A little birthday prank…
A little birthday prank…
Jesus Christ didn’t “just” die on the cross for us.
He gave up the chance to get married,
To have children,
To watch them grow,
To learn to walk,
To learn to talk,
To hold them in His arms.
He gave up the opportunity to have a career,
… To be successful in business,
To make a name for himself,
To be a community leader.
He gave up sunrises and sunsets,
Stargazing and full moons,
And listening to the waves crash against the shore.
He gave up the chance to sit around the fire with friends,
To tell jokes and to laugh at himself.
He gave up the chance to have every good thing people cherish in this life in exchange for a wooden cross, three nails, and a slow, excruciating death.
He gave up those things, He made that exchange, so you and I wouldn’t “just” have those things to look forward to at the start of each day.
Something to think about this Easter season.
My wife and I are facing a moral dilemma: Keep our home or stay true to our faith. Let me explain.
Between July 2010 and December 2011 I was unemployed. During most of that time I was a full-time student at Northwest University and my family survived off of my GI Bill housing allowance. We paid our mortgage as long as we could but eventually our savings ran out. My parents helped for a few months but that well dried up, too. Long-story-short: We have not paid our mortgage in over a year and our house is in foreclosure.
Today my wife and I met with a representative of our bank in a mediation preceding and he made us an offer that would allow us to keep our home. However, in order to make the monthly payments we would have to stop tithing. Should we make a deal with the bank that would let us keep our home but prevent us from tithing, or should we stay faithful to God with our finances and lose our home in a foreclosure sale?
The red-blooded American husband and father in me knows the responsible choice is to keep our home and tithe in the future when we are able. God isn’t short on cash and He knows where our heart is; maybe He will let us slide for a while.
The Christ-follower in me remembers a widow in Scripture who gave two copper coins, all her worldly wealth, to God. Maybe a foreclosure sale is God’s way of moving my family where He wants us.
At the end of the day I want to accept God’s will in my life and do as He commands. Please pray that my wife and I will be open to hearing God’s voice on this issue, and that we will have the courage to do as He asks.
It’s a simple question with epic consequences: Is the Bible for real? If the Bible is not for real then at best it’s the collective wisdom of a Near Eastern tribe refined over thousands of years. If the Bible is not for real then the best it can do for us is provide insight into the human soul. If the Bible is not for real then it’s just a huge self-help book so confusing, its most fervent advocates cannot agree on exactly how a person should use it.
Of course, if the Bible is for real, then everything changes. If the Bible is for real, then Someone created this world we live in; it’s not a mathematically unlikely accident. If the Bible is for real then what we call ‘human history’ is really the sub-text to a larger story involving the relationship between humanity and this Creator. If the Bible is for real, then Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t just a Jewish carpenter who was unusually wise for his age and who gave great advice we can choose to listen to today.
I’m not saying you should believe and understand everything you read in the Bible the first time you read it, and I’m not advocating a literal reading of the Bible. I am saying that if the Bible is for real, we should take it seriously. How can you know if you are taking the Bible seriously? Here are three examples:
- You take Scripture seriously when you believe it has the power to give life to a person as surely as childbirth..
- You take Scripture seriously when you believe that ignoring Scripture is like ignoring the Surgeon General’s warning on a pack of cigarettes.
- You take Scripture seriously when you wrestle with it the way you wrestle with grief at the death of a loved one.
I want to take Scripture seriously. I don’t want to treat it like a Rule Book or a History Book. When I open the Bible I want to take seriously the fact that the One called Yahweh, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit is trying to talk with me today, in real-time. I want to take Him seriously.
“Thus, prayer becomes not so much a matter of asking for something as it is a means of life and growth of the inner person.”
I have nearly stopped asking for things in prayer. I have even stopped asking for ‘good’ things, like specific intervention prayers for others. Instead, I ask that God’s will be done in their lives and that they be reconciled to His will. Instead of asking for things for myself, I try to talk to God as if He is the Counselor He claims to be in Scripture. I ask Him why I do the things I do. I ask Him to help me understand my responses to certain situations; why I got mad at someone, or why I’m feeling lonely. Sometimes I will look at the seat next to me and speak to God as if He is sitting there. Instead of asking God for things I am learning to invite Him into all areas of my life. I am growing with Him, and I am trying to let Him lead the way.
For example, instead of striving for wealth and success, I ask God what He wants me to do. That’s tough sometimes because there is a little voice in my head that tells me I will die an unknown nobody if I don’t achieve. I don’t have a great answer for that little voice. I know I am supposed to believe that I am a precious child of God, but sometimes telling myself that sounds cliché.
I talk to God about these feelings as well, asking Him to help me understand my inner soul. Why do I feel like a nobody who needs to ‘achieve’? Who taught me that lesson? Why do I think it’s true? When I talk with God about these things, He will sometimes answer: I learned this from my father, who taught me that I needed to always try my hardest and achieve to the fullest of my ability.
If others could hear your prayers, would they think you were talking with Jesus Christ or Santa Claus?
I had an epiphany while climbing Bandera Mountain last Saturday.
My hike began in the dark, around 5:30 in the morning. I figured if I started early, I would get home early too, and still have most of Saturday to spend with my family. So I began my hike in the dark, with only moonlight filtering through the fall canopy to light my way.
I hadn’t walked more than a quarter-mile when I heard movement off to my right, leaves systematically moving back and forth; some sort of animal activity. Alone, in the dark forest, my imagination leapt into action: “A mountain lion, or maybe even a bear, must be responsible for the noise!”
I picked up two stones and started banging them together, at the same time shouting in a loud voice, to let the ‘mighty grizzly’ know I was in the neighborhood and thus avoid surprising the beast. Within moments the rustling sounds stopped and I was alone in the forest, relieved at my good fortune of having avoided finding out first-hand if bears do, in fact, poop in the woods.
Then I had my epiphany; I can’t tell you where it came from, but I was certain of its truth as soon as it crossed my mind:
“What the hell am I afraid of? I’m the baddest mo’fo in this forest!”
Armed with a highly evolved brain and two opposable thumbs, I am by far the most dangerous animal walking through any woods I happen to find myself in. There’s a reason animals flee at the sight, sound, or scent of humans: We are killing machines. They know it, and they are right to fear us.
The irony: What animals know in the core of their being, most humans (including yours truly) have forgotten.
I am dangerous. So are you.
I’ve forgotten who and what I am; have you?
I’ve never known violent revolution; have you?
I’ve been taught to behave as though I were a docile cow; have you?
I need to unlearn the overly-maternal and pacifistic teachings of a culture which has fatally misunderstood the revelation that the Lion will one day lie down with the Lamb. For you see, on that day the Lion will not become lamb-like; the Lion will choose to live with the Lamb rather than destroy him. But rest assured that the Lion will never forget he is capable of destroying the Lamb.
There is a world of difference between believing you are a gentle creature, and knowing you are a violent creature who chooses to act gently. The first is delusional, naïve, and worldly; the second is healthy, rational and biblical.
Remember what you are, and make the choice to be who you want to be.
Two years ago I had an amazing encounter with God (described here) then proceeded to act like an idiot: I quit my job with no backup plan and in a manner designed to make my previous boss look bad.
I entered a ‘wilderness period’ in my life: Unemployed, looking for work, failing to make mortgage payments. In this ‘wilderness’ God revealed Himself to me, not through a burning bush, but through a Masters in Ministry program at Northwest University. As my Masters program finished God provided me with the job I have now, but the ‘wilderness period’ wasn’t over: My new boss was fired within weeks of my hiring, and the first six months of my tenure were memorable only for the frustration I endured.
Here’s a picture I took of myself two weeks ago on an amazing hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. My hair was long enough to be in a pony-tail and I’ve got a decent beard going. My dad begged me to cut my hair for months, but I was never quite ready.
It’s funny how much can change in two weeks.
Here’s a picture a coworker took of me yesterday. The hair is short and the beard is gone. Literally every person at my office who saw me had one of two reactions: They either audibly reacted to seeing me (quite loudly in some cases) or they walked right past me without recognizing me. One woman told me she didn’t know how to talk to me because I looked so different. Other people said I looked 10 years younger. It was the best day I’ve ever had at work, and because my boss and a number of other people took Friday off I’ll get to do it again on Monday.
But the most interesting part of the day happened before I got back to work. I can’t tell you where it came from but as I stepped out from the salon onto the sidewalk I thought to myself: “My wilderness time is over.” And it occurred to me that God has been working on me ever so patiently over the last two years, despite my best efforts to frustrate Him. God has prepared me and something about that shave and haircut signalled I was ready to emerge from the wilderness. I felt like I could conquer the world; I felt invincible. How much of my time in the ‘wilderness’ was self-imposed…Did some part of me need time to heal and grow under all that hair, like a disguise to keep the ‘real me’ safe underneath?
Then I began to wonder: If my ‘wilderness time’ was self-imposed, how many of my readers are going through the same thing? How many of them are wearing a disguise to hide changes taking place inside? How many of them will get stuck in the ‘wilderness’ and wander for the rest of their lives, and how many of them will eventually find their way out?
Are you in the wilderness?
I don’t dream in my sleep much these days. My nights are far more likely to be interrupted by the need to pee or the cries of my two-year-old son than by a dream…which is why I believe God spoke to me through my dreams this week: Three nights in a row I had very vivid dreams with embedded life-lessons. I want to share the dreams and the lessons with you so we can all benefit from His wisdom.
The First Dream: Tuesday, August 28th
In this dream I experienced extreme road rage. I’ve been guilty of rage outbursts in traffic before so this dream wasn’t entirely surprising. In this dream I beat a man to death with my bare hands, then proceeded to spend the rest of my dream justifying to the police why what I did was not a crime.
What God Showed Me: First, though my recovery program is teaching me to surrender my anger to God, my inner rage is just as real as the day I entered recovery, and just as dangerous. There is a temptation which besets you in a recovery program wherein you begin to believe that perhaps you are ‘recovered’, ‘healed’, or ‘fixed’. You say to yourself, “I haven’t acted out in over 18 months! I must be getting better…maybe God has taken it away, finally.” Bad news, compadre: That’s not how God works. Second, God showed me my automatic response to sin: Justification rather than confession. Even after 18 months of confessing my most private sins to a group of addicts-turned-friends I still have to resist the urge to ‘cover up’ the wrong I do by justifying it.
The Second Dream: Wednesday, August 29th
The Subject: Lust
As a recovering pornography addict, my dreams of lust are more common than seems fair. It’s as if my subconscious has retained images and fantasies from my years of acting out, and every once in a while it throws out a wild escapade in a withdrawal-induced spasm. But the dream I had Wednesday night was different. No sexual activity was involved, but my lust was present in a very real and specific way.
What God Showed Me: As with my anger, my lust is just as powerful and capable of destruction as the day I entered recovery. I believe God was also trying to show me that Sin is not black-and-white; it is grey-scale. Do not misunderstand me: Every shade of grey falls short of being purely white. But as I’ve said before: ”If having an affair was like eating a dirty ashtray, no one would have an affair.” In this dream God showed me that what starts as a ‘harmless’ look eventually ends in sin, abasement, destruction, and death. He also showed me how to start thinking about Sin like a grown-up rather than a child. We like to teach our children that Sin is black-and-white; frankly I’ve known pastors who preach the same way to adults. But that’s not how Sin works in the real world: It’s a slippery slope, not a cliff. God showed me in my dream that yes, I could have an affair with someone. There is nothing to stop me from doing that. However, before I take that plunge I should evaluate the costs: I would lose my marriage, my family, maybe my job, my sobriety, etc. Yes, lust is thrilling, but is indulging my lust worth the heavy cost I would eventually pay?
The Third Dream: Thursday, August 30th
The Subject: Religious Persecution
My challenges with my former church are well documented (most notably, here), and in this dream I was chased from that church by a group of leaders who mocked me and hurled insults at me. The sense of shame and self-doubt in the dream was powerful; my co-dependent nature screamed for me to ‘make things right’ with those who were deriding me. I awoke feeling very alone in the world.
What God Showed Me: God’s voice was clear during my prayer time following this dream: “Don’t judge them by what they say, but by what they do. What were these ‘religious’ people doing in your dream?” As often happens when the Holy Spirit is involved, a word I’ve never used before popped into my mind: “Scoffing, Lord. They were scoffing at me.” I recalled several verses in Scripture that deal with ‘scoffers’ (most notably, Psalm 73:8: “They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression”) and I realized God was telling me to judge my fellow Christians by their actions, not their words. We can all talk a big game: Anyone can go on a mission trip and brag on Facebook about their good deeds. But in such a case the action of bragging screams louder than the news of the mission trip. God also taught me that leading change is a lonely proposition, and nowhere is that more true than the church. Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles will all attest to the fact that challenging the religious status quo is not fun. But it is necessary.