Friday, December 30, 2011

POEM: Love at Christmas

I guess we must love our students.
We came around the world to meet them.
At this season we miss the friends and family left behind
We are tired of people staring at us everywhere.
Our contract says a year or two, but we
Try not to think about the length of time
Try just to think about each day, each student.

I guess God loves us.
He came down to the world to meet us.
At this season He probably missed His home in heaven
And was tired of people staring at him everywhere.
His contract said 33 years, and then execution.
He didn't worry about the future, just took each day
As it came, sweating and crying, loving each person
That He had made.

-Written at Christmas 2007, in China

Thursday, December 29, 2011

POEM: On the Eve of Christmas

Here on the Eve of Christmas,
Here we kneel and look up at the stars.
They look back at us, the same eyes
That gazed down on Bethlehem
A few nights ago when You
Were born.
Great God,
Star-maker, sea-maker
Wind-maker, us-maker,
Unconstrained by the galaxies
You squeezed through her birth canal
And cried your first breaths in our sooty world.
And here, kneeling on the Eve of Christmas,
We thank you for coming to us in our distress.
-Written in 2006, in China

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Legend of the Prisoners' Violin

The cells were cold. That's why the prisoners were curled in balls on the bare wooden cots. Even the ones who weren't afraid curled up. The guards were miserable as well, even with layers of thick woolen clothing. If a prisoner began groaning through his teeth, though, a guard would beat on the bars of the cell and shout, "Shut up!" If the groaning continued, guards would enter and beat the prisoner senseless and once again there would be quiet.

For several weeks now the prison had a deathly stillness and quiet to it. Only the occasional echoing footsteps of the guards relieved the utter silence, and that sound was not one to comfort those who lay, waiting for they knew not what. One morning, in March, with the chill still deep in the aching backs and bones of the trembling prisoners, a sound began. It was a distant tuning of violin strings.

In any other place in the busy world, it might have been ignored, but here the sound was cherished as though it were gold, or as though it were the only plate of food left in the whole world. Their ears strained eagerly at the sound, and gaunt eyes grew wide some moments later when the violin strings sang into life. A bow stroked them, their tight wires suddenly humming and wailing. Guards' footsteps began marching restlessly up and down the corridors, searching for the source of the music. The string music blossomed into life then, beautiful delicate cantatas, long glorious lines from old masters, sometimes sliding into cheeky folk dances or long melancholy tunes. All day long the violin music filled the echoing cells as tears poured down from the eyes of the huddled prisoners.

Guards searched every floor from basement to attic, and roamed outside the dank prison, searching for the violin player, but were frustrated. At eight p.m. that evening, after having eaten their bowls of tastless gruel, the prisoners lay still again as the violin quieted its tone. It played old wistful tunes and then sank into infinitely peaceful reveries, calming even the guards' nerves, frazzled as they were. The prisoners sank into sleep, one by one, and dreamed happy dreams of hope that night, some for the first time in years. In the morning they awoke to quiet, and many sat up in bed, staring, waiting, almost not breathing.

As the sun slowly turned their tiny cell windows into brighter boxes above them, a distant tuning of violin strings began again. Smiles leaped onto stretched faces bony with sorrow. Eyes brightened. Many stood to their feet and began pacing their cells with new-found energy. All day that day, and the next, and the next, the music continued, every day different, though sometimes replaying old tunes again like old friends come to visit. And in fact it was as though a best friend had come into their cell, and held their hands, talked with them, looked them in the eye, even danced with them.

The guards never found where the music emanated from. They tried once forcing the prisoners to wear ear-plugs, but it proved impossible to enforce. The guards themselves for the most part became somewhat kinder and more good-natured under the music's influence. The only sad note to the whole miraculous affair was that after some months certain prisoners began to take the music for granted, which means they stopped listening and appreciating. But most clung every day to the bright glory they heard, kissing its lips in their heart as though it were an angel from God. And perhaps it was.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

POEM: Via Dolorosa

The way of God leads not often to success
To laughs and high fives and roaring engines
To over-confidence and standing ovations.

No. Not yet.

The way of God is often found in tears
In crushing burdens and embarrassments
In disease and quiet desperations.

This is a mystery

Why God, who wishes us to be like Him
Leads us to immortality and life
By breaking us into sobs

Dismantling us into disappointments
Tearing down what we have built
Until only anguish and joy remain.

This is the secret way
Overlooked by kings and bishops
The trail of tears

But look right here in the dusty path--
Footprints and drag marks of a cross.

Monday, November 28, 2011

POEM: Portrait of a Dead Woman

Toenails yellowed and still growing after death
Legs bare and hanging over the bed edge
Grey skin flapped limply from the bones
Her arms as thin as curtain rods folded cross her chest
As though she was still cold

Shoulder blades like plows
Facial skin sunken in her skull like cloth
Teeth yawing like a town fool
Blue eyes staring a little too widely up
But hair--ah, the hair still braided prettily.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

POEM: Naughty Divinity

Someone seems to have gone to so much trouble
To give us these sexual urges, to heavily wire
And drug us to be driven crazy with longing for another,
Pulled bodily from our self pre-occupation to be consumed by fire.

Oh the wicked goodness of God!
To leave a boy so disturbed and dizzy at the curves of a girl
To leave the girl this breathless at the nearness of the boy...
What naughty divinity to spin our brains in such a whirl!

How much trouble our heavenly Father spent
To rig us as the most complicated bombs in history
To set off a hundred timers and inject the love cocaine
To tighten muscles and flood the brain with consummate chemistry

So that even our bones ache with desire
And love wins and God lifts us higher.

Friday, November 25, 2011

POEM: Tasting God

Sometimes we flee from God
Down the alleys of our busyness
Like fat children chasing cookies going stale
But oh when we turn back to face the Sun
His great good lips kiss us
With a taste like cantelope, ripe and sweet
And tears rise to rinse away our scabs
And rest settles on our hearts like morning dew
And such hunger, and such desire as we never felt before
The presence of God known to far too few.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pondering the Lord's Prayer

Jesus himself taught us how to pray. He gave us a model which we call "The Lord's Prayer." I prayed his prayer almost every evening for one year of my life, kneeling by my bed before sleeping. I tried to pray it and mean each line. That was a few years ago, but in that year his prayer changed some of my perspectives.

I learned that our prayers should not only be about our personal concerns and desires, but about God's concerns and desires. In the ancient Jewish language, the word prayer symbolized turning the head toward God. It means turning our hearts and minds to face him. Prayer means talking with God and learning to think about our life as God thinks about it.

The Lord's Prayer is a prime example. It lifts up our faces to God and to some extent makes us forget ourselves. But there's a big problem many people have when they pray the Lord's prayer. They pray the prayer quickly, like a magic formula, or like mindless propaganda that everyone simply parrots. Instead when we pray, we should think about each sentence and speak it to God with all our hearts.

This is the prayer Jesus gave us, as recorded in Matthew chapter 6 (there's another version of it in Luke 11). Here it's translated into English in the New Living Translation. It is quite short and powerful. It is almost an outline of topics we could delve into, and yet it is a personal prayer to our Father.

Our Father in heaven,
May your name be honored.
May your kingdom come soon,
May your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven.
Give us our food for today,
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

         For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen!

Here are a few simple thoughts to help us dig a little deeper into his model prayer.

Our Father in heaven -- We must remember that God is real, and that he exists in a place of light very different from the darkness of the world we see. And as we pray this we remember that He is our Father, who greatly cares for us and closely relates to us as His children.

May your name be honored -- Because He is our perfect parent, we desire that God should get all the respect He deserves. We feel upset when Christians smear his name with their actions, or when we do it ourselves. We want His name to be respected by all people, for who is as great and righteous and wise and strong and loving as God? We want His name to be honored first in our own heart and life.

May your kingdom come soon -- God is the heavenly power in a higher dimension. This tiny earth is in many ways a dark place full of selfish actions and harsh reality. So we ask God to bring His kingdom from His higher realms here to the earth. One day God will in fact come back to rule the earth directly. But even now we want all people to obey our true King. It begins in our own hearts of course. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you." And, "The kingdom of heaven is like a little seed that grows into a great tree."

May your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven -- In heaven, there is justice. There is great joy and compassion. In heaven there are no people hungry or miserable or angry with each other. In heaven when God gives a command, all the angels and others hurry to obey it. Now we ask God that His will would be done here on our rebellious earth as it is in heaven. We ask that the poor would be cared for, that orphans would be loved, that people would be humble and forgive each other and stop fighting, that workers would be responsible and bosses would be honest. And that we personally would do God's will.

Give us our food for today -- What do we really need? Our needs are actually very few. (Luke 10:42: "There are only a few things we need, really only one.") We are allowed to ask the Lord of heaven to provide us with the things we really need. Thankfully, He knows what we need even before we ask him, but when we ask him he is pleased to give it to us. We may wonder sometimes why He doesn't give us what we need always at the moment we expect it, but instead chooses to wait for His own strange times and ways. But later we clearly see His wise plan and great care for us.

And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us -- This is an urgent part of being a disciple of Jesus. It is very important because it is one of the hardest things we must do to be like Jesus. When he was dying on the cross he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." It is extremely difficult to forgive someone who steps on our toes, cheats us, or hurts us deeply. Why should we forgive these miscreants? (Jesus tells an important story about that in Matthew 18:21-35.) Here within this prayer itself Jesus wants us to remember that if we do not forgive those who wrong us, God will not forgive us. Although we don't always realize it, our wrongs against God are a great mountain. Our Father's strong desire is that we will forgive even our enemies. He wants all his true children to learn to act like their older brother, Jesus. It's my belief this act of forgiving others to be forgiven is something like a natural law, like the fact that you cannot look down and look up at the same time. So pray for grace to forgive!

And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one -- Jesus elsewhere warned his disciples, "Pray lest you enter into temptation."  Many translations also put this line of the prayer this way: "And lead us not into temptation." The older I get the more I think we really are like sheep. We go astray so easily.  I had a chance to ponder that the same year I prayed the Lord's Prayer in the evening, as I often prayed Psalm 23 in the morning to comfort me and give me strength to face the day. We do need the Lord as our shepherd to guide our feet in the good way.

Although we often worry and pray about our physical health and safety, actually the much greater dangers are the temptations and evil that can enter our soul. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Jesus asked. The devil is like a lion or wolf always searching for ways to trick us away from God. He may bring a good-looking or charming friend into our life who draws us away from Christ. He may distract us with worries and problems or teach us to value career and family more than God. But in the end God is greater than all of these. God Himself made our heart and he knows us more deeply than our family ever will, and He can care for us better than we can care for ourselves. We need to be like sheep and call to the shepherd to guide us safely into the way of life. And notice that Jesus' prayer has only one short line praying for our bodily health and prosperity (daily bread) and two long lines praying for the health of our souls.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and glory forever! -- Early Christians often added these last words, drawn from other parts of the Bible, at the end of Jesus' prayer. God's kingdom is not yet visible, but it is already powerful. By His power God has made all things, and He lives forever in glorious and unapproachable light. All who come near him fall on their faces and cry aloud, and even His enemies will kiss his feet. All honor and praise belongs to the only true God, our dear Father in heaven!

Amen -- Amen is an ancient Hebrew word that means "I agree, it is true."

- - - - - - - - - - -

In summary, Jesus teaches us in this prayer that we can use few words, but we should mean the words we say. He shows us that our eyes should be lifted up to God, putting him first, learning to think about our life from God's perspective, not our own. Jesus' prayer is quite worthwhile to pray if we take the time to ponder it and mean every word we say.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Comments Welcome

Dear readers,

I found a setting on my blog that should allow you to comment. I think before the blog was automatically set to be picky about who could post comments.  I just found the default setting and changed it!!  God bless you. Comment away.  


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Pleasure

I was watching a reality show on MTV a few weeks ago about an overweight girl trying to lose weight (maybe it was "I Used to Be Fat").  It was surprisingly sensitive and well-done. Anyway, I was amused at one point when the girl was going through a Chick-Fil-A drive through. She whispered to the camera: "I love going to Chick-Fil-A because every time you say 'thank you' they have to say 'My Pleasure,'" and she giggled.  Then she turned to the guy at the window and kept saying thank you for things and he kept saying "My pleasure."

Last night my father-in-law cooked a big dinner for me and Amber, and afterwards I helped wash the dishes.  He made a point to seek me out and thank me for that, which I felt I didn't need to be thanked for.  I mumbled something like, "No problem."  But thinking about it a minute later, I thought that 'My pleasure' would have been a better reply.  It's hard to think of a more excellent response when someone thanks you than assuring them from your heart: "I was happy to...I loved doing it...It's my pleasure!"

What if when we thank God for our bodies, our food, our earth, our lives, and hope, he just grins and says, "It's my pleasure!"
"God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure."                                                                              -Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Judgement Day for Bacteria

Living in China for several years, I picked up some little friends. Munchkins in my tummy.  All of us have tons of different bacteria living in our stomach, some good, some bad. But eat enough street food in China and you'll probably get an extra dose of the bad variety.  That's what I've got in there right now. I can tell because these particular bacteria in my stomach get nutrients from my food and emit gas during the night. This bloats my stomach uncomfortably before I wake up, which generally gives me nightmares.  It's been going on for at least a year.  But now that I'm living in America again, I'm hopeful my stomach bacteria will eventually sort itself out.  If not--antibiotics time.  A rush of chemicals wiping out hordes of bacteria in a violent apocalypse.

You know, I got to thinking: what if I was one of those bacteria?  Think how many generations of bacteria have come and gone--maybe thousands of generations.  It's only been a year or two of my life, and I just haven't felt it's the right time yet to go to a doctor.  If I was one of those bacteria, I'd probably be thinking: we've been living like this for generations and generations since we can remember!  There's no judgment coming.  In fact, there's probably not even a Daniel!  Just this stomach universe, that's all there is.

They have another think coming.  I'm real, and I'm unhappy with them if they don't balance back out. In my world little time has passed, and the right time is almost here for the eradication of these selfish and harmful bacteria. If only I had the ability of God to pluck out the good bacteria and save them until the antibiotics have passed through and left a clean new stomach.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Christian Thoughts and Poem about Homosexuality

Several years ago a Christian actor friend of mine was struggling with homosexual desires which he didn't want to have. Now, I think homosexual desires can be perfectly natural, in the same way it is perfectly natural to want multiple sexual partners besides your wife. However, according to almost any ethical system, being natural in and of itself doesn't make an action moral. But at least, if you struggle with homosexual urges, whether occasionally or often, the Bible doesn't condemn you for these natural urges--but it does guide us in how we deal with them. I don't know that I have ever had these urges, though I'm not sure. But it's quite possible Jesus experienced these urges (and many others) during his life, but handled them in accordance with the word and will of his Father.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."

                                                                             -Hebrews 4:15

All things presumably means all things. So first of all this a blow against homophobia, because homosexual urges are a naturally occuring phenomenon which Jesus may have even felt at times. But a major point of Christianity is that we cannot simply follow our animal natures, we must follow Jesus, die to ourselves, and live in the power of a new heavenly lifestyle.

I wrote this several years ago for an actor friend of mine who had been surfing homosexual porn and felt ashamed of it.

There Will Be a Day

There will be a day,
When the evil Iago who lays snares for you
Will be chained by fierce angels
And tossed none-too-gently in the lake of sulfur fire

There will be a day
When your Director will be revealed in all His masculinity
Yes, the chief Actor will appear for the curtain call
All the audience rising in silence and awe,
Then slowly applauding in a standing ovation for fourteen days.
At last raising his scarred hand to calm the sea of people
He will call his understudy to the front, His special actor, you

And then, yes, there will be a day
When each of your sins will be shouted from the rooftops
All your pride, hetero- and homo-sexual lusts, idolatry, selfishness, yes, all
Will be megaphoned over the vast audience

And there will be a day
When the children of God will drop their fears and pretenses
And in sobs of love, men and women, children and grandfathers
Will kneel around you, hands on you, arms around you
Your eternal family at last accepting you
In your fears and sins with you, not against you,
Each begging God on your behalf.

There will be a day
When the tightened skin and the twisted masks relax
And peace washes over your stretched features like waves washing a sand castle away
Leaving only smooth beach sand for a child's feet

And there will be a day
When you've reached the other side of the river
And all the hundred lies
That coiled over you like fat black pythons
Biting and hanging off you
They'll drop away in the burning river
And you'll come out on the other side
Like smoking gold
Transfigured in a robe of white
A god at last because of His love--
The masculine spirit he made you to be.

On that day
You will stand like an assured old lion
You will roar with a deep rumble that shakes the trees
And you will be enfolded at last in the arms of your Father.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Legend of the Whale's Back

I looked and I saw the People. They were on the back of a huge whale called Life. And the whale floated on the surface of a deep ocean, breathing. I asked a wise man who stood watching, "Sir, what will happen?" "It does not take a wise man to know," he replied. "After some time the whale takes a breath and dives deep down into the ocean depths." "And the people?" I ask. "They are dragged down and drown," he said.

I looked again at the People. Some were spreading blankets to picnic on the back of the whale. Others were gathering driftwood from the ocean and building houses on the back of the huge whale. Soon I saw that some became richer and more powerful, and they oppressed the poor. While some grew thin with hunger and fainted in the sun, others lay in their shelters, bored and fat. When they wanted to go from one part of the wide whale back to another, they demanded the poor to carry them on their backs. But still, they viewed themselves as decent and helpful people.

One day I walked on the whale's back myself. I met people arguing, preening, pursuing success. "Don't you know what will happen one day?" I asked. "What?" they replied. "The whale will dive down deep into the water and you will drown. Don't you know?" They looked angry. "It is quite rude of you to mention it," they replied. "There is nothing we can do about it so we might as well enjoy our lives." "Do you call your life enjoyable?" I asked. They looked at their over-busy, hurried lives of labor and boredom and said nothing. "If there were some hope or reason for our life, perhaps we would act differently," one thoughtful woman said. "Do you search for some hope or reason for your life?" I asked. She paused and considered.

"We have been told we are alive by chance and accident," she said. "Our wise men have told us we must each find our own meaning for our lives." "So you must pretend there is a meaning for your life and try to believe it?" I asked. She was silent but then nodded a little sadly. "And if your wise men are wrong?" I asked. "What if there is a purpose for your existence? It seems improbable that such a beautiful and complicated being as yourself is merely a series of accidents." She smiled at the compliment, then grew sad. "Don't tease us with false hope," she said a little bitterly. "It is worse than no hope at all."

She went back to counting strips of seaweed to buy a larger hat for her son.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tin Man and Straw Man

I am spending the week in a Christian commune in Boston.  Not really a commune--just a house that several Christians all live in, sharing some measure of life together. 

These people and those like them put their money where their mouth is. They live simple lives--they donate much of their money to those in need--they care deeply about God's kingdom and will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.  You will feel welcomed by them--no ten-foot barbed wire fence to climb, no hidden landmines which make you walk on eggshells.  In fact I think these people are very close to reliving the life of the early church.

I picked up a magazine here in their house called Sojourners.  It's a thoughtful, passionate magazine that loves God and engages the world around us. It's also more of a liberal than a conservative rag.  I notice they are more likely to criticize Republicans than Democrats, though they submit both to the litmus of God's word and way. 
It may be very hard for a conservative such as myself to swallow that someone can be a good Christian and be easier on Democrats than Republicans.  They have one article I read which analyzed the Libertarian party by Christian standards (doing an excellent and thought-provoking job from the Scripture), but in the end over-stepping and suggesting Libertarian political dogma is farthest from God's way. 

It's very easy for me to step up and pull out my fully loaded conservative shotgun and start blasting away at some of these arguments. But I'm not going to. In fact, though I don't agree with everything they're saying (and strongly disagree with some points), I have been blessed and sharpened by reading this magazine.  I suggest if you are a conservative evangelical Christian you go out and read at least one of these as graciously as you can.  On the other hand, if you are a bleeding heart liberal Christian, I suggest you go out and grit your teeth and read a few issues of World magazine or Christianity Today and listen to some other points of view. 

God, I think, has given His children different insights into Himself. The problem is when we grasp our insight (abortion is wrong, or God cares about the poor) and make it our standard to judge our brothers.  Is it really so crazy to hope that the Tin Man and the Straw Man can learn to walk on the yellow brick road together, until God gives one of them a heart and one of them a brain?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some Christians are enough to cure you of Christianity

Some Christians are enough to cure anyone of Christianity.

Perhaps we can compare Christianity to a delicious piece of fried chicken. Imagine that you are just sinking your teeth deep into the savory meat and crispy breading, when suddenly you see something terrible. The person just across from you at the table is biting into a similarly savory drumstick, but their teeth are yellow and their breath is horrible. They slobber saliva all over the drumstick, licking it and taking wild bites like a crazed beast. And, let me point out, most terribly, they chew with their mouth wide open, allowing you to see every glob of food as it is mashed in their mouth. Of course afterwards they throw up all over the table.

Now, let me ask you: Do YOU want to go on eating that piece of savory chicken? Or do you perhaps set it down politely and go screaming out of the restaurant? It is a hard job indeed to go on focusing on that chicken leg and slowly munching it while all this craziness is going on around you. It takes a sort of determination that some would call crazy. But that is basically the situation in many churches. We have to go on munching the delicious Bible and Gospel while all around us people are puking their guts out on the pews and making horrible slobbering noises. It is a challenge, let me tell you.

And as if that weren't hard enough, we're called to clean up after them and be patient with them, and even, to love them. It's enough to make anyone who wasn't crazy go screaming from the room.

The one saving grace in all of this is Christ Himself. He enters the sanctuary quietly through the back door and bandages arms scratched bloody by fingernails, then cleans up puke with his shirt. He teases someone chewing with their mouth open and rebukes another firmly who is trying to steal someone else's drumstick. He grow furious and whips a few right out of the church with fierce lashes. Do you see him?

He is glimpsed most easily in a few of those Saints, those glorious ones who for a few minutes are getting it Right, who are riding the bicycle gracefully without wobbling. Look at those beautiful ones, eyes bright even in tears, hearts humble, hands reached out to those around them. They are the fingertips of Jesus. What type of Christian are you?

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on Suicide

For some people, the topic of suicide may be as irrelevant as birthing class for a bachelor. But others of us have wrestled this temptation, whether for ourselves or for someone we know.

A person can be tempted by suicide for many reasons. Maybe life's pressures feel too great--maybe he or she has suffered great loss and emotional or physical pain--maybe he or she has a melancholy and pessimistic personality and is easily discouraged by life.

I would be the last option, the personality type named "Eeyore." I came by my teenage ponderings of suicide honestly, pessimistic and moody as I was. But I was given a strange gift to compensate. I became close friends with a guy who had previously had his friend die by his own hand. There was speculation as to whether his friend's death was suicide or a terrible accident. Regardless, thinking of the suffering his death brought my dear friend, it became loud and clear to me that committing suicide would force my friend to go through the horror a second time, and would be unbearably cruel to him. In that light, I put suicide out of my mind altogether.

That was my first lesson on suicide--it's selfish. Those who are seriously considering suicide are usually wrapped up in themselves, self-absorbed in a world of their own miseries. Yes, some people have good reasons to be miserable. Some folks are the ones who get the short end of the stick of life and seem to meet tragedy after tragedy without time for a breath. But killing yourself is still selfish. It's murder in an attempt to ease your own sorrows. I can understand it. I can. But look around at the misery it would bring to anyone who knows you. That's why it's selfish.

The second thing I learned along the way is that suicide is not the "unforgivable" sin. Some people are reluctant to say this because they think everyone will run and jump in front of a bus if they realize that. But it's not unforgivable. Your eternal destiny depends on whether you really know Jesus and have a relationship with him, forgiven in his blood. All of us make mistakes along the way, and I've learned enough about God to know that he's a lot more understanding of our miseries than other people are, and he is compassionate for the hard lives we have.

The third lesson I learned is that suicide usually has a spiritual side. Demons are probably involved in any serious thoughts of suicide. The devil comes "only to steal and kill and destroy," says Jesus, "But I come so that you may have abundant life." Also the Bible tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking those he can devour. You may hear repeated thoughts in your mind that are incredibly grim, pounding like propaganda in your brain. You may feel condemned and hopeless. It may be impossible for you to imagine life being bright or joyful ever again. These are likely the whisperings of slimy spirits who lack power to do much besides discourage you.

Here's a strange word of hope: some of the darkest and worst thoughts you believe to be your own may not be truly yours but are whispered in your ear to horrify your soul. John Bunyan even mentioned this phenomenon in his Pilgrim's Progress. Pilgrim was walking through the Valley of the Shadow in despair, and a demon came up and whispered blasphemies in his ear which Pilgrim thought were his own. But they weren't.

Sometimes I get tired of people wanting to kill themselves.  I was on suicide watch once for a friend for some months. That gets old, let me tell you. I was making sure he didn't have knives in his house, getting phone calls day and night, wading through long irrational passionate conversations and long prayer sessions, and so on. Finally I told him something like this:

"If you want to kick your own bucket, go ahead. God can forgive you. But you are removing yourself from the battlefield. There are a lot of good deeds prepared for you beforehand to walk in, and the devils would give a lot to take a soldier off the battlefield. Go ahead, take the shortcut to heaven. But that's not what your good Father longs for you to do. He wants you to walk the path of Jesus, a man of sorrows, but one who endured it for the great joy ahead. We need you on the battlefield. We need your prayers, your encouragements, your acts of mercy, your words of truth, and simply your presence, brother. Satan does want to sift you like wheat, as Jesus told Peter. But when you have repented, turn and strengthen your brothers."

Are you going to be self-absorbed or kingdom-absorbed?

In fact, you are called to die. To die to yourself and live for Christ. Paul said, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. To be with the Lord is much better for me, but it's much better for you if I stay here on earth. So for your sakes I will remain."

I pray these thoughts from my life are helpful to you. The Holy Ones love you with Jesus' love, and one day many people will give thanks for your life. Take courage, die to yourself, and turn your life over to Christ to find a life more abundant than you could make for yourself.

"You are not those who draw back, but those who continue on to salvation."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

POEM: Disaster in Eden

Like the first sneeze to spread disease

The poisoned needle pricked through the skin

Not bleeding but leaving a tiny hole.

Like a rock tossed at a pane of glass that cracks

Their first sin shattered something in the universe.

Light slowed, the world grew dark once more in chaos

Spinning like a rotting apple through black space.

And we are bound by blood to those first two

In the smell of our sweat and breath, our eyes reflected in their wide eyes

Suddenly full of fear and misery.
This is part of an epic cycle of poems I call Four Stories From Earth. This third poem in the second cycle is detailing the moment after biting the fruit, when sin is piercing into Adam and Eve like a hypodermic needle injecting poison. I think all of us who are sensitive experience these moments when we feel the inrush of guilt and poison after a sick, sinful choice. Thank Jesus he exchanges our brokenness for his health.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Silly Girl and Her Cake

Once there was a little girl. She liked chocolate cake. Whenever she saw a chocolate cake in the kitchen, she would begin to lick the air. She would lick and lick the air without stopping. Her mother didn't approve. "Stop licking the air," she would say. "You are not allowed to eat any cake until after dinner."

But this didn't stop the little girl. No, it didn't stop her at all. She would stand and lick the air, staring at the cake. Finally, her mother took to hiding the chocolate cakes in the oven.

One day, however, her mother needed to put 300 stamps on some invitation letters. She licked 27 stamps before her tongue became stiff and tired. She could never do all 300! Then she had an idea. She cooked a chocolate cake and put it out on the counter. The little girl smelled it and came into the kitchen.

She saw the cake and began licking the air, staring at the cake. The mother started holding stamps out. Bang, bang, bang, her daughter licked them and the mother stuck them on the envelopes. In just ten minutes she had stamped all the invitations. Then she gave her daughter a big piece of cake.

The end.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is Struggling with Depression a Gift?

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal about depressed leaders "Depression in Command," July 30-31, 2011. Some recent research has suggested that leaders who struggle with depression may actually be better equipped to lead in times of crisis--because they already expect life to be hard, and they emphathize with others. 

Normal sane people, says the article, are slightly over-optimistic about life, and feel they have more control than they actually do. A person who struggles with depression is under no such illusions--they're already adjusted to the low-pressure atmosphere of realism and hard times. Some melancholy folks may be better equipped to lead when the lights go out. 

Additionally, people who have suffered with depression have been shown to have much higher levels of empathy than normal, sane folk.  I've experienced that. When all is right with the world, I don't want to cloud my mind with the troubles of others. But in times of suffering or low spirits, I empathize with those in trouble on a deep level. The article pointed to Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as examples of people who had repeatedly struggled with depression, and who were therefore equipped to look hard times straight in the eye and spit back. 

In me, these turned up some deep thoughts. Maybe, those of us who struggle with melancholy are not simply losers, broken, inferior.  Maybe God is able to take our suffering and turn it to blessing, as he loves to do.  Maybe in fact, if we bring it to him in trust, he has a purpose for it all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gray Day Reflections

Sometimes, secretly, I think I might be a tree.

I look like a person, I know. It's just a suspicion I have. One of the main reasons I think I might be part tree is because when I don't get much sunlight, I begin to wilt. I don't think that's supposed to happen to people. There I am, sitting on a sofa, wilting. Then, you wheel me outside into some warm afternoon sun, and my back begins to straighten. My eyes brighten and my soul relaxes like some crying baby nodding off to sleep, sucking his thumb.

But sometimes, the sun isn't there. Sometimes I go outside, trying to aim my solar panels at the light, but all I get is gray skies and concrete buildings.

You can't make the sun come out. At least, I've never had much luck. I just have to wait until it chooses to show its face, whether it be five minutes or five days.

Sometimes I feel God is like the sun. I'm all wilted inside, not much more than a zombie, and suddenly there's a refreshing sermon or song, or person. Or I open the Bible and every word is just radiating out and I start to soak in His light. My back begins to straighten. My eyes brighten and my soul relaxes like some fussy baby falling asleep while his father burps him.

But sometimes I go into the Word of God, and it feels all gray. The words stick to the page like chewing gum to your shoe. I turn on a sermon and it seems cliche--I try listening to music but it seems too chipper. Even when a friend stops by to try to encourage me it's just mildly helpful, like a labrador retriever who only brings you one of your slippers.

Honestly, I haven't found a way to make the Sun come out when I want it to. So I appreciate the psalms where David complains about it: "How long will you hide your face from me?...Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death." (Psalm 13)

I mean, it's nice to remember that the sun is still there, above the smog and rainclouds. If you could get in a jetplane or ride on the wings of an angel, you could go up to see how bright it still is up there far above our petty problems. But that and a dollar will get you a pack of gum, right?

Still, I want to be like David who finished his gray-day psalm with some firm faith. "But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD for he has been good to me." He has been good to me. Lord, turn the sunshine of your face on us again and brighten our eyes. Until then we will trust in your unfailing love.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

POEM: More Than Twelve Legions

Trained for two thousand years, we stood
Sweat dripping from our arms, our fingers
Clenched whitely on our sword pommels
Eyes starting from our heads, legs tight.

More than sixty thousand of us waited in formation
Bodies burning white like lightning in the sun
Longing for the instant command to jump
To flash into battle in that distant dusty land

Where our best captain stood all alone
Surrounded by idiots, who spit and slapped at him
Who whipped and cursed him like dogs,
Who teased him with unspeakable tortures.

He had the walkie-talkie, planted invisibly
In his ear. He had not lost his voice.
Then why his silence? All we could hear
Was laughter and shouting, and women's sobs

And suddenly our captain screamed.
We tensed, swords half drawn, eyes on fire
But we only heard the chink of hammer on iron spike
And then the words: "Father, forgive them."

I will never forget that longest day
And the faces of my fellow soldiers in those hours
Anger and agony and confusion in the ranks
We would destroy the world but he would save it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Joshua 7: Achan

I'm reading Joshua 7 today.  Here's how The Message translation opens:

"Then the People of Israel violated the holy curse. Achan son of Carmi...took some of the cursed things. GOD became angry with the People of Israel."

When the Jews stormed over the fallen walls of Jericho, God had told them everything in Jericho was set aside for destruction.  All people, animals, and property were to be destroyed. Undestroyable items like gold and silver were to be given to God.  It seems inevitable to us that one of the 40,000 soldiers wouldn't be able to resist. And so it happened that Achan took a beautiful robe, and some silver and gold and hid them under his tent.

As a result, God was angry with all of Israel, and He allowed their enemies to defeat them and kill 36 Jewish soldiers.  Whoa there!  Why was God angry at all of Israel?  Today in North America, being the most highly individualized culture in the history of the world, it's really tough for us to see how that's fair.  Achan should be punished for his own sins!  And I think God agrees with that principle (that's what Ezekiel 18 is all about). 

But living in China, which is a fairly collectivist culture (seeing things in terms of the group you belong to instead of the individual you are), I can begin to understand why it may have been necessary to deal with early Israel in this way.  "A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough," as Jesus said. A collective group feels much more like a body than a collection of individuals. They have "groupthink" in which everyone generally comes to the same opinion. They have almost a mob mentality, in which it is really hard to resist doing what everyone else is doing.

In China, where one person in a milk company substitutes cheap chemical additives for the actual cream in the milk, the whole company lost face when it came to light, even more so than it would have in America. People all over China stopped drinking milk entirely for a year after it was revealed. How unfair! How can we punish the entire diary and milk industry for one person's mistake?  First, in a collectivist society, one person doesn't do that unless there's a widespread corruption making it possible to go against the group.  Second, it's the way of nature to some extent.  If your knee gives out, your whole body ain't going to win the race. 

It may be nearly incomprehensible to us today to understand why the whole Jewish nation should suffer for one person's mistake, and why that one person along with all his family and possessions should be stoned and burned.  But after living in a collectivist culture a while--it's starting to make sense.  But let's take it a little more personally before we leave it.

Are there any areas in your life you are secretly compromising in?  What secret sins do you indulge in but try to separate from the rest of your life?  You know it's going to influence the rest of your life as well.  Find those points of compromise and stone and burn them out.  As long as you harbor these compromises willfully, can you expect to be whole and healthy?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Does God suffer more than us?

Does God suffer more than us?  I think it's an interesting and meaningful question.  What do you think?  I hope you'll send me an email or write a comment if you have some thoughts.  These are my thoughts:

I know that some people picture God as an old grandfather, half deaf and half dead.  Others picture him as some cosmic Buddha, with a placid smile always pasted on his face.  But to both of these the Bible says boldly, "Ha ha!"  Even early on in the Bible, when God seems more transcendent, we see him personally interacting with people: walking with Adam and Eve on late afternoons chatting, warning Cain he's heading the wrong way, having mercy on Cain, and finally feeling heartbroken and regretful about making people in the first place and wiping their disease off the face of the earth with a massive flood. 

Then there are the prophets, speaking God's voice, which wails brokenly at times, and shouts furiously at others.  He tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, so the people can understand the jealous anger and heartbreak that God is feeling at their faithlessness.  He sighs with frustration, just like Jesus did before healing a blind and deaf man. Yeah. In case you missed it, Jesus is the clue that God cares very, very deeply.  He wept over Jerusalem, he shouted and whipped hawkers out of the temple,He told jokes and held children on his lap.  DO WE THINK WE FEEL MORE DEEPLY THAN THE GOD WHO MADE US?

Once, when God drew near to me, I was flattened by his passion. His hatred for my sin and his love for me were like a massive sun, and my emotions were little candle flames in its daylight. 

And who, do you suppose cares more about the brokenness of the world we live in?  God right now is present at every rape, at every husband and wife's shouting match, at the scene of children being molested and young men being tortured by others.  He's forced day after day to live with our nearly complete self-absorbtion, all the secret thoughts we have and the smiling masks we paint over them, with our depressions, our hates, our despairs, and our chasing after the passing shadows of this world instead of listening constantly to Him. We don't even know the depth of our own brokenness, and He knows the whole world's.

And if you think He doesn't care about it with every fibre of his Fatherly being, you don't yet know him very well.  DO WE THINK WE CARE MORE DEEPLY THAN THE GOD WHO MADE US?

So, God waits.  He waits to set all things right at last, to heave a huge shuddering sigh of relief and sob in His soul with joy that at last all evil is extinguished and all good comforted and praised.  His love compels Him to wait: to wait until more of His children have turned from the evil that would sweep them away also in the destruction and run into the safety of His light.

So be aware of what God is feeling today: He knows every single broken thing happening, he cares about them more strongly than we do, and he is eager to fix it, pinned back only by his loving patience, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to eternal life."  And meanwhile we His dearly loved children question and doubt him.  Does God suffer more than us?

Monday, February 21, 2011

POEM: A Train in the Tunnel

The smell of paint and oil rises in my nose
As the train rocks and flies past green flashes in the sunlight
And then suddenly like a blow
A shadow and darkness of a tunnel's night
Rushes roaring in my ears.
Cold wind blows through the car
The loud darkness seems never ending.
But then I hear a voice in my ear:
"No matter how long or dark the tunnel
 In Christ there will always be an exit into light."
Hope rises in my heart
But as the minutes rattle past
My feeble mind nearly forgets the dream of a bright world outside.
--There is a brightening--
And we fly into warm sun
Rush past rolling hills all green with life
My heart warming and rising like a kite.

How many more tunnels will I go through
Until I reach the brightness of You?
How many? It doesn't matter.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Travels to Yunnan

 Where's Yunnan?  It's a province in south-western China, just above Thailand and Myanmar. Yunnan means "Cloud South" and it's a beautiful part of China. The part I usually live in is greasy with smog and filled with square concrete buildings with all the charm of cinder blocks, so it was nice to see a lovely side of this place I live.

First we went to a city called Li-jiang, part of which is old and historical. (See picture above.) It's full of winding cobblestone pathways that were made four to six hundred years ago.

After a few days we traveled a few hours to some mountains nearby, to a place called "Tiger Leaping Gorge."  So called because there were some rocks on the river over which tigers used to jump to get from one side to the other with small lambs in their mouths. But no tigers live there nowadays.
We hiked for two and a half days down this ridge of ancient mountains facing another ridge across the river below.  Pretty spectacular. Reminded us that God still has the gold star for impressive architecture.  Just being there was refreshing to the soul in a way even the lovely old town of Lijiang could not be.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

POEM: When an Adam Finds His Eve

I found out today that my brother Steve and his wonderful fiancee Heather both read this blog somewhat regularly. That's an inspiration by itself, so I post this poem to them in honor of their recent engagement. I think I wrote it seven or eight years ago.

When An Adam Finds His Eve

When an Adam finds his Eve
He can barely believe
What he is seeing.

All at once the world seems less broken
While he's standing and lookin'
At what he's been given.

For a moment he smells Eden
And the old sun is bright again
When he sees her smile at him.

If he only knew, it's a prophecy
Of the sunny day to be
When Jesus comes for you and me.