Truth Be Told #3: Stuffed Animal Prayers

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” - Matthew 6: 5-8

My daughter Aniston is such a good baby and I don’t even know how to thank God enough for her each day.  One of my favorite times of day is the morning when she wakes up.  It usually will happen sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 am and I’ll be downstairs having coffee when I hear her start to stir.  She never cries when she wakes up but rather just starts to talk.

To give you an accurate picture, in her crib is at least 3 dolls, 6 blankets, 6 stuff animals, and a couple of random toys.  All of these have been hand selected by her over the course of consecutive nights because of her apparent inability to go to sleep without them.  It looks like a Toys R Us threw up in her crib.

My wife and I guess this is who and what she is interacting with when she wakes up, but what is not in question is that she is talking up a storm.  What we also have found is that she does not like us to rush in right away when she first wakes up.  In fact she will not be a happy campier at all if you do.  She needs this time to talk it out and get herself ready for the day.  Eventually she will say “Mommy” or “Daddy” and then we can come get her.

So it begins. J

Why as we get older do we lose this?  Why do we get so “smart” and “aware” that we lose the ability just to relax and talk?

Let’s take God out of the equation for a second here because we even have a tough time talking to each other without looking at our watches, having an agenda, or feeling guilty.  In some ways conversation has turned into an art form that is only done by the professional or we just talk to hear our selves speak.

This is what Jesus was dealing with in Matthew when He saw what the Religious were doing to prayer.  These men would stand in the most public of locations in the busiest sections of town to pray aloud for all to hear.  Jesus didn’t beat around the bush when He calls them hypocrites.

  • Is it bad to pray out loud?  No.
  • Is it bad for people to hear you while you pray?  No.
  • Is it bad to pray out loud for all to hear so everyone will look at you and think you are God’s gift to all that is holy?  Bingo!

Jesus is saying “Don’t you see that when you are praying it’s ultimately between you and Me so why not go to a place where it is literally you and me?”  To be clear, I don’t believe that a closet is the only place where Jesus wants us to pray. Scripture even encourages us to pray unceasingly, but it would be tough to fulfill anything else in the Scripture if the prayer had to occur in a broom closet.  So of course we need to get out of the closet and into the World, but from time to time you need to just get alone and be with Christ.

I mean if I wanted to bring up some heavy stuff about me to my earthly dad I sure wouldn’t want it to be in the middle of the mall where everyone could hear me screaming about it to him.  Now if I wanted to brag about how awesome I was to him I wouldn’t mind a microphone and maybe a studio audience, but again that’s not the point of prayer.

Just like telling everyone how much you do for the poor corrupts the act of service so does arrogantly praying out loud for notoriety corrupt prayer.

This Truth again comes back to the heart and the motivation for prayer.  My motivation should not be rooted in being praised by someone for how eloquently I spoke, but rather motivated in wanting to talk to my Dad.

The truth is that the people around you care way less than you think they do and God cares way more than you can ever imagine. So maybe take some time tomorrow morning, grab your stuffed animals, and before you get up just talk to your Dad.

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Truth Be Told #2: Jesus and Phoebe Buffay

Nothing like starting a blog with a clip from Friends…check this out before you read on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCHu1E0ca4E  

So do you agree with Phoebe?  Is there such a thing as a selfless good deed?

I can't tell you how many rabbit trails this blog has taken my mind down.  If the old school typewriter was still in use I would have ripped out and crumpled up 20 sheets of paper by now.  Even reading these words of Christ's didn't seem to help much.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." – Matthew 6:1-4

Do you see the slipperiness of this idea?  The glaring abuses of this principle are not what trip me up.  I can see where using people for your personal gain are bad.  I understand the hypocrisy in feeding the homeless just so you can call the media to come and film it.  That I get.

The WD40 moment for me was that even in the most purest of hearts or humblest of Christian action there is gain involved.  Christ Himself, in verse 6, says "Then your Father, who see what is done in secret, will reward you."  So it appears that either way you slice it there is reward for the things we do. This, for me, was mind boggling and frustrating to wrap my mind around.  Because in my brain it seemed that any type of gain for my efforts made me devoid of any selflessness. 

So to put this in the context of Christ’s words in Matthew, we see the efforts of helping the poor in front of the equivalent of a NBC5 reporter for earthly notoriety vs. quietly feeding the poor without anyone around and eventually being rewarded in heaven by God the Father both work to my gain.  How is that possible?

It wasn't until I gave up the notion that the reward wasn't a bad thing that I figured it out.  I mean it only takes a quick flip through Scripture to see that God is a giving and generous God over and over and over to His people.   For crying out loud He is building us a room in Heaven so He must even get creative in how He rewards us!  So the idea that He is looking to not reward us for doing good seemed to be antithetical to who He was entirely. 

I had to look deeper and see that it was the motivation of the act that determined the holiness or unholiness.  I mean at the end of the day 50 lunches given to homeless people fills their bellies just the same, but the question of what fills your soul remains. 

  • Is it filled with pride or love? 
  • Is it overflowing with expectation or humbled by how generous God is to us?
  • Is it calloused with pity or softened with compassion?

The Truth that Jesus is calling us to is that our service to others should be acted out of the natural flow of being a humble, generous, Christ follower and not out of forced, calculated, results expectant effort.  Our motivation is not one of “What will this act do for me?”, but “How could I not help after God has been so gracious to me?” 

If we are honest, we ALL are needy and yet God didn't hesitate to send aid to us in the form of Jesus.  His earthly reward for that service was death on a Roman Cross, but in the end His heavenly reward is seeing us face to face in eternity. 

How great is our God that we can share in that victory…so take that Phoebe! :) 

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Truth Be Told: Jesus Christ Lawman

"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." – Matthew 5:18

There was a show on A&E TV called Steven Segal Lawman.  It followed the now D-list actor Steven Segal while working as a Sherriff in the New Orleans area.  It was a mish mash of random junkies recognizing Steven and asking for his autograph while being tazed, but it was also mixed with sporadic bits of wisdom from the slurred speech of a wanna be Sherriff.  However, Steven would always say that he respected the badge he wore and wanted to bring justice to the streets of New Orleans.  To shrink wrap it, Segal was saying he liked the law and wanted people to follow the laws which were created to protect us. 

Written, spoken, cultural, or otherwise we all love laws until we break one. 

  • Speed limits are great until we get a ticket for”only going 5 over". 
  • Construction Zones should be kept safe until it keeps you from getting to the Bulls game on time.
  • Lines seem like a perfect organization method until we get stuck in a long one so then of course we cut in.

One of the myths about Jesus was that he was a renegade rule breaker.  Some people have morphed him into a teenage skate boarder running from the cops when the try to rail grind at the mall.  When in reality Jesus was much more a Lawman than we care to give him credit. 

The Pharisees were freaking out about Jesus for many reasons, but a big ulcer they had was that they felt he was disrespecting the Old Testament Law given by God to Moses.  These laws were really broken up into three categories: ceremonial, civil, and moral.  If you are in need of some "light" reading feel free to thumb through Leviticus to get an idea of the complexity and magnitude of these laws.  The Religious leaders of the day made it their goal their religion to follow these rules to the tee.  We even learn later that they were so legalistic that they tithed their spices to make sure they were in accordance.  However the sad truth was that they law that they were following so closely was primarily designed to point to the One they hated…Jesus. 

"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." – Matthew 5:18

Jesus did not come to destroy the law or disobey the law; rather He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.

  • In Jesus the laws of ceremonial cleansing were fulfilled through His death, burial, and resurrection.  All that remained was for us to worship and love Him as God.
  • In Jesus the laws of civility were fulfilled as He demonstrated how these were lived out in perfect practice.  Although Old Testament culture may be difficult to relate to modern day, the principles are timeless.
  • In Jesus the laws of morality were fulfilled and demonstrated by Christ for our pursuit.  Although we will stumble and fall we look to the One who was perfect as our guide. 

Sadly, the men that studied the laws the closest were missing out on the Reason the laws were written and missing out on the Joy of their fulfillment. 

Equally as sad is that even today we are missing out on that joy in Jesus.  Without Jesus, we also look to the law as either a deterrent or a comfort to our faith. 

It deters some by its magnitude and impossibility causing us to lose heart and lose faith.  And impossible wall that we can never climb and are sometimes reminded of by the religions.

The law gives some comfort thinking that if they get enough of the right pieces in place they will somehow please God by their works and neatly kept spice racks.  These people look down upon those that can't keep up with their faith or don't have the discipline to submit themselves to all of that is expected. 

The good news is that for those of us that have found our identity in Christ we are free from both of these views.  We understand that we can never follow all the laws to make us right with God and we also agree that we don't have the strength to climb the insurmountable wall it creates, but we know One that can and did conquer it for us.  

The Truth is that Jesus came to stop our endless pursuit of the Law and begin our endless pursuit of Him. 

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Truth Be Told: A Blog Series on Jesus and the Truth

I remember when I was in 6th grade I lied to my mom. I told her that the purple teddy bear that I had taken to school was NOT to give to my girlfriend Sara. That was not true. It was for Sara…and she loved it…and I did like 5 more pull-ups in gym class I was so pumped up.

But mom found out…not good…not good at all.

Sara was a good girl, don't get the wrong idea. She was a choir girl for crying out loud. No seriously we were in choir together so that makes her literally a…oh never mind.

The big deal was that I lied to my mom about something stupid. It wasn't that the truth was a bad thing it was just I was embarrassed about telling my mom so I lied. I was afraid of what the truth may get me.

In our society, truth is a rare gem hidden in the middle of the filth of deceit. Tucked down between the couch cushions of the world that tells us to "win at all costs" and “not to worry about who gets hurt in your pursuit of #1”…is the truth.

Ironically we all want the truth. We all respect truthful people not liars. We all want an honest doctor not one that bends the diagnosis. We all want an honest teacher that tells you how your child is doing not one that says everything is fine even when they are in the 2nd grade for the 8th time. We all want a spouse that you can trust and not have to wonder where he or she is at night. We all desperately want truth, but yet we still run from it.

  • The truth is eating too much will put strain on your heart, but we still overeat.
  • The truth is smoking is almost guaranteed to give you lung cancer, but we still puff.
  • The truth is divorcing your husband to be with your boyfriend won't bring you happiness, but many still do it.
  • The truth is that rooting for Cubs will give you an ulcer, but we still cheer for them.

Sometimes the truth hurts, but so does getting a shot at the doctor. Sure you could avoid the doctor, but you also will pay the price for that decision.

Recently, in my personal study in the Gospel of Matthew I became more and more aware of the phrase "I tell you the Truth". It is a phrase that Jesus uses 78 times in the Gospels and He uses it without any prejudice to the audience He was speaking to. Whether it was a gathering of people, the Pharisees, scholars, Sadducee, criminals, or His very own disciples everyone was subject to a Jesus "truth bomb" from time to time. It seems that truth is truth regardless of who Jesus was talking to.

So over the next few blogs I'm excited to take some time to walk through the "I tell you the truth" portions of the Gospels. It will take some time and I'll most likely throw in different stuff because of course Aniston is a walking source of material, but I'm anxious to see what God will do through our journey.

All of us, including me, will have two choices when we unpack the truth Jesus teaches.

Accept it and uncomfortably grow.

-OR-

Ignore it and comfortably stay the same.

 

Regardless of how we respond…

the Truth is still the Truth.

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I Drive Slow Now

My best friend and I used to be maniacs when it came to driving back home. Neither of us had cars that were lighting fast, but we sure thought they were. How could you not when one of us had a S10 Pickup and the other had a Ford Bronco II!? I mean, those are the definition of speed and handling in my book.

Regardless of what we were driving, there was no question that how we were driving was a little nutty. We had an itch for that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you're on the borderline of flipping your car as you tuck around the corners of the winding roads we lived on. Looking back we put ourselves and others in some serious danger by our road antics, but at the time we didn't think about that stuff.

Advance a few chapters in life to the present day and things are different.

Adding Aniston into the equation of life has made many things change for me including how I drive. I'm sure all of us can remember driving home from the hospital for the first time with our new born baby and honestly feeling like you were driving your car in an episode of Star Wars with how fast the cars seemed to pass you by. You'd lay on your horn and yell "slow down psycho!" as you literally travel slow enough that an old lady walking backwards could pass you.

But it's not just that trip that slows your driving roll. You are forever more aware of stop signs, red lights, yellow lights, and school zones than you ever were before. Looking both ways is not good enough when entering and intersection. No, now you ask your wife to confirm that it is safe to drive through and you don't even mind the double check!

For heaven's sake, I even use cruise control in town so I don't accidentally go Dale Earnhardt Jr. on someone that cuts me off.

I've changed the way that I drive because there is something greater at stake than me now. I've slowed down because I want to enjoy the moments I have with Aniston even if it means getting somewhere 7 seconds slower. I don't think any parents would argue this to a man, but would our actions match our words?

Allow me to carry this analogy beyond the roadways. Parents or those who desire to be parents one day, how has/will your life slow down for your family?

  • Dads, do our kids know how much we love them all the time or is it only when Fantasy Football isn't in season?
  • Moms, is your anxiety about how they are dressed, what kids will think, if they'll skin their knees, or how they feel after that girl broke his heart keeping your from enjoying the brief time you have them?
  • Parents, has the pursuit of "giving them more than you had" come at the cost of giving them less of us physically, emotionally and spiritually?

I really hope that when I utter the phrase "wow, she grew up fast!" I'll be able to quickly pull up tons of memories with Aniston. But I know some of you will struggle to remember even a few because you will have lived life never slowing down long enough to make any.

I pray that today you are able to pull back the zoom lens of life to 30,000 feet and see what your life really looks like. Then take the bold step of slowing down. Not in a lazy, playing video games all day kind of slowing down, but in a getting rid of the unnecessary, self-induced, frantic pace of life kind of way.

You'd be surprised what you will see when life isn't a blur in your rearview mirror.

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Man Down

Men, you may enjoy a few of these one liners I found:

"A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument."

"A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn’t. A man marries a woman expecting that she won't change and she does."

"Love is cuddling on a sofa. Marriage is one of them sleeping on a sofa."

"The honeymoon is over when the husband calls home to say he'll be late for dinner and the answering machine says it is in the microwave."

Yep…ladies it is your turn.

Like I said before, marriage is the most unique relationship you will ever enter into in your life but can be one of the most rewarding too. I have personally seen those that have successful marriages work as a team through everything, not just in small stuff like folding the fitted bed sheets. It requires give and take, but also respect and honesty.

In the wreckage of the failing marriages I see there is plenty of culpability on the man. In fact, I place a large part of the responsibility on the man's shoulders for success or failure of the relationship as I believe God has directed us to lead our families well.

Men, don’t we always seem to admire the quarterback that takes the blame for a loss and then vows to right the ship? Why don’t we see that in marriages? Rarely do we see men step up within their marriage and say I'm not leading the way I'm supposed to, but I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to make it right. Men, we need to do a better job of stepping up in our families without a doubt.

However, I have also seen within these wreckages men left a shell of their former selves as their wives stand with one foot on their back, their hands on their hips, and their nose high in the air proclaiming victory over their husbands. Yes we screw up, but even if we have owned up to the sin, received forgiveness from God, and are pursuing what is upright, she still will keep a foot on our head to make sure we don't forget what we've done.

Other ways I have seen this play out is by a wife never allowing the husband the opportunity to lead the family. He may be a fantastic guy, great with the kids, and hard working, but some wives are so controlling and untrusting they refuse to let go of any control within the home.

The sad reality of these scenarios is that both are robbing men of what they desperately are seeking…respect. Respect is the rechargeable battery of a man’s life. The more deposits he receives through friends, work, school, and especially at home the stronger the charge will be, the longer it will last, and the more productive he will be in all areas of his life.

Please stop rolling your eyes. :)

Ladies, it very well may not make any sense to you. My advice would be for you to add it to the list of things that don’t make sense about a man. However, the sooner you realize this isn’t a need for our egos to be stroked and more about confirming your confidence in us the sooner your marriages will improve.

If manipulation, criticism, and disappointment can somehow melt into motivation, encouragement, and respect, then I guarantee you will see a change in the man you love. Believe me, all of us as men want to provide for our families and love our wives well at our core. We just need to know that you see that and are there with us through the ups and downs.

Ladies I would encourage you to consider where you are at in your marriage right now and perhaps consider some of these as you do.

  • When was the last time you thanked your husband for working hard to provide for your family just because?
  • When was the last time you brought up something from his past as a way of reminding him of what he did to you?
  • When was the last time you refused sex as a way of punishment or a way to show disappointment with your husband?
  • When you go out to dinner with your husband, are you trying to look nice for the people you are going to see or for your husband?
  • Moms, when is the last time you encouraged your husband as a father?
  • Moms, when is the last time you invited your husband to read scripture to your kids and you?
  • When is the last time you encouraged your husband to pray before a meal?

I always believe that actions speak louder than words or mumbling under your breath. Consider these action steps as you pray about your marriage.

  • What are 3 things that you could do right now that could help show your husband respect with little to no personal sacrifice to you? (Ex: Tell him thank you, compliment him on how he looks.)
  • What are 2 things that you could in the next month that could help show your husband respect with minimal personal sacrifice? (Ex: Ask your husband what perfume he likes that you wear and buy that, plan a date with your husband with him in mind, create 15 minutes of “decompression time” for him when he comes in before asking for anything)
  • What is 1 thing you could do within the next year that could help show your husband respect with noticeable sacrifice to you? (Ex: If you do the household budget ask him to review the bills with you to see if he sees something you don’t on how to save money, when the next major decision arises in the family allow him to make the decision and support him in it regardless of outcome.)

Let me be clear. All of us men are works in progress, and of course if your husband has a raging gambling addiction, is cheating on you, or is abusive, it isn’t a good idea to give him the reins of your life. However, for the lion share of marriages out there you have good men that may just need to be encouraged and given permission to lead.

I’m just asking…we are just asking for you to respect that God is doing a great work in us too and we need to show you what we’ve learned.

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Jesus and Heart Disease

81,100,000 people in the United States have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease according to the American Heart Association.

Jesus knew this would happen.

Coronary heart disease caused 425,425 deaths in 2006 and is the single leading cause of death in America today.

Jesus knew this would happen.

Controllable risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, drinking, poor diet, stress, and lack of exercise.

Jesus knew this would happen too.

"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth." - Luke 21:34-35

Take a moment and be honest with yourself.

What is weighing your heart down?

Fight the urge to just say "Oh, I'm fine." or to brush past the question as you carry on with your day. Stop and think about how heavy your heart is right now.

  • Is it waterlogged with anxiety about your job, family, finances?
  • Is it bloated with guilt from this weekend's one night stand as you searched for love?
  • Are the chains of addiction causing it to quiver with fatigue?
  • Has it flat lined because you need people to feel sorry for you and that's why your life is always one "crisis" after another?

All of us at some level have heart disease and Jesus knew it would happen.

But…

He also gave us a cure.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." – Mathew 11:28-30

Before you do anything else today maybe take a moment and stop to pray this prayer. If you are a non-Christian and don’t dig the praying deal go ahead and jump ahead to the end, but feel free to at least take a read if you want.

"Jesus, I know that I have chosen to let my heart be weighed down by the sin of this world. I have sinned against you by not trusting you can provide for all my needs and I've tried to do it on my own. I am tired of being weighed down by the burdens of this world and I need your help. I am giving up my yoke of sin and placing it on your shoulders. I choose to take your yoke and will live my life free of anxiety, addiction, depression, and pride. I will find rest in You and You alone. Forgive me Father and strengthen my heart with your Love. In Jesus Name, Amen."

I pray that God is able to start doing heart surgery on you and I today. Yes, it will hurt, the recovery may take awhile, but in the end it will be worth it.

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