Thursday, February 28, 2013

When He Returns

"The angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake." (Revelation 8:5)

What will it be like when Jesus returns? What will we see when we gaze up into the sky? ("why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." -Acts 1:11)

I remember reading the book Joshua when I was in High School. The story, if you're not familiar, is about Jesus returning as a nondescript carpenter named Joshua. Basically, Jesus blends in and few recognize him as the come-again savior.

Differences in end-times theology, the rapture, and eschatology aside, I wonder: would we really notice when Jesus returns? Currently the Southern Hemisphere can see Comet Wainscoat (or Pans-STARRS or C/2011-L4 if you want to get really technical) but the same comet won't be visible in the Northern Hemisphere for another week. Even the brightest object in the sky can only be seen by half the Earth at a time.

When the meteor exploded over Russia a couple of weeks ago, a friend was eager to tell me about it (me being a space-nerd after all). "No, the asteroid doesn't pass by until tonight," I insisted. Without cable, and not having yet logged on to the Internet, I hadn't seen the news. Despite my ignorance, videos of the blast soon went viral, news services scrambled to explain what happened, and science committees stood up to warn of the dangers of something larger colliding with the Earth.

But to the people there, who saw it firsthand, how did they respond? Check out the fascinating video below taken from cell phones, security cameras, and dash cams. The reactions are what you'd expect. Is this real? Are we under attack? What is that? Now imagine the scene as Revelation describes above and ask yourself, when Jesus comes back will anyone believe it?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One Person at a Time

The driver's license- symbol of freedom and instant status symbol for a teenager. And once we obtain one, we go and do the most foolish things like volunteering to go grocery shopping for the family. Of course that's just an excuse to get out on our own, listen to our own music, drive how we want where we want. Naturally when I was a teenager I would take advantage of that as much as I could. I look back on the freedom, the independence, the... selfishness.

I remember distinctly one such outing making a simple grocery run. I was minding my own business, doing my own thing. In and out. I didn't have to slow down; I didn't have to talk to anyone. And I probably didn't. But as I was leaving the store an older woman was coming in. Instinctively I stopped and held the door for her. "Thank you so much, that's the nicest thing someone has done for me all day." I was speechless. Holding a door? Remember, she was on her way in, so it wasn't as if her hands were full. And as I recall it was a typical day- it wasn't raining or cold. It didn't mean anything. But it meant something to her.

The reaction to this "random act of kindness" has stuck with me in the 20-ish years since. And it came to mind as I was reading the seventh chapter of Brennan Manning's The Furious Longing of God, titled 'healing'.

Manning shares several stories of random (and not so random) acts of kindness- some positive, some negative- but each impacting on my heart. Hearkening back to Jesus' "new command" Manning writes,

"If we as a Christian community took seriously that the sign of our love for Jesus is our love for one another, I am convinced it would change the world." (pg 88)

And how to you change the world? One person at a time.

I like how Chip Ingram describes love: "Love is giving someone what they need the most, when they deserve it least, at great personal cost."

We can all probably come up with a story serving one of the "least of these". Religiously we may go out of our way to serve the most visible needs in our community. We might even pat ourselves on the back for going above and beyond.

But service- truly loving others- shouldn't be limited to those opportunities most likely to get our picture in the paper. There was nothing special about the woman I held the door for. She wasn't in any visible physical need, she wasn't in a hurry. It was just the nice thing to do. No, scratch that. There was something special about her. She, just like you and I, just like the most wealthy and the most impoverished, just like the most beautiful and the most despicable, was created in God's image and is worthy of His love.

Manning concludes his chapter asking:

"The question is not can we heal? The question, the only question, is will we let the healing power of the risen Jesus flow through us to reach and touch others, so that they may dream and fight and bear and run where the brave dare not go?" (pg 104)

Consider This

Ask the Father to bring to your mind one person in your life who has administered the healing touch of Jesus to you. Spend a few minutes in gratitude.

Now ask the Father to bring to your mind one person in your life who needs that same healing touch. Take some time and decide on a tangible way you can return the favor.

(Addendum: I wanted to add these links about our inherent value and preconceived perceptions but didn't have the links handy this morning. The first is a great summary of our identity in Christ by Frank Viola, and the other is an observation on how our perspectives change by Wade Hodges.)

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion. The "consider this" questions come straight from the book- use them as a springboard for your own thoughts and feel free to share them here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gospel Gone Viral

Saint Francis of Assisi is believed to have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words." Whether or not he actually said it, it remains a good point. Call it lifestyle evangelism if you will, but the life of a disciple of Jesus should look different from the rest of the world and that difference should be attractive. I'm not saying that God owes the Christian any special blessing, but we are promised a "peace that surpasses understanding" (Philippians 4:7) as we are called to live a life separate from the world.

Sometimes we see the fruit of living out the Gospel in our lives as family members become Christians or as a coworker or friend reaches out for Jesus in a time of need. (Sadly, the converse is also true- it is possible for our lives to actually make the Gospel unattractive) Other times the seeds are planted, but fruit won't been seen in our lifetimes. And then there is the rare time when one's lifestyle makes such an impact that it literally makes headlines and goes viral.


This post comes a couple of weeks late, but there were some headlines that caught my attention (and much of the world's) that hit right around the same time.

First (ranked because of the number of YouTube views) is the story of Robbie Novak, also known as Kid President. This 8 year-old hit it big with his 'Pep Talk' video (not cool, Robert Frost!), a light-hearted call for hope against the cynicism of the world that has been viewed just over 11 million times (as of this posting). While his videos may not explicitly contain the Gospel message, his roots appear to be planted in good soil as the videos are the brainchild of his brother-in-law who is the social media director for Freed-Hardeman University.

Next, ranked by level of social uproar, is Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A. You might remember not too long ago when he was asked (by a Baptist publication, it is important to note) about his support of traditional marriage. Although his company's charitable contributions to "pro-family" groups was not a secret and he was asked the question by a religious publication, his answer created a firestorm in the LGBTQ community nonetheless. Soon after, prominent mayors would say that his company would not be welcome in their communities, protests would begin, and of course counter-protests would organize in support. At first glance you might think Cathy was living out the Gospel by standing up for what he believes in both in his personal life and professionally. But it is what he's done away from the spotlight that I want to highlight.

If you follow college football you know there's a postseason bowl game sponsored by just about every product under the sun; Chick-Fil-A is no exception. Dan Cathy's guest of honor for the game his company sponsored was Shane Windmeyer, director of the LGBT group Campus Pride. Shrewd political move? According to Windmeyer, Dan Cathy actually reached out to him to reconcile and through several conversations the two become friends. Cathy wanted to hear the other side of the debate at a personal level and hoped that they could reach the point to agree to disagree. If this act surprises you, or even possibly offends you, we need to remember that Jesus was routinely criticized by the religious elite for hanging out with sinners.

In a similar vein is the story of the defection of Megan Phelps-Roper from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church which is led by her grandfather, Fred Phelps; you might have heard of him. Jeff Chu got the scoop on the story as he encountered Megan at his congregation, Old First Reformed Church in New York. Jeff, it is important to note, like Windmeyer is gay. What is curious, and not addressed in his article, is why she went to a gay-friendly congregation in Brooklyn, a thousand miles (physically and spiritually) from her home church in Kansas. Jeff, it turns out, knew Megan from spending time with her as he was writing his book, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Despite your opinion on his sexuality, his life (not limited to his lifestyle) must have made enough of an impact that one of Megan's first church services away from everything she grew up believing was at this congregation. Regardless of your convictions regarding homosexuality, I strongly encourage you to read this story. Hers is a terrific example of God's word convicting in spite of religion.

Finally, as a bookend with Kid President, are the stars of A&E's hit show 'Duck Dynasty'. To be honest, I've only watched this once to see what all the hype was about. I wasn't really a fan, only because those types of shows don't typically appeal to me. But I am a fan of the Robertson's lifestyle and family as it is portrayed in the show. They are unashamedly Christian, shown gathering at the end of every show for a family meal which begins with a prayer of thanksgiving (and although the standard line "in Jesus' name, Amen" is typically edited out, it was included in their season finale in November). Brandon Hooks, a fan of the show, did a Google search on the Robinsons and found this testimony by Willie Robertson, speaking at Harding University. Hooks made the decision to follow Jesus and his wife arranged for him to be baptized by the family. While this could be written off as a case of celebrity worship, it is important to point out that his wife is a Christian and they have been attending church together as long as they've been married- since 2007. It wasn't until he saw Duck Dynasty and heard Willie's testimony that the Gospel began to move in his heart which just goes to show you never know how, when, or by whom the Gospel will impact another.

You and I are unlikely to become stars in a reality TV show or get a million hits on YouTube. But you never know who is watching how we live- children, enemies, the hyper-religious, or the unbeliever. And sometimes, our lives preach the Gospel louder than words ever could.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unconditional is not Cheap

The other night I was browsing books at my local Family Christian store when I struck up a conversation with a guy in the same aisle. He was eagerly hunting for a book by a particular author. "Man, you gotta check this guy out! He's on channel 9 at 6:30 in the morning. I was washed out on being a Christian, man. But this guy, he opened my eyes to grace!" The conversation continued about the fine line between law and grace and the failure of organized religion. I told him I was happy for him and I'd check the author out.

I meant what I said. I was genuinely happy to see his joy in Christ. His face was like many I've seen before rising from the waters of baptism into a new life. The Holy Spirit was definitely doing something in his life.

But there's a risk. We desire structure and order, so we invent religious traditions. Yet we have an inner conflict to rebel, so cheap grace is an easy temptation. Not all grace is cheap of course. But there is a risk to worshiping grace rather than the giver of that grace. We easily turn blessings into idols- our families, financial prosperity. If you don't believe me, look no further than the story of Isaac and Abraham. Isaac wasn't just a blessing, he was an answered prayer, a miracle announced by an angel! And God needed Abraham to prove that he hadn't become an idol.

I thought of this as Brennan Manning was describing God's unconditional love and how we have such a hard time grasping the concept. This comes on the heels of Manning discussing "union" with God as His ultimate desire, so unconditional love is the means to that end. Yet how easily we twist it such that God's unconditional love becomes the means to unlimited, cheap, grace. Manning writes,

"Unconditional love as a concept has transported me to intellectual nirvana, motivated the reading of at least fifty books on related themes, and deluded me into believing that I was there. Until along came a day when I was appalled to discover that nothing had changed...
Until the love of God that knows no boundary, limit, or breaking point is internalized through personal decision; until the furious longing of God seizes the imagination; until the heart is conjoined to the mind through sheer grace, nothing happens." (pgs 74-75)

Nothing changed. Nothing happened. Why? Because we confuse God's unconditional love as Him showering blessing upon blessing on us rather than His desiring to be with us. How hard we try to ascend to the level of Jesus, forgetting that he forsook all to come down to our level.

As I was reading this chapter, I made this note: Unconditional love is not giving your child unlimited undeserved gifts on Christmas morning- that would be spoiling. No, unconditional love is even after your child misbehaves you get down on your knees to and play with those gifts together.

It is Jesus, loving us as we are where we are, that brings about change. That is unconditional love.

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion. The "consider this" questions come straight from the book- use them as a springboard for your own thoughts and feel free to share them here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Seeing The Invisible Mission Field

Recently the National Museum of the American Indian held a symposium on the depiction of Native Americans in sports. Being hosted in Washington, DC, the conversation naturally steered towards their NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The mayor of Washington has gone on record to oppose a new stadium for the football team inside city limits unless they drop the name.

A few weeks ago a blog previewed the hats that Major League Baseball teams would be wearing for spring training, showing a sample image of the Atlanta Braves' cap featuring an image of their mascot, the "screamin' indian", Chief Knockahoma, which hasn't been used since 1986. After considerable backlash, the Braves are wearing their traditional script A on their hats.

And don't get me started on the legal dispute over the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

I'm not going to weigh in on one side or the other. But I want to call it to our attention. How many of us cheer for a team, or wear a particular logo, without consideration of where that name or brand came from? The AP story on the Native American symposium highlighted a fan who wore his Redskins gear and was so moved by what he heard that he ditched them. He simply never thought of it before.

Face it, the Native American is the nameless, faceless race that used to inhabit North America and is often depicted as the bad guy in classic westerns. How many of you know a Native American? Depending on where you live, it is unlikely you've ever seen one. The idea of a sports mascot named the Braves, Warriors, or Chiefs doesn't cause us to flinch. A super-fan dressed up in a war bonnet with his face painted might strike us as odd, but not necessarily racist. Familiarity may breed contempt, but unfamiliarity breeds indifference.

We may not know them, we may not see them, but they're still there. They are still a strong and proud people. And they, just like the "foreign savage" we send missionaries to overseas, need Jesus.

I'm sensitive to this myself. I grew up just outside the boundaries of an Indian reservation. I grew up with classmates who were Arapaho or Shoshone. Every year my hometown would celebrate the "Gift of the Waters" pageant, an artistic reenactment of a treaty signed between the Shoshone tribe and the US Government handing over some of their land that included a natural spring the tribe considered sacred. Before I went away to college I knew the family of the Shoshone chief, Joseph.

Many missionary organizations emphasize raising up indigenous people to lead in local ministry. Yet we've forgotten about the indigenous in our own country.

So I was sad to hear of the sudden passing of "Uncle" Richard Twiss, a Native American missionary and founder of Wiconi International. If you've never heard of him, don't feel bad because neither had I. But I was ashamed because as much as I try to be "plugged in" to American Christian Culture I was ignorant to the man and this much-needed ministry.

Not knowing him, I can't speak much about him. But I encourage you to check out what others have said honoring his memory. (Lots of links: Christianity Today, InterVarsity, Out of Ur, Urban Faith, Sojourners, Patheos, and Red Letter Christians)

Also please pray for the indigenous of this country. Twiss' work is far from finished. May we be as moved to be missionaries to the natives of our own soil as we are to send missionaries to foreign lands.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Flashback Friday: Give God a Valentine

***Originally posted in 2009 as notes from a contribution talk I gave the Sunday after Valentine's Day. The dollar figures may have changed, but God does not change.***

I saw on the news that last year [2008] the average person spent $123 on Valentines Day and this year given the economy it was expected to drop to $102. That sounds like a lot, but if consider dinner on top of the flowers, candies, and cards you can see how that would add up quick. I bring this up because it points out how we spend a lot of money on silly things while we struggle to pay the bills and make ends meet. (not that Valentines Day is silly, but the efforts we go though to impress our loved ones with things is)

Brothers, how much did you spend yesterday? We justify it because it’s only once a year, but I hope we show that love our spouses more than just once a year, Amen? Just like I hope we demonstrate our love for God more than just on Sundays. How do we show our love to God? Well, just like our wives, he likes to be given things. No, not stuffed animals that sing Elvis songs when you press its paw. But he wants us to sacrifice to him. Things of value, things that demonstrate that he is more important than what we give him. Just like Valentine’s Day, our spouses are worth much more than that box of candies, but what message would it have sent if we didn’t get anything at all and just sat with our arms crossed, huffing at the suggestion of spending money on Valentines Day? Are you sitting now with your arms crossed huffing at the suggestion of giving part of your hard earned income to God?

In Matthew 19, beginning in verse 16, we read of a rich man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to get to heaven. The answer shocked him, verse 21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." And the man walked away sad. Jesus isn’t telling us to sell everything we have and give it away to the poor, but don’t let that stop you. What he is telling us is to love him more than our possessions or our wealth. Give him a valentine today.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sick, Leave!

Being out sick for a week gave me a lot of time to think. But since I was sleeping most of the time, I don't remember much of it, lol, so instead you get my thoughts looking back.


(photo credit: Jason Porter)

Rest is the best medicine

I once heard someone say, "be sure to take the Sabbath or the Sabbath will take you." He then went on to describe how we burn ourselves out by filling our weekends, our times off, with being busy. We call sports tournaments and kids' activities as "recreation", but neither allow us much rest. We fill our Sundays with church meetings, classes, and even more busyness and then wonder why we're so tired Monday morning when we return to the grind.

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)

I approached being sick the same way. I could tell I was coming down with something when I started feeling lethargic. Once it got to the point it was affecting my work, I decided to take a day off. I slept in, and then made myself busy the rest of the day catching up on errands around town and chores around the house. I shouldn't have been surprised when less than a week later, I was laid up in bed, only getting up to help my kids get ready for school. I was restless and felt like I needed to do something, but staying in bed all day is what I needed most.

Treat the disease, not the symptom

I finally went in to the doctor when I started struggling to breathe. I don't like going to the doctor because treating whatever ails is a crapshoot. Last week about half of my vanpool missed work. We all showed the same symptoms yet we each received different diagnoses and different prescriptions. Mine was for high-powered cough syrup (aka Codeine) and after taking it the first day my cough went away but my stuffy head and sore throat got worse.

The same is true in life and spirituality. We try and fight off a particular sin but neglect the root cause behind it. We confess being irritable with our spouse but deny just how stressed out we are at work (to take my most common example). We read self-help books, watch Oprah, and fill our heads with means of treating symptoms but we can only find healing when we hand over our disease to the Great Physician, Jesus.

"[T]he power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick... When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven... Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.'" (Luke 5:17b,20,23-24)

Feed a cold, but don't starve spiritually

While I was sick I didn't go online, I didn't read, I seldom prayed (beyond the regular "please, God, make this go away!"). I was starving myself spiritually. But I did get out to church and my church's Super Bowl party. Just that brief fellowship renewed my [spiritual] strength enough to bring me back to my relationship with God. I didn't read entire books; and I regretted that the whole time, "I have all this time, I should knock out a couple books!" But I fed just on just enough of the Word to sustain me.

Once I was feeling well enough to be up and about I was starving! I dug into my Bible, I caught up on blogs, I caught up on several books. I almost had to be pried away from my study- it felt so good and it had been so long! And that hunger extended to my prayers, I have prayed like I haven't in a long time ever since I got better.

"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1)

Follow the Doctor's orders

Although medicine may not be an exact science, the general advice of a doctor is still worth following. When he or she says to rest, I need to listen and rest. But this advice extends beyond this particular episode of being sick. Do we heed doctor's warnings about our diet and encouragement to exercise? Are we willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to stay healthy?

Again, this applies spiritually as well. We have our doctor's orders summed up in a single big book. Do we read it? Do we do what it says? Self-diagnose yourself about your sin. How do you treat it? Do you run from it? Do you confess it? Do you cut off what leads you to it? Are you following the doctor's orders?

"So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, 'Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.' But Naaman went away angry and said, 'I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?' So he turned and went off in a rage." (2 Kings 5:9-12)

Get well so you can take care of others

Illness is often contagious so naturally, as soon as I started to feel better my son started to come down with the same thing. It is hitting him harder however, requiring both my wife and I to remain as healthy as we can be so that we can take care of him. In fact last night I was up with him four different times. If I was too sick to get up, what then?

Spiritually-speaking, how can we expect to serve others when we are either so sick with sin ourselves or if we are starving from spiritual malnourishment?

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:1)

_____

Our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. So it follows that lessons from physical ailments can be applied to our spiritual condition as well. We need to seek out the Great Physician and listen to his advice. We need regular checkups. And we need to know when we are so sick we need a stronger dose of medicine. I'm not perfectly healthy- I won't be, I can't be, until I receive a new body. So I need to take care of it the best I can.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Intimate Union

Brennan Manning makes the point in the fourth chapter of The Furious Longing of God, 'Union' that unity is part of God's design for his creation. Jesus prayed for it and the perfect image of this union is God walking alongside Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jesus' mission was to restore this unity. Manning writes:

"the outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, neither the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception." (pgs 59-60)

Why is that so hard to embrace? It sounds nice and looks good on paper. But living this out? Our fallen nature likes to draw lines in the sand that divide us for any number of reasons- skin color, politics, denomination. This division, this disunity is never what God planned for us. It does not reflect the love of Christ.

But in order to be united with one another, we must first enjoy union with God.

Ultimately, it is God's furious desire for us to be one with him, and all the rest of our relationships hinge on that. The father in the parable of the Prodigal Son saw his son returning "while he was still a long way off" implying that he was keeping watch for him. Paul taught in Athens that God places us exactly where we need to be so that we can "seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:27)  James, the brother of Jesus promised that if you "come near to God... he will come near to you." (James 4:8) In fact, the Bible is often described as 'God's love story' where the repeated cycle of rebellion, repentance, and restoration shows God's love never giving up on his creation, always longing to be reunited with his people.

God is pursuing union with you. Let that sink in for a moment. The creator of the universe wants a intimate relationship with you.

Even more dramatic, every one of your relationships relies on this. Marriage, friendships, family, even strangers- how we approach each of these depends first on our relationship with God. Selfishness, pride, mistrust, hurt- all of these are symptoms of missing out on God's perfect union and the consequences can be seen in our broken relationships, hurt feelings, and bad memories.

It is no coincidence (there are no coincidences in the Kingdom of God, one of my friends is fond of saying) that this chapter falls right before Valentine's Day. The best Valentine you can give the one you love is to love Him first. Manning writes, "love by its nature seeks union." (pg 68) So he offers this sage advice, again perfect timing for Valentine's Day, "if I had to do it all over again?.. I would simply do the next thing in love." (pg 66)

God seeks intimate union with you. Welcome Him.

Consider this:

How often do you monitor your spiritual growth-Several times a day? Once a month? Every thirty days? Twice a year?

Would you, could you, devote not one more minute to monitoring your spiritual growth? If so, it's possible you just might find you like green eggs and ham.

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion. The "consider this" questions come straight from the book- use them as a springboard for your own thoughts and feel free to share them here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I'm Worn

After having been knocked out sick for the past week or so, this is a good song to describe how I feel. Plus, it's a pretty good song for a Monday.




One (of many) thing I love about Tenth Avenue North is that they don't just post their videos, but they also post a "behind the music" video for many of their songs. A bonus-feature commentary if you will:


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Does God Care____?

The cover story (subscription required) for this week's Sports Illustrated asks "Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?" I don't expect SI to answer a question with such theological nuance. But many people will be watching this game today wondering whose faith God accepts, Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick?

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares that millions of dollars are being spent on advertising to be watched by thousands of parties of people eating enough food to feed a billion starving people.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares that many churches are using Jesus' name to lure people into an event, pot-luck, party to watch the 'Big Game'.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares about our taste for violence and the drive by players to make the big hit so they can be seen in highlight reels. God cares that these hits cause irreversible damage leading some to suicide. More recently our thirst for the extreme cost a snowmobiler, Caleb Moore, his life.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares about sincere expressions of faith, no matter how annoying we may find them.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares about the sincere repentance of the game's biggest star, Ray Lewis, despite our feelings towards him.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares that more people have faith in pro athletes than faith leaders.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares that sports, especially football, has become an idol.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares that so many people care if he cares.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares when rivalries turn to violence.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares that our worship of sports leads to a win-at-all-costs attitude.

Does God care about the Super Bowl?
God cares about every hair on our head.

So yes, I'd say God cares very much about the Super Bowl.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Why Space

It's funny how you remember exactly where you were when certain events happen. Most people a generation before remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was shot or when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon. I remember sitting in my grandma's kitchen watching the Berlin Wall fall. I remember my mom calling me to wake me up to watch the events of September 11 unfold on cable news. And as a space nerd, other events are vivid in my memory.

When I was six or seven, my family went on vacation to Disney World and we took a side-trip to Cape Canaveral, home of NASA's new Space Shuttle program. In my young mind, the Disney ride 'Flight to Mars' combined with the visit to NASA to convinced me that I had actually gone to space. Already a huge fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, this trip forever hooked me.

Ten years ago I was on my way to an appointment when my phone started to ring. Over and over. My love of all things space, and especially the Space Shuttle, was no secret so just about everyone who knew me that saw the news gave me a call. I remember driving to my meeting listening for every detail on the radio. I understood what the news meant, so I kept listening for clues why.

Just seventeen years earlier I was sitting in my 4th grade classroom sharing current events. The launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger had already been delayed a couple of times due to weather. The news I heard that morning was that it was finally due to launch. The space nerd that I was (and still am) was eager to share this with the rest of the class. A debate broke out- one of my friends insisted it was delayed again. He spoke with authority- his dad was one of the finalists for the Teacher in Space program that earned Christa McCauliffe a seat on Challenger. We were in class, so there was no way to know who was right and who was wrong. Until a half-hour or so later when another teacher ran in to our room pulling in a TV on its cart. "You need to see this!" she cried.

That event is cemented in my mind. Space was no longer a fantasy of comic books and movies. It was not a novelty stop on a trip to Disney World. It was real, involved real people, and included real risks. From that point on, it has been on my heart to work to reduce the risks and increase the reliability of space travel. If I'd never go to space in my lifetime, I still held on to the youthful dream that possibly my children could. And here I am today.

I recalled that day in January as I heard about Columbia and marvelled how close their dates ocurred. Checking my history it found it odd that almost exactly 19 years before Challenger was the Apollo 1 catastrophe. I deal every day with numbers so this synchronicity seemed too improbable to be true. Trying to find meaning I pondered if God was trying to tell us something.

In the ten years since, and watching the Orbiter Endeavor fly over my work on its final voyage to the California Science Center in LA, I have often wondered "why space"? Besides providing me a paycheck, is there a point anymore? The idea of human exploration, or more so human habitation in space is as far-fetched as ever. Just Thursday an otherwise very reliable Zenit rocket failed to deliver a communication satellite when something went wrong during first-stage burn. Space is still hard. It is still dangerous.

I am reminded of the Tower of Babel. With the Internet allowing world-wide instant communication, are we really any different than the people of that age? And I think of our efforts to explore space- each new discovery introduces more questions: Water on Mars? Hundreds of planets discovered? I watched the movie 'Contact', based on Carl Sagan's masterpiece, and reflected on the eternal questions "where did we come from?" and "why are we here?" and realized we are not any closer to answering those questions than we were then. Maybe even further away.

Is God continuing to confuse the wisdom of the world as he did at Babel? Is he actively preventing us from exploring too far from our home? (Meanwhile Voyager 1 is breaking into the heliopause- the boundary of the Solar System.)

I ask myself these questions and wonder about my place in this vast universe as I look up into the stars and dream.

(photo courtesy NASA via space.com)