Monday, May 2, 2011


I like to think of myself as an analytical problem solver.  Even better, I am a strategic solution finder.

What goals do we have?  What are the best ways to attain those goals?  What problems might we encounter?  How can we minimize those problems?  How can we maximize the benefits to reach the goal?

I even find solutions for God, not that he's asking me for advice.  He seems to like doing his own thing.

This drives people like me crazy.  By people like me, I mean people who crave logic and reason.  Who like to know why.  Who like to systematize the world.  And to be honest, part of my strategic solution finding is a craving for structure and order in the world.  Apparently people like me have a little problem with control.

Frequently I problem solve first and then start praying after nothing has worked and nothing has changed.  That leaves me feeling like I am asking God to do the impossible.  I mean, I already have tried to figure out a solution, and I couldn't.  Therefore, there can't possibly be a solution.  (Apparently I'm also a little stuck on myself and my ability to strategically approach situations.)

Right now my prayer list includes a lot of impossible requests.  And by impossible, I mean things that are completely out of my control.  No logical course of action can change anything, as far as I can see, and so I must completely depend on God to do what I can't do.

I pray for my son.  I want depression and anxiety to release him the chains they have wrapped around his mind.  I want him to experience God's presence and peace.  I want him to open his heart to God's love.  I want him to see that he's funny and smart and that people will like him if he gives them a chance.  I can't do that for him.  Counseling could not do that for him.  Only God can.

I pray for healing for friends with cancer and other still unidentified illnesses.  I can't heal them.  Doctors can only do so much.  God can do more.

I pray for marriages to thrive, for forgiveness and love to reign.  I can't fix my friends' lives.  Sometimes they can't fix their lives.  But God can.

I pray for spiritual healing for men and women whose hearts break for any number of reasons.  I know a lot of people.  There are a lot of people hurting.

I pray for the little church in Santee to grow.  Certainly there are things we can do. We can reach out to the community.  We can welcome people as they come in the door and invite them into our live, but we can't make people stay.  We can ask God to fill us with love for each other.  We can pray for each other.  But we can't transform lives or heal past hurts.  Only God causes church growth.  And by growth, I mean more than numbers.  I mean lives transformed by the power of God.

Sometimes, as I pray, I just think--all this is impossible.

Certainly some things are physically impossible.  For example, cancer doesn't just disappear.   Unless a miracle happens.

As for the other things I pray for, answers to these prayers don't go against the physical laws of nature.  On the other hand, they just don't happen very often.

And so I'm asking God to step in and do the impossible.  Sometimes I get tired of praying these prayers, because I don't always see God answering my prayers.  However, I do believe God answers prayers and so I keep praying.

Yesterday morning, I got very discouraged, and as I prayed, I thought of that verse where someone says, "Nothing is impossible for God."

I thought back through all my Bible stories and asked myself, "Who says that?"  And I turned to Luke 1, the story of Mary and the angel who announced she would get pregnant and give birth to a son, the son of God.

And Mary asks, "But how can that happen?  I'm a virgin and virgins don't get pregnant.  This is impossible?"

The angel responds in three ways.

First, he tells her how this will happen.  "Okay, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you so that your baby will be the Son of God."  I'm pretty sure this explanation made about as much sense to Mary as it does to any of us.

Next, the angel offers tangible evidence that God can do anything.  "Oh, and by the way if you think this sounds implausible, your cousin Elizabeth, the one everybody thought couldn't have kids, the one who's too old to have kids, she's pregnant."  So crazy, impossible things actually do happen.

And finally he ties it all together.  "Nothing is impossible with God."

God can do anything.  And when he does the impossible, the things we can't possibly do, he gets the credit.  He gets the glory.  We worship him and know he's not just a really cool guy.  He's GOD.

Think about it.  If Elizabeth had gotten pregnant when she was 25, no one would have said, "Wow! God is amazing."  No. Women get pregnant every day.  But when a woman beyond childbearing ages gets pregnant, especially one who has never had a baby, people praise God and know that God does the impossible.

Mary tells the angel, "Okay.  I'm God's servant.  I'll play whatever role God wants me to play."  I don't need to understand everything, but I'm on board.  God can do the impossible.  He can do it through me.

Now, I know there are some differences between this story and the story I'm telling about the impossible.  For instance, the angel approached Mary.  She didn't go to him and suggest that God do the impossible.  Quite honestly, this impossibility was so impossible that she wouldn't have even thought to ask God to do this.

This story presents a theological principle.  God can do anything.

Other passages instruct us to ask.
Luke 11:9 Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.
James 4:2  You don't have what you want because you don't ask for it.
Philippians 4:6  Tell God what you need, and thank him for he's already done.

More than that, we see examples of people asking God to intervene.  Abraham asks God to intervene and save lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The angels rescue Lot and his family.  Hannah begs God for a baby.  God gives her Samuel.  When Peter goes to prison, the church prays for his release.  And he gets released.

And so I'm praying.  I'm asking God for the impossible.

Oh, I'll keep asking God for wisdom in discerning the role I should play in people's lives.  And I'll keep asking him for wisdom in creating new strategies, new ways to proceed.  Creating strategies isn't a bad thing.

But mostly I want to see God's power.  I want to see him do the impossible.  I want to see him do the things I can't possibly do.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What is it about royalty that captures our cultural imagination?

I started watching Piers Morgan on CNN and almost turned it off when I saw he would be showing excerpts from the wedding.  Honestly, I don't care.  For some reason, I kept watching.  

I remember wanting to be a princess--or at least to marry a prince.  Duane is my Prince Charming, to be sure, but he's not the same thing as an actual prince.  

And so this wedding is kind of like driving by an accident.  You don't want to be a lookie-loo, but for some reason you have to at least take a peek.  

As I watch, I think of a few things . . . 
  • Westminster Abbey's floor plan is like a cross.  I'm sure I've heard about this before, but this is the first time I've paid attention. It's kind of cool.  
  • The service opens with a hymn.  I know this hymn, but for the life of me, I can't figure out one single word they people are singing.  
  • At the end of the familiar vows (in sickness and in health, etc.) Prince William and Kate say, "And thereto I give thee my troth." What does this mean?  I looked up "troth," and it means loyalty or faithfulness.  The phrase still makes no sense.  
  • Kate's dad stays on the platform until the end of the ceremony.  I wonder why.  Maybe it's because there aren't enough seats.
  • Why doesn't the Cardinal of Canterbury trim his eyebrows?  They actually curl around his eyeglasses.  This is not an attractive look.  Men, trim your eyebrows.  
I see the crowds swarming around Buckingham Palace, crowds not only from the United Kingdom, but from all over the world, and I wonder . . . 

What is it about royalty that captures our cultural imagination? 

Why is it that, despite more pressing current events, the wedding takes such a prominent role in news media? Why did so many Americans travel to the United Kingdom for this event that they're not even going to attend in person?  And why did so many wake up early Friday morning to watch the wedding?  

On April 22, I met Duane for lunch and turned, and as I drove to the meet place, I turned on the radio caught part of a discussion about this topic on NPR.  

On "For King or Country," aired on A Changing World, J. Anthony McAlistar claims that we have an innate desire for a king which is "deep, almost written into our DNA."  Despite our form of government, we have "a yearning for something more," and without a king, we make our own kings.  Think of the role the Kennedys have played in American history.  Think of the way we idealize movie stars and other celebrities.  

Alistar claims that the "desire to celebrate the elite classes among us is quite natural."  For some reason, deep inside of us we want--or need--something greater than ourselves, and "in the absence of kings, we end up inventing our own."  

Alistar makes some very interesting claims that may explain our culture's fascination with royalty, and immediately I made plans to quote him.  It's always nice to know who you're quoting, and so I did some Google searches on this guy.   It turns out that Alistar is a monarchist who makes his living as a cellist and roving reporter for the LA Opera.  He keeps a blog, if you care.  

Using academic standards, his credentials aren't that credible.  Even if he is on BBC International.  

However, I still like what he says, and in my not so humble opinion, his claims seem plausible.  It turns out that one of my heroes, C.S. Lewis makes very similar claims.  (Alistar actually quotes Lewis in the piece.)  In "Equality," a 1944 essay, Lewis writes, "Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead.  Even famous prostitutes or gangsters."

In order words, if we don't have actual kings, we will make our own kings.  Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  Charlie Sheen.  Oprah.  Donald Trump.  Magic Johnson.  The Mayflower Madame.  Bonnie and Clyde.  Al Capone.  The list goes on and on.  

MTV and HGTV take us into celebrity homes so we can get a glimpse of the royal life.  In LA, people pay money for celebrity maps or tours.  TMZ (and half a dozen more shows plus magazines) tell us more than we want to know about celebrities around the world.  

Why do we care?

Alistar offers a reason: "We need this sense of wonder, and we’re quick to respond to it because it fulfills something deep within us, that longing for splendor and majesty."

I agree.  Lewis suggests that something deeper is going on, that this creation of celebrity represents a spiritual crazing.  He writes, "The spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison instead."  

I think about the ancient Israelis who tired of Samuel, the prophet and judge who ruled them as he heard from God.  They begged him, "Give us a king like the other nations have."  (1 King 8:4)

Up until this time, Israel operates not as a monarchy, but a theocracy.  God governs the people through a prophet.  

But no one can see God.  And so they want a king.  They want the prestige of a king.  The glory of a king.  

Discouraged, Samuel goes to the Lord for guidance, and God tells him, "You're sad because you feel like you've failed.  But it's not you they're rejecting.  It's me.  They want a human king.  Not me."  

He instructs Samuel to let the people know what having a king will be like, and it's not a pretty picture.  You can read about it here.  Basically, the establishment of a king will cost them--their lives, their property, and their freedom.  

We do the same thing when we establish our own kings.  

Lewis puts it like this, "The spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison instead."  Deep inside, we long for something bigger or grander or more glorious than ourselves.  We create kings around us, or we elevate ourselves as kings.  Right now I'm thinking Trump.  (We really can't help tell our own stories.)  

Alistar claims we cannot deny this longing which "seems to be deep, almost written into our DNA."  I think Alistar would like to establish some sort of constitutional monarchy in the United States, but of course that's not going to happen.  We like to pretend that all men are created equal.  If that were true, we wouldn't flock to see celebrities or watch royal weddings.  

But I want to return to Lewis' claim that this represents a spiritual longing.  I believe God created us to long for something greater than ourselves. 

I suggest that this longing represents a longing for the glory and majesty of God.  The royals and other celebrities fascinate us, but they are only substitutes.  

I suggest that as we keep our eyes and years on the Lord, as we acknowledge him as King and worship him in his holiness, we will cease to care about kings and queens, movie stars, or gangsters.  Not right away, but over time.