06 December, 2009

Red Letter Old Testament

If they made a red-letter version of the Old Testament, the book would glow in the dark. God speaks constantly throughout the entire Old Testament, and in a variety of moods. That's been very special to me.

Each month some new aspect of Yahweh unwraps itself before my eyes. Really seeing that Yahweh is Jesus, that He kept every promise He ever made, that His attention was wholly and fixedly and powerfully on His people, that He bled with them long before He ever came to Earth. It's been an amazing journey.

This month's amazement is how very much Jesus revealed of Himself by His words before He ever revealed Himself in flesh.

Frankly, the gospel authors were stingy compared to their Old Testament examples. Mark actually went to the bother of reporting that Jesus was preaching the Word of God, without recording a tittle of what He might have said. Can you imagine having the chance to hear Jesus directly expounding His very own Words?! Mark gives Jesus' sermon a half sentence.

God pours out His heart in every book. He dies a little every time He tells Moses what (H)his people are going to do after they enter Canaan. He soars with love when He describes how He attends their every move. He describes just how each detail of their fellowship should be prepared. He sounds just like a bride's careful mother as she dispassionately enumerates every decoration of her daughter's wedding chapel and reception hall. His meticulous intensity over the dullest detail is fueled by fiery passion, not myopia. He wants everything to be perfect beause of His ardor.

Jesus frankly gave us a lot more words before His birth than after. And in that ocean of words, His character is revealed. The New Testament cannot replace the Old's unveiling of Yahweh's passions. The thought occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, if all His words were red, people could warm up to them just a little bit more.

I'm just a few more months away from Matthew, and I expect to be astounded again. Hebrews tells us Jesus is God's best and final Word to the world. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing Jesus in a wholly new light now that I've heard Him cry His heart out for 1,000 pages.

03 December, 2009

Meme 2: The Bible in Another 15 Words

Our enemies filled the land
Joshua conquered with Israel
Gideon took 300
Jonathon's shieldbearer

Meme: The Bible in 15 words

Or die
Righteousness can save
But won't save you
Life is in Jesus - Trust

(Meme explained at Clayboy
Hat tip to Lingamish)

04 November, 2009

The Smallest Grain

You know, get out of the blogging habit for more than a week or two, and BOOM. It's just gone. :-)

Anyway, I recently spent some time in the book of Amos, and was astounded. With wedding planning and all, I don't have time to tell all that inspired me, but I'd like to focus on one amazing contradiction.

God, Yahweh, the very personal God of all the world and of Israel in particular, is finished with Israel. He spends the first chapter and a half explaining He'll repay everyone to whom justice is owed, but then 7 chapters explaining exactly what Israel (as opposed to Judah - Israel is the "10 tribes" and went into captivity 120 years before Judah, never to return) has done to deserve His wrath, and exactly what His wrath will entail.

In chapter 3 He explains that if He's once roused Himself, everyone who hears Him should know they are doomed. In chapter 5 He details their adulteries. In chapter 7 He allows Amos to reduce the pain they'll feel in their doom. But then, in the terrifying final chapter, He declares how He'll hunt down every member of Israel even to hell itself and slay them.

In the books of history, I read God's purpose and dependability. In Amos I see His wild eyes and His hair whipping with the passion of His declarations. God is furious, but coldly and calculatingly furious. His passion floods the banks of His patience. I've always heard the phrase, "wild-eyed prophet." That phrase sells God short. Those prophets were wild-eyed in a vain attempt to communicate the terror they'd faced, and they told the story because they had no choice. When one hears the fury of the living God, one doesn't go home, light a candle and center one's self.

After 8 1/2 chapters of fury, God says this:
Amos 9:8-10 "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD [are] on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob," Says the LORD. "For surely I will command, And will sift the house of Israel among all nations, As [grain] is sifted in a sieve; Yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, Who say, 'The calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.'


In His fury He can make this promise. He will sift out His people among the nations, but He'll not lose one single grain. He'll slay the sinners, but He'll not allow one of His own to be mislaid, much less killed.

In the Old Testament I've been finding my every concept of God shaken. He is very much not Whom I imagine Him to be. He is entirely Who He Is. He holds fury and tenderness equally firmly, and never fails. His Word never goes forth, except it happens. Leviticus 26 continues to ring in my ears since I first heard it a few weeks ago. It took 1200 years for that chapter to be fully realized, but not one word of it fell to the ground.


11 October, 2009

Codepoke to be Wed

There are several praises about which to be thankful today. That Dana said, "Yes," is the first and greatest. (So as not to create unnecessary suspense, the second is that I'm gainfully employed - praise the Lord indeed. The third must remain unspoken and it's not yet an assured thing.)

I love how life doesn't do what we expect it to do. I expected to be deliriously happy, and I am. I expected to feel like I'd reached this decision only after giving due consideration to every angle, and I have. I expected to feel both doubt and confidence, and I do. What I didn't expect was to feel so deeply humbled.

It's a strange thing. I feel like I've got so much more understanding than when I first married, but I still feel more like the fool of Proverbs fame than ever. Solomon talked about the wise man, the evil man and the foolish man. The foolish man was more naive than evil, and that's how I feel today.

The cliche artist in me rushes to rejoice I've found the trailhead to wisdom, but the bruised 45 year-old man in me looks at scripture and history and the great cloud of witnesses who have believed before me and mutters something about shutting up and getting on with it.

The Lord has blessed me with the love of a precious woman who treasures the same things I do, in a completely different way than I ever could. I love her joyfully and thankfully and look forward to a life of many mistakes as we start all over again from the middle.

Thank you Lord Jesus.

Thank you, my friends, for supporting me over the years. You made a rich difference.

05 October, 2009

The Flaming Sword

The age old question of whether we should pray for healing, or pray for healing if it's God's will, came up in Sunday School. The specific question was why God could will not to heal us.

It's always a tough question.

There are too many wounded people whom I love too much to answer that question lightly. The teacher was gracious enough to actually allow some silence after asking the question. I am often impressed by her, and this was one of those times. Anyway, in the silence I ran around the mulberry bush a few more times, but the way the question was asked brought me to a new place.

Could God will that we not be healed? It is actually His will that we die. There's a tree somewhere on this planet named the Tree of Life, and that tree has an angel standing in front of it with a flaming sword. That sword is there by the will of God, and it's there to make sure we die.

Genesis 3 is not really explicit about why we should not live forever, but it is explicit God will not allow it. It might be because He's too merciful to allow us to debauch ourselves and destroy ourselves for any longer than 70 years. It could be to preserve us from His wrath. It could be to preserve His glory. The one thing of which we're certain is our pain comes as an outflow from Adam's sin. God is handling the introduction of evil into our world in the most merciful and loving way possible. Maybe sometimes we underestimate the terrible power of the unholy, but Jesus paid a terrible price to cleanse us.

Yes, God might will us to remain wounded. If He does, He does so tenderly and with love, like a good mother helping a child to throw up so it can all be better in the morning.

Whatever might happen, our Heavenly Comforter stays with us all through the night.

04 October, 2009

You're OK With Us

That's the motto of AMSCOT, a local predatory lending chain. It's also the starting point of many a lost young person's descent into drugs. And it's the call of the highest minded voices in our land. Black, white, muslim, buddhist, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, brilliant, challenged, native, foreigner, poet, worker, blue collar, white collar, red state, blue state.

America means, "You're OK with us."

Should that motto work for the church, too?

03 October, 2009

Scarred for Life

I have no patience these days with the Nietzschean cliché, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' I’ve found that the deepest pain holds no meaning. It is not purifying. It is not ennobling. It does not make you a better human being. It just is.

All the worst pain does is reduce us to our most primal animal. We want it to stop. We want to survive. It short-circuits any sense of self, diminishes us to a bundle of biological reflexes.

NYTimes blog by way of the Fibromyalgia Blog.

I'm ashamed to add words to such a statement, but I've felt pain too. I've felt pain just like that - not recently, but those feelings. Since those days I've said, "That which does not kill us scars us for life."

And I'm scared to say anything about these words because there are those I love who are in that place right now. How dare I speak words into their pain that they cannot feel now? But I do remember. Really, I do. I remember and I think I would have wanted to hear both the words I've quoted above and the words I add below.

You're alive.

Ecclesiastes says a living dog is better than a dead lion, and pain taught me how right Solomon was. I wanted to be a noble lion in noble pain, but I survived because I realized I was a humble little mongrel held in the hands of the Living Lord. He preserved me because He loved me, and I lived because I finally found that grain of trust in His love.

I bear scars I'll nurse until I die, but only that long. There is a glory of life and trust, a love of God and man, my pain taught me and by which I'll be carried through all eternity.

Surviving such pain cripples us. Finding God scarred exactly as we were scarred, exactly because He loves us, metamorphosizes us. Pain cripples, but love transforms. The work love does with pain is divine.

Cry out to God and believe. His love for you is stronger than your agony. It is.

Jesus is.

22 September, 2009


Exd 33:3 & 4 "Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way." When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments.

I recently read an article commending speaking everything that enters your mind to everyone. The journalist reporting on his experiment told about the thrill of his initial experiments. He explained how it was frightening to tell his boss he didn't like an assignment, his girlfriend what he thought of a story, and his interview subject what he thought of his whole life. He also explained how powerful it felt, too.

That's a power some of us never feel.

Yes, there's a danger in speaking the truth hurtfully and inappropriately, but there's an equal danger in being unable to speak a truth in time of need. Some of us would rather lie to ourselves than tell the truth to anyone who might overwhelm us. That is the message of my movie, Lucie's Prayer. Lucie was lying to herself, telling herself that she was the one who needed to change when she was being abused. The first person with Whom we can begin to build a foundation of truth again is God. At the end of the movie, Lucie finally hears God wants to deal truthfully and He's not afraid of her problems. Lucie began the slow, difficult process of learning to tell the truth. As she's learning to tell the truth to God, she'll also have to learn how to tell the truth to her friend Julie, and some day she'll even be able to tell the truth to Billy. On that day, she'll feel the power of truth.

That's a power God always has.

Yahweh tells the Israelites they're a stiffnecked people, and He casts them into mourning. There is no remorse in His words, because there's no ill-considered rage in His statement. Whenever you read the words of God, you should read them out loud, and you should give thought to the tone you choose. Try reading Ex 33:3 & 4 in some different tones.

Sweet Jesus
Go up to the land I've promised you. I have a wonderful plan for your life there, and I want to be the bridge across the gap between here and there. I will turn a kind eye to your imperfections, and hide myself from your learning experiences.

Suffering Jesus
Go up to the land I worked so hard to prepare for you. I want to take the journey with you, but I can't when you're stiffnecked and stubborn. It kills me to love you so much, and for you to keep hurting yourself by not listening to me. I hope you can enjoy your blessings without Me.

Stern Jesus
Try to get to the land flowing with milk and honey without Me. You will never get there without me, and I won't go with you because you've forgotten holiness.

Scientific Jesus
I wonder how many of these people will go to the land flowing with milk and honey. I've repeatedly set good advice in front of them, and at each proving they've chosen against my recommendation. Let me back off and observe their performance.

I've modified the words to emulate various tones, but we each hear some consistent tone in God's voice when we read His word. An addict, a codependent, a narcissist, and a passive-aggressive will all inflect God's text differently but ascribe their inflection to God without a second thought. Part of the Spirit's work is to inflect the word of God more accurately to us, to let us hear God's words the way He meant them to be heard. That's also a big goal of our work in studying the scripture. We must labor to see how God reacts to real people doing real things right and wrong. Then we can adjust the inflection we impose upon His voice to match the reality we see in His stories.

Inflect Yahweh's pronouncement here as powerful, accurate, and unflinching without adding any inflection of dependency, shame, rage, or worry.

Exd 33:3 & 4 "Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way." When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments.

And now that you've heard these words with an accurate tone, do you hear love in them?

No Buddhist koan can top that question for mind-breaking complexity! The sound of one hand clapping? A mere trifle. Trees falling in the forest without anyone to hear them? A child's illusion. Can Yahweh reject Israel lovingly? It's an impossible question. No matter how you define love, the concept of rejection has no part in it. And yet God is love, no?

Maybe this isn't a rejection? But no. It's too hard to defend that thought, when He goes on to ask Moses for permission to destroy these people and start over with a people from Moses.

Maybe this is tough love? Um. Maybe, I guess.

Whatever it might be, it's devoid of any attempt to manipulate. It's a simple declaration of simple truth. Yahweh never threatens to resent His people's acceptance of His gift. He offers no carrot. He doesn't promise them one last chance to do the right thing, and then He'll go with them. There's no sugar-coating and no exaggeration.

I call it honesty.

It's a powerful thing, and it's the only way God knows to deal with us. May we learn to be like Him.

20 September, 2009

Skilled Builders

Exd 31:1-6 The LORD also said to Moses,"Look, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, intelligence, and skill in all kinds of crafts. He is able to create beautiful objects from gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in cutting and setting gemstones and in carving wood. Yes, he is a master at every craft! "And I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the naturally talented craftsmen so they can make all the things I have instructed you to make:

1 Cor 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Moses tells us Bezalel and Oholiab were gifted builders working on the tabernacle in the wilderness. Paul tells us there were other builders of the church in Corinth. There's a very strong analogy between these two groups of builders. The tabernacle and the church are both the dwellings of God, one temporary and the other permanent. The tabernacle was an image of the way God dwells in His kingdom and the church is a foretaste of the kingdom itself. Both come, "some assembly required."

Spurgeon pointed out in Morning and Evening the other day that even the most wonderful bare foundation provides very little comfort during a storm. You need the building as well! The building needs a foundation, but you need the building as badly as a foundation.

Bezalel was a builder. A literal one. Earlier in Exodus Moses appointed judges over 1000's, 100's, 50's and 10's. Bezalel probably was not one of those. He was probably one of those guys who who took his gripes to Joe who was in charge of 10. And Joe might say his gripe was a tough call and tell him to bounce it up to Frank who was in charge of 50's. Bezalel was just a guy in the tribe of Judah. He happened to have a knack for hammering gold, and the Lord called him to service in the tabernacle.

And the Lord filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God.

To make a lampstand?

Yes. To make a lampstand.

And to carve a pomegranate.

The judges over 1000's, 100's, 50's and 10's weren't filled with the Holy Spirit, but Bezalel was. That's dramatic. The Lord ignores the men given power, and fills those skilled in crafts. The Lord pours out His Spirit on Bezalel as truly and as purposefully as He does on Moses, and not just Bezalel: Moreover, I have given special skill to all the naturally talented craftsmen so they can make all the things I have instructed you to make

Can you begin to imagine all the things there are to be made in the house of God that you attend every Sunday? I'll start, but I'm sure together we could come up with many more.

First, did you note from the Corinthians passage the church was not founded by Christ? Paul laid the foundation of Christ, not Christ Himself. Jesus is the Stone and the Cornerstone, but He deputizes stonemasons for the work. Even the most fundamental work in the church is done by men with the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Others built upon that foundation. Floorplans were designed, walls blocked out, doorways, roof-lines, windows all needed to be built for strength and function. Provision had to be made for cooking, cleaning, and disposal of all the kinds of waste life creates. But then the stuff actually needed to be built. Mistakes needed to be corrected. The walls needed plastering and painting. Trim needed to be fitted. Doorknobs and shelves and countertops needed installation. Pictures needed to be picked out for the walls, and flowers for the entrance.

The church is like that.

Money needs to be safely gathered and handled. People need to know how to reach each other during the week. The sick need to be remembered and supported. The lazy need to be chided. The young need to be kept happy and the young in the Lord need milk. The old need to be visited and the mature in the Lord need to be employed in His service. The observant need to heard and the unpleasable need to be singled out. Almost every small gathering needs food and drink, and everyone needs a chance to tell someone how their week is going. Everyone needs a little advice and everyone needs a little coaching in how to receive it graciously (especially when it's poor.) The young singles need to feel included. The parents of young children need to feel included. The older couples need to feel included. The older singles need to feel included. The new people need to feel included. The steady dependables need to feel included.

And you are skilled at one or more of these things. Bezalel was skilled in all of them. Oholiab was skilled in one or two. Both were filled with the same Spirit toward the same end - building the tabernacle of God.

The tabernacle was wild with incredible variety, and every bit of it was executed by skilled craftsmen filled with the Spirit. Did you know there were a dozen or more pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet embroidered around the hem of Aaron's vestments? Or the lampstand with its almond blossom lamps was entirely beaten from a single piece of gold? Or that the Lord specified this because it mattered to Him? The construction of the tabernacle was spelled out in painstaking detail, and showed just how many jobs the Lord's builders performed.

These littlest things matter to Him, and He's naturally gifted you to add some little thing to His church - to your church. He's ready to fill you with the Spirit. Are you ready to build? Your church will profit greatly when your gifts are employed in His service.

19 September, 2009

Fixing It

There are millions of Christians in America, and I could not begin to count how many of them are trying to fix the church right now, even just as I'm typing this. However many it might be, it's a huge number. And here I am, adding my name to the list again.

And all those people with fixes are right.

The ones complaining the church is too effiminate and drives men away are right. The ones complaining the church is too patriarchal and drives women away are right. The emergent church is right and those pressing for more commitment to the churches we already have are right. Insightful saints are recommending we correct our doctrine, our worship, our practice, our preaching, our prayer, our evangelism, our methodology, our spontaneity, and our focus. And they're all right.

The focus of this blog has been to correct how distantly we live from our churches so we can spend time with each other more easily. I'll even allow as I've been right, too. Why should I be any harder on myself than on millions of my brothers and sisters?

And the status quo of millions of Americans questioning the status quo is more or less working. By and large, Americans feel at home in that kind of melee. I believe there are cultures out there that like to complain without being inconvenienced by real change. Americans are a couple shakes and a wiggle more comfortable with change than some, so we see a certain (smallish) amount of change in our churches and feel pretty good about things.

And by and large, our little changes make some things a little better and some things a little worse. We have churches that preach a little better, worship a little better, practice a little better, and perform a little better. The status quo of complaining about how things could be better continues and the little changes continue and things get a little better and people seem to stay about as happy as they want to be.

So how does one little Codepoke swim in that mighty river of status and quo?

For starters, I wonder if just maybe my little blog won't be able to fix the church in my lifetime. (Saying that kind of hurts, "right here.") (Point to any of the usual places, and you've probably guessed right about where it hurts.) I'm disenchanted with social media as a whole (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, IM, game consoles, iPod, etc.). In fact, I'm really learning to fear social media. In deeper fact, I'm even tempted to try to fix the church by arraying her as a mighty army against social media, but maybe I know one half-nutty voice can't save the world. Or maybe the irony of blogging against church blogging stops me. Who knows?

Here's what I know.

The Lord did not send me to fix the church, as badly as I wanted that sending. I pretty confident He's sent me to add a blessing or two to the little church where I hang my hat, and maybe given me a couple thoughts to share with people who visit this little blog. I'll enjoy doing those two things.

Today my heart is to blog a bit about Jesus in the church, and I hope to do that for a couple weeks. Jesus is more real, bigger, holier, and more loving than we can hold in our minds for more than a few minutes. I'd like to blog a little about how the church can appreciate Jesus in her midst a little more. The love of our brothers and sisters should make tangible the reality of Jesus, and anything we can do to make that happen is a good thing.

May the Lord bless and have mercy on this little series.

18 September, 2009

Digestion and Aging: Enzymes to the Rescue

Yep, this is a post about old bowels. Sorry, but someone might find it useful, and that's my criterion for "post-worthiness."

I've been under a small freight train of stress these days, and it's been starting to show in a number of ways. One of them has been failing digestion. For the last couple months, I've been having a hard time digesting normal meals. I've actually been tempted to eat less, which makes no sense given the workload I'm under. And when I've given in to that temptation, I've had to cut back on the things I'm doing.

I'm getting older, right?

Then I was hammered with an allergy to wheat. Every time I'd eat wheat, my mouth and throat would begin to swell, and I'd have indigestion all day. I carefully eliminated all other changes to my diet, and yep, the staple of my life was suddenly poison to me.

So I cut out wheat. My problem did not go away. The swelling was gone, of course, but the weakness and indigestion were still there. The wheat thing appeared to be more a symptom than a cause.

I researched. I had an idea what I was looking for, so when I found it I was not surprised. As we age, our ability to make/use/whatever enzymes weakens. This is significant because enzymes are the doodads that break proteins up into usable thingamajigs. My body was running out of thingamajigs, even though I was eating plenty of good stuff.

Long story short, I went to my local health food store and bought the best enzymes I could find. 4 days into the new routine, I'm on the tennis court again and feeling pretty solid all around. I'm going to give it another week or two before I man up to trying wheat again, but the turn-around for my health was dramatic. Everything I eat feels well digested soon after I've finished.

Give it a try if you find you're experiencing age-related digestive problems.

11 September, 2009

Lucie's Prayer

HT: GlenScriv linked to these two hilarious videos

(Interesting. I cannot see the "comments" link on this post. Here's a manual link to comments)

09 September, 2009

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers

What are they?

It's a trick question. I'm not sure there are any highly effective bloggers. ;-)

OK. I might possibly concede there are some effective bloggers, but I think there are a lot more successful, ineffective bloggers than there are effective ones.

So what's the difference? If effectiveness is having a lot of subscribers, then there are a lot of effective bloggers. If it's having a bevy full of commenters who disagree with you, then there are a lot of effective bloggers. If it's richly expressing yourself, then there are a LOT of impressively effective bloggers. I applaud all those things, but in my opinion those are measures of success, not effectiveness.

An effective blogger is one who has achieved synergy with his/her commenters. Together they are meaningfully wiser and more capable than they could be apart.

Now, I know that sounds easy, but it's not. Covey's 7 Habits was a smash hit, and for good reason. It sets a high and useful bar for the idea of what's effective. I might be wiser because of a comment on one of my posts, or a reader might be wiser because of something I said. Those are certainly effective moments, but moments like that fall way short of synergy. Take a look at Covey's habits 4-6:
+ Habit 4 - Principles of Mutual Benefit: An attitude whereby mutually beneficial solutions are sought that satisfy the needs of oneself as well as others, or, in the case of a conflict, both parties involved.
+ Habit 5 - Principles of Mutual Understanding: Covey warns that giving out advice before having empathetically understood a person and their situation will likely result in that advice being rejected. Thoroughly listening to another person's concerns instead of reading out your own autobiography is purported to increase the chance of establishing a working communication.
+ Habit 6 - Principles of Creative Cooperation: A way of working in teams. Apply effective problem solving. Apply collaborative decision making. Value differences. Build on divergent strengths. Leverage creative collaboration. Embrace and leverage innovation. It is put forth that when synergy is pursued as a habit, the result of the teamwork will exceed the sum of what each of the members could have achieved on their own. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

These are the "Independence to Interdependence" habits and build on the "Dependence to Independence" habits. I think blogging really suits the first three habits wonderfully, and maybe the 7th habit, but I don't think many bloggers have really achieved interdependence. I'm not sure they can.

I can imagine interdependence working in the blog world, but not very easily. It takes my most optimistic and idealistic dream state to really picture it. I'm sure opium would help with that. But opium or not, I don't think imagining it is going to make it happen (no apologies to John Lennon - the dude was way wrong.)

We bloggers are too ethereal to support deep relationship - strong relationship sometimes, but never full-bodied.

You never have to put up with my bad breath. You can skim/ignore my tennis posts. You can ooh and aah when I get something right and quietly ignore (or loudly protest) my errors. You can picture me with red hair or a pleasingly Benedictine demeanor. Whatever images drift lazily across your consciousness as you read my words, they mean only what you perceive them to mean. I relate to you as whatever your subconscious assumes me to be, and it's impossible for you to see me any other way. You're kind and optimistic people, so you almost certainly see me as better than I really am (and I appreciate that) but I am assuredly different from your subconscious picture of me. Only a handful of verbal slivers of Kevin Knox are real to you, and the more we attempt to overcome that unreality, the more we're just spray-painting a ghost.

I cannot commit myself to people who vanish simply the moment I unsubscribe from their blogs and delete their emails. I can only commit myself to people who are still there, week in and week out, no matter how badly they frustrate me. It's only in the daily grind I can really learn whether they're trustworthy. Via the Internet I can share a mutual commitment to Christ with anyone in any corner of this wonderful globe, but I can only interdepend with people who've seen the real me - with people who will soon have to forgive me, because they can't just change the channel and make me go away.

It's only the church, concrete and frustrating, that can be effective.

06 September, 2009


How many people have you had over to eat in the last two weeks? Or, if you're an introvert, the last four weeks?

Yeah. If you haven't, you're not alone.

Have you given any thought to why?

The human brain is wired to need social connection, but getting people together is a tough job. We're wired with lots of needs and connection is one of them. We need social connection just like we need food and sleep. Food and sleep both require their own share of work, but they are very loud needs and motivate us directly. Shopping and cooking are mildly painful experiences for most of us, so we pay good money to have other people do it. Many of us wish we loved cooking, but most of us simply tolerate it because being hungry is worse.

Eating is easier! We didn't become the most overweight nation ever by hating the eating part of the equation. No, eating is the pleasure while cooking is the pain, and hunger is the bridge between the two. The pleasure of eating might convince some of us to cook, and the desire for energy and health might persuade others, but hunger is the first alarm system and almost all of us find hunger persuasive.

Imagine your life without hunger. Imagine you still needed food, but you would never feel hungry again. I'd probably still cook the occasional special meal or maybe enjoy my favorite food once in a while, but there's no chance I'd eat enough of the boring foods that keep me going. I'd find myself losing weight. And soon I'd be losing too much weight. And eventually I'd lose so much weight my body would begin to fail. It would not take long before I'd wish I could be hungry again!

Ditto for sleep. We only stop the fun and lay our bodies down because tiredness is so intolerable. If we found ever a cure for feeling tired, we'd quit sleeping entirely. Soon we'd be suffering from inexplicable pains, poor judgment, and long term memory failure, but we wouldn't feel tired so at midnight we'd still be rearing to go. Midnight works great for curling up with those systematic theologies! Within a year or two we'd all be educated theologians. Or just maybe dead. We need sleep, and tiredness is the first alarm that tells us we're not getting enough sleep.

The feeling of hunger is different from our need to eat, and the feeling of tiredness is different from our need to sleep. If we were to cure the feeling without curing the need, we'd be in an awful fix.

I have the thought that the church is in such an awful fix because we've cured the feeling that once drove us to connect with each other.

It's hard to nail down exactly what that painful feeling might be, but we're not feeling it any more. I think of it as a mysterious mix of purposelessness, isolation, disconnection, and/or loneliness that once drove us to seek out relationship. Maybe we've lost the ability to clearly distinguish between all those feelings, but come 9:00 PM we sit down and "see what's on."

We're bored.

But we don't stay bored long.

At the first twinge of boredom, we surf our TV, Facebook, and the blogosphere. We've got DVD's, iPods, and XBoxes. We're IM chatting about youtube videos and Tweeting and Retweeting everything. Maybe the boomers shy away from Twitter and the teens hardly know what Network Television used to be, but together we unwind in front of channels, sites, videos and email before the pain of boredom has a chance to settle in.

We'd never try popping a No-doze every time we were tired or a Red Bull every time we were hungry, but we'll kick on the tube without a second thought. Give us 5 seconds without an entertaining idea, and the lure of easy entertainment ropes us in. We don't even have to be seduced any more. We'll set up auto-payment to our cable provider to make sure we have our fix. The scary thing is that advertisers pay entertainers very well to help us quit feeling our pain, so our entertainment is pretty cheap in the end.

But boredom is a blessing! We need more boredeom! Boredom is as important to our lives as hunger and tiredness, but entertainment painlessly melts boredom away. Oh sure, TV's not perfect. "There're 400 channels and nothing on," but maybe that's a sign of our problem. Perhaps we are so deprived of [something] that normal antidotes for boredom don't work any more. After a week or two without sleep, No-doze is worthless. What if normal entertainment loses its effectiveness when we're freakishly over-bored? Maybe we're so deeply bored we have to be twittering while watching a movie and planning the review we'll give it on Facebook to just feel normal?

To what might God have designed our boredom to drive us?

Hunger and tiredness drive us to nutrition and sleep. Red Bull can cure hunger and No-doze can cure tiredness, but neither can provide the things nutrition and sleep give us. We ought not to cure hunger or tiredness flippantly ... nor boredom. The objective of hunger is to drive us to prepare food and the objective of tiredness is to drive us to stop the fun and call it a night. What's the objective of boredom?


Our God created us to engage with life, to grab hold of its highs and lows, and to grapple with its possibilities. We were created to create. We are loved that we might love. We're steady so others might rely upon us through thick and thin. But the boredom that once drove us to engage life is systematically being anaesthetized. Entertainment is a huge industrial complex, and the most brilliant American minds are thinking and experimenting and sweating to make sure we're entertained as often and as deeply as possible. The promise of American advertising is that we need no longer suffer the painful labor of engaging with life, with each other, and with our own demons. We can check out a fun youtube video any time we need a break.

My problem is not with social media. I blog (obviously enough) and some day I'm going to Facebook (I see it coming, like a thunderstorm on the horizon.) A mature, spiritual, and complete person can engage with life and others using Twitter. My problem is I'm not mature, spiritual and complete. I'm human and easily drawn aside. Given a way to eat without the drag of cooking, which of us doesn't eat out too often? Given a chance to relax in front of the computer instead of shutting it down and going to bed, which of us doesn't blog a little bit longer? Given a chance to watch a movie a friend recommended instead of visiting them and listening to what's been happening in their life, which of us doesn't stretch out on the sofa?

The body of Christ is out there. You can reach out and touch your brothers and sisters - they need it. You can see their eyes light up or darken. You can hear the rhythms and intonations of their speech. You can smell their griefs in a hug. You can share a meal.

We are creations of this Earth, wired to engage with all 5 senses, not images alone. We were made to make and keep covenant with each other, to promise to be there for each other through thick and thin, and to seal that promise over roast beef and mashed potatoes.

Our brothers and sisters need meat and potatoes love from us. They need to see our eyes and feel the warmth of our skin when we say we'll be there for them. Promises on a screen vanish with a keystroke, and deep down those brothers and sisters know it. We know it, too. We need the same gift back from them, but getting and giving solid, earthy love is going to require the work of engagement from us. We're going to need to let ourselves be bored, and then let that boredom drive us to the work of connecting to the body of Christ.

If we're not careful, the church in America won't end with a bang, but with a punch line. We're long on jokes, but short on the ties that bind. Those ties require work, and eating together is a great place to start.

23 August, 2009

Drill and Ceremony

A little lad asked me the other day why the British soldiers all stood in a line to be shot during the American Revolution.

It's a much better question than he knew.

The answer is rooted in that least coveted of human emotions, fear, and that dodgiest of human studies, history.

Some several hundred years before Christ was born, some Macedonians conquered the world behind the phalanx. The phalanx was an amazing military invention (invented several centuries before Alexander, but certainly employed brilliantly by The Great). It was a juggernaut made of people. Each man carried an 8 foot spear and a shield large enough to protect his entire body. He stood elbow-to-elbow with the man on his either side and several rows deep. They advanced on the enemy relentlessly.

In every decisive ancient battle you see a radically lopsided casualty report. Alexander's forces lost 500-1,000 men at Gaugamela, for example, while Darius's forces lost 50,000-90,000 of the 100,000 on the field. The reason for this discrepancy is fear. During the height of the battle each side might be losing hundreds of casualties equally, then comes the breakthrough (yes, that's where that word comes from.) Alexander employed some daring tricks to create a weakness right in the center of the enemy lines, attacked it in force, and broke through to the soft underbelly of the Persian army.

As soon as the Persians knew the Greeks were behind them, they panicked and lost military discipline. Fear started making their decisions for them. Up until that moment, the Greeks had probably lost 500 men and the Persians 1,000. Given that the Greeks were outnumbered 2 to 1, that was survivable. But from the moment of panic the Persians were helpless babes in the woods.

Ancient armies won battles by overcoming the urge to panic and lost battles when it overcame them.

Every human's heart is gripped by icy fear. No one has so much courage as to be immune to panic. Alexanders soldiers the bravest men in the world and he didn't teach them some secret courage meditation. Winners and the losers both go to war with the men they have, not with the superheroes you read about in the books. No, the Greeks overcame fear with discipline and trust. They taught their men to stand in a straight line, to fight in very close proximity to their support, and to trust both their leaders and the men standing at either elbow. The Greeks were better trained and better led, so they were rewarded with the breakthrough. They overcame panic by relying on each other and obeying the commands of trustworthy leaders.

All ancient war was fought by men standing just as close together as possible. Roman soldiers were trained to use their swords as stabbing weapons, not hacking weapons, because then they could stand twice as closely to each other without sharp objects flailing around wildly. This made them four times as effective because they had more "firepower" concentrated on a smaller part of the enemy lines and because standing more closely to their comrades gave them courage.

The British stood in close lines, not because they wanted to prove they were brave, but to make themselves brave. They wanted to concentrate their firepower and courage most effectively. Against similarly trained European armies, the British forces were terrifyingly courageous. Their reputation for steely determination under fire was legendary, and terrifying. You now know it was courage born of discipline and trust.

What you may not know is that the American army could not have won the Revolutionary War by shooting from behind trees. We eventually needed to field conventional armies and fight conventional European battles to win our freedom. The rifles of the time fired too slowly and too inaccurately to panic a trained army. Decisive military actions were won by the bayonette, by achieving a breakthrough, and by causing panic in the enemy. We beat the British because we learned just enough discipline to defeat the small army they could spare to put down our rebellion. They were fighting on too many worldwide fronts and could not send enough soldiers to do the job they were given. The smallness of the British army arrayed against us and the arrival of Baron von Steuben in America to teach us Prussian "Drill and Ceremony," are what ended our tenure as loyal British subjects. (The US Army still refers to von Steuben's "Blue Book" of drill and ceremony to this day.)

The good Baron taught our troops to march in disciplined lines so we could maneuver enough to beat the British. He taught us to mass our firepower while still remaining mobile. And in so doing, he taught our soldiers courage. He taught them how to stand closely enough to each other while maneuvering under fire to give each other the bravery to survive against professional British armies.

It wasn't until the machine gun and WWI this equation changed, but even then it only changed in appearance. American soldiers "stand" closely to each other on radios, and we mass our firepower in other ways. We still survive and thrive on the modern battlefield by overcoming panic through discipline and trust.

Anyway, all that was fun to talk about. The little lad enjoyed hearing how battle worked, and I enjoyed reinforcing to him over and over that courage is something we gain from discipline and trust, by standing side-by-side with other men, not from some internal miracle of will. Hopefully, it will help a little bit some day.

But surely you sense the parallels for the church flying through my mind now?

The church reminds me of a bunch of Virginia farmboys wondering why the Brits don't run back to England after they've sniped a few Redcoats from the woods. I suspect we're looking for "a few brave men," when really we need to learn to work more closely with each other and trust our leaders. Courage doesn't come from "want to." Courage is a measurable, reproducible fruit of discipline and trust.

I suspect the church needs Drill and Ceremony.

18 August, 2009

Comfort For Human Parents, Well Odd Human Parents

Well, this odd human parent takes comfort from this passage. Your mileage may vary.

Num 14:30-33 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, [concerning] which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But [as for] you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.

My kids are both grown. They're out in the world making independent decisions using the tools my ex and I gave them, and the tools they found on their own, and the tools they've made up along the way. All of their decisions make sense. They make sense for the kinds of people they are with the kinds of background they have, and they make sense in light of my mistakes as a parent.

For the record, both are really interesting and fun people, and one is really doing well by all objective measures. Both have rejected Christ, though, and that's where my stomach just ties up in knots.

I find a thin gruel of comfort in the truth the Lord spoke to Ezekiel:

Eze 14:12-20 ¶ The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver [but] their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD. If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts: [Though] these three men [were] in it, [as] I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate.

Or [if] I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men [were] in it, [as] I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves.

Or [if] I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast: Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, [were] in it, [as] I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall [but] deliver their own souls by their righteousness.

There are things beyond the control even of such men as were commended by God. Maybe such men as me cannot be expected to deliver their own children. Maybe it's no surprise that there are so many of us out here, parents whose children have walked away from the truth. Maybe this disaster is not because we're all Eli's who turned a lazy and blind eye to their children's works.

It's thin comfort and discouraging hope, but as I collapse before the Lord it speaks to my heart. Maybe there's a thin hope the Lord will not reject me for my parenting.

The Israelites, though, they received golden words of comfort from the Lord Himself. Oh sure, the nuggets of gold were wrapped in images of their rotting carcases left unburied in the wastelands, but the gold is there. The Lord promises to His failed, rebellious, bitter children that their children are still in His hands. They will suffer 40 years of wandering they should never have known, but they will inherit the land and the blessing. And their children will grow up in a fruitful land, abundant in the presence of the Lord.

I no longer feel superior to those Israelites who grumbled in the desert. I once did. I was wrong. I sit here now, after decades of the Lord's care, and wonder whether I'll have meat to eat. I've never seen the heavens rain down manna, but I've seen the Bread of Heaven come down, broken, and raised again. I know the grumblings of those Israelites are less shameful than my own. I also know I failed to give my children all of the good gifts of the Lord, even merely those good gifts from the Lord which I received.

This is not a post about my failures, and I don't want anyone to tell me I "done good." I did and I didn't. I don't judge myself when there's a Judge Who will one day separate the works of my flesh from those of my soul and my spirit. I will learn from Him all the many things His grace covered. I don't know in what I failed or didn't, but I'm not seeking affirmation. I know there is much to regret.

I find comfort because Numbers 14 tells me my failures will not drive the Lord from my children. They may unnecessarily wander 40 long years on my account, but He will receive them. He is faithful. It's one thing to know it, but it's a comfort to read His unwavering promise.

He is our only foundation.

15 August, 2009


I'm not much of a "joiner," so it's not a big surprise that I'm not on the "Missional" bandwagon.

I understand Missional to mean every member of the body of Christ living as a local missionary to their own community. Wikipedia offers this quote:
"No one can say: ‘Since I’m not called to be a missionary, I do not have to evangelize my friends and neighbors.’ There is no difference, in spiritual terms, between a missionary witnessing in his home town and a missionary witnessing in Katmandu, Nepal. We are all called to go—even if it is only to the next room, or the next block.”"

These arguments do nothing for me and don't really even interest me, much less convict me. They are founded in philosophy, not scripture, and the philosophy doesn't move me.

God told Abraham:
Gen 12:1-3 Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."


Gen 17:7-8 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

No one in Abraham's family was called to be a missionary - not one soul. For all pragmatic purposes, there was just one saved family on the Earth making every other living being a mission field. God sent Abraham into that completely virgin field there in Canaan, and didn't ask Abraham to preach one word of the Truth. God DID command Abraham to "go," but never said a word about evangelizing. That's a pretty significant omission if we're all "sent."

God did, however, carefully command Abraham to sanctify himself and his household.

He didn't tell Abraham to spread the Truth at all. He told Abraham to surgically mutilate himself and every other man in his household, but God didn't say a word about preaching anything.

Gen 17:10-11 This [is] My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

Circumcision was a physical act of sanctification, of holiness, of setting one's self aside for relationship to God. Abraham was commanded to holiness, not to missions. And Abraham was promised that by keeping the covenant of holiness, all the nations of the world would be blessed.

The kingdom needs missionaries, men and women gifted by the Spirit to the work of outreach. And every healthy church will grow missionaries in due time. An old pastor once said the purpose of preaching was to humble the sinner, glorify the Savior, and promote holiness. If we do these three things, in this order, missionaries will spring up in a healthy body just like feet in a healthy infant.

If we decide we are "missional" churches, we'll be no healthier than a body with 200feet and no hands, eyes, ears, noses or sense.

10 August, 2009

Pink and Blue

Women, throughout history and throughout Christian history have had it rough. If you think they haven't, take a minute to check out, "Women's Work," one of the most deeply moving videos I've ever seen. I link to it every year or so, and keep a copy on my desktop just in case it's ever not there when I go back. I've never watched it without tears.

The video does an interesting thing. It shows women. It doesn't show women "being" anything. It just shows women. Most of them are happy. Some are lost in thought. All of them are beautiful. A few of them are beautiful in ways of which Mark Driscoll and cosmetic ads would approve, but all of them are letting themselves shine through unguardedly, just as God created them. They're beautiful.

I believe beauty's important, and I believe egalitarians are in danger of mislaying the purpose of beauty in our quest for equality. We've started talking about gender-neutrality where gender-equality is the goal.

I offer this link not as an egregious example of some horrible mistake, but just as the little thing that made me sit down and write. CBE asks, "Are Men and Women from Different Planets?"

Evidently, at a recent conference one of the speakers wowed the crowd by showing how Christian bookstores are marketing differently to boys and girls. The impression I received from the article was both that the marketing portrayed girls as inferior and that marketing differently to boys and girls was in itself wrong. I left some comments to that effect, and was courteously received. My point was that girls wear pink and boys wear blue because of cultural conditioning. Commenters countered that girls wear pink and boys wear blue because of socializations.

That amused me.

I and my esteemed sisters at CBE agree that pink and blue are socializations. We disagree when they believe they are awful socializations while I believe they are wonderful socializations. I support pink and blue. I support pink and blue even as I oppose the abuse women have suffered over the centuries and continue to suffer over the last 25 years I've been paying attention to the issue.

The video above shows beautiful women, in all their individual and unique expressions of beauty. My question to my sisters in the struggle for equality is who doesn't want the bride of Christ to be beautiful? Christ, Solomon, and Paul certainly do. Beauty is a distinctly feminine thing, and a distinctly desirable thing in the bride of Christ. Why, in order to have equality, do we have to call femininity into question? What power is stripped from a woman because she is feminine?

Does a woman who is culturally feminine have to be irrational? Does she have to be less competitive or goal-oriented? Then let's fix the culture, but history and experience give plenty of examples of feminine women who were rational and effective. American advertisers falsely tell us femininity is a matter of appearance, but why does the egalitarian church agree by becoming unfeminine, gender-neutral?

When the culture says a Barbie figure and $200 hair are the defining characteristics of femininity, why do we flee into the arms of political correctness? Why do we answer their lies with "gender-neutral" toys and games? God did not create us gender-neutral, and He goes out of His way to emphasize His own assessment of the desirability of the feminine.

Gender-neutral is a path to nowhere, and I'll rejoice when the good folk earnestly pursuing gender-equality abandon it.

07 August, 2009

Which Came First

Respect in marriage.

Eggerich says the woman must respect her husband. I like that idea in theory, but I've known some evil husbands. When it becomes clear that the man is placing his own convenience ahead of the needs of his wife, she'd have to be a pathological self-liar to respect him. That woman must not respect her husband.

In a marriage between two decent people, though, I'm willing give Eggerich his due - after all, he is quoting scripture.

Imagine, though, the situation where a basically decent guy does something that obviously demonstrates his own convenience is more important to him than his wife's real needs. That man creates a chasm across which no healthy woman can easily cross. Asking any God-fearing, self-disciplined, wise wife to respect that man is asking her to violate herself. And yet, respect is necessary for marriage to work. What's to be done? Who's to do it?

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

Does the "chicken" of the man repenting of his sin come first, or is it the "egg" of the wife's mustard seed of respect freely given to a man in need of grace? Does the responsibility lie with the woman who is directly commanded by God to respect her husband, or does the responsibility lie with the man since some call him the God-ordained leader in the home?

The theoretical implications of that paradoxical connundrum could unman the bravest theologian. Philosophical finaglings and findings of falacy fool the poor guy who thinks it can be figured out.

Fortunately, the Lord doesn't care what we figure out.

If you've got chickens, make eggs. And if you've got eggs, grow chickens. Upon whomever the Lord has given the grace for a given need, is the responsibility for giving that grace laid.

I'm an egalitarian who believes there really is something to the idea that men and women have different gifts and needs. Those different gifts complement each other, but either can initiate the flow of God's grace into a wounded relationship. Whoever can give first, must.

15 July, 2009

Endless Possibility

I avoid meme's pretty religiously, but this is a special occasion. This is a celebration of the return to the Web of Rich Pearce and Ken Story's Realm of Possibility. If you don't know about the Realm, let me just tell you they're a couple of the most delightfully playful people I know.

So, out of the pure overflow of joy, here are Kevin's meme answers.

1) Movie theater Junior Mints vs. Movie theater Goobers
Dude! At those prices? You can't be serious!

2) Trip to the Beach vs. Trip to the Mountains
For hours, the beach. For days, the mountains. The beach is more fun to play on, but the mountains let me think.

3) Elliptical Machine vs. Treadmill
Clearly the elliptical. The treadmill pounds my knee joints and the elliptical puts my heart rate about 20 beats higher without feeling like I'm working any harder at all.

4) Spring vs. Autumn
Spring. I used to be an autumn person, but I'm really learning the optimism of youth. (I'm 45, so it's about freaking time.)

5) Milk Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate
Dark. Intense beats mellow.

6) Interstate vs. Scenic highway
Interstate. When I drive for pleasure, it's no more than an hour. If I'm headed somewhere that could call for an interstate, it's because I want to "get there."

7) Savage tan vs. SPF50
Oh, SPF50. I don't spend enough time in the sun to maintain a tan. I'd burn every couple weeks.

8) Being sad vs. Being scared
Sad. I've learned to manage sad, but being scared shuts me down.

9) 2 ten dollar bills vs. 1 twenty dollar bill
1 Twenty. It's that little bit harder to spend, and I'd rather hold money than spend it.

10) Birkenstocks vs. Crocs
Birks. Plastic shoes make no sense to me at all.

11) Bad odor vs. Bad taste
I'd rather wear unstylish clothes than smell bad, if that's what you mean. If you're asking about food, man, I'll eat it if it won't kill me.

12) Ripped pants vs. Wet shirt
On whom? And how many jokes do you really expect me to overlook here? Anyway, as a Floridian tennis player I'd better be OK with a sweat-soaked shirt, so I'll go with that.

13) Belching vs. Flatulence
My ex gave me a life-long terror of belching, so I'd best go with flatulence.

14) Chicken salad sandwich vs. Tuna salad sandwich
I'd never willingly do that to a chicken, so tuna it is.

15) Classic styles vs. Trendy styles
Classic is my only hope, since I'm still catching up with the trends of the '70's.

16) Old friend vs. New friend
Hmmm. Worn gold coins or new gold coins? Give me proven friend.

17) Dolphin vs. Porpoise
I know dolphins are learning evil from humans, so maybe porpoises?

18) Water slide vs. Roller coaster
I last did a water slide; it was a blast.

19) Jules Verne vs. Robert Louis Stevenson
I've only read Stevenson. I like humanity in my stories, and I enjoyed the humanity in his.

20) Goatee vs. Soul Patch
Never versus absolutely no way on the face of this planet. I guess the goatee.

21) Being the recipient of a thoughtful gesture vs. Being the recipient of a compliment
Give me the relationship that led to either.

22) Nap on the couch vs. Nap in a hammock
Hammocks are surrounded by interesting stuff. I have never successfully slept in a hammock.

23) Holidays vs. Vacation
Holidays. Vacations are scary to me. They're huge setups for failure. So are holidays, but I feel like they're the devil I know.

24) Aisle vs. Window
Window. I want to see the world roll under me, and don't ever really need to get up.

25) Slapstick vs. Wit
Wit. Slapstick usually makes me uncomfortable.

26) Logic vs. Emotion
I neither trust nor am comfortable with logic. Emotion is real. Logic is put on.

27) Whipped cream vs. Cool Whip
Whipped Cream is food. Cool Whip is a chem experiment playing out on a planetary scale.

28) High School Reunions vs. Family Reunions
Family reunions. I've never attended my high schools reunions and never intend to. School was one huge steaming pile of embarassment for me, and I don't ever want to face it again.

29) ALF vs. ET
ET, since I never saw Alf.

30) Canadians vs. Australians
Aussies owned tennis for decades, and I love their sporting mentality. I've never seen the joy of hockey, though I've been at live pro games.

31) Gifts vs. Gift Certificates
Gifts. I'd much rather win or lose at choosing something that says how I feel than try to say how much the person is worth to me.

32) Jet skiing vs. Water skiing
Water skiing. If it ain't hard, it ain't worth doing.

33) Yardwork vs. Housework
Housework. I live in the house, not the yard, so everything I do in the house feels like it pays off.

34) Ostentatious vs. Precocious
? Showy verses talented beyond his years? Um. Let's go with Precocious.

35) Phone call vs. Email
Email. A phone call stops me from whatever I'm doing. Email lets me answer more quickly and when I'm available. Hence, I really love to text (SMS) the message, "Call me when you get a chance to talk about ...." and supply sufficient details that the person is prepared for the subject.

36) Winning the lottery vs. Finding buried treasure
Finding buried treasure. It's much more realistic and dependable.

37) Sweating vs. Shivering
I do both without much noticing.

38) “Oh no, you di-unt.” vs. “Don’t even go there.”
Do these sound like sayings from the '70's? I don't THINK so!

39) Blue ink vs. Black ink
I'd love to use blue ink, because it stands out against black toner, but somehow, something always makes me remember why blue ink doesn't work for me. I wish I could remember what it was, because every 3 years or so I have to get myself a blue pen and toss it after a couple weeks.

40) Ukelele vs. Bag pipes
The PIPES! The pipes are a martial and religious experience evoking passion, terror, patriotism, grief, and pride from the first sounding of the drones! A ukelele says, "What are you doing awake? Come back out to the beach at sunset and we'll drink the night away."

41) Rainbows vs. Sunbeams
Either can make me cry.

42) The sound of your own voice vs. The way you look in photos
I'd rather hear my voice. At least I can focus on what I was saying. When I see myself I just wonder why God made everyone else look at that.

43) Extremely firm handshake vs. Extremely weak handshake
Extremely firm. When a thing is so easy to do right, it scares me that a person would decide to do it wrong. When a person is overly firm, at least I know they know they game and are trying to play it in some way. An overly weak handshake tells me I'd best not invest any trust in that person.

44) Runny nose vs. Nagging cough
Runny nose. A runny nose doesn't feel like it's going to pull rib muscles or blow the top of my head off.

45) Packing vs. Unpacking
Unpacking. How I wish I could do it. 90% of the 33% of the things I was able to keep and move have been packed for 6 months now.

46) A hole in the toe of your sock vs. A hole in the seat of your underwear
I can repair a hole in my socks. The underwear's got to go.

47) Zoos vs. Botanical gardens
You know? I like animals much better than plants, but I'd rather go to the botanicals. I wonder why?

48) Trip to the dentist vs. Tax day
The dentist is no big deal. I had full braces and headgear for 5 years, so no cleaning or root canal or crown is upsetting to me.

49) Awkward comment vs. Awkward silence
Awkward comment every time. I fill in blanks much more negatively than I should, so an awkward comment is invariably and vastly less disturbing to me than a silence would have been.

50) Too much Rich vs. Too little Rich
I've done too little for a couple years now, and am pretty jazzed about trying out too much. :-)

09 July, 2009

The Next Time you Watch a Tennis Match

35 years playing this game, and I just learned an absolutely fundamental point. You can hit inside-out, inside-in, or straight, but you cannot hit outside-out consistently. I watched a couple matches at Wimbledon with this in mind, and it enriched the matches unbelievably. It helped me win a match the other day, too.

It's easy to explain, but this video may be even easier to understand.

An outside shot is one that crosses your body as it's on its way from the opponent's racket to yours. It's called an outside shot because the ball is moving away from you as it reaches the strike zone. An inside shot is one that is moving toward your body as it's on its way into your strike zone. Hitting "in" is hitting across your body, and hitting "out" is hitting away from your body.

So, if you have two right-handed players, when they're hitting forehand to forehand, they're both hitting outside-in shots. And when they're hitting backhand to backhand, they're still hitting outside-in shots. If Player 1 hits his backhand down the line instead of crosscourt to Player 2's backhand, the other player is going to be hitting an inside forehand. If he hits his forehand crosscourt, then he's going to be hitting inside-in, which works. If he goes back at Player 1's backhand again, he'll be hitting inside-out, which works.

The situation that bites most of us is when Player 1 is standing deep in his forehand corner and hits a ball down the center of the court. Player 2 will take that shot on his forehand side, and be tempted to hit it to Player 1's open backhand court. That's an outside-out shot and it doesn't work.

I had no idea!

The magic here is that it's not the ball's relationship to the court that matters, but the ball's relationship to your body.

The simple rules are:
+ Never change the direction of a deep inside shot. Hit it back where it came from.
+ Usually change the direction of a deep outside shot. If it came from the backhand, hit it to the forehand.
+ Hit a short ball straight down the court to minimize risk, instead of hitting for lines.
+ If you're standing in your backhand corner, use the inside-out forehand as a weapon.

When you hit "in" across your body, you're using the natural rotation of your body. When you hit "out" away from your body you're working against the natural rotation of your body, so that's always a less safe shot. When the ball coming toward you is an extreme "inside" shot it will naturally come closer to your body allowing you to rotate through an "inside-out" shot naturally, so you can use the inside-out forehand as a strong and safe weapon.

So, the next time you watch a match you will be amazed as you watch the pros follow these 4 simple rules. And you'll be even MORE amazed as you watch them break them ... and be punished! You've heard players described as "steady" or as "gamblers". It all boils down to how often they try to hit an outside-out shot to the open court, and more often than not I watched the pros who tried to go outside-out miss.

I expected Federer would break these rules constantly, but he actually followed them more closely than anyone against whom I watched him play. He hit the ball where he should and with conviction over and over until his opponent decided he had to gamble.

I was awed. I hope you will be too.

Highlight videos are not really good for seeing the normal flow of play, but this one is interesting. The first 3 misses off ground strokes by Soderling are 2 backhands and 1 forehand attempting to hit outside-out to the open court.

07 July, 2009

The Narrator

You may have heard Roger Federer played a little tennis this weekend against Andy Roddick. After knocking the ball around for 4 1/2 hours, Roger had more little numbers on the scoreboard than Andy, and that difference was worth an extra 425,000 British pounds (which is like $70,000,000,000 or some such after applying the exchange rate; I don't know) and a chunk of history because it was the 15th time Roger has won one of the big 4 tournaments. Nobody's ever won the last point at a major tournament so many times.

The match, though, has given us, "The Narrative." For a prime example, see this article by Boris Becker, "Roddick Stopped Believing.

Boris was a brilliant if unstable tennis player and the youngest Wimbledon champ ever. I listened to his commentary on the BBC broadcast of several matches and found his commentary misleading over and over again. This article is no different. And in the scheme of things it doesn't really matter, but if you happen to bat the tennis ball around for a hobby commentators like Boris Becker can ruin your day.

The Narrative goes like this. Roddick never believed he could win that match, and he revealed that deficiency over a 3 minute span toward the end of the second set. He built up a 6-2 lead in the tiebreak, and only needed to hit one more good shot take a 2-0 lead in sets against Roger. But, you see, Roger has beaten Andy 19 of the last 21 times they've played, and Andy's 2 wins were in relatively unimportant tournaments. On this big a stage, Andy knew deep down in his heart he never had a chance.

That deep inner doubt is why, when Roger hit a duck of a high forehand at 6-5 in the tiebreak, Roddick shanked away his chance at greatness.


Wrong because it's a narrative after the fact. Wrong because that thinking won't help Andy win the next match. Wrong because it misses the point of what was really happening out there. Wrong because when us average Joe's get out on a tennis court and try to win an important match all we're going to remember is that we have to believe to win, and that's a lie. The truth is more complex, but TV commentary can't really do complex.

At 6-2 Federer pulled Roddick wide to the forehand and Roddick replied with a flat shot down the line. That put the ball on Federer's side of the court very quickly. In fact, Federer received the ball while Roddick was still standing about 15 feet to the right of where he needed to be to continue the point successfully. Federer simply hit the ball 30 feet to Roddick's left and the score went to 6-3.

The commentators (Becker not among them) praised the brilliance of Federer's backhand shot. I don't want to take anything away from Federer, but once Roddick went down the line, the "winner" was a routine stroke. No brilliance was required. Literally, any of 100,000 top club players could have won that point from that position. Maybe Federer used some special sauce in hitting the simple winner, but Roddick gifted him with that point. (See for yourself at the 5:00 mark of this video The Tiebreak.)

The correct shot was crosscourt, but Andy hoped to surprise Federer with the unexpected gamble. He figured he could "beat him down the line," but actually Roger was in control of the point. Andy brain-cramped and paid for it.

Roger then hits two good serves. After the poor play he demonstrated at the beginning of the tiebreak, it was about time he hit a couple good ones.

At 6:30 in the same video, you see Andy hit a second serve that Roger returns passively. Andy decides to attack the net. He hits the right shot and he hits it adequately, then Roger tries to go down the line with his passing shot when crosscourt would have been a better decision. Federer's forehand is mishit and goes much higher than he really intended, putting Andy in an awkward predicament. The high backhand volley is one of the hardest shots in tennis and Federer's ball may be going out. Andy's in the driver's seat, but he's not sure where to go. He decides the ball is probably going out, but that he'd better hit it anyway. That's always a tough decision.

When you swing at a ball you believe is headed out, it's almost a guarantee you're going to hit an inferior shot. Roddick pushed his backhand volley wide. It happens to the best of them, and in fact it did just then. You can rewind it and watch it happen over and over and over again. I'm sure Andy is not doing that, but the commentators have all christened that the stroke that decided the match.

Yes, that mistake was unfortunate. If Roger hits a better pass, I'm betting Andy hits a better volley. But tennis is like that.

Under pressure, Andy reverted to his most natural game. He'd been playing a new style all day, and doing a fantabulous job of it, but in the pressure of a tiebreak he reverted to his old style. The knock on Andy has always been gambling too soon and being afraid to move up to net. He gambled badly at 6-2 and he lost his feeling for the net at 6-5. Andy played a brilliant match to get himself to that point, and to give himself the chances he did. Andy played the right match to get to where he was, and it was not a natural style for him. What he'd done to get to 6-5 in the second set tiebreak was nothing short of amazing.

So what happened to end the dream?

There is a magic juice in tennis. If you've got it, you're going to win the point and if the opponent has it, he's going to win. That juice is called focus. Focus is what allows a man to return a 140 mph serve. Literally, between the time a 140 mph serve leaves the racket and the time it whistles past your ear, you cannot blink twice. In order to put a tennis racket in the path of that ball, at the exactly angle required to make the ball travel back into the far court, you must have focus. It's an almost inconceivable degree of connection between the eyes and the hand, leaving the brain almost entirely out of the picture.

Focus consumes energy like like a Rottweiller eats Scooby-snacks ... and you only have so many Scooby-snacks in your lunchbox. When you start a tennis match, you have a level of energy. Burn it too quickly, and you'll find yourself out of gas. You can tell when a player is out of gas, because he takes unjustified risks and misses. You can tell when a player is focused, because he does exactly what he should do and does it with a margin of safety, even when it's almost physically impossible.

Roddick showed every sign of losing focus in that tiebreak. He brain cramped at 6-2 and he shanked a makeable volley at 6-5. At 6-6 he dropped the ball while bouncing it prior to his second serve, approached on a weak shot, and missed a slightly difficult half-volley. At 6-7 he drove a backhand long. Federer, on the other hand, displayed perfect focus in the second half of the tiebreak. He did nothing amazing, and he did everything with a margin of safety.

Certainty that you are hitting the right shot can increase your focus. Fear that you might be making a mistake can dispell focus. The confidence of having beaten a man 19 times can increase focus. Having tasted defeat at your opponent's hands pressures your focus. Having a voice in your head narrating the hideous, secret, real reason you're making human mistakes can bleed focus dry. All those things were weighing on Roddick, but he was managing them successfully. Clear up to 15-14 in the 5th set tiebreak, Roddick managed all those things. The one thing Andy could not manage was fatigue.

Fatigue makes cowards of us all (Lombardi and Patton), and Roddick was significantly more fatigued than Federer. On Wednesday, Federer demolished Karlovic. On Wednesday Roddick poured his heart into a 5 set match against Leyton Hewitt. On Friday Federer embarassed Hass. On Friday Roddick played 4 crisis sets against Andy Murray and all of England. Federer came into Sunday's match with a full tank and a reserve of confidence Roddick could not begin to match.

The Narrative is that Roddick choked at the threshold of greatness. The reality is that fatigue caused him to lose focus. The man's problem was being human, not some intangible lack of belief or cowardice. The difference that distinction makes on the court on July 5th is nill, but come the US Open the difference will be massive. If Roddick believed The Narrative (he won't), he'd go out on court and at the critical moment there would be one more burden on his shoulders as he struggled for focus. He'll already have to fight fear, fatigue, and pressure, but The Narrative adds to that already herculean burden the special fear that he must be a choker. If, however, he believes the truth, that he fought to the limits of human endurance over 5 days and almost pulled off the upset of the championships anyway, he'll head into Flushing Meadows with an increased confidence that might actually sharpen his focus at just the right moment.

Life is like that. We all have a Narrator in our heads, the Boris Becker of our minds. When Roddick drops that ball at 6-6 just before serving Becker exclaims, "Oh my God!" We've all heard that frightened, little squeal in our minds over nothings. The Boris in our heads is misleading us, and when we follow him it's down the path of our own failure. At the moment of truth, his voice can be the thing that finally blurs our focus.

This little game we call Life is played with people's hearts, and every mistake costs someone - sometimes dearly. We need that focus every time we struggle to love an annoying relative, to overcome a besetting addiction, or to give when we'd much rather grasp greedily our gifts.

127 men lost Wimbledon, and I think most of us lose at life, too. It's just a matter of degree. Roddick lost after winning 6 rounds, and he needs to remember his success. When we lose, it's important to hear the Spirit's healing voice in our ears, because every time we lend our ears to our inner Boris, and thereby expose our hearts to Satan's lies, we weaken ourselves against the next match.

Today's lesson is that we need to make sure we're not misled by the Narrators all around us, and especially not by that one in our head.

May the Spirit guide you.

05 June, 2009

Bragging Rights

I serve a King. Sure He's invisible, but I know He's real because He keeps His promises.


To the letter.

My King once promised Daniel there would be 4 kingdoms to arise, the 4th would be different, and then a tiny little stone would end all kingdoms and grow to fill the Earth.

The Babylonian Empire was displaced by the Medo-Persian Empire. The Persians were displaced by the Greeks. The Greeks were replaced by the Romans, who were strong but who mixed Republic and Empire within one government.

My King, the Stone Cut Without Hands, came to Earth during the Roman Empire's power and ended it. The little Stone that smashed the feet of the pagan empires grew from the day the Spirit took residence on Earth, and grows still. The empire of Christ grows, even as its members struggle daily with confusion over what it means to be an empire not of the this world and yet in it. The rise of the British Empire or the Ottoman Empire or China as a vast world power cannot stop my King. He has promised to fill the entire Earth, and He will.

I don't know what that means, but I know it's true.

I'm proud to be a thrall of this great King. It's an honor to serve Him and to be loved by Him and to love Him in return. I am thankful that He counts my service with grace, and that the little things I do might increase His reign in some way.

And my King has kept His promises to me.

He promised keep my heart and mind, and 45 years down the road He's done so.

I've watched other brighter, stronger, better equipped men stumble and fall at trials that merely tested me sorely. My King and His loyal subjects preserved me in my darkest hours. Apart from Him, I'd be addicted, insane, and/or dead at my own hand. I've seen my life lived out by others who would not call on my King, and I've seen where I'd be today without Him. I was a lesser man than these, and I was carried in mercy by the King Who promised He'd always be there.

I am a happy man. I am blessed as my life continues down this new road and new adventure. I'm sorry I have not been much of a blog friend lately, but it's been a hard, tiring, stressful, confusing, draining few months with enough moments of true exhilaration to keep me glad I'm going the way I'm going. There's been precious little time, but there've been a lot of joys. Thank you for being here to read this and keep up just this little bit.

I'm still out here. I'm still happy. And I have a lot of which to boast. It just happens none of it is anything I've done.

10 May, 2009


Deu 31:7-8 Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched he said to him, "Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the LORD swore to give their ancestors. You are the one who will deliver it to them as their inheritance. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD is the one who goes before you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor forsake you."


Deut 31:16-18 The LORD said to Moses, "You are about to die and join your ancestors. After you are gone, these people will begin worshiping foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon me and break the covenant I have made with them. Then my anger will blaze forth against them. I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Terrible trouble will come down on them, so that they will say, `These disasters have come because God is no longer among us!' At that time I will hide my face from them on account of all the sins they have committed by worshiping other gods.

You are amazing, God.

You knew, as You sent Joshua to lead Your children into Canaan, that they would whore against You.

You had a choice.

You knew they would fall away in Canaan. You knew as each judge rose and passed in Israel, they would fall away all over again. You knew as You anointed the many kings, even the ones after Your own heart would lay a frail foundation. You knew Israel would end up on the high places and in the groves, worshipping anyone but You.

You had a choice.

You could choose whether to lead them into Canaan or not. You could chose to wash your hands of them all. You could chose to leave them an alimony gift, and walk away. You'd have spared Yourself centuries of struggle and frustration. You decided to lead Joshua into Canaan.

You didn't lead Israel in false hope, either. You knew before You gifted Joshua and emboldened him to his task that he would succeed, and that his success would bring Israel's downfall. You knew if they failed Israel would not be a nation, and if they succeeded they'd be a nation set against You. They would reject You either way, but only one way would You have to suffer.

And You led Israel into Canaan.

You did it all. You went the whole way with them, from Deuteronomy to Malachi.

And still You had a choice.

You went even further in Matthew. You've come in flesh and been a King to us here, on our own Earth. You've been and gone and left the Spirit in your absence, and You've kept your prophecy never to grow angry with Your people again. You've been satisfied in Your work of perfect redemption.

We've done no better than Israel. With so great a revelation, greater than the plagues of Egypt, greater than conquests of David, greater than the building of the temples, we're a struggling church, and struggling more against each other than against anything else.

You've kept your promise, stood by Your choice, loved against all hope. We're people of unclean lips, but You circumcised our hearts.

Nothing has changed, even now. May Your Spirit work in my heart that I not fail You, but even at that I know I will.

May Your Name, the All-Giving, be honored in the Earth. May it be honored on this blog. May it be honored in me. And may the kingdom You tried to give to Israel so many times finally come. May the the people of this Earth hear Your testimony and honor You as their sole Friend. May they know Who is their King, and embrace the love You've struggled so flawlessly to pour out on us. May Your will be done in this place, as enthusiastically as it is in heaven.

You have provided everything for us, and we cast ourselves on Your providence. It is in You we find our every need met. We come to You as a token of our dependency and ask for Your gifts. Please forgive us of every way in which we fail to believe in Your goodness and power toward us. And we forgive those who fail us.

Keep us from any disaster which would overwhelm our feeble faith. And protect us from the enemy that would destroy in us the spark of Your life.

You are beautiful in every way, and we love you.

Thank you.

15 March, 2009

The Lord's Floss

I floss every night. There's 30 slots between and around my teeth, and I hit each one every night.

OK. Now that I've confessed it, let me tell the story of that particular descent into properness.

When I was 18, I was properly disdaining of all flossers. When I was 22 and joined the army, I was properly disdaining of all flossers. I ignored all attempts to educate me, and continued along on my merry way. When I was 32 I was a happy computer geek, and ignored the call of the floss propagandists.

And then, long about 35 it happened.

I got a toothache. More properly a gum-ache. My teeth finally dragged me back to the dentist, and I got a cleaning. There was talk of antibiotics and other such vague threats, but the bottom line was that I needed to floss. But this time they explained why I needed to floss. I'm a big, "Why?" kind of guy, so that changed everything for me.

Flossing is about killing little microbes that live beneath your gumline, especially between your teeth. The thing is, those little suckers need a stable home to thrive. You don't have to fish them out to kill them. You just have to disturb their peaceful abodes so they have to start building all over again.

I used to get frustrated, because I felt like I was just pushing muck down under my gumline when I flossed. That seemed ridiculous to me, so I gave up. It turns out, all I really need to do is squish the muck around, and the microbes have to start their whole neighborhood corruption program all over again.

It's pretty easy.

I still failed to pick up the habit. 30-some-odd years of happily brushing and going to bed is pretty easy not to change when all you're missing is the excitement of flossing. Somehow I found it in myself to let the flossing go.

And then I got another gum infection. Age really does play into this. When you're young, you can get away with a lot, but as you age the immune system becomes a little more inviting to pesky buggers of all kinds. Mouth microbes are no exception. I dug out the floss again, and attacked the infection. At first I flossed too hard, but eventually I figured out I was only trying to kill the little buggers, not my gumline. And within 3 days or so, the infection cleared itself up. It didn't inflame and get worse and cause the dentist to tut-tut at me and talk about antibiotics. In fact, I didn't need to darken his door at all, and that's worth a little flossing in itself!

Now, I can tell pretty quickly when something needs a little attention, because the flossing itself is a little painful in just the place a problem is growing.

I've come to see the Lord's Prayer in the same light.

Jesus taught us 7 petitions, and they're just like those 30 gaps between my teeth. I run a little prayer down into each of those petitions, and if one of them feels a little sensitive it's a warning.

If I'm speeding past, "Thy Will be done?" or hesitant to ask for help in avoiding temptation, maybe there's something up in my life.

When I was younger, I focused exclusively on the big stuff, avoiding the wrong music and crowd. That's the "brushing your teeth" stuff. It's a good start. But as I've grown older, it seems like it's the little microbes of sin living just below the gumline that get to me.

I think I've always wanted to pray a little too aggressively. I think I always wanted to see big changes, pray big prayers, feel the passion every time. Really, though, I just need to mess with the cozy little homes of my little sins. I just need to stir them up a bit with a call to my Father. A quick call regarding His name, another of His kingdom, His will, His providence, His forgiveness, my forgiveness, and my weakness before my enemies.

It takes a minute or two, but the infections it can prevent are worth every second.

10 March, 2009

Dating Bells are Ringing

Hello All!

What a crazy, crazy year it's been.

Only a couple of you know this, but I'm the happiest I've been in years and years. I'm well and truly in love with a delightful lady. We've been on this journey for well over a year now, and we've done loads of safeguarding each other and checking our hearts and all the lights look green. We haven't reached the point of proposals yet, but we've reached the point of relocating this Codepoke over to her neck of the woods.

I'll be moving several hundred miles (and a new job) down the road.

Her name's Dana, but I'll ask you not to try to guess whether you've seen her out on the web anywhere. I'm going to leave comments closed on this post, but feel free to shoot me a happy (or concerned) email using the email address in my blogger profile. (In fact, that's going to be my only email address as of March 15th.)

If you've noticed me posting about 1/100th as much as I once did, I think it's a definite symptom of love. It's impossible to burn as many electrons firing emails and phone calls back and forth as we have, and not fall a little behind on the blogging. :-)

Thanks to everyone who's stuck around through all my silences (and my speaking, too.)

Should Dana and I reach a final destination, I won't keep it a secret.

Thank you, Lord!

And thank you brothers and sisters. I'd be a lesser man without you.

15 February, 2009

Cooking on 4 Burners With Gas

Gene Edwards' books and tapes are visionary. And beyond having a vision, Gene is able to help people tap into their own vision of living in deeper relationship with the Lord and other believers. On the strength of Gene's leadership, an awful lot of people have bled heart and soul out to realize their dreams. In fact, when people give up on Gene, no matter the reason, they seldom give up on his vision.

I have given up on Gene's vision.

I'd obviously refer you to Gene's writings and tapes to understand his vision, but let me summarize it enough to explain on what I've given up. This will be no attempt to downplay or insult it. I'm sure to do it injustice, but only because it's so immense.

I characterize Gene's vision as vastly-encompassing. There is nothing in Christianity Gene omits from his dream. Starting at the relationships within the Trinity before time began, Gene reinterprets everything about heaven and Earth and the boundary between the two that we call "the church." He frames the Christian life as God's Life come to Earth. Seeing church experience from his perspective changes everything.

When a church comes together, Gene portrays the meeting happening in the heavens as much as on Earth. The church loves God with the same love they receive from Him, and it's through that love that God's purpose is realized. The church, meeting at the boundary between heaven and Earth, loves God in Spirit and in Truth as much as in body and voice.

Practically, this foundation results in a uniquely unique church. That church is both more creatively expressive and more mystically quiet than others. Gene teaches the church to be led by the Spirit through its members. As such, its members plan and execute every meeting. Those meetings might be mapped out for spontaneous praise or spontaneous silence, shared meals or shared fasts, unscripted prayers or a whole scripted liturgy. Anything is possible.

And the church is more than the meetings. A lot of the above might happen as easily over dinner as at any set gathering. The members of Gene's churches live near enough to each other to help each other in physical and spiritual ways. The members pray together, too. And that prayer is as uniquely unique as the church itself. It's a church-wide implementation of the lectio divina or contemplative prayer. It's silence as a way of touching God on a church-wide scale.

And Gene presents all this beautifully.

A conference attendee first hearing and seeing Gene deliver this message, then talking face-to-face with brothers and sisters living the vision, quickly falls in love. The testimony of hundreds of conference attendees over the years absolutely confirms that experience. Very nearly everyone who attends one of Gene's conferences is overwhelmed at the beauty of his spoken vision, and of the physical vision the churches live out.

Very few people who make it as far as a conference leave disappointed.

Some want home church. Gene brings a church that meets at the boundary of heaven and Earth ... in a living room. Some want the end of the clergy and hierarchy. Gene makes every member a conduit of divine Life ... and gives them all a degree of authority. Some want a church based on relationship. Gene makes every relationship an outflow of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son ... and everyone lives near enough to each other to foster practical love.

Gene's vision answers every particular. It's a living piece of art. Like all art, it has its imperfections and flaws, but for the person who appreciates the picture the flaws only enhance its beauty. For the star-struck church-lover, an overly large personality or an occasional fuzzy doctrine only brings the core beauty of Gene's vision into more perfect focus.

I was that deeply in love 20 years ago today, and I still think that vision is beautiful. I've found a lesser one vastly more satisfying, but it's surely beautiful.

I have no bone to pick with anyone still committed to that vision, theoretically even including Gene. I can't say with certainty I'm right about the parts of that vision I've rejected, and I admire anyone still pursuing their relationship with the Lord down that path. We're all in this Christian life together, and I'm the first to point out I've been wrong before - in big ways. These are my thoughts and insights on the 20th anniversary of joining myself to Gene Edwards' vision.

Cooking on One Burner
There's an old saying, "Now we're cooking on both burners with gas!" For those of you who've not heard it, it means things are moving very quickly indeed. All the obstacles have been removed, and everyone's putting their heart and soul into getting to where they're going. Excitement is running high, and the job is being finished lickety-split. I think the saying might match up to the more modern, "He's on FIRE!"

My beef with Gene's vision is simple. Even cooking on both burners with gas can't keep up with it. His vision only cooks with all 4 burners cranked to high.

It's too much.

A romance goes through a number of stages. There's courtship, engagement, new marriage, new kids, kids moving out, etc. During the run-up from courtship to marriage the relationship advances from low to very high heat, and that's good. But then it ramps down again. It has to. Even those people who've got marriage down pat, and who continue to report passion daily in their marriages, have ramped down from those first burning months.

Life functions best for most people the same way most cooking works best, on one burner and medium heat. Everyone likes a little "four burner" time in their lives, but most of us need things to be normal more often than not.

I'd like to compare some four-burner ways of doing church with single-burner alternatives. I'm experimenting with all these, and am happy with things as they are. I'm still learning, though, and finding new things every day. The single-burner way is not as exciting, but I've found my life isn't scorched on the bottom and raw in the middle these days.

Gene describes church life as so amazingly rare as to make it unthinkable that it could possibly exist for long wherever you live. To be sure, he teaches church life springs up spontaneously everywhere, but he warns that it doesn't last. If you want church life, you'll need to relocate somewhere a real church planter has established a church that will live.

If Gene is right, then there's no alternative to relocation. And relocation is a serious four-burner life event. It's stressful and exhausting, and leaves a person unrooted from family and networks they've spent a lifetime establishing. Americans relocate an awful lot, so it's not an unthinkable burden, but it is a major stress.

If Gene is wrong, then it's an unnecessary burden. If church life can be living and edifying on a single burner, then this call to relocation is a sacrifice without cause. It's been my experience that churches are full of Christians, and we share the same life of Christ. Sharing my worship and my life with them has been a beautiful and rewarding thing.

Living Close to One Another
Living close to believers whom you trust and with whom you can share everything is a joy. We need it and everything about the idea is commendable.

Gene ups the ante by asking anyone who would experience church life to intentionally live as closely together as possible. It was educational to watch the experience of living close to believers unfold in Atlanta. We all needed time with each other, but we gave varying amounts of our time to actually doing it. Single saints spent more time with others than married saints who spent more time than couples with babies who spent more time than couples with older children. Similarly, the younger a person was, the more likely he or she was to spend a lot of time in the homes of others.

We need that closeness, but there's a slower, quieter way. You can get out and meet the neighbors you have now. There's a pretty good chance you can find two or three Christian families within a block or two, and I've seen the benefits of Christian community work well with just three families.

Being With Christians of Like Mind
One of the most attractive things about joining a group as focused as Gene's is being on a long, hard, meaningful journey together with people of like priorities to your own.

Your closest Christian neighbors, though, are also on a long, hard journey, and if you take the time to get to know them you'll find it's meaningful. They may not be of like mind on how the church should look, but it's Jesus they're wanting to serve. You can feel pretty sure they're struggling with real issues, and the Spirit is speaking in their hearts exactly like He is in yours. Everyone's fighting for their lives in this place, and everyone's searching for connection to eternity.

You will find that other people trust their pastors and distrust some author they've never heard of. And you will find that their pastors are Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Vineyard folk. You may find it takes time to get to know them, but you'll find in them the mind of Christ. You won't find in them any burning commitment to your expression of the church, but you'll find the Holy Spirit. Share a couple meals, move a little furniture, watch a movie and trade your testimonies and you will probably find you can lean on them a little bit when things are rough. I have.

Ending the Clergy/Hierarchy/Leadership
Jesus commanded his disciples not to allow themselves to be called rabbi, father, or teacher because they already had brothers, a Father and a Teacher. And yet we call men pastor, elder, or reverend and give them authority over others. This is a big one to an awful lot of saints. It was huge to me when I started down the path that brought me to Gene's church, and I still rankle to call a man by anything but his name.

The organized church's hierarchy, based as it is upon college degrees, is disappointingly pragmatic. I'm sorry it's come to that. But leadership is a fact of human existence. Jesus clearly intended there to be leaders in His kingdom, and He clearly was happy for there to be servants leading servants in His household. Being in Gene's leaderless churches was a four-burner adventure, and I loved it, but Jesus, Paul, Luke and others make it clear some kind of leadership is a part of being a worshipping body of believers.

There might be an ideal single burner alternative to church leadership, but I'm not going to spend a lot of energy looking for it. I've treated the pastors under whom I've lived since leaving Gene as human beings, and found they warmed to the idea quite quickly. It turns out that people who give several years to qualifying for the ministry are often really neat people with a sincere heart for the Lord. It's been a privilege to know them as brothers. I know this barely holds a candle to the four burners Gene offers, but I'm OK with that.

The Church Planter Must Leave
Ah yes. I wonder what this would look like if it ever happened?

This was a key foundational point in Gene's teachings, but a confusingly implemented one. He never was an integral part of his early churches, so he could not properly have "left." And then when he was a real part of his later churches, he didn't really leave. Either way, the concept was key to the upbringing of the churches and shaped our character very directly.

The single burner alternative to this is understated. If a man has work to do, he should go do it. Full stop. I like work, and I'm in favor of men standing up and getting it done. But turning every day spent with a church into a melodramatic, extended goodbye is gratuitous. Paul left Antioch-Pisidia to work in Iconium, Iconium to work in Lystra, and Lystra to work in Derbe, but we have no reason to believe he made his impending departure the emotional centerpiece of his ministry.

I recently lost a pastor when he left to start a home church. It was a refreshingly touching time, and was constructive for everyone. It just wasn't hard. He was with us while was with us and he left when he had to leave.

Home Meetings
Again, home meetings are great. Participation by every member of the body is great. Everyone planning together, preparing in private, and delivering their best is a wonderful thing.

Making the home meeting the only meeting is not wrong; it's just cooking on four burners.

The single burner alternative is not really better so much as doable. Of my church of 80, about 10 of us meet weekly in a living room. It's a lot smaller than Gene's vision, and it's very happy. We don't try to do everything with the pregnant power of eternity, and somehow we touch each other and the Lord anyway. It's satisfying.

Learning from Old Christians
Not everyone is ever going to read books on being Christian. That's tragic to me, but it's a reality I can accept. The question is not whether everyone will read, but will the people who do read do so from books outside of Gene's genre? 2000 years of Christianity have brought an awful lot of glory and insight to the church. Limiting a church's input to Gene's books plus his highly edited reading list, was a weak thing. Reading wider and wider outside of Gene's publishing house has been a settling thing for me over this past decade, and I recommend it.

Why Cook on Four Burners?
10 years ago I'd have asked, "Why settle for one burner?"

My how things change.

Why would a man build an entire ministry on intensifying Christianity? Gene did not haphazardly stumble into this habit of choosing the fieriest expression of the church. He reminded us frequently how lucky we were to be blessed with a leader who knew how to keep the fire on high.

10 years ago I'd have said it was because Gene had "The Vision," and it drove him both to the fire and by it. I'd have said Christianity was meant to be that way. Today, those words ring false. Gene's promises consistently hurt people in the long run, and there's always a reason for things that happen consistently. His churches burn through people like a steam engine burns coal, and he keeps shoveling people into the fire. He relies on his book, tape, and conference ministry to keep a steady flow of people pouring into those churches. And when they're used up, the ashes don't even have to be shoveled out. We go away on our own. Gene just teaches the new wave of devoted souls how precious the vision of the church must be.

When a man courts a woman too insistently, with too many flowers, with too many words of flattery, with too many gifts, her friends say, "It's too good to be true." The subject of his ardor always objects, saying, "You just don't want me to be happy!" When it turns out it really was too good to be true, though, the outcome is tragic.

So here we are, believers who have experienced Gene's vision of the church and now need to decide what to do with it. Should we discard the whole thing? Should we keep it, but look for a better man to tend it? Or is there some middle path?

I've answered for myself. I decided 4 years ago the organized church was where the Christians are, and I was going to where the Christians are. I've wondered about my decision from time to time, but I'm so happy there I'm going to stay for the forseeable future. The brothers and sisters in my little church are as dear to me as brothers and sisters can be. They carry the Life of Jesus within them, and they share it with me. There are very few four burner moments, but an awful lot of good happens on a single burner.

You'll answer for yourself, and may the Lord bless your decision.