Nine Words or Less, The Unabridged Version 

Man, there are just times in life when I read a Christian cliché and I’ll just sit there and think, “We actually feed ourselves this?” I read one today and it just made me angry: God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. Oh really? Does He? Because I am pretty sure that His strongest soldiers are pretty useless on their own. Was David really that good with a slingshot to kill a dang giant? Were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego born with a genetic mutation that made them flame retardant? Oh and I am sure that Daniel used mind tricks and a weird combination of judo and karate to keep the lions at bay. See the problem with many clichés and summaries of Bible verses and passages is that they miss a large portion of a verse’s meaning and the full glory of God’s Word. They can dilute the message in an attempt to simplify it. We try to cram the grandeur and splendor of God into nine words or less, and that isn’t good.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about those who are preaching and/or have the spiritual gift of discernment. There are people whom God has given the gift of interpreting His word so that others may understand it more clearly, and that is absolutely needed. It is ordained by God. What I do struggle with is when we live by the sayings that can be found in the dorm decoration department at a store instead of the word of God. Sure the quote could be super cute and inspirational. Maybe it has an awesome design and applies to life at the moment. But will it apply in 10 years? And if it does how true will it still be? Chances are the answers to those questions won’t be positive.

Condensing the Bible and the concepts of its verses short changes the power and glory of God. Take the quote I used in the beginning: God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. While the intent of the quote might be based on (a heavily misinterpreted reading of) 1 Corinthians 10:13, it misses a key concept. The problem with the cliché is about the strength of us, the soldiers. If it were up to our own strength we would surely fail. We alone cannot conquer sin and death. Only Jesus can and did through His death and resurrection. So these so called “strongest soldiers” would fail in the first battle. The cliché itself lends nothing to the strength of God. Instead it seems as though because we are tough God gives us these tough times or seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

Now if we turn to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we can see the Glory of God and the true meaning of strength during a struggle. Paul talks about asking God (three times) to take away this spiritual thorn that bothers Him. Yet the Lord says no. He responds saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)” Well seems we have a choice. Are we going to think of ourselves as strong soldiers able to stand on our own, or as soldiers with weaknesses and shortcomings in need of the strength of God? We find Paul’s choice in verses 9b-10, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

That is a truth that we need to hang on our walls, share on our pages, and tell people who are struggling through tough times. This full and true version of the power of God glorifies Him when we face trials and overcome them through His strength. We no longer need to be tough soldiers who can weather every storm because we are somehow strong. Instead, we can boast in our own weakness and acknowledge that we don’t know what is going on. We can face the reality that life sucks and will kick us in the mouth no matter how much we try and do the right thing. Heck, we might not have a clue what to do or maybe even what to pray for. Life isn’t abridged or shortened or simplified for anyone. So why should we abridge, shorten, and over simplify the teachings of God? Life is full of times that just really, really suck. The Bible is full of promises and protections that are really, really awesome, written by a God who is really, really faithful. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to sacrifice the power of God and His promises just so that His teaching can be simple and I can use it as a caption on Instagram. See, when we don’t try to abridge the Bible, the full glory of God shines and He receives the praise and honor. We are then unable to unravel the mysteries, promises, blessings, teachings, and overall magnificence of God.

In 2 Corinthians Paul chooses humility. That’s the honest to goodness truth. Pride wants to say that we are strong and that we can conquer anything. But it takes humility and faith to acknowledge our deep imperfections and failings so that we can allow God to work and to be our strength. Yet we can only know His strength if we read about it, experience it, and truly rely on it. That requires a relationship. Relationships require time and effort. Time and effort make up a commitment. Commitments are not short and are not done with brevity. Clichés are all about brevity.

Often, in times of trouble we turn to the Lord for a quick fix. Maybe read a few verses thinking that they will rock our world, change our lives, and ultimately change us and our situation for the better. Clichés aid with this. They let us escape the true nature of God and put Him where we need Him when we need Him by turning His word into a catchphrase. God desires a relationship. He has laid out verse after verse after verse describing His love for us and his desire for us to love Him and follow Him. His deep love and promises cannot be summarized in quick one liners. The glory of God and His promises do not need to be changed or altered in any way to suddenly make an impact on our life. He wrote them in a certain way, so that they would connect and the lessons and covenants would be unfolded as he designed, so that He might receive the glory and we might fully experience the goodness of His love, mercy, and grace. Our condensing of The Word does not serve His purpose it serves ours: to circumvent what is required to fully understand Him, a relationship and the time it takes.

When we are able to step away from clichés in our walk, it forces us to do two things. First, we actually have to spend time in the word and dig deeper. We find what God really has to say about struggles, successes, dealing with people, and other life conundrums. I mean not all of the answers will be spelled out in a step by step process, but as we read He will reveal Himself to us (Jeremiah 29:13, James 4:8). When we better know what He says, we can have a better understanding of who He is and so be better equipped to discern His will. Then we can actually do His will and give Him the glory.

Second, stepping away from clichés forces us to be intentional when talking with people, believers or not. We can no longer brush over a life struggle or question about God with a generic answer. When someone comes to us seeking help with anything from addiction to doubting God, we are forced to either recall what God has taught us via scripture, or dig to see what He says. Again, a generic answer will no longer work. What will work is a faith that is bold and rooted in truth, God’s whole truth.

In closing I want you to think about this. Think about the last time you tried to describe your favorite movie to someone. How did that go? Were you able to condense a 2, maybe 3, hour movie into a 60 second summary? If so did the person you described it to suddenly just fall in love with the movie just like you? Did your 60 seconds of stumbling over words and trying to describe the plot twist do the movie justice? Now try and put that amazing movie into nine words or less. If an abridged version cannot do a movie justice, then it certainly cannot do the Bible justice.

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The Value of Everyone: Notes to everybody who feels some kind of way

To whoever has chosen to read this: PLEASE READ THE WHOLE THING. Do not read part of it and get angry thinking that I am taking one side or another. I ask that you please remember the title of my blog, Common Subjects, Uncommon View. This story isn’t new, but my view might be.

 

Last night was full of tears. This morning was filled with even more. To be honest I did not go to bed until nearly 4 o’clock because I just couldn’t sleep. I was trying to comprehend the situation and look at it through the eyes of Jesus. When I did that I began to realize something. We have a situation in which two sides seem to be pitted against one another. On one hand there are those who feel oppressed and unheard, dying to be recognized by those who do not face the same circumstances. But those who do not face the same circumstances are not necessarily their oppressors. They are simply not oppressed and trying to maintain what they see as the status quo. But that status quo is changing, but not many people can see that. See the voices of the oppressed seek to be heard so that there may be peace and love. The voices of those not oppressed also seek to be heard as they seek peace. What has happened, instead of listening to each other and trying to find peace together, is our society has created an “us against them” mentality that continues to breed violence, hatred, and mistrust. The sooner we get to the same side the better. The goal should not be to end the killing of suspects or to keep every cop alive, those goals are one sided. The goal should to be to have a system that delivers justice while protecting both civilians and officers. This is the kind of goal that can unite everyone. It is a goal that says I don’t want peace just for those with whom I can identify; I want peace and safety for everyone, even those with whom I cannot identify or understand.

 

This morning on the news there was a video released showing a cop as he was gunned down on the sidewalk last night. That video shocked me and brought me to tears. I saw officers running towards the sound of gunfire protecting innocents and rushing to save colleagues. I an officer go from standing to down on his knees crying at the news of another officer dying. The tears flowed. But you know what else made tears flow? The videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. If I’m honest I can’t watch any of those videos more than once. That’s death y’all. That’s the real deal. No movie make up or special effects. Families are being broken. And who are we to judge whether they deserved to be shot? Are we God? Heck we aren’t even on a jury. People are losing blood and their lives, and that should mean something. Yet we have found ways to make them mean nothing.

 

To the families of those who have lost loved ones to police actions, I grieve for you and am sorry for your loss. Circumstances of a death rarely make it less tragic but can often magnify the pain. Hopefully I will never have to send my son or daughter out into the world and wonder if they will be shot over a misperception.  My prayers are with you, and I want to help. Know that their life means something. Change will not happen fast. For that I am also sorry. But I pray that it happens soon. Tomorrow will be another day filled with the same dangers, but I pray that it might be a little safer and you are a little stronger.

 

To the families of the police officers across the nation, thank you for your sacrifice. I cannot imagine the anxiety of watching a spouse or parent walk out of the house on a daily basis knowing that they might not come home. And to those who have lost a family member or friend in the line of duty, I cannot imagine the strength you must need to answer that phone or watch the officers walk to your door to deliver the news. My prayers are with you and I want to help. Know that their life means something. In the coming days those of you who still have loved ones serving will have even more pain and anxiety. They are targeted, wanted individuals, simply for wearing the badge, yet they do not back down. They are heroes.

 

To the law enforcement community, thank you for what you do. I know that the vast majority of you would lay down your life for me or the other 321 million people in the US. Most of you are not out to play God or execute a personal agenda. So thank you. Special thanks to the Dallas and Federal officers that rushed to the scene where their comrades had been shot and risked their lives to protect total strangers. There may be bad cops out there but I didn’t see any tonight (last night). Each and everyone one of you deserves a massive hug from everyone, not only to commend your bravery, but to console you on the loss of your friends. It is (was) a night full of tragedy but your actions to protect and serve were massive lights in the darkness. That being said every profession has some bad apples, and I ask you good apples to help root out the others. With as seriously as most of you take your jobs I’m sure this won’t be hard.

 

To the men who died last night, though you will never read this, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

 

To those who survived their wounds, get well soon.

 

To those who feel oppressed by the system, fear police, and/or have lost a loved one to police action, I am sorry that I cannot fully comprehend your position and neither can millions of others. We do not know what it is like to live your life. Though we may try we simply don’t know. That being said I want you to know that your voice matters, and there are people out here who want to listen to you. They want to help. But by that same token, many have been driven away by your rhetoric and actions. Protesting is fine. But shutting down highways, having chants based on lies (hands up, don’t shoot), and demanding dead cops is not. There are police and politicians who see the same injustice that you do and they want to help. But when you verbally or physically attack those who you are asking to change, things won’t go well. Think about this. Jesus was the most perfect unarmed man to be killed by law enforcement. Yet he did not resist nor did He slander the men killing Him. He knew that change would come and that His kingdom of love would reign. In the meantime, he simply showed love and grace as He asked God the Father to forgive his killers (Luke 23:34). He fought violence with nonviolence.

 

To those who do not know what it is like to be oppressed or fear police, please try to understand the fears of others. If you are like me, you have had very few run ins with police, the ones that you have had have been pleasant and respect was a two way street. With interactions like that it is easy to back the blue, and your voice in saying that matters. At the same time, try to understand someone who does not see police the way you do. Even if you can’t, at least acknowledge that their fear is legitimate and that they don’t need facts to rationalize their fear. Fear is not always rational but it almost always based on some truth. Whether it comes from a bad experience or a simple fear of the unknown, fear cannot always be explain with facts and numbers. Do we ask children to explain why they are afraid of the dark? When their answer is not acceptable because monsters don’t live in closets, do we turn the light off and close the door saying there’s nothing to be afraid of? Absolutely not. We walk around the room, open the closet, check under the bed, and then leave a night light to comfort the child. We show them that we care and are willing to do extra so that they feel safe. So it is then our job to listen to the oppressed and do the same for them. We must do our best to try and comprehend what we are being told. But from there it is not enough to simply agree. Martin Luther King Jr. made a statement that parallels Jesus’ comments in Revelation 3:15-16, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” If we find that monster there needs to be action.

 

That being said, if you feel oppressed and someone has done this for you by checking the facts, enacting changes, and studies show things are getting better, don’t hold on to the past. You can look how far we’ve come and continue to push for even better practices. What you cannot do is continue to harp on the past that many people played no part in. Yes the system was there, but if the system is changing why are you stuck in the past?

 

To everyone, it is time that we end this war. We need to stop labeling the people that we disagree with as “misguided and racist,” because when we do, we only “[widen] the racial divide and [block] the path to understanding” (Obama speech Mar. 2008). All of us have our own valid opinions that carry the same weight as everyone else’s. So instead of quarreling, let us remove the wool from our eyes and realize that we cannot deem societal changes to be mutually exclusive. Just because someone supports an activist group concerned with the killing of unarmed black men, does not mean that they cannot also support police officers. In fact, as Christians we are called to love and support both. Personally, I do not want to see a young black man die any more than I want to see a white cop die. Yet society has begun to tell me that I need to choose, and that I must value one life more than the other because they both cannot hold value simultaneously. That’s a load of bull.

 

I don’t care who you are, your life always means something. It should mean something to me and to everyone else on the earth, because, more importantly, it means something to God above. We are all created in his image (Genesis 1:27). So when we fail to see the tragedy of the death of someone who doesn’t look like us then we are spitting in the face of God. We are effectively telling Him that we do not think He did a good enough job when he created that person. We are saying that their life was a waste and should simply be forgotten about. Is that what we want to say? Do we want to elevate ourselves to such a high pedestal that we are telling God that He can do better? The most unfortunate thing is that this happens from both sides. It is time to stop. It is time to value life as a gift from above and work towards a solution that keeps everyone safe.

 

It is not enough to only want safety and protection for those who we think deserve it. That is attitude of someone with too much pride and not enough love and grace. How do we determine who is worthy of what? Are we claiming to be better than others and thus worthy to judge their worth based on actions or deeds? Heavens no. “For all have sinned and fallen sort of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means we are all equal sinners in need of a savior. We need the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus and we need to share it with others. So let us “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). When we lay down our pride and submit to God and to one another we allow God to work through us and enact that change that sees everyone safe and protected.

 

Last night and today, all I wanted to do was to write, to draft, to find a way to tell the people of this nation that they are loved, and also that they are important. But that time is over and I believe that now there is much more to do. There is more to this than to tell someone that you love them. Love is an action and not a feeling. It is not enough to offer condolences over the airwaves or pray in the comfort of our own homes. There are people in this nation who do not feel safe, and there are others whose professions are under attack. Both groups need our help and helping one does not mean you are alienating the other or telling them that they are valued less. Instead of choosing sides, let us follow what Paul told the church in Galatia and, “Bear on another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Go march with someone who is grieving and cook dinner for someone who lost a spouse in the line of duty. Don’t do just one. Do both. No matter what your opinion is the facts remain the same. People are dying. People are grieving. People need the love of Christ and it is our job to bring it to them.

 

This is no longer a time for words. It is a time for action. The Sunday school answer about loving our neighbor is no longer acceptable. This world needs Christians and it needs us now. In this specific instance both sides of the issue need us to be involved in getting everyone on the same side so there no longer is a divide. It is not enough to have two sides come to an agreement but still stand on opposite sides. There need to be cops marching in protests and activists serving donuts. Some lady that marched last night was on the news today and talked about how she will be going to the funeral of the officers killed. She wants to show her kids that there are not two sides of society. We all must live, work, and exist together. We do not have to be the same or agree on everything, but we must love one another. Just because someone wants accountability for police actions does not mean that they hate cops. Just because someone backs the blue does not mean that they think black lives don’t matter. There needs to be an end to violence. There needs to be an end to “us against them.” There needs to be a world filled with Christians not just praying, but acting and showing God’s love to everyone in this world because everyone matters and no one’s death should mean nothing.

I’ve Seen My Church Close

My church closed last week. As of last Sunday, 2705 Virginia Parkway, McKinney Texas is no longer the place of worship for a Methodist congregation, and Wesley United Methodist Church, a church that existed for 107 years, is gone. That made today weird. For the first time in 17 years my family went to a church in McKinney not named Wesley. Sure we have been to other churches over the years as we have traveled and been guests in the churches of other cities. But I have never known a day when we all got up and left our house for a different church.

 

Well today it happened. To make it even weirder, we went to the Lutheran church right across the street from where we used to worship. Where we usually turned right into a parking lot we went straight, driving past the building where my sister and I grew up with Jesus. We passed the gym where we were both baptized, the playground I had made friends on, the sound booth I had worked in, and countless classrooms where my life was changed on a weekly basis. The outside looked the same, but I knew the inside was different and was why it closed. Over the next few weeks my blog will follow my family’s journey to find a new home church and explore what churches today are doing. But first I want to touch on the church’s closing.

 

We hear it all the time: the people are the church not the building. To me it is one of those sayings that many people are very of lackadaisical about. Yeah it seems true and it’s a good Sunday school answer but what does it really mean? If we take a moment and look around, we can struggle to find this ringing true as many churches seem to focus on things like new buildings and TVs all over so that people getting coffee can still catch a sermon. While these things often great and can aid the preaching of the gospel, they are only what I just called them, aids. Well, in reality do we really need them? Is there anything that we can add to the gospel to make it more fulfilling, packed with more grace and love, or offer a better salvation? The answer is no. We don’t need things to spread the gospel we need people.

 

Wesley used to have those people. Ever since I was a kid, and up until high school, the church was full. It was never a mega church or even the biggest church in town, but to me the fact that we had two services that easily passed 125 in each and packed Sunday school rooms meant that for a smaller church we were doing well. There were countless mission trips to Mexico, retreats to bring friends to to share Jesus, and assorted community programs. The church had members and visitors wanted to come. We were growing.

 

But then something changed. As I child and teenager I never knew why nor could I understand what happened, but as I grew things began to become clear. There were pastor changes, people held grudges about decisions, there wasn’t that same level of participation from the members that there was in the past, and new churches sprang up. So over the course of the past 8 years our church saw a pretty steady decline in membership and visitors. Looking back it makes me sad. The church is supposed to be a place where Christians truly practice what we preach. Out in the world we can face persecution and many people who are hard to love and serve because they don’t have the same attitude that claim to. The church shouldn’t be like that right? Wrong. Christians aren’t perfect. It can be hard to serve other church members, to make time in schedules to volunteer, to sacrifice time to teach, or to stick it out when times get tough with seemingly constant pastor changes. So while there is no one person, group of people, or single event to blame, I think that an idea is at fault.

 

Too many people looked at the church as something that they should benefit from and not something that should benefit from them. They, and occasionally me, looked at what the church was giving out and not what it needed. If the church truly is made up of the people then it is up to them to make the church what they want it to be. It is not enough to want the church to be better or to have a Sunday school class that interests them. The people must act to make it so by welcoming visitors and perhaps stepping up to create a study group for their demographic. Whether it be young singles, old singles, business people, sports fans, or whatever there can be something for everyone at a church if they are willing to give a little of themselves not only for their own sake but also for others. But there is even more beyond that. A church must expand itself outside of the walls it meets behind. There is a community right outside that needs Jesus. If you thought that there was diversity inside the church you best believe that there is more outside of it, and not to mention a lot more people who need to be served.

 

Now with this increase in variety and number of people there must be more commitment from the church. No longer are we sacrificing so that we may also benefit, but we are sacrificing solely so that others may gain something. Needless to say that there will be many ideas for both outreach missions and internal projects. However, many may never come to fruition because people do not have the time or money to give so that the programs might succeed. Or so they say.

 

We often need to closely examine ourselves when we say that we can’t do something for whatever reason. If we truly have no time or money to give that is okay. But perhaps we should look at why. Personally I used to find myself staying up late watching TV not really doing anything. Then I would put off working out or going to work in the mornings because I was too tired. Then I would sleep late and maybe wouldn’t have the time for something else like serving others. Now while I truly was tired and didn’t have time why was that? Was I truly busy or was I wasting time? I was wasting time. I put myself above others. I would rather stay up late entertaining myself, sleep in, still get a workout in, and get paid than get enough sleep, have time for everything, and be able to serve others with free time. My love for others did not surpass my desire to entertain or make life better for myself.

 

When that kind attitude takes over a church it can and probably will be fatal. See a church is not exempt from the selfish thinking that has a hold on the world. This “you first after me” mentality is not healthy for us as individuals and certainly as a church. The most unfortunate part of that in a church setting is that instead of sitting by and doing nothing but still attending, members can do something even worse, simply leave to find a place where the grass is greener. That is what killed our church. In 2003 average attendance was near 275, dropped to 175 in 2005, spiked back to 225 in 2008, and has been falling since to our current number near 80. Sure, something can be said for things just not working out, and I don’t really know all the details of every member, but I wonder how many of the moves were for self-serving reasons. The most cliché joke about church quarrels is over the color of the carpet. I’m sure that happened, but was there more? Did people just not like the way things were going and decided to leave rather than help fix it? Were there people who simply followed their favorite pastor around from church to church? I’m not sure. I would just say that when it comes to having a problem with a church or thinking of leaving, we should make sure that those reasons are rooted in scripture and not in selfishness.

 

We need to stop going to church and start being the church. Start that program that no one else has started. Help that lonely volunteer who has started their own program that needs help fulfilling their calling. Heck, just stack up tables after the monthly church luncheon. I know that that’s what I used to do, and after our final luncheon last week one of the oldest members of our church, a man who used to volunteer and vacuum the whole place and stacked tables himself late into his 70s told me how thankful he was for the help over the years. He told me he about the first time I helped him stack and a plethora of other stories, many of which I didn’t even remember. My help made an impact on him. He felt loved, and since (my parents originally told me I had to) I sacrificed my time to help, the church gave him something nearly every month because in that moment I was the church serving him. What did I get out of it? For 15 years nothing really, but on the final day the acknowledgement and thanks from a man I looked up to was all that I needed.

 

I hope you never have to attend the final service of your childhood church. I hope you never have to stand in a row with your family, struggling to sing the last hymn through tears as the cross, bible, candles, and cloth are removed from the altar. It sucks. I cannot even think about what it must be like for those who have attended the church for over 50 or 60 years to see their church die before they did. It was a hard time and will be for a little while longer. But it is not the end. While Wesley United Methodist Church no longer exists after 107 years, the people who made up that church live on. Even more importantly, the impact that Wesley has had on the lives of its members and guests lives on as well. Perhaps that impact has even multiplied as those who found Christ because of what God did through Wesley have been able to bring others to Him as well. That is part of the marvel and glory of God. Just because one portion of His children are unable to pay the bills and keep the doors to their building open He does not die and neither do they. I do not know what will happen next. I do not know where I’ll go from here or where my family will go to worship. I do know that God is using this in His plan to bring glory to His name. While I do regret that my childhood church closed its doors, I do not regret having gone there, played there, cried there, laughed there, been forgiven there, made friends there, and hopefully impacted someone else’s life there. I will miss it but life moves on and God guides it.

A NOTE AFTER THE FACT: after posting this I realized that I did not make something clear. There were so many people and families who attended Wesley that changed my life. Many of them moved away as God called them elsewhere and that made me sad. I am in no way blaming anyone for what happened. Without this expression of thanks to the amazing people who played great roles in my life, this post can seem like a self righteous blame game. That’s not what I want it to be. I am thankful for every person who ever went to Wesley and regret what happened. My hope is that this blog can perhaps change the course of another struggling individual or church by learning from a few things I noticed about myself and my church.

From Bullied to Judgmental and Beyond (Part 2)

Everyone has a story and a reason to be loved. That is the second lesson that I learned from being bullied ad then being judgmental. See no one can earn this right and no human being gave it to them. The fact is: God made every single human being on the face of the earth in His image and He loves them. That fact alone is enough to make us want to love each other no matter what. But what does that love look like? How can we love the person who cut is off on the highway, someone who is nothing like us, the person who is on the complete opposite side of the political aisle, or even someone trying to kill us? Simple but not easy. We should take after the single greatest representation of love, Jesus on the cross.

 

There comes a point when being bullied or without friends that one tries to find their worth in things besides people and friends. Unfortunately many people can’t even find that and instead find themselves worthless and thus deem themselves unworthy to live. Is that their fault? Some people would say yes. I say no. As a Christian it is literally my duty to tell everyone how much they are loved by Christ and how worthy they are to live. Christ died to give them that worth. Christ died so that everyone might serve a purpose and have value in the kingdom of the Lord. So we should act like it. I’m not talking like acting like we are entitled. I’m talking about acting in ways that treat others like they are entitled.

 

Think back to the last time someone cut you off while driving. Were they on their phone? Perhaps they were just not paying attention. Now think about how you reacted. Did you scream to no avail at your windshield? Or maybe you flipped them the bird and commented on how they are such a terrible driver even though you only saw a snap shot of their life of driving. Where is the love? Where is the grace? We have all cut someone off before, hopefully not on purpose just to make their day worse. I know I have been late, not paying attention, or just been in too much of a hurry and cut a few people off in my time behind the wheel. Jesus has grace for that, and we should too.

 

Too often we set ourselves above Jesus and think that others don’t deserve our grace, patience, or love. We get mad at the driver who cut us off saying they should have left sooner to not be late or maybe should have paid more attention in driving school. We get upset at the person taking forever in line at the grocery store because they can’t figure out how to use the keypad for their credit card.

 

Yet we rarely know their story. We don’t know if maybe they’re late to a family emergency or maybe just having a bad day. Perhaps that phone call is a stressed out daughter or son who is struggling being away at college. Maybe they’ve used cash for years and are paying by card for the first time. There are endless scenarios for endless situation in which people could benefit from our patience and grace. Some are farfetched and some are more reasonable. But even if there is no reasonable excuse, what does getting angry and having no grace do? We are still called to love and forgive even if the other person has no idea what they have done. Jesus does not call us to be loved or forgiven. We are called to love (John 13:34-35) and forgive (Matthew 18:21-22). He gave us grace abundantly so that we can share it with the world (1 Timothy 1:12-15).

 

As someone who often felt bullied and judge I came to know firsthand that there is always a story behind why someone does what they do. Even if that thing is a mistake or quirk, it is more than likely that I have something similar or probable even worse that others give me grace for. So who am I to lose my cool or be frustrated with them because they do something that I don’t understand or perhaps even disagree with?

 

Jesus had love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace for the men who put Him to death on the cross. He knew that they had no idea what they were doing or why, yet he still forgave them (Luke 23:34). His life was being ended, yet he loved the men who were killing Him. That is the kind of love we need in the world today. We live in a time where people call each other idiots, morons, and pretty much hate each other because they live different lifestyles, can’t agree on small issues, or one of them simply can’t remember to take out the trash. People make things too personal. They think others are out to get them or make their life worse. It is time for us, specifically Christians, to stand up and look to Jesus. It is time to be the bigger people and give grace and forgiveness even when our transgressors are oblivious to our pain. After all, in the end holding on to the pain and keeping a grudge only hurts us, not them. Their day isn’t ruined but our week might be.

 

The truth is we never know someone’s full story. They could be having anything from a bad day, to a bad week, even up to a bad life, and it probably isn’t entirely their fault. Many people will say that’s tough luck, life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, we’ve all been knocked down and it’s time to suck it up. Well I say it isn’t time to suck it up. It’s time to deal love and grace. Think about that one time you had a bad day and someone did something that just showed that they cared and understood. Maybe they bought you an ice cream as a child or perhaps a beer as an adult. It wasn’t a major deal but it was something that said, “Hey I see you’re hurting and I understand.” We need to do that with grace. So the next time someone goes off on you, don’t get angry back at them, something painful could have set them off. The next time someone doesn’t do their dishes, think about how rough their day or week has been and how tired they might be. It is time that we stop expecting people to live a certain way, do certain things, and/or give us the respect we think we deserve. Instead, it is time to give grace and show them love because we don’t know what they might be going through.

 

In the end it is all about having patience with others and loving them no matter what they do to us. Yeah there is a very high possibility that nothing is wrong and the other person is just being a jerk. If they are a brother or sister in Christ we should talk it out with them at a later time. But in that moment we need to lay down our pride and either go the extra mile, let them cut us off, or just stand there to get yelled at. Jesus let the Romans kill him so that we might receive the Father’s love, grace, and be at peace with Him. It is time that we do the same for others. Jesus said that, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). So yeah, the ultimate love is to die so that someone else may live. However, it is important to remember that this verse does not need to be taken literally to still ring true. Laying down one’s life can come in many forms and fashions. It means to sacrifice something in your life so that others may have something to gain in theirs. That could be anything from time, to effort, to resources, to our pride. People are different. People react to things differently. This world will not come to see Jesus if we as Christians get mad or upset at the people we encounter and disagree with. They are not perfect and neither are we. So we must love because He first loved us ((1 John 4:19) and we love Him by obeying Him and loving others), and then take the grace given to us and extend it to others.

Mid-Week Political Thoughts: Historical happenings with future implications

In the midst of the sadness and hostility brought about by the shooting in the Orlando Nightclub this past weekend I have seen things on social media and in the news that concern me. Now I’m not talking safety or our ability to love those who harm us, though those are important issues. For me, it is shocking how many people from my generation specifically who form opinions about terrorists, presidents (or presumptive nominees), terrorist groups, and our actions as a nation across the world without researching facts and knowing history. Too often we rely on what our parents say, our limited knowledge of history, or simply what the media says about the past instead of searching for the facts. Here is the sad reality. What seemed like a good idea a generation or two ago can really come back to bite us. The only problem is that many people can fail to look that far in the past because many voters today weren’t alive then, and because they see an easy scapegoat in the present or recent past. Millennials are currently the largest voting age demographic in the states, and this next election is huge. But are we informed enough about what happened in the Persian Gulf region before we were born to not repeat history, and to stop trying to find a single person to blame for everything?

 

Now I do not want to spend time talking about the Orlando shooter, but he is really the spark that got this whole thing going. He got Donald Trump to call out President Obama and vice-versa. The funny thing is they used the social media equivalent of a subtweet to do so. Of course this little spat has caused many of the people that I am friends with on Facebook and follow on Twitter to share videos and links that bash one side and praise the other. Now I am not saying that they are not entitled to their own opinion, that their views are wrong, or that they themselves are uninformed, that would be very arrogant of me. However, with the types of videos that are shared, I do wonder how much my generation, the millennials, knows about how long the US has been countering terrorism, how it started, and who we can really blame for everything.

 

NOTE: I don’t love blaming people but my generation seems to. I just want to learn the facts for myself and then get them out so people can make informed decisions. I studied politics and political history in college, and I know that I don’t know a lot so I imagine that others are struggling as well.

 

To get to where we are today, it is best to start at the end of World War II. Starting with the Truman Doctrine, every president until Reagan had some sort of doctrine in relation to foreign policy, and they all had one thing in common. They aimed to stop the spread of communism across the world. This caused what came to be known as the cold war. From The Soviet Union to Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Turkey, Greece, and even down in Central America with Nicaragua, American presidents vowed to contain and then rollback communism. Though all these countries had their own parts to play in history, to me none of those have had an impact on recent times than one other area: the Persian Gulf region and Afghanistan.

 

I think that it is ironic that so many people today are against the wars in the Persian Gulf region and are all set to blame George W. Bush for what started as a so called war on oil. They are so mad at him for that and other things that his Presidential Approval Rating according to the Gallop poll has steadily dropped to lower than 30% when he left office. While he never admitted it was a war on oil, people drew that conclusion and have blasted him for it. Yet in 1980 when Jimmy Carter announced in his doctrine in his state of the union address that he was essentially making it an act of war to get between the US and its oil interest in the Persian Gulf, his approval rating topped out near 60%, which is pretty high for a president in office. He explicitly told the American people that he was using their taxes and military personal to protect oil, and they seemed okay with that. So what’s changed? Why did Bush get slammed and Carter praised? I’m not here to give the answer I’m here to get you thinking. Oh and one more ironic thing, Carter is a democrat and Bush a republican yet they both still wanted that oil.

 

Let us continue on to terrorism and a president who most conservatives love and many have high praises for: Ronald Reagan. Now don’t get me wrong he was a solid president. In fact he has perhaps the highest approval rating upon exiting the oval office, just over 60%, though approval ratings don’t necessarily mean they were a great president. It just means people think that they were. Anyhow, that number is from 1989, and things have changed since then. See Reagan took Carter’s Doctrine, and continued it. In fact they expanded it to be a global doctrine intent on stopping both communism and terrorism. While this had worldwide implications both in Africa and Central America, I want to look today at Afghanistan. See the Soviets were pressing hard there to expand communism’s grip on the world but the US fought back. We defended that nation and the communists and terrorists that attacked it. Eventually the Soviets left and people were happy. But what kind of precedent did that set for the future? Did Afghans really want us in their country doing their work for them just so we could stabilize the region by stopping communism and thus keep our oil supply?

 

See the doctrines of Reagan, Truman, Carter, and others after WWII set a tone for the US as a world power. It showed that we would step in to defend what we thought was right and fight back when we were attacked both domestically and abroad, no matter where in the world an issue arose. But what started as a goal to stop communism and have America be a peace keeper (see the Nixon Doctrine and the nuclear umbrella), has been perverted into the idea that is personified in the saying “’MERICA **** YEAH!” We want to bring back the old America that kicked tail and just went and did whatever we wanted. Well the truth is that we haven’t just gone where we wanted; we’ve gone where we felt we were needed, and some say it backfired.

 

How did it backfire? Well you remember Osama Bin Ladin, the man who is often paraded around as the US’s trophy from the “war on terror”. Turns out he could have possibly been a part of some Muslim coalitions that supported and drew support from the Afghanistan Mujahideens that the Reagan administration funded either directly or indirectly. Whoops. Don’t worry Reagan lovers, he’s not the only president to have funded militias or other local armies to later have them turn around and have a problem with the US. That is what is currently happening in Syria. As forces sprung up to counter governments, other forces arose and the US aided some forces while countering others even though US allies wouldn’t help, and then some forces turned on the US. Basically it’s a big mess a long time in the making.

 

In fact, ever since WWII ended, it has become harder and harder to tell the bad guys from the good guys. After all, everyone thinks that they are the good guys right? It all depends who you ask and when you ask them. Even still, the people we see as the good guys today might turn around and launch attacks on us a decade from now. That might seem like a long time but in reality that is only a couple presidents away.

 

That makes this election huge! Fellow millennials, we will play a huge role in this upcoming election, and I hope that you will all get out and vote to make a difference. But I want you to be careful. We live in an age where an infinite amount of information is readily available at our fingertips. You could research everything you want about any president ever and form an opinion about them. So go do it! Don’t fall into the trap of listening to the media, your friends, or even your parents when it comes to voting. I know that last one sounds funny but your parents have their strong convictions too. Just like you don’t have to like the same music they do, you don’t have to like the same policies and politicians that they do. Things change. Your parents could be wrong, and like you they can have their own opinions. You are an adult now. Go get yourself informed about the past so you can influence the future.

 

NOTE: I touched on a lot of topics in this blog very briefly. That means that I left out details and didn’t expound on the ones I dd mention. Why? Because you could write a dissertation about any of the topics I covered. I encourage every reader to just Google anything I talked about. Search news websites, scholar databases, or heck go get a book, just go find reliable sources and learn as much as you can. These issues are infinitely complex and I don’t have the time to write in detail here, and I doubt anyone wants to read a 10,000 word blog post.

From Bullied to Judgmental and Beyond (Part 1)

As someone who was bullied and didn’t really have a lot of friends from about the 3rd grade until sophomore year of high school I learned a thing or two about being judged. I didn’t have the coolest clothes or backpack and I certainly didn’t hang out with the cool kids on the weekend doing whatever they did. Instead I worried about people staring at my big ears or if someone would find my lunch box at the bottom of my bag, because apparently a metal Hot Wheels lunch box wasn’t cool in the 5th grade. With that, I became very conscious of everything I did and how people might judge me. In turn, I began to look at others the same way. In fact I still struggle with judging people today. Whether it is the guy tatted up buying Bud Ice at Walmart or the guy driving an old beat up Honda Civic with huge speakers and no muffler, I have an opinion about them, their life story, and why they were so much worse off than me. It can make me miserable, and it used to be pretty bad.

 

To be honest I don’t really remember when I started to have a change of heart. Maybe it was when an already tight group of friends let me hang out with them after my date ditched me at MORP my senior year. Perhaps it was when I became best friends with my roommate freshman year of college after we both weireded each other out in our first impressions.  Either way, God put people in my life to teach me two simple lessons: I’m not better than anyone because we are all different and unique, and everyone has a story with a reason to be loved.

 

To address the first lesson about me not being better than anyone I should reference my being bullied. See while I was never physically bullied, psychologically I was fighting a losing battle against other kids, myself, and the devil. Despite being decently athletic I wasn’t friends with the cool kids so I was always picked close to last, wasn’t invited to sit with them at lunch, and I definitely was not picked up with them in carpool to do fun things after school. Wow writing about that now seems so petty, but weird and nerdy little Chuck took those things hard. I saw them as signs of rejection. I told myself I wasn’t wanted by my peers, and the devil reminded me about it constantly. So I tried to fit in.

 

I tried to beat the system. In my mind if I did the things that the cool kids did that I would magically fit in, get picked, and have lots of friends. But as I’m sure you can guess I couldn’t beat the system. I was constantly reminded how much of a nerd I was, or how I just wasn’t good enough. At this point I realized I couldn’t beat the system but maybe I could change it. Surely I wasn’t the nerdiest, or the biggest goody two shoes, or the weirdest Christian around. There had to be others that were less cool than me. Indeed there were, and I made sure that I found them. I didn’t do it to prove to others that I wasn’t the worst. I did it to prove to myself that I had more worth than someone else. In my head I put others down, found their quirks and thought “at least I don’t do that”, and just in general mentally bullied them to make myself feel better.

 

Needless to say, my pain was only temporarily relieved. I did not gain anything. The devil was still there to remind me of how I didn’t fit in, even when my peers didn’t. But things started to change when I got to high school. Part of it was that my relationship with God grew exponentially as I really began to claim my faith as my own and realize that I am His child no matter what. The other part was that I found acceptance in a random group of friends. God placed Mackenzie, Mac, Ashley, Dalton, Emily, and Brooks in my life for many things, but the one thing that always stands out was that they accepted me for who I was, and there were no questions asked. I mean yeah I had made more and more friends in high school, even a couple girlfriends too, and those friend groups were awesome. But this new one was special. Here was a group that had been friends forever, and they just let me be a part of their group no questions asked. No judgement. (Also shout out to Mac for letting me dance with Ashley after I was left high and dry, true bro.)

 

It was through those budding friendships that I realized that I don’t need to build myself up over others so that I can feel like I’m worth something or prove something to anyone. There is no need to assume that someone else is dumb because they cannot do something that I can do or are ignorant about a certain subject. (Note: it is oaky to be ignorant because it simply means you don’t know that you don’t know.) In fact, that thought process has become something that I absolutely loathe. I cannot stand when someone makes fun of someone for not being able to do something. Now those who know me know that yeah I will make a joke if you don’t know how to do something that might be a little basic. However, right after I make that joke, I will do anything to help you figure out how to do whatever it is that you are struggling with. After all that is what Christ has done with us. Here we are hopeless sinners in need of a savior and instead of laughing at us because we don’t know the way to heaven Jesus shows us the way. He takes us by the hand and guides us.

 

I really wish that more people were like that today. In fact, that reminds me of one of my pet peeves: people who make fun of others in the gym. Whether it is the fat person trying to get in shape, the person who doesn’t know how to do an exercise properly, or someone who can’t lift much weight, not everyone is a gym rat. So stop recording them on snapchat and posting their valiant efforts and painful fails because it’s not funny. Think of the courage it took for them to come to the gym, maybe even for the first time. Everyone started somewhere, so why not go help them out and teach them what you know so that they can get started on the path to their goals?

 

Sorry about that mini rant. It just really highlights my point. We each have a different set of talents, goals, abilities, and tastes given to us by God, and throughout our life we learn things based on how we were raised to prepare us to do His will. That means that as a city boy I might not fix as many engines or ride as many dirt bikes as my country counterpart. But does that make me any lesser of a man or a child of God? Absolutely not. That is what makes me different. My skills are in sports and politics. That’s where my calling is. So does it matter how fast I can rebuild the front end of a car or do drywall? While I’d love to be able to do both, the answer is no.

 

But there is someone out there who could rebuild the front end of a car in a weekend and patch up some drywall on their lunch break and that’s awesome. That’s what they’re good at. Just as I wouldn’t want them to look down upon me and make fun of me for not being able to fix a set of disk brakes, I shouldn’t look down on them for not being able to kick a soccer ball very far. We have different skills. We all do. So let’s stop looking at our neighbor and thinking that wow I might be dumb but at least I know how to *insert task you think is simple* because to some people it might not be. We all fail at something, and when we do we would love to see a friendly face staring back at us saying that it’s okay and to not be embarrassed. No one wants to be laughed at and called an idiot simply because they were ignorant. We all could use a little more love and compassion. So go out and make a difference in someone’s life. Be there to support not to demean.

 

Now in closing I think that it is very important that I highlight one thing, well two things. First I will talk about the second lesson in a second blog post so stay tuned. But as far as the first lesson goes remember this: in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about how murder begins in the heart just like adultery (Matthew 5:21-30). In the passage he explains the new covenant and that you don’t have to actually kill someone to have committed a sin equivalent to murder, “You have heard the it was said to those of old, You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgement. But I say to you whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement.” That same concept applies to judging others and bullying them. Just like I mentally bullied people in middle school so that I could feel better about myself, when we think of someone as a lesser person for failing or being ignorant, we are still sinning against God because they are made in His image just like us. Also, trust me; it does not make you feel better about yourself in the long term. So to Kassandra Shands-Cherry, Harmony Tarrant, Braden Dunford, Ramond Motely, and anyone else that I bullied but have woefully forgotten, if you ever read this blog post I’m sorry and I hope that you can forgive me. You never knew my thoughts but trust me they weren’t nice and I’m sorry. To the rest of you, go out and be Jesus to the world. Be that helping and compassionate hand someone needs. Show others how to change a tire, and while you’re at it show them the way to eternal life: to the Father through the Son.

Our dreams vs. God’s calling

Okay so I know it has been a long time since I posted and for that I am sorry. For some reason I just could not find the words to express this thought. Oddly enough God gave me a few experiences to help me round it out. I’m still not sure if I got this out of my head and off my heart correctly so I pray that God is with you when you read this so that He may interpret. Without further ado I present to you the blog that took almost 2 months to write.

Over the past few months many people have been saying how awesome it is that I am pursuing my dreams, chasing my dreams or something to that effect, as I play soccer in Spain. But it got me thinking, and that phrasing does not really still well with me. My dream? To me that sounds selfish. It makes this whole endeavor seem to be all about me, what I want, and how I want my future to turn out without regard for anyone else. Now while the world says that is all well and good, the Bible points to something that is quite contrary. Jesus does not talk about pursuing our wants and desires, otherwise classified as dreams, so that we may live successful lives for our own satisfaction. Instead, He wants us to pursue His calling for our lives, because the God of the universe just might have a better plan than we could ever imagine.

Now, I realize that this is nitpicking about dreams, and what the word means, but I feel that the words we choose reflect the manner in which we are thinking. Dreams are selfish. They are all about what we want. Think about it. When someone asks you what your dream is, what is usually the first word you say in your answer? My. The response is usually, “MY dream is…” The answer itself is selfish. No matter what we say, whether it is to end world hunger, save all the kitties from the trees, or to have the most money ever, a dream is selfish. Therefore, no matter what we say we are speaking on our own behalf. That is a problem. When it comes to living life we are not to have our own agenda. The disciples did not have an agenda when they followed Christ (aside from spats about who is going to sit where), so why should we? They left their families, jobs, way of life, and any future plans to follow to the savior of the world when He called them. Perhaps Matthew dreamed of being the richest tax collector in the Roman Empire. Yet he left that to submit to follow Christ, and he got something greater than all of the riches in the world. Shouldn’t we do the same? Jesus indicated that following Him required that we deny ourselves and pick up our cross (Luke 9:23), that we must turn from our family and friends, and even forsake ourselves to be His followers (Luke 14:25-33). Forsaking ourselves means forsaking our dreams.

Sounds harsh huh? Well think about this. Aside from being selfish there is simply a logical problem with dreams. We will never attain them. Why? Like a mirage, a dream is an image or situation that is created by the mind and has no real attachment to the real world. Simply put, dreams are not real. How can we obtain something that is not real? You can’t. Not to mention the fact that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20). So if God can do so much more than we could ever think of why would we waste our time thinking of grand things? They could never compare to what the Lord has. We need something to take the pace of dreams.

Despite the fact that dreams our selfish, not focused on Christ, and logical unattainable, that does not mean that we cannot be thinking about the future. Anyone who went to DBU knows all about Jeremiah 29:11 and how God tells His people that he has “plans” for them. That word is so important. Plans. A plan is a set of actions that have been thought of as a way to do or to achieve something (Merriam-Webster). Our lives need a plan. What is yours? What do you want to accomplish? But before you give your answer, let me share mine.

I don’t have a plan, but God does. See my plan is to accomplish God’s will for my life. In everything little thing that I do, I want to do things in a way that glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31) and complete the tasks He has set before me. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Those good works are my daily tasks. Those good works are the choices I make every day. Those good works are what some people call my dream. See to me, playing soccer at any level, for any amount of pay, for any amount of time, and for any team is not what I want. It is what God wants. I am His workmanship: He created me. I am created for good works: to glorify Him and spread the Gospel. He prepared all of this in advance for me: He gave me the talent, the work ethic, the opportunity afforded me by my parents, the right people supporting me, and an infinite number of other events that led me to be where I am today. Some people call that luck, and now I’m living out my dream. To me it is all a part of God’s plan and my calling, and I am simply answering that calling and doing the works He prepared.

Who knows what may happen from here? I may sign a huge contract this week and be a millionaire by Friday, or God could tell me to step away from the game by Sunday, or nothing could change in my life for the next 10 years. No matter what, nothing has been derailed. This plan He has for my life, this calling, goes way beyond soccer. It’s my whole life. That is something that I have really become at peace with over these past few months. I used to worry about what tomorrow might bring (Matthew 6:25-34) but now I don’t really. My only concern is making sure that I am making choices based on the calling of God. Why? Because my wants and desires change like the weather in Texas, but God’s will is unchanging. There is a warm kind of peace that comes with that. I don’t feel trapped, or cornered into making a decision based on what someone else wants. I feel at peace knowing that when I pray for wisdom and understanding like Solomon did (2 Chronicles 1:11-12), I am praying to the almighty God of the universe for the things I need to live the best life possible, the one He has called me to live.

CAN YOU COMPREHEND HOW AWESOME THAT IS?! I never did until I actually experienced it. I mean people had always talked about it, but I never got it. My whole life, everything, is in the hands of the God of the universe. He has called me to do something miraculous, something breath taking, something that only I can do, and that is live my life for His glory. Whatever made me think that I could dream of anything greater than that? Could the rush of thousands of fans screaming in a match really top the feeling of knowing I’m 100% in tune with God’s call for my life? Absolutely not. All of the moments in my past, and the pasts of everyone that I meet have happened for a reason, and that reason is so that I can glorify Him at all moments in the present. He is in control of every single moment, controlling the things that I can’t, while allowing me to make my own choices. He has provided me a calling but has not forced me to answer it. Yet I want to answer it. I want what He wants. He has provided so much, starting with His son. He sacrificed His only son so that I might be saved from my own sin. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Man that is awesome! He gave His own son for you and for me. The things we ask for on a daily basis pale in comparison to that act.

Now despite how awesome I felt writing that last paragraph, it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows. I will admit it has been a struggle. As a human I have earthly desires and there are things that I want that don’t align with God and His will and calling for my life. There are things that I want, that in order to obtain them I have to stop abiding in God and rely on myself. The rewards from those things are often immediate but they do not last, and they do not bring as much joy as the things that He has in store for my life. But when I turn my desires into the desires of God amazing things have begun to happen. When I take the two options, wanting what I want versus wanting what God wants, and I am able to make them into a single choice, I want what God wants, I truly allow Him to work in me and bless me. After all, that is what He wants. He wants great things for me, because great things for me means I can bring glory to Him.

So what are your plans? Even if you and I want to accomplish the same thing, bring glory to the Kingdom of God by doing His will in our lives, your calling will certainly be different in application than mine. If it wasn’t then we would be sitting side by side writing this blog together. So while I don’t know what He is calling you to do, I do know that it is going to be awesome! How do I know? Because the bible tells me so. Just look through it, every individual story is amazing and is full of treasures you never knew existed until you look deeper. Think about all of the experiences in the life of Moses that turned Him into the man God chose to lead His people from Egypt. Look at how God set Him up, chose him, and equipped Him to be a leader despite a speech impediment. That could be you, granted on a smaller scale and with different imperfections, but the concept still applies. So how are we to know exactly what to do next and what we are called to do? How do we know what His plan is for our own personal life?

Getting instruction from God is like getting instruction from anybody, you can’t just ask, ask, ask, and not listen for a response. What’s more, if you don’t have a firm relationship with someone there might be some miscommunication or misunderstanding about what exactly needs to be done when they try and explain something. It’s the same with God. You have to read His Word, talk to Him, and perhaps even more importantly listen to Him. That’s how you’ll get to know and understand Him.

I recently read 1 John and it talks so much about abiding in the Lord. That is, accepting or acting in accordance to what He says. I would strongly encourage you to read the book. It’s pretty short but man it’s powerful. But why stop there? Read other books of the bible, head to Proverbs for some wisdom, or the letters of Paul for encouragement. Let God lead you where He needs you. Take it from me, while you’re never forced to answer His calling for your life, the sooner you do the more awesome life will be. Granted it won’t be rainbows and sunshine all the time, God does promise trials and tribulations. But those are just more opportunities to glorify Him. After all, what’s greater that glorifying the God of the universe? Nothing.

I Wouldn’t Repent, God Wouldn’t Reveal

As much as this blog is a way for me to share the gospel with the world, it is also a manner in which God helps me to assess my own heart as a Christian. He forces me to look in the mirror and make sure I see a follower of Christ staring back. If I had I looked in the mirror as I was writing this week’s original post, I’m not sure what I would have seen.

For the past month I have been reading a book by Stephen and Alex Kendrick entitled “The Battle Plan for Prayer” and it is based on the movie War Room. It has really been eye opening to me about prayer, what it truly is about and how it really works. In one of the lessons they talk about how we often block our own prayers from being heard because our sin is too great and we have not repented. In a way, that happened to me this week.

As I felt the tug to return to blogging after taking time off to spend with the family while I was home in the states, I wondered what I was going to talk about. I wondered what God would reveal to me and place on my heart. Well a rough few weeks at the academy gave me plenty of options. It was not rough from the stand point that I thought I was struggling, but instead I saw the calamity around me and thought, man some people need to hear a lesson. So I sat down and began to type away.

As usual I was typing crazy amounts as thoughts and feelings just flowed from my brain to the keyboard. People asked about the blog and I said it was coming along well for a 2016 debut. Yet something was wrong. I hit a block. I got halfway through a post and writer’s block smacked me. I reread what I wrote and it was terrible. I was all over the place and some of the things I said were questionable. So I switched topics. That was even worse as I could barely get a paragraph out. So I switched topics again. Same result. I repeated the process until I had run out of things that were on my mind. Then I decided I would simply not post this week since obviously I had nothing to say.

Then as I closed my computer it hit me. Go back and read the last line of the previous paragraph. What’s the fifth to last word? I. I had made the post about me. See the things at the academy had given me great fuel. The things that had happened made me angry; they had offended me, and I was writing out of that anger. I was not allowing God to use me as a tool. I was using the tool God have given me for my own selfish purpose. I wanted to toot my own horn, to show others how they were wrong, to be a keyboard warrior and get written revenge, and to most of all gain views.

If I had looked in the mirror in that moment I would not have seen a Christian showing the love of Christ to the world. I would have seen a Christian who was out for revenge because he had succumbed to temptation and hatred.

With that I confess to you that tonight’s blog post will simply be this confession: that I have allowed the hatred, anger, and bitterness that I harbored in my heart to get in the way of my communication with God. I could not hear Him and write for Him because I was too concerned with my personal agenda. I was blocked by sin. In the beginning I did not care that people would not see Christ. All I cared about was myself. I was basically trying to use the Lord’s name in vain by attaching His name to my sin filled post. Thankfully He stopped me, because listen to what James says in chapter 1 verse 26, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Wow that hits deep. If I had written that post it would have been worthless. Not only that but my beliefs would be worthless as well. Pretty much the post and I would not have mattered in the slightest to God or His will or His plan for eternity. I would be speaking with a split tongue. Straight up hypocrite.

I truly believe that God gave me writer’s block. It was He who saved me from myself. See God is the one who gives me ideas, guides my fingers on the keyboard, and helps me to post what it is that people need to hear. So when I begin to abuse that power and privilege so that I might gain some twisted sense of satisfaction, I am glad He steps in and blocks me. Literally that’s what it felt like. It was like all of the ideas were on the tip of my tongue but I just could not get them out. For a total of 4 hours maybe, I tried and tried to capture the ideas and get them on paper. Yet I could not reach them, my mind would not move. God had blocked me. He allowed me to feel as if the answer was there but didn’t allow me to reach it. Like Moses and the Promised Land, I could not enter because I was not right with Him.

I was not right with Him because I was so entrenched in sin that I did not even think to repent. I had become comfortable in it and did not see a reason to change. When that happens, God cannot use me for His will. See God is perfect. Everything about Him, from His appearance to His decisions, is perfect. Because of this He cannot deal with or associate with anything that is imperfect (Isaiah 59:2). So when we sin, He cannot be with us or communicate with us. Communication is blocked. Thankfully we have the Christ. Jesus died and rose to pay the price for our sins so that we may be made perfect and blameless in the eyes of God. We need that because we cannot come anywhere close to perfection on our own. Now that being said, we must accept said gift and repent (Romans 10:9). After we repent, and only after, will we be cleansed, made perfect by the death and resurrection of Christ, and able to be used by God (Hebrews 10:14).

In my case this week, I had not repented and let go of the bitterness I harbored in my heart. Therefore I was trying to proclaim the truth of the Gospel while hating the people I was writing to and about. It makes no sense. God could not use that post and nor would he help me write it. It would be tainted with sin and with imperfections. Only after He revealed my sin to me and I repented could he and did He use me as a vessel for His will.

Hopefully you have learned something from my life experience. (In this case my sin.) I know that I have. When we fail to repent of ours sins we cannot be used by God. There are no ifs and or buts about it. It is simply impossible for the perfect God of the universe to use and communicate with those who have not repented of their sins. Even worse he cannot work with those who are dwelling in and comfortable with their sins. Sin is a literal blockade against God. He needs a clean heart, a pure heart to do His will. Now, note that this does not mean we must live perfect lives. That my friends, is impossible. Instead he asks that we give our hearts to Him, and put our faith in Him and in His son, Jesus Christ. That action, coupled with our repentance for our sins will cleanse us so that He might use us.

So there you have it. My first post of 2016 is just me laying my sin out there. It’s real. It’s honest, and I hope it was what you needed to hear. Maybe you doubted if you were the only person struggling to hear God above the roar of your own sin. Maybe you doubted if Christians ever confessed their sins to others. Or maybe you were just wondering if God really can make an influence in our moment to moment actions and decisions. Well the answers are: no you’re not alone because it’s almost a guarantee that someone else sins like you, yes Christians do (or at least they should) tell others about their sin so that they might have accountability, and yes God does make a difference if we let Him.

The Christmas Trade

Let me start this blog by being completely honest. I wanted to post this on Sunday but just couldn’t get it finished. I struggled with how I was going to write about what Christmas has become, but do it in the right way. In the beginning I had it all wrong. Society’s version of Christmas today made me mad, and that reflected in my writing. The words I used were bitter and not filled with love. God told me there was no way I could post that. What kind of message would that send? Not a good one. See God has no problem with me being upset over what Christmas has become. He does however have a problem when I let that anger turn into bitter writing and a blog that sounds more like a fuming Christian than a loving one. That being said I prayed, God worked on my heart, and together we present to you draft number seven about what’s happening with Christmas today.

 

For many people Christmas is their favorite time of the year. Friends and family come together after months or even years apart. There is laughter, happiness, beautiful lights and trees, good food, and a whole lot of relaxation. Now, while these things do happen around Christmas, they are not the reasons we celebrate. What has happened is we have traded the true meaning of Christmas for the byproducts and traditions and we have begun to celebrate and worship them instead.

 

What does that mean? Well, Christmas literally would not exist and could not exist today without Jesus Christ. It was created as a holiday in the 4th century to celebrate His birth as our savior. That was all it was, a simple birthday party. At the same time, the church needed a way for new converts to be able to bring some of their old winter solstice traditions with them when they became Christians so that they would not lose some of their heritage. So, it took the pagan traditions and shifted their focus away from their pagan roots and towards the birth of Christ. So yes the traditions of Christmas have pagan roots, but they exist now to remind us of Jesus, His birth, and what it means for us in the future. Well at least they used to. People have begun to enjoy these traditions so much, that they have pretty much disregarded Jesus all together. There aren’t adds or movies where little baby Jesus is the star, instead it is jolly old Santa Clause, born in 1930’s Coca-Cola ads who takes center stage. He simply has more appeal, and that is a problem. All of these traditions: the gifts to remind us that Jesus was the best gift of all, the lights to remember the brightest start in the sky that guided the magi, and even the carols which are supposed to spread the word of Jesus’ birth, have become the priorities. We’ve traded Jesus away for a bunch of empty traditions and we have worshipped them by putting our focus on them instead of Christ.

 

How could they be empty you ask? They bring us so much happiness this time of year. Well think about it this way. We always talk about how merry Christmas and the holidays are, but what exactly makes them so merry and jolly? Everyone has a different answer, the people, the gifts, the time together, or even just simple things like the decorations. But what happens when everyone leaves? What happens when the trees and lights come down and the decorations go back in the attic? Does that same happiness still flow through the house? Come March and April do those toys still bring the same level of joy and great big smiles to the faces of those who received them? I am willing to be that the answer is no to most of these questions. Why? Because I have been there myself. I know the joy brought by Christmas traditions does not last. I know the sadness that comes with taking down the tree and knowing that there is school the next day. I’ve experienced a toy becoming no longer fun to play with, it breaking, or me out growing it and giving it away. Those things don’t last. But there is a gift that does.

 

Here is a huge misconception about Christmas: once it is over it means nothing throughout the rest of the year. This could not be farther from the truth! Oh my goodness Christmas has everything to do with everything for the rest of the year and for the rest of our lives! This celebration is more than just the celebration of some important man’s birthday. It is a celebration of the birth of the Son of God. That is God came down in human form with one goal: to redeem man. In other words He was born so He could die. Wait what? Yeah you heard that right. He came to die. Sure Jesus came and taught us valuable lessons, but if that was all He did then He was just a prophet. Man did not need another prophet then, and he does not need another prophet now. He needs and has always needed a savior, and that is why Christ was born. He came born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified dead and buried, and on the third day He rose from the grave. Why? Because we are all sinners. You, me, our pastors, our politicians, our doctors, everyone is a sinner in need of a savior. Christmas celebrates the birth of that savior. Christmas celebrates the day in which God came to earth as a little helpless baby to live in our world and to ultimately change our world. Knowing that should bring joy to Christmas and to every single day of the year. Knowing that we have a God who loves us enough to send His one and only son to die for our sins is quite amazing and should be our focus on Christmas. We’ve been given the gift of a savior.

 

Is trading that worth it? Is the latest gizmo or gadget worth more than the birth of Christ? Now I’m not saying that if you don’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas you are going to Hell, but what I am saying is that how we celebrate Christmas shows the nature of our hearts. What are we concerned with? There is nothing intrinsically bad with enjoying family time, pretty lights, and great gifts, but if we begin to value those more than we value the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our savior the new are in trouble. If we worship traditions by giving them too much of our attention, we are in trouble. If we try and take Christ out of Christmas, we are in trouble. I believe that that trouble has begun.

 

As Christians we have not done our job in spreading the true meaning of Christmas. Think about it. How many ads on TV have you seen mention Jesus? How many Christmas movies mention Jesus? How many mall santas remind little children that it is better to give than to receive? (Which by the way that is a bible verse and not some genius concept concocted by man. Acts 20:35) We absolutely cannot sit around and blame the world all we want. Whose duty is it to tell the world about the birth, life, and death of Christ? It’s the job of Christians. Think back to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. After Jesus was born, angels appeared to a group of shepherds, and they told the shepherds that their savior had been born in Bethlehem. Needing no further prompting, the men ran to see for themselves, and what a sight they found. They looked into the eyes of the baby who would one day free man from the bondage of sin. So what did they do next? Well if they had acted like Christians today (and if I’m honest, like how I acted when I started writing this blog) they would have walked the streets and scorned or laughed at all of the people who had no idea what was happening at that little inn down the street. But that’s not at all what they did. They went and told anyone who would listen about the great sight that they had just seen. For them it was so wonderful that they could not help but spread the great news like wildfire. Then they returned to the manger and praised God for all that they had seen and heard. (Luke 2:8-20)

 

We as Christians should learn from the shepherds. Who are we to sit around and get upset that people are trampling over our holiday and trying to take Christ out of Christmas? We are the ones who are letting them. If people want to take Christ out of Christmas it is because they don’t know the glory of the real story. They don’t know that we give gifts as a symbol that God gave us the greatest gift of all, His precious son as a sacrifice for our sins. They don’t know the joy of Christ and how He doesn’t come just once a year to bring joy, but that He is with us year round with that same joy. So Christians let’s go! Let’s stop being offended that people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas and let’s show them why you just can’t take Him out. Let’s not celebrate traditions aimlessly Instead let’s celebrate the birth of Christ and the gift that He is. We know the power of that gift and the salvation that the gift will ultimately bring, so let’s go and share it with the world. Let’s stop trading Jesus for traditions.

 

P.S. If you liked this or know someone who might need it please pass it on. You never know what a simple share and read could do in someone else’s life. Thanks and God bless.

Christmas Music Made Me Cry

I think it was Tuesday morning, definitely around 5:20, as I groggily drove to work, that Pentatonix came on the radio. Now, I had never heard them before so I turned up the volume to hear them for the first time. Turns out they were singing Little Drummer Boy, one of my Christmas favorites. First let me say I was blown away by the talent of the group. I’m not a musician or singer but I love their sound, I was hooked from the beginning, and began jamming in the wee morning hours. However, it was around the middle of the song that I just began to cry. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It was one of those cries that just started slow and all of a sudden I was just driving and wishing I had more tissues. No it wasn’t because Pentatonix is that good. It was because I really began to listen to the words they were singing. Many people they listen to a song and don’t really think much about the words. But I do. No matter how great a song is musically, if I don’t like the lyrics I can’t listen to it. That is why when it comes to songs about Jesus, especially around Christmas time, the lyrics are everything. That is what gets me. That is why the Holy Spirit meets people in the isles of concert halls and the drivers’ seats of cars at 5 am. Lyrics matter. Little Drummer Boy is no different.

I want you to do what I do. Put yourself in the song. Listen to the lyrics and put yourself there. You are a poor boy, going to see a newborn king, and you bring your finest gift, so you are standing at the manger holding the only thing you own, a little drum. It’s probably all beat up and its best day was a long time ago. Yet here you are, standing next to kings who have brought expensive gifts wondering what in the world you are going to do. You look at your drum, you look at Mary, you glance at the baby, and then you just play. The rhythm from your little beat up drum probably isn’t anything special, heck the animals are the ones keeping time. It sure wouldn’t be ranked up there with any of the greatest drum solos of all time, yet it is all you have. Perhaps the three kings look at you like you’re crazy. They’re wondering how you could come with no gifts and only a mediocre song. The shepherds think that even though they stink and stuff, they can at least offer a lamb or something. Then something crazy happens. That little baby in the feed trough, yeah the one who is supposed to be the savior of the world, looks at you and smiles. He approves. What?! No way! How can this be? How can this little boy approve of your meek little gift? The answer is simple. It is because you gave all that you have.

How absolutely incredible is that? I mean step back and take that in. Here is a tiny little drummer who has nothing to offer except his measly drumming skills, and the child of the God of the universe accepts it as if it were a symphony composed by Beethoven. Now I must pause here to say that this was not a true story. Of course it is only a song, but it helps to illustrate an amazing concept presented in the New Testament. Jesus even comments on a similar scenario, when he is teaching in the temple and sees a woman who put everything she had, two mites (about half a cent), into the treasury while the rich were boasting about who had given more (Luke 21:1-4). He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings to God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”  Pretty much she was another little drummer boy. Though she did not know that the savior of the world was watching her, she still gave everything because that is what the Lord requires.

Requires might sound weird there but think about this. Here is the God of the Universe, the creator of everything, and we have to bring a gift for Him each day. We have accepted Christ into our lives and now we’re on fire to live for Him. What exactly does that mean? It means that we follow 1 Corinthians 10:31 and we bring glory to God in everything that we do. Whether we are playing sports or waiting in the carpool line our thoughts, words, and actions should bring glory to God above. So, in practical application that means that whatever gifts he has given us, we must turn around and use them for His glory all of the time. That means if someone has been gifted with money they are not to spend it lavishly, but are to use it to make a difference by donating it, using it to travel and spread the gospel, or any number of other things. There are even people like me, who have been gifted with some level of athletic ability, and have been called to share Jesus with those in the sports world. But see the thing is it is possible to be like the rich men in the temple. It is easy to get to a certain point, say yeah this seems good enough for the kingdom, and then just give a little back at a time. You know just give enough. I don’t want to give enough. I want to give everything I have. I want to pick up my cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). At the end of the day I want to lay down so completely exhausted from glorifying God with my daily life that only a sleep blessed by God will be enough to rejuvenate me.

But sometimes we feel like we’re not good enough. Sometimes we look around at others in the world and think we are just inadequate. Sure we are trying hard but maybe we aren’t finding the success that others are finding, or we think we should be finding. I’m not talking only about earthly success, but also success in bringing others to Christ, shining for Him, and really just living the life He has called us to live. I know that’s me sometimes. I feel like I’m a failure at my life because someone else is succeeding in theirs. I begin to measure myself to the standards set by other Christians and by this world. Too often I look at what others have done, and I feel like I am not worthy to bring a gift. I forget about the poor widow at the temple, and that as long as I am giving to the Lord all that I can then that is enough.  That is what made me cry. To think that even in my darkest times, when life is beating me down and the world says that my efforts to being glory to Jesus are not good enough and that I am a failure, I know that I can look and see Him smiling with pleasure. He knows that I have poured my heart out for Him. He knows that I spent hours and hours working, trying to hone the talents he has given me, so that one day, when the stage is set, I might use those talents to shine His glory for all those around me to see. You see, these talents will probably not be the best talents on the face of the earth. Somebody out there is a better writer, someone else is a better speaker, and even someone else is a better soccer player (well more than just one someone in all of these cases). But you know what? No one else is a better me. No one can glorify the Lord like I can.

We are all a little like that little drummer boy. We are standing at the feet of Jesus with our beat up and seemingly insignificant little drum trying to figure out what to do. We want to give big fancy gifts like the three kings yet we cannot, and God does not expect us to. That drum represents the gifts and talents He has given us. All He wants us to do is use it. It will be rough and awkward at first, but He will guide us and show us how to use those gifts to bring Him glory. He will love it on our best days when the beat is sweet and melodious. He will love it on our worst days when try as we might the beat sounds like a crow’s cackle. He does not expect us to be perfect or to be able to donate as much money as Bill Gates, or impact as many lives as Billy Graham. All He requires is that we give all that we have, nothing more and nothing less. After all, our lives were bought with a price on the cross. That is a debt that we will never ever be able to repay. But what we can do is show our gratitude and appreciation by living each and every day with the purpose of glorifying God in everything. That means giving all of our effort, time, money, and life to furthering the Kingdom of God, knowing full well that we might not ever see the fruits of that labor here on earth, and that doesn’t matter. It also does not matter if anyone else ever thinks we are good enough or what we have to offer God is worth anything. At the end of the day, and at the end of our lives really, the only praise we should want to hear is this, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Then He smiled at me

Pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum