Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Writing honest song lyrics

HOW ARE YOU? Fine? Just fine? Not so fine? Really not so fine? It's hard to be honest, isn't it? 

Thankfully, we can be completely honest with God, who invites us to be truefaced each and every single day of our lives. 

I learned this as a teenager and it probably saved my life. Here's the backstory: If I "own" any part of the Hebrew & Christian Scriptures, I own the middle. It's there we find the book of Psalms. It's actually a collection of 5 books full of ancient song lyrics that rhyme thoughts, not words. That's why so many of the songs still are relevant today and have been each generation for nearly 3,000 years. 

As a young follower of Jesus Christ, I read 5 psalms each day and memorized 1 psalm each week. I also wrote deeply honest "song lyrics that rhyme thoughts" to express my own ups and downs as a teenager. 

So, how are you? You can write your own psalm(s) too...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

NICOLE CLIFFE: I became a Christian on July 7, 2015, after a very pleasant adult life of firm atheism. I’ve found myself telling “the story” when people ask me about it—slightly tweaked for my audience, of course. When talking to non-theists, I do a lot of shrugging and “Crazy, right? Nothing has changed, though!” When talking to other Christians, it’s more, “Obviously it’s been very beautiful, and I am utterly changed by it.” But the story has gotten a little away from me in the telling.

As an atheist since college, I had already mellowed a bit over the previous two or three years, in the course of running a popular feminist website that publishes thoughtful pieces about religion. Like many atheists (who are generally lovely moral people like my father, who would refuse to enter heaven and instead wait outside with his Miles Davis LPs), I started out snarky and defensive about religion, but eventually came to think it was probably nice for people of faith to have faith. I held to that, even though the idea of a benign deity who created and loved us was obviously nonsense...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"When God Is Strange and Awful"

QUOTE: Many of us begin doubting God’s goodness in the face of nightmarish loss. Sometimes we accuse him of evil. But this perspective is quite at home in Scripture. Between Job’s anguished cries, the prophets’ lamentations, and Christ’s screams at Golgotha, there is no retreating into a theological comfort zone where “God would never” allow atrocity.

SOURCE: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/june/when-god-is-strange-and-awful.html  

Friday, April 29, 2016

I'm getting ready!

I'm getting ready to submit my new book manuscript tomorrow. For some reason, I've had more joy writing it than I ever expected. I hope that translates into more joy than readers expect! We'll see when Kregel releases it next year. The working title is Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It's Not What You Think. I have had the opportunity to present an interactive workshop by the same title in Portland (twice) and San Francisco. Now that the book manuscript is written, I'm ready to hit the road again. Next up? Flying to LA May 18-19. After that ... :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Word "Neighbor"

What comes to your mind when you think of the word "neighbor"? Maybe a block party. Maybe an especially helpful or elderly neighbor. Maybe Good Samaritan comes to mind. Maybe the second half of the Great Commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

The past few months, I keep wondering: If Jesus urges us to love our neighbors well, and if Jesus isn't a hypocrite, and if the Jesus stories that make us wince have a purpose, is it possible I have a few counter-intuitive lessons to learn?

Wow, I had no idea. The Jesus stories in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have come alive to me in a whole new way. The result is a new book manuscript titled Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It's Not What You Think. Clearly, clearly, the hero is Jesus!

If you'd like to read a sampling, give me a call, send me a text, or drop me a quick line at sanforddr]at[gmail]dot[com. Believe me, I need all the constructive criticism I can get before the manuscript is due May 1.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

IN THE NEWS: Doubts? Welcome!

“Nobody in America 
   gets listened to.”
 —Eugene Peterson

SUMMARY: Evangelicals are learning to actively listen to others, to consider their multiple points of view, and to honestly admit they don’t have pat answers for life’s toughest questions.  

QUOTE: Frank Ying, 33, works for a technology start-up. Brought up in the Dallas area by immigrant parents who had been raised amid the official atheism of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Ying tried exploring Christianity with his high school classmates, even accompanying them to megachurches, only to be put off by their fundamentalism.

“You have all these questions,” he recalled. “And you have all these long, drawn-out conversations. ‘What do you believe? How much of the Bible do you take literally?’ And these people stop short and say, ‘You’ve just got to have faith.’ But I’ve always been more pragmatic, so that wasn’t good enough.”

Mr. Ying heard about Redeemer Presbyterian from a few acquaintances after moving to Manhattan several years ago. He dipped his toe slowly, watching a YouTube video of Dr. Keller in conversation with a journalist and a historian, emissaries of the secular world. By now, Mr. Ying is a regular at the WS Café, not because he believes, but because his doubts get heard.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Seeing life as Jesus Christ sees it

During this wonderful season, we often like to read great literature, watch a great movie, or hear a great story—and be deeply moved. 
Yet what moves us?

Among other things, point of view (POV) strongly effects how we’re moved. 

To the very finite, limited extent that a story’s POV reflects God’s POV, we can be moved to a new appreciation of Jesus Christ’s unlimited POV in our lives.

POV can be omniscient or all-knowing. It doesn’t mean the narrator tells us everything he or she knows. In fact, the best narrators tell us only what we need to know. During His public ministry, Jesus certainly didn’t say everything He knew. In fact, most times He refused to answer the direct questions darting His way. He did that on purpose!

POV can be omnipotent or all-powerful. In most stories, the narrator isn’t directly making this or that happen. Then again, that sometimes happens, especially in fantasy and mythology. Outside of the days of Moses, the days of Elijah and Elisha, and the days of Jesus Christ and the apostles, God doesn’t directly cast down plagues, blind armies, perform miraculous healings, and bend the laws of nature. Or, does He?

POV can be omnipresent or all-present or, as we might more commonly say, everywhere present. Among other places, this is seen in movies with rapidly changing points of view during epic battle scenes. Classic examples include The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars series. 

POV can be omnibenevolent or all-good. This is the classic happy ending that we love and love to hate. In the midst of a story, we want to deeply fear that all could end terribly. That terrible fear moves some to tears when all ends well. 

This last POV seems to be hard-wired into our DNA, but the term omnibenevolence wasn’t coined until the mid-1800s, and would-be theologians love to argue whether it can be properly used to describe God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The fact is, the Bible doesn’t offer a happy ending for everyone. In that sense, it’s more true-to-life than any great work of fiction. Still, you’ll find this POV permeating most stories. Just don’t equate it with God somehow promising happy endings for one and all. Reality is far different!

Again, any story’s POV is only a small inkling of the Lord’s unlimited POV. So, don’t get too carried away! Still, look for these four points of view the next time you sit down to enjoy a great story and feel deeply moved. 

The best? Being deeply moved to a new appreciation of Jesus Christ’s unlimited POV in our own lives, here and now. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Davidson's magnum opus

Jolyn Davidson has been a dear friend of our family since, well, before Renee & I started dating! :-)   

We can't begin to express our joy and delight announcing that Jolyn's magnum opus has just been published. 

I sincerely wish every friend of mine could read it as soon as possible. Yes, it's THAT good! 

No matter how bad some of your earlier life chapters were, this book will make you wiser and stronger (and happier) for each new life chapter ahead. 

You'll find it at https://www.createspace.com/5806726 and at http://www.amazon.com/Transforming-Wounds-into-Wisdom-Attitudes/dp/0997083700/

Saturday, December 19, 2015

This Christmas, which part will you play?

Courtesy of Medical Teams, http://www.medicalteams.org/micro-sites/syrian-refugee-kits

What is Advent without a little Christmas drama? For children, the plethora of casting options includes sheep and camels. For adults, the choices narrow a bit, and some parts admittedly have become more favored than others.
So, in recent days I’ve wondered, “Which part do I want to play this Christmas season?” Not in a largely imaginative church drama, however, but in the current and all-too-real Syrian refugee mega-crisis.
Let’s not forgot that Joseph and Mary’s hometown of Nazareth was part of Ottoman Syria less than a century ago. With that in mind, do we really want to play the “favored” role of Joseph or Mary this Christmas? Or volunteer a child or grandchild to play baby Jesus? Or do we want to play the innkeeper of Bethlehem, who — like more than 30 U.S. state governments — insists, before a watching world, that he or she has no room?
Then again, do we want to play one of the Magi, who risked everything, seeking the Christ child for many months? They traveled perhaps 1,000 miles or more in a small camel train to find “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). These wise men may have come from a prestigious city of the ancient Medes, Persians or Chaldeans. Why then their intense dedication to find Jesus Christ and present him with exquisite gifts of great wealth? Braving extreme heat, sandstorms and the constant threat of thieves, these Magi traveled through foreign lands to the far west — within a day of the great Mediterranean Sea.
No, we reject such options, and by default find ourselves living in ease and plenty, like King Herod, who feigned reverence for the one born King of the Jews, yet was driven by the cold calculus that a slaughter of the innocents now might, possibly, someday, save his own neck.
Yes, with such a clear-cut calculus, I too am more than eager to raise my hand and voice, saying, “Pick me! In this real-life drama, I want to play the part of King Herod.” Yes, it’s me. True, I won’t take their lives myself, but I’ll demand that the Syrian refugees die somewhere else, off stage, if only to make sure that I still get to take the final bow and accept the applause of my fellow Americans.
After all, King Herod has the best of all lines: “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8).
So, this Advent season, please join me in seeing through the gimmickry of the newly active “charities” raising money to aid the refugees. Our donations, regardless of size, won’t make a difference anyway.
If the Syrians are going to die, Charles Dickens was right: They had best hurry up and do it and decrease the world’s excess refugee population.
Of course, I’m being satirical. Yet I fear many people will accept this as gospel truth. After all, what is Advent without a little Christmas drama?
David Sanford of Salem is the author of the forthcoming book, Loving Your Neighbor (Kregel, 2017). 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why Snoopy is (still) right

SOURCE: http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1976/08/09
In a classic Peanuts® cartoon, Charlie Brown hears that Snoopy is writing a book of theology, and tells him, “I hope you have a good title.” 

Snoopy lifts his hands off the typewriter, closes his eyes, and thinks to himself, I have the perfect title. He then types, “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?”

As a descendant of a long line of atheists, I’ve always felt I still have so much more to learn. I haven’t thought of even 1% of the questions I should be asking. Still, I know and have experienced so much that is true. Truths I can’t review too often!

Truly transforming? Reviewing the dozens of “Who I am in Christ” faith affirmation statements compiled and popularized by Neil T. Anderson, and more than doubled in size by others. Untold thousands have experienced spiritual healing, health and hope by reading them. They certainly have been transformative in my own life and experience. 

Lately, however, I have turned the equation around. What would happen in my heart and life if I began affirming what’s true about “Who Jesus Christ is in me”?

When we ponder “Who Jesus Christ is in me,” what immediately comes to mind? I’ve come to the place where I thank God daily for His sovereignty (greatness), providence (goodness), holiness (glory), love (graciousness), and mystery (God alone knows). Yes, we can rattle off a lot of other theological (and biblical) terms, but these are delightfully immense reminders of who Jesus Christ is in me. I love to ponder each and hope that will become your experience as well.

What else is true? Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry gave the men and women, youth and children around Him amazing foretastes of what is eternal for each of His followers. Those foretastes cover a wide horizon. To name but a few: seeing individuals raised from the dead, seeing other persons healed spiritually, seeing still others healed physically, seeing yet other persons healed psychologically.

Let’s not make the mistake, however, of thinking that wonderful foretastes of heaven aren’t ours to experience today. As a follower of Jesus Christ, my sins past, present and future already are all forgiven, yet I experience it anew each time I confess my sins. Immediately afterward, I want to slow down and savor that specific experience of being forgiven. If I do, I enjoy a delicious foretaste of heaven.

In contrast to some (certainly not all!) of my holiness friends, I believe we still sin. Even though our salvation is all-encompassing, it doesn’t mean we don’t sin—any more than it means we never get sick, never suffer trials, never wrestle with temptation, never fail, never fall, never fear cancer, and never end up dying. Aren’t these means, while on this planet, helping us to continue longing for heaven?

While some speak of the already/but not yet dichotomies of our faith, I like foretastes of heaven and think Jesus just might (?) agree. Then again, Snoopy is right: We’re all in for some major theological adjustments some day! 
What we don’t want to miss, here and now, is slowing down and savoring specific foretaste experiences this side of eternity.