Monday, March 26, 2012


~Please Listen to This Newer Version of the Song Amazing Grace~
This was the song at Angela's memorial service.
[There was no blog last week. I have been working on my website - . It still has a bit of work to do but it progressing. I also added a Facebook page at . I hope we can have discussions through these two pages. You will be able to jump back and forth between here and these two pages]

"For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled,
enslaved to various passions and desires,
spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and his 
love for us dawned upon this world,
he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done
but on the basis of his mercy,
through the washing of rebirth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
whom he poured out on us in full measure
through Jesus Christ our Savior.
And so, since we have been justified by his grace,
we become heirs with confident expectation of eternal life."
(Titus 3:3-7 The New English Bible)

When the Golden Gate bridge was constructed from 1933-1937, it was an engineering marvel. It spanned the 1.7 mile opening connecting the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay. During the beginning stages of the construction eleven men fell to their death, while working on the bridge. This caused a slow down in work, because the workers were in constant fear of falling. Eventually, a net was placed under the bridge which saved the lives of 19 men. They became part of the group, self-titled,  "The Halfway to Hell Club". Aside from saving 19 lives it took away much of the fear that was plaguing the workers, causing the work to speed up. I find a great deal of similarities between this story and the plight of many people today who profess a Christian faith. The Church has not done much to dissuade the fear and guilt many Christians face on a daily basis. Many churches and preachers use guilt to motivate and to some extent control those in their flocks. I talk to a great many people who are miserable in their Christian faith. They are constantly wondering if the are doing enough or doing the wrong things; with the constant fear of eternal torment in the back of their minds.

This is the antithesis of how the New Testament describes Christianity. There is a net! The passage above says we were not saved by how good we are. In fact, it states the opposite. The language that is used says God saved us, we do not save ourselves.  As we accept by faith that Jesus was and is the atonement for our sins and failures, we experience the grace of God. The word for Grace in Greek is Chiros or "gift". A gift is not earned, it is given. The response to a gift is thankfulness and gratitude, not guilt. Paul says in Romans 3, "Blessed is the man whom the Lord will never count his sin against him". John says in 1 John 1:7, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, the blood of Jesus his son (continually - present indicative active in Greek) washes away our sins." In the context of 1 John, "Walking in the light" is defined by loving your brothers and sister in Christ, (see 1 John 2:9-12.) Notice this is not an arbitrary list of do's and don't from some power hungry preacher. Ultimately, it does not come down to how many times you attended church or that you don't smoke , drink or chew or go with those who do. It is based on how you treat people

Many churches are filled with people who have never missed a Sunday yet they are some of the most judgmental and mean people you will ever meet. They determine if people are dressed correctly, if they have the "truth" or if they are living up to some moral code they have concocted. Often their lives are consumed with gossip and using the failures of others to justify their own religious standing.

Whenever grace is brought up, James 2 comes into the discussion. James 2 talks about the need for works. That if our faith does not include works of righteousness, we have missed the mark. If you read the entire book of James, he is saying that there should be a response of gratitude by placing your faith in the grace of God. This passage is not yanking the net from under you, rather it is saying that if you have faith, you will treat people differently. Not for what you can get out of them but what you can do for them. Peter says, "We are free in Christ but do not use your freedom as a license for evil". Grace is not a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Again it is gratitude. It is a change from the inside out. Because we have experienced unconditional love and acceptance, we feel urged to share that kind of love with those around us.

So this week, reach out to some people you may have alienated. Show grace to them. It is a good time to heal old wounds.


Monday, March 12, 2012


~I Invite You to Listen to This Song Before Reading Below~

Broken or brokenness is an interesting concept. 
It has two distinct aspects that are really intertwined and I hope to explain these in this week's blog. 
Stick with me on this one.

Not far from my home there is an adoption center for wild horses. When someone adopts a wild horse, if they plan to ride it, it has to be broken. The military has a process called "Boot Camp", it's primary purpose is to break and rebuild new recruits. In the new "politically correct" version of boot camp, they have removed "break" from the vocabulary. However, both of these instances accomplish the same objective. They remove a previous behavior, or group of behaviors, and replace it/them with new behaviors. For the horse, it learns to channel its energy and power to be controlled by the owner, (sorry P.E.T.A.). In the military,  it instills the need to work as a team or a unit. Isn't it interesting that the Army recently changed the recruiting ads to "An Army of One"?

As Americans, we have a problem with the this aspect of brokenness. We live in a culture that has become more and more selfish. We disguise this selfishness into "rugged individualism". Burger King says, "Have It Your Way." We want everything on our terms, built around a construct of our own selfish mold. If our needs aren't being met, we quit. We quit relationships, marriages, families, jobs, organizations, schools and whatever else does not meet our needs. The new motto for our culture should be "My Way or the Highway". 

This idea has caused us to view everything in our lives with an underlying, "What's in it for me?"  attitude. When we are faced with the teachings of Jesus, our culture is in diametric opposition to his world view. In Matthew 5, he says, "Blessed are the meek...". This word meek - praus can also be translated as humble, gentile, open and receptive. Interestingly enough, the etymology of this word is associated with a horse that is under control - broken. The concept of dying to yourself is consistent throughout the New Testament. Jesus does not ask us to be selfish materialistic consumers trying to live in the upper echelons of society. He actually calls us to be selfless and to serve society. Paul sums up this attitude in Philippians 2, again from The Message a translation by Eugene Petersen: 

"If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ,
if his love has made a difference in your life,
if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you,
if you have a heart, if you CARE -- then do me a favor:
Agree with each other,
love each other,
be deep-spirited friends.
Don't push your way to the front,
Don't sweet-talk your way to the top.
Put yourselves aside, and help others get ahead.
Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage.
Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
He had equal status with God but did not think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.
Not at all.
When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity
and took the status of a slave, became human!
Having become human, he stayed human.
It was an incredibly humbling process.
He didn't claim special privileges.
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and 
then died a selfless, obedient death
-- and the worst kind of death at that -- a crucifixion"
(Philippians 2: 1-8)

That is the first kind of brokenness. It is a brokenness from our selfish, American -- What's in it for me? -- attitude. The second type of brokenness has probably been felt by more of us than the previous.

I have spoken a great deal about the brokenness I have endured in my life. It is a shattering of what you believed, hoped and dreamed about your life. Everything is torn away from you and your life is laid bare. You see no way out. You can't trust anyone. You come to the realization that the deck life has dealt you, is stacked against you. Maybe a relationship has evaporated before your eyes. Maybe a group of people you trusted has betrayed your trust. Maybe death has come and took away a person you loved, and all you hear are pious platitudes. People have shared their stories with me. They have been stories of such intense pain, I wonder how they survived.

What I have learned through my life is surviving the second aspect of brokenness is dependent of the first aspect. Much of the time I spent in brokenness was spent in self pity. Instead of "What's in it for me?" it became, "Why is this happening to me?". The commonality in those two statements is "me". Yes, I have been in pain, I have experienced the end of relationships, I have experienced death of a loved one -- BUT, NEWS FLASH!--so has everyone else on this planet. My mistake in dealing with my brokenness was continuing to focus on MY brokenness. Even with all of the lip service to sacrifice and selflessness, I was still egocentric. I was still thinking about only me. My way out was to surrender to my pain and realize it was another step in my life. We are molded and perfected through the difficulties was are enduring. What I have found is that if I attempt to help others, my issues fade in comparison.

I in no way want to diminish the pain and hurt you may be experiencing, but if you will look past yourself, you may find healing.  


Monday, March 5, 2012


~Please give this song a listen before reading~

R.E.M. just broke up as a group after 30 years of great music, they have always been one of my favorite groups. 
I have been doing a great deal of reading about the decline of churches in the Western World. Gallup did a survey in 2008 and the Barna Group did similar work in 2009 -- they came out with these results:
  • Between 1948 and 2008 the percentage of Americans who identified themselves with some sort of Christianity has dropped from 91% to 77%.
  • Even though 77% of Americans claim a Christian faith, only 59% are affiliated with any church.
  • America is now sharing the same rates of decline as Western European countries.
  • Church leaders from America and Europe are now asking Christians in Africa and South America why their churches are growing.
  • A good example is the Anglican Church, the Church of England. In all of the UK there are 13.4 million members professing the Anglican faith. The number in Africa is 38.6 million. (BBC)
  • Mainline Protestant denominations in America are also seeing a mass exodus.
  • The Catholic Church, rocked by the blatant cover-ups of child molestation, likewise are seeing their numbers drop in America and Western Europe.
There are two books have really caught my eye over the past few months. They are:
Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ...and Why it Matters by David Kinnaman.
See below for link
And his second book: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.
See below for link
If you are a Christian, you should pick these up. You probably won't like what you read. These books were written after research was done with the age group from 16-29. These are the kids we raised and they heard us talk about family values, and saw divorce. They heard us talk about living holy lives and saw clergy and church leaders embroiled in moral catastrophes. They heard us say that the Bible is the Word of God and saw division, fracturing and in-fighting over stupid and minuet points of doctrine.  We would read to them about the simple life of Jesus and they watched us amass more and more of the trappings of a materialistic world. They, like many others - just gave up on the whole thing The main areas they find fault with Christians from Unchristian are these:
  • Hypocrisy ("Everyone in my church gave me advice about how to raise my son, but a lot of the time they seemed to be reminding me that I have no husband -- and besides, most of them were not following their own advice. It made it hard to care what they said. They were not practicing what they preached." Victoria, 24)
  • Get Saved ("Christians are too concerned with converting people. They are insincere. All I ever hear is 'Get Saved' I tried that whole 'Jesus thing' already. It didn't work for me before, and I am not interested now." Shawn, 22)
  • Anti-homosexuality ("Many people in the gay community don't seem to have issues with Jesus but rather those claiming to represent him today. It's very much an 'us-versus-them' mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the first shot." Peter, 34)
  • Sheltered ("Christians enjoy being in their own community. The more they seclude themselves, the less they can function in the real world. So many Christians are caught in the Christian 'bubble'." Jonathan, 22)
  • Too Political (Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics. "Looking at it from the outside today, this message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political strategy that demonizes segments of society." Brandon, 32)
  • Judgmental ("Christians talk about hating the sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is. They hate the sin and the sinner." Jeff, 25)
Now before you get defensive, please read on. I am sure I lost some readers with just the list above.
I believe that there is a connection between the decline of Christianity in the Western World and among the next generation. When Jesus ministered to people, they were the marginalized. He spent his time with tax collectors, harlots, rough fishermen, political extremists - one disciple was Simon the Zealot and even some gentiles. The mainstream religious leaders opposed him at every front until they could orchestrate his public execution. Christianity began as a bottom up movement. It wasn't affiliated with the power structures of its day. Over the 2,000 years since that time, it became a major player in the powers-that-be. Even today, the Church does not want to give up its grasp on power. We are currently in an election cycle and we hear about the "Evangelical"or "Catholic" votes. Politicians placate to these demographics and are attempting to capture that power base. 
This is the same Church that Jesus described in these words:
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked.
'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said:
'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like
little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 18:1-4 / NIV)
The explosive growth of Christianity in South America and Africa should shame us in the Western World. The New English Bible translates the first beatitude in Matthew 5 as follows:
"Blessed are those who know their need of God, 
for to them belongs the kingdom of God"
The words of Jesus still resonate with those who have been marginalized. The Western World stands amazed that the Third World is embracing Christianity. We are so sophisticated, educated, scientific and intellectually superior - we have no need of God.  As for our young people, what do we expect? Aside from the list above, they have been raised with MTV, the Internet and instant access to knowledge. Our kids have grown up skeptical. If we could abandon the whole; Who has the biggest church? Who has the most followers? Who is right? -- and focus on the ministry Jesus called us to, we may just start to see that Christianity is relevant. Jesus called us to be servants not masters. He called us to be a source of love acceptance, reconciliation and forgiveness, NOT prejudice, judgment, division, elitism and various political agendas. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I pray that I can be more like Jesus in the ways I interact with those around me.
In the meantime -- love your kids and one another!
Peace, ~Al