Thursday, December 18, 2014

Swallowed Up in Victory

I attended a funeral this week and it got me thinking about my grandfather on my mom's side. We spent so many weeks with him and my grandmother every year, but it was only after his death that I heard many of the stories about him and his life. How he was tireless and restless, how he ran several companies at once, and how involved he actually was in his faith.

That last part is what I remember most, however, because it was the first of the stories about his life that were really told to me in detail.

Funny how to get to the beginning we have to start at the end sometimes.

It was many years ago that my grandfather had a heart attack. He did not die immediately, but was in the hospital several days before the plug was finally pulled. He was awake and aware of what was going on around him, but couldn't speak very well. He knew his time had come, however, and the doctors remarked at how strange it was that he was completely (and I mean completely) ready to go.

So the time came, he said goodbye, and they turned off the machines keeping him alive. The doctors had told him he would fall asleep, and that would be the end. He had accepted this, and closed his eyes...

...only to wake up a couple minutes later. He looked around and, realizing he had not passed yet got an irritated look and shut his eyes again, tight, trying to will himself to the other side.

You see, my grandfather realized something that many Christians have a hard time understanding and accepting.

He realized that, for the Christian, death means that we are swallowed up in victory, and not defeat. He was ready to go. He wanted to meet the Savior.

He wasn't headed towards death.

He was headed towards life.

And life, true life, is what he received.

That is something we so often seem to forget. We forget that where we are, the world we live in, isn't real life. All we see, all we have here, everything good and wonderful and filling, is just a shadow of the real that we in Christ are headed towards. We cling to life and all things in it: our love, our things, our entertainment, our money, even our family, as though they were the reality of life. They are not.

My grandfather realized this and made it a part of who he was.

Seriously, who wakes up from slipping into death, gets angry about it, and forces themselves back to sleep?!

In 1 Cor. 15:54-55 Paul writes, "Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?"

Our mortal bodies will put on immortality. We will be changed. Maybe we should remind ourselves of that more often. Then, when the end comes, we too can be so ready to go that we cannot wait any more to be with the Father.

Because after all, we are headed towards life. Towards reality. Towards being swallowed up in victory.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Growing Up

It was a cold, snowy day (the first in 3 years!) in Austin, TX when our first son was born. He was small and frail-looking (but not actually frail), and we were terrified at what we had gotten ourselves into. Every little thing was a mountain to overcome. From changing his clothes, to changing his diaper, to feeding, to trying to get him dressed without him spitting up like the Exorcist everywhere, to getting him back to sleep at 2AM while playing video games (because hey, I might as well be doing something). Even with all the crazy and fear and frustration, we knew we were blessed, because God had seen fit to give us a beautiful child who was healthy and loved and loving.

When he was new he couldn't do anything for himself. Like I said he was cute, but that's about it. He couldn't even get himself to sleep. There was no cognition to say anything beyond "need food," "need changing," "need sleep," and all had the same sound: crying.

But he got bigger, and relationships started forming. He learned to eat, drink, and play. He learned who his mother and father were, and built love and trust with it. With that came a conscious desire to be with us and know us better. So that's what we did. 

As he grew even bigger, new desires took place. The desire to learn and do new things. Books and blocks, floors and furniture, all was his classroom, and he made use of it. He trusted and believed that what we his parents told him was true. 

After all these things he began to strike out more and more on his own. He still desired closeness with us, but we also knew he needed time to learn how to be without us. Not for long, but just bits at a time. In order to for him to grow we had to let go just a little. It was a lesson that can only be taught by letting go: that he could survive when we were not there.

Little boys grow into big boys, and big boys grow into men. What he has now become is a big boy. There is still much to teach him, but at the rate he learns there will come a day when he begins teaching us. That is still a long ways off though. For now the days are still filled with learning and struggle and figuring out, and that is a good thing. Someone told me last week "the days are long and the years are short." Looking back I can see just how true that statement really is. Some days feel like an eternity, but at the same time it is frightening to realize just how fast he is growing up.

There is one thing, however, that he (or me, or you), can never grow out of, and that is the need and love for Jesus Christ our Lord. If there is nothing else he ever learns, I desire that he learns the One Great Truth that is Christ on the Cross and Raised Again. Nothing else we can teach him matters without that Truth. More than all the toys, more than all the fun, even more than all the love and relationship between this child and his parents, we desire that he knows and follows Christ with all he has, knowing the unassailable Truth that salvation is through the Blood of the Lamb. None of what has been written or shown so far matters more than this. All the sweetness and love and light pales in comparison to the Love of the Father for us His children. Whatever emotions may have gone through you reading any of the above is nothing compared to the extraordinary love and joy that our Heavenly Father has for us, those created in His image. That is the depth and width of God's love for us.

May blessing follow in his steps wherever he goes. May God provide all his needs for as long as he follows. May he be blessed with more faith that I, my parents, or my grandparents have. May the Lord do all things, difficult or easy, to ensure that our children follow Him all the days of their lives, and may they walk with Him here on earth so that they may walk with Him in Heaven forevermore.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Writing In the Dark

There are times in life where things don't seem to go quite the way we expect. Life gets harder, we don't move forward as we expected, and things just generally blow up occasionally. It can, and does, happen to everyone. And chances are it will happen again.

It has been a bit of a weird week for me. I realize that is a somewhat strange statement since it is only Monday, but it is the truth. Almost nothing has gone as I planned.

And I think I am OK with that.

There are points in our lives where we get to make a choice about how we will serve God. These are decision points that help set our trajectory for different segments of life. These trajectories can certainly be changed, but it is much harder to change them than follow the path they lead to.

Last night was one of those decision points for me. I had to choose whether to continue down the same path I was on or change to something better. I believe I chose something better.

I chose to follow and trust with action instead of mere thought and word.

Here is the thing. We can claim all day that we are Christians who trust and follow God, but do our lives and attitudes truly _show_ that, or are they just words on display? I am speaking generally here. I recognize that we are human and as such are prone to failure, but as a general rule in your life, does that hold true?

This is something you will only probably discover when you take the time to get away from the constant distractions of life and ask yourself what you truly live for. What excites you the most? What drives you? What do you like and want to spend money on? These questions and others like them will tell you the truth.

I write this sitting on my couch, in the dark, on my phone (yes, we have re-entered the world of smartphones), while Haden sleeps on the other couch with a tummy ache and had to have me in the room. It has been a long, off kind of day.

But for Haden, this day has ended well, even with the tummy ache. He trusts that I will take care of him and watch over him as he lays down to rest. He knows, no...he has faith, that as his daddy I will see to it that he is taken care of.

If only we could trust our heavenly Father the the same way. Even when we have a tummy ache, even when it seems impossible. We trust our earthly parents this way, or at least see our children trust us, so what keeps us from trusting the Father of lights and Creator of the universe the same way?

I know dark days are scary, but sometimes we need them. Just as parents must sometimes allow their children to struggle in order for them to grow, so must God do with us. But He does not truly leave us on our own. He watches over us, writing His story while we sleep unawares next to Him.

Dark days sometimes help us to see the light when we would or are otherwise blinded by our own selves. They can call us back to where we belong, but only if we heed the call. Open your heart to where God is calling you. Trust that He can and will take you where you need to be. Even if it costs you dearly, even if it scares you to death.

Because it is worth it.

Because He is watching over you even now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Burn It. Burn It All.

So after an abnormally long break, I'm back, and this blog should return to its weekly update state. Yay!

When is the last time we considered the state of our spiritual lives? We often say we rely on grace and God's strength, but is it something we truly believe and follow through with in our lives? How often do we find ourselves doing something good in order to curry God's favor? We may not be doing it for salvation's sake, but it is very easy to fall into the trap of "if I do X, then God should respond with Y." This turns God into a gumball machine, where we put in our quarter of goodness and get a prize for our sacrifice.

That is not how God works. Not anywhere I can find in the Bible, anyway.

In Luke, Jesus tells the apostles "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

That, to me, seems much, much easier to say and/or read than actually live out.

You see, we serve the Father out of love for Him. We serve so that the world may know and glorify Him. We serve so that His love may spread and more people will know Him and how He gave of Himself to save mankind.

...but we also tend to serve in order to get our gumball.

I find myself doing it all the time. If I work hard then things will go well. If I mess around on Facebook or something else too much things will go bad. While this may affect things in our physical world, God does not work on these terms.

He calls us to be wholly devoted to Himself and serve the best we can with all we have. He calls us to trust that He will take care of our needs in Luke 12. He tells us to cast all our anxieties on Him because He cares for us in I Pt. 5:7, right after telling us to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. 

So maybe its time for a reset.

"Lord, burn it down. Burn it all down to ashes so it can be remade. Change the state of our lives so that we can serve you how we ought. So that we can follow you in truth and power."

Let us do the best to empty ourselves of this notion that we are working for God's gumball. For some, that may be burning our own ideas to the ground so that God's ideas can take root. The end of Hebrews 12 talks how God is a consuming fire.

Perhaps we should let Him consume us, then.

We need to let go of our preconceived notions of how God works if they do not match up with what the Bible shows. Let us be consumed in the fire, that our faith may be pure. Let us burn all our desires, all our hopes, all our thoughts of what should happen to ashes, so that God's will alone is left standing. What He builds cannot be destroyed. Let us see what remains when we rid ourselves of ourselves, so that we can know what is His. So that we can find how to open ourselves to His power and working in our lives.

We need it. Now more than ever.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Today's post I hope everyone will find useful, but especially those who have grown up in a Christian atmosphere and those who have been Christians for a very long time. The reason for this is that this issue is most often experienced with those who have a lifetime of faith behind them. It can happen with new Christians, to be sure, but it is much less likely in the beginning.

The issue is this: we can never stop changing.

It may sound silly at first. Or perhaps too simplistic. Of course we never stop changing. We grow older, get more experience, follow along a general path of mountains and valleys and end up where we need to be.

My question is, are you actually changing for the better, or are you coasting on what you have known and learned your whole life?


I have been a Christian for 20 years. Before that I was raised from birth in the first 12 years of my life in a Christian home. I have 32 years of Christian experience under my belt.

I also grew up in a bridge generation. As I was born in the first year of the Millenials, I have a large amount of experience on both sides of the generational gap. I know life before wide-spread home computers, the internet, cell phones, and satellite TV. I also grew up as all those things became commonplace. This also means I grew up singing all the older songs of the church, doing the old activities of the church, and seeing examples of how things were. At the same time singing the newer songs that youth group kids are singing today, watching as new activities were created, and seeing how things have changed over time.

All these things I was normalized to as a child and teenager. This means I have a lot fewer walls up to change and newness, and no resistance to the old ways things are done. In short, I have a wealth of experience in old and new religious activity.

I do not say all this to brag on myself. I am happy for it. But it makes me no better or worse than anyone else.

I do say all this in order to say this: I have a lot of experience in Christian activity. I know there are a lot of others out there who can say the same thing. Those who have been Christians for a long time see and know and understand more than new Christians simply based on time.

However, this can also lead to the enormous danger of ceasing to change for Christ.

You see, having grown up as I did, I struggle with what it means to change my life for Christ. When you grow up (usually) following the rules and knowing the boundaries, you don't always know what needs fixing.

And even when you do, it seems like such a "small thing" that there is not much of a sense of urgency. After all, you have so much of the other stuff right. Right?


This is poison to any Christian, and especially dangerous against long-time ones. When we buy into the lie that we do not have much to change, that there are only small things left, we are in grave danger. It saps us of our will and our strength, then moves deeper to sap our will and strength against other, stronger foes.

It is poison.

It happens when I think to myself "I'll pray later," only to realize that "later" comes when I am exhausted and falling asleep in bed. 

It happens when I look at the Bible I purchased in order to make notes and thoughts in over the next 10 years in order to give to my children, and say to myself "not yet, I have other things to do."

When an assassin uses poison to kill someone, they usually don't use one that kills all at once. That would draw too much attention and cause the person to seek (and possibly find), a cure. Instead they use a poison that works slowly, ingraining itself into a person's system. It then weakens, drains, and eventually kills its target.

My encouragement for you today is to not fall victim to the poison the enemy plants in you. Do not accept the argument that "small things" matter less than "big things." All things matter to God, and He calls us to continually change for Him.

In Philippians 3:12 Paul (Paul!) writes "I don't mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and make it mine, that I may reach the same thing that Jesus reached me for. Brothers, I do not count myself to have reached the goal; but I do one thing, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Instead of falling victim to the poison, let us recognize that we, too, have not achieved the end-result of our faith. Let us realize in a visceral way that we too are in need of change and in need of a Savior. Not just in the big, general way, but in a way that continues to change who we are in everyday life.

Let us get back to square one and re-examine ourselves. Let us go back to the beginning of our faith, look at where we are and what God calls us to be. Let us look at all of these things, and recommit ourselves to the Lord of Hosts who calls us His children and who loves us so much that He gave Himself for us.

Let us return to Him. In every little way.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Father

Us, about two years ago.

One of my greatest joys is being a father to my two boys. Even better than that is being a husband to my dear wife. Even better than that is being a child of my Father in Heaven.

Here is where I think a lot of Christians (myself included) tend to get mixed up.

The God we worship is a Father to us. A perfect Father. One who makes no mistakes, knows everything all the time, and wants the ultimate best for you (even if that brings you pain in the present).

Now I won't lie, I had a fantastic dad. He spent time with us, worked hard, kept and continues to keep God first in his life. He was a great example of what a father should be.

He is also far from perfect.

Like whenever he is working on something he loves to work on but you would never know it because he seems like he wants to murder the project.

Or when he went to Russia for a couple weeks on business and told everyone but me.

Or when he was cutting branches out of a metal fence with a chainsaw and accidentally cut his leg badly with it.

He makes mistakes. He is human. And he is my dad.

One day my boys will see my faults as well.

Like when I am enjoying what I am doing but you would never know it because it seems like I want to murder it.

Or when I forget for the fifth time to fix a toy I said I would.

Or when I accidentally cut or stab myself because I'm not paying close enough attention to what I am doing.

I make mistakes. I am human. I am their dad.

But my Heavenly Father makes no mistakes. He doesn't get angry at ridiculous stuff. He never forgets anything He should remember. He never gets hurt because He did something dumb.

My dad loves my brother and I. I love my boys. There is no question or doubt about that fact.

But God loves me, them, and you so much more than any of us could ever fathom.

The mix-up comes when we get the idea that God is a Father to us in the same way our fathers are. We imprint upon Him our idea of what a dad is like, and see him in that way. When we do this we place upon Him (even if it is just subliminally), sickness, mistakes, anger, and other human characteristics. I do not believe this is intentional, or that we are actively trying to bring God down a notch; if God is a Father it is only natural that we view Him through the lens we know. But it can become a problem.

So I want to ask you to try something. Take some time and consider who God really is, and what it means that He is a perfect Father who loves you, who makes no mistakes, and who's biggest goal is to bring you to His side to be with Him forever. 

He wants you to come to Him. He will never blow you off, or tell you to wait a little longer. He has all the answers and knows exactly when to fill you in. But He is a Father to His people, and whether that means praising them, punishing them, or helping them, He does it all so that we can be with Him in the end.

So be encouraged today to talk to your Father in Heaven. Spend time with Him. Know Him fully.

After all, He's already prepared to spend eternity with you. Why not start now?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Little Bird: A Parable

"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me."
-Jesus; Jn. 17:20-21

There is a great problem in some churches today. It does not look large at first, because we often only see the symptoms of it. It does not make itself easily known and it does not stand in the spotlight saying "Look at me! Look at me!" It is much more content to dwell just below the surface, affecting decisions from the shadows.

It does not exist always in all churches, but it does crop up now and then, even with people who love Christ and how He has saved us, and who love the church dearly. It happens because we are human, and we make mistakes, just like everybody else.

The problem is a lack of erring on the side of love, and its best friend is Pride.

The word 'err' means to blunder, make a mistake, or be wrong about something. In today's world I most hear it used to describe a mistake that was made unintentionally but with good intentions.

We err, for example, when we do our best to make a choice for everyone's benefit but make the wrong choice. We err when we stop to help an animal that looks like it needs help and it scratches us and runs off instead. We err when we think we should reject people because they do not agree with exactly what we think.

These can all be done with the best of intentions: trying to help people be the best they can be, trying to heal, trying to protect ourselves or others. These are all noble goals, but if they are not done from a position of love, we will end up only shooting ourselves in the foot. Because without love, without coming from a position and stance of love, we can end up making the wrong decision the wrong way, or even the right decision the wrong way.

And hurt ourselves and others in the process.

Disclaimer: The following is a parable. No, it is not an analogy to anything happening in my life, for those who will inevitably ask. :-)

Let's say I have a small bird I found as a baby. I took it in, nurtured it, helped it grow, and cared about it. Then I did something the bird did not like, which hurt it, and it pecked me and flew away, which hurt me. The bird had the right to leave - it felt it could not trust me. I have a right to be upset - the bird left me when I was only trying to care for it.

But let's say that, down the line, that little bird has baby birds. It remembers the care and love I showed it as a baby, so it brings the baby birds to me so that I can help them grow, too. I now have a choice to make.

I can accept the bird's desire for me to be involved in the life of its baby birds, or I can close the windows and doors, and tell the bird it needs to take care of its own.

Only one of those choices is a choice made out of love.

If I err on the side of caution, and do not let the little bird in, there is one scenario that will occur:
1) The little bird will know it is unwelcome, will leave, and will not come back.

If I err on the side of love there are three likely scenarios:
1) I let the bird in and it gets angry and pecks me.

2) It may stay a little while before leaving, and visit me from time to time and be my friend after it leaves.

3) The little bird may realize that I do still love and care about it and come back to live with me.

The first might happen, but the second two will only happen if I accept that little bird back into my home, and allow it to be a part of my life again. Either of the last two situations is preferable to the bird feeling unwelcome in my home and leaving forever. And even if I do get pecked and it leaves again, at least I will know that it was the bird, and not me, that decided to end the relationship.

I say all this to say the following:
Do not allow your pride to get in the way of healing.

It is so much easier said than done.

The problem with the first choice in the bird scenario is that I am allowing my pride to make the decision for me. Since I am important, I should not have to risk getting pecked or hurt. I know best. Even if my family would like to see the little bird again, I am not going to risk them getting pecked. The bird is out. 

To do this is to err on the side of pride under the guise of caution. We must be very sure of what we are doing and the motivation behind the decisions we make about our relationships with others, especially with those in the body of Christ.

Instead, if we err, we should err on love. It is only when we err on the side of love that we will have a chance for unity in the body.

And unity in the body is what Christ prayed for just before He was betrayed and arrested in the garden. Christ wants His people to be united. He wants them to be united so that "the world may believe that You sent Me."

This is not a small thing. It is important. It is vital.

So err on the side of love, especially with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

So that the world may know.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Losing the Culture War, Winning the Spiritual War, Part II

If you will remember from the previous post, I wrote we have lost the culture war in our modern world. Every objective metric bears this out. It was a worthwhile fight, but done largely in the arena of politics instead of in changing people's lives, and we lost.

Notice I said we lost the culture war. We have not lost the (vastly more important) spiritual war.

In fact, I believe we have enormous opportunity because of this loss.

In order to take hold of this opportunity, however, we will have to pay a price. I wonder how many people will be willing to pay that price. I also wonder how many people will be shown to be christians in name only and how many will be shown to be real Christians, true followers of Christ.

I also suspect that not all the players will end up on the side you would expect, but that is a topic for another post.

The opportunity comes in this: we are very likely entering an era in our culture where it is going to become more difficult to be a Christian. Probably not hard like it is in China or North Korea or the Middle East, but harder than we have known and have been accustomed to. It is when things are difficult, when we have to struggle and put ourselves on the line, that true Christianity is most likely to shine.

When we are forced to struggle for what we believe in, to fight for it, it becomes more important to us. When we are forced to rely on God and His working through His people for our needs and strength, we become stronger and more reliant on Him. It is in the trial that we are grown and put to the test. Much like a metal object that is tempered until it becomes strong enough to do the job.

Remember the early church in Acts? It is a lot like that.

Tertullian wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. I tend to agree with that statement. Because once we are forced to truly choose between Christ and the world, and we choose Christ, the importance and necessity of doing what He called us to do (bring others to Him) is enhanced by orders of magnitude. When we choose Christ and are forced to put our own skin on the line for Him, we will go further for Him than if we did not have to do so. It is simply human nature.

That is the opportunity for us as Christians personally.

There is another opportunity we must recognize as well, and that is the opportunity to reach the world around us.

Our world is one where people look for meaning, for purpose. Our world is one where people want to be the hero. Our world is one where people want to matter.

Entertainment culture seeks to fill that void today. Epic-style TV shows, video games that advertise Your Actions Matter, and books that fill shelves and Kindles telling us how to make the most of our lives are everywhere.


So get this, and understand it: people in our world want to matter. They want it so badly they can taste it. And we have the only news that can truly give it to them.

This is something that will never change. People will always want to matter, to be important, and to be loved. Meanwhile, the Christian message is that God loves us and calls us to Him so that we can be with Him forever. Furthermore He calls us to be His ambassadors to bring as many people to His side as we can. He gives a purpose, a reason, and a meaning to life.

And He does it with love.

If that is not a message that gives people the opportunity to be a hero, that makes a person's actions matter, and shows us true love, I don't know what is.

But we have to show people that. Otherwise they won't understand, and all they will know about Christianity is what the world that hates us tells them. If we are to avoid this, we must show people; individual, real people that we know and love; the truth about the world that God wants them to come to know.

We must fight back against the world which seeks to wipe us out.

But we must do it God's way: by bringing lost people to Him so that they too can be saved.

Politicians will not save us.

A Culture War reversal will not save us.

Christ will save us.

And we, in turn, must bring whoever we can to Christ in order to save them as well.

When we are taking the words of Jesus seriously, the rest of it will fall into place. We will fight not on the world's terms, but on God's. We will stop trying to change the culture, and start trying to change the hearts of people.

Because it is people, not the culture, which needs saving.

So lets get out there and win the real war.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Losing the Culture War, Winning the Spiritual War, Part I

If you remember my post on why allowing politics overtake your faith (or overly influence it), this post is related, but in a different way. This post is about losing, how to do it gracefully, and how to move forward. In the next post I will talk about the opportunity we have because of it.

Before we begin, by way of credit, some ideas and thoughts for this topic come from here and here, among other places.

Let's face the facts on the ground. By and large, Christianity has lost the culture wars. Not in every setting and not in every segment of the population, but for the most part the culture wars have been lost. The majority of supply depots (textbook & regulation centers), communications towers (TV, radio, movies, etc), and barracks (schools & universities) have been captured by those on the other side. Not all, of course, but a majority have been. In the political world, despite having elected (at several different times) politicians who claim to be on our side, very little has come of it. They did not have the fortitude for the fight or they lied about who they were. Either way, the result is the same.

Remember what I said in the post about not allowing politics to overtake faith? This is one reason why.

For a long time now, in everything I have read, it seems as thought we have looked to politics to solve the issues surrounding us. That if we could only get this law passed, or that regulation in place, of this person as president, all would be OK.

Unfortunately, it would not be OK.

Because while the "religious right" (to use the term loosely), was chasing after these things trying to change the country, they lost focus on what was more important. When politics became the mode of change instead of Christ, everything got turned around backwards. This is not an indicting or accusatory statement. I believe that (for most of those involved), they had noble goals. But goals by themselves do not justify the means. What they lost sight of was this:

That if you reach the culture for Christ, if you reach out and create more true Christians who follow and love Jesus with all their heart, all the rest will fall into place. If you raise your children to follow Christ instead of an ideology, they will be better able to stand firm. The point is: real change for a culture and people can only come when that change comes through Christ.

This kind of change is not something that can be done with politics. It requires adaptation, evangelism, getting out of our comfort zones, and showing love (even to those we vehemently disagree with). It requires not bomb-throwing (from either side), but discussion and friendship. Really, it requires us to be like Christ, go into hostile territory, and speak the truth in love, real love, and to stand firm regardless of the outcome.

When I was in college I was friends with 3 lesbians and 2 bisexual girls. I don't mean acquaintances, I mean actual friends. I knew them through mutual friendships with others and we all happened to get along.

Through this whole time (we have since lost touch), everyone was very open about where they stood on everything. Two of the girls were staunch, militant atheists, two didn't care about religion, and one decided that she would go to a church where they didn't consider homosexuality a sin. They also knew exactly where I stood: a conservative Christian who did not agree with the lifestyle they had chosen. There were no punches pulled in this. I never once tried to hide what I believed or back down during the different talks we had about life.

And you know what? We stayed friends for a long time.

We never freaked out, never yelled at each other, and never treated each other poorly. I was always available when they needed help, and I did try to be a loving Christian who was honest about what their lifestyles would lead to. They accepted that. The conversations sometimes got tangled up pretty well, but that was something we were willing to deal with.

I was able to be in this situation and react this way because my parents had helped me to win the spiritual war instead of the cultural war. They taught me the importance of standing up for who I was and what I believed in, and they taught me by example what that looked like. I hope I can do the same for my children in the future.

Kind of what I wished spiritual warfare on earth really looked like. :-)

But how? How can we prepare them? What can be done to raise children into adults who not only resist the corruption of culture, but work to change it from the inside out?

Paul M. Weyrich suggested in an open letter to do three things: Turn Off, Tune Out, and Drop Out. I find that to be very good, biblical advice, and I would suggest we honestly consider them. I would also suggest that we teach our children how to do the same.

Turn Off: the garbage on TV, video games, and the computers. Not all things are bad, but it is generally apparent which ones are or are not. If there is a question, ere on the side of caution. I recently had this experience with a game I was playing. It was fun, easy to get into, and enjoyable. Unfortunately, it was also exceedingly gory. After a couple of hours I realized that this indeed was not something I should be doing if I wanted to live a Christ-like life, and deleted it. Is there anything in your life you need to delete?

Tune Out: create times for stillness. No TV, no music, no distraction. Create time for your mind, body, and soul to stretch out and move. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of time, but there should be some time during each day (not as you're falling asleep), where things are still. Read a book, read your Bible, pray, go on a walk, play with your kids. When done with the right spirit (ie: not chomping at the bit to go back to the entertainment), you will find that these are very helpful times for yourself and that you enjoy it more and more.

Drop Out: of the culture. We need to find places where we can live godly lives. Where we are not caught up in the rat race, the tech race, the selfie scene, or any of the other things that want to distract us and pull us away from God. We may be in this world, but we are not of it, and we need to act like it. Look for ways to purposefully drop out of the decadence of the culture around you. Look for ways to purposefully give that segment of your life to the deeper, spiritual, godly things in life.

Finally, there is one more thing that we need to do (and teach our children to do), and that is reach the lost.

This comic shows the reason for this very plainly. If we do not do this, we show our lack of love to those around us. If we as Christians really, truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He is the Only Way to the Father, how can we not tell our neighbors? Our friends? Our families?

How can we not teach our children and teach them to go and tell others as well?

I am as guilty as the next person. But it needs to change. For all of us.

For you, for me, for everyone calling themselves "Christian".

When we do this, when we reach out to the world around us and teach our children to do the same, we will change the culture around us. It may not turn the entire nation around, but it will change those reached. And every single soul reached for Christ is worth every amount of effort it takes.

You see, I'm convinced that the culture wars have acted as a distraction to what is truly important. That is not to say it was a purposeful waste of time. Simply that the time spent on them has been less effective than if we had spent it on changing the hearts of those around us to belong to Christ first, then follow what He has called them to.

What is truly important, is the spiritual war for people's souls. If that battle is lost, it doesn't matter what happened in the culture wars. When we win the spiritual battle for a soul, we save them from the desecration that culture would have otherwise hit them with.

Culture reflects the spiritual life of a people, not the other way around.

Let us remember what is truly important.

Let us fight for the soul.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Get There.

Let's not beat around the bush today. No fancy intro, no funny story. Not out of anger or frustration, but out of importance.

Get your kids to church.

Get your kids to church functions.

Get there.

Everything here I say in love. I am willing to come out saying this because it is important. It is not meant to be mean-spirited or uncaring. It comes from a place of love. If I did not say it, if I kept quiet about the importance of your and my children being involved with God even if it means excluding other things, that would be the unloving thing to do.

If you do not force the importance of it, it is unlikely they will ever learn it. They will learn something, but it will not be what you think it is. Words mean very little without action, but action even without words speaks volumes.

There are some rationalizations (read: excuses) that we need to break down so that we can see what it behind it. Sometimes they are done with  good intentions, even. But intentions do not make right, and it is time we step up to the plate and put them back where they belong: away where they will not be used. The main excuses to not do this seem to be the following:

1) I don't want to force my kid to go to church. I want them to want to go, not feel like they have to go.

This is probably the least effective reason. The fact is, sometimes I don't want to go, and sometimes neither do you, if you're honest. But we do. God has told us to meet with each other, be with each other, encourage and learn together, and grow as a body. Wanting to is good, but if the excuse is "I don't want to, so I don't have to," your child will never be there to learn how and why they want to go. Sometimes we have to get through the hard days so we can get to the good ones. So get there.

2) Sports

There are several variations of this: the coach won't let my kid play if he's not there for every practice. All the kids who are not in sports (in "regular" gym class) are bad influences. My little Johnny is on the way to be a star player. It's really good for their health and self-esteem. Etc. not allow sports to overtake who and what God calls your child to be. If that means they don't play anything, then let them throw that energy into church and serving instead. If you think they're going to be a star, what is the point if they do not have Christ? There are many, many ways a child can grow and develop. If sports can fit in between church and being with the body of Christ, great! But if it cannot, perhaps it is time to take a deeper look at what your true priorities are.

3) School/Work

Now I realize that many kids have a lot to do for school. But are they doing too much? Are they part of football, mock UN, theater, academic decathlon, and yearbook team? Sometimes our kids need us to say "no". When the amount of school/work overtakes worship, we say that God is less important than it. If you need to stay on top of homework and projects so that they aren't having to do them during church activities, do so. If on a job application you need to make sure your kid marks that they cannot work Sundays/Wednesdays/etc then do so. Make sure though, that no matter what, God comes first. Always.

4) Punishment

One thing that blew my mind was the first time I heard a parent say "Little Jane can't go to that. She's grounded/being punished/etc."

If there is anything you do, please do not make going to church activities where they will be built up and encouraged in God a source of punishment. Now yes, if it is just going bowling or to a movie with the youth kids, by all means don't let them go. But if it is something like Bible Bowl, or camp, or a similar place where the goal is learning, growing in Christ, and/or being involved and serving others, it comes awfully close to teaching our kids that God only wants our involvement if we are good enough. God wants us always, and cherishes us even when we have done something wrong. Let us teach our kids that lesson instead.

There are many other reasons, to be sure. My family has made the decision, even with our kids at only 2 and 5 years old, that God and being with His people and being involved with His work will always come first. We are certainly not the first parents to do so. I pray, though, that if you have not made this decision, that you will.

I have seen people not want to rock the boat with attendance and commitment, afraid that they might alienate people or make them feel bad. I have even heard of people actually leaving because the subject was brought up. It is a difficult and sad situation when we fear people getting upset and leaving because we want to help them. This is especially true when parents do not make their children come to church/class/events/etc, or do not come themselves.

There are, of course, some caveats to this. The parents who have to work to make ends meet (even when they are not wasting money) and literally cannot get there must do what they do. But when the excuses are extracurricular activities, sports, school functions, sleep-overs, oversleeping, forgetting, too tired (all the time), to busy, etc, there is a problem that needs to be brought up in love and fixed. But if all we do is talk about the importance of Christ and His church and being an active part of His plan, we have completely missed the point.

And our children are watching.

They will take their cues as to what is most important about life from how we act. Words come a distant, distant second (if even that). If our children do not become followers of Christ, it will not matter where they went to college or what kind of career they have. The only thing that matters in the end is whether or not they were a follower of Christ. It is the older generation's duty to lead by example in this, because it is by this measure that we, too, will be judged.

Let us make sure that everything we have is serving the Lord. Our lives, or work, our families, our children. It is not a mistake we can afford to make. We love our families and our children too much to fail in this.

Get there.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sarah Palin, Patriotism, and When Politics Overtake Faith

Last week Sarah Palin made some comments at a dinner. She was greeting with a large amount of applause. As word spread, she had her detractors (when doesn't she?) and those who defended and whitewashed what she said (when doesn't she?). Here is the statement:

“They obviously have information on plots to carry out Jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

Now, people like to make fun of who Palin is. They call her stupid, among many other things I never ever plan on writing or saying. It is ridiculous. On the other side of the equation are the people who view her as someone who can do no wrong, who is always misunderstood, or who is only ever attacked because people hate her and will never give her a chance.

The life of the rich and famous, yes?

I try and take a middle-of-the-road approach with her. As a person I think she is likable enough, but I also view her as a bit of a sensationalist. I enjoy hearing her, but in the same way I enjoy hearing Rush Limbaugh: great ideas generally but taken with a dash of salt (and sometimes a cupful).

That being said, the statement above really annoys me. The applause given it even more so. I've watched the video. It is not a misquote or taken out of context. It is exactly as it sounds.

"...waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists," is not an OK thing to say, in any context.

Baptism is where people come to Christ. Baptism is where the old me dies and the new me is born by the power of God. Baptism is the point at which my sins are washed away and I take hold of the free gift of God in salvation so that I can live with Him for eternity.

It is not a way to bring suffering to an unwilling participant in order to make them talk.

The reason I bring all this up, is to warn against the danger of mixing up patriotism with Christianity.

Now, it is not a problem to have patriotism. In fact it can be a good thing. It can give you a sense of success and responsibility to a greater whole. It can help us have courage when we are called to fight for the survival of your country. It can even make paying taxes bearable.

Patriotism, in a healthy amount, can be beneficial.

But when it gets out of balance, as it so often does, we end up with things like this:

And this:

These two picture illustrate the exact same thing. One does with a car full of stickers, the other does it in one shot.Both of them divide Christianity based on political preference: one Republican, the other Democrat.

This is not OK.

It is not OK because of the following truth:

It is not OK because Jesus prayed this in John 17:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

As much as someone may love their country, as much as a person may respect the flag, as much as a person is willing to give in order for others to have freedom, the flag is not a religious symbol. Nor is a political party. Nor is political liberalism. Nor is political conservatism.

It's not.

Now let's all take a deep breath and let that sink in (myself included).

When I was in preaching school we got into a discussion about preachers and political stances. I believe the single most important statement that came out of that discussion was this:

Unless you are close enough to someone that you can talk about politics without consequence, never mention politics. It can ruin your chance to reach someone, it can divide, and it can rile people up. We are called to bring people to Christ, and if we allow political views to disrupt that, we are hurting our chances to do the single most important thing we are called to do.

This is why I very nearly never talk about politics in public, which is very hard for me to do sometimes. I don't "Like" Facebook statuses about it, I don't comment on feeds about it. I stay out.

Because it is not worth messing up my relationship with those I am trying to reach.

Don't be fooled, I stay informed and up-to-date on what is going on. I can probably run circles around most people when it comes to political discussion. It is just something I enjoy keeping track of.

But Paul wrote in I Corinthians 8, "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall."

It is when we allow patriotism to get mixed up in our faith that we make statements like the one Sarah Palin made. Statements like that are not OK in any context, and should be repented of. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that Mrs. Palin is evil or that what she did should be blasted into oblivion. But it does show that a change of heart is needed.

Both for her, and everyone who applauded what she said.

The point is this: please, please, please do not allow your patriotism to tint or overwhelm your faith in Christ. Remember the true purpose of our upward calling in Christ Jesus. This world is not our home, and we are to do everything in our power to help others get to their true home as well.

Even if it means putting aside politics.

Even if it means putting aside patriotism.

We must be patriotic to the Lord Jesus Christ above all others. Our love and desire for His Kingdom must overwhelm any earthly loyalties we have. It is to Him that we are pledged to, and it is to Him that we seek courage and strength from. All other things must come after that.

So seek peace with your opponent. Seek harmony with your neighbor. Seek God with all around you.