Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Only the Details Have Changed...Have I?

A woman celebrating 24-years drug-free stood up at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that I was attending with a very good friend of mine (who was himself celebrating a courageous 90-days of life drug-free).


She shared that she started using chemical substances when she was 15, and had walked into the life-rescuing doors of NA when she was 21. And it had hit her that morning...she has been sober 4 times as long as she was a user. Cool birthday, huh?


But what cut me to the heart, causing my own self-examination, was what she shared next.


She said, "I was thinking about how screwed up I was when I walked in these doors 24 years ago. And tonight, all I can think about is how screwed up I still am now. Don't get me wrong, the message we live works (if you work the message), but what I am opening up to in this realization is that I don't have a drug problem (he who has ears, let him hear), I have a living problem."


She said some more stuff, but I was drifting off on the truth of this for me. Wow, me too. I have a living problem.


This all came to mind today because I opened up my journal archives and found this little piece below from about this time 4-years ago in 2004. I'm sad to say that I'm still a novice at the inner life. And I'm sad to say that while I have taken some ground on the list of outward things that were a distraction then then, I've replaced them with what I consider in some ways to be an even "shallower" list now.  


I want to eat what I want to eat, with no adverse consequences.

I want to change the world by doing what I'm doing, with no major changes.

I want to rest when I'm tired, with no exceptions.

I want to exercise if I feel like it, and still progress physically.

I want to have oneness with God, and I want it to come effortlessly.

I want my wife and kids to think I'm the greatest, whether I am or not.

I want intimate, mutually transforming friendships, and I want them to conveniently fit into my routine. 


I'm still a novice at the inner life, which I must admit that even the dabbling that I have done in it has produced the greatest treasures and advancements of my life. But when I look at how focused on external things I was then, and how much I'm focused on external things now...I realize...right along with my sister at the NA meeting...


I have a living problem.


I love you all. And most of you know me enough to know that what was true then is still true now...and paradoxical and difficult as this living in two worlds is...I love this.


Here's the piece from 2004...



 “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” – King David


“Spiritual people can quickly withdraw inwardly because they never totally give themselves over to outward things.” – Thomas a’ Kempis


“People are hindered and distracted in proportion to how much they involve themselves in external matters.” – Thomas a’ Kempis


“In my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body.”St. Paul


“With people, there is the way things really are, and there is the way things are said or seem to be, and they rarely match. Some understand this reality in themselves enough to notice the difference between the two in others.” – Yours Truly


“Your beauty should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.”St. Peter


I am a novice at the inner life. I am still too focused on sharing what I find there immediately with those around me to stay there long enough to enjoy its treasures simply for myself and my God. I am still given over to outward things. Namely…


I want to be respected by people I respect.

I want to be trusted by people I love.

I want to be physically comfortable.

I want to be emotionally comfortable.

I want to be a doer.

I want to see results of my effort with my eyes.

I want to make an eternal difference in people.


All of these things take effort. Outward effort. And frankly, they are easier treasures to get than the inward ones.


What is your list? What are the outward things that are so worthwhile that you see the inward life as something that is “impractical” or “only meant for a few”?


I’m a novice at the inner life, like I said, and while I’m drawn to it these days, I’m scared of what it will cost. My extroversion? My energy? My playfulness? My people skills? These are fears that keep me from getting before God every day. My flesh says that the inner life is boring, no fun, stoic, and reclusive behavior. But my spirit jumps to life when I “go there”, has fun, is fully engaged, and breaths new life and love into my relationships “out here”.


We’re stuck between two worlds in this life, aren’t we? I love this.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Semper Fi

"I've started realizing that boot camp is about challenging you beyond where you've ever been challenged, in every aspect, and instilling in you the drive to push through it." - my friend Kevin Parish, in a letter he wrote to me from his training to be a United States Marine
"So far, I've been more tired, more sore, more frustrated than I think I ever have been, but I'm starting to feel like there's not much they could throw at us that I couldn't handle. It's pretty amazing." - My friend Kevin...a little bit later in the same letter
Kevin has been a special gift to me from God since I met him when he was in elementary school. He continues to be one to me now.
He speaks of and understands boot camp as I desire to speak of and understand life.
I feel like life is about challenging us beyond where we've ever been challenged, and that generally speaking, there are two kinds of people: the kind that do all that they can to avoid such tiring, soreness-producing, frustrating circumstances and those that embrace the circumstances and if they are wise, learn to love the challenges to the point of even being eager for them...signing up for them when given the opportunity.
If someone can embrace life on these terms (as a challenge to shape and mature them), then they avoid suffering far more effectively than those who actually make the avoidance of suffering (their comfort) their goal.
It's so ironic. 
Kevin did that, in a way, by signing up for the Marines. He chose suffering. Sure didn't have to. He has a college degree, is very gifted and intelligent, has a loving mom and dad that care about him deeply, and resources, relationships and talents that give him many options. But he chose the Marines, with eyes wide open, for exactly what he is getting...circumstances that challenge him to mature, be shaped, and grow.
I agree with him. It's pretty amazing. 
He told me there are 11 Leadership Principles that drive the U.S. Marines training philosophy:
1. Be technically and tactically sound.
2. Know yourself and seek self-improvement
3. Know your Marines and look out for their welfare.
4. Keep your Marines informed.
5. Set the example.
6. Insure that the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished.
7. Train your Marines as a team.
8. Make sound and timely decisions.
9. Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates.
10. Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities.
11. Take responsibility for your actions.
These principles are nothing but a list of principles for the casual reader of them. But to Marines, who have chosen to be trained in the fire of these principles, they run very deep. They are actually adjusting their lives, feelings, motivations, intentions, and perspective on everything in order to  conform to them.
As I read through them, I realized I could probably find a Bible verse, if not an actual teaching of Jesus himself, that pretty much embodies each principle. Those verses are nothing but a list of verses for the casual reader of them. But to Christ-followers, who chosen to be trained in the fire of Christ's values, the run very deep. They actually adjusting their lives, feelings, motivations, intentions, and perspective on everything in order to conform to him.
Semper Fi means "always faithful". It's a mantra of the Marines.
I'm not a Marine. But I'm one with the intensity of the Marines for their values and to their values. My values come from Christ...and I'm striving, also, to be always faithful.
Semper Fi.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Are they Christian's or not?

"Pakistan and India have spent so much time disputing their borders in Kashmir that they don't have the wherewithal to learn how to operate as neighbors. If they would learn to operate as neighbors, they would have the relationship with which to resolve the disputed borders." - Yours truly, after reading an article in Time magazine yesterday on the issue
"Love your neighbor as yourself." - Jesus, when summarizing the point of all of God's laws
"Who is my neighbor?" - a listener of Jesus, asking the fair and obvious next question.
"Everyone." - My summary of Jesus' answer to that listener
If a group of people in Zimbabwe are feeding the widows and orphans of their nation, preaching the name of Jesus Christ, and then bowing down to Allah 5 times a day in the direction of Mecca for prayer...are they Christian's or not?
If a group of people in Nepal are giving to the poor and needy, living and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and hanging up prayer flags daily to pray to the Hindu god Shiva...are they Christian's or not?
If a group of people in China are spreading the message of Jesus Christ house to house, depending on God in prayer, but do not sing songs to God in their worship gatherings...are they Christian's or not?
If a group of people in Egypt live perfectly moral and upright lives, and do everything they can find in the Bible what the first century church did during their worship gatherings, and are careful to do nothing more or less, and do so faithfully, but never speak of Jesus Christ to anyone but each other...are they Christian's or not?
If a group of people in Amarillo meet weekly in order to share each other's stories for purpose of knowing one another deeply enough to take off the masks and help each other become more like Christ, but they never sing at their gatherings, take the Lord's supper, and sometimes they don't even pray...are they Christian's or not?
"Who is my brother?" is one of the titles of a book written by a wonderful man in the fellowship of Churches that I call home. The title articulates a question that has dominated the minds of my "tribe" of Christ followers (and others as well) for many, many decades. It seems to me that we have "disputed our borders" with such zeal and commitment that we have an undeveloped (at least underdeveloped) capacity for being neighbors.
I'm totally done with that, in all honesty. Maybe a better way to say it, I'm free from all that. 
I call all human beings my brothers and sisters. I spend zero time trying to treat anyone as anything other than family (yes, in Christ). Every human I meet is at a remarkably different level of awareness about our oneness in Christ, and this affects greatly how they live, how they respond to my love and acceptance, and what the parameters of our relationship ends up looking like practically in the day to day.
I love them all the way I want to be loved. Looking for the good and true in them, finding our common ground there (no matter how small or hidden, it is there), enjoying the fellowship that comes from that, and then letting our differences be explored by each other as we live and pursue life to the full.  
The questions "Are they Christian's or not" or "Who is my brother?" -- questions that have been the subject of countless debates, tens of thousands of hours of back-breaking Bible study, the source of an embarrassingly large amount of disunity and division among well-intentioned Christ followers -- as it turns out, are questions whose answers are COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY TO KNOW and USELESS in following Christ, in sharing Christ, and in ushering in the Kingdom of Christ.
Who knew?  
We can debate this all we want (and I have within me more zealously than I ever with another human being), but I have lived both lives. And I can tell you this - the life I lived that thought it necessary to distinguish between "Christian or not" left me in the company of Christians debating it. The life I now live in which I spend zero time figuring that out, and all my time loving all people as brothers and sisters in Christ, leaves me meeting lost people (in and outside the church) who are VOLUNTEERING to learn the message of Christ. Seriously, there are some weeks that I meet a new a person who is looking for life every day. I'm not exaggerating.
And I'll tell ya...the Bible's message starts really jumping out at me when I live this way. It is humbling. It is lively. It is the good fight. It is grace.
So, my call of the day to the world of Christians - bypass all unnecessary questions and ask the one that will put you in alignment with the God of the Universe, who's agenda is to break into the this world of people and rescue their hearts from darkness (which is very real) and bring them into light (which is also very real) - ask the question, "Who am I to love as a brother today?"