Friday, September 30, 2011

Many Changes, One Purpose

A couple of weeks ago, my now-10-year-old said, ‘I don’t care what people think. I’m wearing white after Labor Day.’ However the fashion police want to handle this is up to them, but clearly my daughter was having none of it. She sees no reason why her color choice should be dictated by season. Of course, there are times I look at my children and ask if anything dictates their tastes in fashion. 

Seasons do change and weather will demand that shorts are packed up and jackets make their first appearance. I can accept that. Despite any of our likes or dislikes, the seasons keep taking turns, one right after the other. It won’t be long before we experience a time change. And, if we pay attention, we can see subtle changes in our children and youth ministries as the teachers may remain but the students keep changing.

Change is all about us. It is so prevalent that it’s a wonder that we have ever had time to get used to something and miss it when it’s gone. Maybe that’s just me.

Whether you are a fan of change or fight it every step of the way, I believe we can take comfort if we don’t make change our focus. In the letter to the Galatians Paul is expressing his concern for their focus. It would seem that they were fighting against change as well.

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”  ~Galatians 4:8-11
I don’t care when you choose to wear white. You can wear socks with sandals, plaid shorts and a polka-dot top for all I care. My wife’s head might explode if she sees you like that, but not me. Just don’t waste all of your energy holding on to what has been.We have many seasons and many options but our one purpose remains the same.

Guess what? Change is coming no matter what. For the Galatians, it was a choice between God and ‘those weak and miserable forces’. The same choice exists for us. We can choose to remain entangled in habits that are killing us. Or we can choose to take our focus off of ourselves and our desires and instead place it on God. That’s where it belongs anyway.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Speaking of Jesus

Have you heard the one about Jesus? According to Carl Medearis, author of Speaking of Jesus, you'd like that one. No joke.

I just finished Carl's book in less than a week, and I'm not the fastest reader. The sub-title, The Art of Not-Evangelism, says it all. This was a refreshing conversation that ended with me face-to-palm saying, 'of course, it is that simple!'

At under 200 pages, Carl pounds the point home that Jesus is what we should be talking about, not religion. Jesus is what attracts people, not our explanations of how our denominations began or even why our non-denominations began. He walks us through his experiences, his conversations and through the Gospel accounts of Jesus and points out the simplicity of living like this.

At the same time, he naturally points out the need and his belief that doctrine is important. He's not about to start denying basic truths about Jesus, God, the Bible, or anything else that we defend. He just says we don't need to defend them when we're talking to people.

I think he may be on to something here. If you knew the end of your conversation wasn't going to end with 'I guess we'll have to agree to disagree' but instead 'I'd like to know more about a guy like that', wouldn't you want to change what you talk about? If our whole purpose is supposed to be about pointing people to Jesus, shouldn't we spend more time pointing people to Jesus?

I received this book for free from my friends at Speak Easy. They ask me to say what I think, but they don't tell me what to think. I think this book is a very good, and important, piece of conversation we should be having. Here's some more you can check out from Carl.

Carl’s blog: http://www.carlmedearis.com/blog/

Book excerpt from Speaking of Jesus read by Carl Medearis (seriously, give this a listen: this will either make you fall in love with the book or decide it isn’t for you): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfgk1sTJGYU

Please tag your posts for this book as #SpeakingOfJesus

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ham on a String

Even though I saw it happen, I actually could not believe my eyes. There was no ESPN instant replay, but I didn't need it. My wife had just tore her hamstring. She was coming to third base in a church-league softball game when the coach told her to go home. Little did he know he would soon be sending her to a couch in her home. She turned on the speed, rounded third and almost instantly pulled up lame.

If she had been a horse, I would have grabbed my rifle. Did I just compare my wife to a horse? Neigh!

Being the competitive woman that she is, my wife limped home, scoring the first run in what would turn out to be a losing effort. But at least she scored, right? Don't worry, the jokes wouldn't last long, as the pain got worse that night and the next day included a couple trips to doctors, a purchase of crutches and the realization that her softball season was over.

That's when the real pain started. Not for her, but for me. Because despite the fact that I said and did all the right things, aside from the reference to an old gray mare, my head was not where it should have been.

Because here is what went through my head:

My wife can barely walk right now. What will this mean for household order? The cooking? The cleaning? Can the kids fend for themselves? Probably not. Bah. Oh, and the kitty litter is downstairs. Should I offer to help my wife down there so she can clean out the box? Would that be wrong?

Well, outwardly everything was done correctly. I cooked for a week (sorry, kids). I took care of the cleaning and the kids and even the kitty litter. It would be almost 3 weeks before Jen saw the basement again. We won't discuss what it looked like in the meanwhile.

So the real pain was not that I was having to pull double-duty. That was tiring, but you can accomplish more than you realize. The real pain was looking in the mirror and asking myself what kind of man even thinks about stuff like that when his wife gets hurt like she did. Like I said, I did and said all the right things. But then again, so did the Pharisees. Here's one reminder from Jesus on what He thought of those guys;

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. ~Matthew 5:20

Have you ever been there? Your mom is sick and you have to figure out how to grill cheese? Your sibling gets hurt and yo have to help with his chores? Your coworkers call in sick and you have to do their job as well as yours? This list could go on and on.

Basically it comes down to this. When have you made someone else's problem your problem? And not in the compassionate way where you really really care for them, but in the way where you manage to get more sympathy than the person who is actually hurt. When have you made it about you?

Update:
After 2 days, my wife was planning a Willis Reed type comeback for her softball team. When I mentioned this possibility, my wife asked who Willis Reed was. Then my 8-year old son gave all the facts on this 1970's New York Knickerbocker. I love my boy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

God First, Man Second: Ephesians 2:8-10

Too often we approach scripture with a question. What does this have to say to me? It might sound like a good question, but I don't believe it's the first one we should be asking. What does this say about God? Now that's a great question. With that in mind, I continue my Monday series with the following;

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:8-10

You might be thinking this is a great verse all around. You're right, but we actually answer both questions when we start with God.

First, God is a giver. Grace is such a good gift that He gives it to people and tells them it's free.

Second, we learn God created us. Nice job, God! I see you've given us a purpose. Apparently God is a planner. That's good to know.

Figuring this out tells me a lot of what I need to know about me. I've been given a gift I cannot earn, nor should I try. God doesn't want me boasting. Any good works I find to do are part of the plan, but not the payment plan.

Oh, and knowing I'm God's handiwork is a great way to start out the week. What's one promise from God that starts your day out right?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Free for All

I'm not exactly sure what Fridays will look like, but I'm picturing a menage of variety here. If I'm posting a series, they will continue on these days. If I have random thoughts, you'll hear them here. If I've got nothing, who needs to read that? You're much too busy for fluff. But you are in luck, I do happen to have something for today.

What I have is the realization that even in my search for insignificance, I seek out significance. It's something that occurs to me quite often, though I try to beat it down like one of those arcade games where they give you the hammer and all those smug little faces keep popping up. Admittedly that comparison got away from just a bit, much like my desire to be significant.

But here's what I realized. I don't end my blog posts with a question. I see many other bloggers that do that. At first I thought it was just their thing. But what it does is continue the conversation. What I've been doing is comparable to a guy at a party who just wants to tell his own jokes or a mom who monopolizes the conversation with stories of her children and how brilliant they are.It's a never-ending monologue about my favorite person in the world; me.

But as I continue my search, I will improve. One way I will do that is by trying to ask more questions of you, whoever and wherever you may be. So help me begin that process by answering this question; how do you find the balance between sharing yourself with others and having them share with you? Do you have a go-to question or do you simply stare at them awkwardly until they give you the information you want?

Let the conversation begin.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die

Welcome to Wednesdays. This is going to be the day I post book reviews. I won't have one every week, but this will be where you find it. I used to post these on Fridays, but I said changes were coming. Here's another one of them. Oh, and here's my book review for this week.

It may be the title of my post bringing you here. I'm sure the word 'Hell' and Rob's name do a better job of that than calling this post 'A Book I Read'. However, I must let you know that I have not read Love Wins by Rob Bell. It's not that I didn't want to. It's not that I read a bad review and made up my mind from that. I just didn't...or haven't yet.

What I have read is Bobby Conway's Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die. As I said recently here, it makes a bit uncomfortable when people appear to be attacking someone instead of merely presenting their own viewpoint. So I imagine that Rob Bell may not appreciate the focus of this book. (Then again, maybe Hell and the people who die don't appreciate the focus either.)

I thought Conway did a good job of presenting the subject in a fair manner. He quoted from Bell's book several times. Then he presented his case using many scriptures from the Bible. It was a compelling argument, one that I happen to agree with. To be completely fair, since I have not read Bell's book, Conway could be accused of pulling quotes out of context. Somehow I doubt this is true.

I believe that Conway did a great job in presenting the argument in a manner that disagrees with Bell's stand but does not demean the person. He presented his case in a manner that was easy to follow and will be easy to reference. He also added video links at the end of each chapter to make this conversation easy to continue. Since Conway's book is on the shorter side, that is a very helpful addition for those who desire more.

I would recommend this book for any and all who want to be well informed on very important teachings of Jesus. After all, your life depends on it.

My good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah provided me a free copy on my Kindle. They asked that I review the book but did not coerce me to say nice things. You can buy a copy for yourself at http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If Jesus Could Do It, So Can I

On Tuesdays, I like to post a thought. This has been my most committed day to blog. The topics tend to vary, depending on what is rolling around my head, but I do try to keep that focus where it should be, on God. This is also usually a post that doubles as a weekly newsletter devotional for my youth group. Pardon me for multi-tasking, but the overall schedule demands it. 

You're not that important. Shocked? Hurt? Dismayed that I would say such a thing? Don't be offended. I am even less so. Less important that is. (That makes me sound like Yoda, doesn't it? Less important I am. See you will.)

My insignificance has become clearer to me over the past week or so. This, for me, is my big week of changes on my blog. It's ok if you didn't know that. Insignificance has a way of keeping information like that on the down-low. What I didn't realize was that even my wife didn't know.

I try to talk with this lady in my life on a fairly regular basis. That is, after the kids are in bed, because sentences were not meant to be finished while they are awake. The other night I shared a line from one of my posts, but I did it in such a way that expected her recognition. It's kind of like when you quote a favorite movie of yours only to see a blank expression on your friend's face. You become shocked that they don't love the movie as much as you do...or find out that they haven't seen it all.

Such was the case here. My wife had not read my blog recently. That prompted the following conversation.

Me: What do you mean you haven't read my blog lately?
Her: They stopped coming to my email. (Something, by the way, that I set up for her.)
Me: So put your email in again. Clearly the devil is trying to keep you from some fairly decent stories, one liners and segues into truth. The devil is like that, ya know.
Her: Could you just send them to me?
Me: You know, you could actually type in the address to my blog and see what it looks like.
Her: (Blank expression, as if hoping the moment will pass.)
Me: You hate me, don't you?

At this point one of the children came out for a drink of water, giving my wife the needed escape from me and giving me time to realize that I probably shouldn't fight for followers so hard.

It's the truth we must all face. I used to think that if everyone else was good at listening, that would leave me free to talk. After all, someone has to be listened to, right? But we all have to realize that it's not about us. Even Jesus, who many of us would agree that life is about, seemed to deflect attention just as much as He attracted it. If Jesus could point attention to God, shouldn't I at least try to do the same?


This search for insignificance is going to be harder than I thought.

Monday, September 19, 2011

God First, Man Second

I told you changes were coming. Here's the first. Each Monday I am going to roll out what I call a God First, Man Second reminder. My whole goal here is to take verses from the Bible and ask the following questions; what does this say about God? Secondly, what does this say about man? I believe the order is important, because asking who man is first will yield us very different answers. Let's get started.

Genesis 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

These verses, the whole chapter in fact, say a lot about God. You might recall that after every day, God looked at His creation and declared it good. That tells me God is good. He doesn't seem to be the good-enough kind of guy.

Oh, and He is Creator. That tells me He is creative, because I was never going to dream up the duck-billed platypus. I just wasn't.

And God is Ruler. One can only grant rule to someone else if he has it to give. God gives it to us, so He must have had it Himself.

This, in turn, tells me that man was created good, was given a purpose, and we have it in ourselves to create. We're not number one in this story, but we've been dealt a pretty stacked deck, in our favor.

Had we asked these questions the other way around, we might have assumed that we are the center of the universe, something that many of us already do conclude. We're mistaken. Very mistaken.

God first. Man second.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Insignificance Pursued

If you read my book review last Wednesday, I forewarned of upcoming changes. Nope, not more exercise and less cookies. That'd be silly. I can't even fathom why anyone would do this. In fact, the other night I asked my wife if she wanted anything while I was up getting myself cookies. She said she didn't need anything.

I scoffed. Never in history has a doctor ever uttered the phrase, "Nurse, this man needs a cookie, stat!" But that's not why I eat them. Now, what was I saying?

Oh yes, changes. I mean changes to my blog. I just read 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo by Bryan Allain, a book I recommend for bloggers. He brings great focus for bloggers who want to build their platform. But this is also where I struggled.

You may notice, if you visit my blog at all, that the main topic I turn to frequently is insignificance. It's even in the sub-title for my blog. It's something I am pretty passionate about, this idea that instead of seeking to be famous in the world's eyes, we should be seeking insignificance, pointing instead to God. So it feels a bit odd when I say I want more followers so I can talk about how insignificant I am.

Yet that is exactly what I am going to do. So, for anyone that wants to pay attention, my blogging schedule is going to change a tad. This will begin next Monday as I offer short descriptions for what I will do.

I am inviting you to come along on a journey with me. You don't know me. I'm ok with that. This is my search for insignificance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo

Bryan Allain said he was looking for a few bloggers to review his book in time for its release on September 14. Always a sucker for humor and free books, I signed up. And Bryan delivered on both fronts.

31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo is now my blogging Bible. And while Allain's book is shorter, much shorter, than the Bible, it did some of the same things to me as I read it. The Bible is a book that helps you to see yourself for who you really are. Likewise, 31 Days did the same thing for my blog.

The Bible brings about change. Or at least, it should. 31 Days will do the same things for my blog. Or, at least, that is my hope.

Bryan Allain slipped in so much funny that you almost forget he's trying to teach you something. My version of the book is an e-book. I almost bookmarked every page. It was that good!

When I say I like other books, you have to take my word for it. I may quote from it or discuss it for a while. With this book, my like will be shown through the changes that will be coming to my blog.

I may have the jump on you, but if you're interested at all in blogging, I would encourage you to pick up this book. It's a must-read for bloggers. You can get this book as a PDF at 31daystomojo.com or for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Son: The Toymaker!

I don't know what you talk about around the family dinner table, but topics at my house have a wide range. From discussing why southerners have an accent to how it would be if Phineas and Ferb lived with us we pretty much cover it all.

So it shouldn't have surprised me when conversation turned to baby dolls and why some of them have ugly faces. After all, some real babies have ugly faces. (Tell me I'm wrong!)

My son, always quick to offer a solution, though not always a great one, offered this. "What if the baby doll smiled when you picked it up to look at it?" Can't you see the possibilities here? How could you put back a baby that smiled when you chose it? And what if the baby had some pre-recorded messages such as, 'Yay! I finally have a family!' or 'Thank you for choosing me!'

Are you telling me that you hate people so much that you could put that baby doll back? Are you the type of person that enjoys kicking kittens? You are, aren't you?

But if you're not, I imagine that it would be almost impossible to put this toy back. After all, you wouldn't just see the smile on the baby doll's face disappear, but that of your little girl, who is looking at you, wondering if you almost put her back on the shelf.

All of this got me thinking about how we affect people in our daily lives. If we got to see a visible expression from people that we interacted with, would we see a smile? Would we see hurt or discouragement? And how would that change our actions?

I know that sometimes ugliness from this world runs deep and we don't always see how we affect others, but would it make a difference? Are we willing to stretch out our hands to help someone? Are we willing to look around and choose someone?

After all, this would be faith in action.

Or, as James puts it;
"Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" ~James 2:14-17

Friday, September 9, 2011

Gracenomics


Mike Foster has written a short manifesto called Gracenomics: Unleash the Power of Second Chance Living. He has also founded an online community called People of the Second Chance (potsc.com) so this is not just a passing fad for him.

The book is only five chapters long and written quite simply. Don't mistake that for criticism, because the concept of grace is easier to explain than it is to live. Mike writes in a way that is inspiring and gives one hope that we could each make a difference by doling out grace in our relationships.

I came across a free e-version of this book from the good peole at Catalyst. At the risk of sounding like I lack grace, the one criticism I'll mention is that this book contains some foul language. I realize that may make me sound like a prude (or a 7-year old tattletale) but the book was not enhanced in any way by those 3 or 4 words.

All in all, a good book and a good reminder for us all as we live with one another.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scared By Grace

I can remember, as a child, how I would look at grown-up men, especially my dad, and assume they had no fear at all. It's not as if they were cyborgs who had no emotion, but they certainly didn't seem to be riddled with the long list of fears that I had to keep track of.

Among others, I was scared of:
the dark, because that's where the Boogie Monster lives
bears, even though I had never run into one
running out of cookies, a fear I still have
small spaces, a legitimate fear with a real name
sisters, but only the ones I had
and kittens, they only look innocent

Now, as a dad myself, I realize the list of things to be afraid of only increases;

no job, because a lack of an income can be a real downer on my spending habits
presidential races, because those debates can interfere with my TV viewing schedule
small children, because they are really sticky
car repairs, because I didn't listen to my dad when he was teaching me how to fix stuff
taxes, home repairs, inflation, the return of The Smurfs,...

I could go on. I left most of those childhood fears behind (don't ask), but I am coming to believe that there is something more bizarre that freaks people out.

Grace.

Yeah, the free gift of God. It scares people. See, we're accustomed to being called dirty sinners. If you're not, you're probably hiding from people. We've gotten used to thinking down on ourselves. Driving in rush hour traffic or working in any business that deals with...people...will accomplish this.

What we are not comfortable with is a no-strings-attached, free-for-all gift. Why? Because we don't see it every day. But there was a Friday long ago where a gift was given. It was free. It was for everyone. It happened when Jesus died on a cross for our sins. Yours. Mine. Everyone.

We received a free gift of grace that day. This allowed Paul, one of the followers of Jesus, to write the following;
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2

No condemnation! That's a non-guilty verdict for us when we were actually guilty. Have you ever heard of anything like that? Being guilty but getting away with it? That doesn't happen, unless of course, it's a recent case in Florida or you're a former football star who drives a white bronco. I digress...

In a perfect system, one I believe God has set up, the idea of no condemnation should be given more fanfare. Give God thanks, sing Hakuna Matata, do something. But don't be scared. We need to embrace grace and live free. Perhaps the best reminder is a question posed by Paul later in Romans 8.
"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31

I choose not to be scared. How about you?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Unbelievable

Unbelievable! You had to see it to believe it! That was a million-to-one shot! No way! Are you kidding me?!?

We have lots of ways of commenting on things that we find unbelievable. It could be a fantastic dunk in basketball. It could be a car crash that defies description. It could be hundreds of YouTube videos that make you shake your head and wonder how…or even why.

We even talk like this about seemingly smaller events in our daily lives. When someone calls us after we were just thinking about them. For some it might be finding a one-of-a-kind dress on sale, and it’s in your size. Sometimes it’s making your way down the hallway and narrowly missing all 3 of your children while they come running at you with Nerf guns and Barbies. (Ok, that last one got a little specific.)

It’s unbelievable. And sometimes we wonder if our unbelievable luck goes both ways…good and bad. Because Alanis Morrisette isn’t alone when she asks if it’s ironic when we can’t take good advice or when we’re offered a free ride, after we’ve already paid. Who would have thought, right? It figures.

But sometimes (perhaps too many times) we find the Bible to be unbelievable. I’m not just talking about the miracle stories, although we do that too. I’m talking about the basic Christian teaching that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sin. I’m talking about the fact that His death means our life and salvation. And yes, I’m talking about the fact that the new life God has for us replaces our old life. It doesn’t coexist with it.

Brennan Manning was correct when he said, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Is God’s free gift of salvation unbelievable? Is the idea of Jesus paying the price for our sin too good to be true? Is it impossible to imagine a new life lived all out for God? Maybe for some. But is it for you?