Worst Dad

Kesleigh told me I was her “Worst Dad.” She went on to explain that her other dad was God. I guess that means I’m OK with being her “worst dad.” Maybe that should even be my goal? Keep propping up God and showing her how great He is so that I sort of fade into the background of her life. Wow….it’s hard to say that, but that’s truly what I want. I want her to be so in love with Him that I’m secondary. I want her to know that in Him, life goes on and she can find everything she needs with or without me.

Presence

The word “love” has been hijacked by our culture. It’s misused all the time. We “love” certain foods and as culture defines it, “love” changes with our emotions. This is why divorce is accepted and rampant. Even with all the talk about it and obsession with it, we don’t know what “love” is.

When Jesus left the earth, it was his “presence” that He expressed to us, not his love. I wonder, “Is presence the full expression of love? Jesus presence on the cross in our place – His presence in our sin.” The people who have the strongest marriages our our world are those who have been “present” with each other the longest. When my own marriage is at it’s best, it’s when we are fully “present” with each other. The closest relationships I have in this world are those people who I have been with the most – That includes both family and friends. Maybe “presence” is more important than love? (Probably not, but considering the way our culture has defined love, maybe this is a better way to think about it?)

I wonder what our world would be like if we started valuing “presence?” Would our marriages last longer? Would we put down our cell phones more and be with the ones we’re with?

In times of grief, Jewish people “sit shiva.” They just make themselves present with those who are mourning. They aren’t expected to say anything or do anything – simply “be” with each other. This is an example of valuing “presence.”

In his story “The Places Outside the Maps,” Doug McKelvey speaks of a man who has gone through many struggles and says of him, “It had never been answers he had sought in his sufferings, but presence, and that presence was here and was itself the thing that had always stood – from the foundations of the world and even before and even after – in the place that answers could not. Before the questions had been asked, the presence had already been given.”

I’m really just asking questions today. This idea was thought provoking for me.

What do you guys think?

Better to Give?

“It is more blessed to give than receive.” These are words that we hear often during the Christmas season. However, whenever I hear it, I usually have this little “cringy” sort of thing in the back of my neck. (No. “Cringy” isn’t a word, but it’s the perfect adjective for my feeling.) Here’s why I feel this thing:

James 1:16-17a – “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

Ultimately, Jesus is the only giver. We can’t be givers ourselves, unless we have received from Him first. We must first be receivers before we can become givers. Anything I can give to someone else, well…anything that’s worth giving, in some way first came from Jesus himself. Maybe this is also part of why He made this statement. He understood that anyone who is a giver has already received from Him. We become “more blessed” when it all comes full circle and we begin to reflect who He is as the giver.

Psalm 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

If we are in Christ, we are given all that we need. There’s nothing we need that He will not provide. This is the meaning of the phrase “shall not want.” It means He will provide and we can live satisfied and confident that we will be given all that we truly need. As people who have all that we need, we are in the perfect position to share. . . to give. When we realize that most of our stuff is just stuff and the things we truly need can not be taken away, it becomes much easier to give. Not only is it easier to give, but giving actually becomes a natural expression of the love we have for others. We also begin to reflect the character of Christ to others as well. At that point, we also become more grateful to Christ for all that we have been given and ultimately, we worship and glorify Him. 

 

So, I’m in agreement with Jesus. “It is more blessed to give than receive.” But I’d like to point out to the world that we can’t give until we have first become receivers of the greatest gift in the world – Salvation in Jesus Christ. That alone is the greatest blessing, but we become EVEN MORE blessed when we begin giving to others out of this abundance. Our primary position is one of “receiver” and then our goal should be to become a “giver.” Or maybe the better way to say it is that our primary position should be to “give” good gifts understanding that the only way to do that is to receive from Christ first?

What do you guys think?

 

PS – I don’t think this has any real bearing on my previous thoughts, but it’s interesting to me that these words of Jesus (“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”) are not recorded in the Gospels. They are recounted by Paul (Acts 20:35) as he speaks to the Ephesian elders. There are many things that Jesus said which are not recorded in the Gospels themselves, but this is the only one which is referred to by Scripture itself.

 

 

Snitches

Photo May 28, 9 02 17 PMStudent: “Snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches Mr Corn….and I ain’t no snitch.” 

The phrase just hung in the air and the class was silent. What should I say? If no one in the class comes clean, then someone got away with it. This is the culture of my school, and I suspect it’s everywhere.

What I wanted to say is, “You say you’re not a snitch, but maybe you should be. What you’re saying to me is that you’re not brave enough to stand up and do is what is right. What you’re saying is that you are happy to let your friend go down a dangerous path. What you’re saying is that you think he’ll cover for you later if you cover for him now. This is not love for your friend. It’s selfishness on your part. Love would want what is ultimately the best for your friend and that includes consequences which will allow him to grow and learn from his poor choices. What you’re saying is that you don’t care enough about society and the world around you to do something about a wrong. You’re saying that you’re OK with a steady decline in the morals of our community. ‘Cause if you let him get away with it, and he lets you get away with it, eventually someone else is gonna get away with more and maybe even against you. If it continues, your children will grow up in a world where no one ever tells and everyone gets away with everything. Somehow I think, if you were the victim, you might not be saying “Snitches wind up in ditches.” You might find yourself saying, “Someone man up and do the right thing. We need justice here.” This no-snitch culture is ultimately hurting us. It’s a fast-food/I-want-it-now attitude that will plague our future. Yes, now we can get away with it, but as we do we are unconsciously telling others they can too. This creates a downward spiral of the moral fabric that guides everyone around us and will lead to our demise.

We need heroes. Heroes are courageous and self-sacrificing. They do the right thing even if it’s scary – even if it costs them something. Snitches can be heroes, and yes, maybe some of them wind up in ditches, but that doesn’t change their hero status. It only makes them bigger heroes who were willing to pay the price for what is right.

What? Pay the price? Be the hero in the ditch? It seems that our culture believes the bullies’ fear tactics have won the battle and convinced everyone that not saying anything is okay. Is there another way? I have had students who anonymously let me know what’s going on or speak without saying a word. Sometimes a look is all it takes. As a teacher, this helps me know what happened, but it doesn’t help me with addressing the situation ’cause there is no proof – sort of like inadmissible evidence. (Unless of course, the anonymous student is willing to give an official statement to an administrator while still remaining anonymous to the perpetrator.) Ultimately, I guess I’m back to heroes. We need heroes who are willing to do the right thing no matter what. 

OK – So now you know how I feel…….but what about “Tattling?” Is that the same thing? As a parent I teach my kids not to tattle every little detail ’cause I want them to learn how to “handle” some situations on their own. Part of learning how to navigate this world includes “figuring it out,” working with others, compromising, sacrificing, and sometimes it means learning how to just “deal with it.” Do I want them trying to punish the other one by hitting them? No! Of course not. But these are difficult things to navigate for a child’s mind. “How much does daddy want me to handle on my own? Where is the line?” If my child is being abused or has been with a friend who likes to play with daddy’s gun, I want him to tattle. I need him to be a snitch.

I saw a video this afternoon where someone explained to children that we never “tattle,” but it’s good to “report” something. They went on to describe reporting as an issue where someone is endangered or unsafe. This might be a helpful distinction but I haven’t had time to think through it too much. There are lots of big questions here. And what about the “lying snitches” that wrongfully accuse or implicate an innocent? So what do you guys think? I looked at over 700 images on google and couldn’t find anything speaking in a positive way about snitching. Am I way off in my thinking here? As a parent, am I creating a “no-snitch culture” by telling my kids not to tattle? Is this leading to the demoralization of our culture?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke

 

Lowering the Bar

I was inspired by a friend (Denice Lambert) who posted this on facebook:

J: What do you want these boys to wear?
Me: They already dressed themselves. They sort of match and their clothes don’t have any holes or stains.
J: So those are the standards now?
Me: Yep.

Lowering the bar might be the most Godly thing you can do. (as long as it’s the right bar/standard) Lowering one bar is sometimes essential in order to raise another.

One simple example: Our house doesn’t always have to be spotless. When visitors drop in, it’s highly unlikely that they will find an OCD dream. Most of the time, we have shoes piled in one corner of the room and there might be clothes folded on the couch or backpacks opened with school supplies falling out onto the floor. It’s “lived in.” When I come home from work, I could focus my attention on cleaning up the place, or I could go outside and play with my kids. Some of you may disagree, but my calculations say that time with my children is more important. By lowering the “clean house” bar, I can raise the bar for my relationships. (Let me also say, that this one with my personality is easy for me to lower. My beautiful bride, who is usually correct, would like for me to pick this bar up off the floor a bit more.)

By choosing a specific bar to lower, we can focus on those things which are more important. By lowering one bar we might also grant permission to others to do the same. Using my previous example….maybe my wife only feels like the house has to be clean because her other friends have raised this bar…because our culture has said this is the “norm.”

By continuing to follow our cultural standards to always raise the bar, we perpetuate the myth that we can have it ALL together. It’s simply not true. We can play this game and mask the fact that we are not perfect, but that doesn’t make us perfect. In reality this game, forces us to neglect some other area in our life – quite possibly an area which is ultimately more important. Also, by continuing to raise all the bars, we overload ourselves with unreal expectations. When we fail and these expectations aren’t met, we feel an unnecessary sense of guilt.

When I attended CBS (College of Biblical Studies) they used a system called “Contract Grading.” They set a standard of a specific grouping of assignments and explained that if the student did each assignment successfully, he would receive an “A.” A smaller subset of those assignments would receive a “B” and an even smaller set would receive a “C.” They did not put pressure on students to work for the “A” all the time, and even explained that they understood that each of us had a life outside of school. They said that it might even be “sinful” to get an “A” in the class if it took us away from something that might be more important. I LOVED this approach and was set free emotionally to put as much or as little into each class as I felt like God would want me to do. These teachers communicated a trust in our own judgement and yet still held us to a standard that would stretch each of us. They gave us the option to “lower the bar.”

What bars/standards consume your time and drain your energy? Are they getting in the way of more important bars? Is someone else’s high bar making you feel inadequate? If so, evaluate the bar, is it important or will you choose to keep it low and focus elsewhere?

Prayer:   LORD, Help me to see which bars I need to lower and which ones I should raise. Give me discernment. Lead me to a schedule that will allow me to focus on the standards which you think are important and whittle away those which are not. AMEN.

rePost – Shepherds

shepherd-edit
A shepherd pic I took from our bus when I was in Israel.

OK – What are shepherds? Well, they’re the guys who watched the sheep. Many times in ancient Jewish culture they were young boys, but sometimes older guys did it too. They were responsible for moving the sheep from one field to the next so they could get plenty to eat and safe water to drink. They also protected the sheep from predators and would leave the group in order to search for a lost sheep. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice. With a few shepherds and their sheep all intermingled, the shepherd could call his sheep and only those who were his would follow. Shepherds led a humble life – probably a bit of a lonely life too out in the fields with nothing but sheep (and God) to talk to all day. This sets the scene for what we’re about to read. A group of shepherds were out in a field near Bethlehem one night when according the Message paraphrase of Luke 2:8-20:

They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.  This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”

They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Now consider this: These particular shepherds are famous. Think about it: Shepherds were humble nobodys and social outcasts in their own culture, but here we are talking about them 2000 years later. What did they do that made them different?

1. They listened to God. (vs 15)

When the angel appeared that night in the field, there were lots of voices competing for their attention: 1) The voice of Doubt saying “You must be hallucinating. It was something you ate.” 2) The voice of Duty “You can’t go into Bethlehem. You’re responsible for these sheep.” 3) The voice of Laziness “You’re tired. It’s been a long day. Just stay here and rest.”

2. They ran to Jesus. (vs 16)

Once they decided they were going to listen to God, they had a sense of urgency. They didn’t waste time. They allowed their own Godly curiosity to dictate their pace. (When I’ve preached this message, I use the scene from “When Harry Met Sally” where Harry runs to the Christmas Party to talk to Sally. At one point he uses the line ” When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” I think that quote is appropriate for the shepherds too.)

3. They told everyone about Jesus. (vs 17-18)

When they had seen Jesus, they didn’t keep it to themselves. News spread quickly ’cause they were so excited. Matthew 12:34 says “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The shepherds couldn’t contain themselves. Much like the news of a woman’s engagement. Sometimes she doesn’t even get to tell everyone, ’cause the news spreads so fast that people hear before she can get to them. Also, Remember, the angel had told them that this news was for “all people,” and so they were just doing their part.

4. They worshiped Jesus. (vs 20)

The shepherds worshiped with their mouths, but also with their lives as they told others and spread the news of Jesus.

I don’t know if it’s important to have people talking about us 2000 years later, but these shepherds stand out among all the other shepherds of the world because they reacted to Jesus in these ways. How would our lives be different if we did too? Would we stand out from the rest of the world if we truly listened to God, felt an urgency to be with Him, told others about Him, and worshiped Him? I think so and I pray that my life will reflect the attitudes and actions of these shepherd nobodys.

Other interesting Stuff:

It is very possible that these Bethlehem shepherds were watching over the temple flock – taking care of the sacrificial lambs. I think it’s cool that some of the first to see the true Lamb of God were the humble folks who took care of the sacrificial lambs from the temple.

Note that when angels appear, they aren’t greeted as if they are cute little flying cupids. They are feared. The first thing out of an angel’s mouth is almost always, “Do not be afraid.”

The fact that God chose to send the angel to the shepherds spoke volumes. Shepherds were regarded as unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in courts (Morris), and so God chose to use them in spite of that reputation. Notice in verse 18 that when the people heard what they had to say, they were amazed. I think it’s interesting that they believed these unreliable shepherds enough to be amazed!

Notice the angelic glory in comparison the the humble Jesus who created the angels.

In ancient Jewish culture, when a boy was born, local musicians congregated at his home to greet him with music. (Daily Study Bible) Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angelic choir had to take the place of the local musicians.

The swaddling clothes was normal, but if the angel hadn’t told them to look for Jesus in a manger (feeding trough) they would never have believed it. Calvin said, “This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude?”

Check out what Calvin says about the shepherds “glorifying and praising God” in verse 20. “If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God?”

 

Misconceptions:

Most scholars agree that the time of Jesus’ birth was probably not Dec 25th. In his commentary, Adam Clarke suggests a fall time frame due to the fact that the sheep were in the fields at night.

Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
shepherds-field-with-shepherd
Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
A Manger was a stone feeding trough for animals, rather than the wood/hay centerpiece in most Nativity scenes.
A Manger was a stone feeding trough for animals, rather than the wood/hay centerpiece in most Nativity scenes.

A Perfect Act of Love

Self-Love (1)2If I ever do a perfect act of love, I’ll probably be proud of it, and then it won’t be a perfect act anymore. Maybe if I die in the midst of performing this act, I could do it.” – man on radio (wish I knew who he was)

When I heard it, this idea struck me. Even my best efforts are littered with selfishness and pride. My “wants” show up in the most unlikely of places – even when I “serve,” I want to be recognized – or I want someone else to take notice and look at me with more admiration, etc. My service serves myself. I’m sinful. Very sinful.

Scripture addresses this too.

Isaiah 64:6 – “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

Romans 7:21-25 – “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

So here’s the question: How can I get rid of this? How can I serve selflessly? Of course the only REAL answer is Jesus. He alone has done a “perfect act of love” – the cross. He alone is perfect, and so all of His acts were perfect. Ours are NOT. Nor will they ever be. Our acts of service and sacrifice are always going to be tainted with at least a little bit of selfishness. We are sinners, but because of His “perfect act of love” (the cross), we can receive forgiveness and will be made holy. Our selfishness is forgiven and covered by His blood.

A perfect act of love? This is not a goal for us to attain, but a grace that Jesus has offered to us.

Confess with Your Life

life speak“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and you will be saved……” Romans 10:9

Christians have used this verse over the years to get people “saved.” Unfortunately, I feel like some have missed the point. It’s not just the confession with the mouth that saves. Words are not enough. There’s more to it than that. It is the faith which accompanies these words that brings salvation. In it’s context, Paul wrote this verse to Romans, who could be killed for saying these kinds of things. They were coming up against the political systems in their culture and this statement would have been considered treason. They were risking their lives to make this confession. The verbal confession was not just a statement. It would have been attached to the rest of their lives. Anyone who made such a claim carried a faith which was expressing itself, not just with words but with a willingness to risk their very lives for this belief. Jesus is LORD.

We must confess with our LIVES that Jesus is LORD. Yes, confessing with our mouths is a huge part of it, but confessing with your life involves more – everyday decisions and sacrifices as well as boldness and taking risks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is worthy of so much more than just a few words. He humbled Himself, and died on a cross for my sins. The only proper response to that kind of love is to give Him my all, my life. And even that’s still lacking if you think of it as repayment. It doesn’t matter what we give. We still come up short. It’s only by His grace through faith that we are saved.

CONFESS WITH YOUR LIFE! (and your words)

Effort > Success

swim1He slapped at the water and flailed his way across the length of the pool. Kasen tried out for the Lake Jackson Swim Team back in May and didn’t make it. He just couldn’t breathe properly and struggled with swimming the required 25yd distance without a few dog paddles. It was the first time he didn’t immediately excel in a sport. He cried and didn’t understand why he didn’t make the team. He talked about quitting and giving up.

Miranda and I didn’t really mind the fact that he didn’t make it and I sort of thought, “Well, our summer won’t be consumed by swim meets.” However, when Kasen responded this way something inside me felt differently. I don’t want my kids to think it’s OK to just give up or quit when something is difficult. As a matter of fact, I really believe just the opposite. When something is hard and they have to work at it, I will be even more proud of them. Sometimes effort is more impressive than success. Success may be a result of effort, but the effort/struggle is what grows us and strengthens our character. I don’t want kids who are just successful. I want kids who know how to work and earn their success. Kids who understand that pushing themselves makes them stronger – makes them grow.

For the next 2 weeks, I drove Kasen to the pool every day after school. We hired another swim coach to work with him. (Thanks Andy!) We set goals and worked toward them. Some days went well. Others didn’t.

swim2After two weeks, he tried out again. He made the team. At the first meet in his very first race, he placed 1st in backstroke and got 1st place on his freestyle that day too! For the rest of the regular season, he was never beaten in backstroke. He didn’t have his best race, but still got 6th in the final State meet! For a kid who couldn’t swim the length of the pool only a few weeks earlier, I was really proud. Proud of his effort, not his success. Happy for success, but proud of effort.

Romans 5:3-4 – We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient.  And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” – The Message

PRAYER:
LORD, May this lesson follow Kasen throughout his life. Help him to remember to persevere. Help me to be an example to him of a hard worker, and as a man who doesn’t give up on things that are important, even when they are hard. Give us strength (physical, mental, and spiritual) to endure. Help us to recognize your presence with us and teach us to trust in your strength when we don’t feel like we can go on.

PS – This is why everyone loves the movie, “Rudy.” He was admired by his teammates for his effort – not his success. They were willing to sit out and make sacrifices for him because he was such a hard worker.

Believe Now

Colorado“Believe now.” ~ Bryan McKenzie

My pastor said this in a sermon a while back. He was referring to coming to Christ for the first time, but I heard it differently. It stuck. It’s been rolling around in my head for months now. If I could “believe now,” then I could make a Godly choice in every moment. You see, my failures and bad decisions are usually based upon some sort of unbelief.

  • I don’t believe He will provide for us, so I choose to worry about our financial situation.
  • I don’t believe that my body is a “temple for the Holy Spirit” (I Cor 6:19-20) or that God really cares about my health. I tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal”, so I eat more than I should.
  • I don’t really believe sin kills, so I speak rudely to my family and my wife.

I could go on and on. . . . but you get the point. If I could “Believe Now!” I’d probably make better choices. I’d probably represent Jesus better and become more like Him. If I could “believe now,” I’d probably say “Yes” to different things and I’d be involved in new things. I’d probably say “No” to some other things as well.

Prayer: LORD, help me to “Believe now.” Keep this phrase in my mind. Train me to remember it in the moments that I struggle. Guide my heart to believe constantly, moment by moment. LORD I believe, but I want to believe more often, more consistently. “LORD I believe. Help my unbelief!” – Mk 9:24
AMEN.