My grass is overgrown, and I don’t care.

I am convinced that eternity exists; that this experience we understand to be life is only a brief, finger-snap moment before our eternal dwelling in one of two residences–either with God or without.  I consequently find myself having a very difficult time caring about the minutia of this life.  My credit score, my lawn, my reputation, etc.  I find myself meditating on the concept of forever, and eagerly awaiting the time and place in which all things will be made right, only then to walk outside and see my overgrown front lawn.  Oh, and my inherited and unfinished flagstone project.

But I do not care!  I look around at a million things that will eventually burn up or fall away.  Everything will decay, my body included, and only our souls will remain in the environment God will lay upon this earth.  Why then should I give a rip about this, that, or the other?

To be fair, this might all just be an excuse.  I have bills, and I should pay them, and it may be that I am merely using eternal salvation as an excuse to avoid and neglect things I’d rather not do, not because I’m so overwhelmed by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, but because I’m lazy and/or disinterested.  The truth of the matter may just be that I should have better considered my interest in things like home maintenance before I purchased a home, or rather committed a good chunk of my monthly income to a bill collector who owns my home much more than I do.

Just the same, I don’t care.  I know that I should care–I think–but I do not.  I feel enslaved to these trivial things: this lawn, these pets, the continually settling dust and animal hair that slowly seeks to carpet my home.  The American Dream and my image.  It all demands so much sustained attention.  And the cruel thing is that there is not one thing that seems overwhelming, such that I could point at it and say, “Look, everyone, at this thing that is taking control over me!”  No, that would be too convenient.

Rather, there are a million little things.  Tiny pinpricks that aggravate me on a daily basis that would seem ridiculous by themselves, but together form a powerful stress-inducing army.  The dog I care too much for and thus cannot simply give away who’s teeth are rotting, whose breath is rank, and who pees on my floor weekly, if not daily.  The floor that remains clean for a day.  The house that is ever decaying.  Ever requiring.  The lawn that grows. Every.  Freaking.  Day.  Thankful as I am, or try to be, that I have an area in which my two small dogs can run, it is not without cost.

I’m just tired of it.  This life of mediocrity and mundane slavish servitude.  I’m tired of it.  I’m not suicidal.  I’m just so fed up.  Why does any of this BS matter?

I feel like this is the point where I’m supposed to find the answer deep within my soul.  Or, let’s be honest.  The answer to why I should mow my lawn is probably neither that deep nor that complex.  Nonetheless, I don’t have it.  At least, not today.  Maybe tomorrow, but not today.  Today, I don’t give a shit.

It’s a beautiful day out.  My bike has a flat tire.  My God is crushing my old identity, presumably to build up a new one.  My dogs are walked and my grass isn’t the worst in the neighborhood.  So I don’t, and I won’t care.  And for someone like me who has spent far too much of his life concerned about the opinions and impressions of others, maybe today is a good day to practice not giving a damn.

I feel better now.  Thank you.

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Maybe We’re Responsible for Too Much

Figuring out what matters matter

Obligations

I’m on the board for my local homeowners’ association (HOA).  It’s not at the top of my list when it comes to ways in which I identify but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It just is what it is.  I joined because Joe, the board president, is my neighbor.  About a year ago he came to my house and asked if I’d be willing to fill a seat.  When I asked him what the role required, he said it basically meant checking my email periodically and voting on some decisions, to which I agreed.

Joe does the vast majority of the work that needs to be done in order to fulfill the HOA’s commitment to homeowners to ensure an environment that is both desirable to live in and desirable to own an asset within.  That work includes covenant enforcement, community communication, and accounting/bookkeeping.

I asked Joe to come by today because I wanted a better understanding of what’s required of the HOA.  I wanted to to know what would need to be done if Joe got hit by a bus, and more so, I wanted to alleviate some of the pressure on Joe’s shoulders, despite the limited room I have in my life to take on new things.

Joe was kind enough to explain to me how we do our accounting; how we receive payments, pay vendors, reconcile accounts, assess late fees, maintain receipts, etc.  There were certainly moments when my eyes glazed over and my mind wandered to less demanding places, but for the most part I kept with him.  I’ve worked in accounting in the past and used personal budgeting software for most of my adult life, so I felt I had an advantage, though I can definitely sympathize with those would say they simply zone out completely when reviewing things like cash flow reports or an income/expense review.

My takeaway: there’s more to it than I thought.  I assume most homeowners are similar to myself in that they pay their monthly dues and leave it at that.  We assume it’s not that complicated.  You, oh evil HOA, take my money, leave me alone, and shovel the sidewalks.  Make sure the community grass gets mowed and send me a letter that I’ll burn when I get lazy and don’t pull in my trash cans.

The truth is that there’s a quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes in order to make the ship run smoothly.  Suffice to say though that Joe’s volunteer service to our community is drastically underappreciated.

Stepping Back a Few Steps

This got me thinking,  not about expressing appreciation for Joe, though I should think about that, but rather about responsibilities, and how many responsibilities the typical full-time working, tax-paying, Facebook-updating American man or woman tries to maintain on a daily basis.

I don’t have a very complex life, I think.  My friend, Matt, has a lot of responsibilities.  He has a wife, a full-time job, three kids, church-type responsibilities, community responsibilities, extended family responsibilities, and probably some other things going on while I, by comparison, have two dogs and a lawn I neglect.  And a broken marriage.

Like Matt and many American men though, I also have a home, bills, an aging body, complicated relationships, desires, dreams, a faith, friends, family, bills, dirty floors, a cluttered garage, neighbors, unread books, social media accounts, a blog, unfinished projects, appointments, trash cans, a high-mileage vehicle, bills, an unchanged air filter, an empty fridge, a seat at church, laundry, dirty dishes, unwritten books, ungiven gifts, unmade money, unassigned time, an ever-dying phone, unused potential, an underused gym membership, and overused XBox Live subscription, undeveloped political opinions, unadopted children, unprayed prayers, unused vitamins, unstretched muscles, bills, and a seemingly ever-increasing list of other societal demands and expectations that I sometimes–no, oftentimes–choose to ignore rather than wrangle.  Because it’s a lot, and I’m tired.  Or at least that’s what I say to justify my choice to check out.

I don’t care about a lot of this stuff.  I mean, I know I should care, and I do, sort of.  I care about my Mom and Dad, and my salvation, and the salvation of those I love, and I want my desires to be God’s desires.  I want to read my Bible, and I want to have good conversations with good friends over good drinks and good food.  I want to be financially stable, and I want to be a responsible man.  But sometimes–like when I’m looking at what it means to be a responsible member of my HOA board–I can’t help but wonder; does this matter?

In the example of the HOA, what we (and by we I mean, Joe) basically do is work to make sure Jim Bob doesn’t park his truck on his lawn, and Betty Boo doesn’t paint her house pink, because we promised the other owners we’d hold the line against owners who might be temped to act a fool.  Full disclosure: my lawn needs mowing.

But what if we didn’t?  This is a question I ask often, and I think it’s a good one to not only ask, but play out.  What if we didn’t do what the HOA does?  What if I don’t read my Bible?  What if I don’t go to counseling?  What if I don’t walk the dogs, pay the bills, go to work and spend time with friends?

Well then there would be consequences.  Choices often render changes, and while I could judge those consequences as good or bad based on society’s expectations, the fact is that I don’t know the entirety of the story, which makes it hard to say what was for the better and what was for the worse.

For example, I made bad choices that led to the deterioration of my marriage, but in the time since she left I’ve made–by God’s grace–some of the most important growth in an area of my life where I’ve needed it for a long time, and that is good.  Does that make my bad choices good?  I don’t think so.  But it does humble the judge in me.

My point

Maybe we’re responsible for too much, and maybe all those responsibilities sometimes distract us from what matters.  I would suggest that eternal salvation matters most, because if it is true, nothing matters more, but that is not to say that date nights and time with kids and time in school and mowing your lawn isn’t also important.  You don’t get to be a shitty husband because you’re such a great guy at church.  But keeping things in their proper place is important so as not to become too anxious about temporary situations.

My encouragement to you and to myself is that we would begin and/or continue to take time to step back and take stock of what matters, lest we get wrapped into the meaningless minutia.

Word

“What’s the word?”

In the Marine Corps, we had this thing called “word.” Basically, word was pertinent information. It was what you needed to know to move forward with your day and with your government-owned life.

It was a coveted thing because word was not typically made available to everyone first-hand from our Commander, by whom it was issued. Rather, word had to be passed from one echelon to the next, from top to bottom.

“What’s the word,” was a common question in the barracks where Marines might spend hours standing by (waiting) to receive it. For reasons I still don’t understand, it often took a long time to obtain word and pass it to everyone. Bureaucracy, I suppose. There was word of the day, weekend word, etc. Word was what you needed to start your week or be freed on a Friday afternoon.

This concept still exists in communities and circles I am a part of now, except that as a Christian we believe God has not only given us word, but THE word. Made flesh. And it is abundantly available to all.

Unfortunately, unlike new believers in China and Rwanda, American believers like myself largely take the word for granted. Our Bibles are dusty and our Commander is, at best, a counselor, whose orders have been misunderstood as advice to be considered rather than unquestionably obeyed.

In the Corps we heeded word because we feared the consequences of deviating from it. In Christ, deviation from the word is not without consequences, in this life and the next, but unlike in the Corps, the word of God exists not merely to control us. It exists to give us life, that we may share it. Pass it along. Not because we have to, but because we get to.

How to Stay in the Suck

Dealing with stuff you don’t want to deal with

Sometimes life sucks

In these moments, or months, or years, we run to that which we trust most.  We run to that which we believe will give us comfort.  We run to that which we believe will help us to cope with the pain, frustration, anger, and suckiness of our situation.

These things that we trust can take on a few different forms.  Maybe you look for solace in a bottle.  Maybe you look for peace in a paycheck.  Maybe you trade your life for attention because you think you’d rather be dead than unnoticed.

Whatever it is, the shitty reality is that none of these things–none of these worldly coping mechanisms is enough.  Eventually, they all fall apart and leave us still wanting.  Still insecure and unsure.  Still desperate for comfort.

But knowing that isn’t enough.  You can read these words, and maybe even believe them to be true in your mind, but until your false savior fails you so hard that you stop giving it your trust, your hope, and your life, you’ll keep doing it.  You’ll keep placing the tremendous weight of your broken identity onto the weak shoulders of a woman, a man, a substance, an employer or a kid until it hurts enough that you stop.

My encouragement to you

If you still find yourself trusting in anything other than Christ, pray that it fails you.  Pray  that it fails you sooner than later so that you can start trusting in He who can and has carried the weight of your iniquity.  Pray that your false savior disappoints you so profoundly that you forever remember why it is unworthy of your trust.

And, if you have already experienced this pain and disappointment and know not where to go with your burdens, frustration, anger, questions, grief, stress and aggravation–pray.  Pray to God your Father and our Creator that he remind you who he is what he has done.  Remember that this life is temporary, and that ultimately, all will be made right.  Everything will be okay.

I don’t like to dwell on shitty situations.  I like to get through messiness quickly.  If I could be on the phone with a tow truck driver before the air bag finished deploying, I would be.  But sometimes, and only sometimes, it’s better to stay in the suck for a while.  I’m not advocating for victim-mentality or woe-is-me moments, and I’m not saying you should make an award-winning pity post every time you have a bad day. #cantkeepmedown

I am saying that sometimes it’s wise to stay in the suck, especially if you had some responsibility in causing it, and if staying in it helps you to see your responsibility well enough to keep you from causing a similar kind of suck in the future.

Know this: you are not alone.  You are not uncared for, and you are not the sum of your failures.  It will get better, and it will be okay.  Trust Him and Him alone.

Romans 8:18

He Did That We Might Do

We strive unending to emulate perfection

Consider that everything he has commanded we do he has already perfectly demonstrated.

He lived as we ought live.
He gave us that we might give.
He forgave us of much that we might forgive others of relatively little.
He sought and saved us so that we too might seek and save the lost.
He spoke words that we may now speak with confidence,
and he responded to the cries of the downtrodden so that we might continue.
He served that we might serve.
He loved the we may love.
He suffered righteously that we might suffer for righteousness sake.
He submitted so that we might submit,
and he welcomed that we might welcome.

He died that we might live, but that’s why he is the Christ and we are not.

How I beg and plead He hear my prayer,
“Are you even listening!”
And how my soul shakes when given His response:
“Are you even listening?”

“Beat it, doofus!”

Lester

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

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies, A Goofy Movie, in which Max, a teenager, is taken much to his chagrin by his father, Goofy, to a rundown roadside attraction 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 finds himself left alone while his father explores the souvenir station.

In that 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, not at all interested in reciprocating Lester’s playfulness, plainly tells him:

“Don’t . . . touch me.”

Of course, this leads 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, while in the same moment defiantly ordering Lester to: “Beat it, doofus!”  The child entertainer staggers off into the background, unable to see, where he is taken down and dragged away by a gang of enthralled children.

It’s my favorite scene in the movie, and I think of it 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, and hilarious as the scene is, it saddens me to think of the men who mistake Christ, as I once did, for something closer to that of Lester the ‘Possum than to that of a military commander.

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.

I encourage you to watch…

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.

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.

Animals

How we’re not that different from the OT peeps.

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.