Friday, July 31, 2009

Quick Question For All My Party People!

I was driving home in the car (as opposed to my horse buggy), listening to a man recount a night of partying with the metal band, Skid Row. He mentioned that he had a blast with them--from what he could remember.

Well if my memory serves me correctly, the nights that most of my friends and fraternity brothers would brag about the following day would be the ones they could remember the least. In fact, it seemed as though the measurement of fun was based on how much one could remember: If you remembered a lot, it was a good time; if you couldn't remember anything at all, then somehow the night turns out to be one of the best nights ever.

My question is this: If the best times of your life are measured by how little you remember them, shouldn't the first two years out of the womb be considered the greatest?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pour Out Your Wretched Heart Before God and See What He Does!

How often do you want to hide from God?
How often are you angry with God, even though you claim you don't even believe in Him?
How much do you want to just yell at the top of your lungs at God, but only because you want to be a "good" person, you don't do it?
How often do you want to tell God you love Him?

Trust is solely dependent upon the reliability of the object of that trust. Can I trust a monkey to survive in the trees of the jungle if I put him there? Of course, because in that realm of life he is trustworthy. But can I trust in that same monkey to rescue to world from the current economic crisis we're facing? Yeah, I could try, but if I was serious in doing so and kept trying, I'd be wrapped up in a nice white jacket and thrown into a pretty room with padded, white walls.

What about God? Can I trust God at all times, which includes by implication in all places with all circumstances? Couple this with an exhortation to pour out my heart to him, a heart that often mistrusts, rebels, hates, spites, scorns, what do I see? I am confronted with the only reality that there is such sweet freedom in the God of my refuge! It's my heart that lead me to want to hide from God (Gen. 3:7-8), is deceitful beyond comprehension (Jer. 17:9), spewing forth all kinds of evils (Matt. 15:19-20). Yet I am challenged--commanded--to pour my heart out before him in all its brokenness, anger, hurt, and doubt. Who is this God I am called to trust? Will he not turn his back on me if I pour out this wretched heart before him?

I must conclude that I trust in God because he is not a monkey, though I know some want to caricature him in that light. Rather, he is the One who revealed just how trustworthy he is when he took on flesh and entered into this mess of a sinful world and loved his people. Who is more worthy of my or your trust than Christ who, knowing my heart even as I feebly attempt to hide (Jn. 2:24-25), loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal 2:20)? Jesus Christ is truly my refuge in times when I feel I can go anywhere or do anything and in times when I am absolutely lost and confused. What immense freedom there is knowing this dark heart can be pried open and laid bare before the Living God of all creation only to be treated with the utmost care and love by the blood of the Lamb, restored to its rightful purpose by his Holy Spirit.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge to us.
-Ps. 62:8

Today you might be hurting. You might be angry with God. You might feel dirty and unable to look to God. Your heart might not be able to trust him. But I ask that you fix your eyes at what Jesus accomplished in the past on the Cross and by his resurrection to change your life in the present so that you may be with him forever in the future. He wants you to pour your heart out before him--no matter what condition it is in--turning from it all, trusting in him, and seeking refuge in his freeing love.

By His Grace.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Chicago, The Lovely City?

You'll see it lovely. I never will. But it will be lovely."
       -Daniel Burnham on the roof of the Reliance Building looking out over the city of Chicago

Exactly 100 years ago today.

These words were spoken by the great architect of Chicago whose impact on America still ripples today, thanks largely to his success in directing the World's Fair of 1893.

I just finished reading The Devil in the White City and these words show up near the end of an amazing book as the author, Erik Larson, provides the falling effects of the pivotal characters in his novel and in history. Though in the epilogue, the words to me serve as a prologue to the 100 years since they were uttered. In fact, I believe they perpetuate one of Larson's major goals of the book as he himself states that

Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow. In the end it is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.

Last night I got to experience this lovely city while at the Taste of Chicago. In the heart of Grant Park, with the magnificent skyline surrounding me, I gathered with a group of friends to watch 4th of July fireworks bursting forth from the harbor. The small group I chilled with was one among hundreds of thousands of people resurrecting a faint remembrance of President Obama floated in the cool night air--the last time this many people were gathered there. This time people did not stop in harmonious awe for the historical election, yet the influence of exploding fire was mesmerizing for most of us. Afterward we had the freedom to prance on Michigan Ave.--which was designed by Burnham--without the hinderance of blasted cars or buses. Save some times where crowds prematurely started running at the sound of a pop, some ganja scents in the air, and some sirens for emergency--all of which are inevitable at something of this magnitude--the evening matched the loveliness Burnham dreamed of.

However, as I read Burnham's words myself I couldn't help feeling twinges of pain, knowing that for however lovely Chicago really is, for the moments that it seems to shine as brightly as the White City, the deep corruption, hyper-segregation, widespread violence, and profuse death still roar from the streets like a lion defending his territory. The Black City was not destroyed by the force of the World's Fair; instead it thrived as evidenced by Dr. H. H. Holmes, America's first mass murder. The roots of a glorious, yet dark, past have allowed Chicago to grow massively, but the growth--masked in many ways as a beautiful city--cannot hide how troubled it truly is.

As with the bid for the World's Fair, Chicago is now at center stage for the 2016 Olympics as the heavy favorite. The city will have much time to prepare, unlike Burnham and Co., but the process I'm sure will be eerily similar. Buildings and parks will be created for the event alone; jobs will be created only to be lost; money will be spent, but more will be made; stars will be born and their fame will carry them. Yet in the darkness, the true city will scurry about like a rat without being thought of or bothered. The figurative cliché may ring true: You could get away with murder.

I can't help but agree with Burnham in so many ways. I'm just beginning to learn how lovely Chicago really is. However I'm also learning that the problem is that it's just too easy to say it's lovely from a rooftop and much harder when staring The Black City right in the face.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pastors, where are your priorities?

Another long day in traffic. Another extended period of time listening to NPR. This time it was a short opinion piece by Daniel Schorr on the now bizarre case of Gov. Mark Sanford and his cheating ways. The title--"Cover-Ups Hurt Cheating American Politicians"--explains the premise of the three-minute long segment I heard as he opined that cheating doesn't necessarily hurt politicians (see Silvio Berlusconi in Italy for example) but the fact that American politicians cover-up their cheating does (see Bill Clinton).

However Schorr ends his time by opening us up to his own bewilderment:

One is left to wonder what makes politicians like ex-Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Gary Hart of Colorado jeopardize promising careers by cheating on their wives. Henry Kissinger famously said, "Power is the great aphrodisiac."

First, if he is right, the career wouldn't necessarily be jeopardized if politicians in America were as forthright as Berlusconi. As much as we claim propriety in this nation, I have my doubts. However, I was immediately saddened by the priorities expressed in these words.

Does one really have to wonder so long to figure out what makes promising politicians cheat on their wives? Could it be that Schorr and men like Sanford and Edwards see the political career as jeopardized by cheating on their wives as opposed to their marriages being jeopardized by their pursuit of power? Schorr's quoting of Kissinger touches it somewhat, but what he communicates in his words is that marriage should serve the career advancement, thus if the marriage is in danger, the career is in danger. Therefore politicians must do whatever it takes to portray the image that the marriage is okay, even if it includes covering it up.

What a devastating, broken view of marriage. Sadly this happens in our churches too. Professors in all my classes communicate time and time again the devastating effects of pastors who get their priorities all mixed up. They cling to their positions as pastors, finding identity in the power they have instead of it being in Christ. As that lust takes over it permeates into other areas of life, many times leading to cheating on their wives. Then, as if utterly blind, they try to hide their sin instead of confessing it, thinking that their pastoral position is jeopardized by cheating instead of being repentant because their marriage is destroyed by their lust for power.

I have to ask, pastors, where are your priorities?

Pastors, please know I am praying for you. I pray you do not see marriage in life as something that advances your own personal cause or career. In a conversation one evening with my pastor I was reminded that I should see marriage as a main vehicle for mutual service, sacrifice, and love that exalts Christ. I hope I see marriage as a beautiful, but incomplete picture of our relationship with Him--the Church as His Bride.

In doing so I trust my public service as a pastor will be honest and full of integrity, giving as opposed to self-serving. Schorr, Kissinger, and countless others have power wrong. Power is not the great aphrodisiac. Real power is found in great sacrifice.