The Good Undocumented Immigrant

laborersA white Christian man was driving down from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and his car had some massive mechanical failure and died on the side of the road. He was in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal in the heat of the day. If he didn’t get help, and soon, he would be in serious risk for heat stroke or death.

Now by chance an off-duty police officer was going down that road but, after he saw the distressed man, he passed right on by. He had some important personal issues to attend to. So likewise a Republican congressman, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by without slowing down – he had to get to a town hall meeting.

But an undocumented immigrant, as he journeyed, came to where the stranded man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and gave him food and drink. Then he made room in his own vehicle and brought him to a auto repair shop and took care of him. He took out $140 and gave it to the mechanic, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back through.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who was stranded and in distress?

You go, and do likewise.

Jesus, Shut Up!

Sermon_on_the_MountFor the last 67 days (holy cow, has it been that long???), my friend Eric and I have been posting the Sermon on the Mount on social media piece by piece. For those of you who may not know, the Sermon on the Mount is the passage of Jesus’s teaching found in Matthew 5-7. It’s been an interesting project, to say the least.

As a wrap up to the project, we answered 5 questions. I’ve added Eric’s answers without edit (so blame him if you spot a grammar mistake!). Ultimately, this project was not about telling Jesus to shut up. Many people tend to ignore or shut him up when his words clash with their lives. Rather, Eric and I wanted HIS words to be heard anew. So here you go:

Why did you want to do this project?

ERIC: I actually started this project at the suggestion of my friend, Todd. It kept coming up in discussion several weeks prior how Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is controversial, even today, and how even many Christians are offended by things that Jesus in this particular sermon. Todd suggested posting it verse by verse or section by section without any commentary just to see how people react. Sort of give people a “slow reading” of it. I prayed over it and had absolute peace about doing it. So, it began…

CHRIS: For me it started when I saw the Facebook thread between Eric and Todd. They were talking about posting the Sermon on the Mount (SotM) piece by piece every day. I thought it was a great idea for a couple of reasons. First, the SotM was not originally a unified message given at one time. It’s a collection of the teachings of Jesus that Matthew compiled wrote out. Posting it on social media bit by bit would have been close to the way Jesus taught it – little bits at a time rather than a multiple chapter treatise on ethical and moral behavior. Second, with all of the negative junk that’s posted every day, I wanted to be one of the voices posting things that build up and develop people. True, Jesus’s words aren’t words of encouragement, but they can build us up spiritually, morally, and ethically.

Did you have any difficulties carrying it out?

ERIC: My greatest difficulty was remembering where I left off the day before! I would do it first thing in the morning, and sometimes I wasn’t fully awake! LOL!! But the greatest difficulty for me, personally, was just the weight of Christ’s words. They’re heavy at times. In giving others a sort of “slow reading” of it you force yourself to read it slowly and REALLY consider what Christ is saying! Matthew 5:44 was particularly heavy for me. During this time it seems like I had enemies coming out of the woodwork. And here’s Jesus telling me to pray for them! NOT EASY! Certainly challenging! But, I submitted and did it!

CHRIS: There were two difficulties. The first isn’t a big one – it was the difficulty of developing the habit of the daily posting. Probably 2/3 of the material I posted in the moment. I smartened up eventually and began to schedule posts in advance so I wouldn’t forget. Advanced scheduling, though, was part of the second difficulty: how to break up the material. Microblogging sites are geared towards snippets of material, and some of Jesus’s longer teachings are too long for social media. So I played editor a little bit in determining what the blocks of text would be and what would have to wait for another day. I also took some liberties to shorten the text, using & for “and” and sometimes omitting punctuation, indefinite articles, etc.

Were there any surprises from the experience?

ERIC: Yes. When I posted Matthew 5:31-32. While I was expecting some discussions to erupt over topics such as enemy love, loving your neighbor, or even the “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of Heaven….” I was NOT expecting these two verses to stir any turds! People were leaving comments like, “So, what you’re saying is I’m a sinner because I got divorced?” No! I didn’t say that! I was just merely quoting Jesus, what He said in scripture! I actually had some family members REALLY upset with me over that! They were divorced. Even after I explained the project to them they was like, “Well, you still could have just skipped over that one!” Which really goes back to some of the conversations that Todd & I had: The Sermon on the Mount touches everyone and will offend you!

CHRIS: The biggest surprise was how passionate some people got over the message of Jesus. And it wasn’t always positive passion. One person asked me angrily (at least it felt that way reading the words on Facebook) why I was doing this. Others seemed to chafe at particular points of Jesus’s words that had direct correlation to their life’s circumstances. One minor surprise was a friend who took issue with me putting out the words of Jesus but NOT including the biblical address. My simple answer was that the Bible originally had no chapter and verse divisions – those were a later addition. The key is the content, which had been passed down from Christian to Christian for hundreds and hundreds of years before the addition of chapter and verse markings.

What did you learn?

ERIC: A couple of things: Scripture is challenging enough. You don’t always need to add your commentary to challenge others. The other was not everyone is going to agree with Jesus. Some will boldly oppose Him on issues because they want to be comfortable in their sin.

CHRIS: The biggest thing I learned is that the words of Christ are as relevant today as they EVER were thousands of years ago. They are literally timeless, reaching into the heart of some touchy subjects 21st century Christians wrestle with. To quote the Bible (and not give you the address), “There is nothing new under the sun.” We can preach Jesus until the end of time, because his words will always touch us at the core of our humanity.

What do you hope others learned?

ERIC: The first is enemy love. I’m looking at the Church, watching it’s agape growing cold, growing more hostile. Of course we see that the clearest in the political field. The ones on the right who are the most vocal about their Christianity are also militantly hostile towards those on the left. If you are a TRUE Christian then the left isn’t your enemy. It’s your mission field.

Which leads me to the 2nd thing I hope people took away: Matthew 7. This chapter plays a central role in my personal worldview & ministry. Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus is speaking of Christians. I was REALLY hoping that people would pay close attention to how Jesus uses the words “many” and “few” in those 10 verses! Because if you read that carefully, pay close attention, that should cause you as a Christian to gut check yourself. Not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The past to destruction is wide and many are on it. Many will say unto Him in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not _____ in your name?” I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of the few who find that narrow way, and I want to point others towards it so that they may enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

CHRIS: I hope other people were able to see the broken down teachings and really let them sink in without the noise of contextual sermonizing or other texts. The words of Christ stand alone, and they have power…if we heed them. Otherwise we’re like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.

There you have it, folks. Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? What do you think? How did it hit you?

 

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Useless & Worthless People

Today ends our final segment of bouncing back from difficult times. Because they WILL come, and we don’t want to be people who break – we want to be people who bounce.

It’s about being spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Then we discussed embracing change instead of fearing it. Last time we talked about being intentional about living in community and allowing our connection to others to help us bounce back.

UselessWe wrap up today talking about recognizing the value that you have – about seeing the worth and meaning in your life. When it comes to our ability to bounce back or break in difficult times, less is more. What I mean is this: feeling useless, worthless, meaningless is a fast-track to breaking.

Useless — feeling that you contribute nothing to anyone and are only a burden (even if those people protest the opposite)

Worthless —  one of the key reasons for people to exist is have a deep sense of personal worth

Meaningless — when one has no purpose

  • The Imago Dei

Finding use, worth, and meaning begins with the proper theological understanding of the place of humanity. In theological circles we talk about the Imago Dei – the image of God imprinted on all humanity.

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

With the image of God on you, your value stems NOT from anything you bring to the table. It’s about God’s work in your life. This is your source of value. That means…

  • You’re a Corvette, Not a Pinto

The Apostle Paul talks about it in terms of purchase price.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

There is no higher price anyone can pay than life itself. And if this is the purchase price for you, you’ve got to ask yourself if you are living up to your purchase price! Are you living like a Corvette or do you look in the mirror and see a Pinto? This is the very message Jesus is trying to tell us.

  • Jesus Says, Human Life Has Intrinsic Value!

Matthew 6:26 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

While all life is important, there is no other creature that is made in the image of God (see point 1 above). The Imago Dei, God’s thumbprint on humanity, sets us apart from all other life on earth. We are special to God.

You are special to God.

God redeems people that the world spurns. A great example of this is Onesimus, a runaway slave who encountered the Apostle Paul and became a Christian. Paul wrote back to Onesimus’s owner and talked about the difference Christ makes in life.

It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. (Philemon 9-12)

Or how about Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment that God used to save a nation? Or how about Jesus, the bastard child of a teen mother who brought salvation to the world? A Christian singer/songwriter wrote years ago:

God uses improbable people for impossible tasks.

Because God doesn’t put value on us the way the world does. When the world looks down on people, God lifts us up. When the world says, “Useless,” God says, “Useful.” When people say, “Good for nothing,” God says, “I’ve got a purpose and meaning for you.”

When therapists and counselors worked on these underlying “less” issues, they saw a dramatic turnaround in suicidal ideations. Feeling useless, worthless, and meaningless leaves people with the belief that there’s nothing worth sticking around for. Helping them find use, worth, and meaning radically alters one’s outlook. Suffering they couldn’t deal with became pain they could.

Less might be more to the world, but our “less” has never mattered to God. He IS our more.

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

 

 

Not Our Kids: When Christian Nationalism Gets Ugly

FOX-Friends-Co-HostsOn Fox & Friends today, Brian Kilmeade made a remark that the immigrant kids coming over the border are not something to get upset about because we have our own kids to worry about. Here are his words:

And these are not — like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas. These are people from another country and now people are saying that they’re more important than people in our country who are paying taxes and who have needs as well.

Someone asked me how, then, we’re supposed to talk about the tough choices of immigration, security, etc. It is fine to talk about tough choices. But that is not what’s happening here.

The statement, “These are not our kids,” is a justification for not feeling bad about what is happening to immigrant families. The statement says, “We would be justified in feeling bad if these were American kids, but since they’re foreigners, lighten up.”

Kilmeade, facing intense criticism for his remarks, put out a follow-up statement on social media:

On FOX & Friends earlier, Of course-I didn’t mean to make it seem like children coming into the U.S. illegally are less important because they live in another country. I have compassion for all children, especially for all the kids separated from their parents right now.

It’s hard to believe him when he EXPRESSLY commented that people from other countries are less important than Americans. He made the comparison between foreigners and “the people of Idaho or Texas.” I have rarely heard such un-Christian comments from people who claim to be God-fearing people.

I’m not making comments about American policy or policy makers. I’m not getting political. My remarks are about the American attitude towards outsiders. In the Bible, the people of Israel are told treat foreigners well BECAUSE they had been in that position themselves!

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

Or how about:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

I know, I know.

This is the part where Conservatives talk about how Israel was in a different situation and those verses don’t apply to America – which is HUGELY ironic because Conservative Christians are quick to claim the promises of Israel for America for everything else.

hands across the world.Again – not talking about policy. What I AM saying is that the God-fearing person cannot look at anyone as “other than.” There’s no “us and them” in God’s kingdom. Yes, the geo-political world in which we live will always draw lines, but how we VIEW people cannot be divided. The Christian must pursue the welfare and well-being of all, because all humanity bears God’s image.

Christians aren’t given the right to say, “America first, to heck with everyone else. There’s no us and them.

There’s only us.

 

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling Alone

This is our fourth installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Last time we discussed embracing change instead of fearing it. Today we talk about bouncing back through our deep relationships.

People who have strong connections are more resistant to stress. The more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be because you have a strong support network to fall back on.

Surround yourself by people who make you feel good and further your development. Poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island”. People who know more about the issue than I do say that the more we isolate ourselves, the more we increase our stress and frustration.  Al Gore said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

were-here-to-pump-you-upAnother quirky element of being part of community is that other people can also have an impact on our effort levels.  If the person next to you is working hard then it increases your work ethic.

I have seen this in the gym and at Command PT time and again. If you’re paired with someone who puts out minimal effort, your own effort will diminish. If you’re with someone who is PUMPED UP and giving maximum effort, your own efforts will improve!

Why be part of a deep and authentic community?

  • We were made to exist in community

Genesis 1 lays the groundwork for it. Every time God creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.” But out of the ENTIRE created world, there is only ONE thing that is “not good.”

It is not good for man to be alone.

So man goes on a quest to find a perfect partner. None can be found. So God takes matters into his own hands and creates woman, the perfect partner for man, and thus the first community was established. We were built to exist and thrive when we take care of each other in community. Which leads us to the next point —

  • Taking care of others takes care of yourself.

Being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience. Researchers have found that serotonin is used more efficiently by people who engage in acts of kindness. That means the more you do kind things for others, the happier and more resilient you will be. It’s almost like we were created to do good works. If only there were a Bible verse that could back up this theory…

Oh, wait:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

 

  • Authentic Community helps us bounce back

Community groups help us as we wrestle with difficulties. AA, NA, Bible Study Groups, take your pick – being plugged into communities gives us resources and support to manage difficult times and not break. The Apostle Paul talks about this kind of thing in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 15:1-3 ~ We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

And, in the end, this is about what real family looks like. It’s not about shared blood – it’s about choosing to be an intentional part of a community of like-minded people. People who spur us on. People who won’t let us quit. People we impact and who impact us. People who keep us from breaking.

This is family.

 

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling with Change

Welcome to our third installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Today we talk about facing down change.

Last week I read a quotation from writer H.P. Lovecraft:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

Change-1080x675Those are some DEEP words. I’ll be totally upfront with you – I’m one of those people who fear the unknown. And nothing brings about the unknown faster than change. It can be change in your job, change in your family, change in your social status, change in the government, or ANYWHERE else in life.

Change brings the unknown.

The unknown brings fear.

People who are know more than I do about psychology note that humans LOVE certainty.

Uncertainty registers as an error, gap, or tension in the brain: something that must be corrected before one can feel comfortable again. That is why people crave certainty. Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This can diminish memory, undermine performance, and disengage people from the present.

Humanity has been wrestling with change and uncertainty since the dawn of time. From ancient philosophers, to Kansas, to Bill and Ted, the reality of change and the transitory nature of life has overwhelmed us.

This is a prevalent theme of the biblical book Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

When we’re faced with change, many of us will freeze. Change becomes overwhelming and breaks us. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes felt overwhelmed by the permanence of change. That word “meaningless” in the King James English is “vanity.” It literally means “transitory” or “impermanent.”

Life. Is. Change.

But change doesn’t have to break us. How can we bounce back in the face of overwhelming change? Here are a couple tips:

  • Acknowledge the change. One of he most important thing to do when change is happening is to acknowledge it. Running and hiding from your problems never solves them. It may delay them for a bit, but acknowledging them is the best way to move towards overcoming the difficulty.
  • Face your fears. Go through each fear brought up by the oncoming (or already present) change and write down what you would do if that fear came to pass. It’s about shifting perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote about shifting perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Instead of focusing on the seen here and now, shift your gaze to that which has REAL permanence – God! Scripture declares that He NEVER changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who never changes is walking beside you through all of your changes. He is facing them with you, so focus on that instead of the change.

  • Seek support. Many of us don’t like asking for help. The Christian community was DESIGNED to be a source of support for the believer. We ought to be taking care of each other. You should know that I have your back, and I should know that you have mine. Change is less scary when you’re going through it with someone you know and trust!
  • Switch out fearful thoughts with positive ones. Getting back to hope, we can choose to focus on positive aspects of pending change. For example, one of the changes people fear the most is death. Paul takes the idea of passing into the next life and puts an incredibly positive spin on it:

1 Corinthians 15:50-52 ~ I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Make it a habit to focus on the positive things that change can bring.

You’re not going to be able to escape change. But it doesn’t have to break you. Realize that change is a normal (albeit stressful) part of life. But it IS a normal of life. Back to Ecclesiastes, the writer says in a very famous passage:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Change is gonna come. But it won’t break you.

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Maintaining Hope

This is number two in our “Bouncing Back” series, where we’re dealing with being spiritually anchored so that we can weather any storm. Last time we talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. Today we’re talking about maintaining hope.

Hope is a funny thing. We’re willing to pay good money for hope. We probably don’t think of it like that, but we do. That’s the power behind the infomercial. These infomercials blast us day in and day out (and in the wee hours of the morning when there’s no regular programming on t.v.). These “as seen on tv” products are trying to sell hope – hope that buying a particular product will be the miracle to cure whatever troubles us. Like the Snuggie.

C’mon, people!

It’s. A. Backwards. Robe.

But it calls out to us and gives us hope that life would be better if we just had…. This is the power of the infomercial – it plays off of hope. My wife and I used to be in the habit of having cable news playing in the background during the day. I realized that we needed to stop when my then-5 year old got to me after work one day and said, “Daddy, we need to get a sunsetter!”

No, baby girl, we don’t NEED one. Not at all.

But humanity believes that these little doses of hope will make life better. But the emotion of hope is something that comes and goes. These temporary things cannot be enough to sustain long-term hope. Lasting hope has to be rooted in something much deeper. Lasting hope must be rooted in something bigger than ourselves or the stuff we fill our lives with.

Lasting hope is spiritually anchored.

The Bible talks a lot about hope, and the people who need it.

For the oppressed will not always be forgotten;
the hope of the afflicted will not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:24-25)

You see, when we talk about bouncing back from life’s troubles, it is hope that gives us the bounce! And while we sometimes think that troubles kill hope, hope and affliction can co-exist.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. (Romans 12:11-12)

The Apostle tells us to rejoice in hope WHILE TELLING US TO BE PATIENT IN AFFLICTION! They’re happening simultaneously. In a nutshell, then, hope is about holding on to that better tomorrow in spite of the difficulties of today. But how do we develop hope?

  • Build a future focus.

We get so caught up in today’s troubles we lose sight of tomorrow. But we know that everything in this life is temporary. Life itself is temporary! We’re all headed towards that same destination – the grave. But the Christian has hope beyond the grave, for we know the day is coming when we stand in the presence and perfection of God. This hope has sustained Christians through the worst time and persecutions imaginable.

Don’t be so caught in the “here & now” that you lose hold of the “there & then.”

  • Work on a path to tomorrow.

We know that life will get tough. Obstacles are going to hit. Instead of letting them stop us, we need to plan our path towards tomorrow. Asses your life like it’s a number line.

numberline_0-30

If the obstacle has your life stuck at 5, don’t try to jump to 30. Ask what it’s going to take to get to 6. Then, when you find your life is at 6, ask what you can do to move up to a 7. The point is you keep at it little by little.

I have a friend who was convinced that God had a certain destination for his life. The problem was that obstacle after obstacle kept being thrown at him. It was discouraging. A mutual mentor of ours told him, “If you believe this is where God wants you to be, you CANNOT stop trying. Do EVERYTHING to keep moving in that direction.” It took years but it finally happened!

  • Finally, recognize God’s plan in your life regardless of personal circumstances.

Sorrow doesn’t have to diminish hope. God can work through your suffering. God and work in spite of your suffering. Hope remains, because it’s grounded in God’s activity, not our changing circumstances. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who prayed earnestly that God would remove a personal obstacle, his “thorn in his flesh.”

Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Your obstacle may never be resolved the way you want it. It doesn’t stop God’s grace from being present in your life. Hope stays, no matter what happens today.

Let’s hold on to a better tomorrow.

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

hope-hero

Bouncing Back From Unbeatable Obstacles

Sometimes life throws some horrible stuff our way and we face all sorts of obstacles. Too often those obstacles, those life crises, have a way of driving us to our breaking point. When we break we reach a point where ending our lives seems like most viable option. As of a couple years ago, the suicide rate in America is about 13 per 100,000. So how do we avoid getting to the point where we break? Since we can’t avoid crises for an entire lifetime, the issue is not about getting away from obstacles but rather learning how to bounce rather than break.

glassThink about a glass that’s slammed on the floor. It’s going to shatter. But replace the glass with a super-ball, one of those rubber balls that kids love to play with (no matter how many times you say, “DON’T BOUNCE THAT IN THE HOUSE!). No matter how hard you slam that ball down, it won’t break.

It simply bounces.

This is the perspective we need to get to when we think about the crises and difficulties in our lives. And the first step in becoming people who bounce instead of break is this:

Stop seeing obstacles as unbeatable problems.

Little EngineThink about The Little Engine That Could. This poor little engine was tasked with trying to get all the toys to the remote town. His only problem was that there was a great big mountain standing in the way. But he doesn’t let the obstacle sit in his mind as an unbeatable problem. Instead, he begins attacking the mountain and tells himself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Eventually he does!

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. That’s a kid’s story! Fair enough. How about an adult example from the Bible? I’m talking about the 12 Spies of Israel? As God was bringing the Israelite nation out of slavery and to the land of promise, Moses sent scouts ahead to check out the land and look for potential pitfalls. While the land was perfect for the people and produced excellent crops, the scouts encountered a crisis.

They reported to Moses: “We went into the land where you sent us. Indeed it is flowing with milk and honey, and here is some of its fruit. However, the people living in the land are strong, and the cities are large and fortified. We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!” 

So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.” (Numbers 13)

Only 2 of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, thought it could be done. Everyone else thought the obstacle was unbeatable – and that was with the promise of God on their side! Because of their lack of faith and trust, only Caleb and Joshua ended up getting into the promised land. The rest never made it out of the wilderness. While we’re not dealing with God’s promised land, there’s a principle that rings true about the crises that we face:

Believing something to be unbeatable defeats you before you even get started.

Can you imagine a boxer who gets into the ring thinking, “There’s no way I can beat this guy.” He won’t. Likewise, when we face crises we must start with an understanding that nothing is insurmountable.

Just because an obstacle is in your way doesn’t mean you stop moving! – when there’s a mountain in your way you figure out a way past it. You go around it. You climb over it. You dig under it. If you have to, build a fricking airplane. My point is that you have to exhaust EVERY avenue – every option – to overcoming the problem. You never.stop.moving!

The Bible talks a whole bunch about overcoming trials and/or troubles. Just a couple, for example:

  • Jeremiah 1:19 ~ They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

  • John 16:32-33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 I recognize that we don’t get to claim someone else’s promise for ourselves. I’m not an ancient Israelite worried about invading armies, so God’s promise to deliver from people fighting against is not aimed at me. There is a general principle in the Bible, though, that affirms that God IS present with the faithful and will aid in helping us persevere and overcome difficulties and trials in life.

Heck, Jesus PROMISES that we’ll have troubles in life. Anyone who tells you life will be a piece of cake is either lying to you or trying to sell you something. But in spite of the troubles, we have the promise of a present God to be with us.

So in a nutshell, how do we work on getting over the insurmountable?

  • Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope is what allows us to bounce instead of break. Rather than fixating on the problem of today, maintain a future-oriented outlook. You are a person who has value and worth – this world is impacted JUST because of your presence in it. So anticipate a better tomorrow.
  • Memorialize your problems and your victories. When God was leading Israel under Joshua, they came to the Jordan river and didn’t have a great outlook for crossing. But God stopped the waters so the people could cross. Afterward, they decided to memorialize God’s work:

So Joshua summoned the 12 men he had selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, and said to them, “Go across to the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Joshua 4)

Remembering what God did in the past helps us as we go through crises today. We know that God HAS acted and we have reasonable hope that He WILL act again!

  • Take it in bite-sized chunks. It’s like that age-old joke: How do you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME! Lame joke, I know, but you get the idea. Overcoming your crises may not be an instant thing. It could take time. Some days you’ll feel like you have the strength and speed of a gazelle. Other days it will be all you can do to take baby steps. Just.Keep.Moving.
  • Finally, talk to yourself. Pump yourself up. Motivate yourself. When I face difficult things I actually talk out loud (when no one else is around!). I say things like: I got this! I can do this! This, too, shall pass!

There are numerous examples of people who faced difficulties before finally overcoming and succeeding.

  • Thomas Edison was told as a kid, “You’re too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers for his first book because they thought it was no good.
  • The story goes that Elvis was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was told to go back to driving a truck.

No obstacle is worth breaking over. We don’t have to break.

Live your life by the mantra:

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

Be someone who can bounce.

Boiling Water

When People Become Animals

Man, it is SO easy to get offended these days. In fact, it seems we LOOK for ways to be offended by the people we know we disagree with. Case in point – the internet has lost its ever-lovin’ mind over President Trump’s comments about gang members not being people but being animals.

angrydogOnce again, people drew the line based largely on party affiliations. Trump supporters said, “Of COURSE those horrible, vicious, brutal gang members are animals!” Trump opponents made it out as though Mr. Trump labeled ALL illegal immigrant as animals.

In reality, Mr. Trump did NOT make blanket statements about immigrants. And, as a decent human being (at least I like to THINK I am), the decency-loving person within me says, “Yes! Vicious and brutal murderers ARE animals! This is probably a very common reaction from law-abiding citizens of the world. Decent people don’t behave this way. There are certain things one can do to forfeit his place within humanity.

But then the Bible quietly comes alongside us and says, “That’s not the right way to think.”

In fact, time and again the Bible tells us that ALL people are made in God’s image. The Latin phrase in theological circles is the Imago Dei (Image of God). And it has its foundation in Genesis 1:27 ~

So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.

Humanity bears the image of God. It doesn’t say that certain people bear God’s image and others are just outta luck. It doesn’t say that people forfeit God’s image based on bad behavior. We ALL carry God’s image. WE don’t get to take that away from someone merely because we find their behavior atrocious.

And because all humanity bears the image of God, and because we are all people, we all have the possibility of redemption. To take away someone’s personhood is to say they are beyond God’s grace and redemption But the Bible doesn’t stop there. What if the gang members NEVER come to Jesus? What if they are ALWAYS an enemy? Jesus talks about that, too.

You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. ~ Matthew 5:43-44

Really, Jesus?!?

Why you gotta get all up in our bizness? The Apostle Paul keeps the theme going!

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. ~ Romans 12:19-21

I’m not so naive as to think Jesus and Paul are regulating our politics. I’m not saying there’s a 1-to-1 correlation whereby Scripture DIRECTLY seeks to influence policy. I AM saying that Christians are held to a HIGHER standard when it comes to how we think of people – even those people who would do physical harm to us.

I understand the “They’re animals!” mentality. But we must set aside our own feelings and take up the biblical point of view in how we see and treat others – and that includes gang members.

Blame Your Brain – The Reason You Do Stupid Things

Writer William Arther Ward once wrote: “Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking.” In other words, what we think and the way we think will shape our worlds.

I read about a research study by a Dr. J. Haskins, who spent 12 years researching the effects of media on how people think. One study group listened to programs with negative news 5 minutes a day. The other group listened to more uplifting and positive news.

  1. The negative group was more depressed than before
  2. They believed the world was a negative place
  3. They were less likely to help others
  4. They began to believe that negative things would soon happen to them

Their concept of reality was shaped by their thoughts.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not talking about some Neo-level world manipulation like in The Matrix.

 

But the things we focus on, dwell on, meditate on, will shape our realities and our course in life. Just ask any ad exec. Once they can get you hooked in your mind, the decision to buy it will quickly follow. What you put into your head become your reality.

 

Pastor Chip Ingram uses this to talk about our paths toward good or bad consequences.

stinkin thinkin

He says, “If you want life to dramatically change—to get out of a rut of destructive emotions or bad habits—it all begins with what goes into your mind.” Thus the Apostle Paul writes:

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

So what are you dwelling on? When you’re on a long drive, when you’re relaxing at home, when you’re channel surfing…what are you putting into your mind?

There’s an old expression that says: GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. If you fill your mind with garbage that’s what your life will be filled with. If you follow the Bible’s guidance, filling your mind and life with God-thoughts will produce good fruit.

So here are 4 quick tips to start filling yourself with good thoughts and to eliminate your stinkin’ thinkin’!

 

  1. Memorize/meditate on Scripture
  2. Use drive time to listen to something meaningful or to ponder deep truths
  3. Experience great art (visual, music, literature, etc.)
  4. Take walks to examine/appreciate God through nature

What about you? What are some ways you fill your mind with God-thoughts and eliminate negative thoughts? You can change your outcome and behavior by changing your brain!