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.