Friday, August 23, 2013

Gratitude, OT Sacrifice, and 3 Points on Joy from Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly"

For today's post, I want to pass along three points on joy that are intertwined with practicing gratitude from a great book called, "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown. I ran across this as part of my sermon prep for this Sunday. We are going to talk about the practice of gratitude. Practicing gratitude -- and reaping the rewards of joy and peace that come with practicing gratitude -- was really one of the main points behind the sacrificial system. There's more, of course, like recognizing dependence on God and such. But the Psalmist reminds us that God didn't call for sacrifice because he needed to be fed but because we need to be grateful:

Psalm 50:12-14a

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

Gratitude and joy are intimately connected. So here are the three lessons on joy and light from Brene Brown's book, "Daring Greatly." Enjoy!


And nothing has been a greater gift to me than the three lessons I learned about joy and light from people who have spent time in sorrow and darkness:

  1. Joy comes to us in moments — ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary. Scarcity culture may keep us afraid of living small, ordinary lives, but when you talk to people who have survived great losses, it is clear that joy is not a constant. Without exception, all the participants who spoke to me about their losses, and what they missed the most, spoke about ordinary moments. “If I could come downstairs and see my husband sitting at the table and cursing at the newspaper …” “If I could hear my son giggling in the backyard …” “My mom sent me the craziest texts—texts— she never knew how to work her phone. I’d give anything to get one of those texts right now.” 
  2. Be grateful for what you have. When I asked people who had survived tragedy how we can cultivate and show more compassion for people who are suffering, the answer was always the same: Don’t shrink away from the joy of your child because I’ve lost mine. Don’t take what you have for granted— celebrate it. Don’t apologize for what you have. Be grateful for it and share your gratitude with others. Are your parents healthy? Be thrilled. Let them know how much they mean to you. When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost. 
  3. Don’t squander joy. We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen— and they do happen— we are stronger.

Brown, Brene (2013-01-17). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (pp. 124-126). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Amen to that!

“Amen” is an English transliteration of a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word. In Greek it looks like this: ἀμήν and in Hebrew it looks like this: אָמֵן. Yes, it is a very old word! The basic three letters of “amen” — amn — also form the same word in other Semitic languages, such as Syriac and Aramaic. “Amen” essentially means “true” or “faithful.”

In terms of a worship service, “amen” is word of assent and agreement. You could think of it as, “Agreed!” or even, “Yup!”

 In the Old Testament, we find “amen” used as a word of agreement when the Law is read to the Israelites. For instance:

 Deuteronomy 27:16–18 (ESV)
16 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
 17 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
 18 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

 The New Testament church had the practice of the people responding to prayers with “amen” as a way of associating themselves with and agreeing with the prayer or praise that was spoken. (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:16)
“Amen” can, of course, slip into simply meaning, “the end of the prayer.” But it doesn't have to. When someone is leading a prayer, you know that it is going to end with “amen.” Listen carefully to what is being said. Involve yourself with the prayer, praise or thanksgiving. Let your soul begin to vibrate with the thoughts expressed. Then, when the prayer is finished, you can say, “amen,” in an entirely different way. Instead of “amen” being “done praying,” “amen” becomes “we have prayed together, I am in agreement with this prayer and I am part of this community of love in Jesus Christ.”

 Don’t let “amen” be a flat, boring word. It is a full, rich, meaningful, thoughtful word used to join in prayer and share in community.

 “Amen” to that!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kelly and I went to Abilene today... almost twice!

The first time we went to Abilene was when I drove to Sea World to pick up our daughter from camp this afternoon. Thinking that Kelly might like a break from this 90 minute drive, I suggested that I could go pick up Lilia today. Just to make sure Kelly didn't feel like I was using too much time unproductively, I told her that I had a new audio book I wanted to listen to. She said that sounded good to her.

This evening I was feeling a little grumpy because I didn't have the most productive day of my life. Looking for a place to land, the grumpy feeling landed on my "putting myself out" to go pick up our daughter from camp. In the process of conversation, I discovered that Kelly had kinda wanted to go pick up our daughter today but, given the way I talked about listening to a new audio book, she thought I really wanted to make the drive. So she kindly put her wishes aside without telling me.

I interrupted my workday to do Kelly a favor that she didn't want. She put her desires aside to let me do something that I was only doing as a favor to her.

That's a classic trip to Abilene.

The Abilene Paradox takes its name from an anecdote told by management expert Jerry B. Harvey about a family playing dominoes on the front porch. One person offers the suggestion that they drive to Abilene for dinner. (He is not suggesting this because he wants to. He's just afraid other people might be bored. One by one, all four people agree. They make the trip to Abilene (53 miles, no A/C) which nobody actually wants to do. (Read the full anecdote below.)

Wikipedia has a nice, concise definition of the Abilene Paradox:
The Abilene paradox is a paradox in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group. It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group's and, therefore, does not raise objections. A common phrase relating to the Abilene paradox is a desire to not "rock the boat".
People take trips to Abilene all the time. Kelly and I almost went to Abilene a second time in one day! I was planning on a walk at night after everyone had gone to bed. I thought I was doing Kelly a favor by going out after my presence was no longer needed. This time we talked. It turns out that what I thought was doing Kelly a favor by going out late was actually making her nervous. She doesn't like me going for late walks and she doesn't like going to sleep without me home. Whew! We avoided a second trip to Abilene... by talking.

Talking is the secret. Honest talking. So much focus is put on managing disagreement that we often overlook how much can go wrong when we don't manage agreement, ferreting out false agreement that doesn't really exist.

The Bible presents us with most excellent advice for avoiding trips to Abilene: "Speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15). Engaging in discussion with both kindness and honesty will avoid those disheartening trips to Abilene.

How does this work? Take a look, for instance, at the synopsis below. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." She's being loving, supporting the suggestion her dad made, but she's not being honest. If she had said something like, "It doesn't sound that attractive to me, but I'll go along if you all want to go," she would have been both truthful and loving. She probably also would have avoided a bad meal and 100 miles in the car!

Speak the truth in love. And encourage others around you to do the same by accepting what they say as their thoughts and feelings without judging them. Push for kind honesty in whatever group you are in, from a marriage to a family to a work group to a church council.

The choice is yours. Strive for real honesty and respect differing opinions or hop in the car and head for Abilene. 

By the way, I did end up going for my late night walk. But Kelly and I had spoken kindly and honestly with each other, so we didn't go anywhere near Abilene.


Full "Trip to Abilene" anecdote from Wikipedia:

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go." The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it?" The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Love and healing poem for a friend.

I composed this poem and sent it to a friend of mine who is going through some very serious health issues. I'm not saying it's great, but I'm sharing it to encourage others to open themselves up to artistic expression. Somehow I felt like I was opening my heart to my friend a little more in the hour of need by taking a creative risk and sending a poem. You, also, may feel free to use this poem if you'd like to send it to someone and don't feel like composing your own.


Redeemed spirits living in bodies now broken.
Resting in Christ, redemption now spoken.
Safe in the arms of God, loving and true.
Healing and peace may our Lord give to you.


If you are reading this and you are the friend who received it from me, yes I really did write this for you in particular. My thoughts, prayers and love go out to you.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jesus' core identity is not "redeemer," and that matters.

If the Son is pre-existent with the Father (as Trinitarian theology asserts), then "Redeemer" is not part of his core identity. It is something the Son became on our behalf. "Redeemer" is a word that describes the Son's relationship with us, not the essence of the Son's being. Somehow that seems like an important point to me.

It makes God less inextricably intertwined with humanity. We are wholly dependent on God. God is in no way dependent on humanity. 

And it makes "Redeemer" even bigger because it was a voluntary choice on the part of the Son rather than something he just does because it's in his nature. He is the Son. He chose to be Redeemer.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is your God getting bigger or smaller?

As you look at your life, what role does God play in the way you think about things? Because your sense of awe, wonder — worship, really — can shrink or grow depending on how you look at God.

For many people, the idea of "God" covers whatever they don't understand. "God did it." Some people call this the "god of the gaps." Whatever you can't explain you attribute to God.

The problem with this is that as we learn more, God becomes smaller. Many things humanity used to attribute to God (or the spiritual world) now have been discovered to have a clearly identifiable earthly cause.

God gets smaller.

But, if you start where scripture starts — in the beginning, God created everything — then every time we learn something new and amazing, our idea of God becomes larger. If God as a creative, loving, personal intelligent creator is your faith, your presupposition about life (as it is mine), then new knowledge does not threaten your faith, it expands it.

God gets bigger.

Ok, not really. God, in my faith, does not grow or shrink. God is who God is. But my ideas about God sure can grow or shrink, and my ideas about God affect my life. Is your God getting bigger or smaller?

Friday, April 26, 2013

No Cheating on the Eating

Do you remember some sort of experiment in chemistry class when you dripped a drop of some sort of catalyst into a solution and the liquid instantly changed color? Do you ever remember thinking or hoping that it might turn a different color next time? No, you didn't, because it's chemistry. It does what it does.

When we feed our bodies poorly and hope to still be healthy, we are like children watching a chemistry demonstration hoping the solution turns a different color next time. Our bodies are a big sack of active biochemistry. Chemistry is chemistry. Just like you can't cheat chemistry in the classroom, you can't cheat chemistry in your body. Whatever you put in your body will do what it's going to do, chemically speaking.

Now, there's a lot more to health than just eating, but eating is a central part of health. When you consume something, don't just think of the taste, think of the chemistry lab that is your body. What will this thing you are consuming do in your body. And don't hope it won't, because it will.

The Bible says it this way: You reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7). It's a law, like gravity.

Your body is chemistry. There's no cheating on the eating.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gnaw on the Bible for Spiritual Nutrition

The first Psalm paints a beautiful picture of "blessed man."
...his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:2–3 (ESV)
But tell me this: when you think of meditation, do you not think of crossed legs, candles and perhaps soft music? How on earth are any of us supposed to do that day and night? And even if we could, it really doesn't sound like an attractive or fulfilling lifestyle.

A little searching through the Old Testament reveals that the word for meditate in Psalm 1 is the same word used for "growl" in Isaiah 31:4, “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey..." (Bear in mind that this "prey" is a carcass that the lion is devouring.)

Eugene Peterson in his excellent book, "Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading," writes about the way his dog engaged in this act with bones he'd found out in the forest:
He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we could hear a low rumble or growl, what in a cat would have been a purr. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again. An average bone lasted about a week.
That seems exciting to me. Challenging. Engaging. Get a delicious piece of scripture and start chewing on it. And keep chewing on it. Shake your head rapidly side-to-side (dog owners know what I'm talking about). Maybe even fling it and then run after it yourself just for fun. Let it slowly dissolve into your being and soak into your spirit through a good bit of enjoyable gnawing.

While quiet meditation can be beneficial, this way of "meditating on the Word" is closer to the Old Testament command to, "talk of [God's words] when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)) 

You digest God's Word and it becomes a part of your life. Meditating on God's Word is nothing more than chewing on it all the time (day and night!) as you go through your life. It's the way that God, through his Word, gets into the beating of your heart and the waves of your thoughts instead of just being a cultural institution you observe on Sunday mornings and maybe Wednesday evenings.

If your faith seems dry or empty, perhaps you haven't been chewing your spiritual food long enough to extract the nutrients that God has provided. Start gnawing on the Word!


I highly recommend Eugene Peterson's book: "Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading," I borrowed it as an audio book from the Orange County, Florida Library system. Click here to go to the Orange County Library search results with both the audio book and printed book available. And here is the Amazon link. (And no, I don't get any kickbacks or other benefits by referring you to this book!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Your Life on the Front Page?

Here's a simple way to evaluate something you are contemplating saying or doing:
Would you want that behavior or choice in bold print on the front page of the paper?
Not pictures or details, mind you! Just simple facts. If you don't want what you are saying or doing proclaimed, you should think about whether or not you should be doing it. Jesus indicated that in the end, this full disclosure will take place: "For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light." Luke 8:17 (ESV)

For instance, consider this headline: "Pastor John & Kelly Sleeping Together." Who cares, right? "Duh," is the likely response. "They are married and they have children."

Private stuff is, of course, private stuff. That's why I say "no pictures or details." But I think this question can be helpful in at least two ways:

First, when we choose things or do things that we know are wrong (or things that don't align with our values), we are usually aware of it. Nobody wants their bad or compromising behavior on the front page. So this question can set off a little alarm in our heads, telling us that we are considering or doing something we think is wrong or something that doesn't align with our values. We are not living the way we want to live.

Second, people often have an image they like to project that is not exactly who they really are. This gap between who we want to be seen as and who we actually are causes tension in our lives. The more we can close that gap, the more we will feel like we are living authentically.

This may not be the last word or the best word on evaluating your behavior. It might also be dangerous if it causes you false guilt or hypersensitivity to how you are spending every moment of your life. This question could leave you curled up and whimpering in a corner if you are unable to be gracious to yourself, because we've all done and will do things that we certainly don't want proclaimed and are not proud of. And, of course, it is quite useless if you are proud of your bad behavior.

But I do think it can be helpful for those of us who desire to live authentically good lives.

That's what I'm thinking today as I continue on this journey of life...

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Dangers of the King James Version

While the King James Version of the Bible may rank among the great achievements of 18th century literature, the era, the style and the presuppositions underlying this most classic of English translations pose significant problems for the Christian who wants to interact with God through his living and active Word in the twenty-first century.

First, as a piece of 18th century literature, the language of the King James Version is archaic by today's standards. This presents us with all sorts of foreign vocabulary and sentence structure. The language and culture gap between us as readers and the time of the Bible is already quite significant. Why compound the problem by reading this book in 18th century English when exellent modern translations are available?

Second, the style of the King James Version is very high literature. While the style of the writing is beautiful, the very high style of the writing makes it less accessible to the average reader. (We'll come back to this in a moment.)

Thirdly, the presupposition behind Greek translation of the time was that the New Testament was written in a special Greek style that was unique to this book of divine revelation. Scholars at the time thought this because the style of Greek did not match any of the ancient Greek literature that was available. However, the reason for the style mismatch was more prosaic. High Greek literature had been preserved precisely because it was of high literary value and called for preservation. Archaeological evidence uncovered in the 20th century shed light on what was thought to be "Holy Spirit" Greek. Researchers combing through dumps in two places uncovered treasure troves of documents from daily life of the period written in Greek: shopping lists, letters from travelling family members, instructions to servants. The real shocker was that contrary to the prevailing opinion, it turned out that the Bible was not written in "Holy Spirit" Greek, but mostly in "street Greek." The New Testament is a book of common letters written very much in the common man's language. (To be fair, some of the books of the New Testament are of fairly high literary style.)

Why do I call this "dangerous"? Because taken together, these three factors combine to create distance precisely where God contrived to create intimacy. Humans naturally tend to want a God who is distant, who speaks in odd language, who is best studied by candlelight. We gravitate to the ideas of the mystical and the unapproachable other. The King James Version sets us up to hold God at a distance when God, as he has revealed himself, is abba, "dad." God wants to be in our family rooms not just our living rooms, at our kitchen tables not just in our formal dining rooms. The real language of New Testament Greek to the people who were the first recipients was much closer to, "Hey, let me ask you something," than "I pray thee, hearken unto my request."

The other gods of the era (and our other gods of today) are gods that are worshiped from a distance, from behind the rope, from the bottom of the steps. The true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ, wants to come in close and sit on the couch with us. Just as he comes to us by the plainest of foods — bread and wine — in the Lord's Supper, so he wants to come close to us in His Word, in plain everyday language that was so common that it wasn't even considered worth preserving for posterity.

The King James Version is dangerous because, quite without intention, it presents God in a way that He has not presented himself to us. The older it gets, the more the danger increases. It is ancient, formal, dead language and it is inappropriate for growing close to our living, earthy, incarnational God. The God of the Bible is the God who comes down and takes on flesh and blood, walks around with dirty feet, welcomes outcasts and eats with sinners. He prefers drawing in the dirt and rubbing mud on people's eyes. He tells simple stories about travelers and farmers.

Don't get me wrong. I think the language of the King James Version is beautiful. If you love it and understand it, more power to you. But it is dangerous for the average person because it misrepresents the original common and approachable language of the New Testament.

That's what I think at this point in my journey...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday: Why should your heart not dance?

Today is Holy Saturday, the in-between day. The disciples are gathered. For them, this is a horrible day. Their friend and teacher, a man they thought was the Messiah, has been crucified. He died and was buried. What seemed the most amazing adventure of their lives has ended.

If they only had the perspective we have! They would have been preparing a welcome party for Jesus instead of being huddled in a locked room. They did not understand that Jesus had to die and rise again even though he had told them plainly. Can you imagine the disciples huddled in a locked room if they knew — knew — that Jesus would be coming out of the grave the very next morning? Inconceivable!

We also live in an in-between time. Jesus has told us that he will come again to take us to be with him where there is no more sorrow, sickness, suffering, pain or death. How, then, do we live? This is a question of faith. If you don’t believe Jesus is coming back, huddle in fear. Make what you can of your life. Love carefully and cautiously. Protect yourself and prepare to die because you are but a mist that appears briefly and then vanishes. But if you do believe Jesus is coming back, why not live in joy now? Why not live in peace now?

Tomorrow morning we will say, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” We have the perspective that those poor, grieving disciples lacked. We have the word of the risen Christ that death has been conquered. The grave is the door to eternal life. All is right with God through Jesus. Of course this life has times of difficulty and pain, but why should your heart not dance?

Why should your heart not dance?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Should marriage take work?

"Why do marriages take work? That doesn't seem right." That's what my daughter said to me a few days ago. Do marriages and other relationships take work? Oh, yeah. But let's delve into that just a bit further because we don't want to give people the wrong idea.

How would you define, "work"? I think that when people think of "work" they think of unpleasant or difficult tasks that need doing. Is marriage "work" in that sense? It sure can be.

If you blow it badly and need to apologize to your spouse, coming clean and apologizing is an unpleasant task that needs to be done. If you have to work out your spending priorities with very limited income, developing a realistic spending plan can be a difficult task that must be done. Marriage does, from time to time, require "work" in that sense.

But because the phrase "Marriage takes work" gets thrown around so often, I think my daughter may have been coming the conclusion that marriage is a long string of unpleasant or difficult tasks that need doing. As much as it can seem that way at times :-) when marriages are not strong, "work" may not be the best word for the ongoing tasks that are part of a healthy marriage. It can leave the wrong impression.

I prefer "tending."

Marriages are like gardens. A little bit of regular tending goes a long way. For most gardeners, the regular tending of the garden is a pleasant task they look forward to. Such is the case with marriages functioning well. Tending needs to happen — dates, kind words, extra chores, physical intimacy, conversations about your spouse’s internal life, etc. — but the tending is a pleasant part of the day's tasks. My wife and I spend a few minutes nearly every day sitting and talking, either over coffee in the morning with a brief devotion or a glass of wine in the evening... or both! This is the "work" of marriage, which is why "work" probably isn't the best word. "Tending" is much better.

All marriages take work from time to time. But if you are diligent in tending your marriage, you will learn to delight in the tasks that are part of the tending of your relationship and you will minimize the frequency with which you marriage really does require unpleasant or difficult tasks.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Mathematics of Happy Marriages

Dr. John Gottman has scientifically studied marriage for decades. Some of his findings validate conventional wisdom, some turn conventional wisdom upside down.

One of his findings is what he calls the "magic ratio." This is the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions that lead to spouses feeling like they have a happy, successful marriage. The ratio is 5 to 1. 5 positive interactions or experiences for every one negative one. For some people that seems pretty low. Others may feel like this is the last nail in the coffin of their marriage because they can't imagine having 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction.

The good news is that you are largely in control of this. If you need to get in better physical condition, you don't say, "Well, I'm just not the kind of person who exercises or eats well. I'm not strong or fit. I'm just weak." No, you make a decision and you begin to do things differently. And that is what you expect. Lifting weights might not be enjoyable at first, but you do it knowing that it will produce the strength in your muscles that you desire. Taking time out for running or walking doesn't come naturally at first, but you do it knowing that it will produce the fitness you desire. Low and behold, if you do the things that lead to physical fitness, you become more physically fit!

We often think of our personalities and relationships as things that just are the way they are. "I'm just not that positive a person." "We just don't get along that well." "My spouse will never be happy with me for who I am." We think this, but it is generally not true. Our positive feelings and interactions are as buildable as our muscles.

Just like it's not fake to lift weights when you are weak because you want to be stronger, so it is not fake to choose different actions in hopes that the dynamics of your relationship will improve. Specifically, to choose actions that will lead you toward and beyond the magic ratio of 5 to 1.

Note that it is important to have some negativity. This means you are sharing who you really are. You and your spouse are not going to see eye-to-eye on every issue.

But that ratio appears to be important, so it's worth proactively addressing.

These positives do not have to be large and difficult things or grand gestures. Anything that you know makes your spouse feel good (not just what you think makes your spouse feel good, because you might have a wrong assumption. And when you assume you... well, you know what happens when you assume!) But if you are out of the habit, it will take some concentration and practice.

Unless the four horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and withdrawal) have really taken up residence in your marriage, you can probable find more ways to interact positively just by being aware of the need to do it. It may not happen in a day or a week, but by choosing positive interactions, you will likely begin to have a more positive sense about your relationship. After a while, you will think "Hey, I'm feeling more positive about our marriage."

You may also have to condition yourself to find the positive things (just like conditioning your muscles to be strong). Pick something you can say that's positive and affirming, even if it's one among nine other things you don't appreciate at the moment. If your spouse cooked a meal that didn't turn out particularly tasty, you can say "Thanks for cooking. It's always nice to have a hot meal. I really appreciate it." If things are on the negative side in your relationship, your spouse might say, "What? You didn't like it did you? You don't appreciate what I do." You can reply with honesty and appreciation. "Listen, I'm not trying to comment on the meal, honey. I'm trying to tell you that I recognize and appreciate the effort you put into it. Thank you."

The point is that the magic ratio has been verified by research. It's something you can influence through your own choices. Choose to plant positive interaction seeds and they will grow into marital happiness flowers.

Like the rest of Gottman's marriage research I'm blogging about for a few days, I am just touching on this subject. But he's got a lot of great stuff on his web site:

Here are some blog entries from his team on the subject of the magic ratio:


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"You're not listening!" "No, I REALLY can't hear you."

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores moments of rapid cognition. Among the many fascinating discoveries of psychological research he discusses is a kind of stress-induced temporary autism. Under times of stress, our ability to take in and process information from the external world diminishes, sometimes dramatically. Police officers who end up firing their weapon in the line of duty (more than 90% go their entire careers without ever firing a shot in an actual exchange of gunfire) report strange things, like never hearing a gunshot. This is because the stress responses of the body close down all sorts of functions temporarily.

Now we shift to John Gottman's research with married couples. He has observed a similar phenomenon, albeit at a lower intensity. Couples who are in heated disagreements are subject to what he terms, "flooding." Flooding refers to a person's rise in physiological stress indicators in response to the way a conflict is being worked through. Heart rate and blood pressure increase. When you are flooding, you feel pressured and shell-shocked. All you can really think about is protecting yourself either by fighting back or leaving. Your ability to perceive and respond with love and creativity — even with attitudes and words that are your normal way of relating — takes a nose-dive.

When you are flooding, you need a break. It's not a weakness. It's physiological. It's what your body and mind do under stress.

Here's an important point: most of us are not very good at judging our own stress level. When arguments get heated and people say, "I just need a break," they usually feel like they "got a handle on it" after about five minutes. Unfortunately, this is not true and it makes re-entering the discussion problematic to say the least! Gottman’s research indicates that when you start flooding (indicated by, for example, your pulse increasing by 10% or more over your resting heart rate), it really takes about 20 minutes for your physiology to leave the stress state. That's important for couples to know when a disagreement gets hot.

There is good news, though, for both police officers and couples. Gladwell and Gottman both report that training can alter your stress response. Policemen train regularly for that firefight that has a greater than 90% chance of never happening because they want to be prepared. They know the stress response will come.

For couples, there is a 100% chance that disagreements will happen from time to time, so preparing for conflict (NOT preparing for battle!) is a wise idea.

The first step is to learn to recognize flooding when it happens. Your heart rate increases. Maybe you feel nervous or trapped. Or you’re getting ready to fire back instead of listening. You feel your normally calm way of thinking begin to contract. Gottman suggests that in the beginning it can even be helpful to take your pulse because the physiological reactions that are part of flooding often happen before self-awareness that flooding has begun. Learn what your resting pulse rate is and check it during the discussion.

Step two is to agree together that if either of you begin to experience flooding, take a break. Taking a break is not the same thing running away from the argument. It’s a physiological need. A break is a temporary halt with the commitment to continue the conversation when both parties are better able. During the break, do whatever helps you relax: read a book, go for a walk, work out, whatever. If your goal is to make the relationship work, do not continue a heated discussion when one of you starts to feel flooded. Even the agreement to take a flooding break if needed can reduce flooding because you feel less trapped when you know that at any point you can call a 30-minute break. If your spouse calls a break and you feel like, "Wait a minute! I'm not done here!" remember that your spouse will be unable to hear and respond in a reasonable way until the flooding subsides. Whatever it is that you want him or her to understand will be much more easily received after the stress response calms down.

There is a great deal more that can be done to prepare for good conflict in relationships. But this is enough for one blog post. If you feel stressed by that, please take at least a 30-minute break before you email me. ;-) 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Four Horsemen of Marriage Apocalypse

John Gottman, Ph.D. has studied marriage relationships with more scientific rigor than just about anyone. If you and your spouse sit in his lab and have a conversation about a disagreement in your marriage, he can tell whether the marriage will last another 5 years with 90% accuracy in just 15 minutes (80% accuracy in five minutes!).

He has identified what he calls the four horsemen (taken from the four horsemen of the apocalypse found in the book of Revelation in the Bible). When any of these are habitually present in your marriage, you cannot continue your current relationship patterns and reasonably expect to keep your marriage/family together.

The four horsemen are:
  • Criticism
  • Contempt (this, btw, is the baddest of the bad guys)
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
The good news is that you are not stuck even if you regularly see one or more of the four horsemen galloping around your relationship.

Dr. Gottman has written some of the best books on marriage that I have read. I plan on reading more. I am currently listening to Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and How You Can Make Yours Last and I am reading 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work (I can barely put it down).

You can visit his web site at

You'll hear a few more things on this blog about Gottman's research before long. His work is fascinating.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is Diet Food Bad for our Spirits?

I'm just thinking...

Last week I preached on gluttony which, contrary to popular belief, is not simply eating too much. Those who have contemplated and considered gluttony as one of the seven capital vices see it as something much deeper. One can eat too daintily, too sumptuously, too hastily, too greedily, or just plain too much/too often.

Gluttony is a disordered relationship with food. It is the vice that keeps us from enjoying the good gift of food in its proper place.

The thought that occurred to me is this: is being able to consume calorie-reduced food spiritually neutral? Is eating a whole Boston cream pie a neutral act as long as it doesn't overload my metabolism with unnecessary sugar, calories or fat? Or does "diet" food enable me to gorge my taste buds while ignoring the fact that my relationship with my food is out of whack?

In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner writes, “A glutton is one who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.”

So I began to wonder if there isn't something spiritually unhealthy about some "health foods" if they have been artificially altered to reduce or remove the natural consequences of eating. It seems that things like artificial sweeteners or indigestible fats free a person to further disregard their proper relationship with food. By removing the natural consequences of the disordered relationship with food, "diet foods" remove some of the naturally occurring pressures to have a proper relationship with our food (like an alcoholic who never gets hangovers). This leaves us free to be unhealthy rather than pushing us toward wholeness.

I haven't developed this line of thought very far, but I think it's worth thinking about.

(BTW - if you want to experience my message on Gluttony, you can watch it hear, listen to it here, or download an MP3 here.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mother Teresa's Prayer

This is the prayer that was written on the wall of Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta. It seemed worth posting to me.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sherlock Holmes & God

To Sherlock Holmes, the small oddity is the thing that directs an investigator toward the truth of a case. Three used wine glasses but only one has sediment in it. The dog did not bark. Why was the paper on the desk of a different make than the paper in the victim's pocket?

To solve a crime, everything must be accounted for and the outlier — the small detail that one might be tempted to ignore as random or insignificant — is often the very thing that sets the great detective on the path to catching the real perpetrator.

The explanation must fit all the evidence. This is a great piece of advice for considering one's worldview.

We dare not selectively ignore things that do not fit our current concept of the world. We also need to be careful not to manhandle the interpretation of events to force them into explanation in which they don't fit.

So here is my outlier:
I was at a three-day pastor’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The first night of the conference concluded with a worship service. I was sitting in the front row. At these conference worship services an offering is taken to help fund a local mission.
The time for the offering arrived and the offering plate started to make its way down the row toward me. I decided in my own mind to give five dollars. The Bible says that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. I could cheerfully give five dollars. I pulled out my wallet and discovered a problem. I had a one-dollar bill and a twenty-dollar bill.

As the offering plate approached, I had to think quickly. I had already decided to give five dollars. I didn’t think I ought to go lower and give one dollar. People really shouldn’t highball God. But, then again, twenty dollars was quite a bit of money to me at the time. I also thought about the fact that, as a person in the front row, I become somewhat of a standard-bearer. People might follow my lead – either generously or miserly as the case may be. The mission that was to receive the offering might get a great deal more support if I lead with a twenty.

Time was running out, so I decided to pray about it. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but a truth came into my spirit. “Money is not a problem,” said the non-voice. “It’s all mine anyway. I can get you money whenever I want to.”

So, with that, and the fact that my expenses were already covered anyway, I dropped the twenty-dollar bill in the plate, feeling like I had done the right thing. I didn’t think anything more about it.

Two days later, I left the conference a little early and was riding MARTA to the airport. MARTA is the rapid-transit rail system in Atlanta. I was dressed business casual with my carry-on bag and a black leather briefcase. I decided to get my Bible out and do some reading to prepare for a class I was teaching.

At one stop, a young man got on the train. He looked to be college-age with baggy nylon pants, a nylon windbreaker and a large duffle bag slung over his shoulder. Kind of a jock. He sat down in the seat right across the aisle from me in the nearly deserted train car.

After a few moments, he asked what I was reading. I told him it was the Bible. We had a short, light conversation and I went back to my reading.

A few stops later he stood to get off the train. He told me it was nice to meet me, handed me a note and walked off. I was dying to open that note to see what this complete stranger had written to me but, since I wanted to be cool, I stuck the note in my shirt pocket and told him it was nice to meet him too. As soon as we left the station I yanked the note out of my pocket. I unfolded it and read, “Nice to meet someone who loves the Word. Take care, sir.” Inside that note was a twenty-dollar bill. (no, that is not a typo)

Now, this incident doesn't prove all of my Christian faith, not by a long-shot. But it is a significant experience that is too improbable to be simply brushed off as random.

It is a concrete event. It is not "just" an internal comfort of the soul or a sense of God's presence (though I am not discounting those as part of a life of faith). It cannot be brushed off as a mental or emotional state, as skeptics are wont to do with so many faith experiences.

I think Sherlock Holmes would cry, "No, Watson! It's too improbable. There must be something more going on."

If you were me, how would you make sense of this experience?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Doctrine - Fortress or Palace?

Every religion has doctrine. "Doctrine" simply means "teaching." For many Lutherans, our doctrine is a fortress. When you live inside, it feels safe and comfortable. Learn the words. Learn the meanings. Learn the teachings and you are safely ensconced in the "truth." Stay in the fortress where you are "right" and keep a sharp eye out for people attempting to leave the fortress... and tackle them.

I hate that view of doctrine. As though something as profound as creation, as deep as God's love or as mysterious as the Trinity could be completely and accurately formlated for all time in human language. 

For me, doctrine is a palace. It's a structure for me to explore. Two thousand years of study, prayer and contemplation in which to wander around. The Trinity is like a tower to be climbed. What can you see from these high windows? It's amazing! God is a complete unity, yet God is a swirling vortex of relational love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Wander through every room and you will find evidence of love expressed in some form, whether it is the disciplinary love of the guiding parent or the sacrifical love that calls out the deepest sacrifices on behalf of the beloved. There are plenty of mysterious passages, too. There are a few rooms that are built and decorated in ways that I may never understand. (I'm thinking, for instance, of hell, which is very hard for me to come to grips with.) But even those rooms are places to wander through.

One thing I know. When I think of doctrine like a fortress, it feels cold and stuffy and boring and like I am constantly in danger of being slapped for coloring outside the lines. When I think of doctrine as a palace, a structure full of wonder with unexpected architecture, amazing views from newly discovered (or made) windows and some rooms that need repainting because somebody didn't have all the information they needed to choose a beautiful color, I don't mind it so much. It doesn't feel like someone is trying to stuff me into their box. It feels more like a gift that gives some structure to this mysterious and amazing life.

So, that's what crossed my mind tonight.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Marriage in Heaven? Isn't that a Downgrade?

Yes, Jesus taught that marriage is an institution for the Earth. At one point, Jesus told some religious leaders that were trying to trap him with a riddle that "in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:29–30)

Something seems wrong with this picture. We commit ourselves in love to one person. We grow more and more deeply together as we spend decades doing life as a married couple. Then bam! You're dead. That's it. Friends forever.

Many people find that picture less than attractive. If going to heaven is actually a relational contraction — less intimacy and depth of friendship than we experience in marriage now — I would agree with them. But I don't think that's the case.

This is going to sound a little weird, but here's what I think: when we go to heaven, it's not that we aren't married to anyone — it's more like we are married to everyone.

On Earth in human bodies we can really only maintain so many relationships and can, perhaps, only maintain one that is as close and intertwined as a good marriage, especially since we go through cycles of failure and forgiveness, moving apart and coming closer.

When we die, I think it's not going to be like our relational ability contracts. I think it's going to expand unbelievably. While we don't have the capacity on Earth to have deep intimate relationships with very many people, when freed from the limitations of our earthly body, we will have deep intimate relationships with everyone.

It's a kind of bandwidth issue. Early in the internet, we had very limited bandwidth. As our bandwidth expands, we can video conference with several people at once. In fact, the bandwidth of the internet to support multiple person simultaneous communication exceeds the ability of people to support simultaneous communication with multiple people.

So in heaven it's not going to be that there is less intimacy than now because you aren't married. It's going to be infinite intimacy and deep friendship with everyone such as isn't even possible on Earth.

That's what I think, anyway. I, of course, have some scripture to back it up. But this is a blog post not a persuasive essay.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jesus was born... so what?

Jesus was born… so what? So was I.

I’m not dissing Christmas. The mystery of creator becoming creation, of the Word becoming flesh, is filled with the profound message of God’s amazing love for us. But being born and living is something we all do. Resurrection, now that’s a different story!

Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth (and to us), “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14 (ESV)) The importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be overstated.

Sin separates us from God. Sin destroys shalom. Sin brings death, both large and small. The Bible records God’s long-term plan to restore shalom and reconcile people to himself, not counting their sins against them. Gods plan is to undo sin, a plan that goes all the way to undoing death itself. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26 (ESV))

Jesus is the one through whom shalom is restored. Jesus is the one who, through his death, reconciles us to our heavenly Father. Jesus is the one who undoes death. But if he hasn’t undone death, he hasn’t done the job we need him to do. “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 (ESV))

But Jesus has been raised from the dead! Paul shares the message and the witnesses succinctly: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV))

Easter changes everything! Easter is the guarantee of all God’s promises. Easter is God’s, “Yes!” to us. The words of Jesus that call us to repentance and faith contain the promise that all is forgiven and God desires us to come home like the prodigal son. The resurrection is the demonstration of the power behind the promises. God has promised to undo death and shown us his power to do so in Jesus Christ.

Easter rocks! If you are in the Orlando area, you are cordially invited to our Easter Service & Brunch on Easter Sunday. It's going to be an uplifting celebration of the most important holiday of the year.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Envy & Greed, a poem

For a message on envy, I shortened and rewrote a poem by Victor Hugo called "Envy & Avarice." ("Recasting," I call it) I thought perhaps you might enjoy it.

Envy & Greed by Victor Hugo
Recast by John Rallison

Envy and Greed, twin sisters wandered seeking
Any soul that might be open to their reeking
In sullen, sulky silence moving shore to shore

Pale Greed was hugging close a shiny treasure box
Worried always at each glance upon its locks
Thinking always, “There’s not enough, enough, yet in my store!”

While Envy stared with jealous eye unblinking,
Of that shiny box and contents always thinking.
“She’s more than me, more, still forever more.”

When suddenly to their surprise
The God named Gift appeared before their eyes
He said, “Great gifts I have bestowed.
I come to give you gifts where none are owed.
Choose any gift, whatever you’d like best
With only this to bear on your request.
The first to speak receives their gift untroubled
But that gift to other sister will be doubled.

Imagine what a quandary was begun
In greed or envy, what would you have done?

Each sister thought, distressed to give the other more
Contemplating long, they tried Gift’s patience sore.
Then Envy spoke with loud, triumphant cry,
“Hah! I ask for blindness in a single eye!”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Billions of great things will happen today. Loved ones sharing life together. People creating wonderful works of every kind of craft and art. Simple acts of kindness between relatives, friends and strangers. If you read the news at the end of the day, you will hear about several bad things that happened today. Don't let your mind be infected by the fear-filled news. Enjoy the gifts of today.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Don't Cross Streams Alone

Last summer my family vacationed in the mountains in northern Georgia. I really like to hike and so decided to take a day hike all by myself. It was wonderful, peaceful and enriching for my soul. Then I came to a stream. It wasn't a big stream — just a little thing I could cross by hopping on a couple of rocks and landing dry on the other side. But suddenly I felt anxiety that was much more intense than I would have expected that crossing a stream would have generated in me.

I have hiked and crossed streams many times with no incidents or accidents. The difference, this time, was that I was alone. I was several miles from the nearest anything. Rocks can be unexpectedly slippery. I could fall and bruise something, break something or even knock myself out with no one around to help. I thought of my family. They depend on me. What would have been a non-event turned into a careful crossing. Because I was alone.

We are not made to be alone. We are hardwired/created for connection. Little bumps in the road can become major events if you feel like you have to go it alone. You don't. Take time for connection. Make and build friendships.

It can be dangerous to form deep relationships, to build love, trust and vulnerability with other people. You will probably get hurt from time to time. But the danger of building those relationships is nothing compared to the danger of living life alone. English poet, John Donne, wrote "No man is an island, entire of itself." Jesus told his disciples, "This is how people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Both recognize mankind's need to live in relationship to others.

It's all about connection. We fear it and we need it. I'm not suggesting you find a stranger and spill your guts. I am saying that you, like every person on earth, need connection. Finding that connection takes time. Finding people with whom you can safely be vulnerable is a slow process. You find a friend. You share little things over time. Is this person safe? Is the vulnerability reciprocated or are they giving me the airbrushed version of themselves?

Real relationships are the gold of life and very much worth the risk. It's a dangerous thing to seek out deep relationships. It's more dangerous not to.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When It's Time to Get to Work

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how God's Sabbath instruction had freed me to really relax on Sunday afternoon instead of worry about all the things on my todo list (read it here). Last Monday I experienced the other side of that coin.

I work from home. I wasn't feeling very good. I had the house all to myself. Nobody but me knew how I would spend the day. There's nothing wrong with taking a day off if you need one, of course, but I was really just feeling low energy and unmotivated. Then I remembered Exodus 34:21, which had given me the freedom to relax on Sunday: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest."

There it was: "six days you shall work." It didn't say "six days you shall feel motivated," or "six days you shall find yourself deeply invested in work you are finding invigorating." It just said, "six days you shall work."

That was just enough to get me going. I started plugging along. The day was never easy, but I did my work. I felt more like a plow horse than an artist most of the day, but I did my work. Even though it was tough in the middle of the day, when I looked back at the end of the day, I had to admit it was a pretty productive day after all and I did some pretty good work, to boot!

This, again, reminds me of Jesus' own example of the power of the scriptures in our lives. When tempted by Satan, Jesus didn't go all zap-bam-miracle-man on Satan. That would not have provided an example we can follow. He brought the scriptures to bear on the situation. The scriptures brought the power to overcome and move forward.

Have you ever intentionally and in faith brought the scriptures to bear on a situation? It really can make a difference. Not like pixy dust that suddenly makes everything all sparkly and magical. But it does bring the power of God into the situation. Try it. It works.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reading Sherlock Holmes in Faith

To me, one of the most amazing things in the Bible has always been the command to take a Sabbath (to the LORD). The Israelites were commanded by God to not work on one day per week.

Exodus 34:21 (ESV): “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest."

The amazing thing is not that God required that his people rest, but that there were really no exceptions. It's planting season. The weather is just right. Got to get the crops in the ground. BUT you cannot work seven days in a row. It's harvesting season. The crops are ready to be gathered in. They are ripe and continue to ripen. Get that produce harvested. BUT you cannot work seven days in a row. So one day per week, even during the planting and harvesting seasons, the Israelites had to cease from work.

That is amazing. But God had a point. It is not just "take a break." It is a Sabbath to the Lord. The Sabbath isn't just about rest, it's about trust. God commanded them not to work so that they would never forget that life is more than food, drink and clothing... much more. He commanded them to take the step of trust — to make the specific, intentional decision not to work because, as important as it is, work is not the most important thing.

That's where Sherlock Holmes comes in. I've been reading and enjoying these great mysteries. Sunday afternoon I was laying on the couch reading when I started to feel like there was work I should be doing. I can't even remember what it was. Maybe it was blogging? Whatever it was, the point is this: Life is more than work. Even if you are a pastor. God tells us to have enough faith to not work sometimes. One day per week as a matter of fact. I'm not always good at that, but I was on Sunday! I desire to live a life faithful to my God. Sunday afternoon I decided that the most faithful thing I could do was trust God enough to let the work go and enjoy some quiet time reading Sherlock Holmes... which I did.

You might want to read my other blog post on this same Bible verse about getting to work! Read it here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What? Lutheran pastor apologizes for participating in Newtown, CT worship service following the Sandy Hook tragedy?

There was a brouhaha in the media last week that involved the LCMS. Some have commented to me about it. Some have asked me how this could even be an issue.

Here is the situation: After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a community service of mourning was organized through the local interfaith clergy group. The local LCMS pastor, Rev. Morris, asked that a statement be read at the opening of the service indicating that the love and grief are shared but the clergy leading the service would like to be clear that this shared service is not an endorsement of each other's faith. Some very conservative elements within the LCMS believe that Rev. Morris violated his vows of ordination by participating in this community service. The president of our synod, Rev. Harrison, asked the conservative groups to back off. He also asked Rev. Morris to apologize to those he offended by his participation in the community service. Rev. Morris apologized that he offended people, but he did not apologize for participating in the service. It was Rev. Morris' apology that caught wind in the national media and was not presented quite accurately: "Pastor apologizes for participating in Newtown Community Memorial Service!" Rev. Harrison was trying to calm the waters in the synod by asking all parties to be conciliatory and inadvertently stirred up a storm in the national media. He has apologized and asked for grace with regard to his poor handling of this situation.

I am personally convinced that Rev. Morris did the right thing by participating in that community service and I would be embarrassed to be part of our synod if he had declined.

But today I am writing simply to explain why this is even an issue within the LCMS. For those of you who want to follow the whole sordid mess, I will post some links at the end of this blog entry. For those of you who want the short version of why this is even an issue, here it is:

Our synod's constitution includes this provision:

Article VI Conditions of Membership
Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:
  1. Acceptance of the confessional basis of Article II.
  2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every
      description, such as:
           a. Serving congregations of mixed confession,
               as such, by ministers of the church;
           b. Taking part in the services and sacramental
               rites of heterodox congregations or
               of congregations of mixed confession;
            c. Participating in heterodox tract and
                missionary activities.

The issue in question revolves around "unionism" and "syncretism". The word "heterodox" means not conforming with accepted standards or beliefs. In the case of the LCMS, a heterodox congregation is any congregation that does not subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions, most specifically the unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1580. "Unionism" refers more specifically to joining together in worship, choosing to be in union with each other and act as though fellowship exists when it does not because the two bodies do not share a common confession. (e.g. a Lutheran church and a Baptist church decide to hold a service together). "Syncretism" has more to do with the adopting of heterodox practices, often for the sake of peace. (A crass example would be kneeling toward Mecca during a Christian service so that Muslims feel comfortable and honored.) A major principle behind this forbidding of unionism and syncretism is that we do not want to give the false impression that we approve of the beliefs of whatever 'other' is involved in the unionism or syncretism and, thereby, give poor witness to Christ and even damage the faith of those who witness the unionism and syncretism.

There are those — I am not among them — who believe Rev. Morris engaged in unionism and syncretism by participating in this public service. Wrong as I think these folks are, they are acting (in their own eyes) out of concern for people's souls. I don't think anybody I know would look at two people sharing the dais at such an event and construe that as 'fellowship' in any way but the shared grief around which the event revolves. But my task in this entry is not to convince you one way or another about the rightness of Rev. Morris' position. It is simply to explain how this could possibly be an issue since on the face of things it seems like participation is undeniably the right thing to do.

Love all the way 'round is the answer. Even if those who opposed Rev. Morris's participation seem hateful to you, love is still the answer. People are not lifted out of hatred and judgment by hatred and judgment against their hateful and judgmental positions. Speak the truth in love, that's how we grow up into Christ. If you dig into it, you will see that it is primarily the conservatives who opposed Rev. Morris' participation and the media that have dramatized the issue. The letters and conversations among the actual parties involved have been fraternal and kind.
Here are some links for you, if you want them:

I will leave it to you to search for media coverage if you'd like. It won't be hard to find. For myself, I absolutely believe that Rev. Morris did the right thing.

God bless!
Pastor John

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Values: Growing toward peace by clarifying values

Tomorrow is Transfiguration Sunday... a mountaintop experience! Unfortunately, we don't live on the mountaintop. And while mountaintop experiences can be motivating and initiate positive change in our lives, humans just are not built to change in a weekend without something truly extraordinary happening (like a near death experience). We have to come down off the mountain and grow moment by moment, day by day, bathed in grace, into the person God made each of us to be. The Bible calls this process "growing up into Christ," "being transformed by the renewing of our minds," and "working out our salvation," among other things.

Sometimes there is a great deal of tension between the way we are and the way we think we'd like to be. Here's a little concept I've come up with that's given me more shalom (peace) in my life. Perhaps it will give you some, too. It's a way of eliminating some unnecessary tension in the gap between who we are and who we want to be. We'll talk more about it tomorrow at church.

We all have several types of values. The first is "practiced values." These are the values we are actually living out right now. Then there are "aspirational values." These are the values we would like to see lived in our lives but we aren't there yet. The gap between these two areas is where we grow. It's that tender area where we must admit that we are not where we want to be.

But we can get this gap confused with the gap between our practiced values and two other types of values that we often seek to grow toward, but should really lay aside.

"Respected Values" are the values we see in others that we respect. We make a mistake when we think that we want to adopt a value just because we respect it. For instance, I really respect people who are very neat and completely organized, but that is not my value. I have spent too much time in self-judgment about not being super neat because I so respect people who are. But you know what? It's not really a value to me. I like eclectic and even a little cluttered. It is so peace-giving to simply acknowledge that while I like my office reasonably tidy and organized, it will never be neat as a pin because while I respect that, it's not really a value of mine.

"Image Values" are the values that we'd like others to see in us. The problem is immediately apparent. We never want to hand our peace over to anyone else. It is between us and the God who has demonstrated infinite love for us in Christ Jesus. When your values are image-based, you are trying to find your self-worth in what other people think about you. That's a bad road, fraught with danger and leading you directly away from shalom.

This values framework may help you grow in peace. Reflect on your values and goals, the things you would like to be, and see which of those things fit in which category. If they are "Respected Values," go on respecting them but don't judge yourself for not moving toward them. If they are "Image Values," drop them. You are God's workmanship and nobody else has any business judging you.

For your truly aspirational values, adopt little habits and disciplines that create an environment in your life where God's grace can transform you more and more.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learning Christian Faith from the Buddha

This is a quote that really spoke to my spiritual journey. It's from a book called "The Case for God" by Karen Armstrong, who considers herself a "freelance monotheist." It is a conversation between a Buddhist monk and the Buddha. There is truth in it, even though it doesn't come from the Bible. (It should not be surprising that people who openly observe people and the world come to true observations. It is all God's world, after all.)
One of his monks was a philosopher manqué and, instead of getting on with his yoga, constantly pestered the Buddha about metaphysical questions: Was there a god? Had the world been created in time or had it always existed? The Buddha told him that he was like a man who had been shot with a poisoned arrow and refused medical treatment until he had discovered the name of his assailant and what village he came from. He would die before he got this perfectly useless information. What difference would it make to discover that a god had created the world? Pain, hatred, grief, and sorrow would still...
I spend a lot of time engaged in the head questions of the Christian faith. Unknowns, at times, can drive me nuts. I have lately developed a small habit of seven minutes of quiet prayer time before I go to bed. I set the timer and enter into time with God. Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I feel myself breathing. Sometimes I feel led to pray for someone. It is a practice based not in answering questions, but in being a child of God. Sometimes I even start my time by saying something like, "Well, here I am again, your big screw-up. I'm so glad you love me anyway." I think my Father would prefer that I not refer to myself as the "big screw-up," but some days that's how I feel. Regardless of how the day has gone, I enter into that seven minutes.

Engaging in practices that are not knowledge-based has been a good thing for me. If you are consumed with the big questions of life, the universe and everything, you might try engaging in a spiritual practice that is not knowledge-based. Call it "meditation" or "prayer" or whatever. But sit with God. Let yourself feel his arm around you sitting next to him. No memorizing. No word-studies. Nobody else. Just you and God. Sit quietly. Talk if you want to, but don't talk just to fill the space.

Oh, and if you're like me, you'll want to set a timer. If I don't set a timer, I get distracted wondering how much time I've spent. Setting a timer frees me to be fully present in that moment.