Friday, March 28, 2014

Nakedness and Shame at the YMCA

As a warning....this is not a typical post about theology.  It is my humorous take on my lifetime of experiences in the lockers rooms of the YMCA. 

The YMCA has been a prominent part of my life.  Some of my earliest memories are swim lessons as a toddler and camp as a pre-schooler.  As an adult I have continued these traditions with my own family.  For those who have never experienced the "Y" culture, especially the culture of the locker room, this could be a very eye opening post.  Or, in reality, "Please please please burn out my eyes and gouge them with a melon baller!!!!!"  And, if you have ever attended a YMCA, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

Here is my list of the stages of development as related to shame and nakedness at the YMCA:

Ages 0-2: 

Fun and cute in the pool!
What Happens:   At this stage you have no memories.  But from observation and personal practice, you go into whatever locker room that the parent who brought you goes into.  You will run around without shame and cause a great deal of frustration for the parent trying to dress/undress you.

What it Reveals:  You have no shame or concern

Ages 3-4:
Please please please do not say that word out loud!!

What Happens:  If you go into the locker room with your same gendered parent, nothing really.  If you go into the locker room with your opposite gendered parent it is a much different experience.  They will hustle you to a corner or a row of lockers where as few people as possible are.  They make a number of statements like, "Look over there for a second, stop staring, don't move until we are ready to go" 

What it Reveals:  It's rude to look at other people naked, unless its your family.  And if it is your family, DO NOT make loud comments about how they look while in the locker room.....

Ages 5-8:
Life is completely confusing, but at least mom and dad are super cool

What Happens:  You have now learned about stranger danger and "private parts".  Not sure how to negotiate this world completely you just try to get dressed quickly and get out.

What it Reveals:  You have NO idea how to feel.

Ages 9-12:
I am my own person, I've got a California scooter, I came here by MYSELF!

What Happens:  Dear God, did I forget that I am wearing my cartoon themed underwear today?!?!?!?!  Worries about laughter and ridicule drive every decision about the locker room experience.  But this does not stop you from spending enough time in the locker room to cause your parent to come in to yell at you to hurry up.

What it Reveals: Peer evaluation of how we appear in the "raw" begins to shape your personal perspective about yourself.  To this day I remember making fun of someone for having batman underwear, while secretly praying that no one noticed my superman underwear....True story
Ages 13-18:

I can totally go home anytime I want to, I am my own person, man!
What Happens:  I'm confident.  Well, not as confident as that weirdo who clearly enjoys walking around completely nude...mainly for the purpose of making the other people uncomfortable.  That person wears their nakedness like a weapon.  They are usually a Senior and their "targets" are generally freshmen.  While we may now feel more "comfortable" it is still a bit of an act.  We carry a strategically placed towel around and shower with our backs to the rest of the room.

What it Reveals:  Still not too sure about this whole body image thing.  Comparison is huge which leads to a life long obsession with body shame....

Ages 19-22:
My first semester has been hard.  At least I can go to the Y on break....

What Happens:  Who cares?  I go to college!!  Communal showering has changed my perspectives.  But I mostly hang out in the locker room to unabashedly flex my muscles in the mirror prior/post work out.  Also, when no one is looking I suck in my gut and stand sideways to look at the mirror.  Man, I need to cut back on the pizza when I get back to campus....

What it Reveals:  I am too obsessed with how I look and way to confident in my appearance. 

Ages 22-30:

Got my first head shot for that amazing career opportunity they gave me when I graduated.  Totally not a pyramid scheme.........
What Happens:  Gotta get in and out fast.  New career, new kids, new home.  I know I need to exercise, but I just don't have time to really think about what I am doing in here...

What it Reveals:  Too busy with life to really get hung up on much at all.  There is plenty of time to feel bad about yourself at work or home....

Ages 30-45:

Life makes sense to me.  I go to the Y to relax.
What Happens:  Finally, the locker room is not a place for apprehension.  Dressing and undressing is just something we adults do as we prepare for activities.

What it Reveals:  This is the sweet spot.  Finding our stride in life, last decade or so of optimal health.  Married long enough to not overly worry about what we look like. 
Ages 45-60:

At 50 my best friends are; 1)That one girl from high school who I still talk to, and, 2) The other ladies at work.....can't wait to retire.....

What Happens:  Where did I put my towel?  I know it was just over here....Let me wander around until I find it...Oh, there's Jerry from accounting...gotta ask him a question fast

What it reveals:  We wouldn't walk around naked outside, but here, in our domain, the locker room, who cares.
Ages 60-65:

So how many more times do I have to let my doctor check that before I die......

What Happens:  Naked toe touches in the sauna(true story).  20-30 minutes spent completely nude and no one knows if you are just getting there to work out, or, just about to go home....Wasn't this person in here a few hours ago???

What it Reveals:  Clothes are a restriction to being comfortable.  Our spouses and "society" don't let us really be free.  But here in the locker room I can finally relax. 

Ages 65 and Up:

This is an image a of a typical "old" person at your local Y.....

What Happens:  More naked toe touches.  Hogging the only hair dryer to completely dry your naked body while staring at yourself in a mirror......Walking over, naked, to speak to small children who had been dragged in by well meaning parents....Standing as close to the door into and out of the locker room.....Sitting completely naked, without a towel as a cushion, on the seat someone else was just about to use.---ALL of these happen on a regular basis and in a given week I observe each of them occur

What it Reveals:  I'm naked?  No idea!!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When You Just Can't Please People

Have you ever been in a situation where it seems that no matter what you do you are going to be in trouble?  To be honest, sometimes it is completely on you.  When I was in high school I thought it would be a grand romantic gesture to buy my girlfriend a "diamond"(in quotations because it was so small it barely qualified as a diamond and cost less then $120) for Christmas.  My parents were, and still are, fairly wise people.  I knew that they would never accept me doing something so ill advised.  So I kept it secret from them. 

Being a good mom "found" the receipt "accidentally" in the bottom of my underwear drawer....Seriously mom, what were you doing in there anyways...can't you just trust me???.....And my parents sat me down for a "talk".  Since they were scheming tricksters who liked letting me hang myself they asked me to share with them again what I had bought for my girlfriend.  My radar was up, but I thought I could skate through this.  So I lied.  And comes the evidence. 

At this point there was nothing I could say to protect myself.  The lying part of the event caused my parents to punish me with an assignment to write a 6 page biblically researched paper about lying and respecting your parents.  Which led to my second unwinnable situation.  I was grounded UNTIL I finished the paper.  So, the quicker I got it done, the quicker I was free.  I wrote it in one day....and it was actually quite good.  But that resulted in my parents pointing out that I would never be able to get away with turning a class assignment in late ever again......which I had a tendency to do...sometimes literally MONTHS late. 

Damned no matter what I do..... And it was totally my fault....

But there is a much more difficult place to be stuck.  When nothing you do will cause someone to respond well to you.  And you ARE NOT in the wrong.  This is a terrible place to be.  When you find yourself there it can become debilitating.  You start to make bad decisions, and even crazy ones, just in the hopes that maybe something will break this impasse.  Being consumed by worry about this persons opinion of you leads to all sorts of unhealthy choices and mindsets. 

Being a people pleaser is no way to live.

While it is to be commended when we seek to be servant hearted, that shouldn't drift into bad behaviors for the sake of serving.  Then you won't be serving anyone.... My son is a tyrant at meal times.  NOTHING we offer is good enough for him.  Should we then offer him candy?  Of course not.  I can't force feed him, but I also will not compromise truth and health just to make him "happy"

"For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon,".  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard"--Matthew 11:18-19

People, in their sin, complained about John for one reason, and then, complained about Jesus for the opposite reason.  You just can't win with some people.  The problem wasn't John's ministry or Jesus's message.  The problem was sinful hearts.  No matter how graceful, loving and miraculous either man could be in their midst, they had already decided in their hearts to be opposed to them. 

So how do we handle it?

By not handling it....

Jesus goes on to say, "Wisdom is proved right by her actions".  The context leads us to understand that the wise choice in the midst of the complaints is to do what is right.  Not because someone will respond well to it, but, BECAUSE it is right.  If someone still wants to be mad at you, that's on them.  At the heart of someone's dissatisfaction with you is often the reality of sin.  Root yourself, not in their opinions and reactions, but instead on the Word of God. 

So how do you respond to someone who treats you like that?  Love and patience!  You can't change them by what you do, you just have to love them.  The ministry of Jesus and the Gospel is not about "proving" it is right so that people get over themselves and their complaints.  It is about changed hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit.  And, unless I am gravely mistaken, you are not the Holy Spirit.  Do what is right, speak what is true, serve them as Christ served you.  And let the chips fall where they may.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fundamentally a Fundamentalist(related thoughts to World Vision's Changed Hiring Practices)

For obviously the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew. The new truth which you do not know and which you need must, in the very nature of things, be hidden precisely in the doctrine you least like and least understand.... there will be progress in Christian knowledge only as long as we accept the challenge of the difficult or repellent doctrines. A “liberal” Christianity which considers itself free to alter the faith whenever the faith looks perplexing or repellent must be completely stagnant.
-C. S. Lewis

Being a fundamentalist is taking a beating these days.  But I will admit that I am proud to be one.  So how do I(and perhaps you) feel confident in asserting our fundamentalistism when it seems to be so maligned?

First, lets understand what it is, and, what it isn't. 

Culture has conflated two beliefs and behaviors and made them appear to be synonymous.  To illustrate, it is like they take the true statement, "All apples are fruits", and then add, "All fruits are apples".  One IS true, the other is absurdly wrong.  But, recognizing that all fruits are not indeed apples does not then disprove the preceding statement that all apples are fruits.

Practically, it looks like this;

Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist are fundamentalists AND their beliefs and behaviors are abhorrent.  Reformed Southern Baptists are fundamentalists, THEREFORE, their beliefs and behaviors are abhorrent.  The term, "fundamentalist", is used as a pejorative slander in this example.  Perhaps you can think of your own examples of how you can observe this at play today.  And I would contend that in this usage it is wildly misleading and criminally incorrect.

So what is a better understanding of fundamentalism?

Simply put, fundamentalist beliefs and behaviors are any of either that a person, or, group of people, find to be non-negotiably true.  For example, I am betting you are a fundamentalist about murder.  You have unalterable convictions about murder and are unwilling to negotiate a compromise with the opposing view point. 

If an axe murderer comes into you house you would not feel it an adequate conclusion to "come together" with the man with the axe to find a mutually beneficial ending to your impasse.  Only having your leg chopped off is not a good compromise.  You stand firmly, FUNDAMENTALLY, on the position that he not only should NOT murder you, but should leave without harming you post haste!

Man, you are such a bigot...... 

EVERYONE is a fundamentalist.  When push comes to shove, there are a number of things that you would never waver on.  Which is a good thing!  So, why do we hear so much negativity about fundamentalists?  Because we refuse to personally examine whether we are being fundamentalist enough.  As CS Lewis said, we love the truths that we already agree to, we find very difficult dealing with the truths that are revealed that challenge our beliefs and behaviors that we currently enjoy.

A set of beliefs should be evaluated upon the premises and conclusions they describe.  Not evaluated by whether or not we can categorize the concept of having different ideas in a box that we can more easily discard.  Westboro Baptist's beliefs and behaviors do not align with; 1) Scripture, or, 2) General Ethics.  We don't need to describe it short hand(fundamentalists!!!!) to prove that it is bad.  The very premise and conclusions they make are demonstrably false in a myriad of ways.  They aren't wrong because they are fundamentalists, they are wrong, because....they are wrong.

It is in vogue for parts of the Church to decry fundamentalism and celebrate a new era of love, unity and diversity.  Instead of established doctrine they adhere to an ambiguously defined concept of "love".  But try to not ask them to explicitly define Love in alignment to the testimony of scripture.....So while they pat themselves on the back about how inclusively loving they are, they malign and throw mud at the intolerant fundamentalists

Reminder:  EVERYONE is a fundamentalist.

So while that church down the road might talk all about how they aren't fundamentalists, they become hypocritical fundamentalists.  First, by a lack of willingness to compromise with those they claim are fundamentalists(meaning they themselves are fundamentalists about THEIR beliefs), and secondly, they still DO have standards which they won't break, or, allow to be broken.  For example, I bet they are fundamentalists about their belief that you can't beat up your wife.  Which I agree with obviously.  But you can't celebrate how you aren't a fundamentalist like "those" people, while you are actually quite clearly being one.

We need to stop labeling people as fundamentalists as an attempt to shut down conversation and disparage your opponent.  And, we need to stop calling them liberal/progressive in an attempt to do the same thing on the other side.  We need to engage with the actual substance.  And, as a Christian, we need to listen closely to how CS Lewis put it.  God's truth is not going to be easy to conform to in the areas that are often going to mean the most to us.  But it is by that standard that we need to evaluate the "rightness", or, the "wrongness" of a groups position.

After World Vision announced their changed hiring policies a number of prominent pastors and theologians voiced frustration with WV.  And, almost immediately, those same people were blasted as bigoted fundamentalists.  There was no substantive engagement with their biblical and theological arguments.  Just name calling and mud slinging.  Whether you agree, or, disagree with WV, we need to be willing to examine the actual substance of the argument that the people who are on the other side have made. 

We are all fundamentalists.  But we are not all correct.  Let's labor to know truth that is not about our personal preferences and comfort levels, but Objectively True according to God. 

Arrogance, Sin, and Self-Centered Individualism; The Path to Loneliness

Sin is alienating in its natural state.  It will not share the spotlight with anyone or anything else.  When we embrace sin, in any form, we are creating a space between us and others...and ultimately God.  The choice to sin is rooted in a false perception that whatever this particular behavior is will show our "independence" and freedom from being told what to do.  This lie we tell ourselves also convinces us that WE are the ones in control.  Sinning is the active manifestation of a heart that wants to prove to itself that it really is in the drivers seat of life. 

Let me use an extreme example to illustrate this falsehood of "being in control"....

A young man wants to be independent from the oppressive and old fashioned rules of his parents/school/boss so he decides to try cocaine.  While there probably was not a moment where this young man thought, "I'll show them who is really in charge by doing coke!", at the very heart of this choice is this subconscious rebellion.  At first the experience feels liberating, power creating, and exciting.  So he does it again...and again....and again.   Before long(if not immediately as in some cases) this young man is hooked.  Who is really making choices in the addicts life?  The addiction...NOT the addict.  The desire to prove "independence" actually leads to debilitating DEPENDANCE. 

Addicts don't have many friends.  They can only be with people who are at the same place as them.  Addicted and destructive.  And those relationships only last as long as they are the "same place".  When the other person either can support, justify, or, participate in the addiction you can be with them.  When, for any reason, they no longer support your particular behavior, the relationships ends.  Addicts do not want to spend time with people who are not addicts(creates a sense of guilt), or, people who are worse addicts then themselves(so they can self-righteously judge how bad THEY are).  Relationships get narrowed down to only those who are exactly as messed up as you.

If you have ever watched the show, "Intervention"(about confronting addicts) there are a few common statements and mindsets that the addicts exhibit. 

1)  They don't have a problem(unless talking about their problem will get them something)

2)  It is in someway someone else's fault; parents, friends, boss, spouse

3)  Whatever problem they might have could simply be solved by the people in their life being more supportive. 

4)  They are fiercely protective of their "independence".  The thing that makes them the most angry is how they perceive everyone trying to "control" them.  As if they are currently the ones in control.....

In Malachi 3, starting in verse 13 God calls out Israel for this very sort of heart attitude and behavior.  After spending a big chunk of the book detailing how horrible Israel's sin has been, He points out that they are sitting around blaming God for their choices.  Their argument is basically, what's the point of being good, 1) You can't tell us what to do, and, 2) It's not like you are going to do anything about it anyways.....Bad people are clearly having all the fun, we are tired of all these boring rules.

In verse 16 we get an interesting juxtaposition from the words and attitude from verse 13.  "Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other".  The language and paragraph structure would make the case that those described in verse 16(God fearers) were part of the bunch of people complaining to God in verse 13.  But with a very important difference....

While their initial response(seemingly) was to go along with everyone else's sinful attitude, they moved past that and THEN(used to indicate a progression of the timeline to show that it is directly following the previous event) talked amongst themselves.  The passage doesn't give any specifics about what they did talk about, but it does have an interesting statement.  God noticed this behavior and their names were written in the scroll of remembrance and God would keep them as His.

So what's the big difference and deal here?  How does just 'talk amongst yourselves" lead to being God's?!?!

The key difference between the sin of verse 13(speaking out against God and embracing sin) is that the people described in verse 16 took that temptation to follow everyone else to selfish sin, moved past it, and found God fearing friends to talk through their struggle and have it be shaped by God's truth, not personal desires. 

The path of sin is one where we remove ourselves from fellowship.  We want to be mad and self-righteous about our behavior.  To blame everyone and everything else.  The only people we want around are those who are going to agree with us.  Anything else is offensive and annoying. 

The path of healing and righteousness is through God centered truth that is encouraged and challenged by those in your life.  It requires laying down self-centeredness and, together, seeking God centered truth.  This leads to deeper fellowship and friendship because the whole premise of the relationship is built upon not individual desires, but Godly desires.  Since it isn't about us in the first place, it creates a space where we can also be about others. 

Today we tell people that the only way to be a good friend to someone else is by accepting them just as they are.  Which becomes translated as, "Celebrate whatever they do, and, never say anything negative about their choices......"  The only people in Malachi that are shown in fellowship(friendship) with each other are those who are talking about God's truth together.  Everyone else in Malachi is just presented as selfishly complaining to God and ignoring their sin.....NEVER with someone else...just alone....

You and I need friends who do not accept and encourage sin.  Those are the friendships that lead to loneliness.  When we are encouraged to be selfish, we are ultimately going to be selfish...and friendless.  True friendship are those who will not accept sin in your life, but will stand right with you no matter how dirty it might be and talk to you about God's truth. 

Tired of being lonely.  Stop looking for people who don't love you enough to speak truth.   


Start asking yourself, are the people in your life really friends, or, are they "enemies"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Irritable Bowels and Sanctification

What separates successful writers and bloggers from those who are unsuccessful?  Honesty.  Well, honesty and having interesting things to say.  Well, I can do honesty.  Real, deep, shocking honesty. 

About 10 years ago I was at work when I began to experience debilitating pain in my side and stomach.  It was so bad that I wasn't able to stand up straight and any type of movement caused more pain.  My coworker, who was studying medicine, assured me that it must be a hernia.  As someone who regularly proves his manliness by lifting and tossing around absurdly heavy items, I agreed with his assessment.  Off to the ER I went.

After a few gentle prods and some basic questions the doctor had me go in for an x-ray to see the extent of the damage.  About an hour later my doctor and nurse had wry smiles on their faces as they intently studied my x-ray images.  While trying to not laugh, my doctor informed me that I did not have a hernia, I was just full of crap.  Literal crap.  Full of it.  Blocked up in my intestines. 

My mothers response was simply to say that she could have told me that without a visit to the ER.....

For a number of years I had always had stomach annoyances.  But I finally had an answer to why I never felt quite right.  I was all backed up and had the ambiguously defined, IBS, or, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

It is really hard to nail down the exact causes for IBS.  It is sort of like saying you have a head ache in your stomach.  It is often used as a catch all that helps describe most non-diagnosable stomach maladies.  But the one consistent solution and approach to addressing the problem is diet.  Cut out unhealthy carbs, sugars, and add fibrous veggies and lots of water. 

Over the course of the last decade I have slowly gotten better and better at maintaining a healthy diet.  Since my kids have been born I have been really good at it.  I follow a mostly low-carb diet and drink an inhuman amount of water every day.  Also, I take an extreme fiber powder in a large bottle of water twice a day.  It is a fiber powder made out of psylum husk powder....yummmmmmy. 

This radical behavior change has had two significant benefits:  1) I rarely have stomach issues  2)  I have lost a ton of weight...At my largest I was about 285...Today I am 190.  The original goal was not to lose weight, I just wanted the pain to stop.  But the weight loss has been a wonderful and significant bonus.  The weight loss aspect of a "safe" diet helps in maintaining the diet.

Sin is like IBS.  It causes pain, it takes away your peace, it can literally double you over as it "backs up" your spiritual body.  And the process of dealing with it is very similar.

1)  You have to directly address it when you find discover it.

The first thing my doctor did for me was give me a prescription for a mega-strength laxative.  When I asked him if I would notice it was working he laughed and said, "There will be NO question about it".  He was right.  And I felt a thousand times better.  I could stand up straight, I could lift things, I no longer had the sense of constant cramping.

The first step with dealing with sin is confession.  Like a prescription laxative you gotta get that stuff out.  As long as it is just festering inside of you it will affect everything you try to do.  It is a handicap that can bring you to your knees.  And, like the laxative, confession is just the beginning.  A non-negotiable first step, but not the permanent solution.

2)  You have to change your "diet"

How I used to eat didn't cause me to have IBS, but it played right into the inborn problems that already existed within me.  If I didn't want to end up in the hospital again being laughed at as a doctor looked at my x-ray, I had to radically overhaul my diet.  Out goes the junk, and in comes the fresh veggies and lean meats.

The theological term for this ongoing life change is Sanctification.  It means the ongoing lifestyle change that leads to becoming more and more Christ like.  And sanctification doesn't just mean adding a bit of good to the bad, it means eliminating the bad and adding the good.  I am sure it would have been somewhat helpful to do nothing more than adding broccoli to my diet.  But as long as I insisted on eating all the other bad stuff, the broccoli would always be on the losing side of the bowel battle. 

Often we don't want to actually eliminate sinful behavior.  We just try to add some extra religion to the diet.  It's like having a salad with your triple thick extra large milkshake.  Not going to do too much positive for you.  Ironically, we then get frustrated and say, "This just isn't working!!"  And quit eating salads all together, because, seriously, what's the point if it isn't helping!?!?

Your spiritual life is not going to change because you sprinkled in some Jesus.  The diet needs to change.  Maybe you even try to go 50-50, but in the end, unhealthy always wins.  Sin is an addiction.  To self, to pride, to rebellion, to destructive behaviors.  Could you imagine a meth addict trying to beat their addiction by drinking more water and going for a jog....right after smoking meth???  That is what we do spiritually.  And it NEVER works.

3)   You have to regularly "purge"

I don't drink heavy duty fiber every day because it is so scrumptious.  Drinking fiber keeps me ahead of the game.  It doesn't let things slowly build up in my stomach.  I am not perfect at only eating that which is good.  Keeping a healthy dose of fiber in my routine helps me stay on a healthy path.

Confession is not a one time thing.  It needs to be the first-step, but the ongoing work of sanctification requires regular confession.  You have to keep cleaning house so that your healthy diet does what it is going to do.  When we believe the lie that we already "dealt" with all of that "back then" we are allowing sin to creep its way right back in. 

Purging/confessing has an added benefit.  It staves off relapses.  Sin IS addiction.  Eating unhealthy IS an addiction.  Fiber helps clear out my system so it doesn't set off triggers that make me want to eat a whole sleeve of girl scout cookies.  Confession keeps me from falling back into old habits that control me. 

When we actually begin to address our pain there is a correlated benefit.  We start to "look" better.  I changed my diet and drink fiber because I was in pain.  Losing weight is an amazing benefit.  But it wasn't the goal.  And, when I really got serious about losing weight as well, the bowel problems basically became non-existent. 

Dealing with sin directly begins the process of healing.  And it changes more than just your pain.  It changes you.  But it takes commitment.  Every time I indulge in something "bad" for me, I can feel my problems coming back.  Now, though, I know what to do.  I hop right back on top of that wagon and get on track.  I have been sick, and I have been well.  I will choose being well every single time.

How is your spiritual life?  Are you in pain, doubled over, feeling like you are full of crap?  Confess, change your behavior, and, keep confessing.  It can be difficult to adjust to at first, but one day you will look back and ask yourself, "What took me so long?!?!"

2 Steps forward, 2 Steps back

Monday, March 24, 2014

What The Kingdom of God Looks Like

Matthew 10:7-8
As you go, preach this message, "the kingdom of heaven is near".  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.

In case you haven't noticed, there is a lot of terrible things going on.  Disease, war, genocide, depression, death.  Whatever your personal belief system there is something intrinsic to our innermost being that cries out against the darkness.  We can argue philosophies and worldviews until we are blue in the face, but it doesn't change this simple reality;  Somehow this world is full of brokenness. 

Our beliefs have to ultimately answer this question;  Why is what I sense should be so, is not so?  In a comfortable western civilized world we can hold onto incomplete answers because we never have to really face the most difficult of circumstances.  From the safety of wealth, materialism, white picket fences and 2.5 kids, we can avoid asking ourselves the difficult questions.

Our answers also have to be helpful to those who are suffering.  Even if we feel we can wrap up our viewpoint with a tidy little bow in the case of our own existence, can your answer bring comfort to those who are in the deepest pains that a broken world can give them?

A few years ago I read a book by the Dali Lama that started by summing up his driving life philosophy and purpose of life.  He said it was to be happy.  That each of us has a purpose to seek happiness, in ourselves and others.  That this is the ultimate purpose of our existence.  If we can find happiness and assist someone else on their path towards happiness, we have led a successful life.

Have you ever noticed where the Dali Lama does the majority of his teaching and work?  Comfortable western democracies.  Speaking to a bunch of the most privileged individuals in the history of the world.  Our modern universities love to host this "great" leader, because this view point perfectly aligns with the bubble we want to exist in.  Whatever makes you happy is what is important.  And happiness is only a new toy, job, or relationship away.  I CAN find my own way to happiness!!!!

You know where you don't often(if ever) see the Dali Lama talking like this?  The aids orphanages of sub-Saharan Africa.  Where the only thing these dying children can look forward to is maybe a bit less pain tomorrow then they felt today.  A philosophy of self-centered and defined ambiguous concepts like "happiness" does not bring much comfort to those in the greatest need.

Jesus has a very simple command to His disciples in Matthew.  Go and preach that the kingdom(of God) is near.  What does that even mean?

Everything that we recognize as wrong, broken, evil, is exactly what we think it is; wrong, broken, evil.  When our hearts cry out that this can't be the way it is, we are speaking truth to ourselves.  We were not created for pain, loneliness, loss, death.  You have been created for peace, fellowship, life.  When God brought forth life from nothingness it was made to be good.  YOU were designed for good things. 

Even as we cry out against the injustice and evil in the world our own words condemn us.  In Malachi God illustrates how this is:

"You have wearied the Lord with your words
How have we wearied him YOU ask
By Saying, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and is pleased with them", and, "Where is the God of Justice"
    -Malachi 2:17

On one hand we want to celebrate and justify our own injustice and sin, but, then turn right around and be angry at God not punishing those other sins we are offended personally by.  We want God to judge and deal with the murderer, but want Him to be ok with our lying. 

At the heart of our broken world is this truth; we have broken ourselves, and we break others. 

So what is the kingdom of heaven?

It is the promise of what God will bring about to set all things right for all time.  In God's kindgdom there will be no pain and death and every tear will be wiped away.  The brokenness that we see and experience every day will be healed perfectly and permanently.  God is not silent in the midst of our pain.  But He is patient. 

The ministry that Jesus sent His disciples to was two parts; Proclaim and heal.

That is still our ministry today.  To proclaim the promise and the hope of the Kingdom, and, to foreshadow and prove its promise by how we serve, love and heal a broken world. 

The power of the Gospel is not found in fancy words and clever slogans.  It is found in the lives that are forever changed by the foreshadowing work of the coming Kingdom.  And God desires for your life to be a living testimony to that promise.  Where are you hurting, where you lonely, where are you lost?  God is calling you to healing.  Maybe not in just the way you would think, but in a way that changes everything about you and proclaims to those around you the truth of the Gospel. 

No matter what it is that is you are broken by, or, in, it can be healed.  Because that is the Kingdom of God.  Alive and moving.  But here is where we have to get honest with ourselves.  The following verses in Matthew 10 have a chilling instruction.  If they(those you go to) won't let you proclaim the Gospel, leave them alone. 

Right now, the Kingdom is announcing its coming to you.  Are you willing to welcome it in?  

This really struck me.  We love to wax poetically about what our lives mean, while at the same time pretending we aren't exactly what we are criticizing. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Problems

I know two things that are completely and inarguably true:  1)  I have problems.  2)  They are because of me.  Actually, I know a third thing that is also true: 3) You are exactly like me concerning the first two truths.

Whoa whoa whoa!  I hear you yelling at the screen you are reading this on(assuming you don't print out my blog and read it at your leisure, which I assume many of you do...).  But Adam(you again), I agree, I have problems.  But they are rarely MY fault.  So and so did "this" and so and so did "that".  My job(or lack of one) causes "this".  Don't forget my "disease" was out of my control.  I am offended that you are "blaming the victim"!!

I see the disconnect you and I are having.  Let me define what I mean by "problems".

A problem is not your circumstances.  Circumstances are just events that have happened.  In and of themselves they are valueless.  Our perspective and reaction TO the circumstances are the problems. 

Explain yourself!!(you again)

Have you ever noticed that people in the exact same circumstances can have a profoundly different response and outcome?  One person loses a child and goes into a tailspin of depression and self-destruction, while another person starts a charity/organization that positively impacts and serves thousands of people who are going through the same thing.  The initial pain response to the circumstances is the same, but the reaction is radically different.  One person becomes defined and controlled by the "problem" they perceive, while the other defines themselves by who they will choose to be in the midst of that pain.

When we make the choice to be controlled by our perception of the problem we create an environment in which we will be constantly anxious, angry, resentful, depressed, etc.  This mindset is often coupled with aggression towards the original source of those negative circumstances.  If we are angry at someone, we blame them for MAKING us angry.

Guess what?  No one can make you do anything.  How you choose to respond is completely up to you.  Sure, sometimes responding in a healthy way can be extremely difficult based on some of our circumstances, but it is still up to us.  We refuse to take personal responsibility for the choices we make and continue to make.  It is always someone else's fault.

For the past few weeks I have been teaching through the book of Malachi.  It is quickly becoming one of my favorite books in the Bible.  Every word in it seems to speak right to me.  The heart of the book is that Israel is suffering in a myriad of ways and they cry out to God to complain about their perception that He has abandoned them and does not love Him.

How does God respond?

I love you, I love you, I love you.  But guess what?  The reason you feel the way you do, the reason you have this "problem" in your lives, is due to your choices and your behavior.  And why am I letting you suffer through the consequences of your choices?  Because I love you, I love you, I love you. 

Yes, bad things have happened to Israel.  But their despair is not about those circumstances, it is about their self-righteous indignation towards those they blame.  Never willing to ask what part they may have played to get where they are.

Right in the middle of Malachi, as God is patiently detailing the many terrible and sinful choices Israel has made, is the most important line in all the text;  Return to me, and I will return to you.(3:7)  He is saying, you are your own source of your problems.  Your choices, your responses, your heart.  That is all on you.  Yet I stand here, patiently, lovingly, gracefully, inviting you to a place where your "problems" will be healed.

How do we stop having "problems"?  By making the choice to allow God to change our response to our circumstances.  When we lay down our pride, our self-centeredness, our own choices, we are finally able to come to a place that says, "I cannot do this, take my heart and change it."

Bad things are going to happen to you.  People will hurt you and frustrate you.  There will be death, disease, pain.  But we do not have to be defined by them.  Be defined by the one who can make all things new. 

If you make the choice to have a velociraptor as a pet,
you only have yourself to blame.....

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why my kids(and everyone else) really annoy me!!

My kids are reaallllllllyyyyy needy.  Like, insanely, obnoxiously needy.  Since their birth I cannot recall a day that they didn't impose their neediness on my otherwise idyllic personal life.  Some of the most obnoxious things I have resigned myself to enduring are; Preparing 3(THREE!!!) meals a day, daily baths, diaper changes, baths, snuggling, book reading(sometimes the same one multiple times!!), listening to their stories(which rarely are very engaging since they generally lack a purpose and plot), and lets not forget I have to put them to bed every night since they don't just walk off and get in bed promptly at 8 every evening.

You know why their neediness is so offensive to me?  Because I am insanely self-centered.  My self-centeredness does not just effect my view on my perception of my children's obnoxious neediness, it causes me to be offended by everyone's neediness.  Every time someone, uninvited, engages into my life it is an affront to my independence and plans.  Sure, I want my kids around, but only when I am the one who wants them around.  I would prefer they operate on my schedule and stop infringing upon mine. 

And that goes for everyone else as well!

I will be your friend, as long as our friendship is convenient to my needs and wants.  I will be your spouse, as long as I am feeling "spousey" at the time.  God forbid you want or need something from me when I am not actually interested in that at that exact moment.  I am the sun at the center of my universe and I prefer everyone to be oriented around me.  Spinning and moving according to the dictates of my own personal gravitational pull.

Now, why am I, and seemingly everyone else, so lonely and depressed????  It doesn't seem to make sense...I only do what I want when I want to with who I want to.  And the more and more I put myself first, the more and more I feel driven to fix my problems that seem to keep occurring by putting myself first.  Yet it never gets better.....

Selfishness is arguably the most destructive attitude and behavior that us imperfect mortals can embrace.  Why does this looking inward become so damaging?  Because at our fundamental level, we are not that great of a person in the first place.  Don't get me wrong, you are probably pretty nice and friendly.  I know I am.  But at my very core I sense a destructive nature within me.  As the apostle Paul said, "I don't do what is good, but I do what I hate"

Be honest, think about your own life.  How many times do you know what you should do, but you do the opposite?  Everyone knows that overeating and smoking is terrible.  But we do it anyways.  Even while it is killing us we can't bring ourselves to stop behaviors, attitudes and mindsets.  Our constant struggle is that at the same time we ARE improving some areas of our internal life, we still recognize a bunch of messed up crap inside of ourselves. 

No one knows us better then we know ourselves.  And when we become more and more selfish we become more and more defined by a destructive relationship with a person who is extremely harmful; Our own self!!  What if your only friend in the whole world was angry, bitter, selfish, violent, etc, how would that effect you?  That is what selfishness creates for us.

How do we change this?  How do we move from broken selfishness to healthy wholeness?

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. --Matthew 9

Jesus is God.  He came for a very essential purpose.  Reconciliation and redemption of sinful man with a Holy God through His death and resurrection.  He is preaching about repentance and the Kingdom and what is the response of the crowds??  Help me, fix me, do this for me, make my runny nose stop running!!!!

How would I generally respond?  Seriously folks, this is quite inconvenient to my goals right now....

How does Jesus respond?  Compassion.

Their needs and hurts were not viewed as an inconvenience to Jesus, but instead the outward manifestation of their internal pain and loneliness.  Instead of thinking about Himself, He thought about them.  And He loved them. 

When I find myself frustrated with people in my life for their constant demands I forget that what is true about me is what is true about them.  They are harassed and helpless.  Hurting and lonely.  Sad and desperate.  While I am being selfish I am mad at them for my perception of their being selfish.  When I am angry about their neediness it is always because I want to put MY neediness before theirs. 

Why are my kids obnoxiously needy?  Because they NEED me.  They are just like me.  And just like them, I need help.  When I become bitter and resentful to their needs, I am in turn shutting off finding my own needs being met.  Living for myself only leads to a deeper and deeper problem of brokenness.  My lack of compassion for others needs creates a mindset that there is no compassion for mine. 

The process of believing that the needs of others are inconvenient and obnoxious causes us to internalize our own hurt and pain because we believe internally what we put into practice externally.  At the moment we act in love and compassion it opens us up to becoming recipients of love and compassion. 

If you are struggling with peace, contentment, satisfaction, etc.  Ask yourself, am I a selfish person?  As long as you are, those struggles will only magnify.



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Upon Criticism of the Church

Our problems and issues fall into two categories;  Private and public.  No matter what our problem is, it will fall into either of those categories.  Private means exactly that.  It is something between you and those who it directly effects(spouse, friend, co-worker).  Public problems are those that are visible to many and effect many in one way or the other.  Dealing with either category of problem requires addressing it in its appropriate context.

If you and your spouse have an argument, or, if you say something hurtful, it is unhelpful to go blast them to your friends and family.  Taking a private matter public can exponentially increase the original problem. 

When dealing with a public problem, it is necessary to deal with it publicly.  Or, at least, showing clearly the resolution publicly.  If your spouse demeans you and ridicules you in a public way(blogging, telling everyone in their life, etc) then there has to be public reconciliation.  If you only deal with it privately and never publicly own up to the behavior, all those who became involved are left in the lurch and are left assuming either; A) you are still a big jerk, or, B) Your spouse is still an idiot.  And those who were hurt by your public behavior never get to experience real resolution themselves. 

In the Church at large we have real problem with dealing with "problems".  The advent of mass media, internet, social sites, etc, have blurred greatly this line between public and private.  Things that used to be "private"(sermons, teachings, dealing with someone in your church's sin, etc) are now viewed as public.  And all of us "watch dogs" now know something that happened on the other side of the country. This leads us to make bold pronouncements about what we think really happened, whether or not we have any ability to know the full context of what actually happened.

To illustrate;  Say I publicly, on my wildly well read blog, took my wife to task for some failing.  I go on and on about her failure and refusal to change.  Then the thousands and thousands of you who read it will then feel compelled to publicly(because I made it public) chime in and criticize my wife.  But maybe you don't know the whole story.  Perhaps I have been verbally and physically abusing my wife for years.  But all you know is my side of the story. 

This is so often what I observe in Church and pastor criticism today.  As a pastor myself I run into stories all the time from people about how bad their "old" church and pastor were.  I may know absolutely nothing about their situation, they just want me to say, "man, you are so right, they are a bunch of jerky jerks!!"  Here is the fun part...Later I discover that this person who had all the complaints is a real pain in the neck.  Not that I don't love them and want the Gospel to work in their lives.  But I suddenly "get" why they had some issues with their old church and pastor.

On a larger scale, you can't read much in the Christian blogosphere without bumping into all sorts of accusations thrown around about "this" denomination, "that" church, or, "these" theologian/pastors.  Countless words and internet traffic are consumed by creating "safe places" for people to unaccountably brandish their criticisms of others. 

The vast majority that I have read and followed over the years have two things in common; 1) Completely one sided(aka, my wife is bad, but I didn't tell you about how I beat her), or, 2) There are no facts, just inferences.(aka, I can't see his financial accounting, which must mean he is stealing money from the church/ministry). 

What is also quite obvious about these public criticisms is that they are often sourced in strong doctrinal and theological differences.  If you read an "attack" on a Reformed Complimentarian leader, 9 times out of 10 it was written by an Egalitarian Arminian.  And vice versa.  We can become so "tribal" in our own little pet theologies and doctrines that we are pre-emptively looking for the boogeyman to jump out when we look at those who don't agree with us. 

He is a reformed complimentarian, then any problems a woman has ever had at his church is because he clearly abuses women!  She is a Arminian egalitarian, you just know she conducts gay weddings and is a universalist!  We take our public theological differences and assume private sin and publicly insinuate it. 

Most "normal" Christians are tragically untrained in these weighty issues, and so they don't even realize when the accusations they are reading are sourced in these differences, and, not necessarily definitive actual proof of sin and malfeasance. 

So, with all of that in mind, here are my guide lines for public criticism of the Church and leaders within it(celebrity or otherwise)

You can publicly criticize/discuss if:

1)  You are discussing theological and doctrinal differences.  BUT, you must stick to the known issues.  For instance, I don't agree with your publicly stated "Calvinist" position, and here are my reasons why I disagree, BIBLICALLY, with your position and am advocating for "Arminianism". 

And we must stick to what that person actually said, not what someone else once said they think a particular position means.  For example, there are people who are 3 point Calvinists.  So, don't criticize them for their support of points 4 and 5....because they actually AGREE with you on that point.  Mischaracterizing their position doesn't help anyone.

2)  You are sharing public FACTS.  Meaning, here in these publicly available court documents is the verification that this person did indeed embezzle money.  Or, we have a video of him hitting his wife.  No he said/she said baloney.  Stick to the facts, if you don't have verifiable facts, you are publicly defaming someone for your own "enjoyment".  Even if you are pretty sure you are right, don't do it! 

3)  It doesn't matter how many "coincidences" and "related issues" there are.  One of the great tricks that gets played on us is overwhelming our thinking process with a bunch of mostly true information followed by a strong conclusion.  If you have a church with 15k people, just because you can find 20 people from the last 20 years who have a "similar" issue doesn't prove anything.  You go deal with tens of thousands of people for decades and you will have at least that many people who felt you did them wrong. 

4)  Just because you made public a private problem they might have, doesn't mean that they owe you a public apology.  So, don't keep asking for it.  If they privately hurt you, go to them privately.  If they refuse to listen, bring in leadership.  If they refuse to listen to leadership, move on with a clear conscience.  If they publicly hurt you, then you AND ONLY YOU, have the right to publicly defend yourself and ask for public repentance. 

If you can't follow these 4 simple guidelines, then please stay away from the interwebs.  If someone you read/talk to, can't follow these guidelines, quit encouraging them! 

Nor should you Lucille!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why We Suffer

Are you human?  If the answer is no, how in the world are you reading this?  If you answer yes, then the reality of life is that at some point you are going to hurt, suffer, weep.  And you may be doing so currently.  But why do we suffer?

Sometimes the answer we lean on is that the world is simply cruel and indifferent.  But if we believe in God, we struggle with the whole concept of suffering.  Why me?  Why this?  Why now?  Why God, why??!!

For a broader picture on suffering it is helpful to study the history of God's chosen people, the Jews.  Outside of some brief moments of peace and prosperity they have had a whole lot of suffering.  At the end of the monarchial period the entire nation of Israel is destroyed, uprooted, and marched off into captivity.  After a number of generations pass, they are finally given the freedom to return home and rebuild, but only as a Vassal state.

The book of Malachi, the last book before the New Testament, challenges me to have a whole new view on the root of my suffering and despair.  It starts off with this accusatory tone, "Don't you really love us God?!?!"  They are just completely indignant.  Why have all these bad things happened to us?  Why are we so sad and in so much pain?  Our suffering is a clear indication that you aren't keeping up your end of the bargain!! 

God responds quite simply.  He says, I love you, don't doubt it!  But before you get all self-righteous about things, lets talk about what YOU have been up to. 

Being a parent is a frustrating job in a lot of ways.  Especially when your perfect little angel begins to accuse you of being a "bully" and a "stupid unfair baby".  Which I have been hearing a lot lately.  Why do I hear these things?  Have I been a bully and an unfair stupid baby?  No, no I have not. 

My 4 year old son does not like getting in trouble.  He absolutely detests it.  Even when he admits to his bad behavior.  Like any loving older brother, he shows his love to his 2 year old sister by; Not sharing, pushing, hitting, yelling at, etc.  All of which are unacceptable behaviors.  There is this very odd logic he employs in his self-righteousness.  His sister picked up a toy that he was not using....but happened to be "his"....and he went and took it away from her.  I proceeded to request he give it back, or get in trouble.  His response?  "You are a bully, you are being unfair!!!!"  When this continued, he was sent to his room without any toys.  Which led to more accusations of my unfair meanness. 

He accepts that what he is doing is not appropriate, but then he disconnects from his behavior when he addresses my actions(his consequences).  It is as if they are two completely unrelated events.  He wants to behave however he wants to behave, and he wants me to behave however HE wants me to behave.  And when I don't, I am the bad guy.

This is the story of Israel that God gently lays out in the book of Malachi.  Of course I love you.  But look at your obscene behavior.  Over and over again you sin and break the covenant.  But in the very middle of all of this the most important point of all is made.

Malachi 2:4
And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty.

At the heart of God's love and Israel's consequences is this essential truth.  Consequences exist to fix the relationship!  Why have you suffered Israel, why has God allowed it and will continue to allow it?  Because His ultimate heart is to restore the intimacy between Himself and His people. 

Why do I punish my son and give him consequences?  BECAUSE I love him.  If he grows up to be a disobedient, sister hitting, rule breaking, bad attitude adult, he and I will have, at best, a strained relationship.  My love for him is the driving force for my willingness to give him a bit of suffering.  A taste of suffering(time outs, lost privileges, a spanking or two(or 100)) now is how we eliminate greater suffering later. 

So why do you suffer?

I can't speak to every nuance of every situation that you deal with, but lets walk through a basic perspective.

God loves you.  Everything that can and does happen in your life is driven by the fact that He loves you, and that His greatest desire is not for your temporary "comfort" level, but the restoration and building of intimacy between you and Him.  If we don't start here, nothing else that follows will make sense.

The primary sources of suffering in our life are generally self-caused.  Specifically, we sin.  Not only does sin carry with it natural consequences(driving drunk could kill you and others, or, get you put in jail), but it also has spiritual consequences.  The sense of peace and blessing we experience in the context of a healthy relationship with God can, and often will be, removed. 

To make sense of "spiritual" consequences lets compare it to marriage.  If you say something mean to your spouse, they probably aren't going to leave you, but if you have ever felt the cold sting of rejection and anger you know what I am talking about.  It is an uneasy place to be when you know your spouse is frustrated with you.  That is a simple way of thinking about spiritual consequences.

God loves us so much that He will let us flounder around in these consequences of our behavior.  Not because He just loves punishing us.  But because He loves US! 

If you are suffering and hurting, you have to be honest with yourself.  Are there sins and issues in your life that you aren't dealing with?  Even if you think they are private and secret.  God loves you so much that He will let you hurt until you accept that it is time to heal.

God loves you so much, His heart is not for you to suffer.  But He loves you enough to LET you suffer so that you can come to the one place where suffering can cease. 


Friday, March 14, 2014

Story of Life

Psalm 1

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
Our lives tell a story.  The sort of story it tells us really up to us.  It isn't up to our geography, our parents, our jobs, or any of that.  It is shaped by our deliberate choices.  Every day we are faced with a series of choices that can have profound effects on every single moment that follows.  Sometimes they are little changes, like, blue shirt or red shirt today.  Other times they are huge, like job we will take or how we will respond to a crisis.
But the biggest influencer on our story is the people we associate with.  Our interpersonal relationships will dramatically define the picture of our lives.  Hang out with criminals, you will probably get arrested.  Hang out with straight A students, you will probably get better grades.  It's why parents are always so concerned about the type of friends their kids have.  It is not that we don't "like" a certain kid, but because we know from our own lives that we are so influenced by our peers. 
Our son is only 4 and in preschool.  There are so many things he says and does now that are completely unique to our family dynamic.  It is so easy to see where these phrases and behaviors come from.  Now, he is only 4, and so are his school friends, so it is all just silly and innocent.  But already, as a preschooler, we can recognize how the relationships he is building are beginning to shape his personality.
The people in your life, for good and bad, are going to shape you profoundly.  Who are you letting into your counsel?

Have you ever had a job that is "ok", and then you make a friend at work who hates it?  How long before you start participating in their cynicism and disdain for the job  and your boss?  It happens.  When you surround yourself and invest in positive role models, you're attitude begins to reflect that as well. 

When we evaluate our relationships we have to be willing to ask ourselves, is this person's life, behavior, attitude, relationships, etc, an example of what I want to strive for myself.  This doesn't mean we don't have friendships with people who have problems, it just means we have to be careful about the kind of influence we allow them to bear in our lives. 

And then we also have to ask ourselves who ARE the people whose behavior, attitudes, relationships etc, are that which I would love to have myself.   Then, we have to seek them out, not just to "learn" but to have a relationship with.  It will shape us naturally. 

Here are some areas to get serious about how your story will be told:

1) Your Job/School:  Are the people you primarily spend time with cynical and grumpy, or, positive and encouraging.

2)  Family:  Do your friends talk bad about their family all the time, or, do they speak with love and grace(even when their family isn't perfect)?

3)  Your Kids:  It is the attitude Du Jour today to speak with exasperation about childhood and parenthood.  While, at times it is ok to express the frustration that parenting can bring, is that all you talk about?  Or, are your relationships with other parents shaped by positive and encouraging thoughts about kids and life as parents? 

4)  Marriage:  What do the romantic relationships of your associates look like?  Are they committed, selfless, giving, encouraging?  Or, are they broken, selfish, taking, discouraging?  If the majority of the input we receive is from people who have unhealthy relationships, it will negatively influence our relationships.  Marriage is already a challenge, are we being encouraged and built up, or,....the opposite. 

God is no dummy.  When the Truth of Psalm 1 was written He knew exactly how we are made and how we are influenced.  Ask yourself, is your life one that could be described as being fruitful, peaceful and good.  The reverse is detailed later in the chapter, empty, hurting and destructive.  And you know what the defining difference between those two extremes are?  The people we allow to influence us. 

Do you want to have a life of hope and encouragement?  Surround yourself with people who are full of hope and encouragement!  Start telling a new and better story.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Believing the Worst About People

Recently I wrote about the importance of trust in relationships.  When we, for whatever reason, refuse to trust someone, it breaks down everything in the relationship.  And when we trust them, it heals many wounds.  This of course is does not ignore the reality of people who consistently act in untrustworthy ways, but, to repair the relationship with someone who has previously been untrustworthy will be found in a process of rebuilding trust...together. 

It is fairly typical for kids to develop a bit of antagonistic relationship with their parents.  Ever raised a middle school girl?......  We are just beginning that stage with our 4 year old.  And boy are those arguments fun.....He is constantly convinced that we are out to get him and be "bullys".  And what pray tell leads to this conclusion....?  Last night he kicked his little sister, which meant a timeout in his room.  His response, you aren't being fair, you just want to be a bully!!!!! 

Is he insane????

No, he is not.  He is human.  We don't like being told what to do.  When push comes to shove we often want to dig our heels in and stubbornly refuse to face our issues.  My son actually admitted that what he did(kicking his sister) was wrong, but there was a logical disconnect to his behavior and my response to it.  

Isn't that crazy?  He knows what he did was wrong, he feels bad about it, but the person who is giving him consequences for the behavior is clearly out to get him.....

Believing the worst about a person and their motivations and actions is quite easy for us to do.  It is generally our response in relation to someone disagreeing with us on some issue. 



About sin.

About work.

If someone doesn't agree with our decision or behavior our go to response is to be frustrated with them and their incorrect views.  And, if they disagree with us, there must be something wrong with THEM!!

But it gets worse.

When their disagreement with us, or, when they call us out, is actually rooted in truth, we protect ourselves by demonizing that person.  We begin to REALLY believe the worst about them.  Their is no willingness to acknowledge the real issues in our own heart and lives, we are too scared to face our own demons, so we decide that the person confronting us IS the demon. 

My son could recognize that what he was doing was wrong, but he didn't want to face it, or, change it, so he decided that the problem was just that daddy just liked being an unfair bully.  Instead of dealing with his issue, it became all about daddy's "bullying" problem.  "Sure sure sure, I kicked my sister...BUT YOU'RE THE BULLY!!!"  Complete logical disconnect.

Matthew 9
32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”


Jesus just did an amazing miracle.  He confronted a demon, cast it out, miraculously healed a suffering man.  Did the Pharisees say, "Hey awesome, thanks Jesus"  No.  They decided that Jesus must just be an agent of satan. 

Talk about believing the worst about someone.

Jesus was never unfair or mean just to be mean to the Pharisees.  Everything he said, and pointed out, was absolutely true.  He showed grace, patience and love even when he would call them out.  And now, right in front of them He is showing with great power that He is one with the authority to say and do the things that He has done and said.

But it is easier to just think Jesus was some sort of satan worshipper.

When we are forced to come face to face with our own sin, we all too often demonize those who are the ones who caused us to face them.  The process of facing and dealing with sin is known as Sanctification.  And sanctification can be painful.  It means repentance, change of heart and behavior.  It means giving up selfishness and running to the cross.  Painful and hard work is scary.  It is easier to just be mad at the person who makes us face it.  We get bitter, resentful, standoffish. 

Are there some people ou there who are just straight up jerks who are trying to push your buttons and make you feel bad?  Of course.  But be honest with yourself.  Are their people in your life that you believe the worst about because of what they make you have to face about yourself. 

And here is the thing.  Whether or not you face it, its your problem, not theirs.  You can act like they are a bad person all you want, but it doesn't fix what you need to fix.  And if they are still standing there with you, the probably love you enough to keep standing by you.

My son needs to stop hitting and kicking his sister.  He can be mad at me all day long for me calling him out, but I love him enough to tell him, "What you did was wrong, we are going to deal with it!"  Let yourself be loved like that.

I just like this picture and concept of T-Rex trust falls

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Colossians 3:13
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

I was just thinking about this today.  When we don't forgive, we trap ourselves in a place of not experiencing forgiveness.  When we hold anger and resentment in our heart, our heart begins to experience an ever increasing share of hurt.

Why is that so?

When we are unwilling to forgive someone else for their shortcomings and sins against us we are subtly telling ourselves that forgiveness and grace is unobtainable.  There is in each of us sin and brokenness.  Honest appraisal of our own sin leads us to recognize that what we are angry, or, hurt by, from others is rarely(if ever) as dark as what is in our own hearts.  And, if that person is not forgivable, then we must not be either.

As we begin to believe that we are unforgivable, next we think we are unlovable.  And as we process that lie it shapes our actions.  If we are unforgivable and unlovable, who really cares what we do, leading us to act more in alignment with unforgivable and unlovable actions.  It becomes a viscous cycle that slowly kills us inside. 

The dependent clause of this statement in Colossians is that YOU HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.  That no matter what you have done, no matter how far you have fallen, no matter how dirty your sins, you are loved.  The "must also" follows as being a natural response to the change in your heart.  You don't forgive so that you are forgiven, BECAUSE you are forgiven, you can forgive.  And you will!

The bearing with one another is a great realistic picture of what life is really like.  The claim in Colossians isn't that the people in your life are just so forgivable, it is that they are just like you, sinners, who need forgiveness.  And sinners who can be frustrating.  So, out of grace and forgiveness we "bear" with them, even when they are causing us problems.  If you read this whole passage in the context of what it is saying; You are forgiven, so bear with one another and give forgiveness. 

It is all tied together as a mutually dependent experience initiated by Christ.  As you accept that you are forgiven, you, at the same time learn to be forgiving.  And the reverse is true, if we refuse to be forgiving, we are acting out a heart that says that we are not ourselves forgiven.  When we refuse to bear with one another, we are saying we are someone who is unlovable and incapable of being "beared" with ourselves.

So keep in mind this simple truth:  You are LOVED and FORGIVEN.  Christ freely offers to love us and forgive us right where we are.  Full of dirt, resentment, sin, destruction, pain.  And when we stop fighting that, and start embracing that, everything about our lives radically changes.  ESPECIALLY our relationships with those in our lives.

Know that you are forgiven so that you can love each other well. 

Yes, actions do speak louder than wombats.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Help by Asking for Help

Sin and pain have a way of turning us into hermits.  When something is wrong in our lives our first tendency is to hide it away.  This happens because we; 1) Hope it goes away  2) We feel embarrassed/ashamed  3) Think we are all alone.  All three responses generally occur together.  It can be so embarrassing and painful that we just want to hide away until it works itself out.  And we believe a terrible lie that this is a journey that we have to take by ourselves. 

This approach guarantees one result.....It never gets better.

And this approach is a terrible lie.

Not one of us is capable of pulling ourselves up out of our funk in a meaningful and lasting way.  We are in desperate need of people to hear us and help us.  As long as we hide our problem from those who love us, and, ourselves, it will only serve to slowly rot us away from the inside.  Like gangrene of the soul, sin and pain that are not dealt with eat away at us and cause ever increasing anguish and sin.

But, on the other hand, when we reject those three responses we have the opportunity to heal.  And we become a source of healing for others.

Matthew 9:18-22
18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

This father was hurting and suffering, as a leader in the Synagogue, he is probably pretty aware that Jesus wasn't the most popular person amongst the leadership.  But he didn't care what asking for help might cost him, he needed it, so he went to the one place he could get it. 

Here is where, for me the story gets interesting.  We think that this is a little narrative to show how this mans faith in Jesus would lead to his daughter getting healed(which it does).  And right in the midst of this guys story, a suffering woman sees Jesus and goes to him for help also. 

Her journey to seek healing was a bit "easier" than the synagogue leader.  She was already at rock bottom and obviously not a synagogue leader.  She didn't have to make a big scene to get Jesus' attention.  She just had to be there while Jesus was on his way to heal the mans daughter.  This mans plea for help, his transparency, his risk to expose himself, initiated the events that led this woman to her own healing.

When I was in college I was a typical 20 year old male.  I was dumb, loud, full of myself, and a real ladies man......ok, the last part wasn't true.  And, like a lot of other 20 year old guys I was struggling with issues related to sexual sin.  I sat down with the guy who led my bible study and discipled me and had a long conversation about what was going on.  He challenged me to share where I was at with the rest of my peers at our next bible study.  A group of 12-14 other 20 year old guys who looked up to me as another leader and a great example of being a super Christian.  This did not sound so comfortable to me.  How would they view me, I had presented myself as having it all together.  But now they would know I wasn't perfect. 

So, that next study, I asked if I could share something.  I proceeded to share everything I was struggling with and ask for forgiveness for not being honest about it and presenting myself as someone I wasn't.....a "got it all together" Christian.  What happened next shocked me.  Over the next 2 hours EVERY single guy in that room shared a similar story.  They had all been, like me, trying to just deal with it themselves and pretending everything was ok. 

From that time on it became one of the closest knit and honest groups I have ever been a part of.  God did great things in the lives of those guys.  A few are missionaries, a few work in other ministry roles, and all of them are walking with the Lord over a decade later.

I was so worried about me that I was missing out on a couple of awesome opportunities:

1)  I now had the support and transparency I needed to walk by faith and not in sin.  There was no more hiding and rotting away.  The actual help and encouragement I needed was now available because people actually knew what I needed!

2)  My willingness to initiate and be honest with my struggles gave each of those other guys "permission" to be honest about their own.  We had all been sitting in that room with the SAME PROBLEMS believing we must surely be the only person with a problem.  Which only made us feel worse about ourselves, which led to more "hiding".   

What are you struggling with in your life right now?  Sexual sin?  Relationship issues?  Financial distress?  Health problems?   

Stop believing you have to try to fix it yourself.  It is a lie. 

Stop believing that this is just the way it is and you might as well resign yourself to the problem.  This is an even worse lie.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the very power that can raise your burdened soul up from the grave it is trying to throw you in. 

We are not defined by our struggles and our problems.  We do not have to be controlled by the unhealthy drives that sometimes consume us. 

But we don't break those chains by keeping our head in the sand, or, just barreling forward on our own.

People in your life desperately need you.  Not to fix them, but for you to be honest with them about what is going on in your life.  You will be blown away by what doors are opened when we get transparent about what is going on in our lives.

Do you want to get better?  Do you want to see others in your life get better?  Then go ask for help, lay it all out there and run to the Cross.

If this is the kind of "help" you are being offered, this is one you can ignore......