Daddy Confessions: I Dropped My Son Off At School 1 Year Early

The-One-Big-Mistake-Every-Consumer-MakesI have the awesome privilege of dropping my daughter, Aniston, off at school three days a week.  Usually I will first drop my son Easton off at the house of our amazing family friends who watch him before school though.  The only exception to that rhythm is on Thursday which is my day off during the week and apply known as “daddy day.”

Well this last Thursday I dropped Aniston off and got distracted by Christmas Card delivering, hellos to fellow parents, quick thank you’s to the teachers, and a kiss goodbye to Aniston.  I started down the hall to leave and nearly got to the exit doors when I realized something.

I forgot my son.

Yep, sure enough I totally walked out of the classroom and left my little  11/2 year old boy behind.

I sheepishly slinked back in the room to find him completely fine and playing at the toy makeup station.  Clearly, the therapy needed later will swell beyond just abandonment issues based on the toy selection just mentioned, but that’s for another blog.  Anyway, I scooped him up, ate some crow from the teachers and headed out the door.

Not that it’s ever a good idea for you to leave your child, but it’s especially frowned upon when you are a pastor at the church you just left your child at.  Talk about feeling like a dingy and the most under qualified human being in the world!  Just know I will joke that I simply dropped him off at school a year early or something like that if you ask me later.

As parents, we all feel like we are doing a poor job at this whole parenting thing.  We worry that our kids will grow up to hate us, we won’t teach them the right stuff and they’ll flunk out of school, they will marry a career felon and end up selling drugs, or they will become a famous comedian whose entire body of work centers around the mistakes you made raising them.

Wait…

Ok…

Maybe that is just my wife and mine’s fears?

Regardless, you have your own concerns too, but I’m here to tell you to hang in there.  You are not alone and in fact Jesus’ parents would tell you the same thing.  After all they may have had the Son of God under their roof, but that didn’t make them immune to mistakes in parenting.

Luke captures one of these famous parenting flubs in Luke 2.  We pick up the story after Mary and Joseph had made their way to Jerusalem with a now 12 year old Jesus.  They finished their time at the temple and decided to head home.  As they head home we read this.

“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.  Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.” Luke 2:43-45

Yes, you read that right.  Mary and Joseph LOST Jesus and didn’t know until they had travelled for an E-N-T-I-R-E day!  I’m feeling better already about myself since I only made it 50 yards before I remember Easton was gone.  Check out what happens next.

“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”Luke 2:46-49

I hope you didn’t blow past it, but It took them THREE DAYS to find him!!!  Are you kidding me?

I know that I almost lost a future Cincinnati Red’s Second Baseman and inevitable Hall of Fame inductee, my son Easton, but at least I didn’t lose GOD the King of the Universe!

Come on people!

One job:  Don’t lose the Son of God.

Yet, through my sarcasm there is a message that goes beyond making us feel better about not being the best parents all the time.  The message is deeper and speaks to the priorities we have for our kids.  Jesus said that He “had to be in (His) Father’s house” because that is where he was the most alive.  In the times of Jesus, the temple was where the presence of God literally resided so why would the Son not want to be by his Dad?  Mary and Joseph may have lost him, but he was truly never more found than at the moment.

The reality is that we will lose our kids someday.

They will move away, go to college, get married, and start their own lives apart from us.  We want that.  They want that.  God wants that!  But what is most important is HOW they are leaving.

  • Are our kids leaving brought up in the ways of the Lord or have we left them to “figure it out on their own” because we didn’t’ want to “push anything on them”?
  • Will our kids know who God is because they were around Christian men and women, in church each week to hear God’s message, and living out their faith with you as the example?
  • Will our kids grow up to be the God fearing men and women of faith we want them to be or will they float in the sea of religion with us hoping they will land on the shores of Christianity?

Yes parenting is hard and we all fail, but I would much rather fail while striving to make Jesus the center of our homes than passively parenting hoping they turn out ok.  I would rather have them stumble and fall in life (which they will), but have God as the center of the world so they are not crushed.  I pray that our kids would want to come to church so they could be “in their Father’s house” and connect with Him not in a sterile religious way, but in a vibrant relationship.  That’s the true definition of success!  It’s not in trophies won, ribbons pinned, scholarships awarded, or millions earned.  It’s in whether or not your kids know Christ or are lost.

We have to realize that we will lose our kids inevitably, but while we have the chance we can let them know the name of Jesus as Lord.  We have to make every effort to have them be found by Christ so they won’t be lost for eternity.

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A Christmas Heart Tattoo

Cute_Heart_Wallpaper_jmkbuI’ll be honest I am really considering getting a tattoo.  I feel my super white skin is a tattooer’s dream canvas and I’ve been keeping it from them for too long.  Ok, so I don’t think like that, but I do think I want to get one.  After all my little brother Brandon has some ink already and I can’t let him get too far ahead of me. 

The problem I run into is always the same however.

“What should I get?”

I’ve gone around and around of what I want to put on my body since it will last forever.  It’s ranged from Bible verses to Pound Puppies to even a glow in the dark picture of Stewart Scott from Sportscenter that can only be seen in a laser tag arena, lit up by black lights, and when he glows you can read the word “BooYah” on his left arm.  Ok, so I really only have thought about Bible verses, but I had to sweeten the pot a little.

A tattoo is a permanent fixture on your body it is true.  And, yes, there are some people out there that will tell you you’re going to hell if you get a tattoo.  However, those guys must have missed the verse in Revelation 19 where Jesus comes back riding a horse, wearing a robe dipped in blood, with a tattoo on His leg.  I mean if it’s good for Jesus, it’s good for me.  But I do agree that it is a big decision and not one that you rush into.   Ask any Spring Breaker that rushes into it and then later regrets getting Kermit the Frog riding in the Barbie convertible on their forearm every time they go for a job interview.  All that to say, I still don’t know what I want, but when I do get one it is going to mean something deeply to me and I want to be proud of whatever marks me forever.

So I write this just days before Christmas here in Chicago.  I’m preparing Christmas services at church, putting finishing touches on gifts for the kids, and mentally preparing to fly to Utah to see family the week after Christmas.  I’m in a bit of autopilot mode because it seems to be the same thing year after year.  Yet, I can’t help but stop and ask myself “What should I be getting out of Christmas?”  “How am I being marked this year by Jesus even after all these years of celebrating?”

Sure, I could just roll through the season checking off the list of things I have to do and get to do, but I feel like there is more.  I feel like I’m supposed to be changed by what we are celebrating.  After all, Christmas is meant to remember God sending his only Son to the earth to save mankind from their sin.  It’s not just an excuse to go into deeper Credit Card debt once a year believe it or not.  There is so much power in what we are celebrating that I want more than just holiday cheer.

Then it hit me as I was studying in Deuteronomy.  While Moses was addressing the Nation of Israel on the cusp of entering the Promised Land he encourages them to not just go through the motions but stop and have this moment change them.

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them to your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Deuteronomy 11:18-19

It wasn’t enough for the people just to walk into this new land, it had to mark them.  It had to change them.  It had to influence their lives, souls, and beings.  It was more than a new address it was a fulfillment of the promise of God started years prior with Abraham.  God wanted them to tattoo this moment on them forever so they would not forget.

God wants that for me and for you this Christmas too.  He wants us to tattoo the meaning and the hope of this season on our heart, mind, and soul.  He wants us to impress the reason we celebrate on our children early and often in their lives.  God is asking us to stop and mark this moment so permanently on our lives that every day we wake up, take a step, or lie our head down we remember Jesus and his love.

Don’t let this season passively go by with it only making an impact on your wallet.  Dig deeper into the reason we celebrate and allow Jesus to mark you permanently in the way you parent, love, serve your spouse, give, use your time, and forgive.  A Christmas Tattoo could be the best gift you ever give yourself and it will be a visible reminder to your soul that Jesus is more than a Season, but He is our Savior!

 

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4 Reasons Satan Wants You To Get A Christmas Divorce

image4 copyMy heart has been troubled recently by the number of marriages that are in crisis.  Some are small blips on the radar were one person says something they wish they hadn’t and in 3 days – 1 month they will be fine.  However, there are others that seem to be at a breaking point and near the cliff of divorce.  These are great people who know what is right and are fighters by nature, but yet it seems that the will to keep going has been zapped from them.  

In my quieter moments of prayer, I felt God reminding me to check the calendar.  It’s Christmas.   The happiest time of the year for Christians as we remember the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.  We celebrate, sing songs, watch goofy cartoons on TV, and hoards of people will flock into churches all over the world even if it is just for their yearly pilgrimage.  Yet as the holiday cheer is flowing in the worlds of the Believers it is a painful and tortuous reminder to someone else.  Satan and his minions of evil.

You see this Christmas is the ultimate reminder of when their battle was lost forever.  It reminds them they are doomed for eternity in hell.  It reminds the darkness of the world that they will never be able to defeat Light.  But unlike some of us, Satan will not go down without a fight.  Before Jesus closes the books on Evil for good, Satan is determined to bring as many people as he can down with him.

I believe his greatest and most focused target is marriages and what better time to turn up the heat then around Christmas.

Here are 4 Reasons why I believe Satan wants you to get a divorce this Christmas.

#1 – A Christmas Divorce Will Ruin Future Christmases

If you want a bad, sure fire way to remember a college spring break then get a bad tattoo.  If you want a sure fire way to have pain in your future Christmases, then get a Christmas Divorce.  Divorce is usually a long term solution to a short term problem.  Your future may look bleak right now, but believe me that Satan is lying when he says it will be better if you were divorced.  Don’t let Satan fool you, you can make it through!

#2 – A  Christmas Divorce Will Destroy Your Kids

One of the saddest things I see is a family torn apart at the holidays.  Sure kids of divorced families rake in extra presents at Christmas.  Usually it’s because each parent tries to compensate for the lack of quality time they spend with their kids at these times.  I’ve yet to hear of a child cry themselves to sleep at night for more Fisher Price stuff, but I do know of kids that would give anything to have their parents back together.  Satan wants you to believe that the best gift you can give your kids is for your to be happy.  Don’t believe it.  Happiness is fleeting but joy comes in the morning for those that trust in God to get them through.

#3 – A Christmas Divorce Fills You With Bitterness and Unforgiveness

A Christmas Divorce will also give you a lump of coal in your spiritual stocking called Bitterness and one of those disgusting green and white candy canes called Unforgiveness.  Satan wants you to be as miserable, lonely, depressed, and hopeless as you possible can.  Believing that ending your marriage will solve your problems will play right into his hand.  Don’t believe his lies!  Keep fighting and know that God wants you to work together to get over this hump and you CAN!

#4 – A Christmas Divorce Takes The Focus Off Jesus and Onto You

As I said, before Satan hates Christmas because it is all about Jesus, God’s Son, The Savior of the World, Emmanuel.  The entire world seems to turn their attention towards Him this time of year even if just for a moment.  Satan hates that.  The damage caused within a family from divorce is visible and heart breaking.  The damage caused by divorce in your spirit is soul breaking.  A Christmas Divorce is allowing Satan to turn your head away from Jesus and onto yourself.  It becomes about my needs, my happiness, my future, my satisfaction, and my desires.  Christmas is about God giving up His desires for eternal perfection and instead taking on human destruction.  What we need to do at Christmas is not throw in the towel, but rather put the towel over our arm an ask “How may I serve you out of love?”

Please know my heart.  If you are being abused or are being cheated on I believe God would want you to get you and your kids out of the environment.  However that is only 5% of the people in the world I believe.  For the other 95% please keep fighting for your marriage.  Getting help is not giving up.  Getting help is showing true strength by reaching out for counseling, a pastor, a friend to come along side you so you can beat Satan in the face for good.  God wants to see your marriage survive and thrive.  Let Him in so you can do that.

So keep Christ in Christmas yes, but more importantly keep Christ in your marriage and fight through any struggle you may have knowing that Emmanuel is with you.

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The Guy In The Handicap Spot

handicap logoBefore the “lovely” Chicago weather changed and it became unsafe for human life to be outside for more than the length of a Bear’s timeout, I was having coffee while, reading outside a restaurant.  As I read I noticed that a very sporty black Mustang with back rims and black windows roared up and parked in the parking spot upfront.  Out popped a woman who clearly had the coffee order in her hand for her and the driver.  She ran in for what was clearly an in-and-out stop before they continued on their way.

Out of the corner of my eye I then noticed a couple in their 80’s making their way towards the restaurant too.  The wife had a little quicker gate so she made it to the door first, but her husband needed some time and I would say after nearly 5 minutes he made it to her.  I then overhead her say that “I can’t believe this guy parked in the handicap parking spot!” to her out of breath husband.

They were right, the hare had taken the parking spot from the tortoise, but in this case the tortoise was handicapped, aged, and would never win a foot race again.  However, what blew me away was what happened next.

The gentleman in the Mustang leans his head out and starts swearing and yelling at the elderly couple as if it was their fault!  I couldn’t believe it.  The old woman couldn’t either and, rightfully so, she called the man a “selfish jerk” as she held the door for her husband to gingerly shuffle through.  The other woman came out about that time and got back in the Mustang, drinks in hand, and the black shadowy car sped off.  Instead of admitting he was a tool, apologizing, moving his car, and maybe buying the couple’s coffee, Mustang-Man decided to stand his ground and yell at the people he offended.

Now before we start driving around the south suburbs looking for this mysterious black Mustang to let the air our of his tires, we need to realize in a lot of cases we are just like him.  Just as he justified his position for parking in the handicap spot, so do we justify things we do in our life.  In an effort to make ourselves not look foolish, ignorant, or wrong we will try to ice over our offense with all kinds of sugary excuses.  Here are few examples:

  • It’s the husband that cheats on his wife then blames her for it because she was not “meeting his needs”.
  • It’s the employee that fudges their expense report numbers because after all “they don’t pay me enough as it” is so they deserve it.
  • It’s the gambling addict that has lost everything but blames his father because that is “all he ever knew.”

Proverbs 16:2 sums this craziness up well.  It says “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighted by the Lord.”  That is exactly what all of us find when we try to sugar coat our sin instead of dealing with it and asking for forgiveness. When we think that our ways is better than God’s we are required to justify ourselves because, after all, we need to establish our “rightness” and “innocence” to our self to keep going forward.  However, God knows the true motive of our heart and can see the damage being done by our sin and it grieves Him.

The proper way to handle these areas of sin in our life would be to follow the wisdom from Proverbs 16:6 where it says, “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.”  We find forgiveness and love through God by confessing our sins and not hiding them, and by having reverence for God and His plan we avoid future pitfalls.  This is where we find peace in life and not in the rabbit trails of sin justification.

So watch where you park your life, and if you find yourself in the wrong spot don’t start yelling at God.  Rather, sit down, buy Him a cup of coffee, and repent so you can begin to heal.

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A Challenge For Dads: You Are Not A Babysitter

Dad LogoI never used to pay very close attention to it until I started wanting kids, but some dads are jerks when they talk about their children.  I wish I could say it differently, but I can’t put in any other terms.  Some dads are absolute jerks.

Now as harsh as that sounds, I also believe that most men don’t want to be this way.  I truly believe in my heart of hearts that nearly every dad wants to be a good one, but they are stuck in old patterns they saw growing up or entrenched in bad habits they have created along the way.  As men we sometimes need to have things pointed out to us straight and clear.  My intention in this piece is to do that and hopefully challenge, encourage, and stir up a Godly desire to reengage with your family.

Here are a few of the biggest issues I see with dads today that need to be dealt with:

Dads That Refer To Their Child As “The Kid”

  • Example:  “Sorry boys I can’t play cards tonight, I gotta go pick up the kid now.”

First and foremost your child is a not a thing, an “it”, or a “the”.  They are your flesh and blood and who you love.  I know every man reading this would take a bullet for their child, but some dads aren’t around enough to even be in the line of fire if was needed!  All of us should know this, but as Christian men we should be keenly aware of the truth that God sees Himself as a Father.  Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 6:18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”  If we are viewed by the Creator of all as a son and daughter in His family then we should see our children not as “the kid”, but as our son or daughter that we love and cherish.  Words are powerful so choose them wisely when referring to your family.

Dads That Won’t Change Diapers, Wipe Butts, Clean Up Puke, Or Get Dirty 

  • Example:  “Oh, I don’t do diapers.  That’s a mom’s job.”

Can I let you in on a little secret dads?  Your wife doesn’t get all geeked out about doing these things either.  She’s not secretly dreaming about being wrist deep in a huge naval to neck blowout poop from sweet potato baby food.  That isn’t on the “boy, I can’t wait until I have kids list”.  Here’s a hint, if you can gut a fish you can change a diaper.  If you can use a Port-O-Potty at an outdoor concert you can clean up poop.  If you can smear synthetic urine on your clothes and hide in a tree for for 4 hours to shoot a deer you’ve lured in you can clean up puke from the carpet.  Your wife needs you men and not just to open tight jar lids.  They need you in the middle of the battle with them.  Don’t be surprised if your wife isn’t all over you at night if you are no where to be seen during the day. Being a dad means getting dirty and being there for your kids.  They need to see a dad that is there in their worst and most vulnerable times, not just when they are getting the game ball after the t-ball game.

Dad’s Who Don’t Change Their Personal Schedule After They Have Children

  • Example:  “Honey, I’m sorry I can’t get home again tonight, I’ve got another Fantasy Football Draft.”

Men, if we want to be effective dads our schedules have to change.  That means we forfeit things that we used to do so that we can engage in things our kids need us to do.  I’m not saying don’t play softball anymore, I’m just saying don’t play on 10 softball teams anymore and travel to Texas every weekend for the “I Just Can’t Give Up The Glory Days Invitational”.  Your handicap in golf will go up, your bowling average will go down, your ability to read a bluff in poker will suffer, and your car will be less waxed, buffed, and shined, but your kids will know you love them and you will know your kids!  Equally as important is that your wife will see this sacrifice as well.  I’m pretty sure she wasn’t thrilled about getting stretch marks, gaining 50 pounds, and having her body chemistry go out of whack so clearly she’s personally sacrificed for the family and we should too.

Dads That Won’t Get Up

  • Example:  “Babe, I gotta work in the morning so I need my sleep.  You understand right?”

Being a parent doesn’t end when your head hits the pillow.  Especially if you have super little ones that get up in the night or even big ones that sometimes get up in the night.  Having a “The Office Is Closed” sign on your bedroom door just won’t cut it.  Our kids need us all the time.  Men we need to be the ones serving our families by taking our turns getting up at night.  Don’t let your wife be the one that has to figure out how to function on 2 hours of sleep every day.  Take the initiative and get up.  This also means that if you really liked to be a night owl before you had kids that’s going to have to change.  I’m not sure if you knew this, but our kids are awake during the day and need you during the day too.  So either get less sleep or get on normal human being sleep cycles to be there for your wife and children.

Dads That Say They Have To “Babysit Their Children”

  • Example:  “Yeah, I have to babysit the kids tonight so the wife can go out.”

The final one may irk me the most.  I hear dads all the time that say they have to “babysit their kids” when they get home.  Listen, a babysitter is a high school girl that you leave with your kids while you and your wife go on a date.  You tell them to eat whatever’s in the fridge, don’t invite boys over to make out with, and keep your kids safe.  You certainly don’t ask them to parent your kids or instill in them the values of life.  That’s OUR job to do that.  Yet, I know men that when they get home they might as well be a babysitter.  Inattentive, uninvolved, and unmotivated to be there with their kids.  Men, we are not babysitters we are fathers.  We need to step up and start raising our kids too.  We can’t put the parenting weight on the shoulders of our wives and then berate them later when our kids don’t respect us.  We need to be the men that are shoulder-to-shoulder with our wives teaching, loving, correcting, and raising Godly men and women.  It’s no wonder so many professional athletes thank their mom after the big play!

Please know that I am a jerk sometimes too.  As a dad, I screw up all the time.  I’ve recently been seeking God to help me become more patient, so clearly I’ve got my junk to deal with too.  What I can guarantee is that I am 100% in the fight with my family.  I realize we have only one chance at our kids being 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on.  I don’t want to ever look back and wish I would have been there to experience those times.

Men it’s time to get in the game and start leading our families. Take your kids on dates with just you.  Drive them to school and be late for work once and awhile.  Tuck them in bed and don’t worry if it takes a long time.  Honor their mom well and above all, tell them that you love them often.

Don’t just be a babysitter in their lives..be their dad.

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Spiritual Procrastination

beat_procrastinationAs a rule, I’m a pretty proactive person, but there are times that I procrastinate.

My nature is to get things done and move on, but from time to time things will sit unfinished or even unstarted.  I look at these things day after day and beat myself up inside saying “Why are you not just taking care of that? It’s right in front of but you still walk by it!”  There are a great number of things I dislike about myself, but this is near the top of the list right next to my lack of patience.

Yet when I do get my head out of my procrastination and get things done I feel better.  I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  I feel like my world is back in rhythm.  Now regardless of what kind of organizational mess you are, all of us can agree that the feeling of getting a task done is great.  No one ever walks away from doing something they were supposed to do in the first place and say “wow, I should have just ignored that longer.  Having that done just makes me feel worse about myself.”

That’d be crazy!

Now, a huge part of me wants to run home and start knocking out all the projects in the house I’ve been sitting on just so I can get a rush of “atta boy” in my system, but sadly I can’t do that now.  After all there’s always later.  :)

One area of life we really push to the “maybe later” category is our relationship with God.  There is a spiritual procrastination within us all that will deprioritize God so low that He sometimes falls off the To Do List all together.  The reasons for this vary and often looks like one of these:

  • Sometimes we feel like we’ve neglected Him so long that there is no salvaging the relationship.
  • Other times we see that our relationship with God isn’t that bad compared to other people so we figure it can hold up a little longer until we get some “free time”.
  • Others will go so far as to say that God is an unnecessary waste of time and energy because He may not even really exist so why bother?

All of these thoughts are simply different degrees of spiritual procrastination and all find their root in the Evil one.  Satan usually doesn’t have to work to hard to keep us normal people away from God.  All he needs is to make us feel a little more tired, a little more stressed, or plant a simple thought in our mind and we are sprinting away from God justifying our retreat all the way.

However, Jesus talks with much more urgency about our spiritual life.  In fact he may even come across as down right pushy if you don’t know His heart.  Listen to what He has to say in the Book of Revelation.

“Behold, I am coming soon!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” – Revelation 22:7

“Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:12-13

“Yes, I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20

I have this little rule of thumb when it comes to reading the Bible.  When I see an exclamation point I stop and read it again because it must mean something important.  When I see Jesus using exclamation points I stop and read it twice because He doesn’t use them often so it must be really important.  That’s why when Jesus says I am coming!” I realize that His urgency is pointed towards me and I need to do something with what He said.

Now I could always follow my natural human nature and just wait to act because after all it’s been 2000 years since He died and He hasn’t come back yet so chances are I’ve go time.   Or I could stop dancing in the fire and decide I need to believe His return is real and be prepared.  In other wrods I need to consider my eternal reality and make sure my life is matching up with the God I claim to know and love.

We all must realize that our current life is only the opening act for our eternal life, but it’s this life that will dictate what our life on the other side looks like.   I pray we all feel the urgency of what Christ says and realize He IS coming…soon!  If we believe that, then  getting our spiritual affairs in order becomes much more important that cleaning out the garage so our golf clubs are off the ground.  Don’t allow spiritual procrastination to hold you back from the love and grace Jesus is offering and begin living in His truth now!

Trust me the feeling of getting this taken care of will be the greatest sense of accomplishment you’ve ever felt!

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My Jealous God

MyJealousGod-EverythingAboutYou-BE-12-Label-AIf you’ve been in the Christian world for very long you probably have heard this phrase before.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Now that seems to make sense if you’re sitting in a church service and a pastor or priest tells you that.  After all you’re in God’s house so why would you offend the Host by saying otherwise?! I  mean just out of common courtesy you’d agree!

That could be the easiest way to get a lighting bolt between the eyes if you ask me.  It would be like telling your grandma you didn’t like her pumpkin pie right in front of your mom. You may get the words out of your mouth, but you are sure to get a handprint on your booty from mom after you do and a mouth full of that pie you all of a sudden really “like.”

Now if this was just a pastor’s one line sermon that he crafted to drive home his point about commitment and dedication to God then I would be ok with nodding your head and forgetting it as you drove home.  Heck, I even come up with lines like these for sermons and I don’t remember most of mine for heavens sake!  But what if I told you this was more than a sermon in a sentence kind of deal?  Would it mean more?  Would you take it to heart more?  Would it change how you felt about God?

The words we just read were said by Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but they date back even earlier than Jesus’ time on earth.  You see these words are part of a promise given to the people of Israel by Moses after being freed from Egyptian slavery.  Remember, “let my people go!”, Charlton Hesston, and the Red Sea miracle deal?  Yeah, back then.

“The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4) was actually part of a daily prayer ritual the Jewish people performed called the Shema.  In fact, some families would choose these words as the first Scripture their children would learn and would recited the Shema at a minimum of 2 times daily.  Yet we see this idea of loving God singularly used by Jesus, Peter, and Paul throughout the New Testament so clearly God intended this to continue into the Christian faith and stay central to His teachings.

But why?

Why is it so important to “Love the Lord your God” and to do so with what appears to be everything part of who you are?  The answer is really within the prayer itself.

#1 “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” – The beginning of this prayer establishes the most important aspect of our relationship with God in that we should have no other God except him.  This idea is established in the first Law of the 10 Commandments when it says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  This idea of worshipping one God has a fancy theological term for it called monotheism and is central to the teaching of Christianity. (If nothing else you just got a great word for Words With Friends later) This is so important because as Christians we are called to not muddy our spiritual waters with other gods spiritual or natural alike.  If we believe who Jesus is then we have made ourselves exclusively His and all other gods get the boot.

#2 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – The second part of this prayer gives us the expectation God has for our relationship with him.  In a crude way this is the job description for being a Christian.  When we decide to join “Team Jesus” the stakes are high and the expectations are higher.  You see the proof of whether or not the first part of this prayer is true is found in if you are able to do the second part.  If God is your only God then you are left with nothing else but to give him everything you have.  After all if you have one option who else could you give yourself too?  However, too often we don’t give God everything we have, but rather the low hanging fruit, the easy stuff, the stuff we need help with, or the stuff that is leftover after we get in all the sinning we can.  The truth is that we serve other gods like our jobs, hobbies, and addictions and in so doing splinter our worship.  However, what happens to us when we do give Him our heart, soul, mind, and strength is that we start to come alive.  When our spirit is no longer divided, we become laser locked on the things of God it becomes easy to relinquish our self to Him.

God makes no bones about the fact that he is a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5) and that jealous God wants all of you.  However our view of jealously and God’s is much different.  We see jealous as the creepy ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t stop texting you to see where you were all the time.  God see’s jealousy as someone that is protective and so loving that they don’t want anything to hurt them or distract them from His love for them.

I’m glad we have a God that wants that type of relationship with us because if he was ambivalent about his feelings toward us I’d be more concerned.  If God changes his feelings towards me as easy as the wind blows I’d feel pretty uneasy about my eternity with Him.  But a God that sets up high expectations and exclusivity with Him in return is one that I want to know and be loved by.  That is a powerful feeling of love that only our God can provide and sustain.

So the next time you hear someone talk about loving the Lord your God with all your heart lean in and smile because that may just be a little Shema-kiss from God telling you He loves you.

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The Church According To Voltron

voltron-1Growing up I used to watch this cartoon called Voltron.  It was kind of a hybrid of Transformers and Battle Cats, but in the show these space explorer guys would fight intergalactic battles by taking there tiger looking robots and combining them together to make one giant butt kicking robot.  One robot would be the foot, one robot the arm, another would make up the body and so on, but the power of Voltron was found when all of them worked together to make this unstoppable robot stud.  On top of that, the huge robot had this gigantic sword, which pretty much would dominate anything that came into it’s path so this dude was really rad to say the least.

Yep, I just said “rad”!

Now how in the world does this have to do with anything spiritual?

Glad you asked…keep reading and no I’m not starting a new cult or something.

As I was reading the other day I think that Paul was a Voltron fan before it even was a show.  Check this out and see if you see it too.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12: 4-8

Paul is reminding us that the church should actually look like Voltron!  You see each of us has certain abilities that when used together with the abilities of others create the most powerful church possible.  The body of Christ is the healthiest and most effective when it has it’s parts working together for one common purpose not when individuals do their own thing with their own power.

Ok, let’s get passed the retro-cartoons and cut to the real message here.

All of us have been given abilities by God not just to differentiate ourselves from one another, but also to compliment and strengthen one another.  We believe this in college group projects, team sports, and even in our marriages, but somehow we fail to think that the church could be wired that way too.  It’s our default to think that somehow the pastor or the people working at the church are the ones that make up the church of Voltron, but in reality we are simply parts of the bigger body too!

As the pastor of a church you need to hear me loud and clear.

THE CHURCH NEEDS YOU!

Now I don’t mean that in a begging way that makes the church look desperate and you look like Super Volunteer with a cape swooping in to save the day.  I say that because the church needs all of us working together regardless of our God given talent to have the biggest impact on the world.  That means that if you are a plumber by trade the church needs you.  That means if you are single mom the church needs you.  That means if you are a tech geek the church needs you.  That means if you are a coach of a co-ed, golden retriever, juggling team the church needs you.

I agree that not all of us have been called to teach and preach.  I wasn’t called to do a lot of things like male modeling for example and I’m ok with it…now.  Never feel like your ability or your gifting isn’t “good enough” to be used by God.  For crying out loud God used fishermen and tax collectors to be his first disciples and start his church so clearly the bar started low!

Here are my 3 key takeaways from this idea of the Church of Voltron:

  1. Join a church because God desires it for you.
  2. Get involved and get connected.
  3. Jump into an area and if it doesn’t work keep diving in until you find a fit.

Listen, I know that being in a church can be draining and, depending on where you are at,  overwhelming.  However, what I do know is that it’s the best headache you’ll ever be a part of in your life.  Yes you are working with people that have attitudes, brokenness, and pride issues which may drive you nuts, but think about what God deals with on a daily basis with us and realize we aren’t always a treat to deal with either.  Keep in mind that the reason the Church of Voltron works is so the biggest impact can be made for the Kingdom of God not the kingdom of me.  God is most pleased when his children work together for His glory and His church works together to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Being a part of that is a powerful thing and the most rewarding thing you will ever be a part of.

Remember: You are always more effective working together than by yourself.

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Jesus Is Not A Fan Of Burger King

burger-king-kingI love when things go my way.

That’s probably why I like Burger King so much since you can have things “your way” there!  Ok, so I really can’t stand Burger King, but work with me.

If my brothers are reading this blog they most likely are smiling and shouting AMEN no matter where they are.  They had to grow up with a selfish punk older brother like me who probably made their life brutal because of my need to have things my way.  As the first born I was the one that got to do things first, get the new stuff, and choose the path that the rest of us went down.  It wasn’t my parents fault because I’m sure I am doing this with my first born too!  As it stood I got to do pretty much anything I wanted because we had no experience to say if it was a good or bad decision!  So to Brad and Brandon, I’m sorry boys.  Hope I can make it up to you somehow, but only when it fits in my schedule. :)

In all seriousness, all of us have this desire to have things our way regardless of birth order.  We want life to happen when we want it and how we want it.  Every single one of us could run the company more efficient than our boss, we could parent better than that mom over there, we could organize the practice schedule better than the coach, and we certainly should earn more money because we clearly do more than anyone else we work with.

Deeply woven within the frayed human fabric is an instinct to make things as easy as possible, most enjoyable, and most fitting into our needs over anyone else’s.   The thought of putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own makes as much sense as buying a fur coat in Hawaii for winter.

However, from time to time this selfish shell cracks just a tad and shows what could be in the human spirit.  We see it in the man who steps into the biker fight to save a family’s life.  It’s the policeman who gives his shoes to the homeless man.  It’s the woman that stops her car and saves a truck driver from a burning big rig.  Occasionally we see what could be, but quickly that window gets clouded over by the cataracts of selfishness again.

Thankfully Jesus wouldn’t have liked Burger King because he didn’t have to have things “His way” while he walked this earth.

Jesus was teaching his disciples one day and told them that he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)  His entire ministry was about putting others before himself and ultimately giving his life up for them.

Yet in the garden of Gethsemenie we see one of the greatest examples of Jesus’ humanity for us to relate to and his strength for us to hold on to.  To set the scene, Jesus’ death is immanent.  He has made his way to Jerusalem, has entered the gates to people’s praise, ate his last meal with his disciples, and now is praying in the garden before he is to be murdered on the cross.  However, in the middle of this chaotic moment of calmness before the storm He stops to pray.  It’s in this time of prayer that we find this personal connection with Jesus.

 “Abba Father, he said, “everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.” (Mark 14:36a)  This is where our humanity and Christ’s humanity match up.  Just as Jesus didn’t want to suffer and die on the cross we’d prefer not to suffer in our life either.  We ask God to take things away in our life all the time, but where our humanity skews from Christ is when God’s answer is “no”.  When God doesn’t take the illness, when he doesn’t make her love you back, and when the kids still walk away that is when our “I want it my way” attitude invades our spirit and poisons us.  Praise God that is not what Jesus demonstrated to us in his life and this prayer to the Father.

Jesus finishes, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36b)

He realizes that his Father’s way is ultimately what will be done and what needs to be done.  The salvation of all mankind hinged on this moment and God had to allow it to happen.  Jesus selflessly put our eternal existence ahead of his pain and laid down his life so that we would not have to feel the sting of death.

As Christians our response to Jesus’ gift of salvation must go beyond just accepting eternal life.  It has to transcend into the way we live our life.  I pray that we all can slowly let go of the white-knuckle grip we have on wanting things our way and place others ahead of our self.  Ironically, this selfless way of living will always leave us feeling more satisfied than the wrinkle free, perfectly cooked, puppies and ponies life we think we want.

Find ways each and every day to set your needs on the shelf and give first priority to someone else around you.  You’ll be surprised to see how easy they are to find!  Give of yourself and in doing so you will find you are gaining more of who you were meant to be.

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Why Slavery Can Never Die

slavery-abolition-unOn December 6, 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified abolishing slavery.  In it are these words, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  Fought for by President Abraham Lincoln, this landmark decision set in motion an assurance of freedom for all people within the United States of America.

Today we still believe in the principles of this amendment with every fiber of our being. Gone are the days of debate on the Senate and Congressional floors to the validity of this truth.  To say otherwise would be considered madness.

However, in the United States the vial act of slavery still exists in a modern form.  Sex trafficking and human sex slavery has begun to poison our society.  Perhaps more accurately depicted, it has surfaced like a perverted submarine and we are now unable to ignore it.  Human trafficking is an enormous global business, but just in the United States alone it generates $9.5 billion annually.   Millions of women and children are held against their will in terrible conditions and forced to do unthinkable acts as slaves to their violent pimps.  We may not want to think about it but slavery still exists and you can help by supporting organizations like Transitions Global and being their voices when it seems they have none.

Yet as our fight against modern slavery persists there is a deeply rooted voluntary slavery within us all that will never die.  We instantly ascribe slavery to an involuntary state of bondage, but there is a version of slavery that each of us chooses every second of every day.

Paul spells out this type of voluntary slavery very clearly in Romans 6.

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Romans 6:15-18

“Slave” in the Greek is the word douleuō which, when used as a positive metaphor, means “to yield to, or give one’s self up to.”   This is a rich reality we all live in.  Although all of us want to believe we aren’t slaves to anything and are free to do what we want when want, we all voluntarily give ourselves up to something every day.

Each of us chooses a version of slavery every day.

Choosing to be a slave to sin makes it our master and, as a result, we suffer through the effects of that decision.  Sin will pimp us out and make us justify, lie, and empty ourselves of everything good we know to maintain the sinful spiritual high.  Crashing down off these highs leaves us lower than we ever have felt before.  Depression, embarrassment, and frustration meet us at the bottom of a pit as we realize our sinful master has no desire to love or help, but only to kill the very essence of life within us.

We do have the freedom to choose another master though.

When we give ourselves up to Christ and become a slave to righteousness an amazing thing happens.  The deeper we submit and yield to Christ the greater our freedom becomes.  Choosing to become a slave to the life Christ desires for us through His grace creates an eternal lifting of our spirit and gives us a new heart beating for something new.  Our heart no longer races for the next sinful high, but it finds contentment in the peaceful Shalom of God.  It’s as if our spiritual taste buds change and our spirit craves all the righteous and is repulsed by the junk food of sin.

It is 100% our choice what we are enslaved to.  With every breath we take we can choose righteousness that brings life or sin that rots our soul.  But don’t believe for a second that just because you are a slave to sin now that God can’t break you free.  The grace of Christ is available to everyone regardless of where they currently are to take them to where they belong.

Just think about it this for a second.

If we had the same feeling in our gut about sin as we did sex trafficking of a 12-year-old girls how different would our lives look?  If we reacted as aggressively to our sin as we would knowing someone was locked in an apartment and forced to do unthinkable acts how would your world be different?  What would our lives look like if we saw sin as the dark, damp, nasty brothel it is?

Keep that feeling inside of you as you choose your master tomorrow.  Don’t let sin keep your life in bondage any more.  Become a slave to Christ and discover a freedom you never dreamed possible.

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