Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Smell Phone

So the other day my mother called me while I was still in bed. She woke me from a sound sleep. Its kind of a game with us. We sometimes call each other early in the morning. If you wake up the other person, you win. My mom won that day. As we were talking it occurred to me that is was a good thing that she could not smell my breath through the phone. I had an especially significant case of morning breath.

And then it hit me. The cell phone is potentially the most powerful thing in the world. The iphone has taught us so much about what a phone can do. For that matter, my simple phone has an mp3 player, a calendar, camera, alarm clock and a lot of other things that I do not know about. A smart phone can surf the internet and communicate around the world in multiple ways. But I believe there is potential for a "genius phone." A genius phone is so good that it actually meets real human needs. It is practical.

Let me suggest some applications for the Genius Phone (all of which are probably realistic).
  • Blood Pressure Monitor. Electronic blood pressure devices are getting smaller and smaller. Put it on my phone.
  • Heart Rate Monitor. It will let you know how effective your cardio workout is.
  • Glucometer. Measure your blood sugar in a convenient, pocket-size meter that is always with you.
  • Pregnancy Test. Probably possible, but you probably don't want to talk to your sister after you have urinated on your phone.
  • Pedometer. Since your phone is perhaps attached to your belt, use it to measure your steps, distance, speed and calories burned.
  • Universal remote control. Use your phone to control you television, surround sound, stereo, dvd player and more. A convenient feature is that when you answer your phone the tv automatically mutes itself.
I know I live in a dream world, but what a dream it is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Practices of the Christian Faith: Meditation/ Silence/ Solitude

What a world we live in. All around us we are reminded that we are not alone. The alarm wakes you up in the morning with people talking, singing, and laughing. Of course, you need to check the morning news and the weather report. It is important to know who won last night’s game. After getting dressed and ready for the day, you may get in your car and head off to work. Often there is music and talking on the radio or cd player. Often I come across people with earbuds in. The Ipod invades even your most, quiet alone time. For too many people, there is no quiet, alone time.

When God revealed himself to Elijah (1 Kings 19.11-18) he did it in a most unusual way. God was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. God was not in the big and dramatic events. God spoke with a “still, small” voice. I am concerned that many people are never in a position to hear from God because they are never in a place of quiet.

I have grouped meditation, silence and solitude because they are similar and each practice will help you fulfill the others in your life. For example, when you meditate on God’s word, the Bible, often it causes you to be silent. You are moved to quiet while contemplating what God has to say to you. Additionally, you will often find that solitude, being alone, is a key to meditation.

  • Meditation. There is nothing unusual or creepy about meditating. Too often we Christians have forfeited meditation to Eastern religions. Protestants have often thought that meditating was “too Catholic.” But let me encourage you to spend time contemplating God’s word and his work. Consider what he has said and what he has done. Focus your mind on his glory and the hope that he has given you. Do this regularly. “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.” (Psalm 119.15)
  • Silence. I have already made a case for being silent so that you can hear God, but even if that were not a benefit of silence, you should still do it. Silence is good for you even if you are not a Christian. Be quiet for awhile and realize the restorative powers of your brain. “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.” (Psalm 62.5)
  • Solitude. It is true that there is great value in Christian fellowship. We are encouraged and built up by being around other believers. But, there are times when there is no better thing than to be alone. God created us to fellowship with others, but we are also equipped to be built-up, restored and enriched when we are alone with God.

Your first attempts at meditation, silence and solitude may be a little uncomfortable and less than satisfying. Do not be discouraged. Do not quit. God will minister to you and bless you as you spend time with him.

Weekly Prayer Thought

Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. Matthew 18.19

A thought occurred to me on Sunday as we were praying in worship. I know that when we have prayer time I am really praying. I know this because I am saying the words. My mind is involved in what is happening. My lips and mouth are forming the words and verbalizing them. I know that when that is happening I am praying. However, that is not always the case.

For example, there have been times in my life, in a worship service, when someone else is saying the prayer, that I "check out." That is, there are times when my mind wanders. I get concerned about what is going to happen later in the day. I worry about what someone said to me, or how my feelings were hurt. I drift in and out of prayer. Maybe I am the only one who does this, but I have a hunch that you may struggle with this as well.

My goal is to be fully "engaged" in prayer. By this I mean that when I am praying, I want to be completely praying. When I am joining my heart and prayers to the prayer of someone else, I want to be paying complete attention to what they are saying. I want to add my prayers to theirs.

I can do this by:

  • Not only listening to the prayers of someone else, but also praying along with them. This could include praying completely different words to quietly to myself.
  • Praying for the one who is praying. When Christians pray for one another powerful things happen. Think how much more effective we could be if we prayed for pray-ers.
  • Learning to discipline my mind. When I am focused on the Lord, other things should take a back seat.
  • Practicing being "engaged" by praying with other people more often. Join or start a prayer group and learn to pray with others.
So remember, prayer is not rest time in the middle of a worship service. In fact, prayer time should be war time. Let's get ready for battle.

PRAYER: Father God, I want to pray to you. I long to join my heart, my prayers with those of my Christian brothers and sisters. However, I sometimes lose my focus. Help me. Teach me to focus on you. In Jesus' holy name I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Three L's

Three things:

First of all, a significant contributing factor to our current economic difficulties in the US is the selfishness of individuals. Greed has caused people to look out only for themselves and their own interests. Consequently, people have bankrupted themselves trying to get ahead (or catch up). Meanwhile, millions of Americans are doing alright and are relatively unconcerned about those around them and their struggles.

Secondly, if everyone would pay attention to the needs of others, and work toward meeting those needs, everyone would be cared for. I know that this sounds Marxist, but it is a simple solution to a very complicated problem.

Finally, for those who consider themselves Christians, caring for others is a simple sign of obedience to the teachings of Jesus. He taught us to give to the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and more.

So here are some thoughts. Take them as you like. This is just my attempt to highlight what I call the three l's.
  • The Least. We should always be on the lookout for people who are "under-resourced." This is the new way to talk about the poor. People who are marginalized by our society are the most vulnerable not only to poverty, but also to poor health, inadequate health care, inadequate social services, hunger and insufficient housing (this list could go much longer).
  • The Last. There are some people who just always get pushed out of the way. It may have nothing to do with economic vulnerability, but everything to do with health issues, mental health concerns, social criteria or family situation. Unfortunately, race, ethnicity, gender, religion and education level still play a very important part in this problem.
  • The Lost. As a Christian, one of my missions is to get as many people to follow Jesus as I can. A previous generation of Christians called these people the lost. Jesus said that his mission was to save the lost. My purpose is to reach out to those who do not yet have a relationship with Christ.
It's a tall order. I am sure that this one will not be completed in my lifetime. But, it is definitely something that I should be working on and working toward. Everyone, Christian or not, should be reaching out with love and acceptance to the least, the last and the lost.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye

The hardest thing that most of us will ever do is to say goodbye. We dread the time when a friend or loved one moves away. We do not like our child's first day of Kindergarten. We are heartsick at the death of a parent. Everyone is hurt by the goodbye's of divorce and family separation. Goodbye is hard. It is maybe the hardest.

But, I am beginning to have a new perspective. What if goodbye, painful though it may be, is actually good. Of course, the first thing you notice at that thought is that the word good is contained within the goodbye. Although the derivation of interesting tidbit comes from wishing someone "God's blessings," or God be with you," it does not hurt to think of good when we are saying goodbye.

Here is why I think that painful, heartfelt goodbye's are good.
  • When we hurt in a good bye it demonstrates the value of the person we are leaving in our own emotional universe. The pain we feel is actually an affirmation of the love that we have for another.
  • Tearful goodbyes remind us that we have the capacity to care for others. Our world, our society and our own personalities call us to insulate ourselves from caring about anyone else. When we hurt, it is a sign that we are still fighting against selfishness.
  • The emotions that we try to resist at goodbye's are proof that we are completely human. Only humans can know emotions in this way.
  • Painful goodbyes remind us of our dependence on other people. We cry because we are afraid that the one leaving cannot be replaced. What will I do without that loved one?
Goodbye's are not easy or fun. But we can learn from them. We should embrace them. And we should experience them to the fullest.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. And he said:

“ I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,
And He answered me."

Jonah 2.1-2

The Bible is full of stories like the one about Jonah. Jonah, as you remember, was disobedient to God. He refused to preach where God called him to go. As a result, God caused a fish to swallow Jonah. While in the fish, Jonah finally came to his senses and repented. He turned to God, prayed and agreed to do what God had originally called him to do. This story, like so many others, includes an instance of a person praying and receiving an answer from God. Jonah prayed. God forgave him and the fish threw him up.

We can learn a lot from this story. We should pray when we have needs. We should be encouraged by the stories of God's faithfulness to his people. There should be little doubt for us as to the importance and the effectiveness of prayer. In recent years there has been a renaissance of sorts in the church toward prayer. There have been some movements that have arisen designed to emphasize prayer and the Christian's need for it. Each of these is significant in it's scope and impact, and many of them are derived directly from Scripture.

  • Prayer Marches (March for Jesus). These events are large public gatherings in which Christians join together to march/walk the streets of their community to sing, worship, pray and praise God. These marches are bold proclamations of Jesus' Lordship in a community.
  • Prayer Walks. Although these are very similar to Prayer Marches, the scope is often much smaller. In fact, individual Christians and small groups walk through their neighborhoods and lift in prayer those who live and work among them.
  • Concerts of Prayer. This event is a large gathering of many Christians from different churches and denominations. It is much like an evangelistic rally without the preaching. The emphasis is on all the Christians praying together as the body of Christ.
  • Prayer Rooms. There are churches who are devoting space in their churches for prayer. These rooms are open and accessible to all people all the time. There are no business meetings or classes in these rooms. They are devoted completely to prayer.
  • 24-7 Prayer. A more recent phenomenon is round-the-clock prayer. There are congregations who are participating in prayer and worship all the time. They gather at all hours every day to pray and worship the Lord.
All of these are valuable and inspiring methods for prayer. I encourage you to try some, or all, of these. Try what God has in store for you when you trust him with your prayer life.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I long for your presence in my life, o Lord. I want to know more of you. I want to know more about you. Teach me the many ways that I can get the information that I long for. Help me to find the methods of prayer that fit me best, and are most beneficial for me and your Kingdom. In Jesus' name I make that prayer. Amen

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Four Most Important Things

One of the themes of my life has been what I call "the four most important things." I believe that these things are all essential to a successful life. You cannot grow and succeed as a human, and certainly not as a Christian, without these four elements in your life.

Careful attention must be paid to each one. There is not one that is more important than the others. Likewise, you should not try to start with only one of these things. You must jump in with both feet and get a little bit of all of them.

The Bible is full of admonitions and examples on each of these things. History is full of accounts of people whose lives are enriched by these four items. You will find the same to be true for you.
  • Bible study. Even if you are not a Christian believer, the Bible is the greatest piece of literature ever produced. Western civilization has been formed by the stories and teachings of the Bible. Whether this (USA) is a Christian nation or not, it is hard to understand our history and culture without a basic knowledge of the Bible. And for the Christian it is even more important. To know God, you must know what is in his book.
  • Prayer. No one should be without prayer. There should be time everyday devoted to prayer. In prayer we build a relationship with God, even as we get in touch with ourselves. Prayer is not a recitation of our wish list for God to fulfill, but a way for us to establish communication with someone greater than ourselves.
  • Fellowship. It is important that people spend time with one another. Humans were built to be in relationships. We are social beings. Christians, especially, need the support that can only be gained from other Christians. Surround yourself with like-minded people when you need to accomplish something (a team), or overcome something (support group, 12-step group). Fellowship is crucial.
  • Ministry. Take all of the good stuff in your life, and share it with someone else. The only way to survive is to reach out to others. Feed the hungry. Care for the sick. Shelter the homeless. Clothe the naked. You will be surprised at how much you gain from doing just a few simple things for someone else.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Praise of Nooma

I am not sure when I first heard about Nooma videos. There was some talk. That's all I remember. Someone said that the videos were cool. I don't know who it was. I can't tell you when it was. Then someone (I think it was Jeff Newton) told me I should read Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell. So I did.

The book was good, but didn't get me too excited. Bell has an interesting approach to the church, to Christianity in particular and faith in general. He looks at the big picture of things, but also sees the tiniest detail at the same time. I liked that. That is about the time that I realized Rob Bell, author of the book, was also the person behind the Nooma video series. I decided it was time to try one out.

I went to my local Christian store where I found a video called "Rain." I brought it home and watched it with my wife. I was immediately hooked. In Rain, Bell is carrying his toddler son on his bike as they hike through the woods. When they get as far away from their cabin as they can get, a storm begins. Naturally the son is terrified. During the whole trip back father tries to assure son that everything will be fine. Daddy is in charge. Finally, Bell makes the comparison to our Father, God, caring for us as his children. It was powerful. I was hooked.

There are currently 24 films in the series. They are all rather short (10-15 minutes). Some of my favorites include Rain, Lump, Luggage and Dust. They are all available at any Christian store or online at Each video comes with Scriptures and discussion guides for groups.

I have used nearly all of these films with various kinds of groups. Discussion is almost always good. The quality of these videos is excellent. Bell is good as the narrator and the stories that are told, both by him and by the images we see, are dramatic and appropriate. It is good to see that there are Christians who are using their gifts in very creative ways.

The Christian faith is clearly spoken in these films. It is not the "in-your-face" faith of fundamentalist preachers from an older generation, but it is a completely orthodox, Christian account of the world we live in.

Nooma is a kind-of corruption of the Greek word, pneuma. In the New Testament the pneuma is the Holy Spirit and also the breath of God. Pneuma is another word for wind. There is a fresh wind from God that blows through these videos and makes them worthwhile watching.

I recommend these films highly. Watch them and be challenged. Watch them and be entertained. Watch them and grow.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Sometimes I am afraid that we make too much of prayer. By this I mean that we worry about what to say and how to say. We think too much about how long we should pray, or where we should pray. We think about the language we use in prayer and worry about what other people will think of us as we pray. We do not want anyone to think that we are weird, unusual or out of touch with the real world.

But then we also worry about what God might think about us. Does our prayer meet his expectations? Have we met all of the biblical criteria for prayer? Would our prayers be considered effectual and fervent? (James 5.16) And who do I think I am anyway? What right do I have to talk to the Creator of the universe, the Lord of all that is?

I have one word of suggestion and then another that leans toward a teaching. First of all, stop thinking so much about praying and start praying. You can study prayer for eternity. There are literally thousands of books in the English language on prayer. You can learn a lot about prayer from these books. You can listen to sermon and you can go to seminars. But you will never truly learn to pray until you pray. You will not fulfill God's plan for your prayer life until you pray. So what are you waiting for? Pray!

Secondly, use the Bible as a pattern for your prayers. It is God's Word, after all. There are many passages in the Scripture that you can use as a pattern for prayer. You can customize these prayers to fit your own needs, but I believe that nothing will please God more than for you to pray his word back to him.

There are many passages in the Bible that work well at this point, but some of the simpler ones include many of the Psalms (they are songs that we were used as prayers) and

  • Ephesians 1.17-23
  • Colossians 1.9-10
  • Philippians 1.9-10
  • Philemon 4-6
  • Romans 15.5-6
Do not get too concerned about this prospect. Let me demonstrate how praying the Bible can work. The following is from Ephesians 3.16-21. I would suggest that you pray this prayer each day for the next week. I have left a blank for you to insert the name of a friend or family member that you will be praying for. The text of the passage itself has been changed very little. Good luck and good praying.

PRAYER: I pray that God would grant ___________, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in __________ heart through faith; that ________, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that __________ may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Best Rock/ Music Movies

It is a favorite thing of mine to make lists. If you have read this blog for very long you have figured that out. I keep track of things so that I can make lists. I have compiled lists of favorite concerts, favorite movies, favorite hamburgers and way more than that. (You should pray that you never get to read some of my more personal lists.)

Many people in the media have learned that lists are very popular. In fact, I believe that USA Today owes much of its existence to the bulleted list. Every paper and magazine formulates lists; Best and worst dressed, Newsmakers of the year, Best new reality tv series' of the year. You get the idea.

This is my very personal list of two of my favorite topics: Movies and music. These are my favorite movies about or containing music. These are not necessarily documentaries, but they are filled with music, or music is a central theme of the movie. I make no claims to the intrinsic value of the movie or the music contained therein. Only that the movie, and the music were enjoyed by me. You have no doubt seen most of these films. If you have missed some, look them up. You will not be sorry.

One last thing: Do not get excited. I have not listed these in any order. They are not arranged according to quality, musical style or preference.
  • The Last Waltz. This is my favorite concert movie. It is the final concert of The Band with many guests. Watch this movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese.
  • This is Spinal Tap. The original "mockumentary" is the funniest rock movie ever made. Rob Reiner directed an hilarious film that has become a cultural phenomenon.
  • Almost Famous. This is a semi-autobiographical story about how one young boy became a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine.
  • A Mighty Wind. A mockumentary from the mind of Christopher Guest. Think Best in Show with folk music. Although everything is completely tongue in cheek, do not take the music for granted. It is good!
  • Walk the Line. This is not only a great music movie, it is a great movie. The story of Johnny Cash and June Carter is wonderfully played out and the music is not bad.
  • The Buddy Holly Story. I believe that Buddy Holly was the true King of Rock and Roll and Gary Busey was never better.
  • La Bamba. Lou Diamond Phillips plays Ritchie Valens. This movie, with music by Los Lobos, is wonderful. Did Phillips ever make another movie?
What movies would you add? What ones do you disagree with?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Some Thoughts on Parenting, Part 2

In my last post I made much ado about my "empty nest." I complained about the woes of working hard for 18 years and then it all just goes off to college. Several people have commented on what the future might look like for me. Others have reminisced about the past. You have caused me to think further on my plight as a "childless" father.

What follows, then, is some further reflections on being a parent. Although I seem to be expanding my definition of fatherhood. I am seeing fatherhood in terms of my own child who has gone off to college, and other young (and not so young) people to whom I serve as a surrogate, or at least a spiritual, father.
  • Parenting never stops. My mother has been trying to tell me this for years. She said, "Your little grow will grow up, but you will always be her dad. I have no question about that. She's been gone two weeks and I have already received three "send money" phone calls. I know that our relationship will change and grow, but she is not rid of me yet.
  • I now know how my parents felt (and feel). At various times during the last 30 years I thought my parents were crazy, weird, annoying and aggravating. Now I am starting to understand. They love me and want to be sure that I am alright. That's how I feel about my child. I just hope I can survive her thinking that I am crazy, weird, annoying and aggravating. One good thing is that I have always known Mom and Dad loved me. I hope my daughter always knows and remembers that.
  • Being a parent to others. I have always had a special relationship to young people. In any group there will be two or three kids who "get" me. They understand what I stand for and what I am trying to do with my life. For a few of these I have become a parent. To many others I feel very paternal. In fact, right now I am trying to be "Dad" to one young man in Africa. (He even calls me Dad.) I am finding joy and a release in this new kind of parenting.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Some Thoughts on Parenting

You likely know that I just sent my only child to college for the very first time. We are now 13 days without Molly in our house (but who's counting?). It has been a difficult transition- and not always for the reasons I anticipated. I expected to miss her physical presence in our house. I was ready for more quiet, less attitude and less drama. I was not prepared for telling the hostess at the restaurant that there would only be two for dinner. I was not prepared for getting up in the middle of the night and not finding her somewhere.

All of this change caused me to think about and evaluate parenting in general. The title of this entry implies that I have multiple thoughts on parenting. Right now I don't. I really only have one thought.

Parents have one goal in life. From the time a child is born we nurture, educate, train, feed and love them so that some day they will be independent. We make sacrifices. We forget about our own needs, our own desires, all for the sake of the needs of our children. And for the most part, we do this willingly.

For the past 18 years my life has been pretty much dominated by my daughter. I have attended school functions. I have bought prom dresses (three of them). There have been concerts, games and dates. There have been things that excited me, and some that I dreaded and regretted. Although I have worked, had hobbies and a marriage during this time, my daughter has taken a lot of time, energy and focus.

And all of that was leading to the day that we finally left her at her college for the first time. It was the day that we have been working toward for all these years. Our success was at hand. You see, the goal of the parent is to produce a productive, independent human being. We did it! We are successful. The time has come and gone. She is on her own.

And the final analysis for us is that parenting stinks. For 18 years we worked toward what turns out to be one of the saddest, worst days of our lives. Someone should have told us that. Be warned.

Parenting stinks!