Monday, May 7, 2018

Identity Crisis

Have you ever gone through a big change in your life and wondered how it would work out? Despite my history of working with teenagers, I’m not actually talking about puberty. 

I think my biggest struggle with my current career transition is how I assume people will perceive my identity. (Should my current colleagues read this, they should understand completely that this has nothing to do with them. They are an amazing team of people who are nothing but encouraging.)

This struggle is about moving from a church job to a non-church job. I imagine the struggle was going to come no matter what I found myself doing. After all, what surprised me most was not what I found myself doing, but I found myself not doing. I assumed I would be continuing as a youth pastor...somewhere. 

When God opened up unexpected doors, it left me with gratitude...and questions. 

Did I burn out? Did I become uncalled? Did I not have what it takes to be a lifer in ministry? Did I sell out? Was it too hard? 

Yeah, I’m not going to answer any of those questions. At least, not in this post. 

But I struggled with these questions and the perception of my identity nonetheless. 

So I did what I encouraged countless numbers of people to do when they would come to me for pastoral counsel. 

I prayed. I asked God to remind me who I am. 

He answered. 

I’m His child. I’m a child of the King of the Universe. Do you realize what that means? I wonder, because I think most of us rattle off these scriptures as if they were mere platitudes. To be a child of the King means I am a prince. I’m royalty. 

I’m a co-heir with Christ. As I understand inheritances, that means I’m going to receive a prized treasure, along with Jesus.

I’m loved. I’m cherished. I’m prized. I’m part of the cloud of witnesses. I’m justified. I’m being sanctified. I’m bought for and I’m redeemed. 

My salvation is secure and my future is reserved. 

I haven’t even mentioned all of the human relationships in which my identity has absolutely nothing to do with the work I do for 40 hours each week. 

Identity crisis? There’s no need. Who am I? The name is Rick Nier. 

I know, with my mind, who I am in Christ. When my heart forgets, as it is prone to do, I need to remember to come back to the only Word that eternally matters. 

Oh, and by the way, this holds true for you as well. Never let your heart forget. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What Christians Should Learn From the Avengers

Disclaimer: I am writing this before I see the latest Marvel move: Avengers: Infinity War. I am doing so with a purpose. You can read this and know there won’t be any spoilers. 

Having said that, let me tell you what’s on my mind. My family have been fans of superhero movies for a long time now. We watch them. We talk about them. We buy them. We watch and talk some more. 

Because of this, we’re pretty attached to the characters, some of whom we have been watching for the past decade. So we actively avoid spoilers when a new movie is coming out. Yet we still see people’s opinions and thoughts posted on social media. My wife saw that several women were so shook up after the movie they needed cookies as a coping mechanism. 

This is a little odd to me, but only because I do not need to be upset in order to need a cookie. However, I do understand being upset. In fact, if an entertaining movie can help us to feel emotion and consider truth, that’s a good thing indeed. 

But if you see me struggling with where this story takes me, I’m ok with that. Given the trailers, I fully expect to see heroes die. If I mourn, it is because the story is told well. As I said, I’m a bit attached to these characters.

So what can Christians learn while watching the Infinity War?

1. Bad things still happen

They happen for a reason. We call that reason sin. We know where it came from. We know the effects. We know the payment needed. 

Because of sin, death happens. Loss happens. We grow attached to people in our lives and we lose them. When it happens in movies and books, we can decide we didn’t like what the writers did. But in reality, we have to deal with it.

2. Our compassion for those lost should be high.

If my favorite heroes are defeated, I will sad, but only to a certain degree. After all, I can go back and watch their previous adventures. And I will remind myself they are not real.

Back in reality, we should care at least as much. Yes, I know this has been preached before. We should be as excited about Jesus as we are about movies, sports, etc. Just because it’s been said for years does not make it untrue. 

We should mourn those we lose, especially if they don’t know Jesus. Which leads me to #3...

3. The world needs to hear our message.

I have shared my love for superhero movies with many people. I tell them why I like the genre and sometimes we argue about which movies were better. 

Closely related to the second point, we should be telling people about the truth of the Gospel. Clearly it is more important. Clearly it is needed. And it should be clear by now, Christians are the only means by which the message will be shared. 

4. Victory is assured.

As I said, I am writing this before seeing the movie. Unless Marvel decides to go in an entirely different direction, one in which enemies rule the universe (and make movies), I’m pretty sure the good guys will win. Will there be loss? Yes, it is likely. 

There is loss in reality as well. We know things will get worse before they get better. But we have the assurance that things will get better. Jesus will be victorious. There will be an eternity of celebration when we live as one with our King. 

So I’ll see you at the movies. We can talk about them and what we liked and didn’t like. But perhaps, instead of just learning what a bunch of writers and actors have done with a story, let’s allow our emotions to teach us. Let them remind us of what we should already know. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God

Contrarians. Who needs them? After all, they’re usually a disagreeable sort. The rest of us are just out here living our lives when we happen upon one.

They get all up in our business with their thinking and their justified applications based on those thoughts. They think they’re better than the rest of us. Or, at least, that’s how it feels.

Case in point. Imagine a group of people having a conversation, when two of them say the same thing, almost simultaneously. You already know what he of them is going to say, don’t you?

Great minds think alike!

Then some tool comes along and says something like, ‘No, great minds think for themselves!’ Now, are they being contrarian? Yes. But are they necessarily being obnoxious? No.

I say this for a couple of reasons. First, I am the aforementioned tool who says great minds think for themselves. I’m not trying to be contrary. But I think it’s good to give people another perspective.

And that is exactly what I’m getting from Larry Osborne’s book, A Contrarian’s Guide to KNowing God. Full disclosure, I’m only halfway through it. The subtitle is Spriituality For the Rest Of Us.

The premise is simple. There is usually a majority-rules, age-old, acceptable way of doing Christianity. Except that most of us struggle to agree with which bumper sticker theology we should live by. And chances are, the stuff we do agree on, should be more thought out.

One example of Larry’s is the idea that Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship. It’s said all over the place. I know I’ve said it for years. But as Larry points out, the mantra of relationships does not keep us from trying to quantify everything we do.

“Almost all of our books, seminars, workshops, and programs are heavily weighted toward religious practice and self-discipline.”

So I’m not encouraging being contrary just for the sake of being contrary. But perhaps we should accept a few mor eopinions being injected into our day. Just maybe we should feel free to share what we do differently than those we share a pew with. And we should definitely do it all while understanding that it’s ok to be different.

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

I’d recommend picking up a copy of this book. It will give you some worthwhile things to consider. And it just may free you up from some burdens that have been weighing you down. I received this book from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing. They give me books and ask that I say something about them. And now I have.

Monday, February 26, 2018

How To Be a Perfect Christian

Imagine a world, perhaps centuries farther into history than we are now, where there is no concept of satire or sarcasm. First of all, it’s a world I would be incapable of living in. But more importantly it is a world in which this book I’m about to describe could never be appreciated.

I present to you How To Be a Perfect Christian; Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living. This literary gem is written by the good humored people at The Babylon Bee. If you haven’t been introduced to their satirical, fake-news style coming across your social media news feeds, you’re missing out. Or you might be the people of which they are making fun.

What they’ve brought us here is a fantastic look at the wonderful subculture we call American Christianity, poking fun at some of our qualities. Giving us insights like how to pick a church that will focus on us to the finer points of how to look spiritual online, they really have thought of everything. Worshipping, serving, witnessing and ‘doing life together’, they have provided  a foundation for everything the serious Christian needs to grow.

That is, unless this books lands in the hands of a person who doesn’t realize they’re joking and the one rule of thumb for reading this book should be, ‘just do the opposite, just do the opposite.’ If a new Christian grabs this book looking for something to spur them on towards love and good deeds, they will be sorely disappointed. Being spurred on to see where they land on the Holiness Progress Tracker 5000? This would be a great find in that case.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted read about the quirky situations we Christians often find ourselves, then I recommend this book. If your sense of humor died with the Reagan administration, I’d give this a pass. My good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah gave this to me in exchange for a review, which I have been happy to oblige.

If you don’t grab a copy, you’ll only have yourself to blame when you see me worshipping better than you worship.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Something to Pray About

She said to pray for a student who was standing near us. To be clear, she asked all the students in the building to nod so that people near them would know they were a middle school or high school student. 

Since I’ve reached the age where everyone under 30 looks like they could still be in high school, this was a smart thing to do. It would be awkward to start praying for someone’s high school career and find out they graduated in 2012. But, for me, it was also unnecessary, because I was standing next to my middle school aged son, with his two sisters just beyond him. 

She directed us to pray for these students in light of what recently happened in Parkland, Florida. No problem! I pray for my three, and several others, every single day. It’s not just guns I fear. It’s temptations of every variety, the peer pressure that comes from every side, the stress of trying to perform well academically and socially, and on and on and on. It’s also that they would stay safe from every stupid impulse that pops its way into their still-developing brains, both the brains of my kids and the ones around them. 

It didn’t take long for my prayers to form. Lord, may my children never know the fear that is running for your life while some twisted individual wields a gun, deciding to kill whomever may have hurt their feelings and as many others as possible. 

It struck me mid-prayer that I was not praying a simple prayer. These school shootings, happening regularly for at least 20 years now, are random and always end with a few commonalities. Most people do not see them coming. They happen in often idyllic towns where many people knew the perpetrator. And they always open up the gun debate. 

It struck me mid-prayer that I was not praying against gun laws. If we can ignore the media circus that is what we call our news cycles and the politicians who use them, I would like to point out a simple truth. While people on either side of the gun debate continue to think exactly as they always have, real people mourn real loss. 

It struck me that I was not praying about anything small. I was praying against sin nature. We can talk about the pros and cons of gun laws, the ins and outs of mental illness and the would’ve, should’ve, could’ve of every single disaster. But we will be wasting our breath. 

It struck me that, even as I prayed for my children’s safety and against the sinful nature of anyone who might chance to cross their path, I also needed to pray for the sinful nature that battled within myself and my children. 

This, sadly, is where our wheels will continue to spin, never understanding that we are not simply praying for our own loved ones and against anyone else who might pose a threat. Or, as someone once wrote, ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood.’ 

So yes, prayer is needed. But make sure you know what you’re praying for. And keep in mind which enemy you’re praying against. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Who I Think I Am Doesn’t Matter

If you will indulge me, I will be honest with you. To say last year brought about a little bit of change would be like saying the Titanic’s first voyage was a bit of disappointment. Or that Tom Brady has found a level of success throwing around a football. Or that millenials communicate better through memes than words.

Yeah, the changes were big. If you weren’t sitting around, just watching me live my life, let me give you the Sparknotes version; My wife and I each got new jobs, after having worked in the same building, together, for 15 years. After a couple of months of unemployment, my wife got a new job at a new church. After a few more months than that, where I dabbled in construction and pretended to enjoy substitute teaching, I got a job in marketing.

All of these changes have left me thinking plenty of thoughts about who I am, what I do, and just how I have come to find myself where I find myself. Be assured, this isn’t about gratitude. I love the story I get to share about how God provided for my family in 2017. But big changes bring with them a disorientation and a questioning of what you thought you knew. About life and about yourself.

I wouldn’t label it a crisis, and you shouldn’t either, but when someone switches career fields after 20 years, it is going to make you ask questions about your identity.

There are parts of my identity which I am glad to bear. Father. Husband. After 2017 and the adventures that came my way, even Working Class Citizen is a label I enjoy applying to myself.

There are others, which I enjoy, but may not want to be solely known for. Basketball player comes to mind. Why? I enjoy the sport. I enjoy playing. The guys I play with have given me a nickname - The Liability. Yes, these are friends...why do you ask?

But if some of the mistakes I’ve made on the court became synonymous with my identity, I’d have to deal with a lot of mocking....ok, a lot more mocking.

Even those parts of my identity that are most meaningful, like being a father and husband, can end up being a negative thing. Mean father. Jerk husband. I’ve been both, but not to the point of being solely known for that. Of course, it depends on the day you ask my children...and my wife.

The only part of my identity that is truly safe and secure from all misunderstanding is being God’s child. I’m forgiven. I’m redeemed. I’m called for a purpose. (Connect to recent thoughts from Colossians) 

What have you been called? What have you called yourself? Consider the adjectives that you might couple with those labels. It would be really easy to hear you're a child of God and immediately think, undeserving child.

While that may be accurate, it's not how God sees us. He simply calls us His own. If it's good enough for Him, then it's good enough for me. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017, The Year I Never Expected

Like so many people, I end each year thinking about the year that was, and perhaps even resolving how I want the new year to go. But I guarantee you, no matter how much time I put into thinking last December, I never could have guessed how 2017 was going to go.

For starters, here's a couple of sentences I never thought I would speak.

  • I’m dropping the kids off at youth group. 
  • I’m ok being without a job for a few months. 

Both sentences go together, because as many of you know, I told the church I had youth pastored at for 15 years that God was telling me it was time to go.

Now I know that when someone invokes the voice of God into a decision, it can sound like they're passing the blame onto the Deity. After all, who's going to argue with the voice of the Lord? I imagine people largely fall into 2 categories on this matter.

Group #1 imagines the youth pastor just wants a change, but doesn't want people to dislike him for making the choice to leave.

Group #2 wonders when the youth pastor started hearing the voice of God.

For group #1, all I can offer is the invitation to walk where my family walked this year and then ask yourself if you'd make that choice...willingly. For group #2, I sometimes wondered the same thing. But the results can only be explained as being of God. For I never dreamed up the results.

To describe the results, let me offer you a few numbers.

3. Number of months I went without a job. When I did rejoin the workforce, it was in the highly lucrative position as a substitute teacher. I'm not complaining, since I was happy to be getting paid at all, but whatever we're paying teachers needs to be doubled immediately. Pro athletes should be told they can play games for a living, but the revenue goes to those investing in the next generation.

40. Over 40 actually. That's the number of churches I looked at, interviewed at, or had some level of interaction with, looking for a job. I really thought I was going to remain in youth ministry.

1. My family assumed we were moving. We really did. I applied far and wide. I told God I was willing to go wherever. When the job at Grace College came my way, I laughed because it was as if God was answering, 'I want you across the street.' That's right, my new job is 1 block away from the church we were at for 15 years.

My family learned a lot about trusting God this year. We used the word adventure a lot, because we knew, whatever happened, it would be God leading us. We learned about contentment, understanding that Clancy's Chips, a Doritos off-brand, do not taste quite the same, but get the job done.

We are keeping our hearts and minds open. We understand that it would be easy for us to assume that we can take our lives back over, because God did some huge things this year. But when one sees God work, in so many miraculous ways, as we have seen Him work in 2017, all we should do is live in thankful response and prepare for the next adventure.

Bring on 2018!