Monday, December 15, 2008

living with your death date (part 1)

i'm a little morbid i suppose. for me, it seems that the only way to really live a focused life in the present is to come to grips with my future death. maybe that's true for you too.

an average child sees 8,000 murders on TV by the time they reach middle school. but the death of real people, and our own in particular, seems surreal. shouldn't technology and medical advances have figured death out by now? unfortunately, the internet pharmacy in our spam folder doesn't stock the meds needed to fix the whole dying problem.

i couldn't help but bike in the mountains here in pasadena. last sunday i had my first real mountain biking "incident." it wasn't that big of a front wheel got stuck and i flipped over the handlebars. i was thankful for my helmet because my head was the first to hit the dirt. i know there are many worse stories, but i realized that i could have just as easily flipped over the edge of a cliff.

moses at the end of his life reflected in a prayer to Yahweh, "teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom" (psalm 90:12.) and the existential teacher in ecclesiastes writes, "it is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. for you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time" (ecc. 7:1).

of course older people think this way, but can young people? i've often wondered how i could remind myself often about my own death. i finally came up with a simple way in the form of a bunch of little boxes. here it is as a pdf or as a publisher file. or on

Life Months Blank

there are eighty boxes on the page, each with twelve months. at the beginning of each month, i scratch off a month and reflect on my dreams, goals, etc. it was a crazy feeling scratching off more than one-third of my life when i first did this! i was thankful that i follow jesus the messiah when it comes to my life and death because my death is getting closer!

i know this is not the most graphically appealing way, so help me out if you're graphically inclined. :) but try it out and let me know what affect it has on your mindset after a few months.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

lego martians and the environment

i don't know what's happening in my head. my son caleb bought a lego set the other day with his birthday money. the set includes a white "mission to mars" vehicle for humans and a black martian spaceship which is loaded with weapons. a couple years ago, i wouldn't have thought twice about it, but now that's just not the case.

as i looked more closely at the set, i noticed that the human vehicle, as innocent as it looked, was actually a mining vehicle. the picture on the box had the humans mining the surface of mars and the martians flying overhead.

all of the sudden a flash of craziness hit me. why should the humans get to mine the resources of mars and take it back to earth? the martians are just defending their world from human resource theft! :)

i recently read the national intelligence council's "Global Trends 2025." a key insight of that global futurist document is that the scarcity of natural resources such as oil, water and food is going to cause global unrest and even major wars in the near future. another stat i recently saw was that if all the world lived the middle-class american lifestyle, the earth would be a wasteland in just a couple years. 

i wonder if i was thinking a little too much about these kinds of things when i looked at those legos.

am i going off the deep end? maybe i'm spending too much time in the books. what do you think? does humanity have trouble using the earth's resources well? what do you see happening when/if we run out of natural resources?

Friday, August 22, 2008

st. patrick on mowing grass and dirty diapers

i don't know, maybe it's just my stage of life with kids, or maybe it's the historic cultural shift that Western culture is in right now :) ....but i often wonder, what does Jesus have to do with hanging out with my kids and changing dirty diapers? or how about moving the lawn? does Christian spirituality enter at all into the regular grind of life?

last fall i read a biography on st. patrick. you know, that green dude from ireland who loved four leaf clovers. :) actually, this guy's turned out to be my new hero (although i'm not sure i had an 'old'). you can't help but idolize a guy who gets a vision showing him how to escape from slavery....executes the escape plan....then once free, goes back to the people that ripped him from his wealthy home to tell them the good news about Jesus the true King. what a guy!

i found a written prayer attributed to st. patrick called the lorica (breastplate) of st. patrick. even though i've never used written prayers before, this prayer has been foundational for me during the past eight months. i've used it to center myself first thing in the morning when i am really grumpy (to use a kind word) from not sleeping much (our young kids don't sleep much....but it's getting better!)

it starts like this..."i rise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity"

i've been seeing more and more how the Trinity is key for understanding our identity as humans. the Trinity is the foundation for community, relationships and sexuality, not to mention the reason for creation itself. i usually don't think much about God as Trinity when I pray. now i do.

"i rise today through the strength of heaven, light of the sun, splendor of fire..."

this is where the dirty diapers come in. somehow, st. patrick was able to see God in nature and in everyday things like fire and wind...and others added beer. st. brigid's praise hymn includes dreaming of having enough beer - a lake full - to be a worthy of sharing with Jesus the king. the celts in general were known for this. (i just picked up a whole prayer book from their writings.)

for the past 500 years Western culture has dichotomized life into the "sacred" and the "secular," the "public" and the "private." in today's postmodern world, this split absolutely must be mended. st. patrick is helping me break out of it a bit. (and attitude toward beer might just be a theological indicator of how someone is doing with that sacred/secular, natural/supernatural, private/public schism :).

"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when i sit down."

physical spaces ("before," "behind," "beneath") are as much the domain of Jesus the Messiah as inward, personal convictions ("with," "in"). the amazing thing about the Christian God is that he is seated high above all things, outside even of the physical expanse of the universe, and he is also here, present in the everyday places of life. to the extent that i am aware of the presence of Christ in my day and in my physical space, i am living as a true christ follower.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

confessions of an complete and utter individualist

americans are lonely. just google "lonely americans" and see all the articles that come up. but, if you're an american, you probably don't need to google something to know what i'm talking about.

my MBTI personality type says that i'm a theorist, so let me theorize for a bit. (i don't think this will be anything ground-breakingly new, though.)

americans are the loneliest people on the planet because we have everything we could ever need and most things we want. we also live in individual houses usually with our nuclear family. if we have everything we need in our secure little and big houses, then we have no real reason to depend on anyone else. and what if reciprocal dependence on others is the cornerstone for practical relationships in everyday life?

if i have everything i need for everyday life in my house (or could go and buy something if i needed it), then relationships ultimately are optional. i can pick and choose who to relate too, when to break it off, whether i'll go out of my house or invite others in at all...or to put it another way: relationships are ultimately completely disposable and totally under my control.

if this is true then the path to true connections and relationships is not the bar scene or any other "scene" to meet new people, is not facebook, is not watching more movies with friends, is not being on the phone more, but is giving your stuff and money away so that you are forced to rely on others.

but how can americans, who were programmed from birth to give their whole life to the individual pursuit of happiness and wealth break out of this mindset?

when my family arrived at the apartment complex we're living in now, a family that was moving out gave us a toddler riding toy (like a little plastic bike). it was just the right size for our one and a half year old and had a handle to push bike from behind like a stroller. perfect for going on walks! we left the bike on the bike rack unchained only to find that a few days later it was moved to the apartment complex park around the corner. this happened several times and we found out later that some families from another country thought it was part of the apartment park toys.

but it was not there when I needed it. I had planned on using it and several times, I had to go without. this was given to US and, even though it was unused for 23.5 hours a day, I should have access to it when I want it.

i can't tell you the war in my mind with this little bike. should we now claim it and lock it up? put our name on it? what if another kid breaks it? then MY son won't have it anymore. (of course it was given to us in the first place.) but what about the joy that these other kids get from it? what am i teaching my kids if we lock it up now? and if i have such a great war over a free toddler toy, how will i ever be able to release larger things...cell phones, tools, cars, houses?

so my dilemma is this....i know in my heart that the sharing of things is the key to real community and relationships, but i have been programmed since birth to see THINGS as attached to INDIVIDUALS. that little bike is "MINE." i have no category for "OURS" with OURS extending beyond me and my nuclear family.

maybe this is all me? maybe not.

who will set us free from this program, or better, this operating system, that americans have been programmed with? how will we become dependent on others in ways that foster relationship without them being optional.

Friday, July 25, 2008

chicagoland versus LA-land

so we've been in pasadena, CA for over a month now! (can you believe that!) we've adjusted well and are thankful to have the chance to study here for a year.

i thought i'd write some of my observations about chicagoland (actually northwest indiana) and LA-land (actually pasadena.) forgive me for my generalizations, but in.....

Chicago - you say "cool"
LA - you say "right on"

Chicago - motto - "life in the fast lane"
LA - motto - "no worries"

Chicago - you race to get in line at the grocery store first
LA - you can ask to go in front of someone if you just have a couple items

Chicago -you buy cantaloupes by the item
LA - you buy cantaloupes by the pound. (never knew how much a cantaloupe weighed!)

Chicago - you cut people off and block them from getting on the expressway
LA - you're nice and let folks in (usually)

Chicago - same price for gas, cash or credit (why does the sign even say that?)
LA - gas is cheaper with cash (oh, that's why!)

Chicago - they're called police officers
LA - they're called peace officers

Chicago - traffic is always crazy
LA -traffic is crazy, but there's a carpool lane!

Chicago - the slug-bug game works because there aren't many around
LA - your arm would bruise from being hit so many times

Chicago - parents aren't always so nice to their kids in public
LA - parents are pretty laid back with their kids

Chicago - the state park trail sign reads "don't feed the raccoons or pigeons."
LA - the sign reads "don't worry- rattlesnakes don't usually bite."

Chicago – interstates are named by “I” and then the number. (I294)
LA – apparently, interstates have official titles. they are named with a “the” and then the number. (THE 210).

Chicago – sausage pizza (said with a short “a” on sausage. :)
LA – pepperoni pizza. i can’t find a sausage pizza in the frozen pizza section.

Chicago – i need a haircut ever six weeks
LA – i need a haircut every three weeks.

i feel like i'm forgetting some...i'll add them as they come to me....we love being in cali, but are chicagoan at heart! ;)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

unraveling ones

since before my first son was born, i have been experiencing an unraveling of sorts. maybe it's from the weight of knowing that i am raising a little one made in the very image of God. maybe because i was getting closer to age 30, when all the floodgates of unraveling seemed to open. here are questions from one unraveling....

~ is my life nothing more than the accumulation of stuff? is the point of my life to fill my house with more and more things, constantly in pursuit of the new?

~ why can no one tell me what the essence of masculinity is? when i ask white guys, i get everything from a dumb look to confused laughter to questions about whether i am being chauvinist. when i asked guys from Nigeria, they had a unified, concrete, respectful definition and identity as men.

~ why is it that i distrust doctors so much? i second guess everything they say. i want to check it out for myself. and i often come to conclusions without them.

~ why do i feel like i'm committing high treason by suggesting that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may not be IT?

~ why do the parenting methods of the previous generations feel so "un-me." why is that i can't do the whole cry-it-out philosophy, that seems so key to western parenting culture, as most everyone before me has?

~ what is the REAL essence of Christianity? why do i get the feeling when i read the scriptures that large parts of Jesus' teachings and God's ways have been left out.

~ should my kids call you Mr. Smith, Joe, or Mr. Joe?

~ why is it ok to live life as i do when poverty kills people daily?

~ what has happened to the Christian church? why is the building the church? why is christian culture becoming more and more odd to me?

~ why do we live with nuclear families in little boxes of houses lined up in square blocks? who made that up? many want closer relationships, yet you have to drive 30 minutes to talk with a friend in person.

~ why is it ok to knowingly use materials, products and goods that will destroy the environment after human consumption.

~ why do we continue to eat foods and have lifestyles that we know kill us. (some other cultures don't even have heart disease.) what drives us to carry on habits that lead to earlier death and increased health bills?

i know there are others unraveling too.

may the unraveling ones find that one end of the rope is firmly tied onto Jesus the king. may HE tie the threads back together in the way he sees fit. may we not unravel to the point of losing -HOPE-.

Friday, March 21, 2008

rob bell on speed

i was shocked recently to find out that only 25% of christian leaders finish well. (see bobby clinton's article on finishing well.) only one in four! of course everyone can name some of the obvious reasons....abuse of power, inappropriate sexual relationships, improper use of money, etc.

but how about this one...plateauing. running on old steam, failing to learn new things, staying in the same place too long - these are all symptoms of plateauing, and it's one of six reasons leaders fail to end well.

a key to avoiding the leadership plateau is reading to learn. i remember a camp director i worked under used to aways say, "readers are leaders." i thought he was being witty, but corny. now i see he is right.

now what if you don't like to read? lots of people don't now. we're used to fast-paced video, split second information gathering, and being connected to our ipods all day. i have a solution that just might fit....listening to talks/lectures/sermons at a fast-paced tempo on an mp3 player.

i found that this company (i should see if i can get a cut of any referrals :) sells mp3 players that have a feature called "tempo." not play speed, where your sermon or audio book speaker sounds like chipmunk, but tempo....increasing the speed without affecting pitch. pretty cool, eh? i've been using one for a year now and i love it. i can listen to a message and cut off 1/3 of the original time. (maybe i like it because i talk fast and i'm just making the world like me ;)

what should you listen to? well, that's totally up to you. you could listen to barack obama's speech on race. (i haven't listened to it yet.) you could listen to mark driscoll if you don't mind a little abrasiveness or rob bell if you don't mind a little nebulousness. (that's a real word!) NT Wright has some good lectures online. or if you like john piper, some of his stuff is here. (you like how i'm listing the spectrum? :) my personal favorite is listening to dead guys like A.W. Tozer or C.H. Spurgeon. at least you can guarantee that they ended well and have something good to say. my favorite talks of all time are on my blog.

who else do you like to listen to?

so now i've given you one more reason you can use that drive time or time spent on an exercise bike to keep away from from that scary plateau.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

the church of stop shopping

i first read about the church of stop shopping on christianity today's out of ur blog. i love satire, so i couldn't help but love this church. but it's not a church at all. they have a "Reverend" and a "Choir" and they use the format of a "church meeting" to send a message: "Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir believe that Consumerism is overwhelming our lives." their website is complete with a place to confess your consumerists sins and receive "forgiveness." they recently released a film, What Would Jesus Buy?

dave swanson on the out of ur blog poses some serious questions for christians:
"How is it that the Reverend Billy, who places himself outside the Christian faith, is one of the most intriguing and possibly prophetic voices regarding the affects of rampant consumerism in our culture today? Shouldn’t the church in America be the one proclaiming this reality?"


but i think it's true. this past christmas season, i had strange images of pulling a "jesus in the temple thing" at target. and i felt like i was committing high treason when i suggested to my wife that we don't buy as many gifts for ourselves and our kids and instead buy some livestock for a family in an underprivileged country. i mean, we need to keep buying things or else our country is going to go into recession! that's message i hear all too often.

our congress is debating an economic stimulus package to put more money in american's wallets. if we put more money into american's wallet's, aren't we just continuing the consumerism that got us into our mess in the first place? i have a feeling that most folks will be more likely to buy that new HD TV that we "need to buy" to keep up with the standards than pay off a month of two of mortage payments.

a recent poll (albeit an unscientific one) found that american evangelical christians put the economy as more important than abortion, immigration, war, poverty, and traditional marriage in the upcoming presidential election. (See poll here). what does that say about our real values as christians in america?

now i'm as confused as anyone about what the alternative would be. i love my tech goodies, and admit i love them too much. and i bet that the people in the church of stop shopping still have cell phones and laptops and cable TV. maybe not.

maybe it's in the small steps. we did end up reducing our gifts and had a blast discussing as a family what animals would best serve people in another country. (we settled on buying a sheep and a flock of ducks in case you were wondering.) my wife and i are discussing what kind of housing would best steward our money and time. i'm beginning to feel that a single family house is fairly wasteful. (are there even other options?) a guy in my grad classes started a very useful website called where you can list stuff that you want to give away to others and also get free stuff you need. very cool.

may those that call themselves jesus-followers lead the way not only in bringing attention to the things that destroy us, but also in pointing the way to a practical new road to live on.

Friday, January 11, 2008

shotgun jesus

a few months ago a neighbor invited me to go shooting with him out on one of his friends' farms. i've never shot a gun before and i have always wanted to try shooting a real gun. more than anything, i'm always looking for ways to connect with neighbors and build relationships with people outside of christian subculture, so i said yes.

it was fun. really, really fun. except for the huge bruise that developed on my arm the day after, it was a really great time. (i should have known to not try out that 3.5in shell in the shotgun!) shooting the clay pigeons with a shotgun was my favorite by far. i thought i had pretty good aim for a first-timer.

i was studying in romans 5-8 recently. i've been wrestling with how my understanding of the christian life is really framed differently than the jesus-life talked about in romans 5-8. i wonder if it's because i make jesus into a shotgun for sin. my life is like the trap that shoots the clay pigeons of sin and jesus is the shotgun that shoots them down. and no doubt, he's accurate...jesus hits them each time i confess sin. in my understanding, jesus takes care of past sin. accept jesus as your savior and all your past sins will be forgiven.

but romans seems to have a different concept...that jesus takes care of sin in a different way: he releases us from the power of sin itself. the focus isn't on all the bad things i've done in the past, but on the source of sin itself. jesus seems to want to shoot up the old box of clay pigeons by the trap and bring in new boxes of life-fruit.

so now i'm asking jesus to come and shoot up the boxes. i don't think i'm still getting all that paul wrote, but that will be a start.