Friday, June 19, 2009


This morning I have spent a little bit of time reading from Acts. I generally try not to write on something I just read because I like to think about it and internalize it and see how it applies. But, I'm going to ignore that rule today.

Acts is a transition book in the New Testament. It talks about the period between the death of Jesus and the time when there are established churches. It shares the accounts of the brave disciples that spread the good news of Jesus throughout the lands.

One of those accounts is about how God led Peter to an understanding that God's plan was for everyone, Jew or Gentile. Peter is in Joppa where he is staying with a tanner spreading the Word. In the middle of the day he goes up to the roof to pray and gets hungry. The he sees heaven open and "something like a large sheet" being let down that contains all sorts of "four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air." Acts 10:10-12 (NIV) When a voice tells him to get up, kill and eat, Peter protests saying "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." Acts 10:14 (NIV) Then the voice speaks to him a second time and says "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10:15 (NIV).

This happens three times. While Peter is still sitting on the roof, trying to figure out what it means, some people arrive at the house asking for him. The Lord tells Peter that men are there looking for him and that he should net hesitate to go with them. Peter then goes down and introduces himself to the men and asks why they have come.

It is then that Peter learns for the first time that they have been sent by "Cornelius the centurion" who they describe as "a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people." Acts 10:22 (NIV). They explain what we have already been told earlier in Acts, that an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter.

Again, Cornelius was centurion. Not only was he not a Jew, he was an officer in the Roman army. The brutal, occupying force that most Jews resented and despised. To put it bluntly, no good Jew would have anything to do with Cornelius. We are told that Cornelius gave money to the poor and genuinely sought God, but he was still a Roman soldier. Jews could not even enter the house of a Roman.

Nonetheless, Peter listened (again, that listening point unintentionally comes up in a post, maybe I should listen?) and goes with the men to Caesarea. Cornelius, having been told by an angel to send for Peter, knows something big is going to happen. So, he has a house full of guests. The Scripture tells us that Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends, and that it was a large gathering of people.

I can only begin to imagine the things going though Peter's mind as he walks into the house. I imagine him praying and kind of wondering "what have you gotten me into, God?" But, he walks in and says "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." Acts 10:28 (NIV) Then he asks why Cornelius sent for him. Cornelius again explains about the visit from the "man in shining clothes." When Peter next speaks, he says:

"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)

As Peter goes on talking and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes on all who heard him speaking. The Jews that had accompanied Peter are amazed that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Gentiles. Peter says "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." Then he orders that they be baptized. Acts 10:47 (NIV)

I think it is fair to say that we all carry around some personal prejudices. Some are more overt than others, but I think at some level everyone puts people into groups and makes judgments based on those groups. In some ways, this follows on my last post here - we all too often see with man's eyes, rather than God's eyes. Peter was no different. Tradition and education and church had taught him to separate things between clean and unclean, pure and impure. It made no difference if it was food or things or people. But God broke through that. God made clear that Peter should not be deciding that something was unclean - God had made it clean. How different is that from any of us? We can look around at all the sin (including our own sin) and declare people unclean. Or, we can recognize, as Jesus did while choosing to spend time with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes, that God cleans us all. That Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world - not just mine and yours, or those of people like us, but everyone's.

"God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35 (NIV) God told Cornelius, the Gentile, the Roman centurion, to call for Peter. God told Peter to go and to put aside what he had spent so much time believing (that he should not even enter the house of a Gentile). God poured out the Holy Spirit on everyone in attendance.

Shouldn't we do the same? Shouldn't we find the bravery - or more appropriately the faith - to put aside our prejudices? Shouldn't we recognize that we were all unclean until we were washed in the blood of Jesus? Shouldn't we welcome the opportunity to share the Good News with everyone, regardless of where they grew up or what they have done or where they live or who their parents were?

Just something to think about. Enjoy the weekend everybody.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Washing Cars

On Monday, my daughter and I decided to make use of part of our afternoon by washing Tracy's car and my car. We had fun doing it together. She decided that she really liked washing the tires and would focus her efforts there. She also really liked using the hose to squirt the soap off of the car. We had fun making rainbows with the spray.

The problem is that I get a little obsessed when I wash cars. I can spend hours washing, finding spots that are not clean enough and re-washing, using just water on the inside of the door frames and the thresholds, getting up inside the wheel wells and trying to get the inside of the rims. By the time I am done, I usually have cuts and scrapes and bruises all over my hands (yes, I recognize how pathetic that is, but your hands get soft when you spend most of your life in an office). Although I didn't go that crazy on Monday (I didn't have time, I had promised that we would bake and decorate a cake, too), ultimately my daughter got bored and went inside after we finished Tracy's car. So, I washed my car by myself.

Although I don't take the time all that often, I really like having clean cars. I like the way they shine and look so much better when they are clean. I feel like it is a statement of some sort. I feel like everyone sees it. I don't really worry about the inside. I mean, sure, I pick up the big pieces of trash and clean up spills and stuff like that. But I don't get much enjoyment out of vacuuming, cleaning the leather, washing the windows, using the Armor All, etc. It is not very often that anybody sees the inside of our cars anyway. Usually the only people that ride in them are family and other kids - they have already seen the mess and probably helped to make it.

In church recently we have been studying David. And, coincidentally (or maybe not, who knows), in my reading time before work I have been reading First and Second Samuel (actually, I am now in First Kings). In any event, over the last few weeks I have read and thought about the following passage from First Samuel multiple times. For people that may not be familiar with it, let me set the scene a little bit. God has sent Samuel to see Jesse in Bethlehem and to anoint one of Jesse's sons to be king. Samuel fears for his life, but listens to the Lord and goes (there is another post in there). When he arrives in Bethlehem and meets Jesse and his sons, he sees Eliab first. Immediately Samuel thinks "Surely the Lord's anointed one stands here before the Lord." 1 Samuel 16:6 (NIV). I admit that I do not know much about Eliab other than what it says right here, but Samuel obviously was impressed and thought that he looked like a good king.

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV).

I'm sure the analogy is pretty obvious (and that most people reading this saw it coming a long time ago). The way that I clean cars is seeing things the way that man sees things. It is a lot easier to focus on the things that man looks at than it is to focus on the things that God looks at. Rather than struggling to make real change of the heart, we can just try to cover it up. We can focus on keeping up a good public appearance.

It works the other way, too. Just like Samuel, it is easy to get distracted by the shiny things, the outward appearances. We tend to make a quick judgment of someone or something based on what man looks at. Just as God corrected Samuel, I think that God challenges us to look beyond what we see. I think that God desires that we learn to avoid becoming distracted by the outward appearance and to look at the heart instead.

There is a song recorded by Brandon Heath called "Give Me Your Eyes." There is a lot of great thoughts in the song, but part of the chorus really plays into what I am focused on this morning:

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity

If only we could learn to see with God's eyes and to see as God sees. And if everyone saw as God sees, maybe we would spend more time working on the inside than we spend working on the outside. Just think of how much everything would be different.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Loving Strangers

There are times in my job where I travel a fair amount. It is kind of strange - there is no pattern to it. I can go months on end in the office and then go three or four months where I am headed somewhere at least once a week (usually only for one or two nights - thankfully). So, I find myself on trains, or in planes, or sitting in an airport, fairly regularly. All of these events have one thing in common, they put me in relatively close contact with total strangers (the person in the next seat over, or whatever). And, fairly regularly, I guess because of the close quarters and shared circumstances, these total strangers want to talk.

Usually, I have no interest in talking. I want to work, or read, or really just get to wherever I am trying to go. I have a rule in those situations. If someone insists on talking to me, they have no right to the truth. My theory is that they have no right to know why I am headed to Dallas, or what I do, or whether I have any kids, or what I think about the big news story. So, I can tell them anything. It becomes a game. I can be anyone on my way to do anything - a doctor being called in for a special consult; a budding race car driver on my way to meet with potential sponsors; a professional gambler; you get the point. There is a fair amount of danger in some of these options - suppose you accidentally pick something that the person asking knows about? Well, that usually ends the fun, but it also successfully ends the conversation that I never wanted to have in the first place.

I haven't actually played this game in some time. But, for reasons that I cannot explain, I have been thinking about it a lot. I've also been thinking about another situation that I find myself in sometimes - the reception or party where I'm not particularly interested in being there. In those circumstances, I can't really just start making things up to entertain myself - these people generally have some idea of who I am, or that I am a friend of a friend, or something. But the point is the same - I'm not feeling any connection to the people, so I find a way to avoid interaction as much as possible.

In thinking about these situations, I have come to the realization that for some reason I am making a kind of value decision. While I don't really think about it this way at the time, I am making the decision for some reason that these people are not worthy of my story or my opinion or my time or my conversation. I'm deciding that I am not going to share myself with them.

Just to type it is embarrassing. I don't think of myself like that at all.

Besides, who am I to make that decision? How do I know when something that I may say may be important to someone? Perhaps more selfishly, how do I know when someone is going to share something that turns out to be incredibly important to me? What have I missed? What opportunities for growth?

What makes it worse is that I have had some amazing interactions with total strangers - conversations that make me see things in a different way; interactions that really teach me something; challenges; unexpected views of grace. And, even with these experiences, there are times when I consciously avoid them. Sad.

We are called to be in relationship with God and with one another. We are to love each other. I now recognize that I have been avoiding that when I do the things that I have discussed above. Or perhaps more accurately, I've been wanting to control it. Wanting it - like other things - on my own terms. Rather than letting God lead, I want to be in control.

Recognizing the failure is only half of the battle. I recognize and confess that it is a form of sinful pride and a failure of faith. As I said, it has been lain upon my heart for reasons that I cannot explain, but it has been there for the last few days. I trust that I was made aware of it for a reason. I've asked forgiveness and vowed to focus on the issue and do better. I write tonight as a reminder of that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Familiar Strangers

On Sunday I had the rare pleasure of about three hours driving with a friend (top down, beautiful day). She and I went to Kenya on the same trip and both share a passion for what we are part of there. In fact, we were driving to and from an organizational meeting for the US-based organization that we are forming. Most of the time when we are together for any real length of time, it is all about business - logistics for a trip; supplies; who is going; goals; dates; etc. But, on our drives on Sunday we didn't really talk all that much about Kenya, we just talked about what is going on and what we are feeling.

It was a great contrast to a phrase that our Pastor inserted into his sermon on Sunday - familiar strangers. The sermon was not directly about that point, but it was a phrase that really struck me. I wrote it down immediately. It made me kind of look around the room and think about how many people fell into that category for me. Even worse, it made me think about how few people didn't fall into that category.

Then I started carrying that phrase around with me. I've thought about it while looking around at work. I realized that the same thing is true here - most people are really nothing more than familiar strangers. I don't really know them and they don't really know me.

Why? There are people that I see most weeks at church; people that I see almost every day at the office; people I say hello to and people I talk to. But I don't really know them. At the Big Picture level, they are still strangers. What does it take to move past that? I can fall back on the pat "shared experiences" answer, but that is kind of lame. I think it takes more than that. There are a lot of people that I have spent a lot of time with and shared intense experiences with, but who I never got to know. And there are people that I hardly ever see at all, but I still feel like I know them.

I think the number one thing it takes is effort. Not that effort is enough, but it seems like a necessary first step to building the type of trust that allows people to share themselves. It is getting to the point where you are willing to take a risk and share your own vulnerabilities. It is dropping all the effort that you put forth to present an image of yourself and letting people see you. It is being honest. It is not hiding. Keeping it real.

And then working to maintain it. Making sure you have those opportunities. That you don't ignore it. That you don't lose touch or let things go by.

When you get there, the relationships are extraordinary. There is real love and caring for one another. There is a person that you can share anything with. A person that you can trust with anything. A person that can praise you and tell you when you are doing something wrong. A person that you know will always be there for you. I praise God for the gift of every one of those people in my life.

I'm finding that it is the same with God. Oh, of course He knows. There is no point in trying to hide something, but that is not the point. It is the act of affirmatively sharing it. Asking the questions. Sharing the doubts. Giving the thanks. Begging for help. Letting down your guard. Sometimes it is tempting (and easier) to try to keep Him at arm's length - a familiar stranger. "Oh sure, Jesus? Yeah, I know Him. Uh-huh." Or to ignore the relationship. To get caught up in other things. To try to figure everything out on my own, rather than going to Him. To decide that I have other stuff to do, or that I will do it later, or that I am just not feeling it, or whatever.

But, when I don't, when I get past all that, when I nurture the relationship, when I really keep it real with God - what a relationship! A friend. An advisor. Someone to share victories with (and thank for those victories). Someone to lean on when I fail. Someone to gently prod me. Someone to hold me accountable.

A relationship of love.