Posts

What's a Gospel?

Here’s a test.  What is the Gospel message? a)   Jesus died to pay your debt of sin. b)   Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! c)   A word that means “good news” Answer:  b Many years ago, after some years in active rejection of Jesus and all things called by His name, and after the consequent despair arising out of ephemeral alternatives, I returned to Him.  I had become acutely aware of my shortcomings and of my inability to rein them in.  I knew that, although my case was mild, it did not differ in kind from others who drift into more consequential, death inducing, shortcomings. On the cosmic scales of justice I deserved punishment quite as much as they.  It’s not surprising, then, that the Gospel of my Protestant upbringing reached me in a profound place of need.  The Protestant Gospel is answer a), “Jesus died to pay your debt of sin.”  What I needed was forgiveness, and that’s what I got, in spades.  For an over scrupulous young man, I was assured of forgiveness and at the sa…

In Control

Paradox lies at the heart of the most meaningful truths.For example, “Pray as though everything depends on God; behave as though everything depends on you.” I’ve seen this attributed to Christian and to Jewish sources, and I dare to think the concept lives in the repositories of wisdom in many other places. It can be helpful to see paradox as lopping off extremes.For example, part of the above quote warns against using God’s sovereignty as an excuse for indifference.But it also warns against the opposite extreme of complete self reliance, as though nothing gets done without you!Cutting those out clears the conceptual stage, creating space that can then be filled with any number of good ways to rely on the Lord proactively. What are some of these ways?I smile to remember examples that others have shared with me.Each one that comes to mind can be ambiguously interpreted.For example, my own history includes three distinct episodes wherein we were in transition from one place to another, one…

Mocking Birds Don't Fly

Daily activities, responsibilities, and incidents are enough to wear a person down.Humor, therefore, brings a little grace into the mix.It's the proverbial oil that lubricates the machine, preventing it from overheating.Some humor, like sarcasm, can be more a relief valve than a lubricant.If a lot of friction has already heated things, a sarcastic expostulation can awaken the need for some needed sympathy, forestalling a meltdown.So sarcasm is necessary but should be used judiciously.In other words, not all brands of humor "lubricate the machine."One in particular actually increases friction, namely mockery, sarcasm’s near cousin.
One who easily mocks goes directly to my "do not trust" list.Mockery is a strong indicator of poor character.We know it when we see it, parody that highlights what the mocker thinks stupid, weak, or contemptible.This is such an undignified way on many levels.For one, the mocker feels assured in his contempt; he is confident others will…

Jesus in the Present

Be present.This sage advice saturates the world around me, yet this same world teems with increasingly numerous varieties of distractions and crises.Countless wonderful people find themselves caught in these chaotic cross currents.Many ride them with apparent, yet frenetic, ease, turning them to useful outcomes.Others compartmentalize, carving parts of their lives to enter the flow.But as good as these strategies are, staying “grounded” proves elusive.Somewhere along the way you discover voids that have deepened through neglect, neglect reinforced with time spent in the swift currents of distraction.So, yes, that sage advice reverberates loudly in these empty spaces:“better not to have yielded to distraction, better to have been present!”Hopeful as this sounds the idea falls short, being a negation of the unpleasant reality: be not-distracted.So if distraction has a real antidote, what is its substance? From reading Time and Despondency, by Nicole Roccas, I discovered what I had overlo…

An Answer

Happy New Year!
Let’s begin the year with one of the big questions.No, not, “Why am I here?”Instead, “Why am I a Christian?”I don’t believe I have ever attempted to answer this directly.At the level of intuition, it’s simple.But piecing it together, articulating the intuition is too complicated. So, here’s an attempt to go straight to simple.
I am a Christian first because I am certain that god exists. That’s half the journey, the smaller half.From there everything—nature, civilizations, past and present events, human nature, etc.—opens up into one utterly compelling question, “What is god like?”There is an answer.God is Personal, Powerful, Good.Experiencing this answer is why I continue breathing.
That’s it.The rest is details.A great many details.All of them amazing.Some difficult.Many beautiful.All incomprehensible.So much more remains unknown.What is knowable resonates most fully in the worship and teachings of Christians, of the historic Church.As I like to say, this is the God of A…

Why Not This Why

On my shelf are many leadership books, which I loved for their emphasis on serving others.  But always I stumbled over the nagging question which came in various forms, "What is your calling?  What is your Vision?"  These questions have the ironic effect of turning a desire to serve others into a desire to aggrandize myself, an endeavor entirely predicated on the thing that drives me.  This is not the fault of the questions, which must be asked, but of the manifold deceptions that turn all things into grist for pride.  So any proper answer to these necessary questions would not center on me and would account for my natural proclivities.  For years no satisfying answer came.
Lately, however, one of Fr. Hopko's maxims suggested itself as the answer. Be an ordinary person. The leadership imperative as I have understood it, finding one’s core motivation, bears no relevance to this maxim.  And I've begun to catch a glimpse of what I might look like as an ordinary person.  Or…

Ordinariness

Be careful what you ask for you just might get it.For many years this has functioned as a warning against frivolous prayer, against treating God as a butler.Persistence in such requests may invite, rather, a painful object lesson.But none of these calculations interfered with my decision, soon followed by the action, to ask God regularly to help me be an ordinary person. My life has had many voices saying that “ordinary” is the way to go.The message did not connect.It’s not that I am extraordinary, but that “ordinary” has operated as a term of disdain.A litany of enticements beckon:Success, meaning, impact, “make a difference,” “fulfill your potential,” on and on and on.Naturally this meant that I needed to make everything around me better, and be better than others.The results?Failure by an impossible standard.Bitterness.Frustration.A scary enticement to disengage, to cease caring about The Good, to resign into that very image of ordinariness I had disdained.If you can’t beat ‘em, joi…