Monday, February 11, 2019

Reality or something like it - A Sermon

A Sermon from February 11, 2006 - delivered at Kendu Bay Adventist Hospital Church, Kenya

Have you ever considered reality? What is it? When you are in bed with the mosquito net down around you and you look out that is your current reality. When you lift the net and look out the reality changes just a bit and that becomes your current reality. Which is more real?

You and several friends are in Kisii walking along a street when all of a sudden a matatu and another car collide. What you witness is your reality. Each one of your friends, while seeing the same event has a different perspective of that event – a different reality.

We were speeding along, while on Safari in the Masai Mara, when all of a sudden our driver stopped. The reality I saw was just more of the same savannah. However, our driver had a different reality: he saw they way the animals were moving and looking and within a few seconds of stopping he pointed to a stand of trees, across a river, about a half mile away: “There, do you see it? A male lion.” I had to take out the video camera and zoom in to see it. All it took was openness to a larger reality than my own to see so much more.

Repeat after me:
“I can live the life God has called me to live, in all dimensions—work, family, relationships, community, and the larger world.”

Do you believe it? How do you feel when you say it?

Most people have an automatic reaction to that statement. They either believe that they are powerless or even if they had the power to make it happen that they are unworthy to have such a life. And some people believe that they are both powerless AND unworthy.

In God’s reality nothing is further from the truth. Instead we have been enslaved to a way of thinking and acting that reinforce the feelings and beliefs of powerlessness and unworthiness. We are slaves of our beliefs. This is our current reality.

God has the big picture. Thus the truest reality is found in God. We see ourselves as powerless and unworthy, God sees our true potential and the reality of that potential in action. There are dozens of times in the Bible we are told to “change the way we think and act.” There is evidence that many of the flawed Bible characters did just that.

Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and his parents, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David, Samuel, and all the prophets have three things in common: 1) God called them; 2) They believed; 3) They committed themselves to action.

These people of Hebrews 11 were called to some pretty BIG things. Most of us are not called in that way.

I first heard God calling me to trust him as a four year-old and into my teenage years. As I graduated from University I followed God’s calling to work in the Hollywood film and television industry. Six years later he called me to leave Hollywood for a nonprofit religious group. He has called me to the career I have.

I have also been called to a long and satisfying marriage.
I have been called to deep and personal friendships. 
I have been called to offer my best to my wife, my family, my job, my friends, my community and the world at large.
I have been called to live a balanced life.
I have been called to a deep and personal relationship with God.
I have been called to live the life of the Spirit and reap the fruits of the Spirit.
I have been called to many things, this I know. 
I also know that I don’t always feel up to the task.

I am not alone.

“This law I have found at work… that which I want to do I don’t do, and that which I don’t want to do I do… (Romans 7)

Who will save me from this? Thanks be to Jesus.” 

“The truth will set you free.”
Who is “the truth”?
Jesus

Proverbs 8:
Wisdom calls out:
Who is wisdom?
Jesus

John 15 tells us Jesus has called us to friendship; and that he has chosen us to produce fruit that will last.

2nd Thessalonians chapter 2 tells us that “in the beginning he chose us to be saved through a life of spiritual devotion and faith in the truth.”

And this one from 1st Peter chapter 1 “God the Father knew you long ago and chose you to live holy lives with the Spirit’s help…”

1 Corinthians 1: 27 and onward:
“God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame. God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame. 28 God chose what the world considers ordinary and what it despises-what it considers to be nothing- in order to destroy what it considers something.

Have you considered the difference of “choosing” and “wanting”? 

[review these verses using and comparing choosing and wanting]

In his book "The Fifth Discipline" Peter Senge says this: "For most people, 'I want' is passive; 'I choose' is active... wanting is a state of deficiency - we want what we do not have. Choosing is a state of sufficiency- electing to have what we truly want." (p360) 

[examples from my life: Trixy; Work; play; etc]

God also, has said “choose” and “chosen” rather than “want”

1 Corinthians 1:9
“God faithfully keeps his promises. He called you to be partners with his son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So I can readily admit that I do not always feel up to the task. But I can choose to believe. This helps me create a vision for myself of what I will become. It helps me accept God’s design for my life.:

I believe God has called me and chosen me.
I believe God to be true to his word.
I believe I have been empowered to continually grow towards my calling.
I believe I have been made worthy to achieve my calling.
I believe that one person can make a difference.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Reminding me that I am not powerless.

“I have come that they might have life more abundantly” John 10:10 reminding me that God considers me worthy.

And this one found in Mark 9: 23 and 24
Jesus said to him, “As far as possibilities go, everything is possible for the person who believes.” And the child’s father cried out at one, “I believe! Help my lack of faith.” And this reminds me that I can believe today and that my belief today is small to the belief that is coming.

In following our calling and believing is acting. We can still choose to ignore our calling and we may chose to never truly believe. However, If we choose to accept our callings and we choose to believe what God has promised, then action will follow. 

This is also not easy. Since “wanting” is passive and “choosing” is active, we can see that acting on our calling and belief involves our choosing. But choosing isn’t enough on its own. We need also commitment. Choosing declares our action and direction. Commitment keeps us moving towards our choices even when the going gets difficult and discouraging. I could go on for hours about choice and commitment, but let me just summarize for today: We need to be committed to:

truth
growth
and finally to “seeing it through”

“Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
Jesus is called to reconcile the universe to himself
Jesus is committed to truth
Jesus is committed to restoring freedom and choice

I haven’t even begun to discuss “freedom”. But one thing I council is this: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Christ has set us free. Free we are. Free to enslave ourselves again. But God hasn’t called us to slavery, but to true freedom.

What binds this all together is “Love”. True freedom is described in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and in Galatians chapter 5. Love which isn’t sentimental, but committed and unconditional.

“If we let Him—for we can prevent him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (through, of course on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” CS Lewis

So in my own example:
I choose to follow God’s calling.
I choose to have a long and satisfying marriage.
I choose to have deep and personal friendships.
I choose to offer my best to my wife, my family, my job, my friends, my community and the world at large.
I choose to live a balanced life.
I choose a deep and personal relationship with God
I choose to pursue truth about myself—about my thoughts and actions
I choose to limit my freedom in order to achieve my calling.

Today, I am your safari driver. I say to you today “Do you see it, across the river and by the tree of life? It looks so far away, but it isn’t. There by the tree is the Lion of Judah. And he is calling you.” You are not powerless or unworthy to answer his call.

What is your calling?
To what are you committed?
What do you believe?
And what will you choose?

“May God who began the good work in you see it through to completion…”

2 Thess 3:3-5 paraphrased
The Lord is faithful, he will establish you and keep you from evil. And I have confidence in the Lord touching you, that you both do and will do the things that are necessary to let go of what holds you back from your calling. 

May the Lord direct your hearts into the lover of God, and into patient waiting for Christ.

This is my prayer for you today.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Theories, Concepts, and Knowledge

I am so looking forward to Star Wars IX. Really. I enjoy the fan theories and have enjoyed the theories since it was announced we would get three more Star Wars movies. Not all theories have the same value from my perspective and yet each provides a glimpse into the mind of the person promoting a concept, hypothesis, or theory. 

The other thing that strikes me is that around the fan theories of Star Wars (or take your pick: Star Trek, Sherlock, and so forth) is that, for the most part, while robust discussion ensues, they are largely cordial. With various “camps” pointing out fallacies of the assumptions (or FOTAP: Fallacy of the Assumed Premise). There is much to learn from the insights of the various groupings of perspectives.

I was fortunate to explore many learning theories during my M.Ed program. Three dominate “camps” of research dominate: 1) Behaviorism; 2) Cognitivism; 3) Constructivism. Much has been written in regards to each one and I see each succeeding concept containing the prior ones. And that leads me to seeing that there is a truth in each but none contain the complete understanding of human learning and development. Peter Jarvis has written a book “Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Human Learning” in which he explores these three and many others in an effort to get to a big picture of how we learn and develop. Bringing together, if you will, a variety of fan theory favorites (and some obscure). Many researchers study such a focused view that it is challenging to see another perspective and when looking for a big picture understanding some details that work in one environment might not fit so well in understanding the whole. In any case, much of how we see learning and human development stem from our personal perspectives. Most research I read today seems to appreciate the diversity of thought and perspective and that a given study is only a bit of the whole.

Somehow that mindset and politeness disappears when we move to politics and religion. I can’t help but see being on the left or the right (whatever those are) as differences of perspective and frames of reference. We might agree on certain problems in society but disagree with how to solve them.

Religion is similar. Not only do we have a variety of divine concepts, we have non-divine concepts. As it comes to divine concepts we divide into global religions and further splinter from within those. So much so that history is littered with death and chaos as one religious ideology has killed in the name of their deity. This is certainly true within Christianity and within the protestant reformation. Some hold that unless you believe as they do you can’t be a real Christian. They may kill you or simply assassinate your character. Oh Well.

Within a given faith tradition there are many differing perspectives on any number of variety of topics. One that seems to be a favorite centers around theories of “atonement”. Simply by way of example, it seems that people fight over one theory or another and often condemn one another for the concept held. Like learning and human development I prefer a big picture perspective and find the fights over which one (usually one of four: Christ Victor; Moral Influence; Randsom; Penal Substitution) are incomplete or at the very least suffer from FOTAP and limited perspective. Yet it is undeniable that we all have a preference based on who we are (what we have learned and how we have developed). If one holds a particular theory as true others are classified by that same one into an other theory, even when the other may not hold it as true! (Does this ring true in politics too? If you aren’t this, then you are this! or if you are pro this than you are that).  

I digress. And thus, as I seek a comprehensive understanding of human learning and development, I seek a big picture of politics and religion. In the Seventh-day Adventist faith tradition A. Graham Maxwell pursued this and introduced me to an unresting pursuit of the big picture. Also in my tradition Ty Gibson generally paints a larger view. In the Anglican tradition N.T. Wright works to this end. Richard Rohr orients this way in the Roman Catholic tradition. Other protestants that come to mind are Tim Mackie and Greg Boyd. 

For the Christian, there is only one who has absolute truth: The Christ - Jesus - the fullness of the character God revealed on earth. The one in whom the Jewish story is brought into full clarity (for the Christian at least). All others are contributors, some study deeply one concept or theory and others are left trying to see how these fit into the larger narrative. Some are refiners of other contributors.


I find I have said to people that I may agree or disagree in whole or in part with any number of contributors as I seek to understand with all of who I am, what I have learned and how I have developed, just as they have.  The truth as revealed by Trixy is that I don’t completely agree even with myself, so I cannot completely agree with anyone else. Part is my own limitation, but is that the other is incomplete. As a Christian I would prefer to rest (and wrestle) on the truth revealed in Jesus as I know him and give that to another. And that is a discussion/reveal for another time.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Thoughts on Life

November 9, 2001.

I've been reading over "Wild at Heart" in preparation for my weekly meeting with Elwyn. We are on Chapter 11 of 12. The title is "An adventure to Live". I've long looked at life as a grand story revealing itself over time. I've often wondered what stories others are living. What have they seen? What are their experiences? How do they see life?

Life for me is an adventure and this book feeds my thoughts. A key question of course is "What is adventure?" Let me put out that adventure involves the unknown (mystery perhaps) and thus, risk. The "unknown and risk" imply a lack of controllability, a lack of formulaic procedures to solve problems. The "unknown and risk" imply danger and creativity...

God created the universe, he created the creatures in heaven and on earth. Thus he created Lucifer, Adam, and Eve. His creation was perfect and free. His creativity provided mystery and risk. God did not provide a step by step plan to his creation. He provided relationship with himself. That relationship with him is as unique as each individual.

What are important areas of our lives? God? Spouse (significant other)? Close friends? Work? Do any of these seem routine? Are there unknowns? Do you know God so well that there is no more mystery? What about your spouse? Do your friends surprise you from time to time with what they think or do? Is work exactly the same day to day? Are there unknowns out of your control? What are the risks? What spiritual battles do you face? Do you deal with them the same way every time? What if God offers you a different solution? You have friends. Did you follow a formula to get to know them? Which of your friends excite or inspire you? Why do you think this might be? Have you ever felt truely alive? What was your experience? What was it that brought you to the state of being alive?

I'm still answering these for myself. But I am coming beginning to accept that God and formulaic solutions don't mix. What works for one might not work for another; that God sees unique solutions for his unique creatures, all the while bringing them to the same final solution...relationship with him. This relationship, in its truest form, is not passive. No, its quite active indeed. He is active with us and we are active with him. Our lives change the closer we get to him. If we no longer see mystery, the unknown, or realize the risk of any of our relationships, then we've stopped looking and are trying to control. Seek the danger of discovery, run the risk of finding out what really is?

"Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as he is with you." Oswald Chambers

"I want to love with much more abandon and stop waiting for others to love me first. I want to hurl myself into a creative work worthy of God. I want to charge the fields at Banockburn, follow Peter as he followed Christ out onto the sea, pray from my heart's true desire." John Eldredge, "Wild at Heart" p 199

"I no longer call you servants...Instead, I have called you friends." Jesus "John 15:15"

What does it mean to be friends with God? Adam, Enoch, Moses, Abraham, all the men and women of faith from Hebrews were friends with God. Take a look at their individual relationships with their Creator...

Happy Sabbath, God's blessing to you and yours

Bill

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Choice to Serve Life

So I wrote this as I began my PhD, a few too many years ago. But as I can't find it published anywhere I thought I would share it now. 

**
Where servant leadership can sometimes suggest ONLY serving those you wish to lead, "serving life" serves everything.  What I find I need to do is explore the meaning and value of "choice" and "service".

For now I will focus on service.  Is service "Whatever you say I will do?"  Is that a good servant leader?  No.  While that is exercising one's choice, I think that method is very limiting in the "big picture".  A CEO who says to his company "whatever you say I will do" will soon realize someone else is leader.  But maybe that is where the PEOPLE are.  And they say, "whatever you say we will do."  Again, I find that will be limited as a mode of service.

To offer the best of one's service had come to mean knowing somethings about one's "self".  Who am I?  What are my strengths?  What do I believe?  What are my weaknesses?  What are my boundaries (can I do that which I believe to be wrong)?

Service and being a servant then do not suggest to me "doing whatever the people I am serving want".  Choosing to be a servant is a choice to serve from my best, from who I am.  While I have found the core of who I am to be fairly stable, the expression of that and many of the details have changed overtime.  Thus I conclude that who I know myself to be evolves over time.

"Life" on first look is "easy".  EVERY thing on this earth is life.  Every thing in the universe is life.  While that seems easy to me to say, the difficult part is uniting my being "a servant of life".  Life is me and all I am am.  It is my wife Trixy and all she is.  It is our dog Jordan.  It is our yard and all that creeps and crawls in it.  Life is our neighborhood and town and all the people and things in it.  Life includes the wilderness areas, cities, crime and goodness.  Life is healthy and unhealthy.  Life includes the bonds that unite people together.  Life includes the wedges that divide people.  Life includes belief systems of all sorts: those who believe in some form of God and those who do not.  Life is "the big picture" and everything in it.

The choice to serve life:  I must serve myself.  I must learn to love who I am while not being selfish  complacent.  I have growth to do.  I must serve my wife.  I must learn to love who she is, encourage her to love herself, yet not be complacent (MUCH harder to do).   I extend this to my friends; coworkers; bosses; employees.  Every time "love" must be present.  I MUST learn to love people I don't like.  But how do I show "love" to my neighborhood, town, wilderness areas, people I have never met?  My mind sometimes just spins at the thought of it.   

As I reflect, the choice to serve life is the choice to serve the big picture.  I need not try to love those I don't know and haven't met and may never meet.  By my serving life where I am, in what I do, in my attitudes, in my communications, I WILL serve those I don't know and haven't met.  

Some illustrations come to mind:  

A child who is learning to walk.  S/he takes a step or two and falls down.  Do we focus on the fall? or do we focus on the next step?  I believe serving life focuses on the next step.

Learning to ride a bicycle (walk a balance beam etc), do I focus on my feet?  Do I obsess with my shakiness?  or do I look forward?

There is a country where if you injure someone you must pay their hospital expenses, but if you accidentally kill them you pay the family $300.  Or where the penalty for killing a cow is more severe than for murdering a person.  The choice to serve life must examine these for the big picture.  

When I think on these things I realize that the choice to serve life is not limited to Christian, or others who profess belief in God.   The choice to serve life is for anyone, just as any one in any belief system might NOT be serving life.

But I will close my thoughts with this:  My belief system suggests that anyone serving life from the root of "Love" (unselfish, unconditional, agape), is serving God, regardless of any identity, culture,  race, creed, or religion.  My faith system indicates that only God's true children love as God loves.  The God I worship and admire loves his entire creation and is the ultimate example of the choice to serve life. And therefore isn't limited to the box of my personal beliefs or faith tradition.




Friday, November 17, 2017

Friendship: A reflection

It was the summer of 1994 when I first made a real effort to understand the meaning of "friend" and "friendship".   Until that time I took friendly relationships for granted - at least I think that is how it was with me.  

Perhaps I had contemplated the terms and meanings before, but simply not given them "voice".  I have, over the years, had many friends.  There comes an ebb and a flow as people move around, change and grow, and so on.  On Facebook I have many "Friends".  Some I know very well from personal contact, others only through technology.

And so it was in the summer 1994 that I gave voice to my understanding and thoughts.  To this day I continue to refer to these observations.

***

Friendship is defined by Webster as 1) the state of being friends 2) attachment between friends 3) friendly feeling or attitude; friendliness.

Friend is defined as 1) a person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance 2) a person on the same side in a struggle; one who is not an enemy or foe; an ally 3) a supporter or sympathizer 4) something thought of as like a friend in being helpful, reliable, etc.

The word "friend" finds its root in the old English "freond" which was used as friend, lover, similar to the German "frijon" - "to love". The
Indo-European root goes back to the word "free". The root meanings here are -- not in bondage, noble, glad, illustrious, to be fond of, and to hold dear. In using "free" with "friend" then it could be concluded that a friend is 1) not under the control of the other person; that each friend is able to act or think without compulsion or arbitrary restriction; having liberty and independence 2) a friend is able to move in any direction; not held, as in chains; not kept from motion 3) a friend is not held or burdened by obligations, debts or discomforts 4) a friend is allowed to leave at any time and is not confined to the usual rules or patterns; not limited by convention or tradition 5) a friend is not restricted by anything except their own limitations or nature and 6) a friend is generous, liberal, frank and straightforward.

Friends and friendships then are a gift.

***

So in my religious philosophy I believe that God sees each person as a friend - even if that person may consider God an enemy. God wants a relationship with me and has chosen to extend love towards me.  Of course not only me but each person, those I care about and those I don't.  

Friendship with God is, by definition then, reserved for those who choose to enter into a "friend" relationship with God.  But what does this relationship look like?  I believe it is unique to each person.  I realize that not everyone agrees with me.  Yet it is my world view that God exists.  Given that as my baseline (and I accept that there are other views in which God does not exist).  But I am working to make sense of my own world view(s).  I am quite sure I cannot make sense of anyone else's.  Given my view that God exists, no longer does it matter to me if any one else thinks God exists.  

And so I am coming to the conclusion that I can be a friend regardless of another person's response or opinion of me.  I may not agree with their opinions, insights, or world views on any variety of topics.  

Friendship is reserved for those who respond.  I am not being a friend so another will reciprocate.  If they do - wonderful.  

When I try to restrict some one I profess to love I exclude myself from friendship with them.  Nor will a friend require from me anything I cannot freely give.