Tag Archives: Religion

the blessing of wrestling

This morning I was having breakfast with a few dear friends at Chick-fil-a.

Have you ever heard a more delicious beginning to a story?

We were sitting there communing over spicy chicken biscuits, frosted coffee (it’s ice cream you can have for breakfast!), and other delicious cuisine when we began discussing something that we mutually decided that we didn’t fully understand.  Apparently we must’ve not been too quiet because a man came up to our table and began to “explain” the topic that we had been wrestling with together.  He was speaking very confidently and using large hand gestures to reinforce his point.

In that moment, we did what people do when someone gives them unwanted explanation.  We waited until he was finished and nodded saying “that’s interesting, thanks.”  As he began to walk away, he looked back and said, “I’m a minister to men.”  I guess what he probably didn’t realize was that the four guys he was talking to are also identified as ministers by church title.  Of course, all followers of Jesus are called to be ministers to others.  Stating that he was a minister as he was walking away seemed to be his way of expressing that he was some sort of authority on the matter.  It was frustrating to me, but I couldn’t really understand why in the moment.

Whether or not this man was correct in his explanation is beside the point.  I guess I was bothered because sometimes we, especially those of us who are referred to as ministers, pastors, or teachers, can try and explain away the mystery of God.

Growing up in church is different than growing up outside the church and coming to faith later.  For me, growing up in church was an exercise in knowing about God.  I believed that I could know everything about God.  I believed that there was someone out there in the world who knew more about God than anyone else, some sort of super Christian or God’s right hand man.  In a way I believed that God delighted in people knowing his stats much like how I can recite the names and numbers of obscure former Tennessee Titans players.  I looked at my dad and thought, “He probably knows more about God than most anyone else, after all, he has a couple degrees in the Bible.  He carries around a Bible with an ancient language in it.”  I looked at my youth minister and thought, “He must know a lot about God, he teaches us twice a week!”

So going to a Bible college myself to study the Bible seemed like a great way to fill my brain with knowledge about God.  Surely that was pleasing to God.  A few years in to my studies in college, I had a harsh, semi-painful realization.  More study of the Bible was not answering all my questions, it was providing more difficult questions that were not as easy to answer.  There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

Looking back, I can identify this as a period of some faith “deconstruction.”  Deconstruction is a word that I had never heard used as a healthy thing regarding faith.  Wouldn’t you want your faith to be constantly constructing!?  Always building taller and taller so that it may reach new heights?  I think this period of deconstruction is natural and happens to all of us in one way or another.  Luckily for me, I did then and still do find myself in communities that are affirming of my questions.

Think about all the times people asked questions of Jesus.  Time and time again people come to Jesus asking questions.  These questions have all kinds of motives, some seeking, some to trap him, and some rhetorical.  Time and time again, Jesus does not answer these questions with a concrete answer that removes the mystery, but instead Jesus answers with another question, tells a story, or remains silent.  Jesus was not a cookie cutter, fill-in-the-blank teacher.  Jesus was a teacher who asked probing questions with which His followers wrestled.

As a community of Christ followers, we must give both ourselves and each other space to have questions and not have answers.  Naturally this is terrifying because we are an anxious people who need to know everything all the time.  That’s why Google is a thing, right?  So we can just Google anything that we don’t know.  And even more than in other realms of our life, our churches can seem like groups of people with whom we are uncomfortable expressing doubt or posing a tough question.  Here’s the thing about that: people will wrestle with doubt and questions regardless, but will they do that in the context of a people who believe that God is big enough for our questions, or will they have to leave our faith communities to ask their questions? 

We cannot place God in a box.  I am a minister who works in a church, and guess what?  I don’t have all the answers.  I went and got that degree in “Theology and Ministry” and guess what?  I am right there wrestling with everyone else.

So let’s try something.  And I’ll try and do this as well.  Next time someone expresses a question or doubt, let’s not be so quick to answer.  Life following God is a mystery.  Let’s spend some time in awe of the mystery of the Almighty God.  I think we will find that there is a blessing in wrestling with God.

-Michael

 

 

 

 

AN ASIDE:

What is it with Chick-fil-a and people trying to explain deep mysteries of God with lackingly short and easy quips?  I once overheard a man at Chick-fil-a attempt to explain the Holy Trinity to a 12-year-old using the metaphor of a buffalo sauce packet.  Don’t get me wrong, I love buffalo sauce, but I think even buffalo sauce in all of its splendor pales in comparison to the Holy Trinity.

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The Pledge and Playing it Safe

Before I start, I just want to say that writing this is not easy. I’m well aware that many friends, family, or fellow Christians may disagree with me, but I also know that I am not always called to be agreeable. And I write this because I believe it to be truthful in my life. If I do end up posting what I write, I pray that God will do what He wills with it. God always seems to do that.

A teacher in school once told our class, “Never begin a speech or a paper with a definition.” BUT these teachers always said, there’s exceptions to every rule, and when we were a big-time author we could break the rules. I’m not a big-time author, but I do have my own, free-to-use blog that my mom may read, so I’m just going to break the rules anyways…

Merriam Webster defines allegiance as “devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause.” Now growing up in the U.S., the first thing I think of relating to allegiance is the “Pledge of Allegiance.” We all know it by heart. We grew up reciting it every morning in our schools. In elementary school, does anyone actually know what they’re saying? I remember thinking there was a word in the pledge that was “witchit.” I did not know what it meant, but we said it every day, so it had to mean something. As it turns out, that is actually two words “which it.” The whole thing goes like this:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I don’t know why it seemed so long in school. Maybe because it was the morning? I am not much of a morning person. Or maybe it was because time seems to pass faster now? Who knows. Anyway, that’s what we said, every single day. Then when I was old enough to go to Church Camp, we said it there every morning as we raised the flag. This just seemed to me like part of life in this country, and I didn’t think another thing about it.

Well at least I didn’t think about it for a while. I graduated a year and a half ago from a school named after a preacher of the American Restoration movement, David Lipscomb. In learning about his life and his work, it struck me how he was unwavering in his stance that his citizenship was in the Kingdom of God, not in this country. Lipscomb did not take part in elections, and he also was a strong voice for nonviolence. Growing up in Christian circles, I had never heard this idea. Perhaps I thought that a good American was a Christian, and a good Christian was a “patriotic” person. For many older people with more life experience than my generation, some may view this country as a shining light of freedom in a world of darkness.

I have a hard time rectifying this vision of the U.S. as a beacon of hope with God’s vision of the Church. In Matthew 5, Jesus is preaching to the people.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  -Matthew 5:14-16

This tells me that God’s light of the world is His people: the Church. God is calling His people to do good deeds to bring glory to the Father. We are God’s people. Many of us know of other Christians in other countries, and they are no less part of the Kingdom of God than anyone who lives in this country. So we, God’s people, are to be a light, I get that. What else is required of us? Jesus goes on his sermon, and he teaches on taking care of the poor, prayer, fasting, and finding our treasures in heaven. Then he says this:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  -Matthew 6:24

This is a painful teaching. Of course Jesus is talking about money here, but He is also talking about many other things that may become a master of our life. This teaching refers to power, sex, relationships, sports, and yes, the powers and authorities of the world. Occasionally, our country and God may have similar interests, but that is certainly not something that is consistent. God wants all of us, 100%, to be devoted to Him. Jesus’ message does not really attract those who only want a hobby.

This complete devotion that Jesus is requiring brings me back to the idea of allegiance. If we are completely devoted to following Christ, then our allegiance belongs to the Kingdom of God. I don’t believe myself capable of having multiple allegiances. At some point, we will make decisions that show where our devotion is, and I do not feel called to pledge my allegiance to a flag or a country. Believe me, this is not something that I really want to share on the internet. This idea has been banging around in my head for a few years now. I can no longer pledge allegiance to the flag and our country with a clean conscience.

This is not something I have decided based on the current political landscape or the many athletes who have taken a knee during the national anthem.  Throughout Scripture, God is calling upon His people to serve Him only.  All kids raised in church have to memorize the 10 Commandments.  Commandment #1: “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Commandment #2: “You shall not make for yourself and image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God.”  So maybe you don’t see standing, placing your hand over your heart, and pledging your devotion to a man-made object and human construct as idol worship?  OK, but its at least similar, right?

Then I look at a story from the book of Daniel about these three guys Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago.  Here these guys are living in a foreign empire and the king has a giant golden statue of himself made (a sign of empirical supremacy).  He decrees that everyone must bow down to this statue or be thrown into a furnace and burned alive.  So the time comes and everyone is gathered together in one place.  The instruments are played and everyone starts to bow, everyone except these three guys.  Can you imagine the looks even from other God-fearing people?  Can you imagine the whispering from their friends?  “Just bow and get it over with! It doesn’t mean anything! Just play it safe and do what you’ve gotta do!

Maybe you’ve heard, “Just play it safe and do what you’ve gotta do” before.  Maybe it was something at work that you just had to do to keep your job.  Maybe it was going along with the racist joking of a group of people because you were in the minority and didn’t want to be “that guy.”  There’s many times in our lives where we feel this pressure to play it safe and conform, and we are even advised by our friends and family to do so!  But I have been trying to think of a time where Jesus advised playing it safe, and I’m struggling to think of a time.

So anyways, the King has these three guys brought in and, to paraphrase, says, “I’m dead serious, I will throw you into the furnace if you don’t start playing along.”  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago, go on and tell this King that they believe God can deliver them from any harm, OH AND ALSO, and here’s the kicker for me, they say “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” *mic drop*

So now they’ve really done it!  The King is ticked!  He has the furnace made 7 times hotter than normal, ties them up and tosses them in there.  Then he looks in and sees 4 people in there, even though he only put 3 in… and the new one “looks like a son of the gods.”  They aren’t getting burnt up and their bindings are gone.  So the King has them brought out, and then goes on to praise God and decrees that “the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

Not only did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago stand up for their convictions, but God used that to change the heart of the most powerful person in the world.  When we give a little, God multiplies it!

So all that to say, we are not called to play it safe or be agreeable.  We are not called to give our devotion to any earthly government or symbol of that government.  We are called to give 100% of our allegiance to the Almighty God, the only God who can save.

And I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for 8 months, playing it safe, but today God gave me courage.  And let’s be honest here, I don’t have a wide readership.  And I stand at no risk to face imprisonment or any formal punishment because our country doesn’t do that, so how big of a risk am I really taking here?  But we can only be faithful with the platforms that we have been given.  We aren’t given the luxury of choosing what to care about. God tends to put stuff on our heart that won’t go away until we do something about it.

Also, I do not tell you this to start a movement. I simply tell you this because I had to. Maybe what I have written will make you think, and maybe you’ll read this and disregard it completely, that’s fine. I appreciate you hanging with me till the end.

Image of God or Demogorgon?

We all carry around some sort of Identification.  If you want to drive legally on the road, you need a driver’s license.  Many places of work require you to carry some sort of ID.  And these days, if you’re a student, you have to have an ID card made and carry it around.  These pieces of identification almost always have a picture of our face on them. Our face is how people identify us.  We put our face in our profile pictures for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so that people will recognize us.  Our face is in many ways synonymous with our identity.

But when we meet someone and we’re telling them about ourselves, we don’t show them a picture of our face.  We try and explain to them who we are.  For instance, if I meet someone, and I ask them to tell me about themselves they might say something like this:

“My name is Steve, I’m an accountant.  I grew up in Atlanta but now I’m living here in Nashville.  I went to Vanderbilt and that’s where I met my girlfriend Natalie.  I love backpacking and going to sporting events.”

And this is a perfectly fine way to describe oneself to someone they’re just meeting!  But lately I’ve been thinking about how we identify ourselves to ourselves.  

Throughout my life, I have done this in many different ways.  In elementary school I told myself that I was wicked smart.  I was a wiz at multiplication tables.  I had some showdowns with fellow classmates, but I was quite confident in my abilities.  However, when I failed to win a spelling bee for two straight years, I decided that maybe that was not my identity.  And then I thought I could be good at sports.  If you’ve met my parents, you know that I have been blessed with tall-person genes.  For whatever reason, I missed out on that biological pot of gold and wasn’t much of an athlete.  To give you a tweet-length scouting report on my football playing career it would be “Has a good low center of gravity, it just doesn’t move with much speed.”  So as many kids like me do, I developed humor as a way to fit in with the cool kids.  And throughout high school this was my go-to identity.  Since then, I’ve found my identity in many other things along the way.

I re-watched Stranger Things this week in anticipation of season 2 coming out soon.  (For those of you who don’t know, Stranger Things is a sci-fi thriller show on Netflix.  If you really wanted, you could watch the whole thing in one sitting.  8 episodes, 6 and a half hours of pure unadulterated distraction from the things in life that really matter)  VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD…

In the show, people are disappearing, and a few of the townspeople spot a monster.  They describe this monster as a creature, kind of shaped like a man, without a face.  The “Dungeons and Dragons” loving characters in the show refer to the monster as the Demogorgon.  This faceless monster, the Demogorgon, is led by its impulses, consuming whatever grabs its attention.

And today, I just got to thinking, “Aren’t we like that sometimes?”  For the record, it’s never a good sign when the character that you identify with in the show is a bloodthirsty monster.  But there are times when I’ve felt this way.

See, when we are placing our identity in something, whether it be a job, a skill, a relationship, or a life goal, that in a way becomes how we identify ourselves.  It becomes our face that we can see and picture.  And most of the time, those things are not permanent.  We deal with loss, failure, and change, and all of a sudden, that thing by which we used to identify ourselves has been stripped from us.  We are left without a face.  In these seasons (days, weeks, months, years) we feel unrooted and unhinged, and we immediately want to jump and latch onto something else that we can identify ourselves by.  We want to find another job, skill, relationship, or goal we can merge ourselves with.  We scramble around seeking to find something to fill that leak in our hearts that had been filled with only a temporary plug.  And if you’ve been there, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Instead of scrambling, we have to sit.  We have to sit in the quiet and the darkness and wait for the Lord to remind us who we are.  And then, once we have slowed down and leaned in closer to the Lord, we may feel the presence of God reminding us that we bet on the wrong horse or horses.  We have spent way too much time clinging to the identity that we found in the things of creation, instead of the identity that we have been given in the Creator. In the beginning, we were created in the Image of God.  And we are loved deeply and fully by the Almighty God who sees our flaws and insecurities.  God’s love for us is perfect.  In Him, we are both fully known and fully loved, yet we spend our time seeking after imperfect affections from the people and systems who don’t and can’t fully love us.

Let us spend time diving deeper into the depths of God’s perfect love for us.  God has given us a unique face and identity.  We are each created in God’s Image, and together we are a masterpiece and small glimpse of the glory of God.  Let’s pray that everything that we do flows out of that foundational identity.

We are loved beyond measure by a God who knows everything about us.

Leading with Love

So maybe you have heard over the past few days about the Nashville Statement.  I honestly don’t know how widespread it has become, but as someone who works in a local church, I guess I might be more likely to have heard about it or read it than some others may be.  If you haven’t heard, a group of evangelical faith leaders met in Nashville in order to come to some sort of consensus on a doctrine regarding sexual stewardship.  They released this 3-page document this week in the midst of nationwide concern for Houston.  Besides Houston, there has been many other tragedies in the U.S. recently, for example, the show of hatred and evil in Charlottesville 3 weeks ago. Much of the Nashville Statement is directly in relation to the LGBTQ+ community.  If you’d like to read the document, you can find it here.

I know, you are all still reading this to find out all about my beliefs regarding marriage and God-honoring sexuality, but that’s not why I am writing today.  I will say that wherever you come down on these issues, I would try my best to understand your beliefs and how they have formed or changed throughout your life.  I write this today because I think many are missing the point as I did when I read the document the first time.

I can honestly say that I know some wonderful, absolutely good-hearted people who fall on either side of the debate regarding the Church’s affirmation of those who have accepted non-traditional sexual lifestyles.  And I do not write this to offend or send anyone into shock.  I write this because I believe that the overwhelming majority of the current dialogue regarding the Nashville Statement has not been fruitful.  There have been a lot of voices falling on deaf ears.

Before I go any further, let me clarify: I 100% believe that members of the Body of Christ have a responsibility to other members of the Body to hold each other accountable to live lives according to the calling that we have received as followers of Jesus Christ.

And now let me say: the only way in which we can or should hold each other accountable is within the context of a faith community in loving relationship with each other.

Think about it this way, has anyone that you did not have a relationship with ever scolded or chastised you?  I would assume that was not an enjoyable experience.  Has anyone that you don’t know ever said to you, “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but…” That probably did not make you feel good.  Throughout my life, I have often resented being told what to do.  I’m working on maturing and growing, but man, that’s the worst!  Now certainly, there are times in my life where I need guidance, and I’m even learning how to ask someone else for their input (what a novel concept), but I will only receive correction well from someone that I know loves me.  Maybe this is just me, but I would bet you have felt similarly.

As followers of Christ, we are trying to be like Christ, right?  If that’s the case, we need to look at the way that Jesus lived to inform every aspect of our lives.  In Luke 19, there’s a story that I think really applies to this topic:

Jesus is traveling with his disciples through Jericho, and there’s a ton of people trying to see him.  There’s this short tax collector (social stigma implied) in town named Zaccheus, and he really wants to see Jesus, but he can’t see over the crowds, so he climbs up in a tree just to catch a glimpse.  Jesus sees Zaccheus up in the tree, and calls out to him, “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today!”  Ecstatic, Zaccheus takes Jesus to his home.  But the people were not happy with this.  They grumbled to each other, “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner.”  That day, Zaccheus’s heart was transformed.  Because of his interaction with Jesus, who just went over to his house, he vows to give half of his money to the poor and to repay anyone he has cheated four times over!

So let’s think about this story.  I would bet that Zaccheus knew that the religious folks disagreed with his lifestyle choices.  But guess what, knowing that a bunch of religious people didn’t like him really didn’t make him want to change.  All Zaccheus needed for radical life change was to interact with the transformative love of Jesus.  People in our world could use a little more of that.

When dealing with people, Jesus always lead with love.  He befriended many other “notorious sinners.”  Jesus offered the Samaritan woman caught in adultery living water!  Jesus had a quality about him that not only tolerated those who had been outcast by the religious establishment, but he attracted them!  You know what’s not attractive?  Someone that you don’t know telling you that you’re a sinner.

So let me bring this back to the Nashville Statement.  Whatever side you find yourself on, there are real people, living breathing people, on the other side who legitimately believe that what they are standing for is right.  People on every side of this issue are created in the image of God, and there are devoted followers of Christ who are still developing thoughts and views on these matters.  We cannot let this be divisive in our faith communities.

Too many times, we, Christians, divide ourselves into different camps.  We split ourselves by how we like to worship, our views on the Eucharist, our traditions, etc.  And in the midst of a world that has an immediate need for the love of Jesus, we have found yet another thing that divides us instead of unifies us.

We need to be known more by what we are for than what we are against.  We need to be identified by our love for one another, our neighbors, and our enemies.  We need to be identified by our desire to lift the lowly, welcome the outcast, and break the chains of the oppressed.  

And yes, we need to be having these important discussions in our faith communities regarding our views on these topics.  But any view that does not begin with a love for God and for our neighbor is not a view that is from God.  These topics need to be wrestled with in our faith communities, but not on Facebook or Twitter.  These are not topics to make decrees about.  These are conversations to be had together in homes and at coffee shops, not on the internet for the whole world to see.  And when we do have these conversations, we must give each other permission to still be working it out in our hearts.

I must say that when it comes to withholding grace from those with whom I disagree, I am the chief of sinners, but I am encouraged because through the grace of God I know I can grow in that way.  I pray that I will be a person who leads with love, and I pray the same for all of us.

Only through the power of God’s grace can we truly become people who can speak truth in love.

I want to be someone who…

I remember the first week of my freshman year of high school, I was sitting in English class, and we were given a classic freshman assignment.  The assignment was to set 10 goals for ourselves for the next four years while we would be in high school. I’ve never been much of a goal-setter, but I knew what to put down on the paper.  So I wrote down what I viewed as the normal “successful” high school stuff.  I don’t remember all 10 goals, but I remember two of them: 1. Graduate in the top 10 percent of my class.  And 2. Become a starter on the football team.  I accomplished neither of these goals for myself.  For different reasons, of course.  There were factors in those that were out of my control like other people competing and natural ability limitations, but also, looking back, I am not sure those were really things that I cared much about, at least, I didn’t show it by my effort level.

When someone is growing up in school, the question adults often think to ask is “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  The answers that these awkward-feeling adults are expecting is a type of profession like doctor, firefighter, or teacher.  And so, depending on the kid, they either change their mind on this a few times, or some know from a very young age what it is that they want to do.  This changed a lot for me over the years.  Obviously I wanted to be a professional athlete for a while.  Get to play sports for a job? Make tons of money? Be famous? Sign me up!  I pretty quickly realized that perhaps for me, that wasn’t going to be a career option.  So I think then I said that I wanted to be a lawyer.  I did have quite the argumentative gift (My mom always says that if she said the sky is blue, I would say its not. That’s not too inaccurate… Sorry, Mom).  Then I realized that I thought talking to people was an ok thing that I could do, so when asked, I would always tell people I wanted to be a counselor.  Then very early on in college, I found that I wanted to do youth ministry.  And guess what!? That’s what I do.

When talking to a youth minister, some people may still ask the question, “So what do you want to do, really?”  At this point, I can honestly say youth ministry.

So I’m 23, and I think I have a ready answer for the “what do you want to do?” question.

But now, I, and I suppose every other person, have to ask the question: “What kind of person do I want to be?”  This seems to me to be a far more important question.  But this is a question that is much harder to break down into a list of goals, if you like making lists of that sort of thing.

See, we live in a world that is all about climbing up the next wrung of the ladder.  Our world cares about graduating at the top of your class from business school, our world cares about getting that next promotion, and our world cares about being able to afford living in the comfortable neighborhood with the comfortable car.  From a young age, we’re conditioned to want to associate with a certain crowd.  “Oh, you don’t want to send your child to that school.” We’re conditioned to not accept finishing in any place other than first.  I remember three times in elementary school that I was devastated because I didn’t win (2 spelling bees and a science fair).  We have accepted these expectations placed on us by voices other than the voice of God.  And some of these voices have even been backed up by scriptural references!  How many times have you heard Colossians 3:23 (context: Paul’s teaching for 1st century slaves) and thought that meant you need to work harder to achieve earthly success?

Woah!  Slow your role, Michael.  The Bible is God’s Word.  Are you saying that we shouldn’t try hard at things!?

No, that’s not what I’m saying.  What I am saying is that we should not pick and choose Scripture to enforce our desire to succeed in the eyes of other people.  Definitely work diligently in your jobs and in your relationships!

Ok, ok, so here’s my point: We spend way to much time trying to answer the question, “What do we want to do?” And we do not spend enough time trying to answer the question, “What kind of person do we want to be?”

I find myself in a season of life where that second question keeps coming up.  So I’m going to make a new list.  This time I’m going to pick 10 qualities that I want to aspire to be.  Maybe if you’re reading this, it will give you some ideas about the kind of person that you want to be.

*DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT ALREADY THESE THINGS ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IF I WAS, THIS WOULD BE A POINTLESS LIST.

I want to be someone who:

  1. always tells the truth.
  2. cares for the marginalized.
  3. is hospitable toward the outsider.
  4. seeks to gain understanding.
  5. is willing to be vulnerable.
  6. seeks wise counsel.
  7. responds kindly.
  8. leads by example.
  9. radiates patience.
  10. loves deeply.

 

-MC

in the midst of… domestic violence

Over the past few weeks, domestic violence has been an issue that has come up over and over again in the media largely due to a few NFL athletes and the league’s widely-believed to be mishandling of the situations.  So I thought this would be a good time to write what follows.

Domestic violence is wrong. There is seriously no excuse for it, and honestly, there’s not a whole lot of things that we can do to stop other individuals outside of ourselves from taking part in the vicious cycle, but there is something that we can do to affect the culture.  So, here’s a few ways we can positively affect our culture to potentially prevent this abuse.

Stop blaming the victims. I am sick and tired of hearing people say (especially regarding the Ray Rice incident) that the victim (usually female) should not have been doing this or that, and that nothing would have happened if she had just controlled herself. I was listening to the radio a couple weeks ago when a female caller said that she (Janay Palmer) was asking for it because she pushed him (Ray Rice) first.  A couple things: 1.Rice spit on her at the beginning of the police video. 2.That does not give Rice a valid reason for the haymaker that he threw.  There is never a reason to throw a punch at your wife, girlfriend, mother, sister, anything.  Seriously.

Set an example. Guys, we have been put on this earth to teach each other.  For twenty-one years I have watched my dad love my mom so much.  It’s not like my dad is a wuss or doesn’t “wear the pants” in the relationship, but my dad knows that God gifted him with something awesome, and he treats her like it.  Maybe I am spoiled (I probably am) in this way, but what if every kid growing up had at least 5 examples of a husband who treats his wife with respect?  What if people kept those vows they make when they get married?  You want to know why I feel like men should respect their partners? Because I have seen time and time again that success in relationships (marriage and other) starts with a mutual respect for the other person.  In the Author’s Note of one of my favorite books, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes:

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

How can anyone know how to love their spouse if they have never been around people who live that out?  Nobody learns how to play basketball by going into a gym and picking up a ball and trying over and over again till it works, at least, not anyone who is good at basketball has done that.  So, as men, we need to love our wives, mothers, and sisters, and bring those around who don’t have that example.

Take this issue seriously. For myself, this is the hardest section to write.  So often, I have taken lightly the need for female equality and the respect that they deserve.  Honestly, I think it is because it was never really an issue in my sight.  I knew that women were deserving of my respect, so these were obviously meaningless jokes, right?  Well, since then I have realized, both gracefully and ungracefully, that this is not really a laughing matter.  Not everyone is from the same sparkly background that I was blessed with.  To many in our culture, this is no joke.  *Writing to the world now as someone who needs much improvement in this way*: we need to better ourselves for the sake of the world.  Women have use to us other than sex, cooking, and cleaning.  You know that joke about how women should be in the kitchen, it’s not funny anymore.  Frankly, there are a lot of amazing, Christ-centered women out there who can kick my butt and probably yours too.  We should no longer write off the possibility that women can do things as well as we (men) can.  Who knows, maybe men will be better because of it.

Ok, rant over.  Now I’m going to bring a little scripture into play (after all, God’s word is infinitely more credible than I am on this matter). Ephesians 5:25-33:

…love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

A self-respecting man shows respect for his wife.  God has given us a gift.  We should love like Jesus loved us: giving up our lives for each other.

in the midst of the chaos… love like Jesus.

-MC

Living with “No”

Let me tell you a story.

Last summer, a man took his 8-year-old son (we’ll call him Jimmy) to his first baseball game, it was Jimmy’s birthday.  As most 8-year-old boys at a baseball game do, Jimmy brought his glove, primed and ready to catch a foul ball.  The boy waited expectantly for his opportunity, and he didn’t take his eye off of the game for the whole first inning.  The first inning went by, no foul ball.  The second inning passed with the same result.  Then the third, then the fourth.  Eight innings go by, still no fly ball for Jimmy.  The father, who has been sitting and watching his son wait, becomes distressed.  Jimmy still has hope, but will certainly be let down if they leave the park without having caught the ever elusive foul ball.  It’s Jimmy’s birthday, and his father wants him to have the best possible memory of his first experience at the ballpark.  So, Jimmy’s father prays to God.  He prays, “God, please let a foul ball be hit over here.  Its Jimmy’s first game, and its his birthday. Please, it would make his day.  He’ll remember it forever.”  Right on cue, with one out in the top of the ninth, the second baseman hit a lofty foul ball into the seats down the first base line.  People all around are reaching out trying to catch this foul ball.  The ball bounces off a man’s hand two rows in front of the father-son duo and hits Jimmy in the chest.  Jimmy picks the ball up off the ground, finally in possession of his newest prized possession.  Jimmy was beyond excited, and his father looked up to heaven thanking God for answering his prayer.  It was a miracle!  An everyday miracle.

I heard that story on a Christian radio station in Nashville about a month ago.  I don’t think I had ever felt so angry at a radio station in my life.  Why was I angry?  Because that’s not how prayer works.  Over the past several years, I have seen health declines and deaths, I have become more aware of poverty, both domestic and abroad, and time and time again, I have stumbled in my walk with Christ.  In all of these situations, prayer has been present.  So why the heck does God have time to send baseballs to little kids when people are starving and dying!?!?!?  With stories like that in our Christian circles, it no wonder that people think we’re all hypocrites.  Maybe God had something to do with the birthday boy catching a fly ball, and maybe he didn’t.  That’s not the point.  The point is that these aren’t the stories we should be telling.  I don’t have a degree in marketing, but if our evangelism point is telling people that we prayed a wish list to God, and he gave us all the stuff we wanted, then we are attracting people who have wish lists.  Then what happens when our Santa Claus version of God doesn’t come through?  We end up with churches full of discontent, unhappy non-followers of Jesus.

Maybe I am being a little harsh.  I mean after all, ending world poverty is a huge prayer, and surely it was part of God’s plan when those loved ones got sick and later passed away.  Maybe God answers easy prayers.  No, it doesn’t work like that.  I pray for a lot of easy things.  Sometimes, I pray that the stop light will stay green long enough for me to make it through (and I work at a church, so God definitely doesn’t want me to be late).  In high school, I prayed that we would win football games.  And we did win a lot of football games…until my senior year.  I mean, come on God, Just make the ball bounce our way a little more.  Keep the refs from blowing the call on the last play of the game keeping us from going to the playoffs (I’m not bitter, I promise).  So why is God answering some dude at a baseball game’s “easy” prayer, but not mine?  God, why couldn’t You have given me enough knowledge and wisdom to get an A on my Greek final?  Where were You on that one?

We live in a culture saturated with wants.  After all, I’m a 20-year-old, white, American male from a middle class family.  I’m supposed to graduate college, get a job, get married, have 2.5 kids, and live a long and happy life after retiring at 65.  I’m supposed to live happily ever after because God wants good things to happen to me, right?  Wrong.  If anything, by the standards of our culture, being a Jesus-following Christian actually makes life worse.  Among other things, Sunday mornings are no longer sleep time for you, no more premarital sex, and you are called to give away your stuff and money.  On paper, without supernatural genie powers, following Jesus just looks dumb.

So Jesus, let me get this straight.  You’re calling me to come and die.  Ok, well at least I get little “everyday miracles” along the way for, you know, praying and being a good guy.  I may die for Your name, but at least before that I get to catch balls at baseball games and get to have perfect health for me and my family.  This whole following Jesus thing doesn’t sound bad at all.  No. No. No. No. No.  Once again, this is not how following Jesus works.

Imagine a guy (we’ll call him Mike) at a bus station looking to purchase a ticket.  Mike is sick and tired of the life he has been living in his hometown of Jackson.  Jackson is a town, not too big but not too small, and Mike has grown discontent with the lifestyle.  There’s not enough hustle and bustle in Jackson to keep Mike excited and on his toes, but he also longs for the simplicity and serenity provided by a farm town out in the country.  He can purchase a ticket to Los Angeles or Farmville, USA.  In a tragic miscue, Mike didn’t decide where he was going before leaving his house that day.  Mike sits at the bus station all day trying to make up his mind, and finally decides that he is better off just going home.  After all, home has got a little bit excitement, and a little simplicity.  Mike missed the bus.  Sometimes I feel like this is how we Christians are.  Discontent with where we are in life, we look heavily at two sides of the coin, the American Dream & the Way of the Cross.  After much thought, we decide that staying where we are is the safe play.  There’s no risk.  We’ve got some fun worldly pleasures, but just enough Jesus to get us on to heaven… or wherever it is we go when we die.  There is no fusion between the American Dream and Jesus.  That is a lie we as Christians have to stop telling ourselves.  The Spirit of Christ does not reside in the things of this world.  Jesus and his followers have gotten on one boat.  The American Dream and the things of this world have gotten on another.  You can’t sit in between the two boats.  You’ll drown.

As a Christian, I am concerned about what kind of message we give off when we broadcast certain things.  The beauty of following Christ is not how easy life becomes, but how much our struggles become worth the struggle.  Our struggles become worth it when we see others fighting alongside us.  The Church is God’s gift to us.  Paul’s command to the Church in Romans 12:9 is, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  We have been given a group of people to cling to in times of trouble.  So let us not only tell people of the random “everyday miracles,” but let’s share stories of grief and pain.  Let us share stories of being uplifted in times of great hurting through the love of Jesus shown to us by his people.  Let us pray about everything without ceasing.  Prayer is a source of hope in our broken world.  Without hope, there is no prayer.

We must choose to live a life fully in pursuit of Christ.  That life is full of trials, hardships, and pain.  James (the brother of Jesus) comes at it like this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  Not only does James acknowledge that there will be bumps on the road, but he argues that they are necessary, beneficial even.  If a child grows up getting everything he or she has ever wanted and has never been told “No,” then when they are finally told “No,” they will inevitably have a break down.  This is a new experience for the child, and he or she doesn’t know how to handle it.  After a while though, the child becomes accustomed to not everything going their way.  This doesn’t mean they stop asking for help or things they think they need, but when they are told “No,” they handle it better.  Also, having been exposed to “No” makes hearing “Yes” much sweeter.

So let us follow Jesus.  Let us pray, understanding that “No” is a potential answer.  Let us not be discouraged, but let us persevere.  Let us live, knowing that no matter how bad life gets, we serve a God who understands our pain having lived on earth Himself.