Monday, September 29, 2014


The pre-eminent psychotherapist Carl Jung used to love to tell a story about a rabbi who was asked one day, "Why did God show himself to people so often in ancient times, but today, no one ever sees God?"  The rabbi responded, "Because, in modern times, no one can bow low enough to see God." The phrase, "bowing low enough" can be summed up by one word in our modern lexicon:


One of the most important aspects of God's ability to act, to move, to bring about fruit in our lives is the disposition of:


Again and again, the Bible offers examples and stories of people who were only able to be healed, receive salvation, turn the corner after they knelt before God,  lowered themselves, repented, asked forgiveness, or were brought from high places to low places.  The list is endless:

*  Adam and Eve trying to be like God, but falling from grace, had to bow before God
*  The rich young ruler had to humble himself with his financial resources before God
*  Moses had to take off his shoes while walking on holy ground
*  David, through his own poor decision making process with Bathsheeba, repented, and bowed
*  Jesus' greatest sermon: "The meek shall inherit the earth", is about bowing our hearts
*  John the Baptists' greatest sermon: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near", is about humility

One might argue that the entire Bible, perhaps all of human existence hinges on the human heart's ability to enact:


But you already know this.  My big thought for the week is that humility is not a quality that we can actually have any personal control over.  True humility occurs when we outside forces or actions cause us to have to reverse direction.  In short, we can't WILL true humility.  We can't wake up in the morning and say, "Today, I am going to be the most humble person in the world. I am going to receive a gold medal in humility."   I am more and more convinced that humility only occurs through the hard things that happen to us in life, and our larger ability to give those tough experiences to God.

C. S. Lewis once said that, "A man is never so proud as when he is striking an attitude of humility" (Christian Reflections, p. 14).  What Lewis was capturing is the sense that we cannot impose, or impute humility in our own lives.  We must be made humble by the tough experiences of our lives.  Later Lewis said, "Pain is the megaphone by which God rouses a deaf world."  He might also have added that pain and tough experiences are the way that God allows humility to begin to grow in a person's life.

In my own life I have had many things, though compared with others not so many, that have helped me to become more humble:

*  In college I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and had to drop out for a while, but I became more humble in the process.
*  The first New Church Development that we started in San Antonio, Texas failed.  That was a really hard experience, but I became more humble.

There are many other experiences which I would like to write, but which are either too raw or I am still processing which have helped me to become more humble.  These experiences I would never have desired to undergo, nor would I ever want to go through them again.  But I am thankful that one of God's favorite tools for bringing about fruit in this world, is when a human heart comes before God and says, "I'm sorry."  Then, change can begin.

All For Now,

Monday, September 22, 2014

No "gods" Before God

So, here's a small confession to begin this week's blogpost with.

A lot of the Bible's rules, regulations, laws and edicts don't seem like they have a whole lot to do with me.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I am glad they are all in there, but, for example, when the Bible says; "Any alien living among you shall not eat any blood," (Lev. 17:8) I wonder what to do with this text. I am not aware of any aliens living among me, and if I was aware of them, I guess I could call The Department of Homeland Security, but would they care if that alien ate blood.  A burger anyone?  Or, here's another text which seems to defy a direct application to my life; "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest," (Lev. 19:9).   When I read this, I look at the four walls of my tiny apartment in Camarillo, California and realize that we barely have any plants in our house, let alone a field.  These texts, I must remind myself, are not just written for me, but the Bible is for all humanity, for all of the history of the entire planet earth, for the entire cosmos - so, though they must apply to someone, they do not necessarily apply to me.

Keeping this in mind, one of the main texts of the Bible which I have always felt was written for someone other than me is the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deut. 5:7).  Whenever I have read this, I have said to myself, "Well, that one's not for me either."  I don't have any idols in my house.  I do not have shrine to Chemosh, the first century God of the Moabites, or I do not have any statues of Athena, as Paul preached against in the book of Acts, so this text is not written for me.

However, as I have contemplated this text, I have thought that there are at least two ways to interpret it.  It could be interpreted as idols (statues of foreign gods), or it could be interpreted as what we do as Christ followers to prepare ourselves to come before God, to worship God.  In other words, it could mean, "When you come before God, you should make sure there are no impediments, vices, distractions, unhealthy outside influences in your life."

Every evening my wife Star and I say a prayer together.  We pray for everything that we are thinking about, worrying about, contemplating, hoping for, and working on.  We pray for our children that they might have a good day at school the next day.  We pray for our future worship leader at Mission Street, that he/she would have great success here.  We pray for the rest of our church staff.  We pray for past call settings that we have served in.  We pray for our friends and relatives that are struggling with some aspect of their life.

Now, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I do have many small "g" gods in my life.  I do have many vices and idols which can become "gods".  A short list of these includes:

*  TV
*  Food and Drink
*  in an earlier part of my life Smoking
*  my I-Phone, I-Pad, MacBook Pro
*  Working Out and my Body Image
*  my desire to neatly Order all parts of my life
*  my personal Ambitions
*  my Insecurities

These are a short list of my small "g" gods.  Now, God knows, and I know that many of these small "g" Gods will be with me all of my life.  God, and I, would prefer that they not be in my life at all, and yet, many of them always will be.  I am human.  However, when I come before God in prayer every night, with my wife, I work hard to rid them of those few moments that I am spending intentionally with God.

*  I turn off the TV when I am praying
*  I try not to be drinking a glass of wine when I am praying
*  I turn off my I-phone
*  I try not to be wearing my work-out clothes
*  I try not to worry about all the things of my life that are out of order
*  I try to remember that my whole life really isn't just about ME!

In short, when I come before God, I try to have no "gods" of my own.  What is quite interesting is that the first commandment doesn't tell us that we should destroy all of our small "g" gods.  It doesn't say, "Rid yourself of all gods".  It also, interestingly, assumes that all people, all people will have small "g" gods, and it acknowledges their presence.  The Bible doesn't say, "God is the only god in the universe".  God, the one true God, Yahweh/Jesus, knows that there are other small "g" gods.  No, the writer of Deuteronomy (historically thought of as Moses), knew better.  He knows that humans would have gods, and that these gods exist.  The point is that when we come before The GOD, we should not have these small gods around around.

Now, I must go and harvest some of the grain from my fields…but remember to not glean from the edges!?!?!

All For Now,

Monday, September 15, 2014

When God Walks...

I recently made an interesting discovery as I was reading my Bible.  From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation there are many, many accounts and descriptions of Jesus/God going on;

A Walk

Before I make my larger point, let me give you some examples.

*  In the book of Genesis, just after Adam and Eve ate the proverbial fruit of the tree it says, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was WALKING in the garden." (Gen. 3:8)

*  When Jesus was beginning his ministry in Galilee and recruiting his first disciples, the Bible says, "As Jesus WALKED beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew." (Mark 1:16)

*  One of Jesus' most famous miracles is when He WALKED on the water; "About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, WALKING on the lake.  He was about to pass them, but then they saw him WALKING on the lake, they thought he was a ghost." (Mark 6:48-49).

*  One of the first sightings of Jesus after he is resurrected is when he is on a WALK on the road to Emmaus; "As the two men talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and WALKED along with them." (Luke 24:15).

And there are many, many other texts in the Bible depicting Jesus/God on;

A Walk

Maybe you can think of more examples.

What is the significance of this?  Well, on it's face there is, of course a practical dimension to walking in the ancient Middle East.  Walking was one of the only means of transportation.  If you were going to get from point "A" to point "B", and you were poor, as the disciples and many early people were, you would walk.

However, I think there is a deeper, more spiritual thing going on when Jesus walks.  I have always felt that when Jesus was on a walk, he was listening for God's voice, he was praying, he was contemplating larger things.  Perhaps it was in the combination of physical motion, and Godly thinking that inspiration came to Jesus.  There is a dignity in Jesus' walk.  Even in the face of great adversity and evil Jesus walked.  Jesus WALKED to the cross.

We might ask ourselves, why aren't there any descriptions in the Bible of God running?  When Peter and John find out from the women in the garden that the tomb that held Jesus only a few nights before was empty, the Bible tells us that there was a veritable running race between Peter and John to get to the cemetery; "So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were RUNNING, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first." (John 20:3-4).  There are no descriptions in the Bible of Jesus running.  Even when Jesus' friend Lazarus died, Jesus does not run to save him.  Though the Bible does not say, one gets the feeling that Jesus simply sauntered his way to meet his friend who was dead.

Walking is a deliberative, paced, metered, thoughtful, discerning mode of movement.  There is a slow, foot after foot, step after step dynamic to walking.  After a run, a person can feel winded, and tired.  A run requires a short burst of energy.  A walk requires an ongoing expending of energy.  C.S. Lewis was famous for his long walks through the countryside, or in-between his house at The Kilns and Oxford.  Lewis would often say that the walks were a way of stimulating his mind, and his body.  There was a spiritual dimension to Lewis' walks.  The actor John Travolta once said on actors theater that the most important thing to learn in acting was not what you say, but how you walk.

I used to compete in Oratory at a national level, and I remember that my coaches would always tell me that my walk up to the front of the stage was as important as the first words that I said.  A speech tournament can be won through a good confident walk and it can lost, even before you utter your first word, through a sheepish, scuffling or scared walk.

Each morning when I wake up and think about this great effort that we are on to start a new church, I say to myself, "Just remember, Graham, that all great things of God are a WALK, they are not a running race or a sprint.  Just WALK through this day, and then WALK through the next day, and the day after that, and Jesus will be walking with you."

And he will WALK with you as well!

All For Now,


Monday, September 8, 2014

The Persistent Widow

One of Jesus' most interesting and enigmatic parables (stories) is the parable of the persistent widow.  The parable is unique in that the lead character (a nagging, haggling, in your face, side-swiping, jabbing widow), is lifted up as the heroine of the story.  And she is admired for one single and particular quality - PERSISTENCE!  Not giving up.  Here is the parable in case you have forgotten it (I had);

In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.  In other words he was a bad law enforcement official.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, "Grant me justice against my adversary".  We don't know what justice this woman was asking for, but we know that she kept coming, day in and day out, morning noon and night.  In those days, as is the case today, a person never got a second hearing from a judge (that would be double jeopardy), but she kept coming.  She was totally annoying.  For some time he refused.  But finally he said to himself, "Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming."  I love the honesty of the judge here.  He is ready to pull his proverbial hair out.  This widow was a down-right pain in the back side.  She was relentless, unremitting, in-your-face, a thorn in his side.

And that's it.  That's the parable.  Jesus finishes with the thought that we should be like this woman in our faith and in our lives.  We should keep pushing, keep going, keep moving on, moving through the tough challenges of our lives, and through the tough challenges of our faith.

Now, I don't know what the image you have in your head of this widow is, but for me I have always thought of her as a tiny little Babushka, a hunched over old krone, a toothless angry old woman.  But what if that wasn't what she was like at all?

What if she was beautiful?  What if she was a fashion goddess?  What if the persistent widow was hilarious, a cut-up at any dinner party?  What if she was relentless in her ability to cut people down with jokes?  What if she preferred the first century's version of Prada instead of black sack-cloth?  What if she was more like….brace yourself…Joan Rivers?

As I watched the news this weekend of the late comedian Joan Rivers' funeral, I was struck by one singular and important quality of Joan's life.  She too was persistent.  She was unrelenting, unremitting, unquenchingly tough.  She persisted through many difficult things in her life.  As one of the first women comedians of her time, she worked in a purely male dominated world.  As a Jewish woman she worked in comedy in a mostly WASPY world.  She experienced the back-hand from one of those WASPY comedian men, Johnny Carson, when he never spoke to her again after she began her own TV show.  Then, her husband committed suicide (so she really was a widow too!), and she raised her daughter Melissa by herself.  Joan experienced poverty, and bankruptcy, and tough times.  Doing comedy is one of the hardest ways in the world to make money.  If there ever was a quality for a comedian it was persistence.  You have to just keep at it, even as your audience is with you, or they are against you.

Now, for those who are reading this blog-post and who are inclined to disagree with the comparison of the persistent widow in Jesus' story to Joan Rivers, let's return to the story.  There is nothing about the moral quality of the widow in Jesus' story.  There is nothing about the faithfulness in God, or the deep prayer life of the widow.  There is nothing about her spirituality.  There is only one descriptor - she was persistent.

Once, while being interviewed by Larry King, Joan was asked why she made jokes about all kinds of inappropriate subjects (death, sex, genocide, murder, etc….).  She said, "Because, if you can laugh at something, it no longer has power over you.  I am Jewish, and I guarantee you that if I was in Auschevitz, the death camp where millions of Jews were put to death, I would have found a way to make a joke about it.  You just have to push through things in this life, you have to never give up."

Neither Joan nor the woman in Jesus' story is a perfect character.  Far from it, they are both deeply flawed people.  And a lot more is required of us in our faith walk than simply persistence.  We must have humility, we must know and love Jesus, we must turn our lives to God, and away from ourselves.  We must be generous, and thankful and contrite.  And there is no indication that either the widow or Joan did these things with their lives (though we do not know).  But Jesus, the one who persisted, and still persists with us, would have loved and admired one singular quality about their lives - their persistence!

And he loves it when we persist as well!!

In Christ:-)

All For Now,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Trusting Your Gifts

This Labor Day weekend I celebrated by watching several uninterrupted hours of US Open Tennis on TV.  One of my favorite players was playing - Scottish born Andy Murray, who is the 9th ranked player in the world, and who finally vanquished his Russian counterpart A. Kuznetsov in the fourth set.  As Andy was playing, American commentator, Jim Courier made an interesting comment.  He said;

"Andy has some big decisions to make in his future.  If Andy wants to have a long career, he will have to ease up on the hard work.  Andy is always working out very hard in the gym.  He's always pushing himself too hard and too far.  Andy works way too hard.  Andy always says; 'I win my games because of my hard work.'  But that's not true Andy wins because of his talent.  I sometimes think that Andy doesn't trust his talent enough.  Trusting your talent is one of the great keys to success in life."

As watched Andy Murray run around the court, I noticed Jim Courier's point being played-out (no pun intended), right before my eyes.  When Andy was smiling and seeming to enjoy the game, and his God given talent, he was winning.  When Andy was angry and upset and straining, and working, he was losing.  As he was trying to push himself beyond his own talent (when he was working), he was losing.

The distinction actually reminded me a little bit of the now old movie, "Chariots of Fire" which featured two excellent but very differently motivated runners.  There was Harold Abrams who was motivated by winning and excellence.  He often came in second.  Then there was Erik Liddel, the Presbyterian minister who was motivated by God and by God's gifts in him, and the pleasure of running.  He said, "I believe the Lord made me for a purpose.  He made me for the mission but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure."  In a sense, Erik was the most successful as a runner when he was enjoying the pleasure of God's gifts through him.

Christians often refer to talent as giftedness.  According to the apostle Paul, God gives all of us separate and important gifts; "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and still to another the interpretation of tongues." (1 Cor. 12:7-10).

Distinguishing (Discernment)
Interpretation (Understanding)

These are some of the gifts of God.  And there are many more that Paul doesn't list.  One of the keys to life is figuring out what our particular gifts are.  What is not often discussed or talked about is the equal importance of not only identifying our unique gifts, but ENJOYING THEM.  And trusting in them.

For example, if a person is given is given the gift wisdom, there is nothing that can make a person more wise through hard work.  Hard work might help us to gain more information, but not wisdom.  If a person is given the gift of faith, there is nothing in hard work that can make a person more faithful.  Hard work might be the application of faith, but it does not make us more faithful.  If our gift is in distinguishing (discernment), there is nothing in hard work that will make us more distinguishing.  A therapist, for example, might get more adept through many years of work, but not more distinguishing or discerning.  And so, we must simply take pleasure in our gifts and TRUST THEM.

One of my gifts, I have been told, is in public speaking.  Working hard on my speaking can make transitions more smooth, can make illustrations more relevant, can make connection points more alive, but it cannot make my speaking any better.  Speaking is a gift.  As I have grown older, I am learning, like Andy Murray, to trust that gift, rather than simply to work it to death.

So, that's my blogpost for this LABOR DAY weekend.  Less work.  Less Labor.  More Trust.  More Pleasure in our gifts and talents.

What gifts has God given you that you need to trust more today?

All For Now,