Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Please take the MAS out of Christmas

It is this time of year when I start seeing the slogan "Don't take CHRIST out of Christmas" and "It's not XMAS its CHRISTmas" on social media sites, bumper stickers, signs in yards and other places.
There is also a fight in my area over a nativity scene that is on display on the lawn of a court house, placed there by a nonprofit group and not the government, and some anti-religious organization from a state way up north wants it removed and is threatening legal action. The people of this small community are upset about it as it is attacking their fundamental belief system, years of tradition, and quiet frankly its Yankees sticking their nose in something that doesn't concern them.
We in the South really don't get Yankee thought processes (we actually question if they exist) and I guess Yankees don't get us either. I am constantly amazed with folks who fight so hard against something they don't believe in. A little twisted if you ask me. I don't believe in the Easter Bunny but I really don't care if you do. I'm not going to protest your easter egg hunt.
Their leader was quoted as saying all the normal propaganda about church/state endorsement blah blah blah. I wish these folks would do a little historical fact finding before running with the KoolAide mantra. If someone would take the historical background of what and why the 1st Amend was written, as people should take the historical and cultural climate into consideration when reading the Bible, they would understand this a little better and maybe chill out. Probably not going to happen. What do folks think we are celebrating with the Christmas holidays anyway? It IS a religious holiday. I bet they take the day off for it. It is historically the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child (yes, the church co-opted a pagan holidaybut still), so if that is the case whats the harm of displaying a scene depicting the misrepresented birth nativity story?
I wonder if these folks exchange gifts with people during the holidays. So far it is still known as christmas presents and not yet politically correct terminology of "holiday gifts". Do they know by doing this they are recreating the story of the gifts brought to the christ child?
So I'm starting another movement. Lets take the MAS out of Christmas. The MAS is all that hoopla that goes with the holiday. The tremendous amounts of commercialism. The steady stream of sales papers, tv ads, and newspaper inserts that inundate us with STUFF we MUST have and THINGS they will LOVE. Materialism. Consumerism. An industry based upon a simple story of gift presentations to the Christ Child in the new testament. Lets do away with the buying something for uncle Ralph because we have to. Lets not convince our kids that Christmas is all about THEM and give them the latest gadget that they do not need. Lets do away with the materialism that causes so much sadness for the have nots when flaunted in front of them by the haves. Lets do away with the ridiculously priced items that really says how much you love someone (insert a big diamond ring or the latest Xbox or whatever) when we have people who are wondering how they are going to feed their children, much less give them gifts.
Yes. Lets take the MAS out of Christmas. Lets just have the CHRIST.
Lets see what He would think about all of this ChistMAS stuff.
Oh....who am I kidding. ~npp

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


One of my favorite movies from my impressionable teenage years was TOP GUN with Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and other notable actors. Reflective of the times we lived in the movie centers around a Navy fighter pilot Maverick (Tom Cruise) who struggles with ghosts from his past and feels he has many things to prove. He is good and pushes the envelope in his flying to tempt the fates and thumb his nose at danger. He feels immortal, invincible, and on more than one occassion places himself and others in danger because he feels he can come out on Top. Cheat Death.
He cannot. In the blink of an eye, a routine fighter plane move exercise move turns deadly and he looses his best friend "Goose" after having to eject from the F14.
Mavericks world just turned on him and he is left with a sense of deep sorrow and guilt, second guessing himself and his whole apprach to flying.

And it cripples him.

Life is like that scene for many of us. As I reflect on my early childhood years, it seems as if I was a spectator in this thing called life, secure in my own little bubble and watching the world move around me in its busyness and routine. I did not have to concern myself with the cares of the day as I had parents who did that for me. I was simply allowed to exist. Of course as we grow older we start taking a more active part in life and all the responsibilities that come along with that. We learn a few things in school, apply them in a job, start relationships and have families, finance mortgages and auto loans, get involved with civic functions or church or politics or all of the above, and before we know it we are fully involved in life. Not sure how that all happened but we are in no longer merely observing it hapenning around us, but are fully involved in the dog fight.

and to be fully involved means taking risks. and like Maverick sometimes those risks are very costly to us and knocks us down for a while. We know longer carry that fighter pilot swagger we once had, and approach life a little more cautiously, a little less vulnerable to lessen the inevitable pain we will more than likely feel again at some point. To soften the blows of a hardened world that, with one mistake in a routine exercise in your day, is waiting to deal you a blow that'll take your wings and keep you grounded.

A later scene has Maverick with a new copilot and they are ordered to the Mediteranian Sea to help other American pilots who are engaged with enemy pilots in a dogfight. As they launch from the aircraft carrier and proceed to the dogfight Maverick is aware of the ghosts that haunt him. He is rehearsing life in his head. As they approach the dogfight from a distance they can see the mayhem and manuevering of all of the engaged aircraft and Maverick decides to not engage. He sees the ugliness and decides not to risk it, leaving his comrades in peril and certain death as they are outnumbered. Mavericks copilot starts yelling over the intercom "GET IN THERE MAVERICK" over and over and finally Maverick decides that its worth the risk and enters the fight, and of course comes out on top.

Often we've been attacked and hurt and wounded so deeply that we would prefer to "set this one out" or not engage. Its too risky. We prefer to watch from the sidelines. We may even gear up but set on the bench the whole time. Our fear of whatever is debilitating.

My encouragement for you today if you find yourself in this place is to slowly re-engage. Life is meant to be lived, not observed. Yes doing so may make you open to more risks in life, you may find yourself in a few scary situations, you may feel vulnerable... But you may also feel ALIVE, LOVED, and maybe, just maybe, will get a little of that swagger back in your walk.

GET IN THERE MAVERICK! (or whatever cool pilot name you have for yourself)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Day I Shook the Gates of Heaven

I can still remember the darkness of the place overall with its woodgrain paneling and illuminated beer signs that doubled as a clock or a Marlboro adverstisement. The smell of cheap aftershaves like AquaVelva and Old Spice and Black Leather intermingled with the cigarette smoke and bar drinks. For a quarter, an old jukebox would spin three of your favorite Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings or Red Sovine songs that were on the top of the charts in the early 1970s. There was a pool table centered in the small open area of the local VFW hall where I spent many of my childhood days hanging out with my father, who was a member and local commander of the place.
If you are not familiar with VFW halls, they are where Veterans of Foreign Wars came to hang out after serving their country in a designated war zone. These were guys and gals who had seen some bad stuff, participated in it, and was the recepient of all that war had to offer them in return. Some were disable, some were now alcoholics, others just came back to their little towns changed in some form or fashion, and came to the VFW hall to hang out with others who had similar experiences.
And as with any place you have lots of folks, you inevitable get the jerks, egoists and outright assholes of society mystically blended. Including church, work, school, whatever your social gathering is, you know what I mean. One of my favorite old Far Side comics strips showed God as a chef (apron and hat complete) with the world in his left had (as if he had just created it) and with his right hand holding a salt shaker over it in a sprinkling fashion (the salt shaker said JERKS) and the caption read "and just too make it interesting...".
I was probably around 8 years old, hanging out in this environment with my father. I never did feel comfortable there. Ever. It felt strangely at odds with most everything I felt inside. A stark contrast from the beautiful church with stained glass windows, tall white columns, beautiful portraits of scenes from Jesus' life and parables that we attended on sundays and cleaned during the week for extra money. I always felt comfortable, and in some respects, in the presence of the Almighty there. Where one place blared old country music and laughter and coarse language the other provided reflection and quiet and wisdom.
One evening my father came home from the VFW hall extremely angry, I guess fighting mad would be the word. Some drunk had gotten in his face at the VFW and basically challenged his manhood or something (which was a common scenario there...i learned at an early age to instantly drop and get under the pool table when a fight would break out). My dad came home telling this to my mom who was trying to calm him down, and the more he talked the madder he got. I then heard these words from my Dad "I'm going back there to settle this" and he walked out of the front door with my mom pleading with him not too.
and I ran.
I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me.
Ran to the back bedroom. to the small bathroom and shut the door and fell to my knees in front of the porcelain toilet and prayed like I had never prayed before. Little boy hands clasped together tightly and eyes shut so hard they hurt. I felt it. I felt myself praying so hard that I shook the gates of heavan. If God cannot hear the pleading prayers of a scared eight year old, then something in the heavens is wrong.
and then I heard something. It sounded like my mom opening the front door a minute or so later. It was my dad. he was coming back in. He told mom that as he was getting in his car something told him to stop and go back in the house. And he was no longer really mad about it. Still angry about the asshole who treated him that way, but not mad enough to go shrink to that fellows level.
and I was amazed.
I knew then, as I do know, that God actually heard and honored my prayer. Some may call it coincidence or chalk it up to being an eight year old who also believed in Santa Clause at the time, but I know within me that it was God. There have only been two or three times in my life I have had the experience where I was honestly begging god with everything i had thru prayer for something and I knew without a doubt He heard me and answered.
It is truly amazing to experience that. Too literally shake the gates of heaven and feel the response of the Almighty is humbling. Of course I still pray about this or that and it seems rather routine, and I'm not really sure my expectations are that each one will receive the same fanfare as my earlier experiences. And I'm not sure they should.
But sometime, somewhere and some point in your life, you will find yourself running as fast as you can to that safe little place where you will poor your heart and soul out to the living God, begging and pleading. Here's hoping that you Shake The Gates of Heaven. ~npp

Friday, May 20, 2011

so what would you be doing

A headline in today's newspaper simply asked "If you knew the world was ending tomorrow, what would you do?". Supposedly another apocalyptic group thinks the world will end tomorrow, which if true will play havoc with my romantic intentions for the weekend, not too mention my retirement plans.
I really have no idea how these folks come up with this stuff. End of the World. Doomsday. Armageddon. The Rapture. Judgement Day. whatever. I guess it makes good headlines and gives people something to think about. Their mortality.
Sure, the possibility exists that it could all come to a halt tomorrow, and with my luck I'll probably be standing is some check out line that has the little flashing light on waiting for a supervisor... well you know what I mean. Or it could happen before I finish this senten.... (LOL)
You just never know. And know one else does either. Since the days of Jesus somebody has been thinking the end of the world is near. The disciples thought they would see it before they passed away. Didn't happen. People thought that the Civil War, The Great Depression, WWI and II and Hitler and whatever else was the end of the world. Nope, still here folks.
and its doubtful it will all come to a halt tomorrow either. so if your mortgage payment is due Monday, I would suggest mailing it off today.
So back to the headline. What would you be doing if this were the last day? My hope is that if you are a christian, that you would be doing whatever it is that you are doing at this exact moment. Or any moment. Every moment.
Loving others. Being a plus positive in this world. Making a difference. I hope that your answer is nothing out of the ordinary because it was ordinary people that Jesus asked to follow him. Nothing special was required.
Its like the parable of the 10 virgins and the lamps, we should always live as if the return of Jesus was imminent. Not in fear, but in anticipation. And not idly or passively awaiting either, but in serving. In being in relationship with one another.
I don't know if it will happen today or tomorrow or my lifetime or a thousand years or a million years from now, and frankly I don't care one way or another.
Jesus said only the father knows the day and time, so who am I to worry about it.
So what would I be doing? Exactly this.
Enjoy. ~npp

Friday, May 13, 2011

just what are you advertising?

The New York Yankees. Arguably one of the best teams in Major League Baseball of all times. 27 World Series Championships to date. The best talent money can buy. And I can't stand them. They are like the Pittsburg Steelers, Washington Redskins or Phil Eagles versus my Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s and 1980s. So any team that is playing against the Yankees I am for. Okay, maybe not so much "for them" as against the Yankees.
Anyway, I got tickets to the Texas Rangers v. NY Yankees game this past Saturday night in Arlington Texas. The Ballpark in Arlington it is called. Very original I know. But its a beautiful ballpark. It was a lovely day in Texas with the temps in the upper 70s and a nice breeze. And we beat the Yankees. Icing on the cake. Lubberly. I was setting 33 rows behind the Yankee dugout amongst a horde of obnoxious Yankees fans, so it was tremendously satisfying to watch Feliz, the closing pitcher, shut them down in the 9th inning.
So its 10:15pm on a Saturday and we exit the ballpark with, and I'm serious, 49,500 plus other people. Yep, that's a lot. But its fine. We go to our parking lot, find the vehicle and begin the long trek out of the parking lot.
Now the parking lot has ONE exit to a ONE WAY street with another street that is feeding into it and cars coming from all directions in the parking lot. As each car would approach the exit they would allow the car from the other direction to pull ahead of them. Taking turns so too speak. Very Polite. Slow. But polite.
So I make it to the street 15 minutes after getting in my vehicle and began to merge with the oncoming vehicles. Each person in the lane of traffic was letting the parking lot cars move in front, one car would allow another to get in front of them, then the next car would do the same, and so on.
When it came my turn to merge the next vehicle in line, a minivan, didn't share. I put my little blinker indicator on and they surged forward and closed the gap between themselves and the car in front of them (that had allowed the car in front of me to merge). I said nice. So I sat there until they moved forward at a snail's pace and the vehicle behind them let me merge in the lane. Whatever.
Then it caught my eye. That little piece of chrome attached to the back of the minivan that refused to allow me to merge. The shiny piece of chrome that we all know and love. Yes. The Christian Fish symbol.
I looked around at the other vehicles and no one else seemed to be advertising the fact that they were a christian. Nope, not a cross or fish or anything that I could see. Except all the other vehicles were allowing others the courtesy to merge in front of them. Kind of a do unto others concept. Kind of acting like Christians. Maybe kind of doing what Jesus would ask us to do.
I found it ironic. The one person who advertised themselves as a christian was the only one who wasn't acting like one.
Now I'm as bad as anyone else. Not expecting perfection by no means. But really, what are you trying to advertise with those little christian symbols on the back of your vehicle? Or on your lapel? Or your jewelry?
I think it makes us feel good to advertise our faith. Its much easier for sure. Anyone can glue a symbol on a car or put a piece of jewelry on or wear a catchy t-shirt with a clever christian saying on it.
I would suggest this. Advertise your faith by living it. If you don't intend to do that then please, for the love of God (pun intended) take that fish symbol off of your car. Take off that t-shirt and put the James Avery cross jewelry back in the box. Your giving us a bad name.
Everyone else was living out the philosophy of Christ except the one advertising it.
In the words of St. Francis of Assisi "preach the gospel at all times. use words only when necessary".
Amen. ~npp

Thursday, May 5, 2011

there is a season for everything

I have been a relationship guy my whole life. I never really knew that growing up and only in the past few years have I figured it out. If you have ever met me, even once, and we even slightly got along, then you know me for life. I have made contact with another soul on the planet. Relationships are everything to me. Never been much on status. Never really motivated by money (although in my adult years I am beginning to see the importance of having a litte bit of it). Nope, I have always been about relationships.
Sometimes to my detriment. Even unhealthy. Can't let go. Failed to consider others had hidden agendas. Its a tough lesson we all learn I think.
I have really enjoyed Facebook. Keeping up with others and finding friends from my past. Strange how we seem to get along better now than we did years ago. Matured some maybe. Lots more people talking about God these days.
Priorities. Seasons. Life.
I am now to the age where I can compare things to the way they used to be. I am amazed at what things cost now compared to when I was younger. My kids think nothing of spending whatever amount on a soft drink or combo meal because that is what it has always been to them. They don't remember 10 cent cokes or nickle candy bars or 1 cent double bubble chewing gum.
I am becoming my father. And his father before him. I am seeing things through different lenses. I no longer think I am the center of the universe. I am beginning to see and feel my mortality. I know its just a matter of time before I will no longer exist in this earthly realm. And I don't necessarily think that is something to get down in the dumps about.
I think it is a season I am in. As necessary to spring time is the winter, I think it is necessary we reach the season when we aren't in budding but in full bloom, soaking it all in. Maturing. Reaching the heights we were intended to reach. Spreading our branches so that others may find comfort in our shade. To have enough growth and survived enough weathering that we are stronger when the storms blow, but not so much that we cannot bend and sway abit and dance along with the winds. To develop lasting and meaningful relationships that will sustain us in the years to come.
Facebook is good at helping us keep in touch. It exposes us to other cultures, thoughts, politics, thoughts, humor, life events, and sometimes a little more than we would like to know. I think all of this helps us grow to be more tolerant or at least more accepting.
I cannot imagine life without internet. Facebook. Cell phones. Though I lived half of my life without it. Some of you can remember your first microwave. This season of life is really cool. I am so curious as to what the next will bring.
What an awesome ride. ~npp

Thursday, March 17, 2011

HELL. Does it matter?

Following up on the Rob Bell issue of earlier this week where he brought forth to the public forum an issue many have been contemplating for years but haven't been brave enough (or stupid enough depending on how you look at it) to say aloud.

Hell may not be a literal place.

I know it goes against "tradition beliefs" and years of church tradition and teachings (insert Galileo here from my previous post) but there is the possibility that there is no literal place as Hell. As with many things in the bible, the words and stories and parables and understandings that were common to that time were used (again see previous post). We can point to references in the bible (extremely few in the Old Testament) and somewhat more in the New Testament that elude to the underworld or Hades or Hell or the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) or the grave. While some consider it a literal place of torment, others still feel that it is a separation from God. Death itself. Not judgemental damnation for being a bad person nor a reward system (heaven) for being a good person. Just a state of being after a worldly existence.

Even with all of that (and that is barely touching the surface) the question I ask is "Does it really matter?", this concept of hell? I know to some it really does. I had a southern baptist pastor tell me that he uses this "fear of hell" to convert people to Christ and finds it legit. Many are serious about "saving others" from this eternal torment and getting the name Jesus out there. A lot of twisted doctrine is based upon this line of thinking and "the Great Commission" as certain faith systems have defined it.

I think fortunately for me I grew up in a faith system that used another tactic. One that showed a merciful, loving and gracious God. These traits and stories of the bible that reflected that image of God was much more prevalent in my early years (and still today overall) than the Fire And Brimstone God that many others were introduced too. And that difference led to another approach to Christianity for me, or in another way of putting it, a different motivation.

For me, Hell does not matter one way or another. Whether literally a place of torment and excruciating pain for eternity or just death and separation from God.

I am not motivated by Fear. I am motivated by Love.

I seek relationship with the Father in my feeble ways and try to practice the teachings of His Son. I am compelled by a God who loves me and all of His children to be the person I am. I am not compelled to be a good Christian because I fear being thrown into a really hot place for eternity. Many see Salvation as an insurance policy against the fires of "hell". I see "salvation" as having the opportunity to live in relationship with God and one another here in the present world and the one too come.

Do does Hell exist? Who cares. ~npp

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Defending The Truth even if its Wrong

Rob Bell. It was reported on Good Morning America that Rob Bell, megapastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, asserts that "there is No HELL!". Yes, Rob Bell from Bible Church. This is bound to get things heated up.

In his book "Love Wins" Bell asserts that there are many things in the Jesus story that turns people off, and we don't talk about them, like the concept of Hell and Heaven. Here is an excerpt: "Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here."

Galileo had similar problems with the Catholic church some few hundred years ago when he blasphemously asserted heresy that it appeared the Earth was not flat (simplified). How dare he question the teachings clearly illustrated in the bible that "heaven is above and hell is below and the world was created and set firmly on a pedastal". (Old Testament paraphrased). The view of the world then was based upon the biblical assertion that it was a three teird universe. Heaven above (the sky), the world (where people lived) and hell was underground (Under the world they lived in). 3 Layers. And it was set upon a pedestal. Now that seems a little strange to us today as we grew up understanding a round earth that rotated around the sun and we have a few scientific details to back that up, say like PICTURES! In Galileo's day, that was not the world view. The Bible said this or that, and that settled it.

But does it?

For many, these questions need answers. Or put another way, maybe not answers but at least need to be asked and honestly addressed. And though these issues are not fundamental to the faith that Christians share, they are stumbling blocks (throwing a little Paulianism in here) for many that they can't get over and hence blocks there pathway to Christ.

So why do we go to great lengths to defend the truth even its wrong? Or if not wrong at least not clear? I assume there are many reasons. If you have things totally figured out, then questioning those things will mess up your tidy little doctrinal world. If you find that there are things your faith denomination told you all these years that just don't hold up under scrutiny any longer, does that spead so much doubt for you that you throw the baby out with the bathwater? I think some believe it will.

I love to ask questions. I love to engage others who share this same fascination and who try to become closer to God by understanding. And by honestly talking about these stuff I come to a better understanding. However, there are some people I just can't talk to. Okay, maybe I mean they can't honestly talk with me. Or you. They are too busy defending there tribe's knowledge. I have tried several times over and over to engage in dialogue with these, for lack of a better word, evangelicals (its predominate in a certain denomination in the Southern United States), and have been met with contempt and hostility. The conversation on my part begins with a question that I would like to hear their point of view on, hence a discussion, and quickly turns into a defensive diatribe on their end or an absolute that "cannot be questioned" because it is in the bible. Enter Galilieo. Enter Rob Bell. Enter hundreds of thousands of us, believers and non-believers alike.

Example: This week at the morning coffee b.s. session the abortion issue comes up. Now I will not go into what I think or do not think about that issue here, it was just the topic. And the fellow says how the world is messed up because some kid is getting felony charges for killing a hampster while the world condones the murder of babies through abortion. So I ask the group, what about God in the Old Testament ordering and condoning the killing of whole groups of people, including women, children and pregnant women whose bellies are spilt out on the ground. Yes, I'm an instigator. And without skipping a beat the answer I got from the two Baptists in the circle was "Because God is Sovereign". Oh, okay. Thats a great reason. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I was so confused prior to that.

Idiots. Of course God is Sovereign. But what I wanted was an answer or at least some honest dialogue. Because that Sovereign God seems to be conflicting with the God I understand in the New Testament. The God who says love your enemies. Turn the other check. Or that the eye for an eye thing is no longer a good thing. They get defensive. I am asking questions their belief system can't handle and, as Rob Bell said, "we don't talk about that stuff in this tribe". Its messy.

But no. Christianity for many "professing Christians" has been reduced to a formula that goes something like this:
Adam&Eve = Fall/Sin. Prophets foretell coming Messiah = Jesus. Jesus saves us from Fall/Sin by sacrifice. Accept Jesus in your heart, say a little prayer, and Abracadabra you are in the club. Saved. No flames for you my friend. You followed the process to enternal bliss.

Did you notice anything missing here? Anybody? Anybody? Anybody? Bingo. yes. The Teachings of Jesus. That messy little section of the bible that seems to get overlooked in the formula. The teachings that messed up the whole world and the view of the religious teachings of the day. Turned the world right side up. "I know you have been told...., but I tell you this....".

Yet we still defend the truth as we believe it, even if if we are wrong. And that's too bad. We can't have the conversation because maybe our world would become a little more rounded in the process, and others could join us.

I know. Heresy. ~npp

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Living God

I finally, after all these years, finally get that phrase. I have heard it all my life "The Living God" and absolutely had no idea what the preacher man was talking about. Or maybe I just didn't understand why he was using such jargon. The Living God. Like much of religious jargon it just doesn't resonate with me. "washed in the blood", "salvation", "all about the blood", etc. In my wesleyan view of God growing up, the view of God i received was usually about a loving god who was merciful and gracious and, well, fatherly. I had a good family life and that relationship was a healthy one for me so I identified well. however i understand many do not.
so i'm reading the old testament and i finally get it. the living god as opposed to all the fake, unreal gods that were made from a piece of wood or stone or iron or whatever. I always assumed that the other gods were considered real and that the statues or figures were representative. But it appears in the Old Testament that they would carve these things out of wood and actually pray to the object. The God of Abraham was The Living God, not of form, but a real God that could not be shaped or formed by a skilled craftsman. A really unique concept for the day. The irony is now how we today try to shape and form God for our own sense of who He is.
The conservative God. The liberal God. the vengeful jealous God. the merciful God. the all loving God. Our God. The God of the jews. The God of the Gentiles. The God of the Christians. The God of the New Covenant.
The only God. The Abrahamic God. The God of Jacob and Ishmael.
And I wonder about the Genesis story. Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Where did the wives come from. How did they propagate? Incest? Other people? If other people how did they get there?
Old testament tells of the Persians being very friendly toward the Jewish people. Totally opposite the stories of the Egyptians. What happened? Why were they so friendly and knowledgeable about the God of the Israelites? Did God talk to them as well? Could it be that God operates independant of the ways we think He sould operate? Does our doctrines and belief systems allow that The Living God can do as he pleases? Is our relationship with the Living God exclusive to the point that He cannot have a relationship with other people's in a fashion He so chooses?
Have we made for ourselves a graven image that we pray too that doesn't exactly represent the Living God?
Maybe, just maybe, God is much bigger than we think. Maybe he relates to other people in other ways. Maybe people along the way have kind of screwed up the revelation. Jeremiah 8:8 was quite interesting: “How can you say, We are wise,for we have the law of the LORD, when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?". Can we say that our experiences with the Living God are the only way that God can relate to the people's of the earth? That we have "the law of the Lord" when scribes pens have handled it falsely, got the story wrong, misinterpreted, or our thinking wasn't large enough too allow God to do as He pleases.
I think we should be careful to acknowledge The Living God as he is, and not an image we conjure up based upon our limited relationship with him that has been passed down through our faith system.
The body has many parts, so says Corinthians. Maybe the body is bigger than we thought, the parts just not part of our limited view of religion, but an overall larger view of a relationship the Living God has with his creation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ignorant Perceptions

This past week I had the following dialogue with a friend of mine who is somewhat older than I. And this dialogue illustrates how our ignorance (insert uninformed or uneducated on the subject matter) can warp our perception, causing us to make certain generalizations about groups of individuals. I am hoping this type of dialogue will lead us to at least get to know one another, and maybe, just maybe, the senseless acts that are carried out in whoever's name will cease.

Friends Post that started this conversation:
just read another passage from the Quran - "Verily, the disbelievers are ever unto you open enemies."

My response:
or how about this one: "If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death.

Friend's response:
And we're supposed to believe these folks are PEACEful???

My response:
my quote came from Deuteronomy 13:6, Old Testament, Holy Bible.
Point being I'm not sure you can generalize about another person's faith based on one quote of scripture or passage. I know I kind of set you up buti t does illustrate how the t...ables could be turned on us if THEY read OUR book.
of course, we understand our Old Testament to be the old covenant and not really what we are under today, but those who do not know could easily quote it as they way we think.

Friends response:
You are so right - and I didn't even recognize the passage. Your point is good though, that we are no longer under the old Law. As you alluded, the Old Testament is full of stories about God's approval for mass killings, plunderings, etc.

So when you get that email from your good friends about how this group is doing this or a certain politician is doing that, or if you don't forward this email to 10 of your closest friends something bad will happen, please take a moment and think. Yep, just think. Learn. Don't react without knowledge.

Of course, if you would like to forward this post link to all of your friends so they can be enlightened by me, then all the blessings of the Abrahamic God will be with you and you will also get the winning numbers to the lottery by way of a chinese fortune cookie. Or not. ~npp

Friday, February 4, 2011

cheaters, liars and the rest of the story

I miss Paul Harvey and his radio program "The Rest of the Story" where he talks about something the listener is familiar with but gives you the part of the story you probably didn't realize. And this is what this post is. The rest of the story.

And some of you will not like it.

Its about relationships. More so your responsibility in your relationships. And its the truth, no matter where you wish to take aim and fire the blame bullet.
This came about after years of listening to conversations about "he cheated" or whatever that means in a relationship, and most recently came to light after the separation and divorce of my cousin. This post is truth. It is intended to help you.

Here's the story. Boy meets girl. Boy impresses girl. Girl impresses boy. They date and are on their best behavior. They dress up. They smell good. They pay attention.

They are nice to each other.

They get married.

Now here is where the story splits. One ending is they keep up the above and live happily ever after. The other ending is someone drops the ball and the whole damn thing unravels. Not that anyone intended for that to happen, but just like a pot of water on the stove that is left unattended, it boils over.

I used to work inside the Texas State prison system investigating internal corruption. One of the issues that was prevelant was female officers becoming "involved" with inmates. And it wasn't just physical, it was relational. And almost always those women were married and they had the same story: got married and then the man quit paying them any attention, as he was content to come home, drink beer and get a gut, set in the chair and fondle his remote control. So they get lonely in the relationship. And yes, inmates have nothing else to do all day except give attention and compliments. And a lonely person will respond. Who is at fault here?

Cousin meets firefighter. Cousin gets married. Cousin quits fixing herself up, wears sweatsuits all the time, has a continual cold and dolts on her little dogs. Firefighter is good looking and stays in shape and a good looking girl who pays him special attention finally succeeds. He is labeled a cheater. Who is at fault here?
The answer: Everyone. Yep. You. Me. Her. Him.

Somehow the idea got out that marriage vows were mainly symbolic and really don't mean anything. And what about those vows anyway? Do we just pick one of them too adhere to "Foresaking all others till death do us part"? What about the other ones. The seemingly lesser ones: To have and too hold. In sickness and in health. For better or worse. How about that lovely little chapter in Corinthians where love does not boast or envy or hold grudges.

What makes you think you are so special that once the magical ceremony is complete that you can quit working on your relationship? That you can let your looks fall apart. That you can ignore your spouse's needs. That someone else is responsible for your well being but not the other way around. That you can be cold and distant and aloof and think that temptation will not come knocking on the door of your relationship? And when it does, who will you blame?

They say many a sports game is won because of the passion of the players and not necessarily just the skill. And when I think about this, I think of football games or basketball teams I have watched and rarely do I see them go into a game lukewarm. Are you engaging the other team with passion or are you merely going through the motions?

There is an "inside" man joke about what food substance has been proven to stop sex. Answer: Wedding Cake. Why is this joke so familiar to many men? Because unfortunately there seems to be some truth that women no longer find sex a necessary component of marriage once the deal is done. Now not all women of course, but enough that every man knows this joke. I do not know what the equivalent joke for women is, but i'm sure there is one. Guys, I bet you used to bring her flowers and take her on dates or out to eat or something and you stopped.

In a book entitle "His Needs Her Needs" by Willard Harley, it identifies basic needs that the wife or husband has, and once identified as important, it is encumbent upon the other to provide that. One is Intimacy, Financial Security, etc. and is a great resource. When I counseled with couples prior to marrying them, the only suggestion I had for them was to get this book and read it. Then live it. Some do and some don't.

I'll let you guess which ones have good marriages and which ones do not. And that, my friend, is the rest of the story.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Life and Death and Life and Death

This week I have experienced the death of two people, one being young and the other old. One was a young man who worked for me a couple of years and the other was my great aunt. These are their stories:

The young man had been struggling through life, having been recently seperated from his wife and kids. Also his father had passed away during this time and he had already lost a young daughter. This young man had health problems and depression issues and just couldn't seem to get his life on track. He muddled through college while working for me and finally graduated last year with a teaching degree. His passion, he shared with me, was history and kids. After graduating he resigned from my place and went to teach high school. This was his first year to teach. After struggling with his place in the scheme of things, and finally getting it together to do something he really enjoyed, he died. Yep, died in his sleep they think. Found him in his house, alone. Natural causes. He was 42.

My great aunt lived in the same area all her life. Her husband had died 40 years ago and she had lived alone since that time. Her sons and daughters and grandkids all lived in the same area. They were a close family. She was very active, fiesty, mentally alert. A strong middle class everyday american who was born during the tough times of this country, lived through two World Wars, saw a man on the moon, microwave ovens and cell phones, television. Starting with her 70th birthday the family got together to mark the event, because 70 is quiet an accomplishment. I went to her 94th birthday and she was sharp as a tack mentally and physically pretty good as well. Her physical health declined recently and rapidly and she was put in hospice this week. She lived a good life and I know she wouldn't want to linger that way. She was 96.

We grow up with the thought that there is a proper order to life. The way things should go: Birth. childhood. teen years. young adult. college. marriage. family. death of grandparents. career. death of parents. retirement. our own death. But this isn't the course of things for many. Its a worldview that doesn't hold as true for some as others. Its what we would like to happen. Its often expected but not guaranteed. We use expressions like "cut down before their prime" or "died before he got to live" or something of that nature. Our expectations are at least a reasonable amount of time on the planet.

We make our plans. We set our goals. We go about our days as if tomorrow is a sure bet. But nothing is. All we are assured of is this moment. This is it. I can't be sure I will finish this post. Probably will, but you really don't know.

So what did you do with today? How did you spend it? Did you talk to your favorite person? Did you breath? Did you look around at the beauty of the planet? Did you listen to your favorite song? Did you make that phone call you've been putting off?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

whats the deal with reading the bible anyway?

I am rereading the bible using the Bible In 90 Days program with my group. It seems each time I read the bible I see things that I never noticed before. It must have always been there as I don't think my copy has changed over the years, but for some reason it seems different. Perhaps its because I am at a different point in my life and I see things differently than I once did.
Part of this program is just so a person who calls themselves a christian can say they actually read the source book of our faith. It is amazing to me how many have not read it. They have read novels by Louis Lamoure and John Grisham and others or perhaps romance books or whatever. Perhaps they have read a ton of books about religion or christianity or theology by authors like Donald Miller or CS Lewis or Anne Lamont or Max Lucado.
And it seems to be sort of the norm for christians NOT to have read the bible. Most do not see that it is a big deal that they haven't read it for themselves. They grew up going to church so they know something about how that works. They have heard probably hundreds of sermons on certain bible teachings or parables or stories from the bible. We (christian folks) tend to utilize it like a reference guide in times of trouble, going to whatever section at whatever time to study a certain thing and having an "aha" moment then we close it back up and put it away. This approach is much like being sick and going to the pharmacy to hang out hoping that you'll get better without taking any medication.
Maybe you can sleep on it like we tried in college and absorb the contents through osmosis.
The bible for me is not a magical book. I don't have better luck when I have it on my car's dashboard. It is not a good luck charm. I do not take every word of it literally. Much of it I believe may be jewish folklore best they could tell and hand down verbally. Much of it is written through the lens of the author of each book with their own understandings at that time and space. I do not believe it fell out of the sky in the King's English with red lettering. It may be inspired by God, but man had his hand in it. It is, however, the closest thing we have to understanding God. And that understanding is very limited I believe.
I can tell you however, that after I first read the whole thing, that experience sent me on a different path or journey. I had a new perspective on things. I had a larger picture of God and the God Experience. I had answers I didn't have before, read things I had never heard in a sermon, and had questions that couldn't be answered even by the greatest of theologians.
It has increased my faith in God.
I encourage you to read it for yourself. See what you've been missing out on by only hearing those pastel painted sermons that portray biblical events as kid stories. It may just rock your world.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

my little part in the kingdom

My last post was about losing my Faith and kind of finding it once more. The process of becoming aware again, or at least slowing down long enough to listen. Its a hard thing to do in this world, to not get caught up in the day to day stuff life is made of, and find some time to listen.
I think that God is speaking all the time. Maybe not in words alone, but through other people, experiences, media, articles, prayer, meditation, etc., and it is up to us to tune in and catch it. Much like radio waves that are all around us, we fail to connect to the right frequency, fail to position the antennae in the proper position for receiving a good signal. Whatever.
Sure it would be nice if He would just say "Hey, get a stone tablet and jot this down" as he did with the prophets of old, but he doesn't. I have no idea why.
So this week I "tune-in" two different messages. Both are messages of affirmation of many things. Those things being that I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing. That I am being used despite who I am. That the things I do really make a difference, somehow. That I don't have to "hear" God speaking to know that He is at work in my life and others.
A person I met a couple of years ago has been wanting to come to the class I teach. I say "come on" all the time but she hasn't. Wasn't God's time yet for her. She was raised Catholic and always had issues with that faith system for her, so when I began "The Bible in 90 Days" she showed up. Wanted to read the Bible for herself. Tuning in. Told me this past week that her atheist son-in-law allowed her to bring the 4 year old granddaughter with her and she went to the 4 yr old sunday school class. Two for the price of one.
Today I get a message from someone I met during my graduate studies at the university. She told me that, well here's the message:

From friend " know you are the one who brought me back to religion years ago. When I was doubting and angry. That was you :) wanted you to know that."
My response: "I did not know that. Thanks for letting me know. I suspect it was God who was seeking you out, and He has a habit of using others to do that. Glad he picked me for that assignment."

Since i have been wondering recently about my faith and my status as prophet or whatever part I get to play in the kingdom, God drops me these little affirmations that, like the ill-suited prophets of old, I am still being used. Maybe not on a grand scale where i can get public accolades, but where it matters. With real people. Where the rubber meets the road.

Not bad

Friday, January 21, 2011

losing my faith...

Somewhere along the way I lost my faith. I'm not sure how it happened but it did. It was gradual like water seeping into the ground after a heavy rain, there one minute and then gone without fanfare. I came to this realization over the past couple of weeks.
This is why:
I am now rereading the entire bible. yes. Fun stuff. (Sarcasm)
The last time I did was in 1996.
I started "The Bible in 90 Days" program in the adult christian education class I teach. However, I am not teaching this...just facilitating a preplanned curriculum.
The Old Testament is somewhat tedious with measurements and dimensions and numbers, and it's God a bit bizarre with sacrifices and blood on people's ear lobes and burnt animal smells being a pleasing aroma. Okay that last part I can somewhat identify since I am a huge BBQ fan.
but I digress.
In the past two weeks I have read the first four books of the Old Testament and have decided I would make a terrible Israelite. I probably would have been one of those whining ones that got consumed in the Lord's angry fire or whatever.
And this God of the Old Testament somehow doesn't quite "fit" with the God I know as presented in the New Testament or the God I have had so many interactions with over the course of my lifetime.
So I am having issues reconciling those two Gods in my head.
Just before beginning the reread of The Bible, I read a book entitled "God's Problem", written by a former evangelical pastor who went to an extremely fundamental seminary. The author is also a phd/scholar in Old Testament and still teaches at a well known university in the Carolinas. His main issue with the God of the Bible is on the matter of suffering, and the guy makes pretty good arguments, well thought out about God allowing suffering and the many feeble attempts Christianity has made over the centuries trying to explain it.
And I reflect upon my own personal life and the here and now struggles I am dealing with: a relationship that is somewhat less than what I desire it to be; financial issues that are ever prevalent; a daughter who is about to graduate from high school and wanting to go to a college and trying to find away to pay for it; a stressful job. You get the picture. Heck, you are probably saying "me too!".
And no matter now much effort I put into it, how much planning I do, how much harder I work... nothing changes. I cannot control it.
read that... I CAN NOT C O N T R O L IT!
Like the warmth of spring when it works its magic after winter has left its mark on the earth, I began to see that I had lost my faith. I had left that out. I have not trusted that God has this nor have I asked him too. I have been relying on ME. Like I could handle this. Very Manly.
Control issues. Distracted by a world that will consume you anyway it can, from your inside out, soul and all. Not one reliance on God.
The author who could not reconcile the God of the bible with suffering in the world lost his faith. became agnostic.
The Israelites of the bible continually did not have faith in God of the old testament even though he worked miracles in their presence and provided their every need.
The nonprofitprophet continued to trust in himself to solve all of his own problems and shoulder the weight of an often demanding and uncaring world and in the process, lost his faith in a God who has shown himself over and over again to provide. It didn't take much.
and now i know the process of losing my faith, i have regained it. I will be more mindful that there are many things that we simply will never be able to reconcile, to control, or understand. I'm not sure we were ever supposed to.
That great void that we are unable to define, control, comprehend, or come to terms with....? there, therein lies Faith. Faith That God will do as he will do and Is Who He Says He Is... Simply "I Am". and I am not.