Monday, June 26, 2017

But I'm Not Perfect...

Have you blown it? Ever in your life have you blown it? If you have said no, then you are lying. Maybe you have never done anything that has been a big mistake, but if you added up your little ones. What is someone could read your mind? What if we knew your heart and your desires? I bet we can all admit we are not perfect. We all have blown it to one degree or another, and many I know believe that God can't or won't use them because they have blown it.

Abraham, had a kid with his wife's servant....and it was her idea. David killed a man to cover up the affair with his wife. Solomon had. . . well a lot of wives. Jeremiah was depressed, Elijah moped for a while, the Old Testament is full of broken people. The New Testament is full of broken people. The 1st century was full of broken people, like Augustine and Anthony. The Reformation, the Great Awakening, they all had lots of broken people. The church today is filled with broken people. The guy writing this blog is broken and flawed and has some major problems.

People say God can't use them because of the mistakes they have made. That's just not true. God uses you in your weakness and through your mistakes. Paul stood and watch Stephen get stoned to death. He still used him. He can use you. He can use me. Even during dark and hard times, I'm reminded that God uses me in the lives of people. Tonight, as I was with a client I was able to answer questions and teach them about the Bible. I shared a little with a atheist and a third individual who I am not aware of where he is in regards to his faith. God used me tonight, even though I am a big failure.

Let God use you. Share what you can, tell people what God is doing for you. Help them by discipling them, encouraging, them being a friend. Even on your worst days, God can do His best.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Has Been Said Shouldn't Define You

I have the series I'm working on about the Devil and Hell, and I'll get back to that. Right now I want to share a life lesson God is teaching me. I'm pretty sensitive to criticism. I don't have the best self image, and the whole depression thing. Top that off with the number of men who have given me the "suck it up, don't complain and be a man" speech, I'm pretty jaded.

There in lies a big issue for me. I've carried around some internal criticism for a long time. The most painful come from a few choice sources. "You're not as smart as you think you are" cut me pretty deep. "You just aren't cut out for Pastoral ministry" still lingers in my head. "We don't think we are interested in your help" was a recent one that stings a little. Words of rejection, sometimes big or just said in passing.

Now I know a bunch of cute sayings, like "criticism is like fried chicken. Eat the meat and don't choke on the bones". Sounds cute, but when we have wrestled with it and feelings of inadequacy your entire life, it's not so easy.

I have to remember and remind myself every day, I'm not the sum of my critics opinion of me. I am not who they say I am, I'm not even who I think I am. I am who God created me to be. I can't be any more or less. I should learn to take comfort in that, and day by day I'll continue to remind myself to live it out.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Experiencing Brokenness

I need to start with a few disclaimers. This is not an attempt to get sympathy. I'm not writing about my problems and issues so you will feel sorry for me, but so I can talk through them and maybe we can reason about them together, or maybe to help you in our own struggles. I don't think Paul wrote his list of struggles in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 to get sympathy. That's not my goal either. Second, I am not looking for advice. I have talked to many wise individuals, please don't post your pop-psychology, self help, introspective counseling on my blog or Facebook or twitter. I get enough of it as it is, so let's fellowship together, pray, rejoice and struggle without trying to fix me.

I feel pretty broken, we will discuss in a minute if that is a good or bad thing, but I want to start with what got me to this point. I struggled a lot as a young man with depression, something that has continued. I lost my parents to cancer when I was in college, I made it through. I had a dream to work in church ministry, I dream that came true and then went away, and for now my dream is lost. I have had more losses than wins in most areas of my life, and now at the age of 40, I have gone through numerous surgeries for my GI system and back. I am currently experiencing some unexplained hypoglycemia and physical problems that can't seem to be explained.

Now not all of life is bad, I still have my wife and kids and I love my family. I have struggled to support them with the back surgeries and being down. My academic focus was always ministry, and with that gone, it's been a struggle to provide. I attempt to take hold of various opportunities, but I'm often rejected. Books and articles unpublished, the letter in the mail that says "we have gone with another candidate, you are just not what we are looking for right now".

I am willing to accept the possibility that the problem is me. The health issues may be I didn't take care of myself, the loss of dream and the inability to get back into a good position may be that I'm pretty horrible. I may lack the appropriate amounts of intelligence, grace, strength and ability to achieve anything close to what I'm attempting. I may stink as a writer, teacher, theologian, coach, pastor, and I may generally be a worthless individual. I am willing to accept that as a possibility.

My real struggle comes, if this is who I am, if I am just not good enough for my dreams, why can't I give them up? Ministry has been my life goal since I had a life goal. It wasn't my plan B, it wasn't something I would do after I did these other things. I don't have another goal or hope or plan or dream or calling. I didn't decide later in life to pursue this path, I started on this path and it's gone. It's more than I just am not in vocational ministry either, I can't even give my service away. Maybe my views are too archaic or radically. Maybe my theology is too out there, or maybe I'm so bad and worth so little, people don't want me messing up their stuff. I do admit I have some strong opinions. I believe a church should be reaching people, planting churches and doing ministry. I believe a church should be connected and people should value and invest in one another. Maybe I am too opinionated.


Here are my questions, feel free to share your thoughts. What am I doing wrong? What are my blind spots that are causing me to be so undesired and unusable? I know I shouldn't seek happiness, that I need to seek God, but I'm really tired of being unhappy. I want to be happy. I have expressed that before and been condemned, that I just need to be happy with where I am and what I have. How can I do that? How can I make the dreams and desires of my heart go away so I don't long for them anymore and can just be happy with where I am and what I'm doing? With all the tensions pulling, making sure I do what is right, what is best for my wife and kids, making an income so we can afford to live, doing the things I have to do, need to do and I'm suppose to do, how can I just let go of everything that I long for and just live with what I've got?

I'm starting in Matthew 5:3-11. Specifically 3 and 4. Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. I'm looking at Psalms 51:17, a broken spirit and broken and contrite heart. I am guessing that since I cannot seem to be unbroken, that maybe I need to be broken. Maybe I am in this season for a purpose. I will admit, I don't like it. I feel rejected, I feel empty and I hurt in lots of ways. I struggle with anger and discouragement and sometimes I feel hopeless. I ask my soul "why are you cast down (Psalms 43:5) and I tell myself to Hope in God. It's a struggle, I don't like being broken, I want to be happy and feel like I am serving. I pray it's just a season. If you are in the same season, I'd love to hear from you. If you would like to give me an honest answer to my questions, I would love to hear from you. If you want to fix me and tell me how to be better, well you can share it. Know I probably won't give it much thought, I believe that you have to walk with someone to be able to speak truth in their lives. If we don't want together, you probably won't be much help. Thanks everyone.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When They Need Help

Let's be honest for a second, the world stinks at helping. It doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing when you need someone to come alongside you and help you out, you get crickets. People don't line up to help, especially when it's not something interesting.  I'm not explaining this well, so let's back up. If you suffer from depression, from anxiety, from a physical disability or have pain, it's hard to get people to really understand where you are and how you feel. We live in such a performance-driven world, driven by the bottom line that often we get too busy, we don't have time or energy to help out those who need a leg up. It's a sad state of affairs, and I'm writing today so maybe we can all get a better perspective.

Has someone ever disappointed you by not getting things done? Something fell through, they missed the boat, dropped the ball? Did you ask if they needed help? Did you ask if everything is alright? I know, if they needed help, they should have asked for it, but how easy is it in this culture and this environment to ask for help? How often do you ask for help when you need it? It can be hard and we are expected to perform at our highest levels all the time.

Now I'm not advocating that we let people get lazy and slide by, I'm not saying we don't expect greatness from people. What I am saying is, maybe it's time we put the person before the task. Maybe it's time we take care of each other. We ask if we can help, we come along side of people, we stop getting angry and offended and upset and we start getting personal. We become helpful. We live in a society, in a world where everyone is damaged, everyone has been hurt. You have been hurt and you have felt like you weren't important at some point. Take that memory and use it to help others, not abuse your own authority.

The only thing in this world that will last for eternity are the souls of each person. If we cast aside the eternal for the things that fade away, we are acting foolishly.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Get Out Of the Past, You Don't Live There!

I remember years ago I was listening to a speaker, who kept repeating that he spent 25 years doing something. About the third time he said it, I turned to my friend and said "If I ever say 'after 25 years of....' anything, you punch me in the face". We live in a day and age that we are all about the experiences and what we have done. We love to tell stories of how things use to be. I worked in a warehouse that had slowed down business wise considerable over the years. Every day one of the older guys would tell us how is use to be. They would tell us about the days is was busy and the lines stretched out the door.

We like to live in the past, we like to set our identities on what we have done or accomplished. The problem is one of two things usually happens. Either we get so caught up thinking about the good ol days that we become despondent thinking about it, or we begin to remember all the negative things that happen and get discouraged. The glory days and the dark times that are both behind us share one thing in common. They are behind us and past us.

Philippians 3:12-15, Paul writes: Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. (CSB)

Paul remembered his past, he was a super Hebrew, a religious elite. When Christ saved him, he became someone different, and forgot about his past. Paul may have spent 20 to 30 years becoming that person, but in an instant, he became a different person. He became a follower of Christ, a new creation.

The person you are becoming is more than the person you have been. Who you have been, what you spent your life doing isn't important because it's not about you. It's about Christ. It doesn't matter what school you went too, what sport you played, what your career was but it matters what Christ is doing in you. All the things you have done and have achieved are nothing compared to what Christ has done, is doing and will do in you. Let's keep our eyes on where we are going, not where we have been.

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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An Open Letter to The Church

Dear Church,
     You are beautiful. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, you are the bride, washed in the blood, pure and spotless. You are loved, adored, protected and cherished. You are doing great things. People need connected, they need family and support and you are those things. You are a light on a hill, a city and house of refuge for many. You help, support and encourage and most importantly, you lead people to the Cross. People need Jesus, you are the one that Jesus left on earth to tell the Gospel. You are so valuable.
     You need to see yourself for who you are. You are not a building, you are not a room with nice chairs and cool lighting and a nice sound system. If those things go away, you are still who you are. You are a body, a singular entity made up of distinct parts. Value your parts, don't elevate the mouth and the hands and ignore the internal workings like they are of lesser value. Cherish your entire being, take care of it and honor it, just like Paul commands. Don't let parts of the body fall away and disappear, care for the body, go after the body.
     You are a living being, the body of Christ and you need to grow. I'm not talking size, I'm talking in wisdom and virtue. You are the incarnational representation of Jesus Christ on the earth today. Walk like Jesus would walk, talk about the things Jesus would talk about. Serve those Jesus would serve in a way that Jesus would serve them. Pray like Jesus, love like Jesus. Stop wounding yourself and stop diminishing yourself. You are the body, you are the bride. You are the church, and no weapon formed against you shall prosper, so go and make disciples. You are loved.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Has Social Media Destoryed Civil Discourse?

Ever been in a Facebook fight? I am sure you have, and they are awful. It's a back and forth of cut and paste from stuff in articles that may or may not be real news. It's tit for tat in insults and a barrage of things that no one would actually say to another person's face. This type of argument just causes anger and frustration, and it seems to be bleeding over.

We have seen anger bleed over. We have a President who uses twitter quite often, and it's caused anger to boil over. The day of the Facebook fake news, the 30 second sound bite, the tweet and retweet and the shared post on Facebook have erupted. Violent protests, rioting and anger to the point that a speaker has to abandon his presentation at a college because of the violent acts of protest.

What has happened to America? We have all seem to regressed to teenagers when it comes to civil dialogue. I saw today that even churches are beginning to behave in this manor. There is something they didn't like, so they are pulling funding in a very public way.

Maybe it's time for you and me to take a step back. Begin to engage one another with respect, even on social media. Let's face it, Facebook and twitter aren't going away, and they have changed the way the world operates. We as individuals need to make sure we are being civil and decent to other human beings. It's the only way things will ever begin to improve.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Can Setback be Triumphs?

Well it's Sunday morning and I wish I was worshipping with my family, but instead I'm home. Just a quick update on my physical issues, the back feels pretty good. I went to physical therapy last week, and somehow managed to irritate a nerve on my right side. Same type of pain, same issues, other side of the body. It can't be a disc bulge, cause there isn't any disc left. Could be inflammation, could be scar tissue. Whatever is causing the pain (and I mean serious pain) it's like a swift kick. Seems like I take a step forward and then fall back a few feet.

I don't know why I am struggling physical like I am, but it may be a blessing and a triumph. I have felt called to do a few different ministry things, like The Revolution Inversion stuff. I'll admit that it's scary to try to start a non-profit that you will make you living from. I want to do ministry for kids in Sioux City and I want to be able to serve people God has put in my life. Instead, I just went and found a job. I didn't do what I feel like I should because of fear. God may be removing my ability to avoid what I've been called to do.

I don't know for sure what is going to happen. I know there are some opportunities that God has given me. I am going to continue to pray and move forward and make wise decisions. It's important to me to take care of my family, to meet my obligations and pay my bills. On the other hand, I also know that I need to trust God with my life, finances and well being. It's a hard line to walk. I am praying that I will have wisdom to make the right choice. Please pray for me too, that I know what I should do and how to proceed. Pray for my family that we can have unity in purpose and mind, that there isn't fear or strife created by any decision that is made. Life and family and work and income, it's all a balancing act, and I don't want to upset the balance. On the other hand, I can't ignore the call God has given me and just pretend like my life is my own that I can do what I want. I gave Him my life, I am His servant, and I cannot be disobedient and be blessed.

When a shepherd has a lamb that wanders and won't follow, he breaks the leg of that lamb. He then carries the lamb everywhere so it becomes dependent on the shepherd. My bones are in tact, but I still need to be carried, so maybe I need to learn to be dependent on the shepherd more and on my own abilities a little less. I hope you can relate and are learning to be dependent on the shepherd too. I'd love to hear your story if you would like to share.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Losing What You Love Really Hurts

There are days when I sit down to write and the words come and I can put some words and ideas out there. I'm blessed with a couple different outlets and enjoy my time communicating with you all. Then there are weeks like this one. I had surgery last Monday the 23rd. This was my second back surgery, a spine fusion. The Saturday before my fusion, my wife's best friend died, Elaine was hit hard, this was sudden, out of the blue. She was going to spend Monday in the hospital with Elaine while I was in surgery. She and Elaine had plans and ideas and stuff going on. Suddenly they were gone.

I had surgery Monday, still in recovery. Life has pretty much went on as normal, but it's not normal. You couldn't see a tangible change in my day to day life, but it's there. Life is a delicate ecosystem, and a disturbance in one part will effect the rest of the system. My wife talked to her friend multiple times a day. They knew everything about each other. She helped me wife process through things and they laughed together and talked about God together. It's gone now. I do many of those same things with my wife, but I can never be her best girlfriend. I'm her husband, it's a different role for a different purpose.

My wife's best friend leaves behind a son. His dad died a little over a year ago, and now his mom is gone. He's a college student, a little younger than I was when my parents died. I'm broken for him because I know what the next 20 years will look like for him. I am glad he has some family close by, because it gets old being the guy at everyone else's family gatherings.

Now I could write down the theology of suffering, why things like this happen. There are lots of good solid biblical reasons that life is like this. There are solid reasons why God allows things like orphans, cancer, heart disease and car accidents, but I'm not going to unpack that all right now. I will later, but for the most part, we need to recognize that although bad, terrible things happen, they are bad because they are contrasted with something great. My wife's best friend was great. Their friendship was great, what they shared and helped each other with was great. It's that greatness that makes it so bad now that she's gone. Lets be sure we enjoy the great while it's great and not gone

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Post Surgery Update

Well I survived. I had my spinal fusion yesterday. Things went well and good progress this morning. I was up and walking around and I have eaten pretty good. It's been good so far. I have a drain in my back, so I will be in the hospital until that is removed. I am in pain, but managing it pretty well. I still covet your prayers as I recover. Getting around is hard, can't bend or twist and pick things up. It's going to be a long recovery.

I want to thank you all so much for all your support, prayers and love. We have been blessed by all the generosity and support and love. This has been a hard road with the two back surgeries and trying to stay on my feet, figuratively and literally. I'm hoping to get back to work soon and things to get back to normal. Thank you all for your help and love and support. I so appreciate you all and pray that God blesses you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Love is....Selfish?

If you have spent any time around church, you have probably heard 1 Corinthians 13.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;2 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


So at this point you may be wondering where I got my blog title. After all, it doesn't say anything about love being selfish, just the opposite. Well, to understand where I am going, we have to understand a little Koine (or Biblical) Greek. Stay with me here. In Greek, there are several words we would translate "love" and the one in 1 Corinthians is common in the Bible, it's the word Agape. Agape could be translated "unconditional love" or "Holy love" because it's a love that is unconditional and unending. This is in contrast to the greek word, let's look at a few. First, there is Storgy which we could call family love, parent love or motherly love. Pretty self-explanatory. Phileo, the base of Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, it means just that, the love of close friends. We could also call this Platonic love. In our current society, when we say love we are often talking about Eros, where is where the word erotic comes from. This is romantic, sexual love.
There are other words that are similar or synonym that mean things like attachment and lust, but we are going to stick with these four. Now what is interesting is the word that we use the most in our day and age isn't found in the New Testament (the Old Testament wasn't written in Greek, it was written in Hebrew). The word we would most often use for love if we spoke koine is not used in the most popular Bible passage about love, yet we often think about romantic or sexual love and use this passage.

I'm going out on a limb here and saying most people who get married do so because they feel eros for their partner. There is passion and attraction and desire. The problem, of course, is the title of my blog. To be specific, Eros is selfish. Eros is emotional love, it's feelings and those feelings are awesome. We get the euphoria, we get the excitement and we love it. We love to feel love. In contrast, Agape isn't much of a feeling. Even Storgy is less of a feeling and more of a commitment. Unconditional love does not have any conditions, which is why we call in unconditional. The love God has for us is never ending. When we are His in Christ, we are covered in unconditional, uncompromising and unbreakable love. Just like verse 7 says above, it bears and believes and hope and endures all things.

So, do your relationships sound like that? I hope so, but most of them don't. What if the person you say you love (romantic or friendship or brother or otherwise) betrays you? What if they turn their back on you, break a promise? What if they don't live up to your expectations? What if they hurt you? This is real stuff folks because you get hurt when people you love or say love you hurt you. If you lash out, get angry, break promises and get revenge, it wasn't love. In my life, I have been hurt and I got angry and I wanted to get even and it's because I didn't love. When I had was something else.

What we have too often is a feeling, and that feeling is selfish. Even if we want the other person to be happy, is that happiness so they will, in turn, make us happy? Relationships, and I mean all of them, need a dose of Agape. They need some unconditional love, I don't care if it's your spouse, your kids, your friends and family, your neighbor, your boss, and coworkers or the guy you bump into on the street. We need to begin to apply 1 Corinthians love, which means we will be patient and kind and seek the good. That means regardless of how they act or how they treat us.

Think this is hard? It's incredibly hard, because deep down in our flesh, we are all selfish and we want to be loved and happy and fulfilled. To love someone even when they hurt is is so hard. We desire to hurt them to soothe our pride. Remember, love is not prideful and it does not boast. I invite you to read 1 Corinthians with fresh eyes, let's change our love to include more Agape.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Back Surgery Part 2

Well I have been scheduled for another back surgery. In case you haven't been caught up, here is the deal. In September I began to have pain in my left leg. The pain and pain grew so by the end of October, I could barely walk, couldn't sit and couldn't really drive, or function to be honest. My doctor did an MRI and said I had a massive bulge in my l5 disc. They did a micro discectomy to remove the bulge and the pressure it was putting on the nerve roots. It worked, the pain was gone for about a week.

Then it came back. The way my doctor explained it that removing the big bulge created a big cavity and the disc just bulged right back to where it was, path of least resistance and all. It's right back on the nerve root and the pain is right back in my hamstring. Had another MRI and looked at things with the doc. We have a surgery now scheduled to take care of the issue.

Since there isn't much disc material left, and there is pain beginning to develop in my back, the next step is a fusion. I am not excited about getting my vertebrae fused together, but it seems to be the best option with what I'm dealing with. They will separate the discs and put some bone in the space, but a steel mesh around it and close it up. The bone then all fuses together and instead of two vertebrae, there is only one bigger one.

The surgery is on Jan 23rd, so if you wouldn't mind saying a prayer for me and my family. I'll be in the hospital a few days with a drain in my back. It will be an interesting experience to say the least. Here we go with round two. Last time I had a repeat surgery it didn't turn out so well, so here is hoping for a better experience.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Time for 2017

I have shared on Facebook my theme for 2017, but for those of you who are not my friends on Facebook, I want to share it and unpack it a little. My theme for this year is "Make Much of Jesus". It's not original or cute. Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song about it. You can hear it here. It may not be original, but it's meaningful. I want to share what it means to me and I hope you can join me in this year to make much of Jesus.

Much has been made of lots of things. Much was made of this election this past year, and it was a very tense political season. People went into deep mourning and depression when Hillary lost. Some of us would have been in a pretty deep depression if Hillary would have won. It has really divided the country, which was already divided. Pipelines and terrorists and debates about whose lives matter. Police shooting civilians, police getting shot and people were angry. Those who are not angry are offended and voicing their offense. Everyone is mad.

People are hateful. If you have been on social media for more than 30 seconds, someone has taken a shot at you. I have been forced to change my blog comments so they no longer allow anonymous comments. The only comments I get is people hiding behind anonymity to take a shot at me. At least tell me who you are when you tell me I'm awful. Don't be rude and a coward, that's just sad. It goes farther, people create fake facebook profiles just to bully and harass people. How sad is that, as a society we have begun to create false identities so we can hide while being cruel.

People are scared. We are scared of the future, scared of each other, scared of the unknown. The world is in bad shape with terror and economic instability the future looks uncertain. The cost of living is rising faster than the increase of wages and the government seems to be getting larger and making things worse. We are freaked out about what is happening in our world and we are feeling overwhelmed.

We have made much of the problems, much of the pain and suffering. We have made much of so many things that we are suffering. We need to change focus and make much of something better. It can't be another person, they will fail us. It can't be a thing, it will break and rust. Money gets devalued and is fleeting. We will be failed, abandoned or hurt by everything in our lives. Everything and everyone except Jesus.

I will have to have another back surgery most likely. I am struggling financially because I've been off work. I'm not looking for sympathy because many have it so much worse. I have problems, you have problems and life is hard. The only way life makes sense is to look through the lens of what Jesus is doing. Jesus is the answer to the deep, longing and nagging questions. Jesus is the hope, the proof, the answer and the goal. If we make much of Jesus, we can make less of the struggle and the pain and the deep ache. Make less of me, make less of you, let's make much of Jesus.