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. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Theme for 2018. Time for a New Perspective.

Thinking about my theme this week, I was sitting in my office and pondering what I want do focus on for 2018. As I ponder, the tv in the main room is playing a song from the movie Trolls. I can hear the bubbly optimistic voice singing “if you knock-knock me over, I will get back up again”. Sure, I need to be more positive and focus on being optimistic, but I am reminded by the words of Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi. He reaches out to Rey and invites her to let the past die. He says, “let the past die, kill it if you have too”. He wants to let it all die, the Jedi, the Sith, the way things used to be and find out who he is supposed to be. I’m not going into a long diatribe about the movie, I just want to focus on this idea.

Spoiler Warning: Kylo killed his father, Han. He wants to kill Luke. He kills Snoke. He should have killed Huss, he does smack him around a little. He is now in charge, no more mask, no more wanting to be Vader. He lets go of the ambitions to be as great as his grandfather and he wants to be who he is supposed to be. Pretty noble. . . .for a dark lord of the sith. Ok, maybe it’s not noble, maybe it’s selfish and arrogant, but the reality is, he had this path he thought he had to walk, these shoes he thought he had to fill, this person he was supposed to be. He was pushed and pulled and if he didn’t measure up he was berated, so he killed the past. He did it pretty literally.

Now I have been working through some hurt in my life for the last 5 or so years. I have struggled a lot because I had this idea of who I was going to be and who I was becoming. Then it was gone, I was told I didn’t have what it takes to be who I wanted to be and I couldn’t stay in my position anymore because I wasn’t good enough. I was broken, so I left broken and attempted to pick up the pieces, but the more I gathered, the more I dropped. I had this idea of who I needed to become, but those I use to call partners and friends were now mocking me from a distance. I was called immature, a mistake, that I was unwise and financially irresponsible. The more that was said the more got back to me, and if I responded, those individuals would go on the defensive and accuse me of gossip and slander. I limped away to start over someplace else. I tried to get going in a new place with a new goal and aim, but it never worked out. My schedule didn’t allow me, so I made a change but ended up injured and needed back surgery. I offered, I reached out, but I was shut down. The door was closed. I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t measure up, I didn’t fit the bill, my failure was too great.

The past 5 years have been a series of failures in the path I thought was set before me. I started this journey at 15, and the road just stopped. I can’t make any progress. Instead, I just sat down and looked at the past, the road that brought me here that was filled with pain and hurt and disappointment. I’m angry and hurt and feel rejected and scorned. I know I’m never going to get an apology or be restored and resolution won’t come. The thorn is there, and God isn’t going to remove it. I have to remember that grace is sufficient, even though I don’t understand or like it. I can’t fix it and I can’t fix the past. The past is gone, it’s over and I need to let it die. Maybe I need to kill it. How? By getting off that road.

I’m not saying I’m done with the road I was on for most of my adult life. Yes, the road I was on was ministry, vocationally or even volunteer. I talked with a church here in town that was looking for a pastor who feels like they are called in a specific direction, which isn’t in my direction and I found I am ok with that. They are a good church but I’m not sure my particular style is the right fit, since I am much more traditional and a Sunday School guy. I’m finding my particular style doesn’t fit many places lately, since I’m a traditional Arthur Flake, Southern Baptist, Lifeway Sunday School guy, and every time a church tosses Sunday School aside for some other model, it makes my head want to explode. Maybe someday a church will call me and say “we want a traditional Sunday School guy to come help us out”, but for right now, that’s not my path.

I have to embrace my reality. I’m not moving away from Sioux City. When we came here in 2008, it was to stay until 2025 (my youngest will out of High School at that point). We just bought a house, we aren’t leaving. I’m not going to pack up my kids and move them to find a church job, and there are no church jobs in Sioux City that fit me. I’ve even offered to do them for free, but it didn’t work. The door was shut, and I suppose when you boil it down, God shut them. Maybe it’s not the right time, maybe I am just a bad person and God doesn’t want me screwing up His church. Opinions vary, I have been told that I don’t understand pastoring and I need to get out of church ministry and pursue a career in academics.

I will pursue a career in academics. I’ve already started classwork, I’m back in school, learning new things. I have a job working in the world, which is sorta educationally focused. I’m learning, going to a training, looking at conferences, I’m going to resume writing more. I’m not leaving my faith, although it suffered a great deal when church after church seemed to shut the door on me. I won’t throw my Seminary degree, license or ordination in the trash. I’m not going to quit church, although, in all honesty, I have considered it. I won’t become a bitter individual who wants to destroy those who hurt me, but the call to the dark side is real. The temptation to lash out in anger is real, so I need to let the past die.

Kill it if necessary. This means for me that I need to take those feelings and thoughts captive, reject them and let them die. My anger and bitterness, it’s not going away easy. I’ve tried for the better part of 5 years to get them to leave. I still have nightmares and dreams about my past, but it must die. I’m not emotionally healthy, I haven’t been in a long time. My failures have come as result of my emotional state. I need to let the past die. I need to get back up again. My focus needs to be on the future, where I am going and what I’m doing. Find a new road and stop looking forlorn at the deal end. That road is over, it’s over. It’s over. I’m not over and it’s time for me to get going, down a new road.

2018: The Year to Let the Past Die, Kill It If Necessary.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Every Church is a Family, and Many Are Dysfunctional

My church has always been a family too me. They have been there with me and for me when I went through so many things. They were there for the good times, for the celebrations and for the hard times. My pastor from my home church growing up will always be more and just my pastor. He led me to Christ, he Baptised me, he licensed me to the ministry, he preached at my ordination, he performed my wedding, he did my parent's funeral, he was the executor of my parent's estate, he became my dad and was always there. He is and will always be a huge part of my life.

After leaving my home church, I had my church is college, which went through a couple pastors where I was there. The first I never really had much of relationship with, he was a nice guy but we never clicked. The second pastor was a huge part of my life. He invested in me and my wife and our new baby. He taught me a lot and invested in my early ministry. He was a great pastor and preacher, but he was also very real. He taught me how to get through the good days and the bad days.

As I launched into ministry, I served in a variety of different churches with a variety of pastors and leaders. I have served with great men and women and some who were. . . .not as great. You see, just like there are many types of families, there are just as many types of churches and some are more healthy than others. Of course, every church has problems and issues, some run deeper than others. Too often in families and in churches, we ignore the problems, make excuses and pretend like everything is fine. If in a family, there is a problem, we need to address it.

The most common church dysfunction is the same issue that's plagued humanity since the fall. The Israelites had it, the Pharisees had it, the church in Rome had it and it exists today. The pride in man's heart creates an abuse of power. Leaders become obsessed with their own leadership, they become controlling, sometimes manipulative. They become overly attached to their own power and importance, and often Christ is no longer the head of the church. The Pharisees were so concerned with their own control, they didn't recognize Christ. In the end, they crucified Christ because they were afraid to lose power. Too often there is a hunger for control and power, leaders become overly obsessed with being in charge. Just like a controlling spouse, leadership dominance to the point of abuse is a dysfunction in a church.

There is the unattached, uninvolved church. You come on Sunday morning, you sit and no one really connects and no one really knows much. Sure there are relationships in the church, friend, and connections, but those groups don't connect to the other groups. The pastor really isn't involved in his people, the people aren't connected to the leadership and there isn't really a sense of community. It's superficial, and the people are connected but more from proximity. It's like that Thanksgiving dinner when no one talks and it's filled with small talk. The kids don't share with their parents, no one talks about their hurts or their problems. Everything is glossed over and no one really knows anyone else in the family.

Of course, there is the family that is over-involved. They want to dictate every action you take. A church is a great help and the pastor can really help you, but a pastor who is overly involved in your life, one who is controlling and manipulative, well that's as bad as a nagging in-law. A church that wants to manage your clothes, your hair, your money, your kids and how you spend every minute of your day, that is not healthy. Now, there are times that a church family needs to help when you are in trouble, in sin, or in bad spot overall, there are times to intervene, but a constant controlling church is not a healthy thing. It's not good when a parent controls adult children and it's not good when a church controls the people.

Of course, there are lots of variations of the next one, but I'm going to call it the secret sin church. A church that has an issue and maybe it's a secret, maybe it's not, but no one wants to address it. A pastor who is an egomaniac, but he is a good preacher and so we ignore it. The Pastor who tells lies acts more like a politician and says what you want to hear. We know he doesn't but we'll overlook it. The deacon who likes to gossip, but he's been around here forever. The elder who is crooked in his business dealings, but his tithe check is the biggest in the church. The influential church board member who is powerful at church and in the community and tells the racist and sexist jokes in his office. Everyone knows, but we aren't going to say anything. Sure the Pastor is emotionally abusive to his family, but as long as things are good for me, then it's all good. Did that sting a little? Look, I get it, you like the Pastor and he seems to be trying, well sometimes. I have served with men who have had issues, addictions, and problems and they struggled. I walked with them, prayed with them and they worked on and it tried. I'm not talking about those guys. I'm talking about the guy who says "well this just is who I am" so he has an excuse to behave badly. He can call his wife stupid in a group, cause that's how he is. He can threaten and insult church members who disagree because that is just his personality. We all know the controlling husband, the hurtful wife and the abusive boss that are given a pass. It happens in church, it happens a lot. Does it happen in yours?

I want to give you one more, although the list is much longer. The last is the trendy church. I'm not talking about the hipster worship leader and jeans wearing pastor, I mean the church that jumps on board with every new trend. In families, we see the mom that reads a new book or article and now her kids are doing that trend. They are the babywise, gluten and soy free, non immunized, raw milk drinking, Montessori school attending, gender fluid non-binary kids. If I offended you, I'm a little sorry. Montessori schools are probably fine, and if you don't want to eat gluten or soy, whatever. Immunize your kids, and they are boys or girls, it's science. Anyway, we all know those parents who read an article on Facebook about how dihydrogen monoxide has the highest pH of any acid will kill you if you have too much, so they plan to ban it from their homes as soon as they figure out what it is. News flash, it's water and yes, people drowned in it. Sometimes we buy the hype and make bad decisions. Churches can do the same thing, we become the best, purpose-driven, awake, simple church, team sport, radical, underground, crazy love church. Now, most of these books are good, I read most of them and really enjoyed them. The problem comes when a leadership team reads a new book and suddenly that becomes the model. The Pastor's sermons for the next 6 weeks are focused on the book, all the meetings and studies and prayers are focused on the book. The church becomes a mini version of the church that wrote it. The problem is, this isn't Saddleback or Atlanta or even Idaho (unless you are in one of those places, but then you are still not the other two). I'm in Iowa, that's my context. It's totally different than the one I was in when I lived in Arizona. They are both different from Wyoming. Parts are the same, some parts are totally different. I can't use the same cookie cutter approach. Can I use principles? Yes. Can I duplicate everything? No. It's like the parents who read a bunch of books by some pop-psychologist and now the kids are 35 and can't figure life out. Do what is best for your kids, do what works in your church.

Like I said, there are lots more, churches are filled with people who are filled with problems. Problems can be fixed, things can be resolved, and there is always hope. Don't go fire your pastor, burn down the building and disband the church. The biggest problem I think we make is when we start to treat the church like a business more than a family. If you go and fire your pastor and staff, that is a business move. If it must be done (he's embezzling or abusive) then it must be done, but don't fire a pastor or staff because you think you can get a better one. That's like leaving your spouse for a better-looking one. It's shallow and stupid and, well don't do it. I digress, don't throw the whole thing away, remember the point. The church is a family. You don't get rid of your kids, dump your spouse and disown your parents because there are problems. You fix them, at least in a functional family. Yes, there are times when an individual must be removed, but most of the time that isn't the case. Let's talk about the issues in the church, work on the issues in the church. If we just ignore what is going on, things will never get any better.