It’s the Little Things

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I want to find huge shark teeth when I go shark tooth hunting.  I’m not out there searching for teeth so small I could fit ten of them on top of a Quarter.  I want to find a Mako or a Great White that fills up the palm of my hand and has weight to it.  People who say finding tiny little shark teeth is just as satisfying as finding big ones may not be lying, but I don’t think they’re saying the whole truth.  If they walked up on a Megalodon you’d hear them singing a different song.  But they (we) do get satisfaction from finding tiny shark teeth.  It is a different feeling.  When I comb the beach walking at my normal pace and letting my eyes search almost on autopilot, finding shark teeth that are teeny tiny makes me feel like I am the master of this beach.  It makes me feel like if there is any shark tooth on this beach it can’t elude me.  I will find it.  How can I doubt this when I walked along at full stride and picked a shark tooth barely bigger than 20 grains of sand out of moving water?  It is magical.  I’m not even sure how I do it.  It must be Spidey-sense.  Spidey shark tooth sense.  Whatever it is, picking that tooth out of the surf is satisfying because I’m sure I haven’t missed anything big.  If my methods work to find this tooth then I’m not missing other things.

Usually the tiny teeth end up at the bottom of a jar, not in a display case, but there’s no doubt in my mind there are plenty of days I would have quit hunting before finding a display case tooth if I hadn’t found one of these little things and renewed my belief that I could find another tooth.  It’s the little things that matter.  It’s the little things we do that accumulate in our hearts that add up to confidence to go on when nothing significant seems to be happening.  The tiny hints of the presence of the Holy are just as full in their ways as the monumental Red Sea splitting displays of power.  I want to walk my life pathway with the expectation of finding Jesus in the moving water.

Heaven is for Real…if You Earn It: Bloomberg Shows a Way

At the close of an interview with the New York Times this week, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg had this to say about heaven:

Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.

But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Before you become too critical of Bloomberg, take a moment to consider whether or not you share his religion.  Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones, the British pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, used a very simple diagnostic question to determine if people understood and embraced Christianity or were adherents to religion.  Jones would ask a person “Are you a Christian?”  If they answered with, “I’m trying,” or “I’m doing the best I can to be Christian,” or “I hope so,” he knew the person did not understand what Christianity is.  What Bloomberg said, and what many many people BLOOMBERG-master675believe, is that the power to get into heaven, or to be pleasing to God, rests with us.  It is our job to be good; to do good, and it is God’s job to call balls and strikes.  And in the end we expect God will give us all a very generous strike zone because He is kind and generous and loving.  Is that what you believe?  Is it up to you to keep the Ten Commandments or follow the Golden Rule or to be generous with your stuff?  If so, then you shouldn’t be too critical of the Mayor because he is only telling your story with more confidence than most of us can muster.  He is sure his life will measure up.  He is so sure that his record is acceptable that he doesn’t even think it needs double checking at heaven’s gate.

That gate may be somewhere, but it isn’t the gateway to heaven that any Christian is looking for.  The Christian gospel is not our record offered to God for his acceptance, it is Jesus’s record given to us.  Are you a Christian?  Yes or no is the only correct answer.  There is no earning it.  It is a gift.  The whole Bible shows this pattern.  Abram gets God’s promise of land and blessing and seed before he did anything notable.  Moses is a washed up shepherd who ran away from a murder rap when God chooses him.  God rescues all of Israel from slavery before he gives them the Ten Commandments, not after they obeyed them.

The God of the Bible consistently gives away his endorsement to people who don’t deserve it; to people who have not earned it.  The final and full expression of this is Jesus.  Jesus earns a perfect record with perfect performance of human life.  This is a whole other topic worth considering – that when you see Jesus its not that we are just looking at a sinless life (no mistakes or nothing that makes God angry) its that we are seeing what a completely full human life looks like.  This life earns Jesus a place before God like none other.  Jesus then gives away his record to anyone who asks for it.  Good people don’t get it.  Bad people are not excluded.  Anyone can have it.  The only thing you have to do is accept a complete record swap.  You have to take all his record and give up all your record.  None of our marks transfer.  None of our good marks – the ones we’re really proud of – come with us, and none of our bad marks – the ones we’re really ashamed of – come with us either.  Complete swap.  That is the gospel and that is Christianity.  Are you a Christian?  If the answer is yes, you can have Bloomberg-like confidence in your record.  No need to even think about getting into heaven.  You already know your record “works” to get into heaven because Jesus got in with the same record and now its yours.  Pretty simple.  Thats the gospel.  Thats why gospel means “good news,” for those of us who aren’t strong and sure we can work our way into heaven.  We are going to heaven the real old fashioned way…Jesus earned it.

The Americans & How to Stop Being Fearful

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Elizabeth: “You know what I wish, as I fall asleep every night?  That I’ll wake up and not be worried.”
Phillip: “About what?”
Elizabeth: “Everything.”
Phillip: “You can’t live like that.”
Elizabeth: “Show me another way.”
from The Americans – conversation between two deep cover KGB spies living double lives in America.

Most of us aren’t living double lives like the spies in The Americans.  Well, at least we aren’t doing it on purpose.  But we do worry a lot.  The spies are worried about getting caught; getting exposed for being something they are not.  They are always looking at download (2)every person and every situation from a posture of threatening their existence.  We are worried about…about what?  What are you afraid of?  The money running out?  The kids going off the rails?  Your health going down the drain?  We look at things threatening us too.  What if the economy tears away our livelihood or age or disease steals our health or bad people turn our children into bad people?  How will we survive if that happens??  Spies develop elaborate cover stories and engage in activities intended to keep their secrets safe. In The Americans the two main spies have gone so far as to have two children together to make their fake marriage appear real.  The children don’t even know they are pawns in international espionage.  We have our own cover stories though.  We build elaborate defenses to keep us safe and happy.  We build financial walls.  We pursue education or skills we think will keep us valuable.  Some of us do have children because we want to feel our lives are meaningful.  The thing you fear the worst will be very close to the thing you believe you can’t live without.  And you may go to bed worrying about it on a regular basis.

Worry is strangling in slow motion.  Worry will not make you better at your job.  Fear will not improve your parenting skills or make you a better lover.  It will choke friendships and marriages and keep families from fulfilling their highest goals.  It will chain you to places and jobs and people you should leave behind.  Fear needs to be ruthlessly eliminated from our lives if we are going to live well.

There is only one solution for getting rid of worry and fear, and it is counterintuitive.  The way to defeat our fear is to embrace a higher fear; we must have a huge fear to defeat our little fears.  The Bible teaches this.  Our fear of everything else is supposed to be swallowed up in the fear of God.  We are not supposed to deny the fears one by one.  They exist.  They are real.  Some of our worst fears are going to come true.  We don’t deny these things; we deflect them with our fear of God.  How does this work?  What is fear?  It is a focus uponscreen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-11-42-am some object.  It is something we must reflect upon in relation to our lives.  If you are afraid of clowns and I tell you there is a clown in your living room, what are you going to do?  Stay away from the living room!  You’ll go out of your way to avoid that room.  Fear is a reference point.  Remember what I said about the spies – everything in every situation had to be looked at in relation to their lies and blowing their cover.  A new man in the corner cafe reading a newspaper could be the FBI or the CIA staking them out.  No rest for them, ever.  If you keep your reference point on your bank account, your marriage, or your children, you will be afraid for those things all the time.  If you move your reference point to God, you have only him to fear.  What is higher than God?

OK – I admit there is a hole in this method of getting rid of fear.  If we move our reference point onto God, we also have moved our fear to the person with the greatest potential to destroy our lives.  No one has more knowledge or power than God.  No one could do more damage.  Not only that, how do we know what our relationship is with God?  If we are going to reposition everything relative to God, we have to know how that works.  How do we know what He thinks of us?  How do we know its safe?  How do we know that fearing God is any different than fearing anything else?  Because of the gospel, we can answer those questions.  In the gospel fear is actually turned inside out.  Whereas all the other fears (reference points) cause us to build defenses in order to keep the fearful things away, the fear of God lets us take down all the walls.  Why?  Because the One who had all the knowledge and all the power took all his knowledge and all his power and bent it down to help us, not to destroy us or condemn us.  This is the Christian gospel – the good news – and it is either true or it is not.  If God did what the Bible says he did for us, we can be sure that none of the things we fear outside of him are fatal to us.  Paul sums it up in his letter to the Roman Christians: if God is for us, who can be against us?

So I will show you another way.  Believe the gospel.  Believe God was and is willing to give up everything to have a relationship with you that is based on love not effort.  This is what Christians call being “saved” or being “born again.”  Either way, it is a completely different way to live that deals with our fears without denying or suppressing them.

A Bad Sign for Your Relationships (and what to do about it)

I have several relationships that exist across wide gaps in time and distance.  Friends who live in other states I only get to see a few times each year, and with whom I don’t maintain regular contact (ie we don’t email, Face Book, text, Skype, facetime, etc, frequently or at all).  These relationships exist with a lot of empty space, yet the minute I am together with these people I feel as if I’ve never missed a beat.  We pick up right where we left off and keep going.  Actually we have grown in friendship even without regular communication.  But there are other relationships I have that a week without communication creates something dark.  Its as if the lack of contact creates more distance.  I notice that I fill up the empty space in some relationships with good thoughts and others I fill up with negative thoughts.  Some people don’t call me for 3 months and when I think of them I smile and say, “Wow, I bet Joe is super busy. I should probably check up on him.”  In the other kind of relationship three days go by, and I think of them and say “Wow, what’s Joe’s problem?  I must have made him angry about something.”

It is a bad sign for a relationship when you start filling up the empty spaces with negative thoughts.  Every time you get back in contact with a person in this kind of relationship, you have to expend time and effort checking to see if your negative thoughts were right.  That is time and effort you can’t use to grow the relationship.  Since most of us don’t have huge excess of time and energy, the time and energy lost to the dark space is more than we 604891have to give.  Instead of digging out all the nastiness we pour into the empty space and getting rid of it, we don’t deal with it all.  It takes too much effort.  It accumulates.  The next time we are disconnected from the person we throw a little more negativity into the empty space and it doesn’t get cleaned out.  Like barnacles on a ship, this stuff puts a drag on our relationships.  Sometimes you are right about why your wife didn’t call you while she was away on the business trip.  She was mad about an unresolved conflict over the kids.  Sometimes your friend did get your texts and ignored them because your needs weren’t very important to them at the time.  Add enough “true” situations where your negative thoughts are accurate, and it gets easier to throw even more negativity into the next time there is empty space in the relationship.

This is a mess.  It is full of guilt and shame, presumption and anger and self-righteousness and hurt.  It is the exact opposite of the easy, fulfilling and life-giving kind of relationships we treasure.  If you continue pouring negative thoughts into the empty space, the relationship will break down.  You’ll have the occasional “come to Jesus” meetings where months worth of junk gets pulled out of the dark and you start over again, but those take a lot of effort, and after you’ve done it enough you’ll stop having them.  You will be worn out.  Marriages like this don’t last.  Parents and children like this drift apart and only connect in the mandatory meetings of life.  Friendships cool and die out.

What’s the answer?  Well you could try thought replacement.  Every time a negative thought tries to come into the empty space just squash it.  That is fine if you are strong and consistent.  But it also wears you out and often feels false.  There are some really negative things that come into our relationships and it seems a bad idea to pretend they don’t exist. The root of negativity is the thing we need to get rid of.  How can we find it?  Well what is at the core of those other kind of relationships where empty space gets filled with positive thoughts?  That must be the thing we need to bring into all our relationships.  The thing is called grace.  Grace allows me to think of you in the highest light.  A grace-based relationship is the opposite of a works based relationship.  It means I’ve decided to love you for who you are, not for anything you do.  I make no claims upon what you owe me; not a phone call or text or a birthday card.  If any of those things are missing it has not changed the foundation of our relationship AT ALL.  But in works based relationships, the exchange of goods and services is the basis of how I relate to you and when you or I are behind in payment our relationship foundation cracks and shifts.  I’m not sure who I am any more or who you are.  Am I the one behind in payment?  Have you ever owed money to someone and not been able to pay them back?  It isn’t easy to come around them is it?  You might start avoiding them.  If you see them talking to someone you may assume they are talking about what a no load you are.  This is what a works based relationship looks like.

How do I get grace into my relationships?  Foremost, grace is a decision.  You must decide your relationships are not going to be based upon works.  You have to say that your friends, lovers, and children owe you nothing.  Then you have to put this into practice.  No matter what happens you have to keep a zero balance sheet.  My husband owes me nothing.  My daughter owes me nothing.  My best friend owes me nothing.  Sound easy?  No, it is pretty hard.  But it is the way to go if you want lasting and healthy relationships.  Fortunately the gospel gives us a huge resource we can incorporate into all our relationships if we accept it.  Jesus told a story about two sons.  The younger asked for his inheritance and spent it in a wild extended party until he ended up eating out of a pig trough.  The older keep working at home tending the father’s farm.  When the younger came home, asking to just become a hired hand, the father not only received him back, he put a ring on his finger and a robe on his back and threw a party for his lost son.  The older brother got angry at this and complained to the father.  One of the things the older brother says to his dad is basically, “I’ve never done anything but work and do your will and yet you throw a party for this horrible son of yours…while you’ve never done anything for me.  What’s wrong with this picture???”  The older son had a relationship with his father based hawala-money-changing-handson work.  I do for him and I should expect X out of you.  The younger son had a relationship of grace with his father.  I should only be a servant, yet you call me a son.  If you notice in the story, the father takes the same position toward both sons.  He stands ready to give them what they don’t deserve.  The older prodigal son couldn’t possibly work hard enough to earn what the father offers him – yet the father says to him “all I have is yours.”  Wow!  He gives up everything for the older son.  Grace.  And the father offers the younger son his place in the family even though the younger son, by asking for his inheritance before his father was even dead was saying, “I’m outa here pops, you can drop dead for all I care.”  Grace.

How can you and I change the basis of all of our relationships at once?  Get some perspective.  The gospel is God being in relationship with you regardless of what you do.  Wish him dead and just want his stuff?  He doesn’t change his mind about you.  He will still call you son or daughter.  Think you are pleasing him and earning your keep by all your hard work even though you couldn’t know your left from your right unless he gave you air to breathe?  He doesn’t change his mind about you.  He will still invite you to come in out of the field of works you’ve made for yourself.  At what cost does God extend his good thoughts about us?  How can he afford to fill up the empty space with good will towards us when we are so obviously messed up?  He gave up his son.  He let Jesus do all the work of the older brother and make up for the inheritance the younger brother blew with prostitutes.  If you and I see the grace God extends to us, it puts our grace in perspective.  It shrinks the burden.  When I want to think ill of you the gospel reminds me that God thinks well of me when I don’t deserve it.  It also reminds me that God is thinking well of you too.  The cross is the evidence of how God feels about you and me. Grace.  It is fresh air.  I have so much I have plenty to spare.  Now I can give it to you and I still haven’t lost any of God’s infinite supply.  No wonder Paul opened so many of his letters with “Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.”  He was filling in all the empty space of every relationship in and around the church with the most positive thing he could think of.  Grace and peace to you.  Give this to all your relationships in the name of Jesus Christ.

Arizona: There is No Such Thing as Freedom of Religion

The Governor of Arizona vetoed a bill yesterday that had a lot of people up in arms.  Did you hear what the bill was about?  I saw a lot of activity on social media with posts about discrimination and race and homosexuality.  It seemed to me the bill must be about letting people decide to discriminate against minorities if they wanted.  I assumed it must mention specific issues abridging a gay person’s rights.  Who would support that?  Stupid.  This morning I finally got around to reading the bill.  You know it is amazingly simple to get informed in our day and age.  The bill I found is only two pages long.  You can read it yourself in less than three minutes.  Even with the legalese it isn’t hard to get through it.  I was surprised at what I found.  This bill isn’t about discriminating against gay people, its about protecting people’s rights to act according to their religious beliefs.  That is what it says.  The government is not allowed to make anyone violate their conscience. It is basically nothing more than a repetition of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Personally I am very happy to have the First Amendment guaranteeing me that no one can make my wife wear a burqa or tell me I can’t read the Torah.  If you’ve looked around you know that religions ask people to believe and to do lots of things.  What to wear, what to read, what to say, when to say it, who to associate with, who you can marry…tons of stuff.  Most of it leaves somebody shaking their head one way or another.  There is no sensitive way to say this, so here it is:  freedom of religion means the freedom to act stupidly.

Now if it happens to be YOUR religion, it is the freedom to act piously or correctly or whatever, but if its someone else’s religion, that’s a different story.  We all know this or feel this, but few of us can be real enough to say it out loud.  And some religions take their particular set of beliefs and practices so seriously that venturing to criticize or laugh at state_oppression_1them will get your name on a religious hit list.  Religion is about pleasing God, improving the world and/or getting to heaven.  If you believe in God, there aren’t many things that could be more important than your religion.  Forcing someone to give up their religion’s belief structure is stealing their core identity.  It is intolerant.  It is evil.  No matter how stupid it may seem to you.

The dirty little secret, though, is that only religious people try to force their religion upon others.  The religious are both the oppressors and the oppressed.  It is the nature of religion to enslave, not to free.  If you really believe you have THE set of beliefs and behaviors that please God and that God can only be pleased by people believing and acting upon these things, you cannot help but look down upon those who don’t.  You have to relegate them to second class citizenship.  You have to oppress them either implicitly or explicitly.  You have to discriminate against them.  They are the people messing up the world by acting in ways that displease God.  They are the ones who bring judgment on all of us.

Great, you say – I was looking for someone to finally agree with me that religion is the problem so we can all agree to get rid of it.  But it isn’t so easy as that.  The absence of God or gods does not mean the absence of religion.  If you have what you think are THE set of beliefs and behaviors that will make the world a better place if everyone would just adopt them, you have the same issues as the religious people.  You don’t have a God you have a Good that you worship and serve.  You are in fact, a religious person without a religion.  And you look down upon those who don’t hold your beliefs.  You are intolerant of them and you oppress them in the name of your Good.  Your non-religious religion is just as enslaving as any other.  The fact is there is no such thing as religious freedom.

I will make a claim here that will make many of you scoff, but it is true.  The Christian gospel is not religion.  The Christian gospel is the opposite of religion.  I am not saying Christians are not guilty of religious abuses.  I am not saying Christians don’t do stupid things in the name of Christianity.  I am saying that the Bible does not teach religion.  The Bible is not the story of what we must do to please God or to get to heaven or to make the world into a great place.  The Bible tells the story of what God has done to help us, to fix what is broken, to get us to heaven and to make the world a better place.  The Christian gospel is not about bad people gradually becoming better people from the outside in by their beliefs and behaviors; it is the story of God changing people from the inside out when they start believing what he has done and that he is for them.  People who rightly believe the gospel have no business looking upon others as second class citizens because they are not keeping the right rules and holding the right beliefs.  Christians know that they are not making the world or themselves better because they keep the rules or believe the right things. They know it is a miracle of grace that they have come to believe the gospel.  They can’t give themselves any credit for it.  God is the one making everything better by what he does.  Christians don’t expect to be better people than their neighbors and have no glory in it if they are.  A Christian can only claim to be loved by God for no good reason, and because they know that the last thing love can be is coercive, they know better than to try forcing the gospel into anyone’s life.  It can’t be done.  There is no such thing as religious freedom, but there is freedom from religion.  The gospel is freedom from religion.  It is freedom to love people who really disagree with us.  It is freedom to know that God is the one who will make everything right in its time and in his way.

How Our Sorry State is Ruining Our Marriages (and an accessible solution)

“I’m sorry.”  “He offered an apology.”  “She made a public plea for forgiveness.”  It is hard to imagine a day’s news cycle without hearing something like this.  Everybody is sorry about something or wants someone to be sorry about something.  It permeates everything we do.  It is a smog of sorriness.  Our kids bring it home from school.  It seeps in through the TV and the internet.  We start to think sorry is our normal condition and we wonder what may be wrong with us when we find we really aren’t sorry. We are living in a sorry state.  A sorry state is a “pressed down” state.  It sits on us, this feeling of being sorry. forgive-meIt lingers over us until we start saying it for no reason at all.  A little girl who we keep in our daycare walks around all day saying, “I’m sorry.”  She just says it out of the blue.  I ask, “What are you sorry for?”  She never answers, she just starts telling me about whatever she is doing.  It makes you wonder though doesn’t it?  It makes us feel like we must be doing something wrong if this child feels compelled to say “sorry” ten times a day.  But it is a pretty good reflection of what goes on in our culture every day all day.  Many of our relationships are suffering because of this sorry state.  We are like the little girl.  We walk around with the feeling we ought to say we are sorry, but we’re not sure why.

Let me tell you a few things about being sorry.  First of all, and so obvious you may not notice it at first, feeling sorry is not natural.  If you and I are cosmic accidents who are only part of the animal world and making a way through it by being bigger, faster, stronger, then sorry is stupid.  You ever see a lion who was sorry it stole the last bite of antelope right out of the mouth of the slower lion? No.  Feeling sorry is unnatural, meaning it is something outside of us we can’t explain based upon what we see.  Second is that sorry is just the tip of the iceberg called forgiveness.  The real ruinous part of our sorry state; the thing that kills marriages and all our significant relationships, is the idea that “feeling sorry” is how forgiveness is accomplished, and if we don’t “feel sorry” we are not truly able to experience forgiveness, and if someone asks us for forgiveness who doesn’t feel bad enough (whatever that means – it varies from person to person) can’t or shouldn’t be forgiven.  Since it is almost impossible to make ourselves feel bad enough, or to know exactly how bad someone ought to feel in order for us to get on with the business of living, we end up with a lot of loose ends in our relationships; a lot of unease about ourselves and our spouses.

I asked a couple this week what they thought forgiveness was.  They told me it was about owning our mistakes and then agreeing to go on together.  I thought that was a good start.  Then I asked this:  So you uncover the fault and agree to go on together.  What happens if a week, or a month or a year from now you bring it back up again and demand more answers or more concessions or whatever?  What if every year on the anniversary of the offense the offended person brings it up again?  Is that forgiveness?  Have you really forgiven?  They both laughed at that and agreed it was not forgiveness.  I agree.  But what is forgiveness then?  Does it mean forgetting an offense ever happened?  Try that.  Many of us have tried to do that.  It isn’t very practical is it?  And it doesn’t feel healthy.  It feels like I’m trying to fool myself into believing something bad never happened, and that can’t be right.  I also discovered that when I most need to forget the offense I am in the worst position to do it.  When do you need it most?  When things are forcing you to remember the offense, right?  Triggers.  People, places, words, things.  Forgetting just can’t be the right answer.

imagesForgiveness is a decision, not a feeling and not forgetting.  Both the person needing forgiveness and the person extending it must decide.  It is not a mutual decision, but a personal one.  A decision?  Yes.  A decision about cost.  Who is going to bear the cost of the offense.  In real forgiveness the person who is hurt must decide to bear the cost of the hurt alone and not try to make the other person pay for it.  And there are plenty of toll booths set up along the way where we can make others pay; plenty of decision points.

Years ago my wife collected ceramic figurines called Precious Moments.  She put them all in a cabinet in a little walkway just off the kitchen.  Some of them were limited editions and many were no longer made.  One day my daughter hit the cabinet as she walked by it.  It came off the wall and fell onto a tile floor. The sound of breaking glass went on and on.  Out of perhaps 50 pieces only one or two survived the fall.  It was a total loss.  I remember the look on Nicole’s face and Tina’s face.  “I’m sorry Momma!  I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Momma!” she said.  It was pitiful really.  What could she do?  What could Tina do?  The mistake was made.  The pieces were never coming back together again and never could.  There was no replacement cost because there were no replacements to be had.  It was an accident, you say.  Surely you have to be forgiving when accidents happen.  Right.  And do we usually set out to hurt our spouses?  Our friends?  Our children?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t easier because it was an accident.  It is the same thing.  It is a decision to bear the cost rather than break the relationship. It is a decision to take the loss rather than to make the other party pay for it.  If every time Tina saw a Precious Moments figure from then on she reminded Nicole of how she destroyed her collection, she makes Nicole bear the cost.  If someone asked Tina where her cabinet full of figures was she used the opportunity to run Nicole down and call her clumsy, then she decides to make Nicole take the loss.

Someone is going to bear the cost of an offense.  It doesn’t matter if it was an accident or on purpose.  And here is another angle that we often miss:  if you are asking for real forgiveness you are agreeing to let the other person bear the burden for your offense.  You are not asking them to let you pay it off in an installment plan, you are leaving the decision with them and you can’t do anything more about it.  If you keep trying to pay for it, you really aren’t asking for forgiveness, you are asking them to tell you when the account is paid off; and most people will never be able to tell you when that happens.  Do you see how different this view of forgiveness is from what we’re being sold in our sorry state?  How upside down it is?  Our culture is obsesses with extracting the cost of forgiveness from the person who committed the offense.  True forgiveness is squarely on the shoulders of the offended party and their decision to bear the entire cost.  How did this get flipped on us?  Take God out of our collective consciousness and we have a real problem.  We do feel sorry.  We do feel guilty.  We are not like the other animals.  But we have no explanation for it.  No God means no right or wrong.  It means there are no burdens to bear and no apologies to make.  If you are bigger, faster, stronger you win.  And why worry about accidents when everything is an accident including your own existence?  Leave God out and you get a sorry state with no remedy, no forgiveness.  The problem is that letting God in means having to face up to offending him; to having to ask him for forgiveness.  What about that?  What if God doesn’t want to bear the cost?  How are we going to pay off that debt?  What happens when we knock all his Precious Moments to pieces?  If God decides we owe him for the things we’ve broken and wants to make us pay for them, how long will it take to pay it off?  When we’ve broken things of infinite worth we are in for an eternal work day to make it right.  Can you see now what the gospel is?  Can you see how it is God accepting the cost of calling us his daughters and sons?  When things are broken someone must bear the cost.  God decided to bear it.  The cross is the payment for God to stay in relationship with us and never abandon us.  We must accept it or try to come up with the payment on our own.  It is hard to accept true forgiveness.  Very hard.  I’ve had to watch my wife’s face when I put hurt into her life.  I had to see the struggle to decide not to make me pay while I stood by helplessly, knowing I did that to her.  I did that to the person I love.  It is terrible and wonderful to see.  What is the resource she has to do this?  How can she bear it?  She believes the cross is God’s forgiveness for her and for me.  She sees that God bore the cost of her failures so she could be his daughter.  That gives perspective.  It shrinks the size of my offenses against her.  But she also sees something else, something that releases her heart and clears her mind to remember my offenses but images (1)to live without the heavy burden.  She sees that when I hurt her it was an offense against her,yes, but it was also an offense against God, her Father.  He takes it personally.  It is his to take.  All things are his.  All abuse is abuse to his property.  All the offenses against people are offenses to his family.  And he decides to forgive. He decides to bear the cost.  Now my wife sees that she isn’t bearing the cost alone, that Jesus is under the full strain of her husband’s offense.  This is how our marriage works.  This is how we escape the sorry state.

The Simplest (and best) Recipe for a Healthy Marriage

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband
(Ephesians 5:25 and 33)

Love and respect.  Two ingredients for a healthy marriage.  Which one comes first?  How does the recipe work?  Is it two portions of love mixed thoroughly with two of respect?  Is it a quart of respect poured over a pound of love?  What goes in first?  This recipe doesn’t tell us the proportions.  It doesn’t say how much respect to use or how much love is enough.  It doesn’t tell us if we are supposed to add the love to the respect or vice versa.  The recipe for a healthy marriage is very simple, but its application is hard.  If we read it correctly it is actually impossible.  The recipe is love without proportion and absolute respect.  And these ingredients are not added one after the other, but simultaneously and continually.  In other words the recipe is to love your wife completely all the time and to respect your husband completely all the time NOT to love your wife when she is lovely and respects you or to respect your husband when he is respectable and loves you.  In other words, the recipe for a healthy marriage is an all-encompassing, non-negotiable mixture of love and respect.  So go right out there and get loving and respecting and everything will be better and you won’t botch the recipe…sound about right?  No.  This cake will fall in on itself.  Something major is missing from this recipe.  Its gospel context.  It is the mixing bowl we throw ourselves in that contains us and sustains us.

We are not made for absolutes.  We don’t love completely and can’t claim to offer love unconditionally.  We lack the capacity for absolute respect.  We run down mentally and physically.  Our emotions wear out.  None of us can be a source of love and respect for another person on our own without limits.  So is the Bible teaching us a recipe for a healthy marriage or is it giving us instructions to bake a futility cake?  The mixing bowl is what we need.  The gospel is the context we can use to cook a good marriage.  Just before the Bible sets out the well known love and respect teaching, it gives a not so well known or repeated instruction:  submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21).  This is the preeminent piece of the teaching and nothing in the rest of it makes sense without it. a22 The gospel is love and respect without measure.  Unconditional love and utter respect given to all people by a Person able to deliver both and to sustain them indefinitely.  A husband who reverences Christ (actually is the same word meaning “have respect to”) experiences a love he did not earn from a source he does not have to create or sustain.  Husbands don’t need to be a primary source of love to their wives if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible love overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage.  Wives don’t need to be the primary source of respect for their husbands if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible respect overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage.  The love and respect shortage in our marriages isn’t a supply problem, it is a source problem.  There is more than enough love and respect to bake into our marriages, we just need to stop trying to get it from our spouse and get it from the gospel instead.

Not feeling respected by the wife today?  Stop looking at her and look to the cross where the most important boss in the world focused all his attention on you, held you up as an example of the person he’d love to promote, and promises to forever dedicate himself to making sure you become everything you’re meant to be.  If that isn’t enough respect, your wife doesn’t have a chance at making you feel respected. Not feeling loved by your husband today?  Stop looking at him and look at the white knight who stormed The gate, slew The dragon, bought you the perfume of eternal life and lives to make you into your full self.  If that’s not love enough, your husband hasn’t got a prayer of making you feel loved.

If we want satisfying and healthy marriages the recipe is love and respect, but not the way most of us try to bake it.  It is not a knock off version of love and respect found in a second hand market; it is the real stuff imported from God’s storehouse and accessed by turning our eyes away from our spouses and onto Jesus.  This is too simple you say or it isn’t scientific, or I can’t trust it.  Well, the statistics say clearly that Christians experience a higher rate of marital satisfaction (yes, including sexual satisfaction).  And consider this final point: no one has a marriage without faith.  It isn’t as if we choose between trust and not trust.  We trust or we don’t have a marriage at all.  Believing the gospel means marriage with faith in God.  Marriage without the gospel means faith without God.  Good luck with that – and I do mean that – without the gospel there is nothing to depend upon but luck, and it means finding your own hearty supply of love and respect you are sure will never run out.  Marriage with faith in God is much simpler and sustainable.  It is healthy.

Who Keeps Your Family Safe?

“The war (WWII) will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is a finite object and, therefore, intrinsically unfitted to support the whole attention of a human soul.”
– C. S. Lewis

Late one night I was contemplating the safety of my wife and kids.  I was on a ship somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.  If you are a thinker, underway on a ship at night can be a lonely place.  I worried about who would check the front door and make sure it was locked.  What if they had a flat tire, who would help them?  What if the baby got sick?  What if someone broke into the house?  What if my wife gets in a wreck?  On and on it went.  My own bad news network broadcasting in my head.  My favorite channels to tune into: doubt, fear, and worry.  There seemed to be no end to the channel surfing.  But I got a break through signal from God.  He walked me through some simple thoughts: what if you weren’t 4000 miles from home right now, you’re on the ship sitting at the pier in homeport…I was liking this channel…now imagine you have to spend the night on the ship because you have duty…ok I may not like this channel so much…but you’re there and your family is at your house about 20 miles away, who is keeping your family safe from the imagesthings you’re worrying about?  I had to say all of my fears could come true even if the ship was in homeport.  Then He asked me if all of them could come true if I was in the house or car with my family.  All of them could.  God revealed to me His constant watchfulness and care was what kept my family safe (and always had been).  What a blow to my ego!  It’s not me who’s been ensuring our well being it is God.  In that moment I didn’t relinquish control of my family, I acknowledged I never had control of my family.  What a relief!

Who is keeping you safe?  If I was depending upon our government to keep us safe I would still be up in the middle of the night, not because it is incompetent, but because the absolute safety of a soul is beyond the reach of any government.  If any government of ours ever sets out to make us each “safe” we should all head for the hills as fast as we can go.  The only way humans know to keep other humans safe is to take away their freedom.  It is only in a sovereign creator God that we find both freedom and safety.  As C.S. Lewis said of World War II, war will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is finite.  We should add fear, worry, doubt…everything else will fail to hold our attention because we have infinite souls.  We have God sized souls.  Rest, peace and hope only come from having God in our souls, and once you’ve recognized and invited infinity into your soul, the finite will have to flee.  When  all the bad news starts again, instead of letting it force you to ask “where is God?” let it remind you that you are not in control, and you need God.  The distance between you and safety is the exact distance between you and God.  How far apart are you?  At Calvary God erased the distance between Himself and us through Christ.  Now, through faith in Him, we can say there is no distance between our souls and God.  That is safety.  No wonder Jesus said “Let not your heart be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in me.”

My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Ps 131

It is Good to Go to Work with Our Father

Anthony sprays the Windex on each table and wipes it down carefully. He is so thorough you might think he’s a little too careful. We’ve all seen how a busboy or waitress wipes off a table in a restaurant. It isn’t rocket science. Usually it’s done so fast it would make your head spin. Zip, swish, swash, swirl, your table is ready sir.  But Anthony is taking his time. Each table matters to him. He’s seven. The tables in this restaurant belong to his father.

Many years ago I was mowing the grass with a push mower (not my favorite thing in the world) when my boy asked if he could help me. There are moments in parenting when you realize what you are about to say is really important. The haze clears momentarily and you understand what is happening here and now isn’t about here and now; it isn’t about getting the grass mowed. His request presented an immediate challenge. He was too short K_man_0057and not strong enough to push the mower so I couldn’t just show him how and get out of the way. And letting him watch or walk beside me was not going to satisfy him (he really wanted to help and was old enough to see through the fake things you can pawn off on little kids). What could I do? I told him to come on and help, and I put him in front of me. He grabbed the handle with his little hands and I got behind him and put my hands just outside his. We fired up the mower and mowed the grass. I wonder what that must have looked like. It was a bit awkward. We had to learn how to move together and not step on each other. I had to find the pace his shorter legs could handle. The whole mowing experience was uniquely affected by this arrangement. The results where the same. The grass was mowed. I completed the task I set out to complete and could have completed without my son. But something more than grass cutting was happening there. My son was learning something about me. He found out he could participate in my activity. He found out it was fun to be with me. He found out he was at least as important as what I was doing.

I think we should come to an appreciation of our Father’s work and our part in it. God is going to accomplish his work. He doesn’t need me to do it. He didn’t create me to do it. He invites me into it for one purpose – that I may learn of Him, that I may draw near to Him. DSCN1992Anybody knows one of the best ways to build a relationship with someone is to knock out a project together. To struggle through something together. Just ask Anthony. He isn’t cleaning tables so thoroughly to earn his bag of Skittles pay check. He is there to be near his dad. It is good to work in the Father’s house, but never start thinking you have to work to stay in the Father’s house.

Why Women Settle for Less (and what to do about it)

An article titled “A Gentleman’s Take On Why Women Should Never Settle For Less Than They Deserve” showed up in my Facebook feed today.  I don’t know what is more funny/sad; the article itself or the commentary it is accumulating.  Go read it for yourself ladies and see what it makes you feel.  Guys go and read it too and ask yourself if you downloadwant this man around your wife, sister, daughter, grandmother…any female you actually love and respect.  Does this sound like a gentleman?  The author obviously believes he is a gentleman, many of the commenters agree, both male and female, and over 40k people shared it so far.  Why is this getting so much traction?  This article’s take on women is so demeaning as to be a bad joke; a parody I’d expect out of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.  The author unknowingly illustrates his own point.  The reason so many women lower their standards is that the standard is so low that he can seriously pass off patronizing womanization as gentlemanly!  The question is, how did the standard get so low??

Earlier this week I wrote an article about the effect of more and more men using pornography.  Ultimately that effect is the objectification of women; reducing women to things rather than beings.  A Gentleman’s Take shows you the result of a porn saturated male mentality.  Not that the author himself is a porn user, I have no idea about that, but he writes from a culture where porn has dumbed down both men and women to the point where a man can assign himself not only the title of gentleman, but can purport to speak for all gentlemen on a web site that calls itself “The Voice of Generation Y,” in an article so silly, immature, and condescending as to be written by any horny 13 year old boy in a high school freshman english class.  The picture accompanying the article itself contains specifically pornographic elements intended to do what porn does; titillate and attract.  The content reveals that gentlemen read poetry, roll their r’s, and like to get a few vodkas into a woman before they gently and oh-so-politely invite her into their bedroom (which is probably in their parent’s basement).  Evidently gentlemen are not very humble because other men are just “losers” who are “not worth the squeeze.”  The author ends by suggesting that women go out there and find a hopeless romantic (like him) because they are men not boys.

To the porn saturated mind, women are primarily objects of desire.  Men and women alike adjust to this reality.  Men maneuver to obtain the object and women maneuver to become more desirable.  Men who lack one tool to obtain their desired objects will find others (like vodka and rolled r’s).  The same with women.  The interplay between the sexes has always operated like this to one extent or another, but porn amplifies it by making sexual satisfaction of desire so readily images (1)obtainable that men can get whatever they want out of a digital woman without opening a door, buying a dinner, or meeting her mother.  Women are competing with cheap digital hookers for the attention of men.  This is how an article written by an obvious womanizer gets widespread acceptance.

How can we all, men and women, escape the pornographic distortion and lowering of standards?  Go on a war against pornography?  Root it out of popular culture?  This is treating the symptom and leaving the disease.  Men need to become men and women need to become women, not within the confines of a romantic relationship, but before the eyes of God.  Kierkegaard said there was only one “sin unto death” – one sin that would kill us as dead as dead can be – and that it was trying to become a self outside the presence of God.  Ladies, if you try to become your self merely in the presence of a man, even the best man, a true gentleman, you will never be all you were meant to be.  Your standard is too low.  Gentlemen, if you try to shape your self in a way that makes you acceptable to a woman, even the most lovely and worthy lady, you will not become all you were meant to be.  Your standard is too low.  God’s opinion of us is so high that every other opinion is not only a low opinion, it is a life-stealing opinion; it is death unless it is taken in relation to his opinion.  Don’t think so?  Try consoling your daughter when the boy she is dating decides someone else is better than she is.  Watch her wither.  What will you do for her?  Tell her another boy will come along?  His opinion will restore her to life?  For how long?  The best boy may grow into a man and give his whole life to her, but there is a helping-handsday coming when sweet lips cease to speak and a gentleman’s touch is cooled by death.  And that opinion is forever lost.  She must have a higher opinion and truer opinion, a permanent opinion.  There is only one man who gives this and gave it and promises to keep giving it.  The gospel is God’s opinion of us.  It is the promise not to hold us to a higher standard, but to lift us to an impossible standard.  This is the answer to our pornographically broken world; to accept his elevation.

“And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” – Soren Kierkegaard

(this is a repost of an earlier blog by a different title)