Friday, June 23, 2017

The art of marriage

We live in a world of convenience, more now than ever before. Nearly everything can be had with minimal to no effort, which has only spoiled mankind in such a way that we don't even try anymore. Consider this... you can get gas, get coffee, pick up your prescription, grab a movie, grab dinner, get your oil changed and your car washed, all without getting out of your car! What does this mean? It means that we have separated ourselves from each other and have sought conveniences for the sake of so called self-preservation.

In a nutshell, we're lazy.

When it comes to relationships, our laziness is even more pronounced. The reason we seek conveniences is supposedly based on being more efficient with our time but it has turned into a way to get what we want, when we want it, with minimal effort on our part. How many times have you watched the marriage of someone you know fall apart? Maybe a few times? We often hear the stories of fall-out from infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc. But we never get clear answers on what led to the fall-out. We speculate, but truthfully people don't sit down and lay out the events that led to the demise of a relationship. Instead, they pick up pieces, pluck out chunks of shrapnel and move on, often times while lobbing verbal grenades for years to come. So what happened?

To be sure, we're needy.

We all like a little affirmation from time to time. Some of us might need it a little more than others but it doesn't change the fact that we all want to know how we're doing from time to time. That's not what I'm talking about. It really comes down to feelings. At our core, we want to feel good. This can be feeling loved and appreciated, feeling victorious and confident, feeling accomplished and successful, feeling wanted and desired, feeling significant and necessary, feeling useful and helpful and feeling honored and respected. These are legitimate feelings that each of us has periodically throughout each day. There is nothing wrong with any of them, until we reach a point where we can no longer function unless our needs are being met. This is where we get to the art of marriage, because trust me, it's an art, among other things. And in determining our needs, we recognize that we might not function very well if our needs aren't met regularly. Frankly, that truism is not pretty.

I'm not going to lie, we're greedy.

When we meet someone special who makes us feel all those wonderful feelings I mentioned above (and more), we stop at nothing to love on and dote on that other person. What's interesting is that a relationship starts with our own needs being met, which in turn makes us want to take care of (meet the needs of) someone else. This is good. In fact, this is AWESOME! But let's back up a second. We're needy, remember? It doesn't take long for our innate needs to creep back to the surface and before long, we go in search of the meeting of our own needs, especially when they are no longer being met by our significant other. We get greedy. We start seeking ways to please ourselves because we no longer find contentment in our mate. And maybe there was something missing from the beginning... have we considered that? Maybe we're a little more messed up than we would like to admit.

The truth is, we're broken.
(To be continued)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On ethics

Let me provide a definition for ethics before we go any further. "Ethics is a disciplined reflection on the formation of a healthy character and its relationship to virtuous action." (from Living Ethical Lives - lesson 1 - NW Nazarene University COS)

Let's break this down. Firstly, ethics is a disciplined reflection. This tells me I need to be reflective on a consistent basis, suggesting there are routine moments in my day to be reflective about my life, faith, or perspective. As I think about the idea of such reflection, I wonder what the goal would be. In short order, it becomes clear that we are to "be of the mind of Christ" on a daily basis, if not a moment by moment one.

That idea alone helped me to understand why such reflection might be difficult. How many of us work full time? Do we have the opportunities to reflect on the nature of God in the middle of our shift? How is it that we go from saying yes to Jesus, admitting we need Him in our lives, to having a disciplined reflection where all our thoughts are on Christ?

Further examining our definition of ethics, I see that our reflection is on the formation of a healthy character. So it is that as we dwell on the mind of Christ, our very character should change and in fact, it should be "transformed by the renewing of our minds." Therefore, I am regularly thinking about Jesus and as I do so, my character changes, that is to say my words, thoughts and my demeanor.

To me, those around us should begin to see a difference as we think less about the things of this world and begin to think more about the things of eternity. Who we are is going to change, right in front of those who know us best.

Lastly, it is our character that becomes related to our behavior. A healthy character is related to virtuous actions. If I am thinking about Jesus all day and my character changes because of those thoughts, my actions are going to change as well. The idea here is that if I dwell on Christ, I will begin to think like Christ and then in turn I will act like Christ. It all sounds so simple!

It starts with a disciplined reflection. Actually, it starts with allowing the Holy Spirit to begin a work in us that we are not capable of on our own. From there, understanding ethics and its definition seems approachable. The troubles come when we let the distractions of this world sidetrack us from the work that God has called us to do. Soon, being reflective becomes a spotty affair, where we rarely take the time to reflect on the healthy character of Christ as it should be evidenced in our own lives.

Part of the word disciplined is disciple. For us to be disciplined, we have to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus as we learn to follow Him. It may take a few years to learn the shepherd's voice, but when we do, we will not get lost as easily as we did when we were younger. But I think we also have to remember not to purposely pull ourselves away from the flock either.

I have often wondered about the methodology of monasticism for such aims, only to step back and realize that we were meant to live in concert with each other. Our 21st century lives do not allow for much disciplined reflection and it will take a monumental effort to get people to buy into such an idea. But oh how our lives would truly change if we were willing to fully follow Him, dwell on Him and become like Him. Our ethics would be His ethics.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Journey - chapter 1

The Journey - From Secular to Spiritual
Chapter 1

With each step taken, the journey changes. There are moments of clarity and moments of deep fog. For whatever reason, I imagined this journey would be much easier than it has been. While I certainly accept there will be trials in all aspects of life, I see now that I had an irrational and illogical view of how my transition would go. Such is life.

Each story deserves some level of context and this story is no different, truly. In fact, many of us have similar stories and it is worth pointing out that I cherish the commonalities among us. It is those commonalities we must learn to embrace for the sake of Romans 12:9-21 and the gospel for which we carry, share and live out.

My story that gets me here is not unlike anything you may have heard before. There is brokenness, heartache, depression, addiction, betrayal, abuse. There is love, humor, joy, elation. There is adversity, resilience, pain, triumph. I am by no means some special case but I am here because of the grace of God, the power of a praying mother, the willingness of a friend who shared Jesus and the never-ending conviction of the Holy Spirit who refuses to let me drown in my own doubt.

To say that I grew up in the church would not be a proper statement. I grew up attending a church with my parents who decided they wanted us to be exposed to more of a conservative group of people. They sent us to a small private school that was associated with the church. We didn't make it to church every Sunday but we were mostly regular for about 5 years. As I neared adolescence I found myself very busy with sports and singing, two things I adored. While pursuing these two passions, I had little time for anything else, including church. I had very little connection there and struggled to grasp the necessity of it. I found God to be very unapproachable and cold. To be honest, I began to doubt if He cared very much about me personally.

As I found a voice I also found the boldness to rebel against the church and the people within it. I had begun to discover my own intellect and with that discovery I began to look down on anyone else around me that seemed unwilling to rise up and use the brains within their heads. To be honest, I quickly became very condescending to nearly everyone around me. This resulted in short-term friendships, alienation of my immediate family and a daily struggle to interact with nearly anyone around me. In short, I stopped listening to everyone except myself.

This behavior lasted for more than 15 years. Relationships became disposable and I was OK with that. I burned through college friends, a marriage, two brothers, a sister, in-laws and countless people along the way. At 28 I needed a restart, I just didn't know how it was possible.

The journey from secular to spiritual must recognize what each of us has not only come out of, but more importantly what we continue through each day. The world is all around us, it's not going anywhere. We must learn to live in it while seeking to be changed by the world we belong to and not the one we're in. That last sentence is profound. I fought to not only live in this world but to change it in spite of its nature and my own. The reality is that this world is not changed by us, it is changed through us by the power of God. Therefore, what God does to us, for us and through us is nothing short of a complete life makeover. I began to recognize my own need for a new life. The only trouble was, at age 28 I was still listening to the world.

Over the following 5 years I got married, bought a house, had a kid, adopted another kid, bought a house. Sold the first house and bought another house. And got invited to church. Everything except for that last part was how I saw my life going. I began to see success by what I could change in my own world and therefore, on a greater level, the change I could have on my sphere of influence within the world around me. Without any sort of a big picture mindset I wandered in search of the next challenge. I searched my sphere of influence and beyond, hoping to find what I needed, which was a crutch for my pride and lack of humility. It was in those moments that a co-worker invited me to an open-gym night at his church. I saw another challenge, so I went.

At this point, the mind would tell us that it is a foregone conclusion regarding my life from that point forward. But let me interrupt that assumption with a few observations, especially regarding the mindset of so many people who are wandering around aimlessly looking for the world to meet their challenge for fulfillment. The first thing is to recognize that even though I said yes to attending an open-gym night, I walked into that place with my athletic ego in high gear. I walked in there to prove a point, which was that I was superior. Before long, everyone there knew who I was and that I came to play hard. I am sure I turned more than just a few people off to my behavior. As I look back, I wonder how many observed my actions and thought to themselves that I was merely one example of a soul who needed to be surrounded by Godly, humble people who could look past my prideful arrogance and see someone who needed Jesus. More aptly, I wonder how many people saw me as a soul who was lost to the world, consumed by the secular.

The second thing to recognize is that I walked into that gym with a lot of baggage, including an addiction to alcohol and an ego the size of Oregon. I remember making friends with a couple of guys but I also remember that most of the people there didn't talk to me much. As time went on, not only did that not change, but it got worse. My baggage was beginning to show and unfortunantely, I had no idea. I think that there is a common misconception that exists among those who have been raised in the church, which is that if we can just get sinners to come to church, they will walk through the doors and be magically fixed. The truth is it never works that way. However, let me be clear here, because I don't want to take away from the power of the Holy Spirit to change a life, but this world exists and it is not going anywhere, regardless of how much we might fight against it. When a person is consumed by the world and all of its flaws, it is much like being wrapped in a separate layer of skin. It's not so easy to just peel it off, it takes some work. More than that, it takes the assistance of God's people to love in spite of the skin of the world that a lot of us have before coming to know Christ. I would love to tell you that there are thousands of people who walk into a church, hear the word of God, learn about the love of Jesus and then shed that old skin right then and there, but I would be lying to you if I said that. But let me explain.

The journey from secular to spiritual starts with a choice to take the first step. From there, the road that you are on may still be a somewhat familiar one, marked with people and trappings of this world, such as friends, family, job situation, living situation, finances, addictions, habits, behaviors, character traits, etc. People do not simply walk into church and walk away from everything in their lives just like that. Are you still tracking with me? This is the state of the journey and it is wise for us to recognize how hard it is to simply drop everything and follow Jesus. For the vast majority of us, we walk in to church with chains holding us back and we walk back out carrying many of the same chains we walked in with. This is sad but it is something we must address or we are going to fail our brothers and sisters who need to know that a changed life is what God desires, even if it takes you awhile to change.

The disciples were asked to follow Jesus and they dropped their nets and left everything behind (Luke 5). The suggestion in these passages is that the disciples didn't go through a process, they simply heard the words of Jesus, saw His power (the miracle in Luke 5) and chose to follow. However, this same group of disciples struggled at many times to trust Jesus, to believe in His ministry, to listen to His commands, to believe they were capable of doing similar feats and to be bold for Jesus as He had instructed them to do. It would take these disciples the better part of 3 years to be able to stand on their own and even then, we see issues in Acts. And this brings us to a further understanding of our journey. It took the disciples more than 3 years to journey from the secular to the spiritual and they had Jesus in the flesh to learn from. We are fortunate to have His ministry in printed form along with the insight of thousands of others who have come before us.

As I contemplate the process known as entire sanctification, I realize that a changed life for Christ is indeed a very special thing but I am also realizing that it is not an instantaneous thing. Why is that so hard to fathom? Because in America we want everything right now. We live in an age of convenience and instant gratification. The unfortunate downside to this perspective is in our spiritual walk and growth in Christ. Our flesh is tethered to a world that would prefer to rip it off. We must recognize the words of Paul that we need to condition ourselves for the marathon of life, preparing our minds and bodies to go the distance. Training ourselves as a champion athlete would, who works tirelessly day in and day out in order to be the best he or she can be. This means that we are daily in the word, daily in prayer, daily in meditation, daily in concert with other Christ followers, etc. Our journeys must get us to this point. The trouble is that most people do not find the destination to be all that palpable.

To that end, this is the juxtaposition of my transition from secular to spiritual. One one hand, I see value in keeping an eye and an ear to the road of my secular life. There are many people there who I wish to speak to and I don't want to lose sight of them. On the other hand, the spiritual life is what God has called me (and all of us) to. Jesus said that we are not of this world, and I get that, but I'm here none the less. And because I'm here and because I am in the process of coming out of complete saturation of the secular, I feel as if I am dripping dirty parts of me in the areas of the spiritual. On one hand, the secular life seems much easier to live right now. On the other hand, the spiritual life offers blessings now and rewards for eternity. And even though I know how shortsighted the secular viewpoint is, I still struggle with it.

I have never considered myself to be dense. I say that because as I look back over the last 13 years, I see a man who has fought very hard against the journey. There have been ebbs and flows, ups and downs, highs and lows. I have felt very close to God and very far away. At times I have been certain I was on the right path and other times when I felt that I just needed to walk away from it all because it would be so much easier. "In this life you will have troubles....but take heart!" Each day I try and remind myself of the words of Jesus in John 16, knowing that I cannot for one moment depend on my own abilities to navigate these waters. And yet I question why this journey has taken me this long. Shouldn't I be further along by now? Were there any disciples like this? How long did it take Thomas? Did he immediately launch into full blown missionary mode after he put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus? Oh ye of little faith!!

Oh Lord, complete this transition for me, as I am simply too incapable of doing this without your help. Guide me past my uncertainty and foolishness that is masked as cautious wisdom. Instead, grant me your wisdom to see the joy in the journey, regardless of the road I am on. Help me to reach out to others who are also on this same road, who feel lost and defeated, who don't think they're good enough to serve you... because I'm certainly not good enough to serve you and yet you love me anyway. Every gap I leave, you fill. Every deficiency of mine that is discovered you cover. Your grace is all I need. Your power is made perfect even in my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Thank you Lord for all you are. Amen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


What is it that sets me apart? As a holy people, aren’t we all called to be set apart? Isn’t that what the definition of holy is? To be certain, holiness is indeed to be set apart, but just as importantly, if not more so, is why we are set apart. The reason is so we can be His people, so we can follow Him and all His ways, so we can lead others to His saving grace and so we can be “marked by our maker” as His children. We know what being set apart means and we know why. 
But here’s another thought provoking question...what are we set apart from?

If we are not set apart, we are not, therefore, a holy people. This would mean we were unholy. Another way to say unholy is "worldly." This is not to define worldly as knowledgeable of the world, but instead to define it as being of the world, being known for being apart of it. If my goal as a Christ follower is to be set apart for His purposes and plans, I must pull myself away from being worldly, but that’s much harder than it looks.

Some Christians maintain that they must remove the presence of all worldly influences from their lives in order to be set apart but that doesn’t jive with scripture. Others think it comes down to having only Christian friends and not associating with those outside the church, but that isn’t scriptural either. Knowing this means accepting the difficulty of such a challenge while accepting it is nearly impossible. In fact, it is wholly impossible on your own. Only daily connection with The Spirit of God will allow one to truly be set apart from this world in the way we are called to be.

As we unravel what it means and looks like to be set apart, we must address our daily lives moment by moment and evaluate where we are at each step of the way. For some, pulling away from the world to be set apart for His purposes is more than just daunting. We all tend to get into routines and living in this world is kind of like driving in really deep ruts on the highway. Sometimes, it’s hard to get out.

As I examine my life through the last 15 years or so, I see a trend of shifting away from this world and what it has to offer in order to embrace something much bigger than myself. There have been (and continue to be) some heady challenges along the way and yet God has been faithful all along. Yet, here I sit concerned about the next few years in my life, fearful of transitions from what feels like one life to another. Instead of simply granting full control to Jesus for these next phases, I tend to cling tightly to the wheel for fear of crashing into the ditch as I attempt to jump out of a few ruts.

Oddly, I think we are the only ones who see the ruts. I think God just sees opportunities to show us how good of a driver He is, if we would just let Him steer.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Millennial thought - part 1

Some thoughts regarding millennials…

New World Order

Here not too long ago, I had a conversation with a friend where we discussed an interesting phenomenon. To most, this is not a pressing issue and to be fair, it might be remedied in a way that I have yet to think of, but I found this to be fascinating enough that I chose to write it down. The main subjects here are millennials and the main issue (or point of discussion) is the order of data, specifically looking at how the younger generation(s) are processing data, the order(s) used and the integration by Millennials into the workforce with Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers.

Millennials are, by definition, those born between 1982 and 2004, roughly. There is speculation as to the exact years but these are the most commonly held. Millennials were so named because they began to associate their lives with the coming millennial year (2000) and the first members of the generation would have graduated high school in 2000.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up with technology in the home at all times and as a result, they are typically always attached to some form of device. Because of the use of electronics and more importantly, the internet, Millennials have reshaped how we as a society search for, order and keep data. In prior generations, different forms of data collection and storage have been used, such as encyclopedias, phone books and dictionaries. All of these items could easily be found in the home of a Baby Boomer or even a member of Generation X for a while. However, encyclopedias and dictionaries are mainly only found in libraries and phone books are nearly obsolete. The reason this is important is in how we access data and how we use the means of that storage. For instance, phone books are full of valuable information regarding individuals, businesses and government entities, as well as scores of general information about the community. Nearly all of that data can now be found on search engines on the internet, such as Google.

Here is the issue, however. The information on Google is listed based on your search criteria, which is based on relevance. Another way to say it is, a search is made based on your input, and the output is formulated based on the closest match, or matches, to your input. There is no alphabetical order, no numerical order, no empirical order, nothing. This tends to throw most Baby Boomers off, at first, but eventually, through trial and error, most people learn to use search engines in the way they were designed. The struggle for Boomers is in the lack of alphabetical, or even numerical order, within the search engines. Once someone has clicked on a website, the site is most likely designed with some sort of order. Rarely do you find websites that are designed in a random way, simply due to the fact that our current society depends on the intrinsic nature of the aforementioned order. In my opinion, that society is changing.

Looking back to the days of phone books, we find distinct order throughout. Everything is in alphabetic and numeric order. Given that the search engine was a human being looking up information from within, and not a computer using an algorithm, placing the data in an order, as such, not only spoke to the earliest of intrinsic methods, but allowed for the easiest of data collection/data display. All because the data was being provided by humans, for humans, to look up and use. The history of data collection and organization of data speaks to this order and while it might seem impossible to change the nature of such an order, Millennials are not only moving into the workforce daily, but are rewriting the ways we collect, manage, store, share and express data. 

If you need an example of how this is changing, a bit of proof perhaps, grab your smart phone and observe your contacts. In what order are they placed? If you own an Android (Google based) phone, the majority of users have their contacts organized by first name. This means that the interface behind the data collection for your contacts does not force an order, but is instead left to the user at the time of input. We, as users, have the choice as to how to list and input our contacts. This has not always been the case with mobile phone technology. Anyone who has used an older cell phone knows that the data was collected and placed in alphabetical order, based on last name first. The order was therefore forced and not left to the user input. This shift is in large part due to the influence of Millennials upon our technology and has mostly gone unnoticed. Generation X users have almost unanimously adopted this shift. Only those Boomers who tend to be more analytical in thought have fought this change, but the change has happened regardless.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on Millennials. My next exposition will be on the use of the PC and how it is drastically changing in the hands of the next generation.