly script from a biblical scholar.

Paul encouraged people to act like him. We are told that to say a similar thing would be arrogant and completely out of line. But I tell you that those "Christians" who cannot say to you that you should act like them (and believe it in their hearts) are liars and do not know the God that they say they have a relationship with. They use the cloak of imperfection as an excuse to remain lazy and unaffected by God. They claim that Paul was a superhuman man of faith and we will never achieve his stature - after all, he did write half the New Testament Bible. This cop out is a damnable lie and encourages people to declare and proselytise a faith in a God-spirit that they indeed do not possess.

I want people to act like me. I've spent a number of years proving the gospel, and I now know that the laws of God are good laws, designed not for punishment, but for order, not for restriction, but for safe boundaries in freedom. The faith that I have in my God is not blind faith. I have read the words of Jesus and have tested them in my own life. They are true. Following them brings me peace, even in the midst of extremely difficult times. I have not become perfect, and I do not desire to deify myself - that's not what this is about. I do seek forgiveness, however, when I know I've wronged someone. I do not try to gain at the expense of others bit if I do, I seek to make it right. I want people to do these things. I want them to know the freedom that I know. I want them to seek the God that I have sought, and find his peace and direction for their life, and to know the depths of love that he has for us.

When I believe in, and live out (submit to) the message and teachings of Jesus, God is lifted up and draws men unto himself. THAT is the great commission. People come to God because they have seen his work in my life and want the same for their own. Not because I'm a compelling orator...not because I'm a good debater and can wow people with my facts...not because I'm something "special"...but because they can see the evidence of change in my own life. They can see the power and hope in my own life. Any other reason for coming to a declaration of faith is misguided, built on a sandy foundation, and doomed to fail.

I want you to be like me. If you claim to be a person of faith, ask yourself the question "Can I say that about myself?" If you can't, why not? Perhaps its merely a misunderstanding of the faith that you're trying to represent. Put away your list of do's and don'ts and check the condition of your heart. Do you submit yourself to the teachings of Jesus Christ because you realize that those teachings ARE life? If you do, then you have found salvation. If you don't, if you don't trust him, then no matter what words you have said, what aisle you have walked, what prayer you have prayed, you have nothing but empty religion.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

As one political cycle has just gone and the primaries for the next are now being held, my mind, lately, has been focused on freedom - what it is, and what it isn't - and why the founders of my country worked so hard to ensure that the role of our government was largely limited to guarantying the freedom of its citizens.

It is human nature to seek to deny others their own freedom. One need not look too hard to see the examples of this. The obvious examples of slavery, the sex-trade, and ruthless dictators come quickly to mind. But lest we point our condemnatory finger of blame at others while washing our own hands in innocence, let's consider some other ways that we deny freedom in socially acceptable ways.

I've spoken many times about my own experiences with religion. I was raised in a church-going family and have been active in my faith from the time I was four years old. I attended a Christian elementary school, a Christian college, and a Christian seminary. During that time there was never a shortage of well meaning people who were quick to point out when my actions were offending God. They presumed to know what was gonna piss God off and what was gonna be pleasing to him and they were sure going to get me straightened out lest I take the wrong path and spend my eternity in hell. Some would even quote bible verses to make sure I knew that their words were actually emanating from God's lips himself. They would tell me what to eat and drink, what to wear, what to listen to, how to keep my hair, how to worship, what emotions I could feel, who I should tell my "sins" to, what words were acceptable and which were not, what to think, what not to study, who to talk to and who to avoid. They even told me how to think politically and which way that I should cast my vote. Frankly, there isn't an area of my life that they did not try and control. It did not make me a loving follower of a kind God, it made me into a judgemental, arrogant, condescending, blind and soulless follower of a rigid rulebook that could not be challenged. This being all I knew about God, I was controlled and made a slave to my "good" religious mentors in the hope of escaping a damnable life in hell. Worse than that, I was told that I needed to "convert" my friends and neighbors to believe the same way so that their souls could be spared.

It was not until I started speaking (actually listening) at length to people of other religions that my eyes were opened to a central truth that seems to escape most. God is. Yeah, I suppose I should have already known that, since he called himself "I AM". But God is. He's there in the midst of the Muslim who seeks his face and there in the midst of the Buddhist who may have never heard of Jesus, yet still seeks to know and merge with "the source" of all that is good and right and full of life. His character can be identified in Hindu mythology, seen clearly in their scriptures, and witnessed in practice through the great servant leadership of Gandhi. God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. Yet despite being found in all religions, like the modern Christian church, each of these other religions contain vast leadership structures that widely twist Him and make discipleship more about following a rigid set of rituals than about seeking the spirit of the God who is behind those rituals. Truly, as Jesus said, wide is the path that leads to destruction but narrow is the path that leads to life and few shall find it. People the world over are more interested in controlling others according to their own perceptions, desires, convictions, and beliefs than they are in encouraging freedom and teaching people to seek after the spirit of God for their own life. In the end, what suffers is the relationship with God. It becomes tainted by rigidity and people end up rejecting Him - when they should instead be rejecting the religious systems. We can control a person's behaviour through threats and force, but only through voluntary submission does a person's heart change.

Yeah, let's bring this on home. I've talked to a lot of people over the years about relationships. If there's one thing that I see that negatively affects a relationship more than anything else, it's one partner desiring to control the other. Manipulation schemes can be overt or covert, direct or passive-aggressive, but the end result is that one person usually wants to force the other person to be or feel differently than they currently are and is willing to go to extreme measures to make sure that it happens.
"Love me, damnit! Or I'll make your life miserable!"
Sounds kinda silly, but how true is it?? A woman is caught flirting so the husband responds by scrutinizing her phone records then sequesters her from other men so she'll be true to her husband and her heart will be his only. Really?? A man has wandering eyes so the spouse quickly cancels their internet service so he won't be "tempted" to look at porn. This way his heart will be true to his wife. Really?? A significant other decides to have lunch with a friend of the opposite sex and is subsequently put on a short leash so that they can be closely monitored.

If the end result is to have a person that we love, love us back, none of these things work. There is not a person in the world that becomes trustworthy by not being trusted. There is not a person in the world that falls more deeply in love with another because they are told they must. Just like with religion: We can control a person through threats and force, but only through freedom - voluntary submission - does one obtain another's heart. Anything else is just fake and pretentious. Is that what we desire? The human soul not only desires freedom, it will have it. The question is only when and how will it be obtained?

Freedom is so misunderstood. People think that if you give someone else freedom, they will run amok and abuse it. While that might indeed be true with some people, I would much rather be in the company of a person who tells me to my face that they hate me than to be in the company of those who stroke my ego while wielding a knife behind their back. There's an old saying that if you love something you should set it free. If it doesn't come back it was never yours to begin with. While that may be cliched, there is nothing more true. Putting it into action simply requires a huge amount of faith in something higher than us to begin with. Something that has a plan for us and will not abandon us regardless what circumstances life deals us. Faith that we actually possess value in and of ourselves. Faith that we will not be abandoned or forsaken or without purpose. It is likely that lack of faith that causes us to take things into our own hands and try to control our circumstances and the people around us to begin with. True change may be affected from without, but it only happens from within.