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On Vacation from May 14 through May 22

Hi there:
I'm on vacation from May 14 - May 22. I'll return to my postings on Monday, May 24 (and church on Sunday, May 23). Til next time...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 20:1-16

As I’ve mentioned several times in my blog over the years, I am an individual whose approach toward dealing with the world was to adopt something called “The Best Little Boy in the World” approach. What this means is that because of my low self-esteem, I thought that if I presented an image to the world of having it all together (i.e. being perfect), that other folks would HAVE to love me. Once they loved me, THEN I could think about beginning to love myself.

While most folks might think such an approach was flawed, I didn’t. I believed in that approach heart and soul! And on the surface, it seemed to work for many years. I did everything within my power to be perfect, and I won lots and lots of accolades and awards. It seemed as if most folks loved me.

Those signs of love and support from others meant I should have loved myself a great deal, right?

Wrong.

Instead, I because obsessed with maintaining the fa├žade of perfection. I could never, never, NEVER enjoy the accolades or feelings of being loved. Instead, I spent most of my time worrying about whether I could keep it up. I worried that if I slipped up - even once – that someone might discover I wasn’t perfect after all; thereby causing others to quit loving me. That was how sick my thinking was!

So what was the pivotal turning point in my recovery from this flawed way of thinking?

My personal experience of God’s grace. That grace helped me discover that I was loved to the core of my being exactly how I was. That sense of being truly loved was nothing short of transformative for me. Everything – and I mean everything – changed once I realized that simple truth.

It breaks my heart when I go into the world now and see others who have not yet come to this realization: others who struggle with perfectionism and the sense that either they (or others) have to be perfect in order to be loved. I can usually spot such folks in a second because they are HYPER-critical of themselves and others. Sadly, most folks around such people misinterpret the motivation behind their critical nature and respond to the individual by lashing out – something that only fuels the individual’s insecurity and makes matters worse for everyone involved.

So what’s the antidote for breaking this cycle of individual and communal misery?

The antidote – at least in my experience – is found toward the beginning of today’s passage from Acts. In his journey from Ephesus to Macedonia we are told the following about Paul: “Traveling through the country, passing from one gathering to another, [Paul] gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.”

The antidote is encouragement.

Today, when you encounter someone who is lashing out at the world due to their own pain and frustration, I encourage you to break the cycle and meet their negativity with the most surprising response of all –encouragement. Those words will allow you to leave behind feelings of anger and bitterness, and replace them with the most important feeling of all: hope.

Til next time…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 19

Eight years ago I had the opportunity to be a part of a memorable panel at the University of Northern Colorado. The featured speakers on the panel were individuals from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS.

For those of you who may not know, this is the church whose pastor – Fred Phelps – makes a practice of picketing the funerals of US servicemen and servicewomen because he feels the US has brought judgment upon itself for embracing the homosexual lifestyle. In between public protests, Mr. Phelps also operates an infamous website known as www.godhatesfags.com.

As I sat on the panel that evening listening to Mr. Phelps’s two sons represent the church and its beliefs, I was reminded of today’s passage from the 19th chapter of Acts. In this passage, we hear about exorcists who try to use Jesus’ name to cast out evil spirits. In the middle of one such attempt, the spirit cried out, “I know Jesus and I’ve heard of Paul, but who are you?” That statement credited to the possessing spirit is a wonderful reminder that just because someone claims to represent God doesn’t necessarily mean they do.

Now I want to be careful and make one thing clear here. I try my very best in life not to go down the path of saying, “So and so is not a Christian” because of their positions. That is indeed a dangerous road to go down. I do, however, think that it is fair to see what sort of things one’s actions accomplish in God’s name. For instance, it’s fair to ask, “Do one’s words and actions increase the loving and healing presence of God – helping usher in the reign of God; or do one’s words and actions decrease the presence of a loving and healing God?” That – I believe - is a fair question.

As you go forth today into a world where many are quick to claim the name of God for all sorts of purposes, remember that it takes much more than a claim to live in right relation with God and God’s creation.

Til next time…

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 18

As some of you know, I taught in a juvenile corrections center for 6 years in the 1990’s. I loved the experience a great deal and accumulated many memories from that period of my life. One of those memories involved a group of kids who were locked up in the detention center who had come into Spokane, WA from Compton, CA.

Spokane is a community that is primarily white. The kids from Compton were African American. Needless to say, it wasn’t the easiest situation for the kids from Compton to be in.

During their stay, I had the opportunity to bring a guest speaker to spend time with the kids – a man by the name of Ron Simms who was running for the US Senate in the state of Washington. Ron happened to be the first African-American to run for statewide office.

I thought Ron would be an amazing resource for the kids from Compton. And yet throughout Ron’s entire time in the classroom, the kids were completely detached from Ron and at times were downright hostile. We made it through Ron’s presentation. Ron politely shook the kids’ hands and left.

I was completely frustrated and blurted out, “How could you have been so disrespectful to Ron?” I was convinced the experience had been a complete waste of time. And then the most interested conversation ensued. It started with one of the kids asking, “Why are you upset? No one else cares about what we do so why should you?”

Those questions allowed me to open up and connect with the students in ways that I had been unable to do before. An experience that I thought had been a total waste of time turned out to be a rich experience.

The apostle Paul had a similar experience in today’s reading from Acts where he thought an effort he had made (the effort to go to Corinth) had completely failed. Just as he was about to write off the Corinthians, the passage tells us Paul encountered Crispus (the meeting place president) and Crispus “put his trust in the Master”.

Paul’s story reminds us of the danger of writing something off too soon. Something we might consider a complete failure in one moment might turn out to be something of great value or tremendous worth in another moment.

Perhaps there is a part of your life that you are on the verge of writing off – an area that you see as a complete failure. If so, don’t be afraid to step back for a moment and look at the area from another vantage point. You just might see powerful consequences coming out of that “failed” endeavor.

Til next time…

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Acts 17

This past January I had the privilege of starting a confirmation class at Woodland Hills Community Church. The group spent the first couple months of the year exploring the Bible and Christian history.

We are just now starting a section of the class that will deal with theology. I absolutely LOVE helping folks explore theology.

Why do I love exploring theology so much?

Because I think helping people explore their beliefs about God is an incredibly rewarding endeavor. Through this process I can help people get in touch with all sorts of hidden assumptions they have made over the years about God and create safe space for folks to either continue holding those assumptions or give themselves permission to let go of those assumptions as they explore new possibilities.

There is one thing that I always share with folks that I believe is fundamental to doing theological exploration with integrity. I sum up that position by saying: “Before we go any further it’s important to always remember there is a difference between God - and our beliefs about God.”

Lots of times people will ask why I say that.

I say that because we have to have a sense of humility so that we never forget not one of our minds can contain the full essence and truth of God. So while we can come to conclusions about God based upon our limited thoughts and limited experiences, we can never capture the fullness of God within our limited minds.

So why am I sharing my theological assumptions with folks not in my confirmation class?

I do so to capture a sense of balance with the sentiments Paul expressed in today’s passage from Acts. In that passage, Paul – who was speaking to an intellectual crowd of Greek – noted that he had found “the god nobody knows”. He goes on to talk about this god with a sense of knowing.

If I had been next to Paul when he was delivering the address, I would have tugged on his robe and whispered in his ear, “While we can know parts of God, make sure you say that we can’t know all of this God. Otherwise, we might run the risk of worshipping a god who is the product of our limited minds. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

Today, I invite you to consider your own theological assumptions about God. Do you believe you – a finite, limited creature – can know the fullness of God in all God’s manifestations; or do you believe that you – a finite, limited create – can know portions of the infinite and unlimited Source of all being? How you answer that question will largely determine the way in which you carry yourself.

Til next time…