Monday, August 29, 2016

The Elusive Happiness

Not to long ago I wrote a series of blogs on happiness. At the time I wasn’t happy. There are several reasons for me not feeling happy and I don’t want to rehash all of it. A few weeks ago and nothing in my life has really changed, but I’m feeling much happier.

I’m still dissapointed about my lack of ministry involvement, about my lack of time to do the things I enjoy. There is still stress about money and finances and to top it off, my truck is out of commission. Things are still rough, but I am happier today than I was a month ago. What is the secret?

Truth is, there isn’t one. I just started being happy about things. I play minecraft with Brayden and joke with Collin and Kaylee and spend time with Elaine. I enjoy the friends I have in the short amount of time I get to spend with them. I focus on the things I like about my job and I try to do things for myself here and there.

I’m trying to do things that make me happy. I focus on things that I am happy about and I try to look forward to some things. I look forward to the future more and look at the past less. Things aren’t perfect, but they never have been nor will they be. They are still good. It’s all good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Perils of Older Faith

I was listening to a message the other day about some of the men in the Old Testament who started well but didn't always finish well. Solomon began strong, but turned away from the Lord because of his many foreign wives.  At the end of his life, David performed a census in direct disobedience and was punished.

Some men made bad decisions, like Hezekiah who showed all the treasure of Jerusalem to the representatives of Babylon. When he was told by the prophet Isaiah that Jerusalem would fall into ruin, his reaction is "as long as there is peace in my lifetime." Men who began well who fell away later in life.

This phenomenon is not just found in the scripture, but in history. We hear for evangelist, missionaries and pastors who begin well, but later in life turn from God and fall away. Some fall into temptation or sin, some have a crisis and some just walk away. I struggled to understand how men can experience God in amazing ways and then turn and walk away. How Israel can see God at work and then doubt and grumble and complain.

I started in ministry while I was in High School. I was excited and gung-ho. I went to college, I went to Seminary and I served in church. Time and the realities of life can be hard on a calling. It can be hard on a faith. It can cause lots of damage. I'm not in church work right now, even though I would love to be. I don't see it happening again anytime soon, probably never again in a local church setting. There are some things that happen in older faith, things I think we should all watch out for.

We say things like "if people make you lose faith in God, then your faith is in people" and that is true. Never the less, the church is the Body of Christ, it's the incarnational representation of Jesus on the earth. The Body of Christ in America needs a doctor, because it doesn't often listen to the head. Most churches run more like a business than a ministry. In church work, I was judged by my "business attire" and I was treated like an employee. Jesus told his disciples not to lord their authority of people, but people with authority in the church today act more like business leaders than disciples. Dealing with leaders who take the name of Christ but act like Donald Trump in the board room can hurt your faith. (Aside, I have some personal experience, but much of this critique is not from my experience alone, but many, many individuals I know who are no longer serving at the local church level because of these exact situations).

As we get older, we find more and more and more things that don't seem to make sense. I know that God is eternal and has understanding far beyond that I'll ever have. As I get older there is a statement I can intellectually combat but emotionally struggle with. "If God is all powerful, He cannot be all good, if He is all good, He cannot be all powerful". Of course this is referring to injustice and suffering in the world. On an intellectual level, I know this statement is crap. Suffering is essential, we must suffer. Job didn't fully understand God and therefore his relationship and worship was incomplete until he suffered. Without hurt and suffering, we would never mature. We would be selfish, prideful and lost. Suffering has a job, a purpose and a function and if God took away all suffering, he would be crippling mankind in so many ways.  That being said, I don't like it. I don't like pain, loss, hurting and things I don't understand. I don't like trying to explain to someone how illness, death and tragedy plays into a greater plan in life. It takes a toll.

The reality of constant criticism and judgement is hard to handle. We live in a world that will throw every stone at faith it can. People will tell you that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, naive fairy-tale believers. The atheist will tell you how much of a joke your faith is, but if you mess up, screw up or do something wrong, you are going to get martyred. Satan will use every non-believer to mock you, tempt you, judge you and condemn you and it takes a toll on your faith. You can overcome, but it takes a toll.

What do we do about this issue? How do we overcome? First, it's important to not be arrogant and prideful. Saying ridiculous things like "I'm not going to lose my faith" or "i'm stronger than that" is just silly pride. I can promise that individuals who are strong, smarter and more faithful than you have stumbled. Don't believe me? Solomon was wiser, he built the temple, he was blessed by God and anointed king. He blew it. Are you better than Solomon? Oh, but you have the Holy Spirit? It doesn't take long to find a long list of men who started strong in ministry and fell away. Temptations, pain and doubt, suffering took it's toll.

Once we have some humility and realize that we have the ability to fall and walk away, we have to find a way to deal with it. The best way is to have some real friends. Most of us have church friends who are friends as long as we attend the same church. If you change churches, you end up changing friends. It's horrible and disgusting to realize that our relationships that are suppose to be the closest are so superficial. When I moved out of my parents home, I was still their son. If you leave a church, however, you are no longer part of the family. Toss those relationships to the back burner and find some real connections. People who will be there for you even if you move 1,000 miles away. That's not a made up number either, I lost relationships with people who live 5 miles from me when I changed churches, but guys 1,000 miles away from me still keep in contact, still invest in me and still care. Find friends like that.

Stay in the Word even with it's hard. When you are questioning God, questioning your faith and the promises its' easy to drop the Bible in the corner. Don't, keep in it. The Word is powerful and you need the power in your life. Do NOT substitute the Bible for Christian music and sermons and podcasts. They can talk about the Bible, but you need the Bible. I have found I have had to cut out a lot of Christian music and sit in silence in the car, because the lyrics at best are bad theology. Many are heretical garbage. Too much TBN influence. I don't care if you like Joel Olsteen, Joyce Meyer or Pat Robertson, it's bad teaching mixed with heresy.

Good friends, God's word, add to that lots of prayer. It's going to be hard, and you have to be honest on those days you don't want to pray. Those days I tell God that I'm mad and hurt. I hear all the little saying like "give it to God, turn over your anger and bitterness." Ya, that's a nice saying, but my anger and bitterness is stuck in my like a barbed fish hook. I can't just hand it over, I have to work it out. Ignore all the stupid, non Biblical platitudes that people make up, like "God won't give you more than you can handle" because they are not helpful. In the end, it will damage your faith more than help.

I'm knocking at the door to 40, meaning i've been saved for more than 30 years. I've had victory and tragedy, I've done great things and I have blown it, badly. I struggle with my faith more now than ever before. I have about 40 years left, give or take. I'm going to hold to my faith like a little kid holding to his mom's leg on the first day of preschool. I'm going to fight by admitting i'm weak, seeking help and being honest. I'm going to write things like this, risking the anonymous commenter is going to come on, pick out something I said and rebuke me, ignoring the bulk of the article. (When you find people like that, they are more in love with being right than with other believers. They are clanging cymbals). I'm a 40 year old ex-pastor who is struggling every day to keep with faith above water. I'm really out of things to lose, so maybe being honest and real and trying to help encourage you will be a blessing. Maybe God is letting me struggle a little more so I can help you struggle a little less.

Like Red Green says "I'm pulling for you, we're all in this together".

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Race, Culture and the Bigger Issue

I originally wrote this as a Facebook post, but I wanted to write a little more, so I'm adding it as a blog. I heard an interview and I'm putting the link in so you can see the statements made.

Ben Shapiro made a statement that we don't have a racial issue, but a culture issue. I agree 100% but I believe this farther than the point he was making. There is a culture issue among many minority young males that makes them more prone to police confrontation, this is reflected in the media of that cultured with much of the music identified with the culture. The prime example is the rap music culture that glorifies deviant behavior.

 Beyond that, the idea of superiority of Euro-Americans is a cultural issue. We hear the statistics and begin to adopt an attitude of superiority over minorities. The narrative begins with a sub culture in the black community that is gang centered such as the inner city Chicago. Young white individuals who are not in a criminal subculture subtly begins to stereotype. It happens without even being aware most of the time, we hear about the crime rate, the rates of poverty, unwed and single mothers, the stereotype is created. The issue is amplified as the criminal element gets more and more focused upon. Here is the issue in my opinion.

I deal with people with diverse ethnic backgrounds, they are more similar than different. They have wants and needs, are talking care of their issues and doing their best. We ignore most off these people to focus on a kid who gets shot attacking an officer after robbing a store. We ignore the thousands of young black men in school and going to work. The entire culture has created this issue, blacks and whites.

Want to blame someone? I would say the news media, but they are a business and they sell what we buy. Can't blame the politicians, we put them there. It's us, we the people. It's time to dissolve the entire narrative, push the extremes out of the spot light. Stop focusing of the thugs, the criminals, the dirty cops, the crooked politicians, the race baiters and all those who make a profit from this narrative. They want to be in the spotlight and we pay attention and we listen to them, look at them and give them credibility.

The reality is crime will never go away but we can stop associating it with color of skin. Corrupt politicians will never go away but we need to have David Duke and Al Sharpton out of the picture completely. These two individuals represent a whole group of individuals who use this issue to their advantage. They prey on different groups, but in the end are cashing in on this issue. The current narrative isn't a race issue, it's a culture issue. It's a culture issue promoted by people using it to get rich and famous.

It's time to stop being used and just be American. It's time to stop making the criminals famous. We need to focus less on the few kids who are shot and more on the kids who are doing well and making a difference.  We need more kids like THIS. I know many out there will scream "where is the justice" and they want everyone to know the story of the injustice. The reality is that you make criminals martyrs. We are perpetuating the issue when we put the moms of these young boys on TV. They are not representative of the black community. My son's friends aren't posing with guns on their FB page, they aren't robbing, looting, rioting and engaging in criminal behavior. We need to stop making criminals famous. We need to stop making those who are cashing in on this famous. We need to stop letting politicians use this to manipulate for votes.

Can we get real for a second?  No one outside of his family and friends gives a crap about Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or even Philando Castile. We scream social outrage, but if these men were still alive and needed help, most people won't give it too them. It's just the reality of America. We agree that it's tragic they are gone, and we argue over if the shooting was justified, but we don't really care. Most people are genuenly concerned about their friends and family, but outside of that, they don't do much. Charitable giving is just high enough to make people feel good about themselves, but for the most part, people are selfish and concerned about themselves. When riots go one, people loot and steal, is that because they are outraged about the crime? No, it's because they don't care and are selfish. People are seeking to take care of themselves. There will continue to be lives lost unjustly as long as there are people who use it for exploitation. You can't cure corruption with more corruption.

It's time to change the culture. It's time to stop making heroes out of criminals, politicians, and anyone else who uses this to advantage their ajenda. We need to purge these movements like BLM of every individual who is using it for their personal gain either monitarily, fame and notoriety or the ability to manipulate, then have an honest dialogue. There won't be many left.

Time to change the culture. Not black culture or white culture or Hispanic culture, all people with diverse cultural backgrounds need to hold tight to their history and traditions. We need to change the culture of exasperating along lines of skin pigmentation and geographical origin. We need to truly and honestly seek to become Americans without the content-. We are American, not Anglo-American, Euro-American, African-American, Latin-American, we are simply American with cultural roots from another place. In all honesty, most of us have been diversified enough that we can't just claim one location anyway. Many have ancestry from all over the globe. We need to have a culture of humanity, not ethnicity.

So, how do we change the culture?  I've written enough for one post, let's explore than one another time.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dinner, Dessert and the Right Outlook of Happiness

I’ve been writing about happiness, and I want to point out one thing. I’m not talking about joy, I’m not talking about a spiritual fruit, but about being happy. Chasing happiness should never be our first priority, but happiness is nice. Happiness is dessert, our relationship with God is dinner. Let me unpack that.

Dinner is necessary. We shop for, plan and put a lot of work into dinner. Dinner is important, we should all sit down and enjoy dinner as a family. Dinner is a main focus of an evening and every culture seems to have a solid concept of having dinner. We put lots of focus on dinner. Resturants, markets, famers and ranchers, all these industries are focused on dinner.

Dessert on the other hand is great, but not necessary. We don’t have dessert every night. It’s not a staple, it’s not an event it’s just a little extra for those special times. Resturants have dessert for a little extra experience and a little extra revenue, but they are not the focus. Dessert is great but not life sustaining. Dinner is life sustaining.

I want to be happy, but it’s not my focus in life. I want to be happy but I need to have a relationship with God. I need to grow in my faith and in my holiness. I would like to have happiness, but I’m not going to have it all the time. My hips has been hurting lately, I’m not happy about it. When my back hurts, when I get a sunburn, when Im out of water and very thirsty, I’m not going to be happy. I can have joy and I can have a good relatonship with God, but I can’t always be happy and that’s ok. It’s ok not to be happy.

We will continue to talk about happiness again next time, but I think it’s important to put happiness in it’s proper context. Let’s make sure we have a good dinner in our relationship with God and have some dessert on a regular basis.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Isn't God Enough?

So when  you struggle with being unhappy, the constant struggle is a mental struggle. The question haunts me "why isn't God enough" ? Shouldn't I be ok on my own in the desert with just my Bible and prayer? I know the Apostles Paul said he was content with having plenty or little. What's wrong with me?  Why can't I be happy with where I am and what I have?

I think the answer is in my in my ability to be happy sometimes. When I'm doing what I love and teaching or leading or sharing I'm happy.  When I'm developing people and helping them use their skills and gifts, I'm happy. When I'm doing what I feel called to do, I'm happy. So the simple question arises, why don't I do those things more? Well my problem is mostly time. I work a lot and I have a family.  Not a lot of time to pursue outside ministry times. I have been limited in opportunity as well. I don't have the resources to really do all I feel I'm capable of.

I think Paul struggled during times or inability to minister. In prison he found his outlet in letter writing. Right now blogging is most of what I have.  You all as my readers and friends bring me happiness. I feel isolated those times I work long hours with long drive times. I am just not motivated by the idea of making lots of money. Being in a sales motivated world and being driven to want to help people is hard. I am not driven to sell, making lots of money isn't my focus. I like the ability to help people and teach people how to deal with life's pests.

So, isn't God enough? He made Adam and said this isn't good, he needs someone. Jesus took some followers and told them to share and make groups of people called to be together. The Greek term we use for church is basically a group of people called to come together. We are told to be together. We are called to help and minister together. I think we will find more happiness when we serve together and serve each other.  I'm going to keep working towards that goal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Finding Happiness, Make Peace with your Past

I have been talking to my wife about the happiness thing. Before I go much farther, I should point out there is a reality that my unhappiness and my depression may be a medical issue. I am going to an endocrinologist in a few weeks to see if I have something off in my glands or organs or endocrine system or something.  It may be all the searching for answers may simply be a medical deficiency. I'm actually hoping so, because I don't know what else to do.

That being said, there may be an issue or issues in my past that I just haven't dealt with. Growing up, I was picked on a lot, cause . . .well I was a dork. It's just how I roll I guess. My mother was also very critical of me, which was difficult. I went from being a pretty sensitive kid who cried easily and had a soft heart to being stoic and emotionless. It wasn't by chance or accident.

In college, I lost both my parents to cancer. I did manage to graduate and go on to Seminary, and then I had the heartaches of ministry and church work which I don't wish to rehash. Let's just say there is some lingering hurt. I know there are many who the hurts and others pushing them down just motivates them harder. I had a comment (which I greatly appreciate) about wanting to prove the critics wrong and succeed despite them. That's just not how I'm wired. Criticism does not motivate me at all. I have lots in my past that I drag around, I think the technical term is baggage.

So Elaine, who is so much smarter than I am, pointed out that much of my problem is the baggage that I carry around. The hurt and the wounds and the pain that follow me around like an imprinted duckling. The problem is that I have no idea what to do about it. I have talked to others, including counselors, I have prayed and written about it. I have read books and listened to sermons and lectures and even taken classes. Maybe I am just being overly sensitive, or maybe I am so desensitized and I have crammed the stuff so deep it will take a surgeon to remove it. Maybe there is little to no hope for me.

Or maybe my thyroid is out of whack and I need to get it back in balance. Maybe, but I want to be happy and I want you to be happy too. Here is my suggestion. Let's make peace with our past. Let's forgive those who wronged us, and this might be a process. I am still working to rid myself of some anger and it takes time. Let's focus on being joyful (which can be hard) and being strong. Let's deal with emotions and feelings as they come and focus on being emotionally well.  Let's keep looking for happiness.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Not Suffering, Just Unhappy. How Do We Cope?

I have read a lot of books on suffering, some are great and some are just ok.  I'm re-reading one right now and I am reminding of the importance of pain and suffering. That's for another blog. The reality is that I'm not really suffering. I have some health problems, issues with my blood sugar and some weakness and I'm seeing an endocrinologist in a few weeks. Compared to people with cancer and life threatening diseases, I'm not suffering. I have a house, a truck that is falling apart but still runs. I have a job and a decent income. My wife and kids are healthy and we are safe and secure as anyone can be. I have food, clean water, a comfortable bed, no one wants to hurt me. All in all I have things pretty good, but emotionally I am not in a good place. I'm unhappy.

It's stupid and I can't stand it but I don't know how to fix it. My dream died, I began a path towards full time vocational ministry when I was 15. In 2012, that dream was broken and it has been smashed into smaller and smaller pieces. I attend a good church, but I don't really do anything with my gifts, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I'm on the outside. Sure, I attend Sunday School, Worship, we go to a small group when we can. I attend the men's breakfasts sometimes, I'm in a men's huddle group. My wife attends stuff, my kids are active and involved but I'm still pretty much on the outside, at least compared to what i'm use too. I use to teach, preach, lead and serve and now I just sort of attend. It's fine, but I'm not happy.

I like my job, it's challenging and enjoyable. I trap raccoons and squirrels, I get rid of bats and bedbugs and termites. Most people are happy to see me and I get to help people. There is a lot about my job that appeals to who I am, things like problem solving. I have a good deal of Independence and I'm pretty good at what I do. It's not what I want to do though. I want to teach and lead and develop educational ministry programs. I want to start Christian organizations on public school campuses and in places of business. I want to plant network churches that move away from the purchase property and build a building model that can reproduce more rapidly and have more capital for ministry instead of overhead. I have all these ideas and dreams and goals and I am doing nothing to move towards them.

I love writing and I dream of writing and having books and articles written. I have so many ideas but if you follow my blog you know that writing is something I haven't done much of lately. I work long hours in the summer, and we just moved into a new house. Right now I should be putting the new starter in my truck. I have so much to do and I don't have time to do it all. I haven't been camping this summer and I've only been fishing with the kids twice. I don't have the time to do what i want to do, and I can't afford to do much of it. I work long hours because there is so much to do. I get home and do what I can around here, but physically I run out of energy.

I feel torn down. I have never really been a super successful individual and I have experienced a lot of criticism and discouragement. I'm not trying to do the "oh, poor me" thing, just throwing reality out there. My mom was critical, many peers have been critical, I was told when I left ministry that I wasn't cut out for it. I have been rocked over and over with criticism and rejection. I've had a lot of doors shut in my face and been told I'm not worth a whole lot. You hear that enough, you tend to think it's pretty true. I have never really been the best at anything, I've always been average or below. I have found myself giving up on a lot. I have stopped trying, stopped pushing forward and really stopped caring. I feel like my critics and detractors have steam rolled me and I have just given up. My wife tells me that she knows how defeated I feel. I have lost the will to get up and fight back. It's become a "what's the point" sort of thing. So many who claimed to be my friends, my brothers and my support have betrayed me and lied to me. There have been so many times that people have told me they love me, but don't hesitate to turn on me when it suits them. I have discovered the church is full of politicians and it's hard to know who to trust. It's hard to trust.

Life is going ok, but I am unhappy. I don't know why, I don't know how to fix it. I wish I could have things different, I wish I could change and rearrange a few things. The Apostle Paul says we need to be content in all things and be joyful and patient. I'm not, I am not joyful and I'm not patient and I'm not happy. I want to spend some time over the next handful of posts to explore this phenomenon because I don't think I'm alone in this. I see people doing all sorts of radical things in their lives because they are not happy. We make bad decisions in search for a good feeling. Some people try drugs or drinking or bad relationships, become addicted to something and find ways to escape. I have tried several escapes in an attempt to just feel happy. It's failed.

Together we can walk through this process and try to find a way to be happy without breaking the law, disobeying God, leaving our family, getting divorced, quitting our jobs, losing our money and destroying our lives. Too often, people have gone to these extremes to be happy and I don't think it works. We need to find a way to be happy that truly makes us both happy and obedient in Christ. There has got to be a better way.