Paid Forward

After a week of contemplating and praying about what to do with the reverse offering that we received from Heartland, God answered by placing a situation almost literally in our front yard.  As I drove home from work this evening, I spotted a car with its hood up on a side street 4 houses down from us.  There were no other cars or people around when I passed, so it appeared like the owner of the car still needed some help.  I got home, changed clothes, and grabbed the envelope with the $80.  RJ and I walked down the street to see if we could help and to bless this person with the reverse offering.  By the time we got there, we saw two men standing outside of the car and a woman off to the side on a cell phone.  We walked up to the men and asked if they needed anything.  The owner of the car thanked us and said that a tow truck was on the way.  The owner’s brother, the other man standing by the car, mentioned that the car had some clutch issues.  The car was a station wagon of some sort, a Saturn or Honda I believe, was at least 10 years old, and it appeared that a clutch problem would put a healthy dent in the owner’s finances.  I explained the reverse offering and let them know that our family wanted to bless them with our portion of the offering to help cover the expense of fixing the car.

The car owner’s eyes began to tear up and he tried to decline the money, telling me that he appreciated it, but that he could not accept the gift because there are people who need it more than him.  I politely refused to take the money back by telling him that he should keep what he needed or felt compelled to use, and then bless someone else with the rest.  At that point, he hugged me and thanked me again.  They asked where we go to church, and when I told him Heartland, they said that they were familiar with the church.  The brother and his wife asked if we knew Kevin, who was previously Heartland’s Worship Pastor and is now at Church of the Resurrection.  The owner’s brother and sister-in-law attend COR, but had previously attended Heartland on a couple of occasions specifically to watch and listen to Kevin play guitar.  RJ and I stood there and talked with this family for a little while, and in the course of the conversation found out that this money could not have come at a better time for him because he has had some financial problems recently.  We also found out that the brother and sister-in-law had invited the owner of the car to church with them, had given him a Bible, and just talked to him in general about God on a few occasions because he was “somewhat of an atheist.”  After a bit, there were handshakes and hugs all around again when the tow truck arrived.  We said our goodbyes and parted ways, during which time the owner of the car told me that he would only use part of our gift and would later add to it so that he could also bless others.

On the way back home, RJ told me that he was glad he came with me after all.  So am I because he saw firsthand the results of listening and staying faithful to God.  God is good.

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What Do I Want?

I had a conversation with my wife via Facebook the other day in which she indicated a desire to talk later that night.  She wanted to sit down together and make a list of things that we want individually and as a family, and then to pray over these things.  Earlier in the conversation, we had discussed a different topic, so I thought she meant we should make our lists as they pertained to that issue.  Come to find out she meant that we should discuss what we wanted financially, career-wise, from ourselves, and from life in general, and then pray about whether those things aligned with God’s will for us and how we could best achieve them.  My misunderstanding led to a minor argument because I kind of felt blindsided by the weight of the question, so I didn’t have much of an answer, and she thought that I should have because I had all day to think and pray on her question.  Now it’s almost a week later, and I still don’t have a good answer to her question.  I’m also probably not earning any brownie points by writing this post since she wanted to do this together.  But this is how I best express my thoughts and feelings, so here goes.

I don’t know how I want this to materialize, but I want to have financial stability to pay all of our monthly obligations and have enough to save something back, and the freedom to spend a bit here and there on things that we want without having to sacrifice things that we need.  I want my wife and kids to experience vacations like I had as a kid, to Disney World and Washington, D.C., among many other places.  I wish that I could afford to finally take my wife on a much-deserved honeymoon after ten years of marriage.  I want to be successful, though I don’t even know how I define success.  I need to properly provide for my family.  Even though those things are important and real, they still seem like superficial desires that only hint at what my wife was truly asking.

Every day I yearn to find my passions in life and to somehow turn those into a career.  I want to wake up every morning with excitement because I get to spend my day doing something meaningful that I love.  I need to have the ability to look at my life and not think that the best opportunities to make something of myself are behind me, that it’s not too late to decide what I want to be when I grow up.  I hunger for the ability to forgive myself for my past mistakes and to learn how to live life with no regrets because those mistakes have made me who I am today.  I want to be able to say every day that I did my absolute best to let others, especially my wife and kids, experience Christ’s love through me.  I want to know that I made a difference in this world. Like many others, I have a desire to know that it matters to the world that I’m alive, that life as a whole is better because I exist.

I wish that I was more like my dad, someone who just somehow knows how to fix almost anything that’s wrong around the house or with a car and puts others, especially his family, first without even having to think about it.  I want to be like his father who was kind and generous and was able to grow the best fruits and vegetables you’ve ever tasted year after year in his own back yard.  I want to be more like my uncle, my dad’s brother, who has the ability to envision new business ventures in his mind, and has the courage to try to make them a reality and who, more importantly, has an unwavering faith in God.  I want to follow the words in James 1:19 (NIV) and be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  I want to be a man who my wife is proud to call her husband, who my parents are proud to call son, and one who my kids can look up to and be proud to call ‘Dad’.

But right now, more than anything, I want to know how to answer my wife’s question.

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Paying It Forward

“Money Sunday”, it’s never anybody’s favorite week to go to church.  Nobody likes that uncomfortable feeling when the offering plate gets passed from hand to hand down the row, heading towards you.  You think, “How much do I have to put in?” or “I don’t have any cash on me, but people are going to think I’m not a good Christian if I don’t give!”  We all know that churches rely on the congregation’s generosity to function, so we acknowledge the reality that “Money Sundays” must exist; we just don’t want to have to sit through those sermons.  HCC just had one of its “Money Sundays” yesterday.  Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a post about how you have to give to the church because God said so or any other type of preaching in that regard.  In fact, this is kind of the opposite.  This is about the church giving us money.

This past “Money Sunday” at HCC started out with the pastor talking about how much progress we had made in the current capital campaign and how far we had to go.  You kind of got the feeling that people started to think “Oh no, not this week!”  But then as the sermon drew to a close, our pastor informed us that an anonymous couple who attends HCC felt led to bless others, so they donated $10,000 between HCC and Paseo Baptist, an inner-city church in Kansas City, Missouri.  This gift came with the instructions to hand the money out to their respective congregations in sealed envelopes of $1, $5, $10, $20, and $50 denominations, along with three “rules” for the audience:  1 – we can’t keep the money for ourselves; 2 – we can’t give it back to the church; 3 – we have to post our stories of how we blessed others with the money.  When they sent the basket down the rows, each person was to grab an envelope.  We had no idea how much money the envelopes held.  The funny thing about this is that even knowing that I would give this money away, I still hoped to get an envelope with a fifty dollar bill.  I was slightly disappointed to see that my envelope did not contain a $50, but even that didn’t last when I pulled out a $20.  I’ve been excited over the possibilities since then.  Nanette and I immediately decided that we would each match that figure, so that got us up to $60.  RJ and Garrett opted to go in $10 each to match the original $20, raising our total to $80 with which to bless others.  We still do not know how the money will be used or to whom it will go; we plan on praying about this to ask where God wants this money to go.  One thing that we do know is that, no matter where this money goes, we will get great joy from the opportunity to bless others in their times of need, and we are extremely grateful to the family that made this possible.

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Lead Me

I was twenty-three when I found out that I would soon be a father.  A torrent of conflicting emotions washed over me; excitement to mean my son, the joy of being a daddy, insecurity about if I would be a good dad.  I knew that I still had to figure out in a short amount of time how to raise my child.  How could I help my son grow into a good man?  Especially when I still felt and acted like a kid myself?  Now I look back and realize that not too many men, no matter if they are fifteen and living with mom and dad, or thirty-five with a successful career can honestly say that they are prepared for a responsibility of such magnitude.  I would literally be shaping my son’s personality, his opinions, his habits and his beliefs.  How could I possibly show my son who to be when I hardly even knew who I was?  Now that I have almost thirteen years of fatherhood under my belt with my oldest son and seven with my younger, I look back and wonder how well I performed my job.  I don’t question who my two boys have grown into thus far.  I know that both of them are amazing, kind, loving, intelligent, caring, and extraordinary kids who follow Christ.  I have every confidence that these traits will only develop further as they mature into men.  But I ask myself how much of that did they get from me?  Did I increase their confidence, or have I caused them to doubt themselves?  Did I teach them how to treat others with love and respect, or do they see my short-temper and think that is an acceptable way to behave?  Am I been a beacon of Christ’s love, or do I focus too much on making them follow rules through discipline that at times is too harsh?  Did I teach my sons self-confidence, even when I didn’t have the same confidence in myself?

I was twenty-five when Nanette and I got married, completely changing the dynamic of our relationship.  Even though we were already committed to each other, now we had vowed to be as one for the rest of our lives.  My role needed to shift as the head of the family.  It was more important than ever that I be the example for my family to follow.  I had no idea how to be a husband; I was still learning how to be a dad.  I grew up with fantastic role models of what good dads and husbands looked like, as my parents and grandparents instilled in me a rock-solid respect for marriage and putting family first.  But I was too wrapped up in myself to figure it out.  Unfortunately, for many years I was content to let my wife to run our daily lives.  It was easier.  I had fewer decisions, no stress of handling finances, less frustration dealing with the kids.  I essentially allowed myself to continue my childhood.  My wife certainly spent more than enough time pleading with me to become the husband that she needed, but she eventually felt it was easier to just take the reins than to continue to fight.  I needed help.  I still need help.  But I like to think that I’m making progress in the right direction.

For most of our time together, Nanette and I had two extremely different viewpoints on religion in general, and Christianity more specifically.  I believed – and always will – that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and that He created the heavens and the earth, and Jesus is His son who sacrificed himself on the cross for my sins, and was then resurrected three days later so that those who accept him are born anew into an eternal life with God.  Nanette believed the God part, but was cool with Jesus simply being a pretty important dude who taught a great message.  She most definitely did not believe that the Bible was inerrant; let alone the Word of God.  We had many a “lively discussion” on this topic.  Sadly, I was rather ignorant of many of the finer points of following Jesus, such as how to actually shape my life so that being a Christ follower was on display through my actions instead of mere words.  Obviously Nanette felt no compulsion to alter her opinions or open her heart to Jesus.  Why would she?  I certainly wasn’t spreading His love with the way that I was living.  Trying to lead my life, on my own terms, failed me miserably.

It wasn’t until about two years ago when Nanette and I separated that I began to turn towards God again in trying to keep my life from spiraling out of control.  After a six-month separation, we both realized that we wanted to save our marriage.  A few months after I moved back home, we decided to look for a church home, at Nanette’s suggestion, of all things.  I jumped at the opportunity and the very next day we attended Heartland, and knew we were home.  Over the next few months, the Holy Spirit started to stir within Nanette and she accepted Christ in her life.  Nanette, both of our sons, and I got baptized that same summer.  Since then, Nanette has made it abundantly clear that she needs for me to stand up and be the spiritual leader of this family, and I yearn to fulfill that role.  I still find it difficult to abandon my childhood and force myself to shoulder the responsibility of leading my family in our relationship with Christ, but I know that they need feel comfortable leaning on me to help develop and deepen their relationships with Jesus.  I realize that I can’t be that man by myself.  I need help, and I know that I can rely on God for that help.  So I ask Him to lead me, because I can’t do this alone.

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I’ll Get Around to That Some Day…

I never finish anything that I start.  No, really I don’t.  It will be a wonder if I even finish this post.  I’m oh-for-two on fixing Nanette’s motorcycles.  Yeah, you read that right.  Not just one, but two.  I couldn’t get the first bike to run properly, so in my infinite wisdom I thought it would be a great idea to sell it and buy her another one that didn’t start.  Get our hot tub working?  It’s been sitting either on its side or upside down on our deck for over a year.  Said deck took several years to finish as well.  Yes years, not weeks or even months.  Last New Year’s, I set several goals, some measurable, some not.  Three of the measurable goals were to 1) read the entire Bible over the course of the year, 2) read a daily devotional for the entire year, 3) get below 200 lbs.  You might have previously read about my intention to complete the 60-day Insanity workout program.  Sixty days.  Two months.  That’s it.  I didn’t make it.  The Bible?  I got about three-quarters through the New Testament.  My daily devotional?  I might have made it through March, but even then I would forget and have to read multiple days at a time to catch up.  Even on my blog posts I can’t complete a commitment.  My Joy Project?  Yeah, that worked well.  I kept forgetting to take pictures throughout the week, so come Saturday I’m scrambling around trying to think of something that brings me joy.  I think I wrote six posts.  College?  Yeah, I started taking classes a few different times.  This does not bode well for the genealogy research that I’ve recently picked up, which I actually began about eight years ago.

If I didn’t know better, I would have to say that I’m scared of commitment.  Except, I’ve worked at the same company for twelve years, and been with the same woman even longer.  We’ve lived in the same house for ten years.  Hell, I’ve even kept the same kids since 1999 and 2005, respectively.  I don’t mind sticking with things.  But I noticed that I tend to only fulfill commitments to things that only require my attendance.  Yes, I know that marriage and parenting require infinitely more than just “showing up”, but there is no “end” of marriage (Lord, don’t I know that’s the truth!) and parenting (again…).  A job or owning a home is the same way.  I wake up tomorrow and boom!  There I am a husband, father, homeowner, and employee.  Done deal.  Of course, any and all of these things can suddenly (and tragically) come to a screeching halt, but you get my drift.

The types of projects that I can’t seem to finish typically have definite stages and endings, such as fixing a motorcycle, building a deck, etc.  Why is that?  (That’s 100% a rhetorical question, as I have no clue about the reason.)  Usually I don’t have any problems with the ideas or intentions of completing these tasks.  But once I get waist-deep in them, suddenly I get distracted by some other bright, shiny diversion.  Seriously, it’s ridiculous and it bothers the hell out of me, yet I can’t seem to change it.  Naturally, like with most everything these days, this got me to thinking about how it applies to my faith and my more-often-than-not-mucked-up attempt at being a Christ follower.  I don’t question my commitment to my faith, but my ability to actually follow Jesus, well, that’s a whole different story.

When we started going to Heartland in May 2010, my passion for Christ was immediately ignited.  My concern was, and is, whether I could maintain that passion to the point where it became a lifestyle.  The difference here is that, while there really is no ending to this endeavor, this is also something that definitely requires action on my part.  For Jesus tells us that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15 NIV), and Jesus was not exactly a man of inaction or indecision.  But I can’t quantify this undertaking.  Sure, I can calculate how much money or time we give to the church or to those in need.  But that’s not truly a measure of how much I follow Christ.  That’s like, I don’t know, trying to measure a monsoon. Which, if you live in the Midwest, then you know estimating weather is no easy task.  What am I saying?  Of course you know.  I think 3 of my 5 readers live within 10 miles of me.  What I mean is, yes you can measure the amount of rain that has fallen and the “experts” can roughly calculate a storm’s duration.  The economic aftermath of the storm can even be counted.  But, like figuring how much we tithe, it’s all just numbers.  The true impact of the storm can only be measured by how positively or negatively affects people’s lives.

Being a Christ follower is the same way.  The only way to truly gauge success is by how we positively change people’s lives.  Not necessarily how many lives we help change, but how deeply we change the ones we can.  That’s a pretty hefty responsibility to shoulder.  But it’s one from which I do not want to get sidetracked.  Sure, I know that there will be times when I stumble.  In fact, there have been plenty in just the past year-and-a-half that we’ve been going to Heartland.  But I know that as long as I continue to put my trust and faith in God, that’s a commitment that I will always be able to keep.

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” – 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 (NIV)

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Tilt-A-Whirl

I love amusement parks.  I love the roller coasters, and the water rides, and all the other various not-so-dangerous ways of getting that shot of adrenaline.  The ones I especially like are the spinning rides.  You know what I’m talking about.  Like the one where you go in what amounts to a giant washing machine and they put you on spin cycle to the point where you have no idea if you’re standing upright or if somehow the whole structure managed to go horizontal on you; then as if you have not quite had enough, the floor suddenly drops out from underneath you and you’re relying on inertia to keep you pinned to the wall.  I also love the Tilt-a-Whirl rides.  You always know what to expect out of the ride, yet every time you go on it, each turn, each rise, each revolution somehow brings surprise.  Going around and around thinking, “OK here comes a peak… Whoa! I didn’t expect that spin!  Oh Jeez I forgot that valley was coming up!  Oh no, more spinning!”

I always have a blast on those things.  I really do.  I could ride them over and over.  But what about when life is like that?  When you think you know what you can expect, you’re cruising along and then… BAM!  You forgot you were up on a peak and now you’re rapidly dropping into a valley, spinning out of control this way and that all the while.  Sure, it’s an exciting ride, but when you can’t control it, the dull train ride around the park suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.  It’s hard to know which way is up when you go through those periods in life.  We all have them.  Addictions, job satisfaction or stability, family issues, health issues, depression, relationship problems, any and all of these have potential to send life into a tailspin.  While it’s no fun to go through those trials ourselves, I’m finding it really sucks having to watch your friends experience hardship.  There is a part of me that – as grateful as I am for the blessings of my life – would rather run through the gauntlet than watching those I love struggle.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that we all face the consequences, good and bad, of our actions and decisions, be it by things we experience in life, by the mental torture we inflict upon ourselves, the joy we get from doing right, or some combination of all three.  I also know that every struggle is presented to us for the purpose of making us stronger in faith and as individuals.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4 (NIV)

As much as I agree with and take heart from these verses, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to see anyone struggle.  Though I admit that I do rejoice when I see people turn to and lean on the Lord to guide them through these turbulent times.  When I see others rely on the Lord as their rock, and I see Him respond, it strengthens my faith when I am sometimes too close to my own situations to fully see and appreciate how God acts in my life.  But this post is not about me.  Today i focused my thoughts and prayers on a dear friend who is also a brother in Christ.  He has gone, and is going, through an off-and-on situation that has caused him such acute mental anguish to the point that he has begun feeling a sense despair and hopelessness.  Obviously my friend is not blameless, nor does make such claims, but I can say that for some time I have seen my brother in Christ continually try to do the right thing about this situation.  I suspect that his hand will soon be forced into a specific course of action.  While the result could potentially be an extremely good thing, the means to that end will most likely be a painful and frustrating journey, to say the least.  I only pray that my brother has the resolve to stand strong in the face of adversity, that he can keep his bearings about himself through this Tilt-A-Whirl ride, and know there is always hope, and that he will be rewarded for his faith and perseverance in doing the right thing.

“…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” – Romans 5:2-5 (NIV)


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Hypocrisy 101

“God hates fags!” rants an infamous Topeka-based church.  But 1 John 4:8 tells us “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” A small church in Kentucky banned interracial couples from becoming members, even though Romans 15:7 instructs us to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” In John 14:6, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Yet at one time, the Church widely claimed that – for a price, of course – it could guarantee you eternal life and happiness. I’m not even going to get into atrocities such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, other wars, killing, persecution, and oppression done “in the name of God”. The list could go on endlessly. The ugly truth is that throughout history, man intentionally and accidentally has twisted the words, context, and meaning of Scripture for his own personal gain, be it monetary, fame, power, or influence.

Even as Christ followers, maybe especially as Christ followers, we sometimes allow ourselves to fall prey to hypocrisy. Even though we proclaim our faith and desire for others to see Christ in us, we all fall short of the glory of God at some point. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hypocrisy as “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not, especially the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion” and “an act or instance of hypocrisy.” Certainly, plenty of people – Christian or otherwise – fall into the first category and continually present themselves in one way publicly, while privately living an entirely different way, or they hide their true motives for leading a virtuous life. But I tend to think that the majority of people find themselves guilty of the second definition – individual acts, often unintentional or even unrecognized instances of hypocrisy, because when we let our guards down, our humanity overcomes our holiness.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture reads, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV).  I’m not suggesting that believers need to run around throwing this – or any other verse – in the faces of those who lead immoral, sinful lives, or otherwise turn away from God.  Quite the contrary, primarily because even as believers we are often guilty of sin.  The last part of that passage stuck out to me recently.  Look at the last few words again: “…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  This is basically saying that the Bible is an ancient version of The Idiot’s Guide to a Righteous Life for Christ followers.   That’s not to say that those who don’t believe can’t or don’t lead moral lives, nor am I implying that all would disagree with the lessons contained in Scripture.  What I am saying is that it’s not other people, especially non believers, for whom Paul says Scripture is useful for rebuking.  It’s us, those who claim to follow Jesus Christ!  We are the ones who need to take these words and lessons and focus them directly at ourselves because if we claim to live according to a higher standard then we had best start acting like it.  Even Jesus railed against the religious leaders of his day calling them a “brood of vipers”.  He exclaimed to the crowds and his disciples that the keepers of the law “do not practice what they preach” – Matthew 23:2 (NIV).  Jesus stared down the Pharisees and boldly told them that they “have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” – Matthew 23:23 (NIV)  These are men who had dedicated their entire lives to learning and living out the law to the very last letter, but completely missed the point.  Following the rules became more important than why the rules existed in the first place.  Our goal should be to live in such a way that Christ will not chastise for the same, let alone any, reason.

The most dangerous attitude that we could take towards hypocrisy within the Church and ourselves would be to ignore it, to try to sweep it under the rug, to make the excuses, or to outright deny it. As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to own up to our shortcomings, to the heinous acts committed under the guise of serving God, and show people that hypocrisy is man’s failure, not God’s. Show them that, while man may say one thing and do another, God has always been, always is, and always will be true to His Word. One thing I need to take care not to do is to turn around and pass judgment on those who criticize people of faith for being hypocritical or ignorant sheep. I need to remember just to continue loving them and to help show them that while God is infallible, man is not. For when we make a conscious effort to help someone else come to know Jesus, or to at least see his love within us, we will inevitably grow closer to him ourselves.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)

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Intimate Stranger

Have you ever found yourself involved in a good novel to the point where you feel connected to at least one of the characters?  If the character development is authentic enough, I find that I want the story to keep going when I reach the last page.  This is one reason that I love to read a series, provided also that the plot is compelling and the books are well-written.  But if the characters remain flat, one-dimensional, merely names on a page, then I find myself detached from them, indifferent to the consequences that they face, deaf to the lessons I might otherwise have learned, for even fictional works have things to teach us if we’re willing..

I recently began genealogical research into my family and continue to come across names from earlier generations, ancestors whose names are at best only vaguely familiar, at worst completely unknown and important to me only in that they eventually resulted in my existence.  I see them listed in various census records, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, but none of these convey who they were, what they believed in, what made them, well, them.  The only way for these people to truly come alive to me, aside from a personal relationship, is by the stories passed down through the generations. Even then I need the ability to understand the context in which the events occurred, the time periods in which these people lived; I need to grasp the differences in various societies and generations, otherwise I run the risk of misjudging the mitigating factors that affected their decisions and personalities.

Too often I think that people, myself included, tend to view Jesus in this way.  We say that we love Jesus, that we have a relationship with him.  But do we truly know Jesus?  Do we really know his personality?  Of course we know that the Gospels describe his claims to divinity, of being fully God and fully man, and yes we have the lessons that he gave to us.  But if you ask someone why they love Jesus, you’ve got pretty good odds of the answer going something like “because he died on the cross to forgive my sins and he taught love and forgiveness.”  While these are certainly valid reasons to love Jesus, at the core it is really only loving what he did for us and what he taught us, not loving Jesus himself.  Even though I wholeheartedly believe that the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus are historically and theologically true, I often times view Jesus as a character in a book who made a great sacrifice for me and made a miraculous and triumphant return.  By taking this view of Jesus, I have reduced him merely to that one act and a few good lessons on leading a moral life, which is not only unfair, it is insufficient.  How is this insufficient?  Because if you don’t truly know somebody, their personality, who they are, what they stand for, then you can’t love them in the complete sense of the word.  But why is that relevant to accepting Christ and following his teachings?  Because the cost of following Jesus, of facing persecution for those beliefs, of dying unto yourself is so great that without that love, I am bound to fail miserably.  Therefore, I need to not only understand his lessons, I need to know the tone with which Jesus communicated them because it is his actions and attitudes that will convey how to lead a righteous life infinitely more than his words.

Though the Gospels are some of my favorite books of the Bible, I admit that when I read them, I have a hard time interjecting Jesus’ personality into the words.  I find that I typically try to focus on the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach instead of looking at the tone in which he is speaking, or the circumstances surrounding the lesson.  In fact, until recently I can honestly say I have never given much thought to Jesus’ humanity as it pertains to his personality, sense of humor, his fears, his anxieties, and everything else that made him just like me, like you.  Aside, of course, for that whole being God thing.  Because Jesus was human.  He experienced pain, hunger, joy, love, exhaustion, humor, exasperation, anger, happiness, the full spectrum of feelings.  Genesis 5:1 states, “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God”, that means everything that we experience, so too does God, and He was able to do so from man’s perspective through the person of Jesus Christ.  While some might find it upsetting or problematic to think that God experienced human feelings, I find it comforting.  I love that God not only understands what I go through when I struggle with anger, impatience, greed, envy, but I also love that He knows how I feel when I experience joy, peace, gratitude, reverence, contentment.  Because our God is a living, loving God who actively pursues a relationship with His creation, he does not view us with a sense of detachment, as flat, uninteresting, one-dimensional characters.  Rather, though God knows us better than we know ourselves, He wants us to willingly open ourselves to Him in an honest, loving, intimate relationship.  He is not only writing, but also reading an amazing novel in which he feels so deeply connected to the characters that He interjected Himself into the story.  Not only did God enter Himself into the story, He did so in such a way that He would be persecuted and sacrificed so that man never has to reach the final page because our story can last an eternity.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NIV)

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Walking Away

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” – John 15:18-19 (NIV)

How easy it is to get riled up about my convictions.  When someone strikes at the very core of my beliefs, my natural reaction is to strike back without much thought, let alone regard to feelings.  My mindset is one of “if you are willing to attack the very foundation upon which I build who I am, then you better be willing to deal with the backlash.”  The problem is that, as a Christ follower, my response needs to fall more in line with James 1:19 which states, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”  So you can see just one of the many obstacles I face each day in trying to model my life after that of Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love to hear, discuss, and debate differing opinions and beliefs.  I don’t judge anyone who believes differently than I do.  Do I think that their belief – if not placed squarely on Jesus Christ for salvation – is incorrect?  Yes, of course.  What would it say about the strength of my faith if I didn’t?  But that doesn’t mean that I think that they are less of a person or less deserving of love, compassion, respect, and grace than I am.  It simply means that we believe two different things and ultimate truth will show one of four possible things – 1) I’m right and they’re wrong, 2) they’re right and I’m wrong, 3) we’re both wrong, or 4) we’re both at least partly right.  Understand when I say “I’m right”, I don’t mean to say that I take any credit for being right, and I’m not really referring to myself as much as I am faith in Jesus.  That’s just a simple, straightforward way to get my meaning across.  But until we are at a point when absolute truth is revealed, I enjoy discussing various opinions and beliefs – that is, as long as the discussion, even if it is emotionally driven, is respectful, intelligent, and supported by either logic and/or evidence.

What I have a hard time tolerating are condescending, inflammatory, and vitriol-laden remarks made with zero logic or rational thought put into them for the sole purpose of offending the other party.  Couple that with the people making those comments reacting with self-righteous indignation if they get the response that they wanted instead of a well-thought out reply, and my exasperation goes off. the. charts!  These are the times when my temper flares and what I call my ‘G.A.S.’ (Give A Sh!t) filter gets shut off, and I let my mouth (or fingers, as it were) go on autopilot.  Enter the influence of being a Christ follower.  (Please!!)  This is precisely the time I need to stop, take a breath, and remember the words written in Ephesians.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29, 21-32 (NIV)

I also do not know when to quit.  I will defend my beliefs, thoughts, or stance in a particular argument ad nauseam, even to the point of it being counterproductive.  I don’t know, maybe it’s the narcissist in me.  But whatever the reason, there are many times when I need to learn to just shut my mouth and walk away, especially during discussions about faith.  Over the last couple of days I have had to do just that.  Simply walk away from the situation and don’t look back.  Don’t give it a second thought or a second’s hesitation because doing anything else would not allow others to see Christ in me or bring glory to God.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” – Matthew 10:14 (NIV)

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Wait, Who Is This About Again?

So lately I’ve tried to think of something to post, trying to think of something “important” or “insightful” to write, as if I have some invaluable wisdom that the world just can’t live without.    You may know that I meet with a small group of guys every Friday morning for Bible study before work.  Our church (HCC) calls this gathering of small groups Men’s Journey.  Anyway, for the last few weeks my MJ group has set weekly goals for ourselves.  My goal has been to write various numbers of blog entries each week.  The first week I ended up getting sick and could not focus on anything, so I give myself a pass there.  But the rest of the time I have no excuse.  Granted, this isn’t the first post that I’ve sat down to write, I just haven’t been able to think of anything to say.  Not that I haven’t been thinking about topics.  I have.  In fact, I think I’ve tried too hard.

I heard a song on the radio on the way to work the other morning, and it all kind of fell into place.  That song was “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe.  These are the opening lyrics:

“I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say”

Wow.  Reality check.  Ego check.  But it’s true.  Sometimes – often times – I lose sight of the goal of this blog, which is to glorify God above all else.  Yes, I enjoy writing.  I love the satisfaction I get from finishing what I know is a good post.  I like the challenge of arranging a post in what I think is the most effective way, or figuring out the most engaging way to phrase my thoughts, feelings, and opinions.  Though it can sometimes be intimidating, I love the fact that (sometimes) other people read what I have to say.  But I need to remember that what I find most fulfilling (as if this is even about what fulfills me) is when I sit down to use my God-given gift of writing to allow Him to use me to convey whatever message He desires.

Recently I’ve struggled to recognize God’s presence in my life and in His voice in my heart.  I’m not going through a period of winter in my faith in the sense of believing in God, nor do I think that I ever will.  But I do think that I have gone through a period of winter (or maybe just late autumn) in my faith in a different way, in the sense of simply believing God, of being able to have patience and to trust in His plan.  In the oft-quoted verse Jeremiah 29:11, God tells us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  I don’t doubt the truth of this statement, as I wholeheartedly believe that all of Scripture is inspired by the inerrant Word of God, but lately I’ve found myself not fully placing my trust in God and trying to figure out my problems and worries on my own.  It seems that I have lost focus on the lesser-quoted following verses Jeremiah 29:12-14 where God tells us “‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”  Let me repeat that sentence one more time, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” … Hmmm. I have found it increasingly difficult to focus my attention and energy on spending time in the Word, let alone any specific Bible study.  I even feel that my prayers, while still heartfelt, have become dry, automatic one-way communication of me talking to God, but not truly listening to or for His response.  No wonder I have had such difficulties with my writing lately.

The other day I made it a point to start back in on a study of the book of Daniel and spent time in the Word and working on the study guide over my lunch break at work.  It’s no small coincidence that I was able to write this post without much difficulty.  God is good, all the time.  A new class just started tonight out at HCC that I will be participating in for the next 8 weeks that focuses on the new John Eldredge book Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge.  This book focuses on the humanity and personality of Jesus so that we can know him more fully and worship him more effectively.  I am incredibly excited to read this book and watch the corresponding videos.  I’m sure this class will provide an abundance of writing material for me in the days to come. All I know is that getting back into the habit of spending time with God both by reading Scripture and by taking this class has me feeling rejuvenated in faith, which can only lead to being inspired to finally write more. But most importantly is I feel like I’m coming out of hibernating through the winter, into the dawning of a new spring time with a renewed faith blossoming within me and the knowledge that yes, these times will happen, but that He will always bring me back home at the right time in accordance with His plans for me.

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