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.

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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.

Do You Have Problems You Can’t Fix?

I decided to get rid of a program on my computer.  I went to the Add/Remove programs section, found the program I wanted to delete and clicked on a tab saying “remove.”  A Broken-Screenmessage came up on the screen:  You do not have sufficient access to delete this file, see the system administrator.  I tried it again and got the same result.  This was a program I had installed myself.  After puzzling over it for a while I decided to call the company from which I downloaded the file.  The helpful people there walked me through all the steps I tried already.  They couldn’t delete the program.  Insufficient access.  Finally they gave up.

This was pretty frustrating.  I didn’t know it at the time but when I downloaded the program, I was receiving something I couldn’t get rid of later.  My computer didn’t seem to be my computer anymore.  Every time I logged on the icon for the program would remind me I wasn’t in control.  It was one thing to consciously download a program and then be stuck with it, but what if you never asked for it? Spyware are programs which come as files attached to something on the internet like an advertisement.  You click on it to see what it’s about and a little dialogue box comes up saying you have to download this file in order to go further. Click.  Next thing you know you’ve got a program pouring popups into your screen every five minutes for Viagra.  You may have been looking for info on trips to the Bahamas but now you are being inundated with info you never asked for and don’t want.  These programs get intertwined with your hard drive like an electronic boa constrictor.  Often, when trying to delete them you will get the same message: Insufficient access.

What if there was something inside of you you didn’t want but constantly had to face?  You try every trick you know to erase it.  Reboot, run away, read up on it, buy another program which will supposedly get at it, ask an expert to help free you, but in the end you find no way to rid yourself of it.  Fearful? Angry?  Suicidal?  Suicidal people are really on to something.  They have come to the conclusion there is something so broken they can’t fix it.  They know they don’t have sufficient access to get at the thing making their lives miserable.  The problem is killing the outer man doesn’t get at the inner man.  Suicide is like taking a sledge hammer to the computer monitor; the light may go out and you don’t have to look at the image anymore, but the hard drive is still running and still messed up. Sin is the human spyware none of us asked for, but all of us live with.  It has wrapped around each of us in ways we can’t even understand.  No one has the access to rid themselves of it’s effects on their own, even though some obviously cope much better with errorimagetheir fallen state than others.  No matter how well you deal with sin here and now you are left with one final effect of sin you must face: death.  Insufficient access.  Somehow, somewhere we all come up against this statement about our own lives.  We can’t sustain them.  We can’t fix what’s broken.  We have to have someone with the ability to reach places we can’t reach.  Jesus can reach anywhere.  He holds the keys to hell and death.  There is no door He cannot open, there is nothing overcoming us that He hasn’t already overcome.  You may think you have done things to your life that cannot be undone and you are probably right if you look at your access or the access of men or the tools of men.  Invite a God into your life and He won’t start on the exterior.  God begins to work where men are unable to reach.  Just admit you personally have insufficient access and let Jesus initiate the true work in you.

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” – Jesus (Rev 1:18)

“Therefore (Jesus) is able also to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25)

“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev 3:8)

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.

What to Do When Your Kids Start to Sound Like Liberals (or Conservatives)

Is reading your kid’s Facebook or Twitter feed making you wonder if you went seriously wrong somewhere along the way?  Are they spouting Fox news talking points?  Do they sound like they work for the DNC?  I remember being home on leave from the Navy and telling my mom and dad about a book I was reading which had a very particular political slant.  As I explained it and how I thought it made sense I saw them making eye contact with each other.  It was a very subtle thing; gone in an instant.  Their expressions toward me never changed from interested listeners, but they offered no opinions about the politics liberal-conservativeI was trying out on them.  I remember that look.  It made me curious but not to find out what they thought about my new ideas.  It made me curious about them.  For some reason that look said that I was missing something and it wasn’t in a book; it was in my parents.  They were people!  Do you know what I mean??  Do you remember when you finally figured out that teachers were people, not just a set of lectures and homework assignments?  It takes longer to see parents as people.  Don’t ask me why, but something in that shared look cracked open the parent suit a little.  I knew my politics didn’t agree with theirs right then, but it didn’t seem like they were going to pursue me over that.  They were willing to let me go, but they were not going there.  Interesting.  Ever see the toddler trick where they run away from you while they look over their shoulder to see if you’re going to chase them?  Best way to handle it?  Don’t chase.  Don’t get your panties in a wad.  It takes a certain kind of parent to do that.  It takes confidence that the kid isn’t going to get hurt for one, but it also takes confidence that they know your voice and you’ve got enough influence to keep them from going too far.  Parents who don’t know who they are lack the confidence to let their children run.  What I saw in my parents was the opposite.  They were not scared to let me run.  They never were.  Where did it come from, this assuredness?  I think they built it together.  They were a unit.  They believed in each other.  I also think they were confident their views of morality and politics weren’t just right because they were theirs, they were right because they were right, and sooner or later, right would assert itself.

So I had and still have a great mom and dad.  Now its my turn.  My kids have given me plenty to think about.  I hear more of their ideas because of social media.  I’m also friends with their friends so I get a taste of a lot of political opinions from younger people.  How do I (actually Tina and I) handle it when our kid’s opinions seem out of line with our values? First, and this is more important than anything else at all, if you are in your kids social network it isn’t your right to be there after a certain age.  It is a privilege.  You get to participate in their life.  Be glad.  Not everyone is invited in, and you can be invited out. Once I get that firmly in place I ask myself why a comment or post or whatever bothers me.  I think about motive.  Is my child expressing a desire for righteousness and justice?  Or is it just trolling?  Do you know what trolling is?  You may not know what it is currently, but you’ve seen it before.  A troll is that kid in your school that always went fishing to get someone stirred up.  Put a little bait in the water and see who would bite. Once they get one on the line just keep cranking it up until they’ve made someone so mad they want to fight and then walk away.  Some of our kids are trolls.  They spout liberal or conservative talking points to see if they can start a fight with anyone.  If that is your kid, well, you’ve got problems besides trying to help their politics.  Maybe just go back to basic human decency.  Trust me on this; I’ve read lots of your kid’s posts and quite a few of them are pure trolls.  Maybe engage them on the level of taking them to dinner and giving them some of the attention they so obviously crave.  If I sort through this and believe my kid is earnestly putting out their ideas because they want to share them with others and have others speak into them, I look at what they say and ask myself again; is this the pursuit of righteousness?  It may sound very different than the way I would express it, but that isn’t the reason it works in the world.

Righteousness works in the world because it is a created world.  I have a lot of confidence in this.   Maybe more than my own mom and dad.  I’m not afraid of letting my kids run because I know Righteousness not only prevails in the end, it prevails in them.  They have their own relationship with Righteousness and so instead of exchanging political ideas with my kids or trying to correct their politics, I cut my eyes at my wife and say ‘I know our kids know Jesus so why get worked up over this thing that appears to contradict him?’ Most of you Christian parents are actually pretty crazy.  You want your kids to know Jesus and to know him well, you just don’t want to let any of the things that came into your life and broke you to the point you sought Jesus and grasped him to come into your kid’s lives.  Let them run with bad ideas and/or great ideals that seem so full of hope to them.  They won’t run too far.  Jesus is the hope of the world.  He really is.  The only hope of the world.  Ultimately thats how I handle it when my child starts sounding like a liberal or a conservative; I remind myself that neither of those will save the world, only the gospel will.  That gives me urgency and peace.  Urgency to ground my kids beliefs in the gospel and to point them back to that in all their thinking.  Peace that Jesus is who I need to help my kids see, not my flawed politics.  I need to help them see God is a person.  That is more profound, interesting and life giving than anything else we could discuss.

Spinning in the Dark

Have I told you I love our early morning instructors at the Y?  I do.  I love them for getting out of bed and having more energy than me so I can put my mind on auto-pilot and work out to their routine.  I always try to keep that in mind when I feel complaints welling up inside.  So there it is, my disclaimer.  Now; what’s up with freaking spin classes in the dark at 6am in the winter???  In fact, what’s up with spin classes in the dark period.  My wife told me I had to try spin classes when they first came out years ago.  This is the woman who did step aerobics into the eighth month of both her pregnancies, Jane Fonda stretch spin-revolve1leotard and all.  She knows her workouts.  She said this is really fun.  A bunch of people riding stationary bikes together in a room with good music.  It took some convincing but I finally went.  And I liked it.  All except she didn’t mention you did this in the dark, or in the very close to dark.  What’s the deal with that?  Is it really so hideous to see other fatties sweating it out a few feet away?  We even had one instructor who insisted on placing herself in complete darkness.  Now there’s a plan.  Watch me, I’m calling out the moves here, oh wait a minute while I turn down the lights so you can’t see me.  Another class I asked the instructor to turn up the lights a bit and about five spinners had a conniption.  Seems they couldn’t get their spin on in the light.  Does that even make sense at all?  Not to me.  One of our first spin instructors got in the habit of telling us how sleepy she was every time she got a class going.  I know why!!  People sleep in the dark!  People don’t work out in the dark!  So I contemplate these things on my spin bike at 6am trying to wake up and get my head and heart pointed in the right direction.  Its dark.  An unusually bad blend of music plays.  7 minute long techno distortion, a worn out pop song, heavy metal hell band.  Spinning in the dark.  And I sweat.  My hear rate gets up – which is the only reason I’m here – elevate the heart-rate for 30 minutes a day.  I look at my wife spinning in the next bike.  At least she is close enough to see.  I like looking at her.  Sometimes I steal a smile.  Even in the bad songs I find a beat that I can work with and even in the dark on a stationary bike we are going somewhere together.  Getting healthier.  Getting going together.  Spinning in the dark doesn’t make much sense, but it doesn’t stop us from finding something good in it.  There is good to be found.  It only takes a little light to find it and a little beat to hear it.  It is there.  He is here.