Friday, October 4, 2013


The government of the United States has shut down, and the world is still turning.  In fact, although the government has shut down, the ones who have caused this shutdown are still being paid.  Finger pointing is happening on a minute by minute basis between conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans.

As I drove around in my car the other day, trying to see whether this whole shutdown had really made a difference in my world, I was growing increasingly more disenchanted with the number of political campaign signs that I saw.  There was a political gathering at the clubhouse in my neighborhood which meant an inundation of political signs, albeit temporarily.  As the Fall wanes on and we move from October towards November, we will most likely see an overabundance of advertisements in the places where we usually find ourselves unmolested.  There is an even greater chance of that when the election results seem to mean more than usual or if we live in some kind of swing state (although the effect is not quite as great on a non-presidential election year).

I am not a very political guy.  I have strong moral convictions and I am fairly conservative to moderate, but politics have never really interested me much.  My lackadaisical approach towards politics has changed over the past few years, to the point of growing frustrated and angry with the approach that we take towards politics.

I don’t spend a ton of time watching TV, and if I do, it’s usually sports, weather, music, or movies.  Even in those limited viewing experiences, I have been seeing my fair share of political advertisements.  The thing is, I’m not even sure that I can really use that term to describe what’s happening in those 30 second slots on television.  An advertisement will generally tell you all of the benefits of a product rather than telling you that you need to buy it simply because it’s not one of the other competing products.  Sadly, that’s what we have become, the state of our political ad campaigns is more of a “here’s all the reasons why my opponent is the wrong choice” rather than a “let me tell you exactly what I stand for and why I’m the right choice” approach.

How did we get here?  When did it get to a point where the platform on which we run is simply that we aren’t our opponent?  How much can we really understand and know about someone who simply tells you that their opponent is corrupt, a crook, a cheat, a liar, and so many other things while not saying a thing about themselves?  When we get so busy telling people all of the things that we aren’t, we generally neglect to tell people about all of the things that we are.

We’ve even kind of gotten here in the church.  Instead of speaking of the difference that Jesus Christ has made in our lives, we talk about how we’re better than everyone else because we don’t do this or that, believe this or that, or vote for this or that.  Not exactly a means by which to win friends and influence people.  We can say whatever we want, but until people see that Jesus is making a difference in us, it’s going to devolve into a political smear campaign against anyone who believes differently than us.

Sure, what we believe is important, but if what we believe doesn’t make a difference in the way that we live our lives, does it really matter?  Is it really worth all of that if there is no change in us?

I am changed because of what Christ has done in me.  If left to my own devices, I would be an even bigger jerk than I already am.  People dislike me now, they would dislike me even more had I not entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I have been able to endure difficulties and trials, I have seen my needs met, I have seen life change take place in me and in others, all because of Jesus Christ.  He has made a difference for me and for many others who I know.

I would much rather know what someone is for rather than what they’re against.  I wish people would appreciate me for what I believe rather than what I oppose.  I wish that people would see how Jesus has changed me rather than how staying away from everything else has made me better.  I hope that people see that I am different not because of “sin management” in my life but because of God’s transformative love and power.  If I’ve got a platform on which I’m standing, that’s it.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

How nice it would be if we could just simply hear about what people are for.  Wouldn’t it make our elections a little simpler to negotiate?  If we took this approach within the church, we might actually see people coming because they had seen how Christ had impacted people they work with, they live near, they go to school with, or play sports with rather than because they wanted a place that met all of their needs and provided all of the programs to keep them and their family occupied and satisfied. 

Jesus isn’t a program a product or a campaign, and if we treat him like one, we shouldn’t be surprised if people grow as tired of him as they do of the programs, products, and political candidates which eventually grow stale.  Just like some of us have struggled to fully understand what impacts this government shutdown have REALLY had on our lives, I wonder what would happen if the church shut down.  Would people really see a difference?  Would they care?  Would we?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

One Month

Yesterday was one month since my father passed away.  I was fairly occupied for most of the day, so I didn't get caught up in excessive ponderings about what should or could have been.  I marked the date down and again realized the potential of relief that can come when someone has been sick for a while.  My approach towards yesterday was very different than my approach had been just a month after my mother died.

In the past month, there have been numerous times that I reached for my phone to call and check on Dad.  I wanted to hear his voice and to assure him that everything was okay with me.  I wanted to know that he hadn't fallen or had any other mishaps.  But all of that was unnecessary.  He's gone.

Time can be both our friend and our enemy.  When we need more of it, it seems that it works against us as a foe rather than an ally.  When we work with it, it can be a constant companion to us, helping us along the way, pushing us towards promptness and responsibility.

This morning I read a quote which has stuck with me from Mark Batterson.  He wrote, "Hurry kills everything from compassion to creativity."  Every day, that lesson becomes more and more apparent to me.  When I am in a hurry, my patience runs thin, my attitude worsens as I find myself rushing to get done what I need to get done, regardless of who is in my way.  In fact, if you're in my way, you will most likely get run over.

This lesson become so readily apparent to me over the last year or so spent with my father.  I could never visit him while in a rush.  I could never take him out or engage him in conversation if I had to quickly move on to the next thing.  His pace slowed down which subsequently slowed me down.  And I think that was really good for me.  It helped me to realize what was important.

Of course, today, we can easily accomplish multiple things at once as we multitask our way through life with smartphones, tablets, and other technological resources.  Not only is there a need for us to slow down but also to intentionally disengage.  This is a point of growth in my life, a place that needs some focus.  It's too easy to "just take a second" and check my email or social media, yet what am I missing in the midst of those "seconds" that I am away.

Time is not moving backwards.  We can't turn back the clock.  I can't have my father back, but I am grateful for the many life lessons that I learned from him, directly and indirectly.  "Ruthlessly eliminating hurry" is a noble task to undertake, but it needs consistency and accountability as well.

My dad is gone and I miss him terribly, but the lessons that I have learned can help to keep his legacy and memory alive.  Months will pass, anniversaries will creep up, and I will deal with them all.  Remembering all that I have learned will bring a smile to my face as I realize that even out of darkness, light can come.  In the midst of sorrow and pain and mourning, new days will rise.  From out of the ashes, like a phoenix, rises life.  How can I make sure to live into that legacy?  Let those lessons not have been learned in vain.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I remember when my second child was born.  It had been two years since our first was born and we had spent those two years as a family of three, getting used to each other, learning how to live as a unit, and my wife and I gave all of our attention to our son.  There was no one else to infringe upon his time with us.  He had 100% of us.

Then, our second son came along.  While my first son wasn't angry, or at least didn't act it, he also didn't pay any mind to his new little brother.  He ignored him.  Over time, he began to realize that the time which he had easily monopolized had to be shared.  He was no longer #1.  The first time he really paid any attention to his little brother, my wife had his little brother in the swing and my oldest just stopped, stared at him, and began to laugh hysterically.  We captured the moment on video, which is fairly priceless.  That was the beginning of their relationship together.

From a biblical perspective, there are plenty of advantages to being the firstborn.  The firstborn had the lion's share of inheritance, many times being the double portion.  The inheritance would extend beyond simply finances as well, the firstborn would most likely carry on the family name and become the patriarch after the death of the father.  There were, and still are, many benefits to being the firstborn.

Among the other places in Scripture where we see the relationship between the firstborn and younger brother is the parable of the prodigal son.  If you have never read Henri Nouwen's "Return of the Prodigal Son," it is a must read as he takes the perspective of each character within the book.  The most eye-opening and convicting section of the book for me was the section on the oldest brother.

Sure, the younger brother squandered his share of the fortune on hard living, gaining friends who cared for nothing more than his money, but grace meets us where we are when we come in repentance, which is exactly how the younger brother was returning to his father.  But it wasn't fair, how could he tell his father, "I wish you were dead because I want my share of the family fortune," squander all that his money, and then return and think that there was still a place at the table for him?  There are some limits to grace, aren't there?

It's always funny how we are happy and satisfied with grace when it is meted out upon us, but when it comes to extending it to someone else, they need to earn it.  Why does that never apply to us?  Do we earn grace?  If we did, would it still be grace?

Lately, I have noticed that the trend of the firstborn happens in all different places in life.  People are #1 for a while, they get everything that they want, all attention is focused on them, and then someone else comes along and they are not happy with sharing.  They have done everything that they are supposed to do and then the "younger brother" comes along, is extended grace, and they aren't happy about it.   How about me? they ask.  How about all that I have done?

Another parable that strikes a chord, or even a "grace" note, is in Matthew 20.  The workers are hired throughout the day and at the end of the day are all paid the same amount.  It just doesn't seem fair.  But the landlord did nothing other than what he promised, he paid them all exactly what he had promised, but the ones who had done more work thought it was unfair.

I'm a second born, but there have been plenty of times that I have acted like a firstborn.  I've been selfish and stubborn.  I have demanded things my way and cried out "foul" when things don't go the way that I want.  I want grace but when it comes to extending it elsewhere, I want people to earn it.  I have been the old brother, how about you?

The surprising thing to me is that some of us can go our whole lives and act as if we are only children.  Everything has been handed to us on a platter, served up fresh and on time, and when someone else comes along, cramping our style, we react harshly.  Why can't things be the way they were when it was just me?  I guess that basic principle of sharing that we were supposed to have learned in pre-school was somehow overlooked.

I don't want to act like the older son, it just kind of happens though.  I need to be reminded every day that grace happens, it's not earned, it's extended freely, otherwise, it wouldn't be grace.  Think about it.  Check out Nouwen's book.  Next time you start feeling lofty as if you deserved something, maybe you can remember exactly what you would deserve if it hadn't been for God's grace extended to you.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


After nearly 4 years here at Blogger, I'm making a transition over to Wordpress.  Blogger has served me well, but I need more features to simplify my busy life.  Blogger has served me well over these nearly 4 years and I have been grateful for the opportunities and the readers that I have gained here.

In the interim, I will continue to post here and on the new blog as well.  I hope that if you have joined me and followed me here that you will make the transition with me.  I am grateful for the readers that I have had and the opportunities to share my life in words with people who are willing to read.


I got a good laugh the other day when someone saw some pictures from my wedding day and said that I had hardly aged.  Well, that was almost 12 years ago.  My wife was complaining the other day that I was the one who turned 40 but she was the one with all of the gray hair.  I've told her countless times in the last 2 years that I expect to wake up one morning to find that my hair has turned completely white (kind of like that old Crash Test Dummies song, remember?).

Age is kind of a funny thing though.  To be honest, I have felt that I have aged about 20 years in the last 2.  So much has happened to me.  I've lost both of my parents.  I've had another child.  I've been involved with a church split.  I've graduated seminary.  Losing my parents has sucked a significant amount of life out of me, but it's also grown me in leaps and bounds.  I am a very different person than I was 2 years ago.  I have changed.

Our experiences form and shape us.  I am a firm believer that God allows our circumstances to act as crucibles of sorts, causing us to be transformed by the heat of those circumstances as the heat is turned on.  They most likely aren't circumstances that we would choose for ourselves, I know that's the way that I feel.  I would not have wished these last 2 years on people that I don't like let alone people that I care deeply about.

It's kind of funny that the circles that I have run in for most of my life have equated age and years of experience as cause for expertise, wisdom, or knowledge.  While that might seem fairly accurate, I don't really think that it is.  It completely leaves the idea of personal experience out of the equation and discounts how traumatic and stressful experiences in life can do in short periods what it would normally take years to accomplish.  That's how I feel about my past few years.

In the church we make this error too often.  We look at someone who has been around for a number of years or been a "charter member" of our church and assume spiritual maturity or expertise.  The problem is, there hasn't been a significant change in them since they signed that charter so many years ago.  Chronological age cannot be equated with spiritual or emotional maturity.

I have friends whose heads have gone completely gray.  They're a few years younger than me.  I can't explain it.  My brother started going gray years ago and I thought that it was just a result of some of the difficult decisions that he had made earlier in life.  You know what they say about hard living, right?  Looking at me, it might seem as if I'm still "wet behind the ears" and lacking experience simply because of what you can see on the outside.  Don't always judge a book by its cover though.

While I don't know that I have come far enough in my own spiritual maturity to say that I am thankful for the last few years, I can say that I am thankful that God has used them to change and transform me.  I am bolder than I ever was before.  I am more compassionate than I ever was before.  I am kinder and gentler than I was before.  At the same time, I have been angrier than I have been in a long time.  I have been lonelier than I have been in a long time.  I have been sadder than I have been in a long time.  I guess there's two sides to every coin.

What experiences have you had that have shaped and changed you?  Have you resisted them or asked God to help you through them?  When we face difficult circumstances, we have a choice in how we respond.  How will you respond?