Are You Strong or Tough?

When you think of someone who’s strong, who do you picture?

Got it? Now ask yourself, what makes them strong? Why do you think that? This was from a conversation I had with my wife on a date.

The thought was someone was stronger than her. Except, the person she was comparing herself to wasn’t stronger than her. In all honesty, she’s actually stronger than I am.

She told me that they had lived a hard life. She began making a list of bad things that had happened to them. It sounded a lot like my own life. I told her that she was still the stronger one.

Enduring trials and life’s hardships do make you tough. I’m not denying that, however, that’s not what makes you strong. There is a difference.

Strength comes from not only enduring the harshness of life, but to come out of it a better person. If you remain the same, become bitter, or never try to climb out of it, then you’ll never get any stronger.

The world will crush you. Death is inevitable. There isn’t anything admirable about being angry, bitter, and self-serving.

That’s easy to do.

If you can be hit hard, get up, and still give joy and hope as you move forward; that’s strength.  When life steps on you, and you still want to help others, that’s strength. When you have no reason to get up, to learn, and move forward in a positive direction despite your past, that’s harder to do.

That’s why it takes strength.

 

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Jesus Would Vote For…

This site used to be filled with political posts. I even campaigned for Gary Johnson and the 69337_540638712616748_1005414912_nLibertarian Party in 2012. After that season, I was pretty burned out and took a break. I read ConCom by Rory Miller and then was done with politics altogether after seeing the dynamics at work underneath it all.

Now it’s a new election season and my Facebook feed is deluged by posts about Trump, Sanders, and Hillary. It raised a question in my mind about how we should look at political issues as Christians. Philosopher Peter Kreeft in the book The Philosophy of Jesus has a chapter on Jesus’ ethics that provides some insight.

Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, and Jesus?

Think about your favorite issue. What are the different ideological stances on it? Guns for example. Do you favor banning them, having no restrictions, or having some restrictions? Either way you look at it, you’re weighing the choices against each other.

The World’s Smallest Political Quiz has five results on two scales: left, center, right, and anarchy or totalitarianism. Your politics can be liberal or conservative, maybe even sitting in the middle. The question is how much do you want the government involved in the issue and what areas do you want them involved in?

They’re still being weighed against each other. Human morality and clashing worldviews meeting on the battleground. Caveats are made, compromises are added into bills on issues of morality. We’re using the wrong standard.

Which Standard Then?

If you follow Christ, then you weigh it against his standards and decide from there. Kreeft said that the standard is found in divine revelation (the Bible), natural law (a person’s intrinsic value and freedom) and our consciences. When looking at the Bible for the standard, remember that much of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is about the newborn nation of Israel being set apart to be fundamentally different from other nations.

It’ll take some homework, but I’ll make it easy for you. Find the two greatest commandments, then logically weigh an issue against them. Is God first, and does it recognize the value of others? Then you have to answer that for every group affected.

Ever hear the term “walking the straight and narrow”? That line should be Jesus’ teachings. It’s integrated and when we pick and choose, we step off the path and go either left or right. Then we have to convince others why your pieces are better than their pieces.

Kreeft wrote that Jesus gives us better reasons for doing things than political moralizing. His examples were to feed the poor because Jesus said it was like doing it for him, in a parable (Matthew 25:31-46), and not for sentiment or political correctness. He also loves sinners (which is good since that’s what we are), but hates the wrong they’re doing. If your kid is messing up, intentionally or not, do you hate them for what they did?

We’re to do good for people because Jesus did. We can’t hold any prejudices because he didn’t, not against Jew, Samaritan, Gentile (non-Jews), leper, or sinners; he wants them all to come to him. We follow him, not our preferences; if something is to be sacrificed, it’s the latter.

Don’t get hung up on traditions in case something new and better comes along. However, be faithful to the standards because Jesus is unchanging. An example I’ve heard used is a circle with three layers: the center is the non-negotiables of Christianity, then the traditions in the next layer, and finally opinions are in the outermost layer. Only the center matters.

Jesus is that center. I like how Kreeft put it, and I’m paraphrasing, “Jesus is a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ and a ‘hard-headed conservative’”. He then goes on to say that Christ isn’t a team player with people’s causes. They can’t recruit him. He has to recruit them, and they have to team up with him. Case in point, after he fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make him king, and Jesus left before they could grab him. You can’t recruit him.

The religious right have to beware slipping into legalism like the Pharisees did. One can follow the rules, but not have love, and be like a healthy looking tree that is rotting inside. The standards are there, but it’s only a part of the picture.

The religious left have to watch out for worshiping Jesus’ values, but not him. It is its own form of legalism that is also just a part of the picture. Kreeft compares it to the Sadducees during the first century. Both miss the mark.

You can be legalistic, but will never match Christ’s perfection. Alternatively, even the most altruistic heart is cold in comparison to Christ’s heart. You don’t change people for the better by winning just their mind or heart; they change by coming to Christ himself.

How Do Politics Stack Up Against Jesus?

01.09-cijty-debates-generic-d0dc84ee065e3934bc74a54a8cb33cbf2b90539b-s300-c85Poorly. The sides can’t compare to Christ, they only point to a part of what’s needed. The reasoning is flawed in that sentiment and laws both change, but if it’s because of Jesus, it won’t change. Love God, make him the center of your life; love others, do for them what you would have them do for you.

You don’t need a particular candidate; it’s Christ that is needed, not just his doctrines or values. They don’t save you. Societies fade into history, empires fall, time marches on, new ones appear. Put Jesus at the center. To quote Pastor Rod awhile back, “Be followers of Christ, and leaders of others to him.” It’s the change inside that truly changes the outside. That’s how you can affect change that lasts, not by enforcing laws or values.

What If God Was One Of Us?

Last year I saw a book by J.B Phillips titled Your God Is Too Small and had to read it as soon as possible. He starts out by addressing the misconceptions of God from people’s lack of understanding or attempts to define Him. Then he shows how big God is, and then what that would look like if he was focused through the lens of a person. I’m looking at two sections in particular, If God Were Focused (1) and (2).

First, go outside and look up. I’ll wait. Take in the expanse of the sky, the night sky in particular. Then look at the life around you; plants, insects, and animals. Consider the complexity of physics and how natural laws work.

You’re looking at the luckiest accident ever, or the handiwork of a creator. If it was created, what does that tell you about the creator? Something immaterial created the material universe, which indicates transcendence and an all-powerful being. The sheer detail needed in the design shows an all-knowing intelligence behind it. The fact that from nothing it decided to create something infers a free will and a personal being.

Is that it? What if it revealed itself to mankind gradually over time, all of it culminating into a personal invasion as a man. What would it be like to meet this person? Take a trip with me and let’s see:

You learn about a ‘new celebrity’ and he’s coming to your town. He’s as low-key as the media lets him be, but he doesn’t have a lot of personal hoopla. In fact, he’ll be in the park, speaking to the crowd.

Parking the car, you carefully make your way through the crowd and end up face-to-face with the guy. You didn’t expect him to be in the crowd, but on a stage or something. As he speaks to the crowd, he seems very idealistic, but you don’t think it would work, these things he says. Not in the real world.

The stabbing pang  felt deep inside as your conscience tells you that he’s got a point. Why it bothers you is puzzling you. What isn’t realized is that he wrote the moral law that your conscience is reminding you of. From what you’ve read about him, he does more than speak it; he’s walking his talk.

Now he’s talking about the motives behind performance. You question why you behave the way you do. Fear of getting in trouble or to be well thought of? Or personal pride in what you accomplish? “Do I do things because I care?”, you think to yourself.

He goes on to say the right answer and motive is selfless love to correct the broken world. “Go beyond just loving, just doing good for those in your own little circle,” he boldly speaks over the crowd’s murmuring. What he is wanting is for you to love him and have a relationship with him as God, and from that love also loving his creation, part of which is people. Love of self leads to lack of care for others, and to him every individual means everything.

“Look at what writers idealize most in books, movies, and TV shows. Do you know what they are?” He questions everyone. From the depths of the crowd, someone shouts “a hero!” Another speaks up, yelling “a true love story!”

“A self-sacrificial hero that dies for those he truly loves?” he asks. Continuing, he says that’s what people dream and reach for. It’s the closest reflection of God’s character, he states. Your brow furrows in curiosity as you mull that over. What does he mean by that?

He stops speaking, stands still as kids run by him playing. You look to see if he’s annoyed. Surprised, you see a big smile on his face as he watches them. “Such joy,” you overhear him say, “in the pure innocence of a child.” He has a point, you realize. There is something wonderful about it that even the jadedness of society can’t quench.

This guy is just so good, it’s hard to believe. You notice a political candidate arrive with his entourage. Apparently he wants to be seen with this celebrity that’s captivating the crowd.

He seems to pale in comparison to the speaker. Anything he had done just doesn’t seem to measure up. The candidate pastes on a fake smile for the camera. The pretense is so blatantly obvious.

Creeping closer, you hear him say quietly that the speaker would be a good fit on his team after he wins the election. He promises big things, whatever the guy wants. It sounds too good to be true to you.

The answer he gives the candidate is surprising. “And how does a man benefit if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process?”

The politician looks disturbed and quickly leaves.

Is this guy perfect or something? You’re not sure, but he’s authentic and you have to admit he’s living life the way it should be lived. He calls for the crowd to look at the world in a different way, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Why is he bothering to do that? It appeals to you and the question comes unbidden to your lips before you can stop yourself. He looks at you, walking up to you and calling you by your name.

“I’ll tell you why. I know how the world should be, yet it falls so short of what it could be. It hurts deeply to see people lost, hurting, confused, and wounded by it all. This should not be, it wasn’t meant to be.”

He calls to someone on the edge of the crowd, waving them over. You see a teenager, looking uncomfortable, slightly shake his head and turn away. Glancing at the speaker, you see disappointment and sadness fall upon his face. ‘He’s heartbroken’, you think.

“He’s had a hard life filled with many bad decisions. I’ve tried to help him, but I’m still not getting through. Has that ever happened to you when you tried to help someone?”

It had.

You decide to follow this guy, and see where he’s going. On Facebook, he’s mocked and called unrealistic. Some colleges wouldn’t allow him to speak because he made students uncomfortable when he called them to a purer motive. One cable news station would call him an ultra conservative because of his traditional values. Another would call him a liberal because of his bleeding heart. People would try to smear him, fighting against the reformation of worldview that he was calling for.

People wouldn’t want to change.

What would you do if you met someone like that?

Read one of the Gospels, I suggest Mark, it’s the shortest. I believe this is a bit like what it was like to meet Jesus Christ. I tried to bring it into the modern era as what it would be like to meet Jesus today.

What if God was one of us? He became one of us. Jesus is God interacting with humanity and ultimately providing a way to bring us back to him.

What would you do if you met someone like that?

Living In Such A Way That Darkness Flees

Christians are called to be “salt and light”. I wrote a lengthy post on that in November; however, I never saw what the response was to that until a while back. The unintended consequences of being myself left one feeling guilty and another running away.

In the first experience, it was during a conversation while watching TV at one guy’s place. A commercial about a reality show featured a naked girl getting butt-waxed. The wall became very interesting to me for a little bit.

He asked if I would like that job. No actually, I’m married. Then he got quiet and in a low voice said, “I wouldn’t do nothing, or anything.” It was not until later that I realized was salt being applied. Ever gargle with salt water and it hits a cold sore? Hurts a bit, doesn’t it? I had applied it inadvertently because of my new nature.

During the second experience, I was at work talking to my friend Eric, and we got deep into spiritual matters. One of the guys who had come in for overtime walked over to listen. Almost as fast as he arrived, he ran back to his station. It happened twice that night. We weren’t preaching at him, it was just him listening to a theological conversation between the two of us. Quickly a verse came to mind:

 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3: 19-21

It goes deeper than that. I was reading a book by J.B. Phillips titled Your God Is Too Small. It starts by dealing with misperceptions of God that are inadequate. Then in the next section, he writes about what makes God more than adequate. In the section “If God were Focused (1)”, a paragraph stuck out to me as he explained what God would be like as a man:

“We need not expect that A, like some religious reformers in history, will go about denouncing men as ‘miserable sinners’. Indeed there would be no need for that. Insincerity always feels uncomfortable in the presence of  sincerity, unreality in the presence of reality, and selfishness in the presence of love. We may expect then that in the presence of a morally complete man, a good deal of spiritual discomfort will be spontaneously aroused, sometimes dully and sometimes acutely. Some men will be stimulated to an intense hunger for wholeness, but some would be angered and resentful and determined either to get out range of this cause of their discomfort or to get rid of it.”

That was the response to Jesus, loved or hated, he made people uncomfortable. This applies to us as Christians in this way:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4: 22-24 NIV

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12: 2 NIV

matthew5.13-15.scripturePhoto_lgAs the Holy Spirit works on us (Philippians 1: 6), we will be transformed more like Christ. That will begin to have an effect on those around you. Some may leave, and some may ask you about the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). It’s God in us that draws and repels as long as we act in lovingkindness without condemnation. It would be too easy to excuse a bad attitude if we don’t act that way.

Just get deeper into life with God and the salt and light will come.

Loneliness, A Beatable Enemy

About a year ago, I wrote a post on loneliness. I learned that going it mostly alone sucks. Even I get tired of my company and I think I am brilliant…sometimes. I was walking around with a ‘bubble’ up, a little barrier of “don’t talk to me” all over my body language.

It sucks in that bubble.

So I stepped out of it to find many people at church willing to meet me halfway. I’m not a huggy person, still not really; however, I’m much more comfortable with them. I have to be, everyone hugs everyone it seems. Sometimes I will even hug someone.

It’s not a bad thing outside the bubble. Especially with the holidays that just ended. Many lonely people during that time and for once, I was not one of them. I had gained friends.

On top of that, the confidence to hold conversations with people I do not really know grew. I could talk to the ladies in the nursery about how good the fudge from Kilwins is. At the church’s winter festival, Christmas Lane, I served and spoke with a family working on the same team. The oldest daughter was trying to give away her little brother. After it was all over, I sat comfortably listening to Pastor Rod telling us the behind the scenes bloopers of a sermon video involving the pie-face game.

Before, I would have been looking for the door. People seem more willing to open up to me oddly enough considering my mostly expressionless face. I am also more willing to reach out to my hurting friends. Someone I know is around every corner, it seems.

If I can give you one takeaway from this, it is this:

  1. Meet someone and listen.
  2. Repeat.

Your willingness to listen to them will make them more willing to listen to you.

The Questions We All Face

What’s wrong with the world? Is it ever going to change? I looked on CNN’s website to see headlines about corrupt countries, earthquakes, arson, and refugees fleeing violence in their countries. Everything is obviously broken.

It even hits close to home. Abusive relationships, illness, job loss, family and friends going down a dangerous path to name a few. Other people’s problems are easier to overlook than our own. Whose fault is it? Is anyone even at fault?

In a Twitter debate, I saw a comment from the ‘sidelines’ about God screwing up. “Maybe version 2.0,” they sneered. Funny they should mention that. It reminded me of some verses that I will get to in a moment. First, it’s a problem every worldview has to deal with. Every intellectually honest person has to answer these four questions:

  1. Where did we come from?
  2. Why are we here?
  3. What is wrong with the world?
  4. How can we fix it?

Have you considered the answers? Follow along with me, if we got here by luck (Q1) then there isn’t a reason for you. You are just an accident (Q2), chaos is norm, and we all return to dust. We breed and then we die (Q3), and even that is meaningless.

How depressing is that? I would be cynical and sarcastic again myself. The comment made me smile, though. Everything is going to end, that is true. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us everything is winding down. Entropy is the end that awaits. Yay.

Consider this: Question 1 is answered in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Question 2 is answered in Genesis 1: 27-28 and Ephesians 1: 4-5.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”

The answer to the third question is that we’re what are wrong with the world. We do as we will, are in it for ourselves trying to get ‘what’s mine’, and no one better cross us. I know, I spent years building monuments to myself.

How do we fix it?

Problem is, we can’t. Remember, it’s all ticking down. There is an answer and a hope. The answer to the last question is a person. Luke 19: 10 tells us that. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He is a historical person who walked the earth and disappeared after he was killed. What happened is debated but a majority of historical scholars admits he’s real.

That is part of my hope. He worked miracles, spoke of absolutes, said that everyone has value, and backed it up in his interactions and sacrifice. Through that death, there is a path to redemption. He is the present hope.

The future hope, “Earth 2.0” is actually biblical. 2,775 years ago the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore” in Isaiah 65:17.

Why is it taking so long, though?

Close to a millennium later, Peter wrote the answer.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” 2 Peter 3: 8-15 NIV

There is a hope and a part to play for us. It’s ticking down but we do not have to go with it. God’s patience won’t last forever and we will not see it coming. Follow Jesus, it is how we can be spotless and at peace. That is what you can do.

What do you have to look forward to?

A second chance, the old you, and one day the old earth will be gone and the new will arrive.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” Revelation 21:1

The God so many wonder if exists will live with us.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” Revelation 21:3

No more mourning, or illness. There will be no sadness, no tears. All we think is wrong with the world will be gone. Cancer in all its forms will be eradicated.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

There is hope. Do you have hope?

Losing Someone, What Does It Mean?

The darkest times of our lives don’t seem that bad when they’re spread out over time. The closer they are together, the easier it is to grow pessimistic. When it comes to death, you would think it couldn’t get any darker since that’s supposed to be ‘the end.’

On a Saturday in early October, I got a message that my Jeet Kune Do teacher had died in his sleep. I had trained for two years under him. I was a guest in his home, ate with him, and when money was tight he allowed me to pay for the class with a diet coke. His class was a form of therapy, an escape during my darkest times in 2013-14. At his funeral, many told of how he had touched their lives as well. I even saw my history teacher from high school there.

It was starting to feel like, pardon the bluntness, I’m carrying a closet full of bodies. I debated returning to GriefShare for a couple of Saturdays. One of my friends said I should. I am still stubborn on not doing that, though.

The reason is I’m reminded that in the last three years ten people I’ve known have died. They were either close to me, shared a history, or close to a loved one so I mourned with them. I didn’t want to be seen as…”competitive” or “my baggage is bigger than yours.” Dumb reasoning I know. It still feels like “I see your lost loved one and raise you by nine.”

So I decided to change my perspective on it. Rather than looking at the loss, I looked at the gain. All but two I know for sure I will see again, when I leave this life for eternal life. I see how they enriched my life and others’ lives. I see how others are enriching my life, or how I can help others, like the desperate neighbor looking for work.

Alternatively, simply appreciate the interactions with others, like moments of silliness, for example. Like when you are talking to one friend and another steals your phone. Then returning it after taking a zillion selfies before you realized they had it. Or friends teasing you about being helpless because your wife is out of town. My friends in the homeless ministry and deaf church kept that up for days.

In closing, I was watching Ravi Zacharias on YouTube when he said something I wrote down immediately.

“In terms of service it’s the wounded soldier who serves best, someone who’s been in the darkness.”

I am not sure if it was ‘darkest’ or ‘darkness’ but it was profound. Thoseman_legs_walking_cane-1024x576 ten losses hurt. I will not deny that. All of them, either directly or by proxy, had a hand in shaping me today. Their work is done; it made a difference in many lives. Mine continues, ours continues, we press on with a limp.

Contrasts; The Difference in Leaders

Picture in your mind a bad leader or boss. We’ve all had at least one bad boss in our careers. Do you remember what traits they exhibited? 2,500 years ago, a prophet named Ezekiel nailed some of the traits of bad leaders when he railed against Israel’s spiritual leaders.

Listening to Pastor Tyler teach about those who influence us from Jude, he really got my attention when he spoke of shameless shepherds. He then referenced Ezekiel 34: 2-5:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.”

The context was towards spiritual leaders, specifically the false prophets and priests. However it applies universally. It’s something we should watch in ourselves and those who want to lead. Particularly during this political season, we should look for these negative traits:

  • Putting yourself before your followers (it’s not about you)
  • Taking from them for your gain
  • Ignoring the sick, weak, or lost
  • Wielding authority like a dictator

This goes across the spectrum, doesn’t it? Politics, spiritual leaders, employers, and those around you. The opposite is also true; we should strive to be and choose leaders by these standards:

  • Make sure those who follow you are taken care of before you are (in whatever capacity we’re in)
  • Invest in them for their growth
  • Lift the weak, help them get stronger
  • Care for the sick, injured, and hurting
  • Bring the ones off the path home
  • Guide them with a gentle firmness

It’ll do more than make you a better leader — it’ll make you a better person. Do you have any areas you need to work on? Or stories about a bad boss? I had one sucker punch me once about 10 years ago. That was the only job I ever quit.