“Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

With all the hope of a man desperate to not be alone in life and eager to find what he’d never been looking for, I bought you a ring at a mall kiosk. I placed it in Eeyore’s lap and wrapped it up as a Christmas gift.

We set a date then set about debating all the details of navigating life together in faith, clinging to the promise we would one day be One, bonded in a holy union that would somehow keep us together and prevent us from falling apart.

At our wedding, the minister fed me vows but I was too choked up to repeat them. I was crying. Amazed at the grace that the brokenness in me might finally be mended. At the prospect that what God was joining together no one could possibly separate.

It’s been over twenty years and the promise remains true, though we are miles apart. We’re still in the minefields, waiting for our song to play.

Well I was 19, you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much too young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storms
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

Well “I do” are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
‘Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storms
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
‘Cause He promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of this chaos baby,
I can dance with you

So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh, lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh, lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh, this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

(“Dancing in the Minefields” is the eighth song on my autobiographical Spotify playlist Delight in Disorder)

A Living Promise (from Delight in Disorder)

This is my comfort in my affliction,

         that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:50)

It is so easy when our lives are off balance to lose hope for a better tomorrow.  As we look around at present reality, we are tempted to give up and give in to the voices telling us things will always be just as miserable as they are right now.

In college, when I “came clean” and stopped using the illicit drugs that were in essence holding my psychotic symptoms at bay (yet costing me mental stability), I hit what many addicts call a “rock bottom,” I was living alone in a downtown apartment, lying on a used mattress on the floor, working a job stuffing millions of plastic bags into cardboard boxes.  I had nothing but time on my hands to look within myself and look around and wonder just what I was going to do with my life.  I was lost.  I felt miserable.  And alone.

Then I started reading the Bible.  Again, but like it was the first time.  The promise of God’s Word is that the life we often settle for is so much less than the abundant life we are promised in Christ.  New life is experienced in the person of Jesus Christ, in his healing touch and saving hand.  In a world filled with broken promises, this is a promise we can rely on – now and forever.

New life in the resurrection of Christ is more than just a pie-in-the-sky hope for a future resting place for our disembodied souls called “heaven.” The new life we gain in Christ impacts how we live each day, each moment.  Our lives, even as we go through ups and downs, become more abundant, richer, more full of purpose and meaning.  Life begins to make delightful sense in the midst of the messy disorder within and around us.

With this hope in hand, I began to make the most of the present and envision a better future.  I left the factory and did a summer mission stint in a Christian community in South Georgia called Koinonia (Greek for “fellowship” or “communion”).  Time I had spent escaping with drugs I now spent communing with God and others through prayer and worship.  Instead of packing plastic, I was planting vegetables.   Instead of isolating myself on an assembly line, I built relationships with children in Bible study and older adults over community meals.

The promise for better days ahead in Christ, when properly received, does not cause us to give up and let the world go to pot.  Quite the opposite.  Knowing that God cares deeply about redemption, restoration, resurrection, and renewal, we can look beyond ourselves and join God at work making the world a better place – for generations to come.

Working at Koinonia did not magically heal me of past hurts or remove present temptations.  But while I was there, God set me on a course of away from seeking self-comfort to looking to serve others.  I’ve taken many detours along the road, but I’m still moving forward towards that heavenly fellowship, that divine communion, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

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Going to a Family Baptism

We don’t choose the families into which we are born. In a spiritual sense, neither do we choose to be adopted into God’s family. God chooses to adopt us as His children through the prompting of the Holy Spirit within us and the prodding around us.  Yet, when we profess faith in Christ and receive Him in our hearts as our Lord and Savior, it is as if we are signing our name on the adoption papers. These papers give us a new lease on life. The waters of baptism show us that our sin, which leads to spiritual death, is washed away.

To read more, click on the title below…

“A Family Baptism”

Baptism...

Baptism… from Ana Pinto in What Makes Life

Finding Release From Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  ― C.S. Lewis

After I finish a time of meditation and prayer, I am going to confront a close friend about her life-long addiction to pain-killers and other prescription drugs.  For many decades now she has used and abused a medical system that is all too willing to promise temporary relief from painful symptoms — at a great cost financially, physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Having sacrificed her body, mind, and spirit to drug experimentation, she is now nearly incapable of decision making, only to groan and moan that the pain is still present.

To read more, click on the title below —

“Release From Pain”

Jesus heals hurting woman...

“Jesus heals hurting woman…”  from Steve Soukup in Favorite Bible Art

Can You Get to God Without Following Christ?

Today, at Grace Church PCA, we had a discussion on the second chapter of Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.  In the book (and accompanying video) Keller responds to common objections contemporary people have about Orthodox Christianity.  This morning, we watched a video where Keller posed the question, “How Can Christians Claim to Know the Only Way to God.”

The respondents, predominantly religious skeptics, added to the question a variety of concerns, making comments like —

As a deconstructionist, I understand a religion’s motives for making exclusive claims.  I just don’t know if I can trust them.

It would be unfair for God to selectively reveal the Truth to only some and not others.

All religions share common ethical teachings.  To say one is True above all others is an arrogant claim.

Keller listened carefully and responded prayerfully to each concern and question raised.  He concluded the segment with an appeal to understand that when Christians make exclusive claims about Christ, it is not because they have an infantile need to always be right.  It is because we strive to be faithful to the One who said,

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”

One thought I came away with was that there is a distinction between religious pluralism and inter-faith dialogue.  Religious pluralists make the arrogant assumption that no religion has the Truth and tries to pour all truth claims into a melting pot of their own making such that all who profess faith get burned.

Inter-faith dialogue occurs when two or more Truth seekers, each committed to distinct truth claims – who humbly recognize the Truth is bigger than their own understanding – share their unique faith openly and honestly.

I believe Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – yet I do not “possess Christ” more than any other flawed human being.  It is very possible that some poor fisherman in Indonesia who hasn’t even read the Bible is following Christ more closely than I am.

As a faithful Christian missionary, then, it is not my job to convert lost souls to become more like me.  Instead, it is to genuinely commune with those very different from me in such a way that together we might grow in the knowledge and spirit of Christ.

There is a story (perhaps legendary – yet it reveals truth) that Mahatma Ghandi was once asked what he thought about Christianity.  He replied –

I rather appreciate the teachings of Jesus.  I might even had become a Christian, had I ever met one.

“ghandi” from Nadja Cx in Family

Wrestling with Our Flesh; Glorifying God with Our Minds

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.    (Romans 7:15-25, ESV)

Addictive sin was more than just a casual theological interest for the Apostle Paul – it was a profound, painful, personal struggle.  Paul doesn’t name his specific sin here – just what “very thing I hate” he keeps on doing.  This ambiguity does not weaken the application of this passage, but strengthens it – as we can fill in the blanks with our own addictive behavior.  What do I keep doing that is the very thing I most want to stop?  What am I avoiding that I most need to do?

I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 days wallowing in a pit of sloth, numbing my senses with episodes of crime thrillers and senseless sitcoms, eating excessive amounts of sugar products and washing them down with diet sodas, staying up all hours of the night for no good reason and sleeping away nearly every morning (typically my best time to pray and write).

I’m grateful to God I haven’t turned to favored addictive substances (aside from sugar and sugar substitutes) as I’ve wallowed in the pit.  But, by isolating myself from healthy and holy relationships, I have failed to “redeem the time” – instead allowing the sin of sloth to rule in my flesh and overtake my mind.

The good news is I find myself peering out from the edge of the pit, looking forward to what I hope will be a productive week.  More than this, I celebrate the good news that I haven’t had to climb out the pit alone.  In fact, even while I was in the depths these past ten days, the arms of Christ kept reaching out to me…

… in an encouraging e-mail my editor sent when she noticed my lapse in on-line presence.

….in a conversation with a local bookstore owner about my work in progress and a complimentary copy of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

… in the exuberant fellowship of my college roommate Joe and his son Dan, particularly as Dan played a few of his songs along the banks of the Ohio.

… over lunch with a local pastor, sharing our stories and discussing quality story-telling music we enjoy.

… in the news that a friend battling addiction is taking some key steps in treatment.

We fight a spiritual battle each day as we attempt to glorify God with our minds while our flesh turns to sin.  Sometimes it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle, but we can’t let our feelings overwhelm our faith.  Our own feeble flesh can not withstand enemy attacks, but the faith of Christ within, among, and around us keeps us moving forward.  Thank God.

"Jesus Christ" HUGE Mosaic Collage of Jesus Photos

“Jesus Christ” HUGE Mosaic Collage of Jesus Photos from  Valerie Redmon in Art, I Love !

God’s Obituary Revisited

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

God did many wondrous and mysterious things

Blessing a people to bless others

Delivering them from slavery to a Promised Land.

Rescuing them from self-destruction

Showing them mercy from everlasting to everlasting.

 

Then, some time ago, God died.

It might have been by the pen of Frederich Nietzsche,

Or in the ovens of Aushwitz.

Or on the tongue of Dr. Matthews, in the Spring of 1983

Who taught me that theology was no longer the study of God,

But the exploration of what it means to be human.

 

When I was young, God was very much alive.

Spewing fire and brimstone from the pulpit

Of the First Mount Pleasant Baptist church.

Kneeling beside me when I asked Jesus to come into my heart.

Holding me tight on nights I would hear my parents screaming at each other,

Softly whispering to me – “I am with you always.”

 

When I read Elie Wiesel’s Night

The gallows scene where the young boy hangs there –

His tongue hanging out, swollen and bluish,

One man asks, “For God’s sake, where is God?”

Eliezar says to himself,

This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

 

I thought of Jesus hanging on the cross,

Instead of sympathy, he received scorn.

If you are the son of God, save yourself and us.”

Instead, Jesus looked up to heaven and said,

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

 

Then God died.

And though he came back to life three days later,

We  killed him again.  And again.  And again.

 

At the pen of pompous philosophers,

In the gas chambers, the killing fields, the executioner’s chair

On the tongues of tenured teachers.

 

But the voice of God keeps calling out to us

From beyond the pages of the obituaries

(in His best Mark Twain voice) –

“The news of my untimely departure,

Though much celebrated,

Has been grossly exaggerated.”

Elevator

“Elevator” from Constantine Gavrykov in Creative Mind

Pleading for Prayer for a Friend

heaven

From heaven stretch Your hand;

Reaching down to rescue me,

save me from the floods,

The grip of foreign pow’rs,

The ones whose mouth speaks what is false,

The ones whose right hand is the same,

a right hand of deceitfulness. 

(from “Blessed Be the Lord, My Rock” by J.C. Friedrich Schneider – Psalm 144A in The Book of Psalms for Worship)

I have a dear friend I’ve known for over 20 years who is in a desperate situation.  In addition to battling addiction, she is facing legal charges that could result in significant sentencing to jail and/or prison.

In the midst of her struggle, she is feeling terribly conflicted.  She doesn’t know who to trust.  Voices within and around her are telling her to follow one direction, then another.  Her desires and her needs don’t mesh.  Friends and family wrestle with one another in an effort to extend help.

The message of Psalm 144 (especially verses 7-8) is that there is certainly help to be found.  The Psalmist calls on the God of heaven who can (and will) stretch out His hand to rescue those who are overwhelmed by floods of despair, detainment, and desperation.  Those who are caught in the grip of addiction and other self-destructive “powers and principalities” have a Helper in heaven they can count on.

But this Helper is not the only one reaching out.  There are plenty of others – within us, among us, and around us who do not speak the truth that is best for us.  Ideas that “feel right”, friends and family that “mean well”, can actually deceive us into thinking there are other ways to be rescued than the one and only Way – the path that leads to life with God (and others) in Jesus Christ.

I urge all of you to be intensely praying for my friend , especially tomorrow (April 22) as she transitions into treatment.

I have great hope in the LORD, as expressed in another Psalm –

God is our refuge and our strength,

In trials, a proven aid.

And therefore, though the earth should change,

We will not be afraid

Though hills may slide into the sea,

And waves crash down and roar,

And though the ocean’s rage may shake

The mountains on the shore

A river makes God’s city glad,

The Most High’s holy place.

God is in her; she won’t be moved;

God helps at the break of day.

(from “God is Our Refuge and Our Strength” by John Robb; Psalm 44B in The Book of Psalms for Worship)

image above “heaven” from  Karen Rosenberg in Favorite Places & Spaces

Inconsistent Sexual Ethics at 6 a.m.: Start Making Sense

Time Magazine Gay Marriage

The landscape of sexual ethics in the modern world is a mish-mash of confused values, convoluted principles, and conflicting presuppositions.

Consider these 3 modern profiles –

1)  A “conservative Christian” rails against same-gender sexual activity and homosexual marriage based on “Biblical convictions”.  He quotes Scripture passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that forbid such relationships (calling them “abominations”) as well as verses from the epistles of Paul who declares they are the results of our fallen sinful condition.

Yet, this same man is himself divorced and remarried (or supports those who are).   He conveniently ignores the explicit teaching of his “Lord and Savior” – Jesus Christ – who calls divorce and remarriage “adultery”.

2)  A “liberal Christian” endorses same-gender sexual activity and homosexual marriage based on an ethic of “justice/love” she believes Jesus embodied in his relationships and teachings.  She contends that Jesus did not once even address the topic of homosexuality (which must mean he “blesses” such unions – provided they are based on a philosophical ideal of “love”).

She conveniently disregards that the foundation for Jesus’ ethics is not in philosophical ideals he invented (or borrowed from others), but firmly rooted in the Old Testament Law.  It is true he sometimes corrected misapplications of the Law, but he clearly stated that he came to fulfill it, not abolish it.  Just because Jesus did not address same-gender sexual activity does not mean he endorses (or blesses) them anymore than he blessed usury, unjust slavery, or bestiality.

3)  Advocates for gay/lesbian marriage contend they have the “right” to the same privilege of a life-long union with the partner of their choice – redefining the traditional definition of marriage  ( a union between a man and a woman) to become a union between two consenting adults of any gender.

Yet, gay (G) and lesbian (L) advocates continue to lobby for bisexual (B) and transgender (T) rights, arguing they are worthy of equal rights as well.  While it has not been politically expedient (yet) for them to clarify this position, the obvious next step of advocacy will be for bisexuals to have the right to fully express their sexuality in a covenant of “marriage” – which will necessitate another redefinition to allow for a person to marry at least 2 others – a male and a female.  Otherwise, we would be denying them their “rights” inherent in their “sexual identity”.

Inconsistencies abound.  It boggles the mind.

But, perhaps I am just muddled in my thinking.  I would encourage all of you who identify with one of the three positions above (or who concoct another one) to help me understand how your sexual ethics are more consistent than what I’ve portrayed.

image “Time Magazine Gay Marriage” from Bryon in It’s all a part of life

The Broken Nonsense of the World and the Beautiful Sense of Christ

N.T. Wright is the definition of a b@d@ss theologian. The outfit speaks for itself.

“Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise.

Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world … That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.”  

―     N.T. Wright,  Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about who God is.  We both have attended liberal seminaries where professors have abandoned classic theologies (based on plain readings of Scripture) in favor of contemporary critiques claiming to be theologies (feminist, liberation, process).  As one of my professors put it, “The question of contemporary theology is not who God is, but what it means to be human.”

Much of what claims to be theology these days – both from liberal and conservative camps – is little more than pop psychology, amateur sociology, even strategic business writing.  The writers attempt to sell consumers what they can get out of God, not who God is and how we are to therefore respond.  Forget about the God of Scripture who is the great “I Am” or, better yet, “I will be who I will be.”  Now, it’s primarily about how I can get God to enhance my life.

N.T. Wright, on the other hand, seems to be an exception to this rule.  While he does not restrict himself to orthodox conclusions about classic doctrines, he takes Scripture seriously (and he puts God first).  The quote (above) is a good example.  To illustrate his point, visit a local library or bookstore (if you can find one).  Or, just go on-line.  Notice –

How many books in the “spirituality” section are actually about personal self-help?

How many books labeled “joy” or “happiness” have more to do with sensual pleasures, like sex?

How many books calling for “justice for the poor” are written by angry academicians whose income is high by worldly standards?

How many books on “relationships” talk about making changes for personal benefit?

How many blogs are filled with poems that convey sentimental clichés rather than glimpses of beauty in the real world?

We live in a deeply wounded world.  But those of us who call themselves Christians (and anyone who would like to be more like Jesus) are called to live a different reality – one that is based not on brokenness to be critiqued, but beauty to be embraced.

(photo of N.T. Wright from Eric Carter in BA Theologians)