Monday, February 23, 2015

What my Kids Taught me About the Apocalypse

One of the tough things about having kids is that the ever present march of time is forever drawing attention to itself.  In my early 20's life was always "coming later".  Every day was fairly similar.  What you saw in the mirror in January is what you saw in the mirror in December.  There was always more time to accomplish something, to turn the corner, to get on track.  The rapidity with which life is now flying at me is frightening.  My infant daughter was happily chewing on teething biscuits, while sitting up in her bumbo chair, all afternoon.  I believe it was just a few weeks ago when my five year old son was doing the same thing. 

Instead of a virtual endless supply of "tomorrows" I am constantly wishing yesterday lasted juuussst a bit longer.  This oncoming rush of the inevitable future changes every moment of every day.  This evening I had to take all three kids to my three year olds dance class at five. 

What it would have looked like if it was just me going somewhere at five:

4:00--  Eat a snack
4:15-- Read something on the internet
4:30-- close my eyes for a  few minutes---the afternoon "sleepies" always get me
4:45-- Look for my keys
4:50--Drive to where I need to be

What it looks like taking three kids ages; 5 months, 3, and, 5 somewhere at 5
3:30-- Try to get a snack around so they don't melt down before we get back home around 6
3:45-- change a diaper
3:50-- argue with the three year old about going to the potty
3:55--  Find the multiple clothes that have been thrown in different rooms of the house instead of staying on
4:00-- Fill milk cups
4:05--  Get a bottle ready for the baby
4:10-- Find shoes
4:15-- Spend five minutes anxiously looking for keys that "someone" moved
4:20-- change a diaper
4:25-- Try to find coats
4:30-- Get baby in car seat
4:35-- start getting kids in car
4:40-- run back in house for forgotten NECESSARY items
4:45-- run back in house for sippy cups
4:50--leave while yelling at everyone to just be quiet

If you have kids this probably looks very familiar.

Having kids has taught me an essential life truth.  Tomorrow is going to sneak up on you whether you are prepared or not. And if you don't get prepared for it, it will go verrrrryyyy poorly for you.  Things are going to happen.  Much of it out of your control.  Once we realize that, come to terms with it and accept it, we HAVE to start preparing for it. 

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 Paul is speaking to the Church about the reality that the One who has risen WILL return.  And we should not let it, "surprise us like a thief in the night."  So much of life is living as if tomorrow won't come.  Then, it does.  Which often means being woefully unprepared. 

Being a good parent means accepting that every day  I have to stay one step ahead of my kids.  There are NO breaks.  After a while you can even begin to sense problems minutes ahead of time and cut them off at the pass.  Ever vigilant is the only way to succeed in parenting. 

Living this way can seem exhausting.  Especially if you are one of those poor uninitiated innocents without kids yet.  But it is worth it.  One, because staying prepared makes our lives so much easier and more enjoyable, and, two, because there is nothing in my life that is more satisfying than being a parent and loving, and being loved, by my kids. 

Paul's point is similar in value and purpose.  We can pretend all we want that tomorrow isn't going to come, but it won't change that it will.  So what are we doing about it right now?

It is too often that many of us live out our faith with an attitude of, "eh, we will figure it out when it's time".  Paul shouts at us, "Wake up, it's coming, be faithful, encourage one another, stay sharp!"

Whether Jesus comes back tonight, or, in 1000 years, are you living your faith awake and sober?  Or, are you drunkenly sleeping away the day?

You will have an End, and they always come earlier than expected

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's a good thing that the "American" church is dying!

Being a parent is tough.  Disciplining your kids is tough.  Our family has reached the stage where my oldest two have at least a dozen altercations a day.  A lot of the classic, "she's sitting to close to me!!!!!" fights to break up.  What can be extremely frustrating for us is dealing with fake "I'm sorry's".  You know what I am talking about.  Sibling gets mad and hits their brother or sister.  You tell them to give them a hug and say that they are sorry.  They slowly walk over, don't make eye contact, mumble out a forced, "I'm sorry", look at you and say, "I did it".

We all know that they really don't mean it.  But you have to start somewhere.  One day they will no longer be under my care(and control) and I pray that they grow into people who don't have to be forced to say that they are sorry when they mess up.  In this stage of their development, we recognize that my five year old is not prepared to make his own life decisions and go off on his own.  Will he be prepared to one day live without dad guiding him?  I can guarantee one thing though, if I infantilize him from today until he is 18, he will really struggle making decisions on his own. 

In our lifetimes we have seen one of the most radical cultural and sociological shifts to have ever occurred in such a short window of time.  Only 50 years ago it would have been virtually unheard of for someone to not at least claim some sort of allegiance to Christianity.  And membership in at least some sort of denomination was a given, especially if you were going to be "somebody" within your community.  Today, the fast growing segment of the "religious" population are the "nones".  This means that people who have ZERO religious affiliation are rapidly outgrowing an ever shrinking involvement by the populace in churches.  Only around 50% of Americans even go to church consistently.

Now, before this motivates you to go posting some sort of viral meme on Facebook about how if we let kids in school have bibles there would never be a school shooting EVER EVER EVER again....let me tell you something.

This is a good thing! 

This might be a great thing!!

For centuries involvement in a church and self-proclamations of a Christian faith was a non-negotiable.  Like a five year old following rules they didn't care about, many people went through the motions because they had no choice.  Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was arguably one of the most famous pastors in the 1800's.  To this day his wealth of teachings and sermons are inspiring future generations of church leaders.  And he estimated that less than half of his congregation was really saved.  And that is why he made a point to regularly preach the gospel. 

Back in the 1800's.....

When everyone claimed they were a Christian....... 

One of the most influential pastors of the past  two to three hundred years, was fairly confident that half the people who called him their pastor didn't really get the Gospel. 

The Church in the West, and particularly America, has been co-opted by interests and motivations that are not generally in alignment with scripture and the Gospel.  It was the nations biggest country club.  If you wanted to get ahead, you better get on the board at your local "First Baptist Presby Methodist Church of Christ Redeemer" so that you could make friends with the other movers and shakers in town.  Presidential hopefuls had to make pilgrimages to make nice with famous church leaders so they could signal to everyone that they were just like them.....Nominally into that Jesus fellow.

What was the result of the Church being hand in hand with power?  People who care about power running the Church.

With the growth of the internet, more and more stories are popping up about horrific leadership abuses, coverups and church implosions.  There are even compelling(and damning) research papers that delve into why the pulpit attracts people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder at an exponentially higher rate than they exist in society in general.  As long as the Church can be seen as a gateway to power and money, people who want power and money will gravitate towards the Church.  Which only leads to more and more people saying, "I'm done with this".

Ok.  Enough of the bad...

Christ did not come to establish an Earthly kingdom where all of his buddies got to be in charge of everyone else.  Jesus had to even correct one of their moms in Matthew 20:20 when she specifically asked that her little special angels be given cushy roles.  Instead, Christ established His Church for the purpose of proclaiming the good news and to make disciples of every nation.  And in practice it was to be accomplished through serving others sacrificially(Matthew 20:16--First last, last first passage), while knowingly accepting persecution(Matthew 24:9---you will be persecuted and the nations will hate you because of me passage). 

Does this sound like many of our churches or leaders today? 

We are a lazy Church in America today.  We have had it so easy for so long we just want to believe that everyone should just see it our way.  And, if we face even a modicum of "persecution" we raise millions of dollars to politically fight our enemies and elect people who give us just enough lip service that we think they will at least vote the way we want them to. 

When the Church in America stops worrying about losing its power, or its perception of prestige in our communities and nations, THEN it can get focused on what it exists for.  Proclaiming Christ crucified!  And when that becomes the heart beat or our churches, they WILL have less political power, and perhaps even less money.  But guess what?  Then we will stop finding ourselves led by people who were there for the money and power!

I don't want people coming to church just because they have to.  No more than I want my son to only say he is sorry because I told him to do it.  We should all desire that people have their lives radically, and permanently, changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When we stop relying on power and control to get people to act "right" we can begin to do the real work of letting the Gospel change them from the inside out.


You will be shocked to know that signs like this are not turning around the
fortunes of the American Church

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Servants and Leaders

After approximately ten years in vocational ministry I have had a lot of time to think about what it means to serve and what it means to lead.  And I was blessed with the opportunities to observe it being put into practice in a variety of ways.  What is my conclusion at this point in my life and ministry?  Most people don't do either very well. 

The most obvious "bad apples" are found in the operational paradigms of those who would be considered the leader.  But our ministries are also full of people who aren't very easy to lead regardless of the quality of the leaders. 

Why is this?

It is because we are either unaware of, or, unwilling to abide by, the Biblical prescriptions for how we are to conduct ourselves in the context of Christian community.  Let me give you some extreme examples of what this looks like before I do anything else.

Bad Leader:

A bad leader is someone who thinks of their "title" or "role" as conferring to them some sort of unassailable position of absolute authority that affords them the RIGHT to make any demand they want of others, in ANY manner that they choose to make the demand.  Think of a Senior Pastor who has set up his own little enclave of power that refuses to listen to, or, be tender with, the "little people".  Even honest questioning is viewed as disobedience and sin.  Want to ask why your church is allocating such a large amount of money to a private pet project(or salary) to the pastor?  Dems fighting words buddy, get ready for church discipline....

Bad Servant/Follower

A bad follower is someone who is consistently contentious and argumentative about every little thing.  Especially when it is not a Biblical issue, but a preference issue.  They never seem to be willing to joyfully follow reasonable instructions, but instead, argue for every inch.  Think of a church member who won't stop fighting with the church leaders over what color to paint the walls in the foyer, or, complains to everyone around them how "dumb" the leaders are for doing "this" vs "that".  Sadly, what I just described is wildly common.  I have known people who have left a church because the straw that broke the camels back was a disagreement on who should have access to the church kitchen, or, where the church library would be kept. 

If you have been involved in a church for any length of time you have probably had your fair share of experiences on either end of this spectrum.

So where do we start to address this? 

"Followers"

12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord's work. They work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. 13 Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because of their work. And remember to live peaceably with each other.  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

The most obvious verse we can find regarding the issues of being a follower is found in this text.  What are the key words?  Honor, think highly of, give wholehearted love, live peaceably. 

If you are currently in a position of having someone in a role of "leader", can you claim that this passage accurately and consistently describes your behavior and heart attitude?


"Leaders"  

42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”-- Mark 10:42-45

What does it mean to be a leader according to Jesus?  To serve.  NOT to Lord it over people.  A leaders heart is to be shaped by an active willingness to lay aside "rights"(this is what a slave imagery conveys) for the purpose of serving those they lead. 

If you are currently in a position where you are responsible to lead others, can you claim that this passage accurately and consistently describes your behavior and heart attitude?


The problem with these two passages is they can easily be used as battering rams to DEMAND that someone else behave in a specific way.  Leaders will bludgeon "followers" with a passage about honoring their leader(which just happens to be themselves...) and followers will disrespect the "leader" because they want to contend that the leader isn't being enough of a servant.....

There is a much more important passage in scripture that cuts through the black and white role defining that we too often do as we try to create defined roles and rules for those roles....

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

The "Fruits of the Spirit" are the guiding principle for ALL Christians, at ALL times, for ALL roles they may ever have the responsibility for.  No matter where you are currently in your life and within a particular ministry and church, EVERYTHING you do is to be evaluated through the lens of these values.  If you claim to be in Christ, but consistently and belligerently act in ways that are diametrically opposed to the outward reflection of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.....well....draw your own conclusions.

No matter your role, ask yourself the question, "In this situation, as right or wrong I, or, they, may be, are the fruits of the spirit evident in my attitude, behavior and words?"

Do you want a healthy church?  It isn't about getting better leaders, or, getting better servants.  It's about each Christian, regardless of position, being shaped and defined by the work of the Holy Spirit.  When that is your first priority, the rest will work itself out.

The best leader of all time.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bacon

Bedtime stories are a favorite of my son and I.  Recently I began to tell the story of God's people(starting with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat) and have recently arrived at the ministry of Jesus.  Last night we talked about the story from Matthew 8:


28 When He arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met Him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him to leave their region.

At the conclusion of the story I was asking my son about the townspeople wanting Jesus to leave.  Even though what Jesus had done had freed the people from a great problem, they didn't like the results.  My son wisely responded, "Well, where are they supposed to get bacon now??"
I don't think my son was necessarily siding with the townspeople's rejection of Jesus, but it does illustrate an important point....

Do you ever browse through facebook?  You probably notice something that is becoming more and more common:  Complaining, moaning, drama posts, etc.  It seems like half the people in my feed are ever more increasingly unhappy with the status of their current life.  But do you know what I have learned about many of these same people?  They have no intention of making any changes, or sacrificing anything that they want.

We want to do whatever it is we want to do, but we want the world(and God) to make it all work out in our subjective favor.  We want to be thinner while still eating junk food.  We want to be happier, while still making the same emotionally and mentally poor relationship and life choices.  We want to be richer, while still being financially irresponsible.

There is a refusal to ever acknowledge that what we want may come with a cost.  The townspeople were being completely terrorized by the demoniac.  Surely they wanted the problem resolved.  But no one had apparently made any sort of effort.  They just ignored the problem.  It tells us no one even went that way at all.  So Jesus came in and solved their problem.  And, even more beautifully, freed the oppressed man from what he was experiencing.

What was their response?  Was it, "thank you thank you thank you!!!"?  Nope.  It was, "Can you please leave?"

Look at your own life.  As you evaluate the degree to which you have joy, hope, peace, happiness, etc, are you content?  Or, are you struggling right now?  Then look at Christ's claims on your life, and God's revealed truth about who we are, and what we are called to.  Are you truly aligned with it?  I would argue that you are not.

As long as we live unwilling to come to Jesus, even if it costs us something, then we too will have a demoniac type effect in areas of our life that we will feel shut off from.  Bacon is great, but freedom and hope is better.


The most amazing science in the world

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Healthy Marriage

Of all the things I know, the one I am most certain of is that I know very little.  An old cliché is that teenagers think they know everything and what the are most certain of is that their parents know very little.  But then, as the years rolls on, they discover how little they know and how much they want their parents advice.  The unstated assumption in this cliché is that from our matured adult perspective we recognize how little we knew as children.....but how much we know now. 

This is completely wrong.

When I was young I assumed that all adults had it together.  Life made sense for them, they had all the answers, and they were "grown up".  Today I realize that adults have the same blinders and make the same mistakes that they did as children, we just do it with more wrinkles and facial hair.  Buying into the mistaken perspective that where you are right now means that you have finally "arrived" turns off our brains, negatively impacts our empathy, and shrinks us into self-assured navel gazers. 

The belief in our own "completed" knowledge base is the fertile soil for becoming a self-centered person.  We mistakenly believe that what we believe to be true about ourselves and others is completely true.  And when someone does not live up to the static perspective we have adopted, we find ourselves in conflict. 

You see, knowledge without humility is the impetus to disconnecting our hearts from the human frailty of relationship.  When we become self-assured in our own perspective of "rightness" another person's inability, or, struggle, to meet our standard develops resentment and frustration. 

No where does this become more apparent than within the context of our marriages.  And the world has lied to us about what a marriage is, and so we are set up to fail from the start. 

The primary, and most destructive, lie about marriage is the story about "romantic" love.  You meet the "one", they give you butterflies, you can't stand the thought of spending even one minute apart.  And based on this, marriage is the end game.  When we are told that marriage is about love, what they mean is "romantic love". 

But here is the thing about romantic love.  Experiencing romantic love is a reflection of YOUR sensibilities.  It is based upon your current preferences and standards.  And these things are ever changing.  Not to mention that what is sweet and charming about someone who you see once every few days loses that allure when you see them EVERYYYYYY day. 

Romantic love, when you boil it down, is about what is being done for you.  There is a static standard you have created for yourself that you expect to be met.  While you may recognize that a child has to grow up and change and mature, we believe that we have arrived at whatever intellectual and emotional maturity destination that being an adult encompasses.  So therefore, we are done growing, and that other person better make the effort to meet us where we are at. 

In Ephesians 4:2, we are encouraged to, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love". 

Let me break that down.  The final word, "love", is the Greek word, "agape".  Which IS NOT romantic.  It is a giving love.  A God centered love that seeks the good for others first to the point of being sacrificial.  And this word is the foundation, what the other actions are rooted in, for the rest of the verse. 

So you SACRIFICIALLY are to be HUMBLE and gentle and patient.  While this passage is written to the general Christian population, it is a foundational truth that God calls us all to as the blueprint to guide our relationships. 

To sacrificially act in humility to your spouse means to;

1- Put them first, EVEN as it costs you something

2- Have an attitude of teachability that never wanes, no matter how much you have grown.  Because humility is a willingness to say, "I still have a lot to learn"

Every day we must come to our spouse with a humble heart that says, "I have so much more to learn about you, what I know today is going to be laughably small in comparison to what I shall know by tomorrow." 

Just like we realized that we just didn't know what we thought we knew when we were teenagers, a healthy marriage is found when two people have the self-awareness to say that they can never think they have arrived.

If you want a healthy marriage, start accepting that you know very little.  Become a student of your spouse.  Be empathetic to their short comings and mistakes, because you need them to be the same for you.  And we need to HUMBLY accept our own limitations as we extend that grace to our spouse. 
 

 
I just know you were more likely to read this because of his picture.....

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Resolutions are so 2014, or, why you fail at improving yourself

We love to make new commitments to some sort of new "us-es" every year about this time.  Standing of the precipice of a fresh start there is this compulsion to say, "This year will be different."  Yet, all the studies about these well intentioned resolutions(citation needed) seem to indicate that we pretty much break them all by the time the first week has rolled by. 

Try going to the gym on January 2nd(not the first because the "resolutioners" will be hung over on the 1st) and see how packed it is.  Compare that to the 22nd of January.  You will notice something very interesting.  The gym is very sparsely populated in comparison.  If you are a regular gym goer to-er you hate the first week of a new year because a bunch of knuckleheads will be horning in on your space not knowing how to properly use any of the equipment, nor will they re-rack what they use. 

People quit on their resolutions so easily because; 1) They set unrealistic goals for themselves(never ran since 8th grade gym, this year...MARATHON), 2) It is nice to admit to having a problem that you should fix without actually doing anything(because, hey, knowing is half the battle and just admitting to it makes me a better person....right??) and most importantly, 3) Each time we fail we accept that we are failures and so stop trying lest we get reminded of our failures.

This final one is the most important one to understand.  Our fear of failing, of feeling worthless and unworthy, makes it easier to just quit.  If we quit, we never failed.....or something like that..... How many times have you told yourself, or, heard from others;

I could lose the weight if I tried, but I am fine like this.....

It was a silly idea anyways, I don't have time for that......

I have better things to do.....

At the bottom of each of those statements when it relates to our put aside resolutions is a heart that is desperately worried about being perceived as a failure.  Each time we don't achieve IMMEDIATE success or results we believe that we CAN'T do it.  And in fear of confirming it, we drop it. 

Our broken hearts cry out for affirmation and encouragement.  But the world, and our perception of failures, cause us to shut down. 

Did you know that after each night a fresh morning awaits?  No matter how far you fell yesterday, today is now, and tomorrow is gone.  In Lamentations 3:22-23 we are told, "The Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are NEW EVERY MORNING"  And in 1 Corinthians 6:11 we are reminded, "And that is what some of you WERE.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of Jesus" 

As you face this upcoming year...get ready to fail.  Maybe tonight.  Most likely before the end of the first weekend of January.  But here is the promise.  It doesn't matter.  Your failures, your sins, your mistakes, those were what you WERE.  Each fresh day is a reminder that the faithfulness of the Lord is great, that his mercies are FRESH every morning. 

Don't miss that....FRESH EVERY MORNING.  There is no qualifier attached to that.  It isn't, "Fresh every morning....as long as you did pretty good yesterday."  The hope of the Gospel is that in Christ we are no longer our failures, even the ones that just occurred.  New mercies are here, and new hope has sprung forth. 

So in 2015, don't make a New Years resolution.  Because you will fail.  Make a resolution each moment to keep going even when you fail, because each moment you are standing on the precipice of something wonderful and new. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jesus, the Demon

My son has a pretty arbitrary standard for whether or not he likes you....Do you do what HE wants.....  He is a very opinionated and strong willed child(clearly from his mother...) and he has little patience for things that aren't exactly what he wants.  Everything that goes in opposition to his desires creates the most dramatic responses. 

If he does not get what he wants he will go to the nuclear option immediately.  Phrases that he uses way too often are, "You're the worst", or, "I don't want you as a daddy anymore".  While we work on correcting this behavior, it is a very insightful look into our own hearts. 

I know that you probably don't tell people they are the worst if they won't give you a piece of candy....but you do get angry and reject people who do not live up to your arbitrary standards.  We view the worth of a person by the degree to which they please us.  When we honestly examine our emotional responses to people, negative and positive, they are deeply interwoven with how we perceive their actions and their affects on us. 

Ultimately, this heart attitude is a defining characteristic of our response to God, the Bible and Christ.  We ask ourselves, "How does this make me FEEL?"  When we perceive something being in contradiction to how we feel, or, what we want, we become belligerent towards God.  Or, we just ignore Him all together.  While we generally like the concept of a Holy Deity who loves us and has a plan for us, we want that love and plan to be shaped by our desires.  And when it conflicts with those self-centered priorities we say, "you're the worst".

Often the core issue for people's rejection of the claims of Christ and the reliability of Scripture comes from a place of strong personal disagreement and rejection of Truth claims that are in opposition to personal preferences.  I can't count the number of times I have heard the argument against God and the Bible based upon a personal disagreement on "this" issue.  Never is there a willingness to engage in the possibility that a finite, subjective and personal preference is potentially incorrect and mistaken in contrast to the possibility of a perfect and Holy creator King of all the universe. 

My son doesn't yet concede the possibility that it is likely NOT a good thing for him to have MORE candy.  He wants what he wants, and I am his enemy(even though briefly) for being an obstacle to him obtaining his selfish desires. 

In John 8 Jesus finally throws down the gauntlet.  First, he has spent the last few days telling everyone that all their hyper-religious behavior is of no real value, then he calls them children of the devil, and finally, strike three, he claims to be the great, "I AM".  And at this point they decided that it was time to kill this offensive fellow.(vs 58-59) 

As Jesus is doing and saying all of this they respond by saying that Jesus is clearly demon possessed.(v 48)  They don't like what they hear, they don't appreciate that he calls them on their behavior that they are selfishly convinced is the "right" and "righteous" way to behave.  So they become antagonistic towards him.  Their rejection is based upon a purely emotional response to being told that what they like and what they want isn't "ok".  Who is he, they think, to tell us that there is a right way to come to God, and that OUR way is not it??

Either Jesus is who He claims to be(The Great I AM) or he is not.  If He is, we need to humble ourselves, because no matter how firmly we hold onto our preferences and beliefs we are standing in opposition to the Most High.  You might REALLLLY want that piece of candy right now, but at what cost?

Reality; we are like toddlers who are told "no".