Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lesson From The Dishwasher

So I'm standing next to the kitchen sink, washing dishes. It was relaxing. It was therapeutic. It was making my hands silky smooth. My wife walks in the kitchen, rolls her eyes, and points to the dishwasher. "Why do spend the time washing dishes, when we have a dishwasher? I just think that's silly", she opined. After getting home from a stressful 10 hour day at work, I gave an answer that would make any time management expert cringe. "I'm washing the dishes for the same reason I take long showers. If there's a chore to be done, I might as well enjoy it."

I grew up washing dishes. I did it everyday. I have many great memories doing it with my brothers. I can remember washing a dish and passing it to my left. My younger brother would then rinse it and pass it to our youngest brother, who would be ready to dry and store. We had a system. However the system had nothing to do with efficiency. Like typical boys having to do chores, we're were gonna make it fun, and always dangerous. I loved filling the sink with water and lots of soap. If it was my brother's turn to wash, then he had better be careful. Hidden under the soapy veil would be an entire set of steak knives, positioned for unsuspecting hands. Often times I would boil water on the stove, just to put in the dishwater. Nothing made washing dishes more fun, than the sight of bleeding 2nd degree burns. Eventually washing the dishes was something we looked forward to. Well I did.

I completely understood where my wife was coming from when she offered the use of our dishwasher. In her mind, there were many other things that I could have been doing, had I loaded the dishwasher. Had I worked quickly, I could have moved to the next item on the list, and then the next. But do the lists ever end? What guarantee do we have that after we are done, life will let us enjoy our evening, weekend, or vacation? We only have control of now. We have no guarantee of our next year, week, day, or even hour. The truth is, we will only be as happy as we want to be RIGHT NOW. Life isn't about who can do the most, but who can enjoy it more.

There will always be folks who have more money, friends, and talents than I do. I can't change that. But I can change what I have. Is it better to have 500 myspace friends or 3 close friends that you can share your life with? Well, I confess that I don't have either. But that's a blog for another day. Will I embrace a life of quantity, or a life of quality? King Solomon answered this question in the book of Ecclesiastes.

"There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us." Ecc 5:13
"There is another serious tragedy I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity. God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth! This is meaningless—a sickening tragedy." Ecc 6:1

I don't remember who said it, but I will always remember this quote. "I have never prayed for an entire hour. However, I have never gone an entire hour without praying" Please give yourselves permission to enjoy every minute of your life. Make a conscience decision to start squeezing every drop of purpose out of your money, relationships, and talents. Don't forget to squeeze some fun out of it too. Even if it puts the dishwasher out of work.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Mad Fear Party

One of the fundamentals of journalism is the concept of the six Ws. OK, there's only 5, but they are Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. When I was in school, I was graded on whether or not, I answered all of these questions. It wasn't enough for me to just get 5 out of the 6. I had to get them all. And If I didn't answer them ALL, then I didn't have a complete story. That is the assumption most of us have when we listen to the news. We assume they did their homework and answered all of the questions truthfully. All we need to do is open our mouth and let mother bird feed us, and hope we don't get food poisoning.

There's a saying in the news business, if it bleeds, it leads. The media has learned that violence begets ratings, and more violence begets more ratings. In fact, the top stories usually revolve around someone dead, dying, or going to die. The goal is to not only bring you the news, but to make you a part of it. And if you're a part of it, then you'll "keep it here, because we're America's number one source for blah..blah..blah...whatever."

If the media was an economy, then its currency would be fear. And in this economy, inflation rates are at an all time high. It is a challenge to watch the news and find anything worth redeeming. I feel as if the goal is to make me as fearful as possible. It's as if America is in perpetual surgery and I'm doomed to live out the rest of my life in the waiting room. The doctor's updates seem to be more like cliffhangers. And their tone often suggests I'm the reason she was sent to the hospital, in the first place. Well sir, she's not doing so well. We're still trying to stabilize her oil prices, but it's just not dropping fast enough. Are you sure you're doing everything you can to decrease her need for foreign oil? We are also trying to control her temperature. We have a full team of experts trying to find out the cause of the fluctuation. She hasn't been near any SUVs lately, has she?

Watch out friends! There are fear vendors on every channel, newspaper, and radio station. The answers are there, but you'll just have to find them yourself. Gas is high, but it's nothing like it was in the late 70's. If you were to tell my father we are in a recession, he would laugh in your face. Yes, it is warmer than it was 230 years ago. No one has crossed the frozen Delaware since George Washington. But It's nothing like it was during the 10 century. The Vikings gave Greenland that name for a reason. And what SUV thawed out the first Ice Age? Oh, so many questions, but NO answers. Up is down, down is up, and the Mad Hatter is running for President. Like Alice, I get so tired of listening to endless riddles with NO answers. At least there's the Food Network. I like me some Food Network.

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” -- Mad Hatter, Alice In Wonderland

"Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand." -- God, Isaiah 41:10

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." -- Jesus, John 8:32

Thursday, July 10, 2008

For God's Sake

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a monk who lived between the 11th and 12th century. In one of St. Bernard's books, "De amore Dei" (Of the love of God), he writes that loving God is to love Him without measure and gives the four degrees of this love.

The first degree of love is to love self for self's sake. Also known as the law of self-preservation, this is the basic form of love that comes equipped on every make and model child born on the planet. It is at this level that we channel our survival instincts. This basic form of love is essential for life. When one commits suicide, it is almost always because they have never progressed past this level of love. And by not moving to another level, they had nowhere to go when the circumstances of this life knocked them back a notch. This level is located in the lobby of your heart. There's nothing below this. And without this degree, life cannot exist.

The second degree of love is to love God for self's sake. This is the "You scratch my back, I scratch your back" level of love. We love ourselves so much, that we can't stand for others not to. This level gives birth to all forms of relationships. Where the first degree takes care of our survival as an individual, this level seeks survival as a species. We realize there is strength in numbers and the sense of community makes life easier for us. Our relationships tend to be shallow from the start, but we are OK with that. How many times have you given love to someone, for the sole purpose of receiving love from them? Try this exercise. Count the number of broke, needy, and hurting friends you have and compare it with the rich, stable, and healthy ones. Sure, we may know people who suck the life out of us, but we sure as hell don't go to the movies with them. Why would we? They already owe us $20.

It is in the second degree that most religions Christians call home. Because this stage is still self-serving, it is not uncommon for them to simply warm the pew, give a few bucks, and go home. Their goal may not necessarily be to seek God, but to receive answers. We want to be relevant in this universe, and we want to have purpose. In our search for these answers, we become open to all people, and all gods. This is the main reason we see NO contradiction in the various religions. All religions claim exclusivity to God. Any person claiming there are many ways to God are either ignorant, or lying as to NOT offend in hopes of keeping multiple citizenship. (think politicians) The goal is not ultimate truth, but ultimate comfort. And if your religion gives me a warm fuzzy, we'll continue to give you the nod, but don't expect more than that.

The third degree of love is to love God for His sake. It is at this level that we show our maturity. We have a deeper love for God and one another. Our own best interests are usually an afterthought. We actually enjoy loving others and are genuinely interested in them. We are less likely to choose where we're going to eat, because it's not important. The point isn't to eat. The point is to further our relationship. Marriages have matured from having someone spend THEIR life "on" me, to spending MY life "with" them.

As selfish as they are, no one gets to the third stage unless they go through the pain of the first two. At this level, you realize, it truly IS better to give than to receive. You are no longer scratching backs and trading services. You are creating happiness. It is here that we begin to loosen the grip on our wallets, schedules, and reputation. People here see past the 3 dimensional view of their world. They see people as eternal beings created in God's image.

The fourth degree of love is to love self for God's sake. These people are rare, but easy to spot. They are not always in monasteries, convents, or pulpits. You'll see them at the gym, but not posing in the mirror. You'll see them at restaurants, but not eating too much. You'll see them drinking, but never drunk. These are the ones who have reached a level that allows them to love themselves, life, and others to the fullest. They realized that if Christ died for them, they must be really important. And if Christ died for the whole world, then the whole world is just as important. These people have found the balance between heavenly minded and earthly good. For them, it's not about just breathing as long as you can, but getting the most out of every breath. They take care of themselves, not because of vanity, but because they know there body is a gift, and they are grateful. They cherish life and the Giver of life. They never judge you, because they are too busy being grateful for their own pardon. They are masters at separating the sin from the sinner. Knowing how precious their life really is, they still believe yours is slightly more valuable.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wrong. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. - 1Corinthians 13:4-7

May all of us experience love, for God's sake.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's Not About You

I recall a story of a guy walking towards a building. As he approached the entrance, he noticed a woman behind him. He slowly opened the door and held it in place, waiting for the woman to pass. The woman stopped at the threshold, put her hands on her hips and barked, "Please don't hold the door for me just because I'm a lady. I can do it myself, Thank you very much!" The man, calmly replied, "Ma'am, I didn't hold the door open because you are a lady. I held the door open because I'm a gentleman."

As I reflected, I was reminded of how segregated my life has become. It's as if I role play depending on my location and audience. Depending on where and whom I'm with, I can be very gentle, or a jerk. I can be forgiving, or get angry very easily. I can be relational, or look extremely busy and avoid you. Believe me, my life is filled with numerous trap doors, escape pods, and excuses to remove myself from any responsibility, challenge, or conversation.

To whom it may concern: God is calling me out of this confusing mess. I am tired of playing the "Guess Who I Am Today" game. I no longer want to live under the circumstances. My wife, my children, my co-workers, and my friends need me to be ME. God created me perfect for HIS purpose. I no longer want to forfeit His purpose by allowing a person, place, or thing to keep me from it. So starting today, I serve notice to all nouns. I am going to be me regardless of who is watching. No doubt I will lose ground in some arenas, but I will also gain ground in some. At least the ground will be occupied by the real deal.

The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is reassuring to know that there is no sin capable of making a sonic boom strong enough to knock God off His throne. When I royally screw up, He is always there with an arm to grab. God puts food on my table even though we forget to thank Him for it. God doesn't get offended like me. God's mood does NOT change with the price of oil, even though mine does. God is always on time, on point, and on deck. And it has absolutely NOTHING to do with me. It has everything to do with Him being a God who keeps his promises.

John 13 describes an event where Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. What's interesting is that Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him. Even though Judas decided to betray Him, Jesus washed his feet along with the others. What's even more amazing is that Jesus gave him the highest honor at the meal. Now I have to admit. This is NOT how I would have handled it. First off, I would have only sent out 11 dinner invitations. If that didn't stop him, upon washing his feet, I would accidentally on purpose broke his pinky toe. And then I would have poisoned his food. But hey, that's how I roll.

Jesus displayed remarkable grace, compassion, and genuineness in spite of having full knowledge of the circumstances. Jesus didn't give Judas the cold shoulder, not return his emails, or embarrass him. Jesus never allowed Himself to be watered down by anyone. And neither will I, so help me God. Jesus didn't offer Judas grace and mercy, because he deserved it. Jesus offered it because He is gracious and merciful.

"Ma'am, I didn't hold the door open because you are a lady. I held the door open because I'm a gentleman."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Paradox Of Prayer

If you want to read the Bible, great. But if you want to read it in high definition blue-ray, then become a parent. I have studied the Bible for years, but never knew how shallow my understanding was until I had children. How can one truly understand verses about "Father God" unless you ARE a father? For years, I studied the Bible in "black and white", but it wasn't until I had children, that I saw it in color.

As a father, there is nothing good that I will withhold from my children, if it is in my power to give it. Asking for it is optional. If my child needs medicine, food, shelter, encouragement, ect., I'm on it! On the flip side, if my child wants something bad for them, it doesn't matter how much they ask. They're NOT getting it. This isn't deep. This is common sense, and elementary for any good parent.

So if God is a good father, why do we pray? If we believe that God will give us what is good, and withold what is bad, then what would be the logic behind prayer? On the surface, it seems like I'm wasting my time. I never asked this question until after I became a father. I want my child to be happy. I not only want to give him what he needs, but I want to give him what he wants.

I feel an example is needed. Let's pretend my son is sitting at the table eating his food. He looks up and asks, "Dad, may I have a brownie?" Because I'm a good father, my answer is no. I proceed to tell him that he needs to finish his dinner. After he finishes his dinner, he asks again. Because I'm a good father, my answer is now yes. What just happened?  He asked twice and received two different answers. What changed?  Am I schizophrenic   Is God?

The purpose of prayer isn't to ask God to do something He is already going to do. The purpose of prayer isn't to ask God for something He isn't going to give. (You can't change God!) The purpose of prayer is to offer ourselves up to God so that WE can change. It was in my son's asking (prayer) that my answer (will) was known to him.

He could have responded in two ways. He could have expressed that my answer was not to his satisfaction, (whined) or he could have accepted my current answer and proceeded to do something about changing himself (finish his dinner). By changing himself, he would have gotten the answer he wanted to begin with. I am not a mean father, and neither is God. I don't like saying NO, and neither does God. All you good fathers know what I'm talking about. A father's joy is giving your family everything they want, not repeating "no" because you can. If I say "no" and don't explain my answer on their level, then I'm not being a good father, I'm either power-tripping or being lazy.

Now that I am a father, I pray different. No longer do I come to God with my daily Christmas list. I first come alone. I come to offer myself. And how do I offer myself? Well as funny as it sounds, I still bring my list. Again, it's in our asking that we reveal who WE are. If you really want to know someone. I mean really know. Ask them what they want. You are what you want. If you don't believe me, why is it so difficult to pray with your spouse, or with others? Prayer (bring your requests before God) is one of the most vulnerable things you can do. Have you ever prayed out loud? Have you ever listened to yourself pray? Did you sound selfish and pitiful? Let's be honest. When you pray, who is the servant and who is the master?!

Prayer is meant to be a daily, life changing event. Your requests reveal who you are, and God's answer reveal who He wants you to be. It is true that you cannot change God. The Bible says so. Because I'm a father, I understand the paradox. It's not that my mind changes, it's that my children do. When the child's attitude, maturity, motives, etc. change, so does the answer. Remember, my desire is to give them ALL that they want. There only job is to allow me to do it.

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7