Sunday, April 30, 2006

See You Later, Gordon

A friend died yesterday.

I'd seen him many times on Sunday, said a brief hello. I'd stood on the sturdy wooden stage he helped build for our church play a year ago. I knew his wife and his kids pretty well. But I'd never had a conversation with Gordon until about a month ago. I'd heard Gordon was in the end stages of cancer, so I went to the family's home to see if I could help with some household duties.

We'd barely gotten past "hello" when Gordon told me the deepest longing of his soul. He said he was searching for God's purpose for him, praying to know it. He told me, "I'd just like to know what God wants me to be doing for him right now."

I wanted to say something encouraging, so I told him, "Well, Gordon, I'm sure there will be lots of projects when you get better. The church always has something that needs to be built or fixed or ... "

Gordon stopped me. "I know, and there's a lot of stuff I'd like to do if I get stronger. But what I mean is, I want to know what God would like me to do right now. If I stay sick, if I don't get better ... because I don't know whether I'll be healthy again. But I do know God can still use me. So that's what I'm praying for--that God will use me right now."

His words were profound to me. Right now. I was looking to Gordon's future, hoping and praying he would enjoy a long life. His doctors and nurses were looking to his future, and predicting death, they told Gordon to eat and do whatever he wanted, act however he desired.

Gordon was looking at the present. But he wasn't seeking last moment pleasures for himself. He wasn't trying to strike a deal with God, wasn't bargaining, "God, if you heal me, then I'll do all this stuff for you--after you make me feel better." Here was a man in terrible pain, and his greatest desire wasn't for God to take away that burden. His dying wish was to serve God.

You see, God hadn't sent me to encourage Gordon that day. God had given Gordon a message for me.

Every day, we're inundated with tasks that seem so important: get the bills paid, take out the trash, do the laundry--all the little stuff it takes to keep our lives running as smoothly as possible. We tell God, "Lord, I will give you all of my attention and all of my energy and effort ... as soon as I get some time." That happens to me a lot. As Gordon spoke to me, I realized: My life doesn't need to be in order to serve God. Things don't have to be perfect, and I don't even have to feel well to do it. God can use me right now if I let him.

Gordon was probably the only person in the world who could teach me that lesson. I would have disregarded it from anyone else, passing it off as, "They just don't understand how pressed I am for time." For Gordon, time was at a premium. There were many loose ends he wanted to tie. But he pushed that "to do" list aside and made God his top priority.

Beautifully enough, God created an opportunity for Gordon to serve him ... and a moment for me to learn.

I'm sad I won't get to learn any more lessons from Gordon. I felt a bit guilty for my sadness this morning and tried to disguise it: It seems Christians sometimes put on a false happy face when another Christian dies. We try to act joyful, to "prove" we know our loved one is in heaven and that we'll see them again someday. But inside, we're really sad because we know they won't be a part of our daily lives anymore.

I compare those feelings to when my husband and I temporarily moved from California to the Midwest. I knew we'd return to California someday, that we'd see our family and friends again, but I didn't know when. It made me sad that we'd be apart from our loved ones for a while, even with the certainty of being reunited one day.

So I think it's OK to miss Gordon, even as I look toward the day when I'll see him again. It's a sad parting, but not a goodbye. With hope and confidence, I can say, "Gordon, I'll see ya later."

To ponder:
Had a recent conversation you can't get out of your head? Pray about it: God may be trying to tell you something.

2) We often think of God speaking to us through words. Have you experienced non-verbal moments when you know God is speaking to you?

3) What makes you feel like God is real? (Some examples: seeing the mountains, hearing a laugh, giving/getting a hug, eating something delicious when you're hungry, smelling a flower, holding a baby.)

4) We communicate non-verbally with other people all the time, and God can use all of your senses to speak to you, too. Do you allow God to "talk" to you this way?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Christian Yoga": Is it a Bit of a Stretch?

"If you take a tree and chop off its roots, then you don't have a tree, do you?"

--Subhas Tiwaris, a professor of yoga philosophy, speaking on ABC's World News Tonight on the trend of so-called "Christian yoga." Creators of Christian yoga programs say they have extracted the Hindu elements from traditional yoga and replaced these with Christian spirituality. Tiwaris maintains it is impossible to remove Hinduism from yoga because yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice.

Full story:
Yoga With a Christian Bent

The Truth About Yoga
Yoga led Laurette Willis into a New Age lifestyle. Now she's warning others of the spiritual pitfalls—and offering an alternative.

Yes to Yoga
Can a Christian breathe air that has been offered to idols?

Take a Pass on Yoga
How can I support a practice that is targeting the young and the weak?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Worshiping God to Secular Tunes: How Hoobastank Takes Me to the Throne

I've been told there's some great worship music on secular radio stations. And up until recently, I never understood that.

Let me explain: Some Christians can worship God while listening to a secular tune. In other words, a song that isn't written and performed by a Christian group. A song without any lyrics about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Or even words like "cross," "Bible," or "savior." Whoa, Nelly!

As I mentioned, I previous believed this was quite impossible.

MercyMe, Steven Curtis Chapman, Avalon, Rebecca St. James. They can all take me to the throne.

But a mainstream artist? A Top 40, non-Christian artist? Never.

Or so I thought.

I first heard about this concept when I was a young lass of about 15. Jim, a volunteer youth leader at my church, said he loved to worship to a Heart song, "Alone." Jim said it was like God's love song, expressing how God longs for us to have a singular relationship with him. As a teenager, I found this incredibly goofy. I listened to "Alone" and didn't hear any of that.

Through the years, I heard other people mention their love of secular "worship" songs. Then a few years ago, I walked into a church and recognized a familiar tune being played by the worship team:

However far away ... I will always love you ...

Huh? They were playing a secular song?!?

However long I stay ... I will always love you ...

During worship time! In a Sunday service!

Whatever words I say ... I will always love you. I will always love you.

It was The Cure's "Lovesong." People were raising their hands and lifting their voices in full praise-and-worship mode. And while the song didn't rouse any deep emotional response in my heart, I started to get it. I saw how people were connecting God's love with this secular song--and turning it into a worship song.

Jump forward a few months. Hoobastank's song "The Reason" was playing on the radio every five minutes. The first few times I heard the song, I had no idea what they were singing about. You know what I mean--when a song comes on your car radio that you absolutely love, and you sing along regardless of whether you know the real lyrics. It's like a really bad jazz scat: "Mm bah ahn um dah love ya ... ohh wee doo da I dooo ... wah wah doo nah nah LOVE YA!"

I enjoyed the song so much, I decided to look up the lyrics on the Internet. It almost knocked the breath out of me:

I've found a reason for me

To change who I used to be
A reason to start over new
And the reason is you

At that moment, Hoobastank took me to the throne in a way I'd never before experienced. I understood completely what Jim had been talking about with his Heart song, why the people in that church had raised their hands to "Lovesong."

"The Reason," a secular love song, was pouring out words I wanted to say to God.

Tears slid down my cheeks as I sang each line softly, with every word directed up to God. "The Reason" is about letting down the person you love most, hurting them horribly. Yet they give you another chance, and you're ready to change because you love them so much. It was my life experience to a T.

So I don't make fun of people anymore when they say they're worshiping to a secular song. At least, I try not to. I sometimes think about Jim crooning to "Alone" in his pitchy, crackling voice, and it makes me grin. It's a funny--and beautiful--picture in my mind.

To ponder:
1) Is there a secular song that speaks deeply to you about your relationship with God? Why does it move you?

2) Have you ever dismissed someone else's spiritual experience as silly or odd? Why do you think you dismissed it (e.g. you didn't understand, didn't think it was an experience you'd want or could have personally)?

3) What are some of your favorite activities (e.g. surfing the Internet, talking on the phone, journaling, hiking, listening to music)? These may be great ways for you to spend time with God.

For example, if you enjoy talking on the phone, make a "prayer appointment" with a friend, and pray for each other over the line. If you like using your computer, look for online devotions that interest you. Here are some sites to check out:

For women:

For men:

For families:

For teens:

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When You Can't Shake That Sin, Confess It to a Friend


Uggh. It's one of those words many Protestants dismiss even before they hear it. And we have our reasons:

"That's a Catholic thing."

"Confession is a private matter between an individual and God."

"A human being can't forgive sin."

"Christians should only confess to Jesus because he is our high priest."

But are we missing out on something awesome when we refuse to confess to one another? Are Protestants, in associating this practice only with the Catholic church, dismissing important New Testament instruction?

I recently read about the concept of corporate confession in Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline." Foster states confession shouldn't be an "either/or" situation of choosing between confession to God or confession to other Christians. Rather, he says, it should be both:

"We are grateful for the biblical teaching, underscored in the Reformation, that 'there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ' (1 Timothy 2:5). We are also grateful for the biblical teaching, newly appreciated in our day, to 'confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another . . . ' (James 5:16). Both are found in Scripture and neither needs to exclude the other."

At first glance, the idea of confessing to another person seemed way weird to me. Was I supposed to make an appointment with my pastor to tell him who I was hating this week? Or have the church elders pray over me every time I silently swore at the crazy drivers on the freeway?

As usual, I needed God to knock the sarcasm out of me by giving me a healthy dose of reality. So, on a typical day of my life, he showed me the meaning of corporate confession.

A conversation with a single friend (I'll call her Linda) turned to the topic of dating. Linda told me she held on to the memories of an ex-boyfriend, even though he was now married. This caused her a great deal of pain. She'd prayed repeatedly God would help her let go.

Later that afternoon, I called another friend (I'll call her Janice) who'd had an experience similar to Linda's. Janice had struggled to let go of a past relationship for many years. Janice had dated other men, been to counseling, and regularly vented to friends, but the memories and pain from that old relationship never seemed to go away. She'd prayed daily with the same request: "God, please heal the pain from this former relationship so I can move on."

Janice had prayed again a few weeks before our phone conversation. But this time, she'd changed her prayer. Instead of asking God to heal her, she prayed, "God, please let me find another woman who is struggling with the pain of a broken relationship, so that I can pray for her." Immediately, all the hurt and frustration Janice had felt for years lifted from her. She felt physically lighter, as if someone had removed a backpack full of rocks from her shoulders.

I didn't know about Janice's prayer until after I told her about Linda's struggles. Janice committed to pray for Linda right then and there. These two women live in two different states and may never meet. Yet now they have a bond of prayer and support between them. And I got super blessed by being their link.

You might ask, "What do painful break-ups have to do with confession? How does having that hurt have anything to do with sin?"

Both Linda and Janice were holding on to pain, and while they'd both prayed for healing, they still struggled to let go, to truly give the pain and the past to God. Haven't we all been through this: A friend or loved one hurts us, and though we want to stop hurting, we cling to anger, resentment, and self-pity. We feel entitled to our hurt, even though we know God has something better for us.

When Janice confessed her hurt to me years ago, I was able to start praying for her. There wasn't an instant healing, but God used this back then to show Janice she was supported and loved. Then he used it again to connect her with Linda.

This is all a lot easier than it sounds. It's difficult to share our struggles because we think others might judge us. They might not understand our situation. They might offer unwanted advice. Sometimes, we're just too ashamed.

I had a certain sin in my past that I'd confessed to God long ago. On one level, I knew I was forgiven. But I still felt ashamed for this particular sin until, 10 years later, I met a woman who'd been through the same thing. By simply admitting it out loud to her, that sin was no longer hidden. I immediately felt set free. Today, I've written several stories about that situation and told the story to audiences. I tell it in hopes of offering freedom to others who feel ashamed.

Is there an ongoing sin in your life you've prayed about, but it seems like it will never go away? Or maybe there's a skeleton in your closet you've told God about, but you're still afraid someone will open the closet door. Perhaps there's pain in your life that never seems to go away, no matter how much you pray. Maybe it's time to confess that to a Christian friend. God may well use your friend to show you the love and compassion he has for you.

To ponder:
Think about the friends with whom you share openly. What are the qualities they have that makes it safe and easy for you to share?

2) Of the qualities you listed for the above question, which do you have? Which do you need to work on?

3) What's your biggest obstacle to confessing to a friend?

4) Think about a situation you shared with a friend, or a time you asked a friend to pray for you. What happened? Did it make it easier or more difficult to talk with someone the next time around?

5) Do you feel at ease with the concept of confessing to both God and to other Christians? Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Scientists Question Whether Jesus Walked on Water or Ice

Here we go again.

A team of scientists has proposed Jesus could have walked on a patch of floating ice in the Sea of Galilee. They are stating this is a possible explanation for the biblical story of Jesus walking on water.

The team reviewed temperature records of the Mediterranean Sea surface, and used analytical ice and statistical models in a study of 10,000 square feet on what is now known as Lake Kinneret in northern Israel. Their conclusion: Ice patches may have formed there during the decades in which Jesus lived.

They also determined the chance of ice patches forming in this area today is essentially zero. So much for putting the theory to the test.

Every few years, a study comes out that either seeks to explain the science behind a biblical story or to dismiss it as fiction. And puts the point right out there: Within their report on the ice theory, they link to a live vote with the question, "What's your view on the accuracy of the Bible?"

It seems every scientific study related to the Bible comes back to this question. The current results of MSNBC's unscientific poll:
  • 35 percent "Every detail is literally true."
  • 34 percent "Some details may be inaccurate or exaggerated, but the fundamentals are true."
  • 26 percent "The Bible is fundamentally fiction, incorporating some historical facts."
  • 5 percent "None of the above."

Another study rocked my faith a decade ago. A reputable news magazine published a piece in which historians postulated Jesus never called himself the Son of God or the Messiah. I was at a place in my life where I didn't want to need Jesus anymore, and that study was all the incentive I needed to kick him to the curb. It took many years to restore my faith in who Jesus is, and many years to heal the damage of a fly-by-night theory.

These days, when I read these studies, I ask myself one question of basic logic:

"Who ya gonna believe, a smart man ... or an all-knowing God?"

I have to trust the Bible isn't called the "Word of God" for nothing. I can't image God would allow humans to trounce around referring to a book as His Words for thousands of years if it wasn't true. So if I believe in God, I ought to believe in his book, too.

It would be an outright lie to say I never doubt the Bible or God. Doubt is vital in my life. It forces me to face off with hard questions, and through probing study and prayer, I get spiritually stronger. Even when I don't reach 100-percent clarity, struggling with an issue always reaffirms two things: 1) God is way smarter than all us humans put together; and 2) I'm not God, so I don't need to have every answer right now. (Though I fully intend to ask him for some answers when I meet him later.)

When I'm facing doubts, it's edifying to hear the stories of other Christians, why they believe as they do. And it helps to recount my own story of faith, too.

In fact, a friend asked me this week to share why I stopped believing in Jesus at one point, and how I came to trust in him again. It reminded me of that old news article, how it affected me so many years ago. Nobody's talking about that old article anymore, but the Bible is still in full-force ... and thus, understandably, still under fire.

To ponder:
At those times when you doubt your faith, what do you do?

2) Do you believe the Bible is literal and accurate? What are the reasons for your thoughts on this?

3) Is there a particular portion of the Bible or a story you struggle to see as factual? What has caused you to struggle with this?

4) What caused you to become a Christian? Think about every detail leading up to this decision.

Monday, April 03, 2006

'God or the Girl' Airs Easter Sunday

From its title, there was speculation A&E's new reality series would be "Temptation Island" for Catholics.

Rather, "God or the Girl" follows four young men who are trying to decide whether to become priests. All of the men have girlfriends, and the show is said to explore their struggle between moving toward the priesthood or toward married life.

I'm not Catholic, but the show's title does elicit an eye roll.
Or two. Early on, speculation arose that "God or the Girl" would show candidates for the priesthood being tempted by the opposite sex (several episodes have since been released to the media, proving this notion false ... so far). Neither A&E or the show's creator, The Idea Factory, made any attempt to diffuse those initial rumors.

And, by premiering the show on April 16, Easter Sunday, the network apparently is enjoying the controversy.

Would-Be Priests Choose 'God or the Girl' on TV,
Sort Of

Casting Call for Seekers: Producers at The Idea Factory have created a new cable series, "Conversion," which will follow participants as they change religions or join one for the first time.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Aw, Shucks: Are Americans Getting More Swearful?

Have you said the F-word today?

According to an Associated Press/Ipsos poll on profanity released earlier this week, 15 percent of the 1,001 respondents said they use the F-word at least once daily. Slightly more than a third (35 percent) said they never, ever use the F-word. Let me break this down for you: That means the vast majority use the F-word at least once in awhile. This is the F-word we're talking about--the one that would have gotten me slapped, spanked, and soaped by both my mother and father, just for starters.

The Associated Press referenced the poll to come to this shocking conclusion: Americans are swearing more than ever.

OK, so it's not shocking to any of us. And maybe that's part of the problem.

We've gotten so used to hearing synonyms of "butt" and "poop" on TV, it doesn't even register a blip on our morality radar. (Not to mention our great-grandparents would have fallen into a dead faint on hearing the words "butt" or "poop.") And who bats an eyelash when God's name is tossed around as lightly and commonly as a comma in a sentence?

Lest I get too high and mighty myself, I'll admit I sometimes drop the C-word (one of those "poop" synonyms) when I'm angry. Or sad. Or bored. Or hungry. People laugh at me for thinking it's a swear word. But when that word slips past my lips, it troubles me deeply. I think to this Bible verse:

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14

I know both the word and the sentiment in my heart aren't pleasing to God. So why do I say it?

Some interesting findings from the AP/Ipsos poll:

  • 74 percent of respondents reported they frequently or occasionally encounter people swearing in public.
  • 87 percent say it bothers them when people swear (to varying degrees: 36 percent said it bothers them "a lot"; 31 percent said "some"; 20 percent said "a little").
  • And yet, 79 percent say they use profanity themselves, in varying amounts, from "a few times a year" to "several times a day."

(Personally, I'd like to see demographics for those who use the F-word at least three times in each sentence. They must all live near me because I seem to run into them every day. But now I'm just talking foolish, so I'd better get back to the point.)

I guess I've gotten into the habit of using a swear word to describe my feelings. I have plenty of words at my disposal that are far more specific and telling, and using them doesn't require any extra effort. Honestly, it's just such naughty fun to let a curse word fly. I'm being a rebel, breaking the rules, walking my own path ...

Wait a minute. Seventy-nine percent of those polled said they use profanity ... I'm not walking my own path. I'm just being foolish along with everybody else.

The truly unique path--and the hardest one to walk--is the way of the Cross. On April 1, this day we dedicate to all things foolish, here are some wise words to ponder from the Wisest One:

Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. Proverbs 10:13-15

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. Proverbs 21:22-24

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:22-24

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:28-30

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:9-11

The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. Psalm 37:29-31