Monday, June 24, 2019

We Think We're So Smart

As parents, we've all been there. We tell our child to do something and they ask why. Everyone knows what words are about to come out of the parent's mouth. 

Because I said so

We can debate forever if that reasoning should be sufficient or not. The fact is we say it. I say it, and then I preach to my kids about respect and obedience and when I was a perfect child. 

So why do the kids ask for a reason? Why do the teenagers bore us with their litany of reasons of how we're old, our ideas are outdated, we're short and not that good at basketball? Yeah, my teenagers have found some specific talking points in their arguments to try and get me to let them have their way. 

Why do they think they're so smart?

Actually, I'm trying to get my children to write a book. (Cue sarcastic music so you know I'm about to spew a heavy dose.) If they would give me time to grab a pen and some paper, I could jot down some of their pearls of wisdom. They make such good points when they compare themselves to known drug dealers, deviants and misfits. How can I even consider holding these golden children back from ultimate freedom?

But I digress. 

They think they're so smart because we think we're so smart. While we may have more experience and (some) more wisdom, the truth is we do the same thing in our own lives, justifying our actions with a litany of responses. 

My pastor talked recently about things that we might not be willing to give up. He may have even referenced some fairly popular shows and trends right now, just so everyone felt equally convicted. It got me thinking. If Jesus asked me to give up something, even something I felt was innocent, would I obey without asking questions?

I’m not saying I eat a sinful amount of cookies, but if God asked me to give them up, would I? Without good reason? It might depend on if He was taking away ice cream as well. 

When we give our children a command to obey, I think I’m imagining they should automatically obey because of the good record I have of doing things because I love them.That should be enough, right? I bet God thinks the same thing about us. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Banging My Head Against The Wall

I’m not a big fan of birds. It’s not that I dislike them. I just don’t get thrilled at bird-watching. Unless you’re showing me a video of some giant bird on a National Geographic show that is about to do something in keeping with their place in the food chain. I’ll watch that. Or Big Bird, from Sesame Street. He was always pretty cool. 

But bird-watching? I’m not about naming or classifying, or really even caring about birds. A few summers ago my wife bought a bird feeder and placed it near our big picture window. Apparently she wanted to help feed the neighborhood chipmunks and squirrels. She also likes to see the different kinds of birds that would come along. 

I should mention something else. My wife keeps the big window clean, so several times a month we’ll hear a bird run into the window. It’s like a Windex commercial. Sometimes they shake their heads and fly away. A few times we’ve seen birds fly in so fast that I get to remind my kids of that Bible verse where Jesus says God knows when a bird falls from the sky. 

This summer my cats and I are watching some golden-headed bird take over the feeder. Several times each morning he will stretch out his wings, make a threatening sound, and fly at our big window. My wife looked it up and read he might be a bully bird (it’s a thing). We think he’s seeing his reflection and trying to attack the other bird. 

As I write this, the golden-headed jerk has attacked my window no less than ten times. If his bird brain was ever capable of figuring things out, I’m guessing he’s long past that now. In fact, if there are bird sports, he’s likely in some sort of concussion protocol by now. 

The fact that he’s a bully to other birds doesn’t leave me feeling real sorry for him. I may have even allowed my daughter to attempt her own manner of intimidation by firing at him with a super-soaker. She’s gotten a couple of shots, but still he returns. 

It’s been a few days of the same pattern. He comes and takes over the feeder and bangs his head into my window a few dozen times. I wonder how he doesn’t learn. It has to be painful. If he thinks other birds are watching, it has to be embarrassing as well, right? After all, he doesn’t even know his own reflection. And it has to be lonely, constantly chasing other birds away while you bang your head, attempting to have ultimate control over your life. 

Such a bird brain! After all, who would want to live their life this way?

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Guy's Guide to Four Battle Every Young Man Must Face

Jonathan McKee writes about teens, he writes for teens and he does a fantastic job writing to teens. There are countless resources out there for youth ministry and for teens in general.  And if ever there was a bracket challenge to decide who has written the greatest resources for teens, McKee would be the Duke of teen resources. Unless Duke surprisingly got beat. Then he'd be one of the other top teams you'd expect to see in a Final Four. 

Wow, that illustration got away from me quick, but here's the point. Jonathan has done his research and he knows how to write and speak so teens, youth leaders, and parents of teens will listen. And you should be listening, because he brings his best every single time. His latest book, The Guy's Guide to Four Battle Every young Man Must Face: A Manual to Overcoming Life's Common Distractions, is another winner. 

This one is written directly at teen guys about, you guessed it, four battles every young man (and old man for that matter) is going to face. Those battles are self-image, screens, sex, and substance abuse. What's great is that Jonathan doesn't preach at the reader. If you didn't know who wrote the book, you might think it was your friend just being real with you, especially if that friend were armed with great illustrations, profound research, and some Scripture to back up what he was saying. 

This is solid truth that our young men need to be reading. Chapters are in bite-size chunks so you're not overwhelmed, plus they have great discussion questions, either to ponder on your own or with your squad. This is another great resource! Click here to buy the teen boys in your life a copy.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Awkward Dinner Parties Can Lead To Greater Understanding

In Luke 7, we read about Jesus having dinner with a Pharisee. There's a lesson to be had there, because I rarely eat with those whom I disagree, but that may be part of the problem we see in our politically divided country today. But I digress. 

On this occasion, dinner was interrupted by a woman, known to be sinful, coming in and anointing Jesus  with perfume and then crying all over His feet. What's telling is what Luke wants us to remember about this story, because he focuses on the subsequent conversation between the Pharisee and Jesus and not the awkwardness of a woman interrupting dinner to wash the feet of a dinner guest with her tears and her hair.

But the bigger problem is that I imagine most of us read this story and say something like, I need to love God more. While this is true, what we really need is to understand how depraved we really are. I'm convinced if we understood the depth of our depravity, we would be moved to chase after God more than we are currently moved.

Jen and I learned, a long time ago, a little test to see what kind of understanding children had when we were talking to them about salvation. It was a simple question. Do you believe you have sin in your life?

See, many kids will respond when you ask them if they want Jesus in their life. Jesus is awesome, so who wouldn’t respond? But when we ask them if they believe they have sin in their lives, their answers are telling. Because many of them will say no.

If they say no, we pray with them and send them on their way. But we understand biblically they don’t yet have a full understanding. And that’s ok. They’re young.

But I would guess many of us still wouldn’t admit to having sin in our lives. We prefer to say things like;

  • We aren’t perfect.  
  • We’re not as holy as some people, sure, but we can point to people a lot worse.
  • Yeah I was a sinner, but not like some people you hear about.

I have to wonder if we understand that our sin, even the ones we see as small sins, were enough for God to call us depraved. They are enough for us to be sent to Hell. They are enough that God would not and could not be in our presence. They are enough that Jesus willingly sacrificed His life in exchange for ours. 

Because if we don’t understand our sin like that, then we have to ask what we believe Jesus really saved us from.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Might As Well Be Famous For Something

I've said that I'm ok with being unknown, or insignificant, in the eyes of the world around me. The truth is probably closer to me dealing with the fact that I am relatively unknown and then using that reality to spiritualize it. Ah, what a twisted web we weave, rarely comprehending that the one we deceive is ourselves. 

Nevertheless, reading the stories of the Bible and attempting to learn from the mistakes of others is helpful. Recently I was reading from Luke 19. Luke says the people referred to Zack as a notorious sinner.1 Notorious.

Zack wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill sinner. He was famous for sinning. Yeah, you and I might sin, but Zack sinned with flair. It was almost like an anti-spiritual gift, he was so famous for it.

The people grumbled that Jesus would choose to go and dine with Zack. After all, who we choose to spend our time with says something about us, right?

My mom used to tell me that I was most like the people I like the most. I’m not trying to throw my mom under the bus or anything. After all, she was trying to raise me so that I wouldn’t be a notorious sinner. Yeah, she knew I’d sin, but she was also trying to knock that out of me. Just so long as I wasn’t famous for sinning.2

But if my mom’s saying was the rule, I’m not sure Jesus would fare too well.3

It’d be nice if we could give Jesus a pass and say maybe He didn’t know that Zack was so famous for sinning. We could say that He didn’t tap into His God-ness at the moment when He was walking through town, so He wasn’t currently using His super-vision to vet who He would eat dinner with.

But are we comfortable saying that Jesus the man was clueless about what everyone else knew? After all, Zack was notorious for being that kind of guy. And Jesus had hung around enough other sinners that Zack’s name probably came up a time or two at the club meetings.

But all this notorious talk got me wondering. There’s another level of reality that’s happening while we are distracted by the things happening on Earth. And those are the things happening in Heaven. If nothing else, I believe God is watching everything that is going on down here. He sees us. He’s making a list and checking it....nope, wait. Wrong guy.

If you believe God is watching, then the next question you need to ask is, ‘What is God seeing?’

What are my habits? What am I doing consistently that God is seeing become a habit? Am I a notorious sinner? Because if things like fame and identity matter anywhere, they matter in Heaven. So how does God see me?

These might be the parts of the Gospel story we gloss too quickly over, but the Bible is quite clear we are sinners. Understanding our sinfulness is the first step in grasping just how amazing is the grace of Jesus to save us. If the Bible is clear about how we've fallen, it's doubly clear about the spiritual blessings we have in Christ upon accepting His grace. 

If you're going to be notorious, it might as well be for something like knowing who you were and knowing who God made you to be. 

1 Luke 19:7, NLT. In case it's not obvious, Zack is Zacchaeus, the wee little man.
2 I believe she succeeded. After all, I haven't made any headlines.
3 I know my mom would read this and say, "Yes, son, but you're not Jesus!" She's not wrong.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Greatest Thing Before Sliced Bread

Everybody, I think I’ve made a discovery. I think I’ve discovered the greatest thing before sliced bread. Everyone always talks about this invention or that creation being the greatest thing since sliced bread. 

To be honest, I’m not sure how sliced bread became the standard by how we’re amazed. What should be more amazing is that it took humanity so long to figure it out. It was 1928 when Otto Rohwedder invented the first single loaf bread-slicing machine.1 But it’s not like he cured cancer. He sliced bread. 

I digress. You’re here for the discovery of the greatest thing before sliced bread. I actually found it in the Bible, in the book of 1 Kings to be precise. The splendor of the King Solomon is being described in great detail. It includes the building of the Temple of the Lord. It details the building of his own palace, plus several other buildings he designed. 

We’re told of the riches that are brought into Israel every month and every year. King Solomon was the popular guy that everybody just gave stuff to. He made Israel powerful. They were the world power and everybody else knew it. Word spread to the Queen of Sheba and she came just to check it out. She even said the gossip didn’t represent half of the amazing stuff happening. 

Solomon’s wisdom was world class and the riches were second-to-none. 1 Kings 10 describes how silver was as common as stone. Solomon had stuff made of gold and plated in gold. Everything sparkled more than an episode of My Little Ponies. Yeah, it was glamorous. And who am to question Solomon’s thinking, but he had a fleet of ships bringing him more gold, silver, ivory, peacocks, and apes. Apes?2

My point is that the author here s not short in describing how amazing Israel was at this time. So I don’t believe he was willing to waste words or throw in meaningless details. If the description was included, it was because it was incredible. So what was the greatest thing before sliced bread? Check this out.

Then the king made a great throne covered with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. ~1 Kings 10:18-20

Did you see it? It’s arm rests! On both sides of the seat! Verse 20 seals it when it says “nothing like it had ever been made.” It took the wisest man who ever lived to realize just how comfortable we could be if we had arm rests on both sides of our chair. After all, don't you hate it when you're ruling your subjects and you have no place to put your arms?

So when you’re sitting in your Lazy-Boy, or even your desk chair with double arm rests, you can thank God for blessing Solomon with so much wisdom that he thought of everything. Double arm rests!

Oh, and in case you’re looking for something a little bit more spiritual from me today, here it is.   1 Kings 10:1 tells us that Solomon’s fame brought honor to the Name of the Lord. I don’t know what you’re asking for today, but the end goal should be bringing honor to God. 

1 Don’t pretend not to be impressed. Sure, I looked it up on Google, but that was more effort than you were going to put forth.
2 I’m picturing Planet of the Apes,, but where everyone gets along.

Monday, November 19, 2018

How Important Are You, Really?

Very few of us, when asked, would confess to believing we are the most important person in the world. The person, who above all others, deserves the time and attention of everyone else. Literally everyone else.

Rare also would be the person who would say they are even the most important person in their chosen field of focus. There can, mathematically, only be one #1 doctor, teacher, firefighter, etc.

But let’s narrow the field down a bit more. Would you say you are the most important person where you work? I don’t mean that the company couldn’t do what they do without you.

I’ll grant you that every part of every machine serves a purpose, but you should admit there are other people who could do your job. Every person in every company has a role to play, but to believe you cannot be replaced means you may want to re-read the first few paragraphs.

Also, I would suggest that if we think every part is equally important, understand the appendix has been removed from thousands of people who continue to live their lives, wondering what the appendix was ever doing in the first place.

This isn’t about discouraging you. I’m addressing how we think and how we see ourselves. Let’s tighten the circle a bit smaller, shall we?

Would you say you are the most important person in your friend group? How about your family? Unless you’re the Mom, you shouldn’t even have to think about this. But, with apologies to all the mothers out there, you shouldn’t narrow in on yourselves either.

So why do I spend all these words on a rating system that I believe we all lose in? Because of prayer.

One morning as I dragged myself before the throne room in Heaven, it occurred to me how many other people God had to focus on besides me. How many other, more important, people were also approaching God with their needs.

This caused me to do two things. First, I thanked Him for noticing me at all. I acknowledged my small place in the vast universe and I thanked the Creator of it all for even noticing me.

Secondly, I asked for help in doing the same. I’m in a season of life with a very busy schedule. Very little margin. To call it a season anymore seems absurd, because I can’t remember a time I would have referred to as a slow season.

I asked God to help me slow down from all the important things I do so I would notice the moments when someone else needs my attention. My focus. My encouragement or help.

The fact is those moments will be gifts. But not from me to others. Those moments are gifts from God to me. A reminder that others exist. A focus on where I fit in the grand scheme of things.

I am not the most important person, in any group of which I am a part. Not in any realm I exist in. Not by any stretch of any imagination.

And that’s a good thing.