Monthly Archives: March 2010

Hope, Seeing Christ, Goodness

This morning I was struck by the temporary nature of life. The passages for today’s service seemed relevant to that. Each moment of our lives is just that– momentary– and passes away as quickly as it comes. Of course at the same time there are some things that seem to last forever and we wonder if they will ever end– a frustrating class, a bad cold that won’t let go, that habit that seems to never be conquored…but still, what has been will never be again. There is no doubt that most people probably are far too ignorant of the past, of history, and we often live disconnected fragmented lives. But some of us dwell too much in a nostalgic hope for the past, for what we’ve known, and this can lead to a fear of change, fear of the future, a wishing for what we know and frustration with what we don’t.

But Scripture seems to call us to embrace the unknown future with hope, and with an expectation for God to do great things. It is very easy at times, times like right now, to begin to expect the worst, to begin to lose hope because of frustration with the system, with politics, with our lives, with changes we see which we don’t know how to respond to. And there are likely changes which at times we should be concerned about. But what the Bible seems to call us to is an attitude of hopefulness and life-expectation in the midst of whatever comes our way. To act otherwise– to be a fear mongerer, or a person spreading hopelessness and adding fuel to the fires of suspicion and cynicism which are always there to feed, is, I think, not Biblical. God does call us to faithfully expect and await for his blessing, and to have eyes to see his faithfulness and his goodness in the midst of what those with natural vision would see to be disaster and dread.

To reflect on past goodness, former blessings, is good, but to get fixated on it is not good. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18-19 Isaiah calls us to have eyes of faith to expect good from God. That doesn’t mean that we sit back and accept everything that happens as God’s will passively– but it does mean that when we encounter something we are concerned about, and that we respond with hope and faith, not with fear and cynicism.  Living with a response of hope when circumstances seem to dictate alarm is unusual and seems strange– if you don’t understand what that hope is rooted in.  But for Christians, that hope– an expectation of Good things and God’s provision– should be the natural response.

The mystics I love to read are always trying to see Christ in the world, and to quiet their hearts so that they can experience Christ’s presence.  A cynicism will not allow that.  A constantly distracted self will not be able to be still enough to know God’s presence.  A spirit of fear and expectation of disaster will not be able to see the blessings of Christ and the hope of the future, the goodness of this moment…

Another passage was also good for me to hear again: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, …” Phillipians 3:8 I find happiness in a lot of things– my family, my friends, my construction projects, my writing, my students, my reading– but I know that these things also bring me sadness– when I am not able to enjoy them as I think I’d like to. Right now I wish I could spend all my time on my houses, all my time with my parents, all my time writing, and all my time with friends…so I feel a strange frustration of not being able to live 4 lives at once…but this is ridiculous. Phillipians calls me back to my foundation– that I should consider all these things loss except for the knowledge of Christ.

I try to know what this might mean. I think that it means that for these gifts of God to be really sanctified in my life, I should look to see Christ in them, to know Christ more through them. So today when I go to work on 2709 Dewey I will think of it as working on Christ’s building, because I’m just taking care of his stuff. When I dream about a new project I will try to focus primarily on if this is a good use of his life in me– a good use of my life for Him– or if it might be instead a distraction from Him. It seems that almost anything can be a distraction from Christ, or, alternatively, a means of sanctification which draws me closer to Him. Thats how I think about marriage, about ownership of anything, about new projects, old projects, and even about friends and family that you dearly love — any of these can be a distraction from knowledge of Christ, or a porthole into knowledge of Christ.

I hope I can keep perspective on what is of real value throughout my day today, and to make sure that knowing Christ through the day is more important than any of the other temporary blessings which God provides.   I want to have eyes of hope, and of expectation of goodness. 

May God have mercy on us all… andy


I’m lucky I know Izzy…

So the last few weeks I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with my good friend Izzy who works for me and helps me out.  What started as an attempt to help out a guy living out of his truck behind a house I bought has become a pretty significant friendship for me.  I spend more time with Izzy some weeks than I do with anyone else.  “You help me, I help you” is his motto for our friendship, but really he is very kind, very loyal, and a stand up guy, although very shy around people he doesn’t know.  

He comes over most days (today) for coffee in the mornings, and he likes to do tilework, brickwork (he was a mason for 20 years), and he is pretty handy with a hammer. He lives in one of my apartment buildings. I take care of his insurance and various paperwork for him. I trust him completely, and he is more like a relative than a worker– kind of like a zaney puerto-rican uncle I never had (all my uncles were swedes). Sometimes he will drive my volvo, and his head just sticks up over the wheel barely– I love seeing him wheel down the road in that thing. I have had many fun and funny experiences with Izzy in the last few years, and we have a fun relationship. He keeps us positive when we are working– always looks for a solution to problems we’ve got, always tries to help out any way he can, and he is really resourceful– and funny. I consider his friendship a gift from God.

This week he’d been mentioning that he had a little bill to pay down at Salinas at 33rd and Cali. Salina has a nice little market, and she will eextend credit to people she knows. Izzy, likeable as always, sometimes hangs out with Salinas family on the weekends, so he has credit with her. Anyway, there was a bill to settle, so after work I said “lets go pay that salina bill” and Izzy said “that sounds good, maybe I can pick me up some cigarettes!” (He has told me many times that he could stop drinking (he did for 10 years once!) but smoking?– “uh-uh” he always says, wagging his finger in the air at the idea.

So we went to Salinas, where you can get fresh meat and vegetables (including cactus leaves) and icon-candles and all kinds of latino kitchen cleaners and canned goods. As we brought our goods to the counter (I got some chips and jallepenos and candles) I told Salina I also wanted to cover what Izzy owed her. As she looked it up, I pulled out my checkbook. She talked to Izzy a little bit, and then said to me, “I don’t accept checks usually, but I will this time since you know Izzy” and then she talked to him some more in spanish and acted a little surprised, and then smiled at me and took my check. We said our thank yous and went out to the volvo.

Izzy said “she asked me how I knew you and if you were a good guy, and I said ‘this guy owns my building! he’s good for the money, don’t worry!'” and we both had a good laugh.

Good thing I know Izzy so I can get my checks cashed at Salinas. Just goes to show, it helps to know the right people…

May God continue to have mercy on us all…


Mystics, Desert Fathers, and Dishwashers.

Simple Free does a book study group on Wednesday nights at upstream brewery downtown. We’ve been reading through 131 Christians, which gives you brief accounts of the lives of various Christians. This week was “inner travelers” which covered early desert monks up to Oswald Chambers– pretty diverse.

Many of these figures are refered to as mystics– which can mean that they have extatic experiences of God’s presence, such as visions, etc. These Christians try to help nurture that sort of experiential awareness of the presence of God in various ways. I found these figures really remarkable, and personally Brother Laurence, Andrew Murray and Oswald Chambers have had a huge impact on me– I read them constantly along with Watchman Nee when I was 12-18 years old.

The earliest figure we studied was Anthony of Egypt 251-356 We know of him from hagiography by Athanasius, an early Church father. Anthony become a lover of God by resisting the Devil and Yielding to Christ: “the mind of the soul is strong when the pleasures of the body are weak.” He lived for times near the tombs, then in a deserted roman fort for 20 years. Some of his preported sayings are in Apophthegmata, a collection of sayings of desert fathers and mothers

Second was Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179 who thought her visions and interpretations were from God. Born in Germany during first Crusade, she was given as tithe to God (youngest of 10)Joined a Benedictine convent, she was controversial, but respected because she was always pushing for holiness and reform. Scivias is her best known work.

Catherine of Siena 1347-1380 at age 7 saw vision, and her parents gave her basement room as hermitage (whether this was because she was a brat or because of their respect for he vision, who knows). She was #23 of 25 children. Helped with black plague (1348-1350) with a Dominican “third Order” who helped poor. She was known for her feisty personality, and exemplary sanctity and Spiritual marriage to Christ. Tirelessly cared for poor. Exhorted pope to return to Rome in 1377 and leave the corrupt French situation at Avignon. (Gregory XI) Died at 33, made doctor of church in 1970.

Thomas a Kempis 1380-1471 wrote the Imitation of Christ. Early he joined a Dutch Augustinian monastery: Brethren of the common Life. He had many good quotes, such as, “The only man who can safely appear in public is the one who wishes he were at home. He alone can safely speak who prefers to be silent.”

Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 Was a Carmelite (nun) Mystic. Waffled spiritually at a convent in early years. Convicted by God, she began to establish simple Carmelite convents, and worked to reform. She had three works: Autobiography, Way of Perfection, Interior Castle, in which she spoke of progressive disengagement from things of this world. “Rest, indeed! I need no rest, what I need is crosses.”

John of the Cross 1542-1591 Was aSpanish mystic who heaped suffering on himself. Kidnapped by church authorities, put in a cell too short to stand up in. He wrote the Ascent of Mt Carmel, and believed that messages of the senses distort the reality of union with God.

Brother Lawrence 1611-1691 Was an example of simplicity and humble grace: he understood the holiness available within the common business of life. His famous short little work ins “The Practice of the Presence of God” in which he encourages believers to seek God in the simple day to day tasks, and worship as you live normal life.  Poverty forced him to join army. But his experience looking at a barren tree—realizing the hope of summer abundance despite the current dead appearance– inspired him to seek God in the everyday. Joining a monastery, he was assigned to the monastery kitchen. Speaking of all the various disciplines of monastic life, he said, “Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” Common business is for Laurence the medium of God’s love. Love of God made every detail of his life of surpassing value.

William Law 1686-1761 said “So far as you add philosophy to religion, just so far you spoil it” Having little patience for theoretical religion, he wanted concrete personal devotion, and stirred up readers to renewed moral vigor and holiness. His most famous work is “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”

Andrew Murray 1828-1917 Was Dutch Reformed who said that the basis of Christianity is continually casting oneself on Christ. “May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence” For him, obstacles to a meaningful life were half-hearted surrender to God, lack of confidence, skepticism about prayer. “With Christ in the School of Prayer” and “Humility” are perhaps two of his most powerful books for nurturing spiritual discipline.

Oswald Chambers 1874-1917 Converted under Charles Spurgeon. Realized that “God has no respect fo anything I bring him. All he wants from me is unconditional surrender” Chambers believed that spritiual mediocrity was often the result of mental lethargy. Called his listeners to live aggressively for God. God’s will can be found in any circumstance of life, so long as individuals abandon themselves to Christ. “When he brings us to the venture, we take it…” His MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST is a classic Christian devotional– helping one to take their faith more seriously.  One year at Bethel I bought a copy for each of my students– all 120 of them.  I know that mom and dad started using it when I was about 8 because, according to them, I was bored with ‘our daily bread’ devotional… 🙂

I was especially challenged by these thinkers, their lives, and especially their seriousness in putting aside all pursuits but to seek God. Some, like Anthony, did that by leaving the world behind and being in isolated solitude, but most of the others did that as they worked to change the world and the church and bring about reform and spiritual renewal right where thery were– even in the monastic kitchen as they peeled potatoes!!

I hope we can all find ways to focus our attention on what really matters throughout our days. The writings of these Church pillars can help us to do that, if we put forth the effort to pursue it…

May God have mercy on us all…


Why the Salvation Army is So Cool.

I brought my MBA class to the Kroc Center here in Omaha this last week. The Krocs started McDonald’s (hamburgers) and made a fortune, and Mrs. Kroc helped build a Kroc center in San Diego which is focused on helping kids who don’t normally have the same opportunities as other kids. Its a giant family fitness, cultural and education center– kind of like a YMCA on steroids– except that it is run by the Salvation Army. The one in San Diego was so successful that she decided to offer to build them across the country, and so Salvation army offices across the country put in applications for getting one built in their community. Omaha was one of the first to get accepted, and also one of the first to get one built.

The Kroc center in Omaha has four components: physical (pool, gyms, workout facilities, etc) educational (classrooms, computer rooms, programs) and cultural (fine arts auditorium, chapel, banquet hall, the largest kitchen in south Omaha) and spiritual (the salvation army and other groups have church, bible studies and prayer meetings here each week).

The Salvation Army is pretty interesting. It is an organization which has a number of components, like education, helping alcoholics, etc, and one of those components is their church. The church isn’t over all of it, the church is one aspect of it. But Salvation Army officers, who basically run everything, are each ordained ministers (men and women) and officers can only be married to officers (so you and your wife will both be ordained ministers).

What was especially interesting to me is their pay. The officer we spoke with said that when he and his wife moved here, they left their house and car and furniture in Minneapolis for the officers taking their place, and got a car, house etc here in Nebraska– the Salvation army provides that. But he and his wife make 40,000 per year, directing this Kroc center. But the highest paid director within the salvation army worldwide also gets paid that same amount (with his wife). So the salvation army takes care of you, but you aren’t going to get rich. Its definitely a calling.

Salvation Army is, as he told us, very clearly about salvation through Jesus Christ. That is fundamental to who they are and they are very straightforward about that. One student asked if they receive funds from the United Way, and he said that they do participate with the United Way, but that technically the United Way doesn’t just give organizations money, they ‘buy’ programs. So if you want them to help you, they will sponsor a particular program, like your aquatic program, but in doing so it is essentially theirs, and so, for example, you couldn’t have pictures of Jesus or any evangelizing being done in connection with that particular program– there are strings attached. But he of course said wonderful things about the United Way– he just made it clear that they don’t have to rely on the United Way, but it is beneficial for them to be connected to the United Way in large part because then the United Way can say they help the Salvation Army, which helps them raise money which in large part they give to smaller nonprofits. So the Salvation Army plays ball so to speak by lending their name to the effort so that smaller nonprofits can benefit.

The Kroc Center is pretty amazing. IT was packed with kids and families, and was really a wonderful facility. Its available for weddings and parties and meetings and they have a great catering service. Their head chef is an instructor at Metro Cullinary Arts school– which is in the top 10 in the country if you didn’t know 🙂

Kroc centers get 60 million– 30 million for construction, and 30 million for an endowment to live off of (that supplies 1/3 of the Kroc center budget in omaha).  But the local community had to raise an additional 15 million for endowment support.  This was to help ensure that the center and its programs would have long term funding.  The Salvation Army took their stewardship of this large sum seriously, and really thought through wether or not they could follow through and achieve was Mrs. Kroc was expecting.  I really respected that.  They are extremely careful with money, and while that does lead to more red tape in some cases, it also means they have one of the highest credibility ratings of any nonprofit in the world.

It was really encouraging to realize the very strong Christian roots of the Salvation Army and to hear about the dedicated service of the officers.  A good Christian witness for sure…that we all could do so much with what we’ve been given!