Comfort

Woe to the man who thinks his highest worth

his ability to conquer meaningless hills

How he strives and strains to satisfy the world

Giving the life given him to lackluster thrills

The chains he wears he cannot feel

For they lie unshaken in comfortable scars

Confined to a cell of sad but certain controls

He knows not the freedom past his unshackled bars

Woe to the man who does not respond

To his maker when given eyes that can see

Woe to the man who knows his mirror too well

And still himself has yet to see

“Beat it, doofus!”

Lester

A Goofy Movie, Disney (1995)
A Goofy Movie, Disney (1995)

There is a scene in one of my favorite Disney films, A Goofy Movie, in which teenager Max is taken much to his chagrin by his father, Goofy, to a rundown roadside attraction park known as “Lester’s ‘Possom Park.”  After enduring a very cringe-worthy animatronic performance in which the audience is encouraged to yodel along with Lester, Max is left alone while his father explores the souvenir station.

In an unguarded moment, Max is greeted by Lester, the tall costumed opossum (think Chuck E. Cheese meets Barney the Dinosaur), who enthusiastically asks Max:

“Who’s your favorite ‘possum?”

Max plainly tells him:

“Don’t . . . touch me.”

This of course inspires Lester to give Max a huge hug in hopes of cheering him up.  The scene climaxes with Max slapping the opossum caricature hard enough to make his costume head spin 180 degrees to the rear.

“Beat it, doofus!”

Unable to see, the child entertainer staggers off into the background where he is taken down and dragged away by a gang of enthralled children.

It’s my favorite scene, and one I think of often in the church because I assume many men think of the pastor, and maybe even Christ himself as a Lester-like figure who is desperate for our attention and eager to give us a big, unwanted hug.  Anything to get us to smile and play along.

I am grateful my pastors are not Lesters, but it saddens me to think of the men who mistake Christ, as I once did, for something like Lester the ‘Possum instead of rightly understanding him for the final authority that He is.

Christ is most certainly compassionate and hospitable, and I have no doubt that he gives the best hugs.  But he is not merely an entertainer in search of our shallow affection.  He is the eternal authority, and his return will not include playful yodeling.

Birthdays in Light of Eternity

When you’re forever

Today, I turn 30 years old.

I don’t have any big plans.  I will be meeting with a counselor.  It wasn’t something I’d planned to do on my birthday, but when I emailed him earlier this week, this was the day he said he was free.  I chuckled, and then smile-sighed, much like my father does when moments of life seem too ridiculous to do anything other than laugh, smile and shake your head.

It’s probably a good way to start the next decade of life; discussing some of the things in my first three decades, and how they’ve formed my identity, whether for better or worse.  I’m not excited about it, but I know it will be good for me and for others.

I was not born only once, though.  I am, by God’s grace, “born again.”  I don’t usually say so because I typically assume that phrase to belong to short, roundish, gregarious black women who attend Southern churches and wear sun hats, but it was the phrase that Christ used, so perhaps I should take a liking to it.

I don’t know exactly when I was born again, or saved from one eternal life into another.  I sometimes feel as though I am re-saved on a continual basis, much like one might be if after having been pulled from the ocean waves, they jumped back in time and time again and were re-saved time and time again by the same patient and determined lifesaver.  Such seems to be my relationship with the Christ.

Theologically speaking, I know that’s not the case.  I know that salvation occurs once, and that life thereafter is a process of sanctification, or Christ-likening.  But I don’t know the day I was saved, and I don’t know that I care all that much so long as I am indeed saved.

Of course, all of us are eternal beings.  It’s easy to ignore this or fail to acknowledge it, even if we do call ourselves Christians because we have not seen the other side of death, and we cannot fathom what it means for anything to be eternal, let alone ourselves.  We may say we’ll love someone forever, but the reality is that none of has the slightest clue what it means to do anything, let alone love, forever.

So what are birthdays to the eternal?  They mean something in this life because things change as we get older.  Our bodies.  Our perspectives.  Our abilities and our rights.  Our freedoms and responsibilities.  Our expectations, both of ourselves and of the world around us.  Time changes these things, hopefully for the better, but not always.

I imagine things will change in Heaven, but I doubt we’ll worry much about time.  Why would we?  What would life be like if we did not age and we had no need to worry about time?

I realize this may sound morbid, but a part of me is delighted that I am a bit older today because it means I am a bit closer to my death, and thus closer to an eternal community with Christ.  I am not entirely without him now, as I am, but I am not nearly with him as I will be when I die to this vehicle and awaken in the next.

I understand why this day is significant in this life and in this world, but I cannot help but to wonder how significant it really is if I will live forever.  Will I look back on this day in 200 billion years?  Will I remember it?

_____

The other day I was listening to Ed Sheeran’s song, Shape of You.  It’s catchy and I like to dance, so I was dancing in my living room and pretending to be much cooler than I am when I paused for a moment to apply some ChapStick.  Feeling cool, I capped it and then decided to return it to it’s small wicker basket by tossing it from my right hand, tucked under my left arm, up and over my head, eyes fixed on the basket.

It landed, and in that moment I was Michael Jordan sinking the game winner.  No one saw it besides me, and maybe my dog, Homie.  And God.  Maybe some bored angels.

I hope that moment is recorded.  I hope I can replay moments of my life, and the lives of others, in God’s eternal living room.  And I hope you will be there, too.

Luke, Chapter 15

Satisfaction

Jesus tells three parables about the joy of finding that which was lost.  The sheep; the coin; the son.

Some have to squander what God has given them on the unfulfilling pursuits of the world in order to realize their deepest desire for the father’s love and acceptance.  The prodigal son was a rich young man who was released to a life of travel and casual sex; a life undoubtedly envied by many other young men, then and now.  But for whatever adventures he had or stories he would be able to tell, it wasn’t enough.  The high didn’t last, and he would ultimately find himself alone and miserable.

And so it was in the chaos of his own causing, by God’s grace, that the son “came to himself,” and returned to his father.  He didn’t think himself worthy to do so, but he returned hoping to be granted the most basic of provisions, like food and a place to stay.

Upon his return, the son began to apologize.  Before he could finish, the father hugged him, “and they began to celebrate.”  Food and a place to stay were available, but given what he had done with his inheritance, the son was not at all prepared for the warm welcome his father received him with.  The son was not at all prepared for the love that was still available to him.  The love of the father satisfied a longing within the son’s soul that he had not previously understood, and had until his return unsuccessfully sought to satisfy with insufficient substitutes.

Only the father’s love fully satisfies, forever.

Is is Narcissistic to Use Your Name as Your Domain?

I hope not.

I initially bought this domain (andrewbartosik.com) because I didn’t want anyone else to snag it before I could (it’s in high demand, I assume).  But then I bought a secondary domain titled, theexhorter.com, because I didn’t want to be guilty of narcissism.  I thought people would think me a douche if I handed them a card or told them about my website as if to say, “You’ll never guess what it’s called . . . it’s my name!”

So I used the exhorter as a mask to feel like a better Christian.  I thought God would be more impressed with me if my glorious blog (tell your friends) wasn’t named after me, but was anonymous and entirely focused on pointing people to Him.  The problem with that of course is that God isn’t so easily manipulated, and his affections for me don’t dramatically increase because I went with itsaboutGod.com instead of myname.com.

The truth is this:  I am narcissistic at times.  I’m less so now than I think I’ve ever been, but it exists within me, and comes out in different ways.  Maybe this website is one of those ways.  Maybe it’s not, but I really don’t care anymore because I just want to practice writing, and I’m tired for worrying about what people think of me.  It’s slowing me down.

You don’t become a narcissist by making a website with your name on it anymore than you escape narcissism by naming your website something else.  The truth is that in some ways you too are likely narcissistic and self-absorbed, and that’s okay.  It’s wise to seek to be selfless, whether for the sake of living more like Christ or just being a better friend, but don’t get too caught up like I did in fretting about what other people will think of you.

Just relax and write.

Integrity

As defined by the Corps; as refined by the Christ.

In the Marine Corps, I was taught that being a good Marine included being a man of integrity.  Integrity, as defined by the Corps, meant “doing the right thing when no one is looking.”  For the four years that I was enlisted I largely thought of myself as an integrity-based man and thus, among other reasons, a good Marine.

Since then I have struggled to maintain as strong a sense of integrity, not because its definition has changed very much, and not because I have changed all that much (unfortunately), but because the definition of “the right thing” has taken on a much deeper meaning.

The right thing used to mean being the type of Marine who picked up trash when no one was requiring it to be done.  It meant going for a run on Saturday morning in order to improve my three-mile run time even though it wasn’t required or expected.  Doing the right thing meant going beyond the minimum requirements, learning more than the essentials, and being prepared for more than what was anticipated.  And these things I did, quite pridefully.

But then I met Jesus.  And if you’re not a believer–look, I get it.  I can hear your eyes rolling.  Mine would be if I were you.  But that’s the truth.  I began reading the Bible and through it found a redefinition of integrity that allowed me to see just how far out of alignment I was.

Doing the right thing still included going beyond life’s minimum expectations, but in light of the Lord’s living example, it also included loving the seemingly unlovable, showing compassion for the most heinous of criminals, and–what might be the most difficult of standards, personally–maintaining a sense of intentional sexual purity.

Integrity suddenly included not taking the second, third or fourth lustful glance, but instead acknowledging the beauty of a woman for the wonderful and respectable creation of God’s that it is.  Integrity, as defined by Christ, meant not using pornography to satisfy the sinful appetite of my flesh, but instead trusting the God who reminds me that sexual pleasure is best experienced exclusively in the context of marriage.  Integrity meant doing the right thing not that I might impress God or earn his favor, but as an obedient demonstration of my trust in him as my Lord and the one who I believe knows what is best for me.

I want to walk my talk, and I want to live free from hypocrisy.  I want to realize the insufficient joy found in sinful pleasure, and be absolutely convinced that the greatest joy is found in obedience to him.

Lord, give me the ability and desire to walk according to your word with integrity and joy.

Why People Don’t Confess Their Sins

I am very transparent.  Maybe more than is wise.  I confess my sins to others, and most often in the company of self-professed Christians.  I do this because of an experience I had in which I was challenged to publicly declare that which I was ashamed of, and I did.  I told men what I did not want them to know, and they accepted me as I was; messy and broken.

The experience was powerful, and one that Christians are called to experience among their fellow believers for the sake of healing:  “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:6, ESV).  It is an experience that I hope others would also enjoy, and so it is often for that purpose that I bring my sins to the surface before another or others, that they might also feel safe admitting their shortcomings for the sake of the freedom that lies beyond.

Unfortunately, while it is sometimes the case that a man will respond to my admission of inadequacy with his own struggles, and with a sentiment that says, ‘I get that; me too,’ it seems to more often be the case that a man will recline back in his seat, literally or figuratively, and distance himself from what appears to be an uncomfortable place, shielding himself with statements like, ‘Yeah, that sounds rough,’ or ‘Well I’ll be praying for ya.’

Certainly, it may just be that the man is unable to relate in that moment.  He does not see the depth of his depravity before God, and thus cannot offer much grace when he does not believe himself to be a recipient of much grace.  It is possible that he just feels stunned, and finds it enough of a struggle to remain with me in that space, let alone express solidarity.

I can understand the fear of the light.  Dragging out skeletons out of the closet and into the front yard, especially when we are not sure how they will be received by our neighbors, is scary.  I don’t fault the man who receives my confession with little interest to reciprocate.  It’s disappointing, but not upsetting.

What is upsetting is when my confession is responded to with self-righteousness.  When my struggles are seen from the top of a long nose held up my a stiff neck, I find it challenging not to lovingly and quite pointedly help a man open his closet and uncover his wretchedness.

“Please, sir,” I want to tell him, “do not assume yourself to be my mentor and counselor when your only qualification is your high view of self.”

This is why people put facades on at church and do not confess their sins among one another; because they rightly fear the condescending judgment of others.  The gossipers lean away and say to one another, ‘I’m glad I’m not him,’ while the self-righteous lean in and abundantly offer advice that reeks of ignorance.

My request is this:

  1. Confess your sins among your fellow believers, and let those who hear respond as they will.  Do not think yourself better than those who would judge you and fear you.  Rather, seek the freedom that is promised us through confession, and pray that the Spirit help each of us to acknowledge our brokenness that we might better know and receive the grace of God.
  2. Don’t assume yourself to be wiser than you are, or believe yourself to be qualified to counsel a man because you think the Lord favors you before him.  You may very well have a good point, but it will likely be better received if it is delivered side-by-side from one sinner to another, kneeled before the Lord, rather than from a self-appointed pulpit that you believe yourself to have earned after years of good-enough behavior and platitude memorization.

Brainwashing Isn’t Bad if it’s in Truth

It just makes sense.

There is a video circulating the internet in which a four-year-old Texan boy demonstrates his ability to associate each letter of the alphabet with a Biblical scripture.  It’s impressive, and if you’ve ever attempted to memorize scripture, it’s humbling to see a kid knocking it out of the park.

There is of course many people who would find this video not cute, but sad, and maybe even upsetting.  They would say that the boy’s parents have brainwashed him, and I would agree.  They have, but not unwisely.

Brainwashing is not necessarily a bad thing.  Stigmatized as the word may be, American society already allows for many forms of brainwashing that align with our societal beliefs.  We believe education and self-actualization to be important, so we repeatedly tell our children to stay in school and pursue their dreams in hopes they’ll adopt our worldview.  That’s brainwashing, and that’s okay because it’s normal.

The boy is a byproduct of a family that clearly believes it ought to be normal for one to know the truths of the Bible.  So, they have equipped their son not that he would be restricted, but that he might be prepared for a life free from the lies of this world that would pull him away from God’s truth.

If you are not a believer, consider for a moment how immeasurably cruel it would be to believe that after this life exists an eternal life in which we will spend forever, either with God or without, and then consciously choose to raise up your children without an awareness of this reality.  Nothing would be more hateful or potentially harmful.

And if you are a believer, consider the example of this family.  You may be reluctant to pass on your beliefs to your children lest you should be accused of brainwashing and religious force-feeding.  But if you really believe what you say you believe, then how does it make any sense to consciously allow your child(ren) to stray from the good and safe path of Christ?

You teach your child what is important.  You teach them that which you believe will equip them for success, happiness, and the like.  Why then would you not teach them to honor, obey, and trust God if you believe He is honorable and worthy of our trust and obedience?

Why It Does Matter What You’ve Done

Remembering to consider the cost of our corruption

There is a popular Christian song circulating the Christian radio station airwaves in which the singer exclaims, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done!”  And look, I get it.  This isn’t a new message, nor is this the first time I’ve heard this sang or preached from a Christian source.  But it does no less seem incomplete.

Truth:  No matter what you or I have done–no matter how egregious our sins may be–the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient payment.  His death paid the price we owed, in that he suffered the death we ought to have experienced.  He incurred the wrath for which we gave reason, and in that sense, it does not matter what you or I have done.  Christ did everything necessary in order to cleanse us of the penalty of our sin.

That said, the reason Christ suffered, died and was buried was because it does matter what you and I have done.  Christ would not have been a savior if it had not mattered what you or I have done.  Your and my sin matters very, very much, not only in this life but in the eternal.  Sin corrupts, distorts, and ultimately leads to death, and we would be wise not to forget its cost.

My hope for both believers and nonbeliever is that we would understand and remember the whole picture of sin and salvation; one in which you and I were wretched sinners rightly destined for eternal separation from God, now graciously pardoned because of the work of Christ.

Prayer

Father:  Please help me to know, remember and be affected by the truth.  Please help me to remember the value of your grace, and the wisdom available to me through repentance.  Please help me to have fear rightly, and rejoice greatly.  Amen.