Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why You Should Never Disagree with a Millennial on Facebook

The title is a little bit of a tease because it was inspired by a conversation I had with a young "evangelist". He posted that men should never wear hats based on Paul's teaching. I challenged him that is goes beyond not wearing a hat and he needed to do some study and dig in and find the deeper meaning. He freaked out at me, told me I was non Biblical to say it's ok to pray/be in church with a hat. I never said anything of the sort, I just said there is more too it that simply wearing a hat. I remove my hat when I pray, but the scripture is talking about so much more than just if there is something on my head.

The deeper issue is not if we are a millennial or if we win arguments on Facebook. It's about teachability. Are we open to correction of others, or do we insist we are always right? I will be the first to admit that I don't like to be wrong. I don't like to be corrected or rebuked, but I do everything I can to be totally open about the correction. No one really wants to find out they are wrong, but I would rather be corrected and learn the truth than live believing something incorrect.

I do need to book end this idea, just because you point out something you think I am wrong about doesn't mean I'm going to agree with you. I'm still a Calvinist, even though plenty of people have disagreed with me. What they have done is made me really examine what I believe and look deep in the scriptures. I have examined "whosoever" and looked at "for the sins of the whole world" and it's really helped me to hone my beliefs. Still a Calvinist.

In my faith journey, I am constantly listening, studying and growing. I may learn something tomorrow that changes who I am today. I am striving to be open and teachable and to really get to the depths of what the Bible teaches, knowing I'll never get to the bottom. Let's continue to study and learn and grow, and be open to rebuke and instruction. Don't be a Facebook Millennial, even if you are. I'm kidding. . . .sort of. I do love you guy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why God Doesn't Always Heal Us

I wrote a post about my depression, and received some great feedback. Thanks to everyone who posted on my various pages, you are all awesome. Thanks so much for the prayers, I need them. During the comments and conversation (and a few after) I have been asked and/or told that God can heal, does heal and even that He always heals. Some have told me that it's always God's will to heal us and if we are not healed, it's because we haven't asked in sufficient faith. The question is asked by many who are not healed or have loved ones that are not healed, why weren't they healed?  Why does God let His children suffer?

It's a hard question and one we have probably all wrestled with, after all if I saw one of my children suffering, I would make sure it stopped and they were healed, wouldn't it? Maybe not. WAIT, before you called Child Protective Services, let's discuss it. Why would any parents who loves their kids allow them to suffer. If I love my kids, then I will never let them suffer, right? If they are suffering and I do nothing, then I either lack the ability to stop it, or I don't really love them. That is the assumption, but it's wrong. Any of you who have been a parent know this is wrong. Sometimes our kids need to suffer, because it's what is best for them.

The risk of starting a conversation that has nothing to do with my point, vaccines are given to kids to help them. Needles suck and sometimes it makes their arms or legs sore for a while. I don't for a single second think it gives kids autism, please save those comments for another page. Getting a shot it not enjoyable for my kids, but they all get them. Partially because it's required to go to school, but partially because I know what polio, smallpoxs and measles does to people. Growing up, my next door neighbor had issues with his legs and hips because of polio as a child. People die from diseases that we prevent. A small child doesn't understand the risk, they just know that shots are bad and they don't want them.

I admit that immunizations are an incomplete example, since they are intended to prevent illness and ultimately death, and we are talking about God allowing those things. I understand, I watched my parents get cancer, suffer greatly and die. I have asked the questions about healing. My own physical issues have been a problem, but not life threatening, but I still ask why I'm not healed. Why do my legs and back and knee hurt every day? Why hasn't God just fixed it, people are praying for me. My depression isn't healed, and there are lots of people praying. Why doesn't He just heal me?

He might. He could and He may choose to do so. I may write these posts and people pray and God moves in a mighty way, I'm healed and I give Him the glory and people glorify God and believe. We see that in the Bible, people God healed and people praised God and believed in Jesus. We also see people get healed and the leaders decide to put Jesus to death because He healed on the Sabbath. We see Jesus do miracles and people either want Him to do more, or they hate Him for it. Maybe the reason that God doesn't do all the things we ask Him is because we begin to think of Him as just the providers of Miracles. We begin to think about the Disney version of Jesus, who sings a song, birds fly around and all our dreams come true. That is a problem, and it's a reality, but I don't think it's the primary reason we aren't healed. I don't think it's our attitude or lack of faith, I don't think it's because God is punishing us or because He doesn't care.  I think it's because He loves us enough to do what is best.

To really explain this, we need to take a trip back to my childhood. When I was a kid, there was these books that I loved. They were called "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Remember those? In the books, you made a choice and based on your choice, you got to choose which page to turn too. Depending on what you choose, it changed the outcome of the book. Some of the choices ended in glorious victory, and some in painful and agonizing defeat. If you were like me, you read the book through once, then checked out all the outcomes and then made the choice that led to the glorious victory. Yes, that's cheating, but no one likes to fail. The tricky part about these books is often the choice that seems best will lead to disaster. I'm not sure what they were trying to teach us, but the risky moves often paid off. They always kept us guessing.

What if you could live your life like a choose your own adventure book. The reality is that God sort of does that. God sees all your life, beginning, middle and end so He can make the choice that is best. The choice that is going to be what is the best for your life. The problem comes when we assume that we know what is best for our lives. For example, I could say it would be much better for me if my parents lived, grew old and died at an old age, getting to see my graduate college and seminary, get married and they could meet my kids. That makes sense, that seems like the best plan. God saw the outcome of that plan, He knew what I would be like and the choices I would make if that were my future. It was a better outcome for everyone for them to have cancer and die. The road that I took because of that event shaped my life in a way that it was best for everyone.

That is a hard pill to swallow when faced with despair and tragedy, I understand. I have lost family members and friends, I have seen horrible suffering and pain. How can it benefit a family when they lose a child, when a baby dies, when pain won't stop and when people lose everything? I don't know, but God does. In this sinful, evil, and dark world, sometimes the path that gets us where we need to be is dark and horrible. It can be painful. We also self inflict a lot of pain on ourselves. If you smoke for 30 years, you probably shouldn't shake your fists at the heavens when you get lung cancer. If you get into relationships with people who make bad choices, you can't blame God when those bad choices come back to cause you pain. Sometimes bad things happen because we make bad choices. The glorious part is God still uses those to bring us to a good place. Even our bad choices can be used by God to bring blessing.

To bring it back full circle, God hasn't healed my depression yet because I need it to get where it's best for me to be. The best thing for me right now is to suffer and trust that God has a purpose for my suffering. I don't know what it is, and I don't know what He is doing, and I may never know. I will never know what lies down the other road, but it doesn't matter, because this is the road I'm on. I have to trust the destination, knowing the end will be the best of all available ends.

By the way, this is a theological doctrine called the Best of All Possible Worlds, and I like it. Props to John Piper.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Perfect Relationship and Other Arm Chair Grandeur

I was a romantic growing up. I longed to be in love, and I started having crushes that went way to deep, way too early. Combine that with the fact I was a bit of a loser when it came to love, and it makes for some really, really bad poetry. I remember my first crush. I swore I was so in love with her. I'm not going to tell you who it is, but I will tell you that I could drive you to her house and I can still tell you her phone number. I'm hopeless I tell you. I had a crush on this girl for most of elementary and middle school. Never even asked her out. Like I said, I was a loser when it came to love. In High School, I had a new love and no, I'm still not going to tell you who it is. I did actually have the guts to call and ask her out. She very sweetly shot me down after telling me to hold on for like 5 minutes.

Now you have to understand the era in which I grew up. My kids would never understand the complication that was calling a girl up. We didn't have smart phones and social media and all that fun stuff. We had a phone that was attached to the wall by a cord. There was no caller id, and no way to know who would actually answer the phone. You would dial the number, it would ring and you would be required to keep up your nerve until someone answered. Most of the time, you chickened out and hung up. There was no *69 back then, no caller id so you were safe. Why do you think I still know that girls phone number! I probably dialed it thousands of times, often to hang up before I even finished dialing. Ya, I know, loser.

I was always convinced I was going to be the worlds greatest boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband. The greatest. Ever. I was going to be thoughtful and romantic and caring and take care of everything and my girlfriend/fiancĂ©/wife would be the happiest ever. I was going to be the greatest in the world. I care now safely say that I am the greatest husband my wife has ever had. I'm also the worst, so there's that. You see, when I thought I would be the best, it was when I didn't have a girlfriend. I thought I would be the best in the world before I was in a relationship. It's easy to think you are the best at something that you can idealize, but have never done. It's like that in a lot of areas. Take Superbowl XLIX, Seahawk have the ball on the 5, they need a touchdown to win. They just need to give it to Marshawn Lynch to go into beast mode, he runs for the TD, they win. Instead, they pass and in unbelievable fashion that only the Patriots can manage, Wilson is intercepted on the goal line and the Pats win. Everyone says "they should have run the ball with Lynch". They probably wish they had, but we had nothing on the line. Maybe the coaching staff knew something we didn't. Maybe Lynch was hurting, maybe the line was too warn down. Maybe it's just the fact that everyone in the world knew that was the best option and they were trying to catch the Patriots off guard and it simply blew up in their face. My point is, everyone seems to know the right answer until it's you on the 5 yard line.

It's easy to be perfect at something you've never done. I can tell you that almost 20 years of marriage and I'm not the perfect guy I thought I would be. I try and I do ok most of the time. I work harder at making my wife happy than I do at almost anything else, but it's never as easy as you think it's going to be. There is always downs to go with the ups, and for every win, there is the interception on the goal line. Sometimes it's even more like a 2nd half Atlanta Falcons game. Ya, I said it. You know you where already thinking in. For those of you who don't want football. . . you probably still know what I'm talking about.

The question is, if it's not as easy as we think and we aren't perfect, what do we do? Should we give up? The answer of course is no way. You can the Tom Brady of your marriage. Ok, I'll stop with the football stuff. The reality is, no one can be better at your marriage than you are. No one can be a better parent to your kids than you are. No one can be a better you than you are. So let's focus on being you in a way that is successful. Don't worry about being perfect, you already aren't. So let's just move forward.

What to improve your relationship, your job, your life at home? First, just establish that this is it. This is it, I'm here. Now, things like your job can change but, but until they do, here you are. You may be looking for a new job or changing careers or moving, but for now, this is it. As far as your marriage goes, erase the word divorce unless there is something unsafe, threatening to your life and safety. If things are just rocky, time to suck it up butter cup. Change that perspective, this is it. The one you married, they are the one and that's it. Your kids? No getting rid of them now, they are yours. Your life is the one you have. So, let's look at it as being it. No getting out now, time to fix what we got.

Next step is realize the problem is everyone's problem. A problem in the marriage hurts the whole family. Problems between a child and parent or between children causes problems through out. We are connected and when something causes a problem, it causes a problem or everyone. I am a firm believer the best thing I can do for my kids is love their mother well. I need to demonstrate what a good husband looks like to my kids. They need to see love and compassion and selflessness. When there is issues and problems, it often is multiplied through the generations. Kids usually pick up the bad habits from their parents. It may be a lot of pressure, but that's called adulthood. We need to get it right to give those who come behind us a chance.

Lastly, you gotta have some grace for everybody. You need to forgive them, you need to forgive yourself. Things are going to go bad sometimes. You'll fight, you'll drive each other crazy, mistakes will be made. Money will get tight and nights will get long and the baby will cry every time you get in the car. Things will be hard and stressful and there will be problems. You need to have grace. Sometimes little things will turn into big things. Those big things will become huge and major things and the majority of our American culture will tell you to call it quits and walk away. You don't have too, you can have grace and you can forgive. If Jesus forgives us, then we can forgive others. He told us too, since we gotta do it anyway, make the best of it and make your relationship better. Make it great.

I hope today you have been encouraged, at least you should feel better about your love life. I prayer for you is that you give grace, receive grace, and share grace. It's the most freeing thing in the world, an it can make your relationships much better. Not perfect, but a lot better.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Depression Sucks

So I have depression. It's not seasonal or situational (those sucks too) but full out family history, passed down, I have my family for this, chronic depression. I have been diagnosed with "you probably won't get better, so let's just manage this" depression. It's been around as long as I can remember, and it makes me crazy. It doesn't make me sad, I can handle sad. I can overcome sad. It makes me angry and my brain doesn't work right and I can't make myself do the things. Things I like to do become things I'm unable to do.

I pray a lot and say "why, why do I have this? Why do I have to suffer from this thing that I can't fix? Why can't I have something that shows up on an X ray and we can treat and it goes away? This won't go away. I've seen doctors and counselors and many Pastors. I've been a Pastor, I know what they say cause I say it. I've taken my own advice and it helps some and sometimes.

I'm in this season, it's the "now I'm 40 and my body is mad about it" season. The ankle issues I've had for 25 years have finally caused arthritis and bursitis and a spinal fusion. I have lots of chronic pain, I can't do stuff that I use to do anymore. Chronic depression and chronic pain do not mix well. I'm having a hard time, and it's a daily struggle. The question I come back to is this, what am I learning? God isn't wasting my infirmities, there is a reason for all this stuff that sucks. What is the reason? What do I need to learn? I want to share that with you. Otherwise, this is a post all about me whining.

First lesson, I'm not the Lone Ranger. It's ironic that even the Lone Ranger wasn't alone, Tonto was his companion. Han Solo wasn't Solo, he had Chewbacca. We aren't suppose to do this alone. I try quite often. You can ask my wife, I don't open up very much and I tend to isolate. It's bad and I can't do it. I can't make myself do the things I'm supposed to do, I need help. I need brothers and sisters, friends and companions to help me. We all need help. If you don't get help, you will fail alone. Even the Army figured out "an army of one" was a stupid idea.

Next lesson, you won't get anywhere denying you need help. The "no one gave me anything" attitude is stupid, you wouldn't have survived infancy. You had help. Someone, somewhere did stuff for you that you couldn't pull off alone. Give it up, you need help. You need a Savior first, cause your sin has already condemned you. You need the Holy Spirit to empower you. You need other Christians because you can't be the Body of Christ by yourself. You need people and so do I. Time to get over yourself.

Last of all, you don't have all the answers, quit playing like you do. You lack some of the knowledge that exists in the universe. There are things you don't understand. There are things you will never understand. That idea drives secular humanist science gurus crazy, but it's just reality. There are things you can't explain and you can't fix. Deal with it. Except the reality that infinity is greater than you and you can't contain its knowledge. It's ok, we all lack and are inadequate. I'm inadequate, there are things I don't know and don't understand. I don't like it, but it's true.

I'll keep learning things as long as I struggle, which will be as long as I live. I'll share them with you and I hope you will share some things with me too. It's hard to live in this fallen, messed up world. I think we can make it if we trust God and do this together.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

He Is Able, But What If He Doesn't?

I have wrestled with more than a few things this last year. In many ways I have wrestled with God and I have wrestled with doubt and fear and confusion. God was silent for much of my struggle, which made it all the more difficult. I would often cry out, if He would just speak or reach out and touch me, all of this would go away. He could heal me spiritually and physically and emotionally. He didn't. Sometimes He does, but not always.]

In the book of Daniel, He did. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were told to fall down and worship a golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They said no, and the punishment was to be baked alive in a furnace. They replied simply, they said "God can save us, but even if He doesn't, we won't bow down to your statue." The king was furious and threw the three friends in the furnace. When they looked, a fourth man was with them, presumably an angel. They were saved from the fire, they didn't even smell like smoke. God brought them through the fire.

Peter was crucified, James was beheaded, Peter was also beheaded. In fact, of the 12 original disciples, 10 died for their faith. God could have saved them. Paul was saved from a snake bite, ship wreck, was sprung from prison, but he wasn't saved from the axe. Some days we are walking through the fire, but some days the axe lays us bare.

As I share with you tonight, I'm listening to the new song by Mercy Me called Even If. I really appreciate what Bart Millard shares in this song, because even Christian musicians, missionaries, Pastors and even Bloggers and Theologians struggle. Sometimes we are spiritually in the mud, down on our knees in the rain, shouting at the storm. That is how I often feel inside, covered in the mud as the rain pours down. Cold and wet and filthy, looking at the dark sky and crying out from the emptiness. No direction, no hope, nothing but a little chunk of warmth and light in my soul. This little burning ember in my soul that makes it ok. It makes it well. In the mud, I can sing "it is well with my soul" even when my flesh and spirit are in turmoil.

Do you feel me today? I know if you don't right now, you have and you probably will. You recognize the heart in your heart, the lump in your throat and the pounding in your head. The anguish or despair or feeling of being lost and alone. Maybe you have a name for it, maybe you call it despair or depression or anxiety. Maybe it has a more personal name, the name of the person who hurt you, who left you or toss you away. The person who you struggle each day to forgive and the anger comes back to easily. You struggle each day to love and hold back the rage and hurt and bitterness. . You know you must forgive and love and trust, but it's so hard. It's a fire and it threatens to burn you alive. You look at the furnace and you plead for God to spare you from the fire. What if He doesn't?

I know my reaction. I want to collapse under the weight of the pressure of trying to hold it together, to be a strong man, a man of faith, a leader. I am being crushed under the expectations to have it together, to get it together, to hold it together and be all together better. When I've lost and I've failed and I'm wounded and bleeding. I want to collapse, and you know what I've found? That's ok. Sometimes we need to come to the end ourselves to find the beginning of something more.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were going to die. They knew God could save them, but they were bound and as they approached the furnace, they were prepared to die, yet they still stood and would not kneel. I'm not going to make an idol of my strength and my ability, I am going to be bound and led to the fire and prepare to die. I am going to die to myself, to my pride and to my ego. I can't do this on my own. I can't be all the things I'm suppose to be, I can't be superman. I don't have to be. I'm not suppose to be, I'm not the Savior. That is why I trust another, when I have my faith in Christ.

The question that comes back, that I have to ask myself daily is simple. Where am I going to put my trust? Where is my faith? In my ability to be ok? Do I trust in people that they will help me? Do I trust in my job, my ability to make an income? Do I trust in my status as a man, husband, father? Do I get what I need by having a blog that people read or books that people buy? What am I worth? What am I for? What am I even doing? It's simple, my life doesn't exist to do anything but serve the Master who bought me with His blood and His life.

I know He is able and I know He can save me from the fire, but even if He doesn't, I will still trust Him, I will not bow to your idols.

Friday, March 3, 2017

If You Are Wrong, Do You Want to Know?

There are a couple of verses that I keep in the back of my mind, and I think it's a good idea for everyone. We need to remember that we are accountable for what we say and teach.  The first one is James 3:1. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." That should make each of us take note. The second verse is from Job. Remember Job's friends were telling him about how he must have sinned and made God angry. God's reply to them is found in Job 42:7. "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has". They were then instructed to make a sacrifice and ask Job to pray for them.

When I speak or preach or write, I remember these two verses. More than anything else, I want to speak and teach of the Lord what is right and true. I study a lot of theology, I read books and articles and blogs, look at commentaries and studies and materials to learn the most that I can. I share ideas and I'm open to discussion and criticism, because I don't want to hear God tell me that I have not spoken of God what is true. I do not want His anger to burn towards me because I have taught about God things that are not true about God.

What about you? If you are wrong in your theology or belief, would you want to know? If would do, I will question you or challenge you on things. I have served with and sat under more than  a few pastors, and I have challenged many of them. Some of them are very wise, very humble and very well prepared to discuss their theology. Some are not. The danger with being in leadership is we are often filled with pride and become the person who must have all the answers. We become like Job's friends, so sure in our belief that we don't stop to wonder if it's true, if we are right. We have to embrace the possibility that we could be mistaken.

The solution to this problem is first to be students. To be a teacher, you must be a student and be willing to listen to others and learn. You never stop looking and reading an listening and asking. Never stopped being challenged, and we all must never assume that we've "arrived". The only thing we can do is stay humble and stay teachable.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Nuts and Bolts of Growing in Faith

So I write a lot of theological and principle stuff, but today I want to hit some nuts and bolts type stuff. Stuff that works in everyday life. I was asked once if I have ever seen God and my answer was "yes". The person asked was a little taken back, wondering where and how I saw God. I told him that God is seen in the person of Jesus. That Jesus said when we've seen Him, we've seen the Father. I've seen Jesus in His body, the church. The church is the visible incarnational representative of Christ on the earth. When you see the church, you see Jesus.

To get closer to God, we get closer to the church. I'm not talking about being at every event and hanging out in the building whenever the doors are open. Those are fine, but being closer to the join means getting close to His people. There are some things you need to do. First, you gotta be there and worship with, study with and celebrate with the people. It may be a small group, Sunday School, mission opportunity or a Sunday morning worship service. You need to be there with the people. Second, you need to contribute. Talk to people, pray, and sing, and serve, and work, and be open and sharing. Get to know people, find mature Christians and talk with them, spend time with them and learn from them.

When the Pastor preaches on Sunday, pay attention. Listen and take notes and follow along in your Bible. Talk to your family and friends about the message. Meditate on it and let it get into your heart. Spend time reading the passage that was preached from. Spend time in your Bible reading and studying and understanding what it really says. Find some tools like commentaries and study Bibles.

We grow muscles by using them. We grow faith by using it. We pray and read scripture and attend worship, but there are things we can do that really will cause great growth. Evangelism and sharing your faith will do amazing things for your faith. When you begin to share with others what God is doing in and through you, it will bless you more than you can imagine. It's simple as just telling people that God is good because He loves you. Tell someone today that God is good. Tell them that Jesus loves them.

Nuts and bolts, practical. Fall in love with the church, love people, learn all you can and share it with others. If you do these things, I guarantee your spiritual life will become the most fulfilling part of your life.