Saturday, October 7, 2017

Racism in America - A Data Journey

I’m a data guy, an analyst by both hobby and profession.

In our modern society of short attention spans, viral sound bites, and ever-increasing dividedness – this has a tendency to leave me floundering in irritating, cherry-picked stats, wading through swamps of out-right lies, and hurt by our collective desires to find the fact that fits our pre-existing narratives to scream down anyone who might disagree.

Because of this, I recently set out to try to get my hands around the issues of race that face America today. There are so many conflicting viewpoints and statistics (It’s a big, scary issue - so this should come as no surprise) – but what’s the closest I can get to the truth?

As you read through this – recognize something important. It’s numbers. It’s averages. But what those averages represent are the summation of individual stories and personal realities. So when you read a story, you can always contrast it against another one to ‘invalidate’ it (or so you think) – but you can’t do that with the averages. They are what they are and there’s not too much of a way around them… but what they represent should hurt us deeply and move us to action.

The most poignant lens through which to begin to view this is through the recent police shootings.

Are Black Americans More Likely to Be Involved in Violent Police Interactions?

The argument is that African Americans are more likely to be assaulted and/or killed, particularly unjustly, by police. Is that true? Can we find data to support it or to help us understand it?

The answer is a resounding yes.

-        Police are 2.5 times more likely to use force with black suspects than white suspects (3.5% vs. 1.4%).
-         Police are about 2 times more likely to use lethal force with black suspects than white suspects (13% of population makes up for 26% of police homicides)
Source: (Note: I didn’t see BJS data here, but I recall seeing it previously, unfortunately their site is a little convoluted at best. Will update when/if I find it)

Now – I’ve heard a rebuttal here “But police kill more white people than black people every year” – and while that’s true, there are 5x more of white Americans than black. Of course police kill more white people every year. We should be looking at rate or likelihood - not volume, so let go of that useless statistic right now.

The next question has to be this, though – might there be a reason other than race? Perhaps police are more frequently attacked by black suspects than white? Indeed, we find that it is true:
-         Police are 3 times more likely to be assaulted by a black suspect than a white suspect (13% of population makes up for about 39% of assaults)

This is the first major, heart-breaking point in our current day race situation: According to the data, both police and black suspects have reason to come into these situations tense, afraid, or mis-trusting – which can certainly lend itself to a self-fulfilling prophecy for both parties.

Is it Just Race? Or is There Something Deeper?

The next question we have to deal with is this: do we really believe this data is solely a function of race? Or is there another variable that might be the more important one?

While I haven’t found specific data that ties police use of force to income. I think we can use a good proxy: violent crime split by both race and income. When we view the graph below, 2 things stand out
“Poor” (Defined here as below the poverty line) is heavily tied to “likelihood of violent crime” – with those below the poverty line being about twice as likely to commit violent crime as the rest of the population
Black Americans and White Americans have fairly similar rates across the board – and among the poor, White Americans are actually more violent than Black.
From which we can infer something important: Violent crime is much more closely linked to poverty than it is to race. This likely includes assaults on police officers.

Are Black Americans Poorer than White Americans?

Given that – the next question should be this: Are black Americans more likely to be below the poverty line than white Americans? If so – issues of violence are probably what we in analytics call “Mix” issues: situations where because one group is more likely to have a specific feature, they appear more likely generate a specific outcome. For instance – death rates are 10 times higher than average for people who are in nursing homes at the time of their deaths. Given that, young folks like me with our full lives ahead of us should avoid them like the plague and refuse to go in even for a moment, right? Obviously not. Nursing homes are more likely to house the sick and elderly than ‘the average’ – which of course leads to a higher likelihood of death: a mix issue. With that out of the way – let’s keep moving.

We do see a mix issue. Far more black Americans are poor than white Americans – so the violence issue we might point out if we look at an average, disappears when we stack it against economic status:
-         Black Americans earn 59% as much as white Americans, on average
-         Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be beneath the poverty line than white Americans (26% to 9.5%)

So now we’ve got a real insight:
Black Americans and Police are both right to step into conflict on edge. But it is likely that the violence on both sides is actually governed by income instead of race. It’s probably safe to say that most officers who resort to use of force aren’t specifically motivated by race (White and Black officers have similar use of force rates against both white and black suspects) but that race does play a factor in identifying dangerous situations. (Source: pages 224/225)

And a real hypothesis:
Police shootings aren’t the disease. They’re a very painful and public symptom (Though we do ourselves a huge injustice if we fail to pay attention to police after some of the more egregious shootings we’ve seen). One huge facet of the disease is the income and savings disparity between white and black Americans.

A Really Important Question
This leads us to the deeper issues at play: why are there so many more poor black Americans than poor white Americans? Unfortunately, this issue isn’t as easy to illustrate with data, so it may include some background about me, some editorial links, and a few thought puzzles. But for starters – we’ll take a common sense approach to thinking about this problem, then we’ll look at the relationship between race and housing as illustrated in two distinct issues – redlining and predatory lending - and talk about what they *really* mean. Let’s also recognize now that there are a host of others and that I won’t do any of them (including these) the justice they deserve.

The Common Sense Approach
Now – some of this isn’t hard to figure out:
-          We’ve made very clear that black America has less income and wealth that white America, thus: worse neighborhoods
-          Safe to say that pre-1955, black America received inferior education (on average) and thus inferior pay.
o   Probably safe to say that pre-1955, black America also received inferior pay even when equally educated, don’t you think? I do.
o   Probably safe to say that post-1955 for a minimum of 30 years (one can probably argue much more) – that equally educated black Americans didn’t receive the same pay (much less opportunity) as equally educated white Americans
So – Your granddaddy couldn’t get money or education, and your daddy couldn’t get money or education, and guess what that means? You’ve now been born into a low-end socio-economic neighborhood, with few legitimate business connections, in a dangerous area, with inferior schools… You’re gonna have a tough time getting money and education. The land of opportunity… just doesn’t have as many opportunities for you.

As a kid from a small town, where we all knew the same business-people, went to the same school, and had access to the same summer jobs – this was the hardest thing for me to get. It’s so easy to buy the narrative of “we all have an equal chance, just work hard and you’ll get there” when you look around you and you do see the same access to all these resources. It wasn’t until I moved to Dallas that I started realizing this wasn’t the same story in large cities. Below is a map, by race, of Dallas. Notice anything?

You should – this is an incredible amount of segregation

It isn’t until you get out of the city that you begin to see a more regular distribution (Circled in red). I couldn’t find this same map for Plano and Frisco…. But I’ll give you 1 guess which color they are (Hint: ORANGE). So while out in the small towns, we all knew the same people, got the same educations, and had access to the same local businessmen… in urban America – it just isn’t true. The cost of entry to the good schools is a $300,000 home – it’s segregation, but by geography. And guess what? American schools today are more segregated than they have been at any point since 1968. Source:

While we “did not own slaves” and we “aren’t racist” – we fail to realize the reality of the situation. The racism of prior generations has a direct impact on the plight of black America today. It’s our fatal misunderstanding of this issue that allows us to justify ourselves while ignoring our hurting and hopeless brothers and sisters.

So, about Redlining and Predatory Lending…
We’ve done some common sense thinking around income and wealth on a broad social level – but what about some specifics? To get into those – we need to answer the question: Where does white America’s wealth come from?

The average American’s house makes up around 60% of their net worth. Well, gee. That was easy.

So the easiest and most likely way to accumulate wealth and transfer it from one generation to the next? You got it. House. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but when my parents eventually pass, there’ll be an inheritance – and the biggest part of it will probably be a house. And, no surprises here, white Americans are almost twice as likely to own a house as black Americans. Source:

Why? Because they were kept from buying homes 90, 60, even 30 years ago, and that impact is felt on their kids and grandkids today.

Hopefully at this point I’ve caught your attention. And while I’d love to write out more about redlining and predatory lending, I find that I can’t do it nearly as well as the piece below, so read it with all the context you’ve (hopefully) gained above.

It’s long. It’s a tough read in a lot of ways. Save yourself about an hour, and be prepared to think, read, save quotes, and ask yourself tough questions. You’ll need them. If you want to understand what people mean when they talk about “Systemic Racism” or when they are taking a knee for “Social Inequality” or when they’re yelling that black lives matter – this is it. You may not like the way the messages come across – but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and don’t get lost staring at a symptom instead of the disease. Oppression in our modern-day America is alive and well, and it may take generations of concerted, intentional effort to even begin to resolve. It may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility, and I pray that we’ll pick it up.

Allow me to leave you with an analogy and an invitation.

The Analogy
We like to think that because slavery was ended in 1865 or that because civil rights swept through America in the 50’s and 60’s – “racism is over”.  As a white, small-town Texas male married to a black female – I can tell you, we have not had a single direct encounter with a true racist. But that doesn’t mean that the effects of racism aren’t still prevalent. It’s like we began running a mile race. For our first quarter mile – black America wasn’t allowed on the track. In the second quarter, they were allowed to stand at the line, but not run or walk. As we passed them on the 2nd lap, we said “Hey! You can run now!” and gave them a good shove… to the ground. Now we’re 3 laps in and saying “Hey, you get to run now… it’s a fair race, why haven’t you caught up?!” We have to recognize there’s still work to do to atone for the sins of our forebears.

The Invitation

You know where to find me. There’s so much more behind all this data and all these stories that I’d love to talk with you about. Give me a call, shoot me an email, meet me for lunch or breakfast or dinner or a long, slow bike ride and let’s talk.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Of Desires

I once told someone important (though I didn't know she was important at the time) that I'd always been able to get what I wanted in life. This wasn't a statement of arrogance. It wasn't an elucidation of my nearly infinite skill. It was a simple truth - I've never had an issue getting almost exactly what I wanted. However, it was the second part of the statement I made that was by far the more revelatory for me... the real challenge was wanting the right thing.

Funny how something as simple as that can rock a world at any given moment. A coupled realization: I've always gotten what I wanted, but I've rarely had the "right want" in mind.

The first half is simple enough. Through a variety of means, I'd always managed to get what I wanted.
1) I am pretty good at a lot of things (though not particularly masterful at anything)
2) I, quite simply, lead a charmed life. I can't express to you the number of times that, for no particular reason, things just fall my way. On occasion, I've even come to hate it (at least, that's what I tell myself in the moment), but that's a completely different thought.
 3) The most surprising reality in all this? The things I wanted came up pathetically short of the things I should have wanted.

I'd wanted grades - I should have wanted to learn.
I'd wanted prestige - I should have wanted character.
I'd wanted 'the job' - I should have wanted my calling.
I'd wanted to date - I should have wanted to learn to lead.
I'd wanted marriage - I should have wanted to learn to sacrifice.
I'd wanted financial security - I should have wanted to be secure in serving a good God.

All the things I wanted were easily accomplished, of that I'm quite sure. But of course - that's the whole point of the trap isn't it? When your mind has been tampered with to the point that you want good things, but not wholeness - you'll be perpetually "Ok" and perpetually discontent. You'll be perpetually less than what you were created to be. You'll never figure it out until your eyes are opened though. Because above all else - what was the one thing I really wanted in all the above examples?

To be justified. I wanted to be numb to the risks of the short-comings of my desires - and I was wildly successful.

I'd been hardwired to believe that results justified process. To believe that the challenge was achieving what I wanted... not truly understanding what to want. To perpetually address symptoms while hiding myself from disease. Praise God that He awakened me to this.

So, the second half - wanting the right things. I'm getting better... slowly... I think. I feel like Paul so often though. I realize that in prayer I've managed to say things like this to God "I want to know what to want. Because I do things I don't really want, but I think I want them. I want to want what you want. But honestly, I have no idea what to want. I know what I want - is it You that made me want that?"

 **Editor's note:**
As you can see - my prayer life gets a little confused at times. Usually upon realizing I've trapped myself in the 'What I want is what you want so what the heck do you want so that I can want what I should want' cycle - I just want a coke and to go to bed, which is luckily fairly easily accomplished ;)

But that said - it is that desire that God has placed in me to begin to want the right things that has altered the way I look at life - success, work, marriage, giving, all of it. It's the continuation of the revelation that I won't be joyful if I'm not where God wants me to be. God is freeing me (at least a bit) from the chains of success and opening me up to the freedoms of patience and 'failure'. It's a fun ride.

So. Let's take a step back. Let's wonder not about how to achieve what we want... let's really wonder if we want the right thing. And I don't just mean "Want what God wants for your life" - though that's the correct Sunday school answer. Once you start wondering, how do you figure out? Well, I'm not totally sure, but I've got some ideas... next time.

**Editor's Note:**
Good heavens I'm rusty. I tried to write this three times and never felt like I was saying exactly what I wanted to say. Whatever. I surrender and accept that it'll take time to get my writing fingers back under me. Maybe I'll come back some day and make another run... but probably not.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Of Encouragement

Just so you know up front - I think I have a weakness on this one, but maybe eventually... :)

Growing up (and by that I mean the first quarter century of my life) I thought of the following phrases as about the limit of encouragement:
"Good game"
"Nice job"
"You look really nice"
"You're gonna do great"
and *maybe* "You could improve here"

But it's been a recent realization for me that while that stuff can be encouragement, it falls so far short of what encouragement really is, and what it really does. Those items, while they might give just enough of a confidence boost to help someone out, more often are far nearer to well meaning flattery than they are true encouragement. Don't get me wrong - words of encouragement (even such as those) can mean a lot, and are definitely encouragement in and of themselves, but I think that there is a much, much bigger picture and reality to encouragement than we find just in those.

Maybe I define it differently than most, but I look at encouragement as giving someone the ability (through words, actions, or lifestyle) to accomplish something they couldn't have without you. This definition does a couple cool things for me:

1) It keeps me from viewing what I do and say through such a myopic lens, especially in terms of encouragement being a positive cliche here and there

Meaning? I have to be aware that true encouragement (given my definition) comes through an intense process of recognizing and meeting needs in terms of the Christian walks of those around me.

When someone is feeling guilt and shame, they need a reminder of who they are, who their Lord is, and what that means. That this unbelievable grace and mercy we've been given has covered them. You have to ask questions and truly attempt to perceive to discover those feelings in someone usually - but that is the depth of true encouragement - without knowledge and wisdom, how can we know where and how to push?

When a brother is floundering in sin - I have to recognize it and address it in a way that can help. This doesn't mean nagging (why don't you do X), or stating the obvious (you just gotta follow Christ better, man). It doesn't mean we talk about it because it benefits me for him to be better (i.e. he has some anger issues that are affecting me negatively, so we need to talk them through because I've been wronged).
It means that I have to see the sin, and approach him about it in a loving and humble way that spurs him to be more and centers him on Christ. Because the reality is this - even if his sin has negative effects on me, it doesn't rob me of joy. But it is killing him, his relationship with Christ, and his relationship with others. Knowing that, it's way easier to care and love instead of feel offended and attack. Knowing that leads to an encouraging reproach... instead of just nagging (which does nothing but promote insecurity and anger, even if it gets 'results').

When someone does something right that I appreciate, I should absolutely let them know. Dating is the easiest place for me to illustrate this (probably marriage would be better, but someone else would have to chime in there). I've spent 25 years of my life viewing boy/girl relations as a competition - because frankly, that's what it's been. Girl wants control, I want freedom (see: Genesis). Girl wants me to do better for her so she points out my weaknesses, I point out my strengths or her weaknesses to balance. Girl has a plan that I know based on her actions won't work, I do it perfectly to prove that I'm right and show her my way was better and she can shove it. Why is all this cycling down the toilet this way? Because both of us are far more worried about ourselves than each other or Christ. How is this related to encouragement? I have no idea (kidding). The reality of encouragement is this - there is only one better way for us to pursue in the universe - God's. So encouragement is the active art of pushing someone towards God (something better), and you know what I've discovered lately? If someone surrenders that need for an illusion of control and tells me "Hey, I really appreciate the way you do this for me" - I instantaneously do better. Because I WANT to. When you know what you do is appreciated, it is natural to try to do it even better. In the prior circumstances listed here - I was told what I was doing wrong so that I would solve it because someone else felt (and probably was) wronged. But it never mattered how good I might be outside of that, which meant what? That I'd insecurely justify my wrongness with theirs and at best would perform out of either obligation or a smug "we'll see about that" attitude. In that second approach... I did better because I wanted to. Because that encouragement and trust made me love that person all the more. Encouragement from the mouth of a woman has a very powerful effect on the heart of a man, ladies - learn that and stick to your standards and you will both find, and help create, that man you've been searching for. If you don't understand that - I suspect you're going to find a lot more conflict, insecurity, and anger in life than you suspect. Emotionally bludgeoning for results does not change the realities behind the shortcomings, it just builds a wall in your relationship - even if you get what you think you want. Neither of you will ever be fulfilled or fruitful because in the end, it's all about you and your need to be treated perfectly.

2) It reminds me that encouragement doesn't happen just through my singular moments (a phrase), it happens through my lifestyle

My actions (not just words, thoughts, and strategies) encourage people. You see me loving, you want to love and it shows you a way to do it. You are a recipient of my love, it gives you a way to improve (think giving someone very poor and unemployed a job so that they can feed their kids... or other items like that) so that you can spin that lifestyle right around and encourage others through it. Not to mention both these establish trust in the relationship with any people involved (because you know that the individual who is loving will try to put you before themselves). When you receive a gift, do you treat it better than something you buy? Heck, I know I do. So it would serve to reason that any gift (money, time, words) has the ability to encourage some one onwards and upwards.

Will encouragement always lead to someone finding a strength, peace, or joy that they lacked before? Probably not, but that has nothing to do with whether or not we should do it. Is encouragement still way bigger than a good old fashioned butt pat and a "You'll get 'em next time" - yeah... yeah it is. It is a foundation of trust in our relationships. The evidence that we love another more than ourselves. And hopefully, one day, it will be so ingrained in us that people will use it as proof of what defines us - Love.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Of the Mythology of Progress

It's quite simply what makes us, well, us. It's this inherent human ability to fall and fail, over and over... and over. That and this strange fascination we have with believing we've recovered. Nothing trumps a good come back story, or a true (or for that matter, created) underdog. But is our facade legitimate or is there a deeper reality at play? We love to diagnose our recovery through the absence or lessening of our symptoms, but is that really indicative of progress? Or is it the evidence of a results-driven methodology in a society of people tired to death of failing? Could it be that the historical progress of mankind is a myth? Could it be that my own progress is more fairy tale than fact as well?

Surely in the past few millennia, man has progressed, right? We've pasteurized milk, invented the car, put a man on the moon, and only heaven knows how much further the microchip can take us. We've experienced the renaissance, the reformation, and the industrial revolution. But have we really advanced? We have all these resources, all this wealth, all this technology, all this need-meeting ability... and there are still starving countries, orphaned kids, and persecuted brothers all across the world. All this knowledge, wisdom, and revelation, and we are still completely willing to burn friendships and strangers to selfishly pursue whatever we want at that moment. We dehumanize enemies - both the big-picture war ones, and the ones we encounter every day - the lady at work we think is rude, the person we're trying to date that we just don't get, the friend who didn't meet our expectations. It's the story of man kind, like it always has been - get what you want, if someone is in your way or doesn't treat you perfectly - dehumanize them so you don't mind the fact that you don't care about them and move on. The progress of man...? It's just not reality.

What about my own though? I've developed. I no longer do what I did when I was a child. Or when I was 16, 18, 20, or for that matter - 24. I've progressed - when I was a child, I acted like a child. But have I progressed nearly as much as I, or others might think? That's the real question. Because in real terms, when I look at my progress, I usually look at in terms of "Well, I used to date like this - and now I date like this" and "I used to lie about this, and now I don't" and "I used to have a real pride issue here and now I don't"

But here's the fun part - none of that is truly indicative of progress at all. Just because I've modified behaviors over the years does not mean I've truly grown - it just means I've learned to alter my behavior to get the results I want. I didn't like how dating relationships looked when I did A, B, and C - so I started doing X, Y, and Z. Plug in career moves, friendships, apartment hunting, or working out in that equation and it works just the same. Meaning? All I've really progressed in (if that is my measurement) is my ability to figure out and obtain what I want - which isn't an awful thing, just not what I really want to measure.

Now do I think I've progressed? I do, but it is not nearly as much a measurable item as we'd like to think. It's a realization of where my heart is. And the ability to see in my life the places where things I want (relationship, career, whatever) take second seat more and more to the thing I truly desire (that Christ be my center and my focus). Funny how you grow up and you finally realize that what you want isn't necessarily your desire or your goal or even worth working towards. And that's the true progress - the times I can look at my life and see that the things I "want" aren't the things I need, and that because I can recognize what is truly best for me and those around me, I can put my own selfishness aside and pursue what really counts - loving God and loving others. If we measure progress any other way, we're just giving ourselves a false sense of accomplishment, and maybe (just a little) justifying the weaknesses we want to gloss over.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...or is it?

I've been having the strangest of paradigm shifts lately. I assume that it's for the better, and I assume that trying to explain it is going to make me look cold, stoic, or removed - let me assure you, I'm none of the above, and I think this realization is really rooted in... well, joy - you'll see. It's loosely based on(but admittedly not derived through) a couple scriptures:
Romans 8:28
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Isaiah 55:8
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

So maybe that gives you a hint of what's coming, maybe it doesn't. But I was driving my car home from work about 2 weeks ago and had the oddest of realizations - I've come to a spot in my life where I am way less likely than ever before to look at a situation or something that happened as being good or bad. Now, I know that the above scripture says "all things work together for good" - but that's not quite what I'm saying here, just the root of the thought. And while I'm aware that even the most evil, cruel things man can dream up outside of God's plan can, and will, be used for good - that's not quite where I'm going today :)

So often we look at things that arise in life and we instantly qualify them as good or bad:
Just got a raise - good!
Just got let go - Bad!
Just broke up with someone - bad!
Just got a new job - Good!
Car broke down - Bad!
Obama is president - Bad! (Or Good! depending on which side of a pretty ugly fence you like to vote for)

And I think you and I can both think of a myriad of other examples, but lets just hold off on that, ok? Ok.
But the reality is, we have no idea whether those things are "good or bad." They just are. The only way we can believe to *know* whether those things are good or bad is if the final goal of all we care about is ourselves. I've written before about how we live in a results driven culture (Here.) but I'm just starting to see that often we qualify our own results - and it's because we have a selfish, short term outlook and a tendency to rush to judgment based on the view that we are the axle our world revolves around. Simply? We aren't. We don't know enough to know whether something that happens to us is truly good, or truly bad. I don't really believe I want those to exist in any kind of real way in my life any more. I don't want to see good days, or bad days - only days of grace. Because that's the reality - I can recognize evil, I can hurt for the oppressed, I can work, pray, give, and struggle to fight evil. But when it comes to good and bad? I have no frame of reference. I have no absolute. And if it is up to me decide whether what happens was good, or bad... well, I'm afraid I've completely missed the point.

So here's to hoping God moves in me in far greater ways than he already has. Here's hoping that I will recognize that everything that happens to me, good, bad, or evil, will be used by God. Here's hoping that even when I think something is bad, I recognize it may well not be - just God moving in grace in my life. Here's hoping that I no longer see things as good or bad, only as God's grace. Because in the end - that's what it all is anyway, regardless of what I think.

Shorter than usual. I imagine anyone who reads it is thankful ;)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What's Love Got to Do With It?


It's not just a word. Or a noun. Or as DC Talk would have me believe, a verb. Or as pop-culture wants me think, and overwhelming emotion.
It's an over-riding command for every action and relationship in the Christian life. Does my life reflect that all the time? Man, I wish, but yeah right. As mentioned above, in the Bible, love is never an option, or a feeling - it's a command. This in and of itself raises an issue that I don't see in our society. If love is a command, that means I have the ability to choose whether I really love or not. As much as we all like the concept of "falling in love" - it just doesn't hold water and it can't be the prime mover in our relationships. Truly loving someone is an absolute, all-out, war against yourself. No two ways around it in scripture. Why? Because loving someone carries a lot more than just liking them, or having "this emotional connection", or saying "God Bless" when they sneeze. So, what's love got to do with it? I think I'll hit that first, and in a strangely backwards fashion, get into what love really is second.

Love is the foundation out of which my relationships should be formed.

A lot of times, I miss this one completely. I'm not called to get to know, and then love - just the opposite. Often I look at myself and see that if someone can't take me where I want to go, I just tolerate and be nice to them. Wide and varied examples of that:
They don't have the job in the career I want to pursue
They curse too much
They aren't all that good-looking
They are wearing a gem encrusted shirt from Affliction or those big bug-eye looking sun glasses
They aren't a Christian
I've heard negative things about them
They've hurt me in the past
So as you can see, I have a lot of potential reasons not to love someone, we all do. But I have to get over that in my life, and I have to love regardless of circumstance. It's clear in scripture I'm called to love the poor, the widows, other Christians, and (God forbid) my enemies. In other words - whether it be friendship, dating, or marriage, everything is going to sprout first out of me loving someone else. We don't become legitimate friends, and then I love them. I love them, and that draws us into friendship. I miss this so often it hurts. If I am called to love my enemies, I am dang sure called to love people before I know them - regardless of poor wardrobe choices. When my love is based on something about the other person that I want to bring into my own life (their looks, job, dating potential, friend circle, whatever) - that's not love at its core - it's opportunistic networking - which is fine, but not who I am called to be in scripture, and I desperately want to avoid confusing that with true love.

So, what is love? (baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more - what an awful song)

John 15:13
Greater love has no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends.
Put simply? It's the ultimate sacrifice. Our perfect picture of love is Christ dying for those He loved. I look at this verse a lot of times and I think "yeah, I'd die for my friends" - but that's at least (personally) a bit of a lie, and even then, I suspect I'm missing the point. As to the lie - I say I'd die for my friends, but how many times do I lash out in anger when I'm wronged? Or feel disappointment when my (often unfair) expectations aren't met? Or choose my own *preferences* over theirs, then treat them like they're in the wrong for it?
None of those things is love. Not even remotely close, in fact. And if I can't lay down my expectations, my anger, or my preferences for my friends - would I really lay down my life?

1 John 3:18 (keep this one in mind while you read what's below)
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Secondly, I fear that I miss the point of that first text. I get the cart before the wagon as talked about in the opening statements above and say "Yeah, I'd die for the people I love" - but that's the interesting part... just like I said above, I'm not called to be friends first, and then love (die). If I take that verse to its true depth, the question is would I be willing to die for those I don't know? Would I be willing to die for those that have intentionally wronged me again and again? Would I lay down my anger, preferences, and expectations for those people? That's the reality of love. Will I put another before myself. And even if they've wronged me, will I continue to truly love?

That last line leads me to my last view of love. Can we allow others (and ourselves) freedom when they've wronged us? Or do we need the sense of control that not forgiving brings us? The Bible is clear - love forgives. It holds no record of wrongs. Love conquers all. Here comes a mess of scripture, really read it, don't skip over it... it says a lot more than I do with a lot fewer words:

Proverbs 17:9
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

The Bible tells us that the outside world will know us by our love. It also tells us that a keystone of love is forgiveness. This makes all the sense in the world - it is a completely unnatural response, but I'm selfish so often. I hold others wrongs over them. I don't forgive because not loving them makes me feel superior, and it makes me feel like I get to judge them and hold them accountable for their actions. Sadly (sarcasm), that's not my job, it never has been, it never will be. Love is most evidenced in our forgiveness. Because forgiveness is not just being nice to someone we don't know - it is taking someone who we owe nothing, while they owe us much, and allowing them the freedom to do it all over again. Love is correction. Love is forgiveness. Love is charity. And maybe most importantly... God is Love.

Love comes down to one thing, and has one purpose.
It is the imitation of what Christ gave us.
It pulls others towards Christ, just as he pulled us.
Love isn't marriage. It isn't friendship. It certainly isn't dating. It's not "found" or "fallen into." It is our constant attempt to intentionally reach out to others through grace, mercy, and service. It's not easy, but it is the trademark of Christianity. And to offer anything less to the fallen people in this broken world is heart breaking.
Love God, Love others, the rest will take care of itself.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (weigh it carefully when you look at your relationships - platonic and otherwise... does it match up?)
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Of Reaction

When we see someone sin, we have a host of responses we can take, but really, they fall into about 3 categories.

1) The right thing.
2) A passive acceptance of the sin.
3) A crush and destroy mentality, usually reserved for the sinner.

We all (presumably) try to fall into that first group. So, for the 9 times out of 10 we fail miserably, this will be reality - so we at least know what we're looking at when we do it, and maybe we can see it in ourselves before we do. It is really easy to see examples of this in social or relational sins, so let me pull a couple moments from my storied history of screwing up so that we can kick this thing off. You'll also probably gain a really strong, really quick insight to which one of the two sinful reactions I tend to fall in (if you don't know already).

When I was in college, I lived right, went to church plenty etc etc. In doing that, I quickly came in contact with "The Christian Bubble" - that group of 40-50 Christians who move in and out of the forefront of collegiate church services. I'm fairly perceptive and honestly, it didn't take too long to realize that the Christian Bubble at Texas Tech (guns up) not only fell far short of their potential, but they also fell far short of what God meant for them. They used each other to justify themselves, they fed off each other, they were exclusionary, and (perhaps the root of the others) they were extremely inwardly focused.

Were they good folks? Yeah, for the most part. Did they do good things? Yeah, they did. Were they in church every week? Absolutely. They had to be to maintain membership in The Bubble (I think).
Did they reach out evangelically to the lost? Nope. Did they reach out as a society to Christians struggling around them? Nuh uh. Did they hold each other accountable and fight through their sins together? Nope.

That being said, what I saw in this group was this: A group of good people who were willing to passively accept sin in and around them because it was easier. A group of people who would far rather take the easy road than become who God created them to be. And I was right. So I acted on it.
I avoided the Christian Bubble. I had lots of Christian friends, I knew the Christian Bubble, but the bubble and I did not intermingle. I made a point to hang with lost people. I made sure that I would not be accused of being part of the Christian Bubble - all while maintaining staunch, religious Christianity. I spoke out against the Christian Bubble, at least amongst my small groups of friends.

Was I a good guy? Yeah, for the most part. Did I do good things? Yeah, I did. Was I in church every week? Absolutely. Christianity matters to me.
Did I reach out evangelically to the lost? Nope, not especially. Did I reach out as an individual to Christians struggling around me? Nuh uh, we'll talk about this more. Did I find deep, meaningful accountability? Nope.
(note, these questions and answers should seem familiar. Scroll up.)

I thought I was a revolutionary. Turns out I was just a rebel. I had (not) accomplished all the same things as them, but had taken pride in the fact that I wasn't immersed in their sin. I saw a group of Christians who needed direction (The Bubble) and did not a thing about it. So not only was I just like them, I was proud of it... just like them. Sin is tricky like that huh? The only difference between us was that they passively accepted their sins while I went crush and destroy on sinners. I was the same coin as them, just the other side.

The other place you really, really see this is in relationships. And by that I mean that icky boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance/married stuff. Biblically, the man is the leader and he is held accountable for the direction things go (women, if you're the leader because you're closer to Christ, either you aren't closer or you need to grow up and get a real relationship that you haven't already sabotaged with low standards). In the world, we constantly see a power struggle in this. Male is leader, female doesn't accept, female attempts a coup (sin #1). Then what happens? Many males passively accept it. They retreat and allow leadership to be taken by a supporting partner. They are diminished to a nagging post, the brunt of every joke, and years of "Yes Honeys." I can't abide by that. Unfortunately, instead of doing the right thing, I so often move into the realm of crush and destroy. You cut me down in front of my friends, I will immediately look for the most devastating thing to say that I can. 100% of the time. This is totally, unbelievably, devastatingly wrong. The heaviest forms of this show up as abuse. The others just as a crushed spirit. My reaction to sin (crush and destroy) once again falls woefully short of what we're called to as Christians.

Its funny to look at this now and to see the reality of my responses. To know that in passive acceptance of your sin you justify it away so that it isn't sin at all. So you're not a sinner. And that makes you proud, and leads to more justification. But now to know that in a crush and destroy response you point to others sins and decide that since you aren't doing that, you must not be sinning. And that makes you proud. And leads to more justification.

When we react poorly to sin. We sin. Not only that, we create a cycle of sin (there's that tricky nature of sin thing again). We create a cycle of devastation, brokenness, unhappiness.
Don't feel entitled. Don't return wrong with wrong intentionally. But don't bow down to the sin of another either. Biblically approach sin and sinner. Be level headed, be open, be honest, and draw from scripture. Confrontation is not to be avoided and violence is not to be sought after. React well to sin and we can end it where it is. React poorly, and we are destining both ourselves and another to sin again.

Honestly, there are about 3 side-blogs on this same issue that could easily run longer than this one did.
For now, I'm ok with just delving into myself (and encouraging you to do the same) and trying to improve on the big picture. I'm aware that I crush and destroy in some instances and passively accept in others. I don't want that, and if I'm aware of what I'm doing, it isn't hard to stop. As most things are - just a matter of believing what is true and seeking what is right.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Of Salvation

So, I briefly talked about this story the other day with a friend, and thought it might just be good to throw it up on here. Whatcha gonna do, right?

I guess I won’t quite start off at the beginning – but I’ll get there just as quickly as I can. Many of the powerful testimonies you’ll here involve drugs, sex, (maybe) rock ‘n’ roll, and this miraculous, love-crazed savior (which indeed he is) that dragged up the poor, overwhelmed sinner from his pit. Mine’s a bit like that – but God didn’t save me from drugs – he saved me from pride. He didn’t save me from sex either – just ignorance. He certainly didn’t save me from rock ‘n’ roll – but he saved me from the only individual who can tell me a perfect lie that I’ll always believe – myself. No fireworks, just the great heart of an unrelenting God that would never give up on me.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

I was born a child of privilege. I’ve come to accept that to be a simple, over-riding truth of my life. Not that my parents were wealthy – far from it, my needs were met and we never went hungry, but we didn’t do too much more than make ends meet either. No, when I say privilege – I mean that I had every opportunity to succeed, and very few chances to fail. My father was an elder in the church, my mother sang in the choir. Dad is one of my best friends – always has been, always will be – and I can honestly say the wisest man I know – no hyperbole, no exaggeration, and many would agree with me. Mom is an artist, a marathoner, disciplined, musical, and carried a 4.0 all the way through college – she stayed at home through my whole school career. Dad instilled in me a love of true beauty and a search for truth, mom a drive and confidence that few other people could bestow upon another. Are they perfect? Not quite – but they are far more a blessing than any person deserves or would ever think to ask for. With very few exceptions, anything good or strong in my character came directly from them, anything dark or weak – that lies solely on my shoulders, promise. So, if they were that active and involved, I’m automatically a Christian, right? Not so fast – the answer is absolutely not. I remember my childhood – praying over and over that God would save me - most nights, in fact, as my dad prayed with me. He just let it go on and on, until one day, I stopped – I was finally confident that I’d prayed it enough and I was good to go. As time went on – I lived well. I usually did the right thing, despite a penchant and talent for lying; I was the good, quiet kid who knew all the answers. I was a leader in the youth group – even in junior high – I’d been instrumental in a few other kids’ belief in Christ. Sunday school teachers were glad to have me, church leaders enjoyed visiting with me, I was “one of the most steadfast young me to grow up in the church.” And once I was old enough to feel encumbered by “the rules,” and recognize it… I was miserable.

Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I went to a tiny Christian school right up until high school. Now, depending on your background, that could lead you to believe I’m talking about a high-powered, money wielding private school. I’m not. Practically volunteer teachers, borrowed text books, a church that put us up in an old, rickety house they had on their land, and never more than 50 kids, and only about 6 in any given class. Regardless, one more situation where I was surrounded by good people who genuinely cared for me (seems to be a recurring theme). At the end of my seventh grade year, the school didn’t have enough staff to add on any eighth graders – our public junior high didn’t have many marks in its favor – and mom decided to home-school me… that poor, poor woman. Little did she know that in this home-school year, everything that I had been up to this point would come crashing down – beautiful how life works like that, isn’t it? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was miserable, depressed, sick of living by rules and regulations that meant not a thing to me. I cried most days, slammed an algebra or Spanish book into a wall some others. Convinced myself that my mother hated me – that she didn’t want me to have friends, didn’t want to let me grow up, who knows what else. But a year of this was not what anybody wanted, that much I know for sure. As time progressed, my depression deepened – everything bothered me, and perhaps more importantly – everything bothered me more than it should. Suicide was at least a weekly thought, I’ve always been a little dark, so at first it was something that had some pleasure to it – just an emotional release. But it grew. Looking back, I clearly remember a day when everything had gone badly and I wanted no part of it. I convinced myself that Mom hated me and would be happy, that Dad would be sad for a bit, but I was just another mouth to feed in the end – he’d be better off, and my little brother would never remember me except through the cold looks in my parents eyes when the crossed a particular patch of our concrete drive way below the apex of our roof line. Death was all I wanted, all I deserved.

Romans 5:8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

I bent my knees, just slightly, standing on the edge – snot dripping down my face, tears falling to the concrete – just a regular day, right? Mom walked out the door, and saw me on the roof, crying. She let me know she loved me, and told me lunch was inside whenever I was ready. I cried a bit more, climbed down and went on in – I’m not sure that she knew my intention, but she was there for a reason. School went on – I was a little less of a roller coaster, but the world isn’t that much better when it’s all dull, grey, and lifeless – so I can hardly say I’d improved. Even then though, looking back, God was beginning to call to me. I started writing songs then – which has continued until this day, in fact. I started recognizing the beauty in people, in things – which was a step up from where I’d been. I was looking forward to a retreat our youth group was going on that was coming up in April – in retrospect, I was looking forward to it with very good reason.

Romans 10:13 - Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Falls Creek – the name of the retreat – perhaps you’ve been there, who knows. My best friend’s father was speaking that year, he has a tendency to recycle sermons – I’d heard and could quote about half of the ones he was giving us at the retreat. “Sermon 4 with a twist into 7 there at the end” was the running joke for me. Yet, he is a very gifted speaker, and a very deep and intellectual Christian – despite my misgivings about his “green sermons.” Regardless, as he spoke, he eventually said something that rang true with me, something I had been patiently waiting for since that first time I’d been convinced I’d prayed enough to become a Christian. Something I’d been striving towards and fighting for without ever knowing it. In his big, excited, yelling pastoral voice, he pronounced that “Guys, if you’re a Christian, and you’re not living right, you’re going to be miserable” – it was sermon 6, not one of his overly evangelical ones, a little more geared towards discipleship. But suddenly, I realized the reality of my predicament – I was living by the rules. I should be at least somewhat happy. I was miserable. The truth finally came out – I wasn’t a Christian, it was the only solution that made sense. I was bound, gagged, and beaten by my own false belief in my Christianity. “The rules” weren’t rules at all – not to constrict as I had known them at least. The rules were freedom – they gave me the ability to do what was right, the ability to connect to my creator, the ability to finally become who I’d thought I was and been meant to be all along. My soul cried out for this, and despite all the lies I’d accepted, the truths I’d denied – the moment had come: I was called. Wanted. Loved.

Romans 10:9,10 - If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

That night, my world changed. All the things I’d used to fill the blackness inside were rendered completely and utterly irrelevant and insignificant. Grades, friends, girls, athleticism, rugged good looks – all useless and stripped bare for what they were – a poor substitute for what really mattered. Those things bring happiness – sure, but they don’t bring joy. They don’t bring the unerring knowledge that whatever happens, an infinite being cares for you. God took me in his hands that day and revolutionized me. My good days – he makes great. My mediocre days – he gives direction. My bad days – he gives purpose. One man died that all might live, and I have found my life, my true life, in him – and it is only the beginning of the story.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Of Freedom and Weakness

I'll never forget the moment that I realized that my life was in my hands, and that such an arrangement was a bad thing. I don't think this realization was my doing. I don't think I fully comprehend everything that goes into it. I just know that I am naturally pre-disposed to deciding what's mine, taking it, and messing it all up. There were all these things to do. There were all these places to be. There were all these people to know. And I was going to do, be, and know as I saw fit. I'd just finished my Masters. I was moving on and moving up. I had all these challenges to meet, and I was going to meet them.

I was going to leverage my strengths. I was going to minimize my weaknesses. I was going to put myself out there. I was going to succeed wildly at everything I'd ever dreamed. Or was I? When I look at those dreams... career, relationships, money, satisfaction, prestige, respect... they are all so little. But they were what I was good at. They were what God made me to do... weren't they? The world was mine and I was free.

But really, I wasn't. I was free like an animal in a zoo. Wandering around the artificial environment created for me. Eating the morsels fed to me by people who also once had bigger dreams. Nice to look at from outside, but just as caged as ever. Just as unfulfilled as ever. Just as short of what I was created to be as ever. I had built myself a set of goals to accomplish, and bound myself to accomplishing them. I'd let my pride hijack reality. I'd built a cage around myself, all the while thinking I was building a home. I'd tied who I was to all these things, and through that, they became bondage. They separated me from Christ. I let my pride bind my identity to them. I became what I did, and when what I did lacked, I became "what I could do if I could just catch a break." No longer was I the person who would do what was necessary. Who could take my greatest strengths and match them with others' greatest needs. All I could see was the path I'd laid out before myself. The path to 'strength.' The path to 'success.'

Every maneuver I made that I thought expressed my freedom, my ability, was just one more bar in my self-imposed cage. And the further I got from breaking that cage open, the more I resented it and fell back on myself.

When all my strength was exhausted, I found something. The truth was that all my strength was nothing. That everything I took into my hands I broke. The truth was that I had captured myself. That I had told myself what was success and what wasn't. That I would never meet the standards I'd made, and that if I were pursuing them, I'd never find the standards I truly wanted. I acknowledged that I was weak, finally, in a state that would have been unrecognizable to the heavy majority of people who know me. And when I did, the world shifted. Weakness was freedom. Not strength. Accepting who I was and who I served was freedom. Not forging my own path through the world. Accepting that my best efforts at feeble success were what was holding me back from true peace... that was freedom. When I realize that I was made as I am, strengths, weaknesses, blemishes, impurities and all to serve a purpose, and that purpose was beyond anything I'd ever imagined, no matter where it took me... that was freedom. Knowing that I wasn't responsible for making the path, just following it... that was freedom.

In all this, am I free yet? No, not completely, not even close. But I know that in Christ is freedom. I know that truth sets free. I know that if nothing I do ever mimics worldly success again, that if I lose every shred of dignity before man, but through it all I'm dancing to my Creator's music... I know that I've finally uncovered who I was meant to be. I know that I am free.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Of Redemption and Results

OK. Here's a post that will be near and dear and that I can't help but struggle with, even when I believe it's true. Our culture (species?) is obsessed with results. Investments, abdominal muscles, careers, relationships, sporting events, you name it. Look at every self help book you can find, or those little face book advertisements you see every day (and the real process to get there):
"How to make 200k a year from home" (Do 200k's worth of work a year)
"How to get ripped in 30 days" (Eat unbelievably well and work out like a freak)
"One secret that will give you a six pack" (See above and add in genetic gifting)
"How to guarantee 18% on your investment portfolio" (We already tried this. Welcome to the great recession)
Plus a billion others.

I understand it, really I do. People want to know what they are going to get out of something before they get into it... but there aren't many out there who really see that as a problem. We live in a results driven culture, and most people reading this are saying "yeah... so?" And to you I offer up this - how often do life's results really mirror life's journeys? And Christians, further, does heavenly living ever result in heaven on earth? Biblically... not so much (deaths of the disciples, anyone?)... why do we feel like it should now?

Some perfect examples of all this:
I have a masters in finance. I love the stock market. I like telling myself that I "can beat the market" - hint, so does everyone else who invests. (Shocking) Reality is this. The average mutual fund beats the market (everyone's average) by 1.4% (and charges an average yearly fee of 1.7%). Someone who runs a mutual fund is at the pinnacle of financial perfection. He's got education. He's got experience. He's got access to the finest mathematical minds and technological systems in the nation. And he'll beat a monkey with 20 darts, a wall, and every stock on an even sized piece of paper by 1.4%... before he takes his fees (the monkey won't charge). Is it a little hard for me to believe I can't beat the average? Yeah. But that said... smarter guys than me don't... and yet...

Another example:
Poker. I play it. I love it. I hate it. Nothing hurts worse than having a guy statistically dominated and then... boom, he catches a card to put you down. As he takes your money with that smug smile, you know a few things. 1) On average, if he continues to play like that, you'll take his money 2) This time, he took yours 3) When he rubs it in your face and you say "you got the result you wanted, but you took the wrong process" he'll never get it. Don't be upset though... on average, you'll take his money - good results don't justify bad process.

We'll get into that one.

"It's all about the journey, not the destination, for each push isn't a means to an end, but a unique event within itself"

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. Skateboarder. Rich and famous (oddly enough). Tatted up. When asked why skateboarding matters so much to him, this is his answer. He gets it. I'm sure in front of an ESPN camera crew that comes off a little different (new agey and slightly crazed) than in print, but I vote keeper.

How many times in life are we victims? Why me God? What did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening? Why are you so cruel? We look at what we view as results through our own selfish lenses and judge what's happening to us based on that.
"Well when God closes one door, he opens another" - Yeah, but what if it's not one you'd prefer to go through? What if it's the door where you get stoned to death? What if it's the door where you cope with the loss of a loved one? What if it's the door where you go unemployed and hungry? When you say that, is that the door you're thinking about, or are you thinking about the door that He is (surely) destined to open to lead you to fields of earthly prosperity and abundance? Do you judge the Master by the door, or the door by the Master? The most painful stories imaginable are the most potent testimonies of who and why God is.

Christianity has no place for those of us who judge by results. Christianity destines you for pain, suffering, and humiliation. And through all that, it destines you for redemption. Not the kind of redemption we see when a mutual fund loses 20% one year and makes 30% the next. The kind where you are crushed. Over and over. Until all that is left is joy and complete faith and comfort in a God who saves. What more could I ever want than that? This earth we live in is not about results. It's about process. It's about stripping away everything that you think you are, and finding that without all that garbage, you're whole, free, redeemed. For that, forget your results. Put me through the fire.

Do we as Christians get this? Do I get this? When we look at Jesus, do we remember he died on a cross? Yeah. So? Thousands of people died on a cross. Or do we remember that he was raised from the dead? Yeah. So? A couple people were raised from the dead and they didn't make one lick of difference in my eternal being. Or do we remember a process - the process of an innocent man dying for our redemption? Results based faith will leave you with a weak, little God and a weak, little faith. Give. Fight. Stand. Obey. Feel. Breathe. Love. Be real. Fight through the process of redemption. And eventually, whether rich or poor, whole or broken, pure or scarred, you'll find God. And it will all be worth it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Of What I've Got

It has become increasingly obvious to me that we, as Christians, fall wildly short of everything we want, and claim to be. And it's not because we're bad people. It's not because we generically "suck" (though I am pretty sure we usually do). It's because we have no concept of the basic premise of economics. For those of us who weren't economics grads (and I don't blame you) economics is the study of the way we meet our unlimited wants with our limited resources. How does this translate to a spiritual world? How does this mesh with anything that has to do with Christianity? How does this work outside of "widgets" and elasticity? Jesus understood it - so should we.

So, a little more on economics, then we'll launch into this. The entire purpose of economics is figuring out what humans want, what it will take to give them what they want, and what it will cost. It's the soft science of meeting needs (starting to tip you off a bit yet?). The principles are real hard on a graph, but real easy if you common sense it. There is stuff out there, people want it, so depending on how much there is, and how much people want it (supply and demand, if you were wondering) a price (equilibrium) is found that keeps supply and demand in balance. At this point - the rest is elementary. The people with the most resources get the goods.

There you go - go take an economics class and tell me it ain't so :-p

Now lets zoom out, and look at this thing from 30,000 feet. We live in a world with full of people with desperate needs. They're trapped in poverty. They're starving. They live in Haiti. They need a friend. They've been abused. They're hurting. They need a place to stay. They need a hug. This world has way more than just the economic theory of unlimited wants - it's got the spiritual reality of unlimited needs.

But here is where Christianity differs from economics - at least in theory. In economics, the one with the resources gets the goods. In Christianity, the one with the resources gives the goods. According to the great commission - it's our job to meet those needs. Know Christ and make Him known. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Our neighbors are hungry, broken, and afraid... and we're not - so lets get busy, shall we? That much we've all heard before. It's nothing overly new (2000 years old or so) but we don't do it. So firstly - be aware that we're blatantly missing out on the whole point of our existence more times than not. But beyond that, we are completely missing another piece to this puzzle.

When you watch the life of Christ, there is something that (from an economic stand point) should stand out to each and every one of us, but very few of us catch it. We feel we're doing well when we use our most plentiful resource to meet needs (be that money, emotions, time, service). Jesus perpetually used every potential resource he had available to him to further the gospel. The man had no money. He was constantly on the move. He was constantly connecting with people (which frankly, is exhausting). He had no home. Every single resource he had was used to meet the needs of other people. I'll be honest. I tend to be impressed with us as Christians when we use *one* of our resources to meet the needs of others. You see a very wealthy person giving to the poor and you say "yeah, that's awesome" And it is... but there's so much more. You see the person who connects, empathizes, and understands people out touching lives in small groups, or counseling with kids and we say "yeah, that's good" and it is... I think you get the point.

It's great that I go and use one or two of my talents or abilities to reach people, and to meet needs. But Christianity is so much more than that. It's about using everything we have to do something lasting - expand the kingdom of Christ. So be aware. Christianity goes beyond economics. We are not asked to give just out of our extra. We're called to give out of our being. We so often look at Christianity from the supply side - we meet needs that we can meet well naturally. Remember to look at it from the demand side - and meet needs whenever the opportunity arises. Use every resource - for no other reason than every resource was used for you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Of Thanks

I've long believed that forgiveness is one of the most desirable qualities a human being can have. Whether in a friend, a wife, a parent, or whatever other crazy relationships we dream up, forgiveness just matters. Of course, a few of us just nod our heads at this concept, say "oh yeah, of course it is" but rarely do we look at the assumptions, the roots, the truth behind the thought. The reality of forgiveness is this - nothing demonstrates mercy and grace quite like it. I probably haven't rocked any worlds yet, but my most recent realizations have been tied to this concept:

Forgiveness is what you do when you are owed everything and freely accept nothing.

Consider all our petty issues as human beings. I'm frustrated with my job while children in Africa starve to death in numbers that I can't count every day. Girls are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in third world countries, and I am terribly concerned about how the lady behind my house parks her car so that I have to orchestrate an 18 point turn that begins with me backing out of the garage at a 35 degree angle to go grab some ice cream. We've all been guilted like this before, right? I have, and so have you... but try this one on for size, it might just really hit home.

How many times do we sacrifice an evening, a week, a friendship, over something that really didn't matter? I get an angry phone call at work and my day is ruined. I feel wronged by my friend so I cut them out. I feel like that guy who cut me off is an absolute jerk. We're all so entitled... so quick to anger. And we fail to realize that whether we are owed or not, our reaction should be one of grace, and in it strength. When we fail to forgive we admit that the size of our perceived offense is so much greater than us that we do not have the power to forgive it. I guess my reminder here is to remember - what really matters? Are you willing to sacrifice a relationship (friendship, marriage, or otherwise) so that you can let someone else know you were wronged? How many of the things in life that we feel are so heinous have we forgotten about within a week? (most) a month? (almost all) a year? (all). Why on earth would we be willing to sacrifice a lifetime of togetherness for something so trivial...

Because we don't have a proper understanding of our rights, our belongings, or what we deserve. All this talk of forgiveness leads to my real goal, given the season - Thanks. When we rid ourselves of our sense of entitlement, and pride, we allow ourselves a clear picture of what we're owed so that we can forgive, and what we have been given so that we can be thankful. Tonight at dinner I began mulling this concept when we all went around a table and stated what we were thankful for... I knew my answer was truly everything, but had no idea how to condense it into a sound byte... so here I am, correcting my earlier clumsiness. When I realize that I am owed nothing, that I exist for the purpose of expressing Christ, that come better or worse, I serve a good God... then I can be thankful.

I'm about to get a little sappy, I apologize. Skip a paragraph if you'd like - the next one will be back on task. I thank God for the people he has put in my life and I thank them for their grace, mercy, and strength. I have a dear group of friends that cares about me, puts up with me, and grows me for no other reason than it is at the core of their existence to. I have dear parents who would (and probably have) sacrificed anything that needed to be sacrificed for me. I have a life that anyone who wasn't self-absorbed would dream of, and sometimes I take it absolutely for granted - I care about you guys, and I am unbelievably thankful that you care about me too.

When we realize how little we've earned and how much we've been given... When we see the world as it really is, and see the people who care about us as they really are... When we see how much fortune has affected the good things in us as opposed to our own self gratifying greatness... suddenly the world changes. Suddenly we become powerful - because we are greater than the sins committed against us. We aren't victims any more, we aren't helpless any more, we aren't beggars any more. We give freely, and in that have power because our hand is never forced. Be truly forgiving this year. Be truly gracious. Be truly merciful. And, as the season so often reminds us, be truly thankful.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Nothing this week. Nothing at all. Ideas - but nothing I feel the need to post...

When this week is over though, there WILL be workouts of the week. posted. boom.

And there will be a post, a real one :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Of a Good God and All the Time in the World

Of a Good God and All the Time in the World
Workout of the week: None.
People surprised by this: None.


I'm pretty hopeful this week, so it's probably just going to be reflected here - no big surprises. The title of this one really says almost all I have to say, but I'll dig into it anyway because finding the assumptions that you have to buy into so that you can accept something is just as much fun as the something itself.

May 2008.
If you looked at me or my life, it was very clear where everything was going. I'll throw out the bullet list for those that didn't know me, or those that don't know me as well as they might. We won't go into the why's or any of that too much, I'll just present the facts so we can move on.

Dating Relationship
Present (at that time): Dating one of the best girls I've met, end of story. Had been for 2 years.
Predicted Future: Engagement a couple months down the road.
Reality: Broken up within 3 months.

Present (at that time): Just finished the Masters in Finance, held a pretty darn strong GPA, life is smooth.
Predicted future: Easy entry into the job market in a Dallas investment fund as an analyst.
Reality: Unemployed 9 months. Need experience.

Present (at that time): Had several offers and interviews on the table. A couple for analyst positions, a couple on the "retail" side of finance. Turned down a "retail" side position, balked at an analyst spot that would have been a good one to have due to qualms with the people involved and another due to its physical location, still had several fairly strong connections that could probably do me a favor.
Predicted future: Good paying job doing what I loved, even if I didn't make as much money as I wanted, I'd be in a good spot, no doubt.
Reality: Unemployed 9 months. Due to flood of people being let go every entry level spot suddenly required 2-5 years experience. Interviewed with prior connections on days when they lost 100 million plus dollars on a couple occasions. Told I was too ambitious for a couple spots I would have *happily* taken. Living off limited college savings.

Present (at that time... and still... sort of): Owned a house in Lubbock.
Predicted future: Sell the house for a pretty good chunk of change.
Reality: Several people interested... couldn't get loans. Still have the house - renting it out which is nice, but it will be in the way before long of me buying a house in Dallas :-p

Living situation
Present (at the time): Moving here with one of my best friends, share a room in an apartment with another roommate for 3 months.
Predicted future: Buy a house, move there, cycle roommates through, do whatever
Reality: Shared a room with said friend for 10 months. Enough said.

So - there's a quick overview of what brought me to this... :)
The quick reality in all of that is this. Over time I had allowed these things to really take precedence in my life - God was welcome to do as he wished, as long as my plans remained the same. The more money I made, the more I planned to give. The quicker I got married, the better the marriage would surely be. All things were to God's glory... but only after they were to my glory. Honor and obedience that were rightfully God's had been wooed away from him through manipulation and given to another. My salvation with God was his constant beckoning - Him saying "I love you, wake up" over and over, showing the mercy He's so well known for. My recent sanctification was God's justice... the crushing of everything I continued to choose over him. When I wouldn't choose right, choices quickly (and violently) disappeared. All this to say - I was broken. In each of those bullets above is a story that reveals my supreme faults and leads to some eventual growth but we'll stick to the big picture today.

Throughout all this, I said the right things. I had brief moments of light and clarity in a dark time, I'll say that, but the time was no less dark. Despite the fact that I said the right things, and semi-believed them, they never hit home.

One thing that constantly came out of my mouth was this - "I just feel like God's got great things for me, and even if He doesn't, I'm ok" This quote really was my mantra. I knew it was truth whether it connected with my real feelings or not - so it stuck. As this all went on I developed what I've termed the "reality plus" syndrome. I've always been pretty confident, one of my biggest struggles is pride, but at this point, everything I had was stripped away... I should have had nothing to be proud of. Instead of clinging to the only thing that gave me identity in life, I clung to myself. Sure, I'm good at a nice variety of things, but I wanted everyone to know just how good I was - it wasn't a false confidence (as much as any confidence not found in God can be real anyway) - it was "reality... plus" (thus the name). This was my defense mechanism. I'd found my identity in these things so long that when I was left with nothing, I realized my foundation was never built on something permanent - that I had no hope, no confidence, no identity. Again - that's another infinitely long story that I'm just touching on here, but some day later we'll get into it.

All this leads to a reality that I find more freeing than I ever imagined it would be. When things were going badly, when everything I found my identity in was stripped away, I found truth.

I serve a God that is good. Above all else. He's not good like I'm good (where we take the things in our life that are good and magnify them) he is the real, powerful, embodiment of good. He's not only greater than - He's other than. He is good - In and of itself - so lets remember here, my God is good.

The second truth was that with God, I have all the time in the world. When everything's going wrong. When all the luxuries I want are gone. When I've lost hope. When I won't make it til tomorrow... I've got all the time in the world. Because all things work for my good. Come what may - success or failure, riches or poverty, earthly fulfillment or daily toil, if my focus is on the only thing that matters (God) - none of my joy or despair is derived from these things. Do they make me happy or sad? Sure, a bit. But they can never touch my core because the truth is that at my core, they don't matter and in time, I'll just grow closer to the only one who matters as long as that's my focus.

Further on this, there is so much of a push to find your career, get married, buy a house, have kids, settle down, and all that - the truth is, I have all the time in the world. Does the universe change if I start my investment fund job at 26 instead of 23? No... no it doesn't. What about if my house doesn't sell for another 2 years? Nope. What about if (God forbid) I'm not married by 28? No - it just provides a longer season where I have more opportunity and less to worry about in going *where ever* I'm sent. So not only do I have all the time in the world from a spiritual perspective - the reality is... I have all the time in the world on every level... Spiritual, emotional, social, or otherwise.

So... all that to say this...
I serve a good God and We've got all the time in the world.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Of God's Mercies and My Troubles

A) Work out of the day (week?) - None. ;)

I've begun to realize that an enormous part of saving faith is that I have the assurance that I will still have faith tomorrow. It's a bit of a weird concept the more I think about it - I won't lie.

There are those days when the only thought that prevails on your mind is "I can't do this. I absolutely can not do this anymore. This is awful." Insert some stronger language if you'd like (most of my days like that I do, but usually only in my head :-p) and then repeat it over and over throughout the day. This thought has bludgeoned me at work, it's bludgeoned me in dating relationships, it's bludgeoned me in roommate situations, it's bludgeoned me in friendships, and it's bludgeoned me about my Dallas Cowboy fan-ship (but we won't get into that.)

I'm not sure if it has a set schedule, or if something triggers it, but some days I just do not have what it takes to accept my current position in life and all I have to say to God, myself, or anyone who will listen is "I can't do this any more, I have to find something else."

So - there we have it, the set up. Sometimes we have days where we all we can do is say "I can't do this one more day." Now, why?

One caveat I'll make here is that a while ago I was expressing such a situation to my father and he said "You know, some days will be like that, some times it is just a dry season and you just have to ask yourself - 'did anything change between yesterday (or whatever time you were ok) and today? Is this a real disgruntlement or just a temporary shift in my feelings'" - That's one of the best pieces of advice I have received on the issue, bar none. Monday, I'm fine at work. Tuesday I do the same thing I did Monday but my loathing for it has increased exponentially - nothing has changed other than that Tuesday I've decided things are hopeless. Come Wednesday, I all too often find that I am just fine again. So - point 1 - ask yourself what changed. If the answer is nothing... it's one of those days :-p

Secondarily, and back to the main point. I think this issue stems from the limitations and rules we put on our faith and God's grace. We feel like our reservoir of strength won't last one more day. Again - here's the twist... It won't. We try to mentally combat tomorrow's troubles with today's strength, even though that matches nothing about the way God moves through his Word or his people.

Deuteronomy 33 - "As your days are, so shall your strength be"
Lamentations 3 - "The lord's lovingkindess never fails, his mercies are new every morning, great is your faithfulness"
The story of the manna in the wilderness is another real fun place to look. Or about half of what Paul says in the new testament.

God's allotment of mercy today will NOT be big enough for tomorrow's troubles - but it will always be enough for today's. Our God is perpetually giving us just what we need and forcing a reliance on him. That's the story of salvation and it's the story of sanctification as well. When we feel like the strength given us for the day won't last til tomorrow... we're right. Just like the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness - it will feed us today, and when tomorrow comes it will be gone - there was only dependence for them while they were in the desert, no storing up.

How does all this tie back into my original point that the assurance of faith tomorrow is a huge part of faith today? One of God's greatest mercies is that in that portion of mercy he gives us each day is the key to surviving the next. The faith that when tomorrow does come, and all its troubles with it, God's mercies come as well. At the end of the day, when I know that my strength is at an end, my despair only arises because I haven't used the last God-given resource for that day. The full knowledge that tomorrow God's mercy will be there once again, and will once again match my troubles. How tight is that? How often do I forget that? A huge part of saving faith is the assurance that I can once again have faith tomorrow. So when you have one of those days, try to remember that when troubles rise, mercy comes and that God's mercy today will cover my troubles. If you can't do it again on the strength given you today - don't fear... you won't have to.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Of Desire and Efficiency

Ok, so a week ago (yes, i know i promised to do better, get accustomed to blogging failure from me.) at the end of my post I said I hoped to touch on a disturbing trend amongst Christian males in the boy meets girl realm of dating... well here we go.

The men of our generation (and maybe every generation) have been bred to believe that results are almost all that matters. Results, I think, can be broken down into two chunks - what you got, and how you got it - or i might also call it getting what you want, and getting it as easily as possible. This has led to a bizarre form of results driven dating that is crippling the process of building real and meaningful relationships from both sides.

So lets start off with a little example from my life that I think everyone can probably understand and we'll go from there. I'm pretty good at math, let me just go ahead and tell you now, it will be important to the rest of this. Business calculus, Texas Tech. After the first class period I looked at the syllabus and said to myself "self, I'm pretty sure you can do all that, I think you should just show up for the tests and have at it" so I did. And you know what? I made an easy A in the class. From the outside, this sounds like a wonderful thing - but lets just take a quick look at some of the roots that go into it. In my actions I didn't demonstrate that my goal was to learn, to improve, or to gain applicable knowledge - I demonstrated that all I wanted was a grade and to move on. I slipped into results-driven class time. Do I feel bothered by that? No, but it's a really clear microcosm of my life at the time - and a lot of guys I see around me. We get we want (the grade) as easily as possible (the skipping) and move on as though it were a success.

Males are programmed to get what we want. Now, the skeptical girl (or guy) says "oh, we all know what guys want. Guys want to get some" But lets take a quick step off of that train for just a moment and look a little broader. Again, I'll probably just use myself as a focus point and suggest it applies to *most* males. Good Christian guys are looking for good christian girls. Standard practice. But I'd suggest there is an alarming lack of Christian male leadership in the church. Do I know several strong, firece, men of God? Sure. But they are in the vast minority. The majority of guys at Christian events are at best "neat christian guys" - either they have the heart, but a spirit of timidity, or they spiritually coast while they look good and do just enough to attract the Christian girls they "need" to - I frequently land in that second column so that's where this piece is going. I've always thought of it as guys who are pretending to be David (the Psalmist. Not anyone we know) but don't have the depth... or the courage... or the self-awareness... or the humility... you get the point.

Why have we developed this? For me, I know I want to marry a good (great) Christian girl. And, in an unexpected twist, that's exactly the issue here - I know you didn't see this moment coming. Issue number one is that what guys want is the wrong thing - I'm not sure if it's because of a perceived social pressure, stupidity, or that's just how humanity operates (a mix thereof). I want to marry a good Christian girl (make the grade) instead of build something that is really God-focused or truly God-honoring (learning the subject) so I do what it takes to date a good Christian girl - which due to the lack of competition on a spiritual plane, is really not much, pretty frequently. I go to church, I carry a Bible, a hold pseudo-spiritual conversations (even though I'd rather be proclaiming my own merits, I know this is a necessary step in the 'getting what I want' process), and eventually, I get a date, a girlfriend, a fiancee, and a marriage built on smoke and mirrors. Our issue is that we've lost our focus on being whole, and on being comfortable with who we are in God first, and that instead we've focused on things God can give us as the final goal. We want to be married to someone worth marrying, instead of being in a relationship that is undeniably beautiful in all capacities - spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, whatever-else-ical. So in lieu of doing what it takes to be whole, and to have what we really want, we skate our way through, avoid the obstacles that make us strong and real, and we accept a dim shadow of the glorious relationship that God has made available to us. Guys - figure out what you *really* want and then *really* pursue it. No more just trying to look good. No more feeling like you are good (because you refuse to allow yourself to be challenged). No more pursuing shadows when reality is right there. No more games. Find completeness, find what God really intended for you, and find something beautiful - it's the only thing worth having anyway. Girls - watch closely, push hard, and don't compromise. It doesn't take long to spot a fraud (wouldn't take too many hard questions to expose me most days of the week) and when you do - remember what they (we... I) are.