Animals

Animals

Whenever I read about animal worship in the Old Testament, I feel a sense of superiority over first-century Egyptians.  Pridefully, I think of myself and my society as better than those who would worship birds and goats and golden calves.  It just sounds so primitive.

And then I look around.

I live in Colorado, where to say that people worship the Denver Broncos is undoubtedly an understatement.  I don’t think it’s possible to find someone in this state who wears orange accidentally, or merely because they enjoy its luminescent quality.  And while taking a knee in reverence to the spoken Word of God seems bold, even in a church, no one bats an eye if you tell them that you’re devoting and entire day and driving a long way to watch men throw a pigskin around in the name of victory for a horse-labeled organization.

It is, of course, at this moment that I realize I am wearing a Chicago Bears shirt.

Sports is an easy example, though.  Cubs, cardinals, hawks, lions–there’s a long list of animal mascots with whom we can rally alongside.

But the parking lot is no exception.  Mustangs, beetles, rams and impalas all have their place in our hearts, garages and payments.

How or why silly looking horse heads came to be a popular accessory for young partygoers and YouTube personalities to wear, I don’t know.  I just know that it’s a thing, and that it creeps me out.

The latest trend is the “dog face” picture.  Snapchat has created new filters that allow selfie-senders to depict themselves with the ears and snout of a dog.  I think there’s a cat version, too.

I do not understand why this is a thing.  Maybe I’m getting old.  Maybe it’s just stupid and I am one of few in whom this valuable truth has been entrusted.  But whatever the case, it is quite commonplace for smartphone owners to snap & share pictures of themselves with animal features.  Which makes me wonder whether or not bunny ears is still an effective means of mockery, or if it will not become a favor.

My hope is not that you will feel guilty rooting for your team, but that we would see through the pride that allows us to think ourselves so much better than our predecessors.  We’re not that different.

A Great Write on Why to Write

Gallup surveys have found that a majority of Americans aren’t “engaged” with their jobs, as defined as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” Almost 18% of employees are in fact “actively disengaged” from their jobs. Maybe you’re somewhere in that 70% of the working disconnected. Maybe you…

via How to Moonlight Your Way to Your Dreams: Case Studies From Famous Men — The Art of Manliness

Grace & Repentance

Grace & Repentance

The Book of Romans is a good book.  I’d like to memorize it.  I was very moved when, via podcast, I listened to David Platt recite chapters 1 – 8 to his congregation in a sermon he gave while preaching at the Church of Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL.

In an attempt to begin familiarizing myself with the text, I was reading Romans aloud the other day.  And whether for the sake of memorizing or not, I think I like this method of experiencing Scripture.  Speaking Paul’s exaltations and exhortations made me feel the emotions I imagine he felt while writing those words in a way that I don’t usually appreciate when I’m skimming verses in order to satisfy a daily reading plan.

It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve studied Romans.  Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever personally studied Romans, but I’m sure I’ve read through most of it in the past.  Consequently, it only took until Chapter 2 before I had to stop and breathe, not because I was preaching too exhaustively, but because I’d been spiritually doubled over by Romans 2:4 (ESV):

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Kindness is not weakness.  I fear I may have forgotten this.

Grace is not meant to enable me to linger in my sin.  Grace is the escape route from my sin.  Grace is not meant to be an umbrella under which I can avoid the downpour of God’s righteous judgment while I go on living ignorantly of his presence and guidance.  Grace is meant to lead me to repentance.  Grace is meant to help me see the truth about who God is, and who I am.

I have often taken His love as a source of comfort while ignoring it as a source of correction.  This needs to change.

 

Please help me, Father, to see that obedience to your word isn’t an opportunity for me to impress you, but an opportunity to live more fully satisfied than I’ve ever known.  Help me find joy in obedience. 

The American Veteran; Why a Challenge is Better Than a Check

The American Veteran; Why a Challenge is Better Than a Check

I am a Marine Corps veteran.  I served four years as an ‘oh-three, fifty-one,’ Infantry Assaultman.  The role was explained to me as that of a basic rifleman with the addition of rocket launchers and demolitions, which retrospectively I’d say was accurate, and a damn good recruiting pitch for a 19-year old male.

I live in a day and age when veterans are held high.  This has not always been the case, so I am grateful that it is now.  I have a GI Bill that will not only pay for my education, but will pay me to get an education.  Somehow that’s still not enough incentive, but that’s another conversation.  Beyond these benefits, I am compensated monthly for a small bit of hearing loss; I can buy a home with nothing down; and many employers will give me more attention than I might deserve because I endured four years of “standing by.”

Entitlement

I am entitled, America would say, to many things.  Money.  Thank you’s.  A good job.  But sometimes I feel these leg-up’s hinder some of my peers more than they help.

I signed up for the Marine Corps because it was a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  I didn’t know that I had what it took, but I rolled the dice, climbed the hill, fought the dragon and came out the other side; ranked and ribboned (and cockier than ever).

Now, I find it very easy to rest on my laurels.  Many people thank me for my service, but few are bothered by the fact that I and thousands of other veterans are seemingly content to join a life-demanding organization in which we were trained to operate at our peak capacity, only then to be released into a world where I’m tempted to believe my best days are behind me, and few challenges await.

But then there’s those other guys.

Those Other Guys

Just about every recently-discharged infantryman knows at least one dude who’s probably accomplished more than he ever would have now that he’s less one limb.  I’ve got a buddy–Linville–who’s probably on top of Mount Everest by now.  And no, that’s not a metaphor.  He lost his foot to an IED, and now that mofo is huffing it out at 27,000 ft.

My buddy in town has a friend who’s bound to a wheelchair because of a combat wound, and that guy’s got some kind of thriving woodworking business.  He makes wall-hung wooden American flags, or something like that.  I don’t know.  He’s successful.

Another guy I know–Humphrey–got blown up, put in a wheelchair, and started winning skiing competitions.

My Point

I’m not saying these dudes have only known triumph.  I can only imagine the daily challenges they and their families have endured.  But I can’t help but feel like adversity does more to inspire greatness than entitlement ever will enable it.  Give a guy every possible resource and no purpose and he’ll likely sit and get fat.  (I’m looking at you, Army.)  But stand in his way and offer his ego, his anger, his aggression and his manhood something to fight against, and more importantly, something worth fighting for, and he’ll push.  He’ll push further than you or he knew he could, and in so doing he’ll inspire those around him to do the same. 

Veterans don’t need a leg up nearly as much as they need a distant rung worth reaching for.  So please, feel free to honor the service of servicemembers should you so choose.  But don’t be afraid to ask:  “Now what?”

“You’re a man.”

I was walking from the local library to the adjacent recreation center when a ten year-old boy and his friend came into my path.  They were headed in the opposite direction.  One of them, who I’ll call Daniel, said something to me as he passed me by.  My attention was buried in my cell phone so I didn’t catch what he said, but I did manage to give him a look that communicated what I felt:

Why are you talking to me?  Boot.

From the rec center and now with a freshly-vended soda in hand, I returned to the library.  Daniel and his friend had also decided to retrace their steps, and we again found ourselves on approach.  I smirked.  This time I these little shits had my undivided attention.

As we neared each other, I saw that Daniel had something in his hand.  When the gap between us closed to a few steps, he held it out, dangling the small, dark object in a way you might handle a deal rodent.

“You want a rat?!” he said with a juvenile chuckle.

I stopped; no facial response.  It was a piece of bark.  It had some kind of vine attached to it that made it look something like a rat.  The normal, adult response would have looked like me rolling my eyes or saying something dismissive.  But not that day.  Not with this kid.

I grabbed that damn thing right out of the air in which it dangled and chucked it like I was skipping a rock as far as I could.  Then I looked at the surprised boy standing in front of me with the deadest, unimpressed stare I could muster.

Your move, punk.

For a moment, I got a glimpse of a look that seemed to say, ‘Hmph, didn’t see that coming.’  But that quickly transformed into a little dance that mocked my authority.

 “Ooooo,” Daniel mocked.

Asshole.

I shook my head and walked past him, continuing on my way, neither embarrassed or satisfied.  I envisioned an epic moment in which my overwhelming authority abruptly changed the course of this kid’s life for the better.  Instead, it only seemed to give him another opportunity to act out.

As I walked on, I could feel the aura of this little snot following me.  His mockery continued.  So after a few steps, I turned, faced the kid, and basically threw down with the prepubescent punk.

“You got a problem, kid?!”

I don’t remember what he said.  He wasn’t arrogant or stupid enough to become violent, but it still seemed important to him that he hold his ground, even if sheepishly.  I asked him where his parents were.  Mom was at home, he confessed.  Dad; he didn’t know.

“Why you acting like this?” I asked him.

He shrugged.  He knew he was being an asshole, but I don’t think he cared.  My frustration with him quickly turned into a frustration with the world I imagined being around him; one in which walking up to grown man with a snotty comment probably made a lot of sense.  I told him that I understood the temptation to act like a fool, but that he shouldn’t.  He was better than that.

“You’re a man,” I declared.

That statement might not have meant a damn thing to Daniel, but it should, and it bothers me to think that I might be the only person, and quite possibly the only man to tell him this truth in a way that hopefully doesn’t pressure him to build muscle mass or consume women, but to act right.  To act wise.  To respect, and in so doing, be respectable.

Daniel isn’t the only man that needs to hear this message.  As I write this, I realize how appropriate it might have been for Daniel to repeat my own words right back to me.  And because of the privilege I’ve had to be a part of The Crucible Project, I have some idea of how typical it is for men to struggle with feelings of inadequacy largely because no one ever demonstrated how to be or declared them as a man. 

I hope it meant something to him.  It meant something to me.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor 16:13)

Why Don’t I Live Like I Believe?

There is a part of my life that requires attention.  More precisely, there is a part of my identity that requires attention.  That is, in as much as anything is “required” of me.  I could, after all, go on living without addressing certain issues or subconsciously-believed lies, but that probably wouldn’t be wise if I’m going to live a God-glorying life.

Frankly, I’d much rather focus on that which I feel good at and that which I enjoy.  For example, I enjoy listening to sermons, sharing God’s truth with new people, and preparing myself for a continually more mission-driven life.  Unfortunately, I oftentimes find myself compartmentalizing my faith in such a way that allows me to communicate the truth to others without necessarily allowing those same truths to transform my own life in important ways.

I believe God is worthy of your trust and obedience.  I really, really do.  I just have a really hard time living my own life in a way that demonstrates that belief as anything more than an intellectual position.

The struggle is real.  I find myself able to enthusiastically nod in agreement when I hear the pastor’s preachings, and yet no more than a moment later I am able to completely empathize with and understand the man who is bound by the desires of the flesh.  A foot in both camps, I feel absolutely torn between that which I know to be good and true, and that which appeals.

Those closest to me–those who know my daily struggles would ask:  What is it that you want?  In which direction will you go?  Having batted these questions around for a while now, the only answer that makes sense is God.  I want God.  I want to know and feel eternal satisfaction.  Nothing else will do.  And look, I know–even if only on the intellectual level–that nothing will satisfy me in the way that only God can, but until my final day arrives and my eternity begins, how will I live?  What does it look like to live my life starving for that which I cannot have; starving for He whom I cannot yet fully knowbwhile maintaining my integrity?

I am indebted to David Platt for the analogy of snacking before the feast.  Platt once challenged his Birmingham, AL congregation to realize the foolishness of snacking before arriving at a glorious buffet.  Surely, if you knew you were going to have access to the most amazing meal of your life later today, you would not snack on junk food up until then.

God:  Please help.  Please help me to wait patiently and obediently, rather than as one who is content to act foolishly until the trumpets sound.  I don’t want to bend my knee only when it seems convenient.

If You’re Not Making Disciples Locally, Why Would You Globally?

“Aviation does not create transformation.”
David Platt

denver

I just finished watching David Platt’s Q&A session via Twitter (available here) about the direction of the International Mission Board (IMB), in which he noted that if you’re not making disciples where you already live, work and recreate, it’s not likely that you’ll begin making disciples once you arrive somewhere overseas.

This needs to be said, maybe to others, but certainly to me.  I have a newly developed passion for the Great Commission, largely because of what I hear Jesus Christ saying through the intense teachings & writings of David Platt, but I’m conflicted because I feel like there’s an epic story waiting to be written, if only I could break away from my mediocre life.

And while there might be some truth to that, the unfortunate way in which I typically express that frustration is toward my wife.  I sometimes, unintentionally, find myself thinking of our relationship as an obstacle to my ability to learn new languages, boldly travel to dangerous places, and powerfully share the gospel where few others would dare.  Added to our relationship, now we also have a newborn daughter whose smile I could not love more and whose laugh absolutely intoxicates me.

The simple truth is this:  I use my family, and especially my marriage, as an excuse not to make disciples, either within my family or outside of our home.  I complain about having to juggle so many responsibilities when I’m really not responsible for much more than my family.  I’m regularly stressed out, but not because I have much to be stressed about.  I’m just high-strung.  And I probably wouldn’t be making a ton of disciples in the Middle East if I were there right now, because I’d probably find other excuses to get by on.

To be clear, I do not believe that discipleship ought be confined to my family.  They are, to me, certainly of higher priority than the world, but my ability to influence others for the the sake of Christ should not be confined to my home.   I can affect my neighbors, my local church, guys at the gym, and so on.  I can figure out a way to engage with those younger guys at Sonic that I chose to ignore earlier tonight (they just seemed annoying), and I can operate as one who was sent here, rather than as one who is restrained here.

Lord:
I’m sorry I’ve complained so much.  Please remind me that I am sent here.  That I am on mission, within my family, with the people I interact with at work, and on my “off” days.  Please help me see through my own BS, that I might know the satisfaction available to me in allowing your desires to be my desires.

It is done.

Why I’m Afraid to Write

I can’t count how many times ‘Write a Blog Post’ has popped up as a notification on my phone.  I’ve successfully avoided it time and time again, opting instead to do other “good” things that I can justify and feel okay about–but that do not challenge me in the way writing does.

I am afraid to write because written word seems so much more permanent than spoken word.  In a spoken conversation, my expressions are momentary, and if you disagree with me I can usually clarify on the move so as to make myself feel better about my stance.  But here, it’s just out there.  And internally, I deal with questions like:

You sure you want to say that?  Y’know, somebody could bring this up later and hold you accountable to this.  And you’re pretty young to be writing.  You sure you’ve got life figured out enough by now to start writing?  Tim Keller and John Piper would probably nod and smile at this naive attempt to make a point.  Nice try, kid, they’d say.

Writing intimidates me.  I’m not sure I feel qualified to have a written opinion.  I’ve changed the title/tagline of this blog more times than I can remember.  I worry that I’ll someday run for a high-profile political office or position in vocational ministry and be presented with a question regarding a blog post I made when I was 29.

Insecurities suck.

That’s all.

Church is More Than a Place to Make Friends

By most standards, my local church is a large–dare I say, megachurch.  A couple thousand people fill the seats every week.  My wife and I have been attending for about three years, before they moved out of the high school and into their exclusive space.

Occasionally, I ask my wife what I believe to be deep, introspective questions, like, “Why do we go to church?”  She usually rolls her eyes, uninterested in entertaining my squinty-eyed search into her soul.  But sometimes she answers.  Sometimes I answer first just to get things going.  Here’s what I think to be true:

We typically go to church for one of two reasons:  Habit and friends.

I was raised in the Catholic Church.  My wife was raised in a Southern Californian, non-denominational Protestant church.  We attend our current non-denominational church every Sunday partly because that just what we grew up doing.

We also go to church because, thanks to a few small groups we got involved in early on, we’ve made some friends in the church who we enjoy seeing.  And if I’m being honest, I like being recognized by other people in the church.  I think it makes me feel important to some degree.  I belong.  I’m vested.  I’m noticeable.  I’m a part of something bigger than myself, and for better or worse, that makes me feel good.

But that’s not the point of church.  The point of church is to provide believers with a community in which they can worship and glorify God.  It is a place where we can identify and develop our spiritual gifts.  It is an environment in which we can encourage and love one another, and compassionately hold our members accountable to God’s commands.

The Point

I’m not saying it’s wrong to make friends at church, but I hope that the relationships I develop in my faith community, I develop as I obsessively pursue Christ.

They May Never Ask Where the Hope Comes From

I once worked with an older woman who always came to work smiling.  She was always cheerful, almost to the point of annoying, but not.

I personally appreciated her attitude, largely because as a manager I felt responsible for the morale of our work environment.  That said, it never occurred to me that I should ask her why she was the way she was.  I admired that aspect of her, but that’s it.  At best, for a moment, I may have envied her happy disposition, but that’s where it ended.  And maybe that says more about me than I’d like it to.  Even now though, I’m pretty content not knowing why she operated as she did.  I suppose I assumed then and now that she was a Christian, but she may as well have been Mormon or into stones and healing energies or whatever else.  Maybe her attitude was a byproduct of a great self-help book.  Maybe that’s how her mom was.  Maybe that’s how her mom never was.  Whatever the case, I never asked, and I’ll probably never seek her out in order to ask.

And here’s the thing:  I don’t think you would, either.

Hoping for an ask

1 Peter 3:15 encourages Christian disciples to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  And so we should.  But having an answer prepared doesn’t mean it need only be referenced upon request.  Jesus often took the initiative.

Consider:  If you are a Christian, and you sincerely believe that we have been saved from an eternal abyss that we deserve, and have instead been provided a means to eternal glory in community with the Creator of the universe, His angels and all the rest, how does it make any sense that we would only share this with those who are lucky enough to ask why we smile so much?

I realize no one wants to be the infamous “bible thumper” who scares more passersby away from the gospel than to it, but there’s got to be other ways to initiate the conversation.  Because while pouring soup and moving furniture is thoughtful, these things don’t set anyone free from eternal separation from God.  Truth sets us free.  Christ sets us free.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15)

Initiate.