Category Archives: Faith

Cell Phones

Have you ever noticed when you are talking on a cell phone, and the sound quality becomes bad, we have an inclination to say, in an annoyed fashion, “You’re breaking up.” The other day I was talking with someone, and the signal kept going from good to bad to non-existent, and the person I was talking with kept saying, “You’re breaking up, I can’t hear you.”

I asked him at one point, “Where are you?”

He said, “I’m driving home.”

“And what kind of cell coverage do you have there?”

“It’s pretty bad. A lot of dropped calls.”

“So, might I suggest it’s not me who is breaking up. But you?”

“Yeah, I guess so. But why does that matter?”

“Because every time the signal gets bad, you get annoyed and tell me I am breaking up. I’m calling you from a land line, from the office. It’s you not me with the bad connection. It’s you. So stop talking as if there was something I could do about it.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. I’m sorry. I just get so annoyed. And I don’t know what to say.”

So I suggested, “How about I have bad coverage here?”

This whole conversation made me think of God. How often do we say, “I can’t hear you? You’re not being clear? I don’t know what you want me to do?” We think God’s communication is broken. But not really. We’re not listening. God is being clear. Here are few things I remind myself God tells us to do (google “Jesus’ commands” and you’ll find complete lists):

Repent-Matthew 4:17
Follow Me-Matthew 4:19
Rejoice-Matthew 5:12
Let Your Light Shine-Matthew 5:16
Honor God’s Law-Matthew 5:17-18
Be Reconciled-Matthew 5:24-25
Go the Second Mile-Matthew 5:38-42
Love Your Enemies-Matthew 5:44
Seek God’s Kingdom-Matthew 6:33
Judge Not-Matthew 7:1
Do Unto Others-Matthew 7:12
Fear Not-Matthew 10:26
Take My Yoke-Matthew 11:29
Beware of Covetousness-Luke 12:15
Forgive Offenders-Matthew 18:21-22
Bring in the Poor-Luke 14:12-14
Render to Caesar-Matthew 22:19-21
Love the Lord-Matthew 22:37-38
Love Your Neighbor-Matthew 22:39
Be Born Again-John 3:7
Watch and Pray-Matthew 26:41
Receive God’s Power-Luke 24:49
Make Disciples-Matthew 28:20

“Lord, your breaking up. I can’t hear you.”

I think the issue might be with the telecommunications company in which I am the supposed CEO.

On Presidents Day, We Are So Lucky to Have Donald Trump as President!

This week’s reflection has nothing to do with President Trump. Not directly. But the title merely serves to make my point — you either immediately agree with the title or your immediately disagree. There is no middle ground, and this is where I am in the whole political climate here in the US. There is no middle ground. And everything that happens, and I mean everything, evokes an emotional response that is either angry or arrogant, depending on which side your standing. This is true for me and everyone I know. No exceptions, we are so terribly polarized.

Yet Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” and “give to anyone who begs from you.” Alas, I have come to realize that Jesus didn’t mean it. It’s too hard. And he didn’t understand that here in America, whichever side you’re on, we know better than that. Jesus was misinformed when he issued new, impossible-to-follow guidelines.

So when Jesus came, and God essentially said,

Here’s how it’s going to be going forward. Jesus is going to tell you about living by faith, that works come from faith, that it is your heart that matters. He’s going to tell you about new ways of living and thinking and praying. The ways I have always wanted you to follow. Some things you won’t fathom, but that’s no surprise because you humans are just as stubborn and arrogant as you have always been. No really, you have not changed. And get this, 2000 years from now, the things around you will be very different (you’ll have things like the Internet and nuclear power and airplanes and penicillin), But your hearts? Well, they’ll be just as cold and stubborn as ever. And you know all that stuff about loving your enemies, and turning the other cheek? You’ll rationalize it. No really, you’ll find ways to build walls and to justify actions based on snippets of scripture that were never intended to be interpreted as you will do, and your political affiliations, believe it or not, will be the primary relationship you have with the world despite who you say follow.

I think what’s going on here is that God has been radically wrong. He didn’t get it then, and He does not get it now. I can’t forgive my enemies. And really, my enemies are evil people. I can’t listen to them. And make no mistake, they are enemies because we have divergent views of what America — and the world — should be. I side with those I agree with and ridicule those whom I do not agree.

It’s a terrible place to be. And I don’t see a path forward. The best thing I have been able to figure out is this — don’t pay attention to the political drama. In fact, for the last two weeks, I ignored the news. I took a break. And I felt a whole lot better. And an inkling of hope came to my mind too.

Oh yes. What God intends for us? God does not intend for humans to rationalize and interpret the world using our intuition. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your insight.” And that is absolutely the best consolation I have. It’s private and is in many ways between God and me. The sad and immensely frustrating truth of the 21st century is that people interpret that Kingdom in so many different ways, molding theology and prayer to their world view. Clearly, I need to get back to a God-centered worldview.

The hard and immensely important and critical thing for me as a Christian is to focus on what the Kingdom means, and not to allow the distractions of the world to detract from real Kingdom building. But it’s a daily battle. And a daily challenge to focus on His Word and to pray and to show hospitality in all situations. And to be obedient. Obedient to this, in Jesus’ words:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Refugees

Matthew 25:34-37.
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Those are the words of Jesus.

Isaiah 58:6-9.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

Those are the words of Isaiah.

Refugees. It’s hard to imagine that this is a polarizing topic among Christians.   But it is.  Some of my Facebook friends — who practice Christianity — claim that this ban on refugees is right and within the bounds of Christian theology and life practice.  Elders, leaders, silent pulpits.

The issue for the American Christian (is that even a category, sadly it is?) is that we don’t trust God.  We won’t speak out on behalf of those who are escaping the very terror that we are trying end. The refugees are the people from Mosul and Aleppo and countless other places where the war on terror is being intensely fought.  We are willing to fight over there, but we are not willing to accept a minuscule risk to our safety here to welcome them? The people who are well vetted, and who have suffered so much to get the chance to come here, we abandon them at the last minute because…? Jesus tells us so?  Huh

Hebrews 13:1-4.
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

We have the opportunity to rescue, help, and bless some of the world’s most oppressed — women, children, families. To be the light of the world.  To show these oppressed the Love of God.  That’s right, to open our hearts and to pour out on these people the love of God which we believe is greater than anything else.  Any nationality.  Any creed.  Any nationalistic, narrowly focused, expression of what’s mine is mine.

All this past week I have read and seen the stories of those who have been turned away at our borders.  I have carried the grief and embarrassment of what our country has done and the vocal silence of Christians, especially conservative evangelicals.  If you, as a Christian persist in telling the most vulnerable to go away, then what are we to make of Jesus’ words?  Of Isaiah’s prophesy?

I was talking with a colleague this week about the craziness in the world.  Our conversation drifted to the refugee situation.  I told her I am a Christian.  We had been very serious in our conversation.  And she simply stopped talking and looked at me.  Silent.  Waiting.

I told her I do not support the US ban on refugees.  It is wrong.  It does not show the love of God.  It does not risk helping the poor and destitute regardless of my circumstances. And I said, if other Christians disagree, well then, on this issue I will say this: You are a hypocrite.

Expanse II

I have been spending the weekend on the edge of a salt marsh, a tidal inlet from the ocean. It’s a constantly changing ecosystem with the seawater coming and going every moment of the day. It can be entirely filled so that it looks like a lake, or an infinite number of variations of grasses, shrubs, wildlife, and twisting furrows as the water comes and goes. I’ve seen coyotes, a red-tailed hawk, rabbits, geese, ducks.

On Friday night, I took the dogs out before bed, and the sky was crystal clear without a cloud or a moon. It was simply stars. As I gazed up across the marsh, I thought how amazing the view. I felt a sense of welcome and wonder. I took the dogs in, and they curled up into their spots, and I remembered that I had bought some binoculars. I thought they probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference. But what the heck? I’ll just step out the front door and take a peak.

I could not believe it. Honestly, I had never seen anything like that sky before. Where maybe there were 500 stars, I was now seeing 5,000. When I looked at Venus (my iPhone Planets app said that’s what it was), it was almost too bright to look at. Another bright star turned out to be two very close stars. Another bright star wasn’t a star at all because it looked like a galaxy I’ve seen in so many space pictures.

I had a horizon to horizon view. For 30 minutes I just gazed. Until, with the wind and the cold, I had to go back inside. I was unsettled, in a way. And so I sat in front of the fire that was almost out, stirred the remaining embers, and regenerated some flames and sat to take it in. I realized that the fire was a little star in itself. Burning fuel and giving off light and heat. Of course, it was not a star.

I reflected, if we are just on this very little planet compared to that immense night sky and we are the only ones here in the universe, then that is very scary. We are so tiny, and if our planet ceases to exist the universe will not notice. Whole galaxies collide and are destroyed, and the universe continues on. If nothing is binding all the universe together, giving it meaning and sense of order, then all I have is the little fire, my dogs, my wife, my sons, family, friends, work, and some hobbies. And then I will go away, forever, and the universe will not care or acknowledge anything of my brief time here.

As I was about to go to sleep, I went outside for just a minute more. As I looked up, I felt the comfort of my unaided, familiar view of the night sky. Then a quick sweep with the binoculars. I was reminded of a verse from Job of how God “made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south.” I closed my eyes, and I let that sink in. Yes, I am a believer, and yes, God did have a reason for making all of this.

And yes, we are not alone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have immense moments of awe in His presence and His creation. The overwhelming sense at that moment was of His great love for me and His great interest in who I am even in the middle of the immensity of the stars and planets and galaxies around me. The Creator was showing me for the first time His bigger creation. To take it in with humility and to know I am a part of it. To rest in the peace of His beauty and awe.

Listening

Yesterday, as I was wrapping up my work week, I told one of my colleagues I felt like I was crashing through the whole week. The image in my mind was one of stomping through a thick forest, a little bit lost, but sure I would find my way out. In fact, I have been in that situation several times. I live across from a state park, and in some of my walks, I take a short cut — I go off the path because I know I’ll get back home sooner. It never works, of course, because I become quickly disoriented and the way out “over there” is never actually there but “somewhere else.”

I was crashing through my week with God too. I could not slow down enough to hear the soft whisper. Monday was a holiday, Tuesday I was in an all-day meeting, Wednesday I was out having some very minor surgery, Thursday was my dreaded steering committee for a major project I have been leading, and Friday was back to back meetings. This steering committee meeting — the one that governs the technology integration between my company and one we acquired over the summer — has a certain edge in which the members tend to take shots at what we are doing and to criticize even the smallest mistakes. And, of course, I take it personally. And I take everything they say seriously, even if it is a lie (because there is always a hidden agenda).

One of my team members, my operations lead, pulled me aside before the meeting and told me “I had it” and he told me to stay “on point.” As would happen, he reminded me, we would go off on a tangent at some point, and it was my job to bring us back to the decisions that needed to be made. (Did I mention I love team members who give honest, direct and useful feedback?)

And so at minute 35 out of our allotted 90 minutes, we went off track. Someone criticized an approach we were taking to solving a particularly difficult situation with some cost overruns. And the frenzy began. After a minute or so, four things happened. My operations lead gave me a look that I interpreted as “You need to bring us back,” then I remembered his words, “stay on point,” then I faced the real physical feeling in my stomach which I call anxiety, and at last, I prayed, “Lord. I need your help.”

Then the miraculous happened. Words came to my mind, “Thank you for your feedback. It’s important to us. But we need a decision on our staffing issue. And while this other issue is important, it’s not the focus of this meeting.” Simultaneously I took a deep breath, and I let that pit in my stomach go. A great sense of calm came to me, and people agreed to get back on track, and we took action to get back to the other topic in our next meeting.

So here’s the thing. I have been in this type of situation before and muddled through the meeting. This time around, with my desire to be more open to the Holy Spirit this year, I later asked God, “Was that you? Did you guide me?” In my intuition, in my growing openness, He did. I believe the Holy Spirit was right there. And I was listening and allowing Him to give me the words to say and the demeanor to manage this challenging situation.

That afternoon, I had three hallway conversations with people telling me that was a great meeting, and two emails saying the same. A first on both counts and this project is entering the end of its first year.

Listening to the trusted people around me, and listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. What a gift.

The Holy Spirit

Of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the least talked about among my churchgoing friends. The Holy Spirit is such a profound teaching and is so far outside our experience. It’s a mystery. While Jesus is the perfect Son and by his acts, we are adopted by God as His children; the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts. The Holy Spirit helps create a clearer vision of God’s love for us and helps to develop a closer relationship with both Father and Son. That is easier written than realized.

On some days on my way to work, I get off the train a stop early, and I walk the last mile or so to the office. A few weeks ago, it was 30 degrees and a deep crystal blue sky. As I started walking, I fell into an easy cadence, and in my mind, I began to say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” In a short time, even those words left me until I was simply walking and observing the world around me in silence.

Gradually, everything I saw and heard and felt and smelled had an intense focus, and throughout the whole walk, I had an overwhelming thought inside that said, “This is my world…” There were other people walking and I noticed their faces — old and young and happy and sad and empty — there were children walking hand-in-hand with parents, there were dogs playing in a park, there was the fresh smell of coffee and pastries, there were school buses, and taxi cabs, and birds. A whole world filled with God’s creation. “This is my world, and I love it so… do you see?” was the overwhelming sense I had.

I wonder how I am changed with the very reality that something of God abides in me? I think it is this: through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, I become more aware of what God’s world is. I experience it with the senses he has given me—sight, sound, smell, feel and even taste— which unleashes in me a heart that loves more and more as His does, and I come to understand that even the smallest details are known to Him.

“You know Him, because he abides with you.” John 14:17

Making the time to acknowledge Him and by letting His presence be who you are, we open ourselves to loving as He loves. Why is it that we don’t talk only about the Holy Spirit? And why is it we seem to be afraid of people who have a connection and experience with the Holy Spirit as if God were talking to directly to them? I think it’s because, in this day and age, we need and crave certainty. We need clarification on the rules of conduct for our lives and affirmation of our political and social views. The Holy Spirit is not leading me in that way. In fact, I think He is asking me to give up all I know, and to rest in His presence.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:26

This year, I will be spending more time listening to the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to cultivate in me the mind and heart He is opening inside of me. It feels natural, but it is way outside my comfort zone.

It’s so rare

I just came back from a meeting of rare disease patients. These are the people who have few treatment options, and who have few medicines and therapies being pursued on their behalf. It’s an incredibly complicated issue, and sometimes when there is a glimmer of hope that something might work, there’s an insurmountable safety issue or the stability of a compound can’t be achieved. In other words, the drug might have some serious side effects, or it can’t be made consistently.

On the last night of the event, there was an art show of paintings by artists who had captured children living with these diseases. This group of artists exists to bring to the world’s attention the suffering and hope of the estimated 350 million people worldwide who have them. Of the 7,000 known diseases, only about 150 have treatments.

One painting caught my attention so firmly. Colorful, of a boy, standing and laughing. It invited me in. And made me feel the wonder of life from the eyes of someone young and seemingly living his life with a degree of joy captured in hues and texture that must have taken weeks to create.

After walking around in the crowded room, I struck up a conversation with a man looking at another painting, and he observed to me its subtle mystery of hope and whimsy. And we talked about the event, and the challenges of living with these rare diseases, our families, and life in general.

At one point, I asked him if he had seen a picture of a laughing boy, and he said that he had. So I shared my thoughts on this work and talked more about how the painting conveyed so much zest and openness. After a few minutes of talking about this picture, the man said, “Thank you.” I said ‘You’re welcome.” He said, “No, you don’t understand, I am the artist, and the boy is over there.”

But the boy was not walking. And he was having a lot of trouble sitting up. But he was laughing. The artist explained that when he painted the picture about six months ago, the boy could stand, but his disease was slowly killing off his white brain cells, and he was gradually slipping away. At age 6, he would not live beyond 10. There is no cure.

There are only 200 known people in the world with this condition. I had the honor of talking with the man who painted life, and I was also honored to see that the boy was surrounded by a loving family who was playing with him, while he laughed, and clapped his hands, and looked with the deepest, most expressive eyes at the world around him. This family loved him unconditionally. As I listened and watched, there wasn’t regret and sadness. There was life and a real presence that the moment was now. Not tomorrow.

I have been reflecting on the age of the universe. It’s 14 billion years old. Galaxies and solar systems formed, stars came to life, planets found their orbits, and life emerged on at least one of these places, and now this moment with the artist and the boy and his family came and went. It was 14 billion years in the making. And I was there.

What an incredibly blessed day I had. In a crowd of hundreds of people, at the right place and time, I encountered creativity and love coming together.

I have been praying that God would make these moments happen more for me. I want to know that His love is real and that there is a hope that is greater and bigger than anything I know. I want to live life in renewed ways and be open to the mystery of a creator, a redeemer and a sustainer who is as concerned with the forming of a planet as he is with a single life in a single moment. It’s a simple prayer. Give me your eyes and ears.