Monday, February 21, 2011

The Pearl of Great Price...

As I am getting into the driver's seat of my car this morning, on my way to work, I noticed a tiny, white, shimmering object lying in the middle of the seat. Right beside it was an even smaller gleaming, gold, twig-like object. It was my wife, Star's, pearl ear ring laying out in plain daylight, as sovereign as a Christmas turkey presented on a dinner table. The ear ring was accompanied by it's only companion, a nearly mircoscopic gold stem. These two objects could not have been more prominently placed on the seat if a women's apparel fashion photographer had spent hours placing them there himself.

When I saw them, I immediately reached down to grab them. My finger picked up the gold stem, but my thumb inadvertently caused the pearl to roll, ever so slowly and ominously, back to the tiny crevass at the base of the chair. (You see where this is going, don't you?) Having big and lumbering hands, I reached down to grab the ear ring, but my grabbing and clutching only drove the pearl deeper into the seat. I poked and prodded and pulled and jabbed. No luck. The pearl just went deeper and deeper and deeper into the seat. It was like it had learned some sort of lesson about burrowing into the sand, from it's one time maker, the oyster shell that had birthed the pearl.

My wife is now taking a nap, and I have to figure out a way to tell her how I lost her pearl ear ring. How I really tried to get it. And I did, but that I only made a bad situation worse. Any ideas? Are there ways to get into the inner guts of a drivers seat in a car without dismantling the entire transmission? Seriously, I want to know. Text me...

However, the deeper truth I have been thinking about is the story (parable) that Jesus told about a similar lost pearl in the book of Matthew, "The kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he sold everything he had and bought it." (Matt. 13:45)

I wonder if the merchant was looking for fine pearls in the seat of his car. Probably not likely. I wonder if he had to dismantle something in order to get it. Maybe. I wonder if he felt a sense of loss about the pearl that he wanted to own, or possibly re-retrieve. Surely. I wonder if he told his wife as he was doing it, or just went ahead and did it.

I had better go out and dig the pearl out of my car...

All for Now,

Thursday, February 17, 2011


When you live on the Central Coast, you have to get used to many different weather seasons, all within a span of 20 minutes. Today, for example, the weather has been as cold as 30 degrees, and as warm as 70. The wind has blown and it has been silent. The rain has fallen and the sun has shone. There have been rainbows in the sky, as well as massive storm clouds on the horizon. There has been almost no humidity to speak of, followed by a veritable rainforest of moisture. And change is on the horizon, whatever that portends. The weather has been confusing.

Personally, I like my seasons to be separated. I like winter to be cold and crisp and full of snow and sharp - with mist from my breath. I like Spring to be warm, slightly rainy, and verdant with flowers and dewdrops. I like summer to be hot, very enough to be warmed up by the cement after you take a dip in an icy cold mountain swimming pool. And, of course, Fall needs to have the tinge of finality to it. It needs to be the place where colors and year end resolutions make a harmonious pact with one another.

So, what am I getting at...

I believe that life has seasons as well. I also believe that when people mix up life's seasons, they generally become despondent. Spring is not the time to be contemplative. Winter is not the time for expansive dreams. Summer is a bad time to put on a parka of poetic solemnity. When we mix up the seasons of life, we often get confused.

What is a midlife crisis exactly? Well, what I have observed, from those who have sought my counsel on the matter, is that people who get confused about the seasons of life find themselves in the middle of crises - that is, a midlife crisis. So, when adults try to act like children, or teenagers, there is crisis. When 40 or 50 year olds, who are in the Fall season of their lives, try to relive moments of Spring, there is trouble.

Some have suggested that one of the key difficulties with living in California is that there aren't as many seasons as other places. Or rather, the seasons aren't as delineated and concrete. I have actually seen people in the middle of winter in Southern California, who are wearing flip flops and tank tops, with wide smiles on their faces, and perfect tans, say that they yearned for
"A space to go inwards, a time to be contemplative, a place to be introverted."

When I heard my friend say this, I wanted to just say, "You mean, you need winter!"

All for Now,

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Gospel of "The King's Speech"

"The King's Speech" is the best motion picture of the year 2010. It may, in fact, be the best motion picture of the past decade. But that is not what this blog post is about.

This blog post is about the fact that "The King's Speech" is the strongest proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a cinematic movie setting in eons...(or at least since The Passion of the Christ).

If you haven't seen "The King's Speech, go. Go now. Drop what you are doing and go. After hours of prompting and persuasion by my family members and friends, I went to see the late showing of the movie on a Tuesday night. In Paso Robles, the only other living being in a movie theater at 10:00PM on a Tuesday night are the itinerant mice who are eating slivers of popcorn dust off the Sprite covered theater floor. It was still worth it.

The plot, in a nutshell, is that late George VI is made monarch of Great Britain and the Global Commonwealth of His Majesties Empire through an abdication of the throne by his wayward, and party going brother, Edward VIII. George VI is a very intelligent man, but he has a chronic stutter. So chronic is his stutter, that it is nearly impossible for him to speak to his children, talk to his wife, give directions to his servants, and not to mention to address the nation in a time of war.

All of these elements and plot lines would have made for a very compelling movie, but not for a gospel presentation.

The gospel of "The King's Speech", if you will, occurs when a would-be, and self-proclaimed speech therapist from Australia, Lionel Logue, helps George VI overcome his linguistic impediment. Through a very compassionate, kind loving and, dare I say, pastoral approach, Lionel listens to the King's life story, unearths elements of pain and shame from George's past, encourages the king to listen to his own voice, and empowers the king to do what he was born to do.

In sum, Lionel helped George VI to speak, and in doing so, changed the world

Here is what I was struck by for my own faith and ministry. Very often, in Christianity and in ministry, we feel that we must change an entire person's life, alter the entire course of their existence, reorient a person's entire modus operundi, if they are to receive salvation. More often, the answer to helping a person experience metamorphosis in Christ is as simple as helping a person to form the very words that they cannot express, which are laying latent and unexpressed on their muted tongues and hearts.

Once, when Jesus was walking in a downtown square in Galilee, a woman came up and touched the hem of his cloak. Her life was otherwise unexceptional except for the painful fact that she had been suffering from menstrual bleeding most of her adult life. In touching Jesus' cloak, the woman was instantly healed. Her life was changed. It is noteworthy what Jesus did do and what he did not do here. Jesus did not psychoanalyze the woman, or deconstruct her entire past present and future. He simply helped to fix the one glaring issue, and struggle of her entire life.

In watching this movie, I was reminded once again, how helping a person with a very small thing (or what might seem like a small thing to you) can literally change a person's life, and in doing so, redirect the entire course of their eternal destiny. You and I can change the world too.

All For Now,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I love sitting at fast food restaurants and listening to other conversations around me. This past week, I was at In and Out, relishing and inhaling an animal style #2 meal, with a side of fries (Martin Luther once said, "If you are going to sin, sin boldly..."). Next to me are a couple of young guys in their 20's, having a conversation that I won't soon forget. I will try to relate it to you as it reached my own ears, in between the gastronomic bliss of an In and Out burger...

"So, I am dating this girl, and I don't know if I should stay with her." "Oh really, why not?" "Well, I don't know, but I do know that God has shown me that I should stay with her..." "Ok, great." "Yeah, things weren't going well, but I know that God's plans are that I stay with her." "Good." "Yeah, so my work is going well, but my boss is putting more pressure on me to work." "Great" "Yeah, but God told me I need to be more in your face with my boss." "Great". "Yeah, so, God is using all of these things to teach me something. "Oh really, what?" "God wants me to do great things for him." "How do you know that?" "Well, God is using these things to make me stronger." "How do you know?" "It's just the way God works."

You get the gist...

Now, here's the thing. While I was really happy for the effusive faith of the guy that I was listening to, and the way he was relating his life and how it worked so seamlessly together with God's eternal plans, it was all I could do not to walk up to him and say; "Excuse me, you don't know me, I am a pastor, and I am really happy that you have such a faith. However, can I teach you a word that I think may help you?'s MAYBE. MAYBE God has shown you, MAYBE God told you something, MAYBE God is using all of these things to teach you something, MAYBE God wants you to do something. MAYBE you know the way God works...

I didn't interrupt my lunch to have this conversation, because I'm basically a wimp when it comes to these kinds of confrontational questions, and because my animal style burger with extra sauce was exceptionally sumptuous.

One of the things I love so much about the way God works in the lives of the hundreds of different characters in the Bible is the ever present existence of the concept of MAYBE. When Eli is in the temple and he hears a voice, he doesn't automatically assume that it is God's voice which he hears it out of the recesses of nowhere. Actually, he thinks that it is uncle's voice. "Eli, Eli," says the Lord. Eli pauses. He goes to visit his uncle and after his uncle's prodding, decides that it actually is God's voice in his life. "Here I am Lord, your servant is listening..."

When Job is wracked with abject loss and pain, he doesn't automatically assume that it is God that is punishing him. He waits, and considers. Even though Job's friends all come to him and say, "You are dishonoring God, and that is why God is punishing you," Job is not sure. Job turns his query and complaint to God and says, "Dear God, if only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on a scales, it would surely outweigh all the sands of the seas..." (Job 6:2)

While all good things in this life, we are told by the prophets, all come from God, there are actually a whole penumbra of causes of things that are not from God:

* Our Own Actions
* The Human Struggle
* Sin
* The Evil One

Not all sickness is caused by God. Not all tornadoes are caused by God. Not all break-ups are God's doing. Not all firings, promotions, melt downs, pontifications, thoughts, mistakes, salary increases, car crashes, computer glitches, or parking meter expirations are caused by God.

I'm sorry if this blog post sounds a bit cynical, if not grumpy-old-manish. But I really believe that for all faith followers, the word MAYBE might add a degree of humility and realism to the process of discerning God's will. Then, when God actually does act. When He affirms that he actually is doing something, we can be all the more impressed and awe inspired.

All for Now,

Friday, February 4, 2011

Uncomplicated is not Unsophisticated

So, I am tasting wine the other day in Paso Robles, and the wine shop owner says to me, "that is a very sophisticated wine you are drinking." Not knowing much about viticultural parlance or wine jargon I asked the wine owner what he meant. "What is a sophisticated wine?" I asked. The wine owner paused before he looked over his spectacles and said, "A sophisticated wine is one where the flavors all blend together in a way that is mysterious and indecipherable." I decided not to press the question, since it seemed like one more query might be a grape too far. One more question might have actually gotten me thrown out of the wine shop. Had I been able to follow up, though, I would have said; "don't you just mean that the wine is complicated?" "How can a wine be sophisticated? How can wine be mysterious? It's just a drink..."

Let me get to my main point. I feel that a lot of things that are simply uncomplicated in this life, are given the label unsophisticated.

Let me give an example. I have a friend who works hard from 6:00AM each day until around 8:00PM every evening. My friend is a contractor who works for the state of California building roads and bridges and such. He's very smart with building and constructing, though his grammar may not always be complete. He uses a lot of colorful metaphors. My friend is a Christian, a good dad, a football coach, a good husband, and an all round nice guy. He doesn't read too many books, or newspapers, or engage in polemic discussions about politics. He wouldn't be caught dead in a wine bar, but give him a can of Miller Lite, and he lights up. He doesn't have any dark areas of sin (that I know of) or any glaring areas of personal existential angst. He works hard, loves God, loves his family, and knows what he thinks and believes. Now, let me ask you a question. Is my friend Uncomplicated or Unsophisticated?

The answer is obvious. He is uncomplicated.

Remember that the word Sophisticated comes from the Greek root - Sophos - (which is where we derive our words sophomoric, and sophistry, and practical, flashy wisdom - sophia). Early sophists were people you shouldn't trust, because they told you things you wanted to hear, not what you needed to hear. Sophists were teflon-tongued con men who swilled wine in wine bars and suggested that drinks can be sophisticated...I digress.

Actually, we are called to live uncomplicated lives. Jesus loved uncomplicated people. He reviled sophisticated ones...

The next time you hear someone describe another person as unsophisticated - ask yourself, is it unsophisticated or just uncomplicated...

All for Now,