Back to School Blues

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This year is one for the books.  Every back to school season is pretty tough but there are certain ones you will never forget.  If your kiddo is starting their senior year in high school, you know what I’m talking about.  If your son or daughter started college this year or is going back to college, you also know what I’m talking about.  You people have my respect.  I’m a novice by comparison.  That being said, our youngest started Kindergarten this year and our oldest started Middle School.  So our house is a little quieter…aside from a pretty hyper golden retriever /mutt.

Every season you go through with your kids will cause you to ponder a little bit.  If you are like me, God help you if you are, you are looking at the big picture.  Unfortunately, that’s how my mind works.  I can’t help but think about how long it will be before Savannah is going into high school, driving, spending more time with her friends than us and applying for college.  Then I start thinking about how Kaiden is not far behind her in all of those things and we are in a place in life where we don’t have toddlers or babies in our house.  Then I remember how I used to think that people in this stage of life were so…old.  I know…wah, waaaaaaaah!!!  What a total bummer.  If I’m not careful, I’ll let my mind wander to places that drag me down and completely miss out on the opportunities that I have in front of me.  Opportunities to still be an influence in our kids lives opportunities to grow in our dependence on God.

After I have my little pity party, my mind switches back to the big picture again which is this: God has something in store for you in this season of life.  That is true if your kid is in college, in high school, middle school, elementary school or is starting a new job.  Its true if you are waaaaay past the kid stage and you rarely hear from or see your kids.  God has a plan for you in this season of life.  How will you embrace it, chase it or will you simply erase it??  Dr. Seuss would be proud.  Seriously, God isn’t done with you yet nor will He be until you go to be in His presence.  Spend some time in prayer this week asking God to reveal at least the next step in this process to you.  I heard a phrase a few years ago that has stuck with me.  I think it was Anne Graham Lotz that said it. “Walk in the light that you have.” You will never know His plan completely but you will know parts of His plan.  Be obedient to the parts that you know.  Peace out.

“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

 

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Letting Off Steam

I have to admit, I did it because I wanted to see a good fight.  I know that is pretty red neck of me but I was really curious.  Let’s all be honest here, we all like a good fight.  When it comes to our next election, I’m sure we’re going to see many.  The fight I’m talking about of course was the first debate for the GOP.  I’m not an extremely political person nor do I like to let politics divide us as believers, so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the politics behind this meeting.  I do want to talk bout the concept of having a discussion without trashing the other person.

So I set my DVR for record.  Why?  I really wanted to see Donald Trump mow over some people and then I was praying for retaliation.  I know, I’m sick.  Its like going to pay per view and watching an MMA fight.  You don’t watch it in hopes of seeing the guys dance around the ring for the entire match, YOU WANT BLOOD!  That’s exactly why I tuned into the debate.  Okay, that and to see who the best candidate would be for the GOP nominee.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a registered Republican, I’m about as Independent of a voter as they come. Back to the whole politics being divisive thing.  I’ll move on.  My point in saying all of that is this, we live in a world where we cannot voice our own opinion on a matter without torching someone else’s view.  We can’t have a kind conversation about what we have convictions about without tearing apart other people’s conviction and it has to stop.  Sure, I understand in an election, we have to compare and contrast the views of our candidates but we are relatively smart people and can do some of that naturally.

I’m afraid that this mentality spills over into our every day lives though.  We take what we see in debates, interviews and reality shows and begin to confront people in a combative manner.  Here’s something that I’m beginning to understand: Confrontation is an art form, not a pressure release valve.  We do confrontation not because we need to let off some steam, but for the sake of healthy relationships; we have to deal with issues that may divide us if not discussed.  If we are followers of Jesus then we are to be about the business of “loving others relentlessly” and we have to get this straight.  Of course, our personality types do get in the way.  In a very basic understanding of conflict, there are two ways of handling disagreements.  There are conflict avoiders and conflict embracers.

Silence is Golden – If I am being totally transparent, I fit into this category.  I’m not really happy about that either.  There have been many situations where I have walked away from a conversation or disagreement and have thought, “I really should have said something”.  It usually results in a Robert Deniro in “Taxi” moment where I’m having a fake conversation with myself in a mirror saying “You talking’ to me?!” and wishing I had simply said what I was thinking in a loving way.  Too much info?  Sorry about that.  The bottom line is that I avoid conflict.

The problem is that I then harbor feelings of resentment toward my brother and sister in Christ and then that anger will resurface later as an atom bomb.  I will blow up over something stupid that doesn’t deserve that sort of response.  They also call this “bottling”.  I bottle up my anger and then it explodes as soon as someone twists the cap open.  Without knowing it I have bought into a “silence is golden” mentality where I worry so much about how someone else feels that I fail to speak up and say something that could be of value to that person.

Scorched Earth – I have known plenty of people who embrace conflict.  It is natural for them.  I am pretty sure they sleep well at night.  Are there times when they regret something that they said?  Maybe.  Whatever the case may be they speak their mind in the situation and don’t spend a lot of time regretting what the consequences may be.  Obviously, the danger in this is that you could say things that you should regret later whether you actually regret them or not.  I have a friend that calls this a “scorched earth” mentality.    You open your mouth and let the flames of your acidic personality engulf the listener, leaving a path of smoldering emotions in your wake.  Not cool.  What happens over time is that you become numb to the hurt feelings around you without realizing that you have relational B.O. (body odor for those who are confused) and people will keep you at an arms length.  Some of us may be okay with this but it is not a great community builder.  People begin to fear what you may say to them and will cease telling you things that matter to them because they don’t know how you will react.

God has a lot to say about how to do conflict well.  There is the tried and true Matthew 18 model that gives us insight on how to approach a situation where there are already hurt feelings but I am talking more about an every day practice of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).  It involves us caring more about the relationships around us than our own personal preferences.  That includes people like me who are conflict avoiders actually speaking up and saying something for the sake of the relationship even when we don’t want to.  It also includes people with a “scorched earth” mentality who have to begin to care more about how those words might affect people who hear them.  I love this verse from James that sums it up pretty well:

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21)

I think to be people who love others well, we have to be good listeners.  Let’s actually hear what the other person is saying before we assume the worst, cut them off and than inject our wrong opinion on the matter.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t speak up, it means that we are slow to speak up.  We let them voice their opinion, then we say something.  This shows that we actually value their opinion.  That needs to be our posture from the beginning.  Our attitude has to change about the person before we even start the conversation.  Let’s embrace humility, not the unhealthy kind but the kind that says I value someone else’s opinion.  We also have to put the weapons that other people use aside.  Let’s not back stab, assume the worst, name call, trash talk, mock or stereotype.  In the interest of being authentic…guilty as charged.  I do those things too.  Let’s agree to put those aside together.

Lastly, let’s let God’s word penetrate our hearts and become the posture of our souls.  His words are not static print on a page.  It is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and capable of invading our lives…yes, even in the 21st century.  It is not an archaic document incapable of having relevance today.  It is supernatural because God is supernatural and can create a universe by simply speaking into nothingness and darkness.

Let’s not subscribe to the “silence is golden” model or the “scorched earth” mentality.  To love others, we have to do conflict well.  Pray for me and I’ll pray for you.  Peace.

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Evangelical Cannibalism – Why We Eat Our Own

Tullian Tchividjian, Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell.  Just saying those names on Facebook, Twitter, or in a blog can reciprocate some nasty comments.  Why do we feel the need to list the sins of the people who once led us and now are on the “down and outs”?  Please don’t tell me that it is church discipline because nine times out of ten, their church has already dealt with it and discipline is already taking place.  Don’t paint yourself as a shepherd of God’s people while secretly you are unleashing your anger and justifying your pride in a particular area.

Sure, I understand that they are high profile and the potential for misleading others is great but I’m relatively sure that most of us already see that they have fallen from grace and are in need of help.  Why isn’t our gut reaction one of prayer and sorrow rather than venom, pointing fingers and quoting Bible verses?  For some reason a large contingency of us feel the need to kick them while they are down instead of praying for God to pick them up.  I know that there are many people who aren’t as vocal as the ones that will spew hatred online, and I know for a fact that many pray for them and simply don’t voice it.  To the silent few that diligently seek God in prayer and are humble in their approach, I would say thank you.  Thank you for modeling Christ and for quietly living out His will.  You are an encouragement to me and give me hope for the Church.

Still, it intrigues me that we are so quick to eat our own.  The moment someone comes out publicly that their life is a wreck, we sharpen our dinner knives, get out the seasoning and set the table.  Because it’s dinner time!!!  Apparently we have been salivating and just waiting for the day that you would show yourself vulnerable and today is the day!! YAY!!!  Time to sink our teeth in and vent our frustrations toward you.  Gross.  Why on earth do we do this!!?  Since I’ve witnessed this over and over again, I’ve formed some opinions on why I think this happens.  There are probably a multitude of other reasons but here are the ones that I see regularly.

Embarrassment – Embarrassment that we followed them for so long and, whether we would admit this or not, they became our focal point.  Not Jesus.  Sure, it was their interpretation of who Jesus is and was that made us really excited but the bottom line is that we told all of our friends about them, recommended their books and ultimately took our eyes off of Jesus, even if it was temporary.  Simply put, that’s idolatry.  Please hear me out, I’m guilty of this too.  It would take me a while to list the people that I’ve gotten excited about and spent a lot of time talking to friends and family about, when I’ve spent very little time talking about why I’m excited about Jesus.  Sure, most of them are writing about Jesus but it is surprising how little time I’d spend talking about Him and more about this speaker or author.

Justification – I believe that we feel justified when we go after someone; that somehow I am better than them because of this.  Maybe you never liked them to begin with and here is your chance to voice why you were never a fan.  What I would say to that is, poor timing.  If you aren’t secure enough in Christ to find your identity in Him instead of being right all the time, you need to resolve that with God.  God has forgiven all of us of much and because of that our attitude should change.  Our changed attitude should result in an authenticity about our own sin and failures that is refreshing to others.  If our attitude about our own sin and failures isn’t changed, it will result in us picking a fight online or going after someone with a ferocity that is disgusting to an onlooking world.  If we can’t love one another, how can we possibly love others that are different from us?

Jealousy – If we are honest with ourselves, there is a little bit of jealousy involved. We guise it in a cloak of “Pastor’s shouldn’t be so flashy” or “Leaders in Christianity shouldn’t be famous” but the bottom line is we are jealous.  We don’t see what the big deal is because what they are saying isn’t all that revolutionary.  They are just packaging the message differently. “I mean, I say the same things in my messages every Sunday, why don’t people respond to it like they respond to his/her messages?” Pastor’s, we would never say that out loud but be real with yourself for a moment, you think that.

If you go through all three of those reasons, they are listed as sin in the Bible.  Go through Galatians 5 and look at the deeds of the flesh.  Jealousy and idolatry is in there.  If you look at the chief sin of the Devil it was pride.  I just covered all three of those reasons I’ve listed to you.  Let’s be the church.  That means that when one of us falls, we pick the fallen up.  We don’t step on top of them to keep pursuing our own goals.  We hurt for them when they hurt and pray that God will restore them.  Let’s be like Jesus and enter into the pain and hurt and love others relentlessly.

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Terminator and the laws of nature

Love is the most powerful weapon that we have as followers of Jesus. It isn’t truth, doctrine, convincing arguments, discernment or even clean living. The most powerful weapon that we have in our arsenal is love. I’ve seen love shine through illness, death, hate, racism, divorce, depression and regret. When you see love in these environments it is like seeing a rose in the desert. It’s like drinking from a pure fountain when you are about to die of thirst and like being next to a fire in the bitter cold. Suffering makes love stand out and it draws you in and warms you. That type of love is inexplicable.

SUPERNATURAL LOVE

It is not only hard to explain, it’s downright mysterious. When you get right down to it, there is absolutely no reason to show that kind of love while you are going through intense pain or when things in life are not going your way. It is enigmatic and supernatural.

Before you get spooked out on the word “supernatural” let’s take some cues from Webster’s and get on the same page. Here is a definition I’m fond of:

su·per·nat·u·ral (so͞opərˈnaCH(ə)rəl)/adjective “departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature.” (Merriam-Webster.com)

 To see people reach out to others who are suffering and show them a one sided, unreciprocated, unrelenting love, is… unnatural. It is uncommon and I would submit that it “transcends the laws of nature”. The laws of nature are eat or be eaten. The laws of nature dictate “only the strong survive”: kill or be killed. The laws of nature state that if you don’t pick yourself up by your bootstraps, you WILL get left behind. When you really think about it, the way the natural world operates is like a machine.

“I’ll be back” – Have you ever seen the movie Terminator? I know, dumb question. Even if you haven’t seen it, it is pretty easy to get the gist of it. A robot from the future is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor who will be the mother of John Connor who eventually leads humanity in the war against the robots that are trying to stamp out humanity. You know, the classic feel good story. As a teen, I was obsessed with this movie. There is something terrifying about the whole concept of the movie. I mean when Mr. Universe gets mad at you, you better beef up your last will and testament!

I think that the reason movies and stories like “Terminator” are scary to us is because machines don’t feel, they don’t care and you can’t appeal to their humanity in any way to stop their course of action. In the words of Reese from “Terminator”: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead..” Wow, thanks Reese. I appreciate you softening the blow that a bloodthirsty robot bent on my destruction is virtually unstoppable. At least there’s that. If you’ll pardon me, I think I will put on some Pink Floyd, turn out all of the lights and eat a carton of ice cream just to cheer up.

Our lives are a little bit that way. Well, take out the bloodthirsty robot part. I think that’s why stories like this appeal to us on some level. Outside of any supernatural influence, the world that we live in is the same way. It is cruel, unfeeling and a it’s a machine that will chew you up and spit you out without blinking. That is the natural world that we live in. Have a nice day. (Wah waaaah) Seriously, the world that surrounds us doesn’t care what kind of day we’ve had, it doesn’t take into consideration what sort of tragedy we’ve experienced in our life and it certainly doesn’t have our best interest in mind.

I believe that there is something supernatural about love. It is hard to even explain what it is without getting kinda weird. Love is a feeling but it is much more than that. Love is an act of kindness but it is even more than that. Love is a way of viewing the world we live in but it is much more than that. It is all of the things that I mentioned before but significantly much, much more. When it comes right down to it, love is a way of life really.  Love is supernatural.  It transcends the laws of nature.  So what prompts us to live a life full of love?  We’ll talk about that next time.

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The Suicide Squad and Hero Mythology

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There’s no other way to say it.  I’m a nerd.  Not only am I a nerd, I’m pretty predictable nerd.  If Marvel puts out a movie, I’m going to watch it.  You want to make a movie about a guy that shrinks to the size of an ant and his arch enemy looks like a hornet? I’m in!  I’ll see it.  I may not go watch that one in the theater but you can bet I’ll watch it at some point.  Besides, Paul Rudd is money!!!  Guardians of the Galaxy 2, 3 and 4?  Front row baby (maybe more like the back row because you get a better view but front row has more oomph).  I’ll be there. Go ahead and repeat that last scenario with Captain America, Iron Man, Avengers, Thor and the likes and the result will be the same.

I’ve seen all of the new Batman movies and despite how badly I feel like the last Superman: Man of Steel movie was…I’ll be watching Batman vs Superman on the big screen.  Rooting for Batman of course.  Yes, I know that Superman has super strength and is virtually indestructable but we all know that Bruce Wayne is going to score some Kryptonite and make the fight worth our while.  I can’t wait!

I was a little conflicted however, when I heard that they were making a superhero movie about super villains.  I’m sort of a purist when it comes to superheroes.  I like my heroes good and my villain bad.  I get a little edgy when the lines are blurred on the two.  Sure, Batman has a tendency to push the boundaries a little bit but he was always still on the side of justice…with a side of vengeance.  I’ve been reading a lot of articles and I have watched the trailer for “Suicide Squad” in which Dead Shot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and a few other baddies are recruited for impossible missions.  There is a lot of gray in this movie from the stand point of good and evil.  That being said, the writers and director (David Ayer) of this movie have done something really interesting with these characters, at least in the trailer.  You feel for them.

I think we all connect with characters who are down and out and have nothing to lose.  I am strangely intrigued by these guys I typically root against.  That’s just good writing!  Since my brain is always running and I can’t seem to turn it off, I have to wonder why am I rooting for them.  I think if I break it down a bit, I would say that we all see the bad in ourselves.  We are with ourselves 24/7 and we know our own thoughts and motivations.  We understand the capability that each one of us has for evil.  That can be overwhelming at times and we can sometimes begin to think that because of that, we can’t be used for good.

Enter in “The Suicide Squad”.  These criminals that have been thrown in a deep dark hole and then the hole has been thrown away, have the opportunity to do something valiant, to do something good.  I think we see the Suicide Squad in each one of us and we then find ourselves rooting for characters that we hope are redeemable.  That is the human story.  We are each capable of great evil but God wants to use us for good.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Since the movie doesn’t come out until 2016, I have no idea what the content of it is or even if it will be a good movie.  Quite honestly, I’m already wishing that Harley Quinn had longer pants on so I wouldn’t have a guilty conscience while watching the trailer.  That’s just me being real.  I do know that there is something inside of me that roots for these anti heroes because I also am also rooting for humanity and we’re all in the same boat:  fallen from grace but hoping for redemption.

“Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”                            –1 Corinthians 6:11

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You’re Being Lied To

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  John 8:44

 That might seem a little harsh of Jesus. I mean isn’t Jesus our buddy and pal? How could He talk to people like that? If we put it into context, Jesus is in the middle of a discussion about truth. It was right after His infamous sound byte that most people are familiar with, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

What the group of religious people didn’t realize was that they had been lied to. They thought that the heart of the gospel was discipline and outward obedience. They’d reassure themselves by telling each other, “Doesn’t God want us to be good people? How could being extra good be wrong? Let’s be as good as we possibly can!” That doesn’t sound all of that bad does it? It’s a lot better than intentionally hurting people and embracing a destructive lifestyle right?

For context, Jesus had just finished telling them and everyone around them that they were slaves. The Pharisees didn’t really like that. You see they had been lied to and they didn’t even know it yet. They were slaves to a way of relating to God that actually put Him at a distance. The lie is that you can be good outwardly and God will love you more and you can earn a path to heaven. All lies. God loves you unconditionally and wants a relationship with you through Jesus.  That would mean that the Pharisees would have to abandon their religious practices that they had invested years and years of self-denial and of studying the law. What a waste!!!

These lies had seeped in like a poisonous gas, undetected, and it had affected them without their knowledge. Here’s the kicker, we might be tempted at this point to target the Pharisees as the ultimate enemy! They have changed God’s plan for humanity, misled hundreds of people, created a pace of life that is unsustainable for most people and driven them farther away from God! Not only that, they are actively pursuing Jesus and will even take a shot at his mom in John 8:41 by saying “We are not illegitimate children.” winking an eye to His virgin birth. Rumors were still circulating at the time about who Jesus’ father REALLY was. Low blow Pharisees, low blow.

I mean think about it. The last time someone took a shot at YOUR mom, which was probably in Middle School, how did you feel? Jesus would have been justified in making them the enemy. His disciples wouldn’t have batted an eye if He had made a hole open up underneath these guys and made them disappear. However, in this paragraph he points to the root of the issue. The root of the issue isn’t religion, or a people group or even a philosophy of life. The enemy, at a very basic level, is Satan and his lies. These people are simply under the influence and control of that power.

As followers of Jesus, we are under the same challenge.  Maybe it is people that are taking shots at what you believe.  They are in awe at your stupidity in following a dead guy that supposedly performed miracles.  They can’t believe you’d waste time reading an antiquated book full of fairy tales.  It could be that someone who has been wounded and damaged is hurting you.  You know, hurting people hurt right?  It could be as simple as an argument that you had at home with your spouse.  Don’t forget, we all get lied to.  We all get misled.  Those lies seep in like a poisonous gas.  The best we can do is cling to the truths that Jesus spoke of and lived out.  The more we reflect that example of love the better.

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Sweet Land of Liberty

On this fourth of July, I find myself incredibly grateful to live in this great country, even though we may not all agree on the decisions that our leadership makes.  However, that is one of the things that makes it so great.  We have a voice and we are able to express the things that we disagree on and we are allowed to weigh in on what we think might make it a better nation.  After watching this video from a TED talk that was filmed back in March, I realize that we still live in the greatest nation on the planet, even though we are not all on the same page.  Check this out.

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