Monday, July 30, 2018

An Open Letter to God


Dearest Heavenly Father,

     I am writing to you today on my blog because I want to encourage others and be humble and transparent before you and them. You have seen me struggle over the last few years. I have cried out because I have been hurt and I have felt abandoned. I set out to serve you in full-time vocational ministry, and when that dream ended and seemed to die, I felt lost. I didn't know what to do, I didn't really even know who I was anymore. I was going to stay where I was for years, at least until my kids were graduated, it was hard at times and I struggled, but I thought I could manage. I guess I couldn't, because just like that and it was gone. I went from job to job, looking for some kind of purpose and meaning. I failed each time, trying to do my own thing but unable to get any traction. On top of that, I knew about the slander that was being set about me by people who claimed they cared about me. I was being mocked and insulted and there was nothing I could say or do about it. I was hurt. I was heartbroken, depressed, and despondent.

     I felt rejected, and I felt ultimately I was rejected by you. I felt a call in my life to serve you, so I set out to do that, but I failed. I was even told I wasn't cut out to be in ministry. The one thing I had focused my efforts on for more than 20 years, and I was told I wasn't cut out for it, that I should pursue education. During this time, I became bitter, my heart grew hard and cold and I sinned in my anger. I was angry, incredibly angry and with no way to get rid of that anger, I pushed it down. I couldn't talk to anyone about it, I had to keep everything locked inside. As I choked on my bitterness and rage, I became more and more selfish. I didn't understand why this was happening, I couldn't understand why you felt so far away. You seemed silent and painfully absent. I lashed out, mostly at the church. I looked at the church as the people who wronged me, who took away my purpose and my joy. In reality, I wasn't mad at them. I was mad at you.

     I don't know why all this happened, and I don't know why you have led me here. I start this fall to be an English Teacher in Correctionville, Iowa. I am thrilled about it, and I know that I can do all the things you have called me to do in the classroom, just in a different way. I thought I understood when I was applying for jobs and the Christian School offered a job teaching English and Bible, and I was so encouraged until they wouldn't return any of my phone calls or emails. I didn't understand the rejection I felt I was getting, the void in heart continued to grow, and I have really struggled. I'm still really struggling, but I think I have found a little bit of joy and peace in the situation.

     I am a failure, of that I am sure. I have failed and I have lost and I have been disgraced. I am sure I needed to have those things happen, to become more like Christ. I have lost the job, the career that I loved, but it may not be forever. I may resume it some day. I have been hurt and mocked, slandered and ridiculed and it has made me humble. I understand now that I am a failure and nothing that comes from me is worth much of anything without your hand on it. I understand that I am nowhere near as self-sufficient as I want or wish I was. I know that I am frail and weak and fragile. I know that I am weak and you are strong and I need to have your strength to survive.

     I have been wrong, I have sinned against you, your people and your church. I have been angry and in that anger, I have sinned. I have been bitter, spiteful, envious, and arrogant. I ask that you and your people forgive me for the way I have handled the situation. I should have taken the example from Paul, as he was persecuted, slandered, thrown in prison, and in chains, he still rejoiced and praised your name. I am resolved to serve you and your people where I am, where you put me and where I find myself. I will do what I am called, what I am asked, and what I am handed. I am sorry for my attitude and my obstinant behavior. I repent of my behavior, and I ask for you to forgive me. Amen.

Your adopted son through Christ,

Saturday, June 30, 2018

When You Just Can't Handle Church

I was once very critical of those who would quit church because someone hurt them. I had been hurt in church and I continued to attend. I served in church, I was involved and I put myself out there, feeling it was important to be at church. The hurt continued, and I continued to attend because, for me, the connection and community outweighed the hurt. It went on like that for me for a long time.
Until it stopped.

One day I realized my church didn't feel like a family. I was marginally connected. Work kept me away, I tried again and again but couldn't get connected. I was just attending, just spectating and I hated it. I became very detached, and I began to see and hear from many who felt this way all over the country. I began to notice the "it crowd" that I was once a part of, and the outside crowd that wasn't. I spoke up, I took notice.

And I was insulted and criticized for it.

The last straw for me was when I was insulted and told it was all my fault, I was a bad person, a bad husband, a crappy father. This person knows about me, but they don't know me but decided it was their responsibility to put me in my place. To make sure I knew my place. I was to fall in line with the expectations, to "get involved" even though I tried for years, it was my fault. This person sat behind me in church for most of my time there, so I suppose that gave them the knowledge to tell everyone on my social media how awful I am since they could see me every week. They didn't think I was as engaged as I should be, and I was a horrible example and I needed to shut up and fall in rank and file.

I broke. Attending any service at that church left me feeling battered, angry and isolated. All I see is fake smiles, knowing that I am being critiqued, they had already told me. I was informed that I don't cut it. I'm not acceptable to these people.
Now I could go find another church, but that requires me pulling my family away, they have had a very different experience than I have. I can't take my kids from a place they live to be, and I think the youth pastor is great. I enjoy the preaching but I'm just attending, just sitting and expending all my energy trying to forgive, be at peace and suppressing the urge to run. Being at the church is emotionally exhausting. If I go elsewhere, I drag my family away. If I don't go, then at least they go without me. I try to go, but at this point, I can't get the energy to even force myself. It might not be so bad, but my church experience over the last 8 years is being told why I don't measure up.
Now if every time you went to a family gathering, they told you why you sucked, would you want to go? How much would be too much? I struggle constantly with my needs and being/feeling selfish and my exhausted spirit. Knowing I'll never really be part of this church, I'll always be a spectator. I've shared this, many in the church know how I feel, and like I've shared, they have made me know how they feel. In the end, I feel alone, and I'm not alone in feeling alone.

As I have gone through the criticism, the rejection of the last 6 to 8 years, I've seen I'm not alone. The church in this country has hurt a lot of people. I'm not talking about accepting and accommodating sin. I'm not suggesting the church should "lower its standards" but I have seen a trend I find disturbing. The church is becoming a business, and that business is performing. We have moved from community to mega. The result is people have become spectators rather than participants. The focus is the stage, and growth has led our churches to a franchise. The church doesn't want people to serve, they want to serve the most people, so a business mindset, consumer model had appeared. 

The result is the death of Christian discipleship, the death of Sunday School.
It's no secret I'm a Sunday School guy. The reason is simple when you do it right, it works. You can get people involved, they can serve and connect, you can tie outreach and fellowship and missions to Sunday School. It can drive the ministry of the church. We have abandoned it for lesser things. Small groups are great, but won't replace Sunday School. We have teaching classes with our popular leaders and teachers, but it won't replace Sunday School. Our discipleship time has become entertainment, where we think what we need is classes where people get up and lecture. We have forgotten the basics of teaching, that you teach by showing and doing together. You lead people to opportunity to serve and you walk with them. Jesus picked 12 guys and gave them jobs to do and roles to perform. Those 12 guys (minus one of them, who was replaced) taught other guys by doing ministry with them. They did the same, but now we have lectures, performances, and events. We don't serve, and even the service becomes a show.

Of course, these are generalized statements, and I'm sure I will get the typical feedback, that I need to quit complaining and get involved. I'm not worried about me, my heart breaks for all those who will never stick around long enough to get the criticism that will eventually chase them away. Those who came in and felt out of place and tried to connect and failed and left. They will probably never return to church. I'll go back to a church someplace at some point. Many of those left broken never will. They don't see a point, why risk it? Why risk being out of place, feeling alone and going somewhere that they are going to listen to someone who is going to be on a podcast in a few days? As much as I love my Pastor, I can listen to hundreds of sermons all week long. I can listen to him, I can listen to Chuck Swindoll or David Jeremiah or Alister Begg (who I really enjoy). I can get Bible teaching online, on the radio, on the tv. I have Christian friends I see and talk too, so I don't forsake assembling together, so why attend a place that makes me miserable? We need to realize that there are many, many asking themselves that question. They can get teaching, preaching and fellowship outside the church, at a higher quality than the local church can offer them.

Here is my question, as you think of all your critical remarks for me for writing them, for those who are not attending (and not tithing), why should they come to your church? What benefit does it have for them? Sure, it gives you a bigger congregation, more help (if you ever need it and don't use your inner core group), and more giving units. People coming to your church helps you and helps your church, but does being in your church benefit them? Are they encouraged, restored, rested and uplifted? Don't ask the people who are there, ask those who have left, if you can still find them. Ask the people who are hurting them, not the person who leaves the critical and hateful comments on their social media.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Truth is, You're a Jerk

During my day, I often find myself with some young guys, and we get into conversations about life. One day, we were talking about the flaws in socialism. I decided to share the deepest flaw is socialism, which is this idea that deep down, we are good people and we all what to do what's right. This is false, not just a little false, but horribly false. We are all selfish jerks. We are selfish, self-seeking, self-centered, mean jerks. I am, you are, we just are. Are you offended I called you a jerk? How dare I make a judgment about you? See, you are being self-centered again, only thinking about how I view you. We are all jerks.

Here is how I illustrate it to my young friends. First, let me ask you a question, how does a nice person react when they are cut off in traffic? Do they just smile and wave? They slow down, let the person in and forgive? Probably. How do you react when you are cut off? Is that your first instinct to smile, wave and just forgive the person? If you answered no, you just admitted you are not a nice person. Your first instinct, to get even or be kind? To assert your rights or to let the other person have their way? To stand up for yourself, or just let it go?

I can hear your excuses "I don't want to be a doormat, I'm going to take care of myself". Of course, you are, we are wired that way. We are wired for self-preservation, it's one of our traits we are born with. We cry when we are hungry or uncomfortable, no baby stops to think about mom. No infant stops to consider if mom is tired and needs extra sleep, they cry to get needs met. We are selfish, we are born that way. We stay that way. We just learn to be better at it, we learn to look better while being selfish, we learn that we need to act nice and behave well so that people will want to be around us. We treat others well, usually because we get what we want. We treat people we love well so they will be around us. Do you treat the people you can't stand as well? Probably not.

Finally, it's true that we are all jerks because we are inclined to evil. We struggle to behave, we have temptations to do bad, sometimes we resist, sometimes we give in. It's a struggle to do what's right, it's a struggle to avoid doing what's wrong. We don't struggle to do the wrong thing, that's easy. Giving into the dark side, that's easy, it's behaving that's harder. Being mean, hateful and spiteful is easy, it's forgiving and loving and kind that is a struggle. Being angry and selfish is easy. Giving and calm and patient, that is hard. Ya, it's hard to be good, because we are what? That's right, we are all jerks.

You're a jerk, but that's ok cause so am I. Let's just try to get through this together!

Monday, April 9, 2018

It's About Us, Not About You!

I have been thinking a lot about the church. Not a church, but the Church, the universal body of Christ. The problem that we Protestants often have is we have become really, really individual in our faith. We have a "personal" relationship with Jesus, it's just us and Christ and we forget about. . . well, everyone. Our Baptism is personal, our communion is personal, we do all these things on our own. We have this idea that it's all about us, and we have separated ourselves from others. We gotta stop.

First, let's talk about Salvation. We are saved into a family, we are adopted. I don't know about your family, but when I bring a new kid home, regardless if they are natural born or adopted, it impacts the whole family. It changes things, and it should change the church when a person joins. When a person gets saved, they are saved into a family, into a body. It's not about that one person, it's about the whole body.

That brings me to the next point, it's a body. The body of Christ is the visible representation of Christ on earth. We are saved and brought into the church. If I gain or lose a body part, I sure notice. For me to do something, to join a church, leave a church or do anything else in the church, it should matter. It should matter. In too many Protestant churches, we are full of non-functioning body parts, parts that grow and then fall off all the time. We don't even seem to notice. A church will have a few hands, a bunch of eyes and ears, a lot of mouths, knees but no feet and several stomachs. Parts come and go, and this strange mutated body doesn't really seem to notice or even miss a beat.

We need to care more about the people than the building. We need to care more about the other members of our church than we care about our preferences. We have to stop caring about the music and the lighting and the coffee more than the people. We must stop having leadership battles and power struggles and personality conflicts. We, the church, is supposed to operate as a singular unit, as one body. The church will never make the impact it should until we can join together and function like a body.

We must stop mutilating the Body of Christ.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Relationships, are you a cinder block or a lego?

How do you connect with people? What I want to talk about today is relationships, not just romantic relationships but connections. Friendships and family. How do you connect? There are different types of connections and I have a couple ways to explain it. In our relationships, we can be like a cinder block, a brick, railroad ties stacked on one another to make a wall. We are close, we are in proximity but we aren't connected. Bricks usually don't touch, they are held together with mortar, so there is always a little distance between them. Sure, they are together and they function, they are part of the whole, but they are not connected.

Another example is legos, puzzle pieces, even that laminate flooring that looks like wood. These things all have parts that connect with each other. They get locked together. Ever had those legos get stuck so tight you couldn't get them apart? Maybe you have finished a puzzle and used some of that puzzle glue and then framed it? I had a Star Wars, and Empire Strikes Back and a Return of the Jedi puzzle, all three glued and hung in my apartment in college. The pieces fit together, they stayed that way. These things are connected, but if you notice, they go together more intentionally. Bricks just get put down, there is no rhyme or reason. A puzzle piece is very specific, the right lego goes in the right place to build the structure. Things are intentional, they fit together and they function in a much more imaginative way.

Of course, there is the middle between two. The colored tile that forms a pattern, but the pieces don't really connect or interlock. They make a good pattern, but they are not connected in a unit. They are simply complementary pieces in proximity. We can find purpose in these types of relationships, but we are not truly connected.

So which type of relationships do you have? This is how you know, what happens if you leave the place that has you connected? When you leave a job, do you stay connected to coworkers? When you leave a church, do you stay connected to the members? When they leave, are you still communicating? I'm not taking social media either, I'm talking about connecting, talking on the phone, meeting in person, dealing with life issues. Not liking the picture of their dog on Facebook. Real, authentic connection, the type that lasts. It's a relationship you don't have with others, you just fit.

It's important to find that person and to stay connected. I hope there are several people like that in your life, ones you are connected too so significantly that nothing can break the bond. They will always be part of you, they will always be on your mind, in your heart. Those people give us a sense of community, a sense of belonging. The people who are bricks are valuable, they support us and are with us, but they are not the key relationship in our lives. Brick will come and go, but those lego pieces, the puzzle pieces, they need to be in your lives.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How To Stop School Shootings

It's an ambition title I realize, but with all the debate, I think it's time for a little honesty here. We have talked about gun control, security, background checks, mental health but none of those things are the answer. Violent video games and movies aren't the issues, comic books or graphic novels aren't to blame, in fact, there is no object, program, or event that we can point too. We have created the issue of what causes school shootings and it took years and years to get to where we are. It didn't happen overnight, it didn't happen because of a lack of funding for mental health or because of 30 round magazines. There was a progress that happened.

First, we removed the ability of kids to deal with hardship and adversity. They don't know how to lose or how to fail. Everyone has a good self-esteem, so when they don't, they don't have any coping skills or coping mechanism. Next, students have been abandoned, they are living in single-parent homes, split and blended family and kids are so busy they can't connect and have real relationships at home. They no longer taught about respect, and as a result, there is a lack of respect. Many of the youth today believe that they should be respected by adults before they show the adult respect. That isn't the way this is supposed to work.

Youth are told their feelings are the most important things. They should be safe from being emotionally hurt, they shouldn't be triggered, they should be able to choose their gender. They are told they can be whatever they want, and they shouldn't have to work or struggle for it, that they should be taken care of. There is another opportunity for them to miss having coping skills. They don't know how to handle their anger or their disappointment. They can't cope, and they don't cherish life. They believe in abortion, they embrace evolution and they see no real value in life. They are overwhelmed with her feelings and nothing to hold it in check. The get a weapon and they kill others.

There is a long way to go to get back to where we need to be. We need to value people, not marginalize people. We need to value life and freedom, but we need to teach hardship and show students that they can fail and it's ok. Students need to experience heartbreak, they need to lose games and fail at tasks, it's the only way to learn. They need to learn coping skills, how to deal with rage and anger and bitterness. Finally, they need to understand they can't control or change whatever they want. Some things just are the way they are. They need to learn respect, the value of hard work and how to be the bigger person in a hard situation. We have failed to teach our kids to become good people and now they are shooting each other at school.

We can't fix this with a law or armed guards, but it's how we fix it. It's not quick or easy or simple, but it wasn't quick or easy or simple that got us here. It was a long, ugly and nasty road that led us to where we have found ourselves. It's time to move back to where we need to be.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Christianity Vs. Judism

I was asked a great question that I want to tackle today. The question is:

Where do you put philosophy as a belief system with current Judaism?

This is a great question, I appreciate those who ask me questions to tackle, and I think this question is very relevant to us. We have lots of people in American Christianity with European roots acting like they are subject to the entire Jewish law, minus the ones they don't want to. They eat bacon, but can't get a tattoo. Let's begin at what the Hebrew law is all about.

The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah by Jews, also known as the Pentateuch. They are attributed to Moses and contain the origin of all things and then specifically of the Israelites. The law was given to the Hebrews by God through Moses to separate His chosen people from the rest of the world. The chosen people are the Hebrews, everyone else is a Gentile. The law is huge, the core is the Shema, you shall love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. These are expanded on in the 10 Commandments and then the law grows to include the Holiness code, rules for conduct, sacrifice, how to live and so on.

The Hebrew people attempted to keep the law, but they couldn't because no one can keep the law, we are all sinful and break the rules. Along the way, the nation of Israel was separated into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). The north went into exile and became Samaria, the south remained Judah and they had the temple and retained the law, which is how Hebrews became Jews, from Judah. It was out of this group that Jesus came, He was a Jew and was the only person in the history of all mankind to keep the law perfectly. He had His followers, the 12 Disciples and they began the church after the Ressurection. 

In the beginning, everything made sense, it was a group of Jews who recognized that the Messiah (anointed one of God) had come and saved people from their sins. The Jewish Messiah came to the Jewish people and those people accepting Him as Savior were Jews, so it was all cool. Then came the day that non-Jews became Christians. So now with Gentile believers, the question came, do Christians have to become Jews to become Christians? Do we have to be circumcised, keep the dietary rules, the dress code, the cleanliness rules? Do we have to do the ceremonies, and what about the sacrifices, since Jesus was the sacrifice and that system no longer is required?

So, as Christians, do we have to keep the Old Testament law? Jesus said the law wouldn't pass away, but He would fulfill the law. Jesus showed us clearly how some was fulfilled, He broke with many of the conventions about the Sabbath. He touched a bleeding woman, clearing up that one, and declared all foods clean. What about the other long list, what about the 7th year of rest, the feasts, the clothing, hair and facial hair requirements? Jews were only supposed to marry other Jews, so what about Gentiles? Should a Gentile marry a Jew or a Gentile? The Apostles and church leaders got together in Acts chapter 15 to talk about the issue. They decided that the new Christians need to refrain from sexual immorality, blood and things that have been strangled. The rest of the rules we find written in the letters (called Epistles) which make up the bulk of the New Testament. These things include most of what we find in the 10 Commandments and summed up in the Shama. We are told to go away from lying, murder, adultery and fornication, course and rude talking, immorality, idolatry, anger, and hatred and most criminal activity. The New Testament does say that homosexuality is wrong, even though there is a big dispute about what that really entails.

The struggle with so many is that we attempt to apply parts of the OT to Christians today, but ignore other parts. We toss out the 4 tassles, mixed fabrics, and no goatees, but can't get a tattoo, it gets really convoluted. Do we have to keep the Sabbath, do we keep it on Saturday or Sunday and do we have to give 10%? The answer is no, the tithe was a temple requirement, and we don't have the temple now, the New Testament tells us to give to support the work of the Gospel and support the poor, but no standard amount is required. The best option is to start with Acts 15, so refrain from sexual immorality (sex is only allowed in the context of a husband and wife who are married), from consuming blood and from things that have been strangled. From there, look to Paul. Read Ephesians and it gives us a good list, after all Paul gives the list to people who didn't have a copy of the Old Testament, wouldn't know the OT law and he must tell them how to behave. The New Testament gives us all we need to know what to do, without having to dive into the Old Testament law.

This doesn't mean that the Old Testament law isn't valid, it's important and shows us the holiness of God. We learn about God, who He is and how Holy He is. We learn about who we are and how we are incapable of coming to God on our own. We can't keep the law. In the original question, I was asked how we are different from Modern Jews. This is a hard question to answer, because Judism has been seperated into so many different groups, and they have different beliefs, but the closest to the original Hebrew would be hassedic Jews.

The Jewish people today do not have the temple, and they do not currently have a system of animal sacrifice, but do try to keep the law, and celebrate the day of atonement, called Yom Kippur. They still try to be right with God through the law. 

In contrast, Christians no longer try to get right with God by the law, but through Christ. Let's take Paul's example and compare it to marriage. I don't treat my wife well, love and honor she cherish her so she will love me. She already loves me and I love her, so I treat her with love as a result of what I already have, but because of what I'll gain. We live to please God because of what we have already obtained, not because of what we get in the end. It's already obtained by our faith in Christ. We love Him because He first loved us. 

I'm sure there is more that can be written on the matter, but I think and hope this gets to the heart of things. Let's strive to obey the law of love in Christ, not because of what we will gain, but because we already have.