Thursday, May 31, 2012

Prayer and forgiveness

I really wanted to focus my prayers yesterday, Wednesday fast day, on someone I know who was recently diagnosed with cancer, but, whenever my brain wanted to go there, it was obscured by some resentment I held against a brother in the Lord. I was irritated, not just over the things he did, but that those things which were waters under the bridge, old water, were robbing me of brain cycles on the person I wanted to intercede for. I got pretty bummed out by the end of the day. I already know I'm not a prayer giant but more of a prayer pixie. I also was disappointed that this old stuff still chafes my heart. I thought I had worked through it all by the end of the day, but Jesus spoke to me this morning in my reading in the Gospel of Mark.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. Mark 11:24-25

That little phrase "whenever you stand praying, forgive" gave me a big shout out this morning over my cereal bowl. If I understand the Greek grammar right, the "whenever" applies to the standing and the forgiving, praying is the participle in the sentence, standing and forgiving are the actions. What I'm getting is my prayer was interrupted yesterday by unforgiveness, and God's Holy Spirit was kind enough to keep bringing it up in my mind, so I could let it go. That means, in hindsight, God and I were communing, I just wasn't realizing it. That's typical. He really set me up though for this morning's passage.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the effective woodshop teacher

I took woodshop in junior high school almost 30 years ago. I had some good ideas, but poor execution. However, I had family who appreciated the thought behind the gift despite it's rough edges. Everything was rough, sanding bored me. nothing fit perfectly. My projects were functional, but not beautiful. I made coal, not diamonds. The next year, in art class, we competed to design a pen and pencil holder to be made and sold by carpenter. Being the consistent guy that I am, I designed a whale, with a long back to hold a few writing instruments. It was functional, but not very artistic, not at all like fanciful designs by the students I admired in the class. They came up with seals balancing balls on their noses or octopuses swinging all their arms around. Curiously to me, my design was chosen! My design actually held pens and pencils, and could be reproduced fairly easily. My prize was one of the pencil holders I designed.

What advantage did I have over the better artists in my class, I actually made some things in wood shop but they hadn't. I wasn't taught about woodworking by a lecture, I was taught woodworking by working on wood. One important thing I learned is that my future career possibilities would not include woodworking. One master carpenter told my pastor, a story he often likes to retell, to look at the 2x4 and realize you only have to be smarter than it. I wish I was. I'm a measure five times and still get it wrong woodworker. But I know that because I've built stuff, ugly stuff, but usually functional.

I'm a big believer in empowering people to do stuff, instead of keeping them dependent on me. This is great when your 8 year-olds start doing their own laundry. But this can also be hard when they make bad decisions without my input. But they learn from their mistakes as well. It can also be really hard for Bible teachers. It can be extremely satisfying to be the go-to person when people have questions about God and the Bible. Believe me, I know the feeling and it reviles me simultaneously as it strokes me. I've experienced and seen the destruction wrecked by those who let themselves become the intermediary between God and humanity. I don't want people I study the Bible with to experience spiritual authoritarian leadership. It sucks too much. That's why I try to be like a good woodshop teacher. We look at the pieces and figure out what we can build, together.

I try to be a Bible discussion group facilitator, and stay out of God's way, trusting Him to open people's eyes. I've been the Bible study lecturer, giving the sermonettes. I've been the leading questioner, asking stupid questions to get people to see the thing I want them to see. But none of that empowers people. It mostly made the Bible scary, a jungle in need of a protective guide to keep away the wild animals. But I'd rather be the naturalist who helps explain all the beautiful things seen in the jungle. Or a shop teacher who knows about types of wood and different tools and different techniques, but does not use those insights to scare the students but the assist them.

I want people to engage with God's word. I want them to see for themselves what the Bible says about God. I want them to see for themselves what the Bible says about humanity. I want them to see for themselves what the Bible says about how we should live our lives. If they bust out a circular saw for a piece of balsa wood I'll suggest something smaller. If they are ready for expensive hardwoods, I'll be happy to show them how to work with them. My hope is that everyone can go through life encountering those with different perspectives on the Bible and feel comfortable reading the book with those others and learning from it together. Perhaps some will become Bibilical carpenters, working in ministry full time, but I hope the rest can at least be able to build a little something from time to time, even if not elegantly.
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

book response: Steve Jobs by Isaacson (2011)

The bestselling biography of Steve Jobs was not high on my reading list but I was lent it and devoured it in a week. Since it wasn't my book and I couldn't write in it, I don't have excerpts, but I have a couple responses.
  • Isaacson is a great writer. I agree with Steve Jobs himself that he was an a-hole, but Isaacson made the life of this a-hole very interesting.
  • Steve Jobs was an a-hole. I'm not disagreeing with his own self-assessment.
  • Steve was an artist with an artist's petulant demeanor.
  • The serious girlfriend in his life before he married concluded he exhibited Narcissistic Personality Disorder. See my earlier blog on that. I think she's right.
  • How could a company succeed with such a self-centered person?
  • How could a company succeed without such a focused person?
  • Notice the two sides of that disorder?
  • He lacked empathy. People who survived and thrived in his employ learned to cope with his insults.
  • He pursued beauty instead of profits. 
  • He saw beauty in simplicity and purity.
  • He hired the best and fired the rest.
  • He was always looking 5 years ahead.
  • He considered various mind-altering methods beneficial
    • Fasting
    • Meditation
    • Zen Buddhism
    • LSD
    • food fetishes
  • His reality distortion field was an effect of his intense focus, but it also hurt him and those around him when he refused to engage reality: his daughters, his initial cancer result, some business decisions
  • I respect those who left the company and all the money because they couldn't work for him. I totally understand. Dignity is priceless.
  • One of his early lieutenants described himself as an "assaholic". I thought I invented that word, but I'm glad others recognize it's value as a word. It is much easier to say than Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (Quote and more info at The Good Men Project.)

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Bringing the sick to Jesus

When I was reading Matthew 15 the other day I was struck by Jesus' presence on the mountaintop.

29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. 

On this occasion, he did not make it easy for people to reach him. I imagined it must have been quite the effort for the healthy friends to carry up a mountain the lame or crippled person who can't walk, or guide the blind guy up the steep paths. I'm sure they were overjoyed to have their friends and family healed but maybe a little jealous of the region in the previous chapter, Gennesaret who had Jesus on their coastline.
Matthew 14:34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. 
Those people in G-town had to make a lesser effort to reach the same Jesus. I thought there was something I needed to learn from this. I got to thinking about healing and prayer. Prayer is relatively easy, so easy, I fall asleep if I try to do it too long. But what would be hard prayer? Pretty quickly I thought about fasting. When it comes to praying for people, I'm very lazy. I think Jesus should be on the shoreline, but maybe he's on the mountain. Millions of Christians around the world and through history know that prayer and fasting get answers. It's not that God can't hear my lazy shoreline prayers, and he has, but he may be trying to get me up on the mountain with Him.

This past year, in keeping with historic church practices as described in the Didache, I've been fasting twice a week, Wednesdays and Fridays, breakfast and lunch. I prefer to not skip meals with my family when I'm home with them.
Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord's Prayer). But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever.. Pray this three times each day. 
The funny thing is I do live on the shoreline. There aren't any mountains to hike and pray up around here. But maybe I can take a prayer walk and focus on one person to bring to Jesus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Heavenly bodies

First of all I must apologize if you came here looking for p0rn, astronomy pics or serious theology. This is a theological post of the light sort, it was inspired by my recent ride through Walt Disney World's It's a Small World attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

I didn't like the boat ride in 1987 but last week I appreciated it for the air conditioning and a place to sit with my kids for 10 minutes, as opposed to standing in line or walking to Pirates of the Caribbean on a warm humid day.

For those who don't know this ride, it takes you through 7 rooms with dolls dressed up as children in various ethnic dress representing various cultures. As we were guessing what Disney would do with the 7th room, since no one inhabits Antarctica, just visitors there, sure enough we entered a white room, full of child dolls, but everything was pretty normal in the room, except everything was "snow" colored. I joked, this is the continent of heaven. Then I thought, maybe this is a glimpse of heaven.

That means, I'll be a child dressed up like a scientist. I don't know about the dress up part, but maybe our heavenly bodies will be childlike. This episode from the gospels intrigued me more, Matthew 18
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 

There are regular applications from this passage. One being, Jesus will bring justice to child abusers. The other is he wants us to trust him with child-like faith. But maybe he's letting us know what our physical appearance is like.

One other aspect of this is when Jesus rose from the dead, most people didn't recognize him at first. The two guys on the Emmaus road had no clue. Mary thought he was a gardener. Maybe he looked younger, a lot younger.

Maybe our heavenly body won't be old and saggy if we die old, or hunky like from an Avenger movie, but more soft and big eyed, like a kid or a doll from It's a Small World.