What’s Your Pet Peeve?

Pet Peeve

Everybody has one. Even if you don’t like to admit it or talk about it, there is probably one in your life. Of course, you all know what I am talking about. I am talking about phrases and expressions that you hate, words that irritate and annoy you. Does anyone in your life use an expression or phrase that really tweaks you? My wife hates “A.S.A.P.” She doesn’t mind if I say, “As soon as possible,” but heaven forbid I say “A.S.A.P.” or “A-SAP.” It also bothers her if I say “guac” instead of guacamole. I don’t know why – it’s just one of those things that rubs her the wrong way.

Is there any particular phrase or expression that always bothered you? What is it? For me it was hearing people say, “Same difference.” Aaagghhhh! Either it’s the same or it’s different! The only way you have a same difference is if you compare 9 minus 5 and with 10 minus 6. What do 9 – 5 and 10 – 6 have in common? They have the same difference. Other than math, things are the same or they are different – there is no same difference.

There is, however, something to be said for being the same. If everyone shares similar tastes or has similar interests then companies can sell millions of product X. If your product doesn’t fit the mold of “this is what everyone wants,” you don’t sell very many. Some years back my wife and I enjoyed watching American Inventor on tv. Did anybody else ever watch that show? The premise was this – thousands of people bring their inventive creations before a panel of judges and explain why their product is the next great American invention. It’s like American Idol for inventors. One couple had invented a device called the “Tea Brain.” It was a device that allows you to brew loose-leaf tea in your coffee maker. One judge in particular thought that this was an idea that would appeal to millions of people – there is a large and shared interest in tea. Then came another pair of inventors – engineer buddies from who invented a new claw for hanging bikes.

The judge that loved the “Tea Brain” hated this claw. He thought it would not be universal enough to be popular. This is how our capitalistic society trains us to be. Something is good only if it has mass appeal. If something is too unique and doesn’t blend in enough, it should probably be discarded. Unfortunately, the same is often true of how people are treated.

Our modern world likes to pretend that we embrace differences but there is a limitation on how different people will allow you to be. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference interferes with other people’s actions. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference makes people feel uncomfortable. Look at issues of faith – you can believe whatever you want to believe and I can believe whatever I want to believe and everything is peaches and cream until one person tells another, “You can’t do that” or “You shouldn’t behave like this.” That’s just crossing the line. You and your weird religious beliefs can’t dictate the way I live my life. The funny thing is, when we really examine the issue, differences aren’t really embraced anyway. Those who are “different” are ostracized, mocked, and mistreated.

I’m sure many of you have a story about the awkward and eccentric kid in high school. Maybe you were that kid. You know who I’m talking about, the kid everyone made fun of and teased. The Napoleon Dynamites of the world.

In my high school his name was John. He was different. He stood out. He didn’t fit the mold created by the masses. I always thought, “Thank God I’m not that awkward and geeky. I don’t want to stand out like that – I want to be an accepted part of the group. I think this is a normal reaction for people of all ages. I don’t want to stand out and have others look down on me – I want to be like everyone else. This is the line of thought that Peter is attacking in his letter.

Peter’s message is as clear today as it was for his church centuries ago –

You have a special calling to be God’s people. Therefore you ought to be different from the rest of the world and be like Christ.

4:1-6 – Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge in with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are no dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Peter’s church was a suffering church, but he presents here an idea that we don’t like to accept; present suffering is good for the Christian life. “Say what?!?!? Suffering is good for the Christian life? I don’t believe that. That doesn’t make any sense. If God wanted to make sense, he would say that pleasure is good for the Christian life.” Anyone out there hear me? But I’ll say it again – present suffering is good for the Christian life. I am not saying that God hands out suffering. Peter is not saying that God causes suffering. But suffering has the ability to move us towards God, and Peter patterns human behavior after Jesus’ behavior. If Christ suffered, so can we. So accept suffering, draw close to God, and live for and seek His will.

Peter tells us that we’ve already done enough sin in the past. Now it’s time to live out the calling as His chosen people. We are to be different than we used to be. Notice Peter’s two contrasting time frames: past behavior vs. present and coming behavior. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are in the present and the future because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. Have you seen the movie, Back to the Future?

It’s a classic and one of my favorites. At the beginning of the movie, Marty McFly’s parents are a real mess. They are a mess because they used to be a mess in the past and never changed. Through the course of the movie, Marty travels back in time, has a run-in with his past parents, and then returns to his own time to find that his parents, especially his father, had changed completely. Marty’s dad changed, and who he was in the past was no longer who he was in the future because of his encounter with Marty. Believe it or not, this is what Peter is telling us needs to happen with our own lives. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are supposed to be now because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. We are supposed to be radically different.

Being morally and spiritually different brought abuse to Peter’s church – their old friends didn’t like their new behavior, didn’t understand, and so abused, mocked, and ridiculed the new Christians because of their differences. Like Peter’s church, we have the same responsibility to be different, to stand out from the world and not fit in. It’s okay to be different. No, not just okay – it is what God asks of us – that we be different.

No matter how the world lives, God’s people have a calling to be different, to stand out no matter what the consequences. We don’t need to concern ourselves with their judgment. Peter makes it clear that they will have to give account of their actions and behavior to God. The real question is, are you ready to give account? Are you different? Have gone through a “Back to the Future” transformation, where your current and future actions are different from your past actions?

It’s time to take inventory of your life. Where do stand out from the world? Where do you blend in too much? Your language? Your mental habits? Your sexual behavior? Your social interactions? Your hidden sins that you never want revealed? It’s time for us to stand up and stand out. Our behavior should not reflect the world. Our old friends should be upset that we’re not joining them in their lifestyles anymore. That is not who we are. We are His, and we need to act like it.

Fighting Discrimination

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this country has lost its ever-lovin’ mind. It is clearer than ever before that we face sharp distinctions between categories of people. Distinctions in and of themselves are not bad things. Our lives fall into categories based on a variety of things: age group, ethnicity, gender, education level, income, homeowner or renter…and the list goes on and on. It’s impossible to live a “category-free” life.

The problem is when we discriminate based on categories. In simpler terms, discrimination is about playing favorites. Every grade-school child knows about playing favorites. The popular or athletic kids are always picked first for games. The kids in the negative categories (unpopular, overweight, uncoordinated, whatever) are discriminated against and picked last – if picked at all. Playing favorites. Discrimination. It’s the same thing. It’s about treating some people more or less favorably based upon some quality or characteristic.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been going on since the dawn of time. In his letter to the Diaspora James writes:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

James’ audience had a particular problem of treating wealthy people better than they treated the poor. The rich got the best seats and the most attention. The poor got the floor and the cold shoulder. The principle at work in his churches is the same principle that drives discrimination today: paying attention and responding to outward appearances is the primary way of showing partiality.

Not only is discrimination incompatible with authentic Christian behavior but it is actually sinful. It is contrary to the will and character of God to discriminate against and treat people as less-than because of a category to which they belong. If you show partiality you are committing sin. That’s not me saying that – it’s the Bible. The Bible repeatedly tries to move us away from a mindset of discriminating against people, showing favoritism, because of their categories.

One of the most popular stories from the Gospels is about Jesus calling out his disciples for discriminating:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

Even Jesus’ closest companions fell into discrimination. It happens whenever we start to think less of someone because of his status. He doesn’t count as much, he’s only a child. She doesn’t count as much, she’s just a woman. They don’t count as much, they’re not _________ (fill in the blank). There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t play favorites – why do we? It’s because we let our identity come from our categories rather than from God. We’re ethnic before we’re Christian. We’re political before we’re Christian. We’re employees before we’re Christian. We’ve got our priorities backwards. We need to shed the classifications of this world. Our sense of identity ought to come from God.

So what’s the answer? First, we have to change our allegiances, our priorities, our categories. We need to stop seeing others with the classifications of this world and start seeing people through God’s eyes. It comes down to loving people the same way you love yourself (a biblical concept). No one wants to be treated as less-than or other-than. So don’t treat others that way.

Second, we need to see OURSELVES without the categories of this world and see ourselves through God’s eyes. One of the early leaders in church history was a young guy named Timothy. It seems that some preferred to classify Tim by his age rather than by his calling as Pastor. Paul instructs Tim to shed the human classifications and to remember the calling that God has given you.

It’s time to make a change. It’s time for Christians to lead the charge. We should not put up with discrimination. We should recognize that identity is not determined by human categories but on our Creator. Imagine a world where physical distinctions disappear and we treat each other decently simply because we’re all made by the same creator. It’s tough – I know. But try. Drop all the other labels and put on this one: CHILD OF GOD.

How about you? How have you been discriminated against? In all honesty, how have you discriminated against others?

Bubba Has a Compulsion

Too Many Apps!
Too Many Apps!

Bubba is what we call our three year old. He’s an awesome kid. He can light up a room with his infectious grin. He’s a very happy kid who naturally attracts affection from everyone who sees him. I don’t think this is parental bias – I actually believe this about my son. But he has a problem. He has a compulsion. He’s addicted to apps.

Yes, you heard that right. He’s addicted to apps. On my wife’s phone. On her Kindle. Wherever he can find them. He’s got a compulsion – he MUST buy new apps.

The other night my wife and I were downstairs talking when our inbox received notification after notification about new apps that “we” had purchased and downloaded. I looked at the time stamp on the emails and exclaimed to my wife, “THIS IS HAPPENING NOW!” Mind you – it was 10 p.m. I bolted off the couch and went bounding up the stairs and burst into the kids’ room to discover that Bub had crept out of bed when the lights were off and parents were downstairs. He snuck into our bedroom and slipped Momma’s Kindle off of the charger and ran back to bed to download apps to his heart’s content. He’s done the same thing with my wife’s phone. In the past two weeks “we” have bought $20 in apps from the Kindle store. It’s kind of like the time our daughter purchased $200 in game tokens for a Facebook game, but that’s a story for a different post.

Anyway, back to Bubba. It’s almost like he can’t help himself. He has a problem. A gaming problem. Any time I hear people talk about having a problem my mind (being the movie fanatic that I am) always goes to the movie Airplane where the main character has a drinking problem.

While I find the word play amusing I understand that lack of self-control is not funny. It’s not just lack of self-control when it comes to alcohol, for there are quite a few areas where not having control leads to serious problems. As humans we often see lack of self-control in spending, alcohol, eating, sexuality, gossip, time management, and every other area of life.

Sometimes we try to play it off as though it’s no big deal. It’s only money. It’s only food. It’s my life – so what if I want to get hammered. The defensive talk goes on and on. The issue isn’t about what you have a right to do vs. what you are restricted from doing. The real issue is about the nature of God’s character and His intended goal for our character.

The Bible is not silent when it comes to self-control:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (I Timothy 3:2)

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness…. (2 Peter 1:5-6)

These are not even all of the passages relating to self-control. Clearly, then, there is something to this self-control thing that God desires us to wrap our minds around and to put into practice. Yet we fail time and again to do it. Why can’t we beat it? It seems to come down to gratification. We throw self-control out the window because we like the feeling of indulgence.

Please understand that this is not to negate the harmful power of physiological addiction on the body. But even then, one of the difficulties in breaking addiction is the strong pull back to gratification. To be honest, one of my greatest struggles with self-control is in the area of my eating. I love food. I love the feeling of consuming great tasting food. I like being full. I dislike being hungry. At least I’m not alone – there are a lot of overweight pastors. In fact, it seems to be the issue of choice for many pastors when it comes to lacking self-control. How many overweight pastors have you seen? There are a lot of us. Yet it’s impossible to deny that God calls us to self-control.

So we wrestle. We wrestle with the knowledge of what we know is God’s “best” for our lives – his desire for our character – and the sinful desire that attempts to satisfy human pleasure and refuse self-control.

Whatever you struggle with in your fight for self-control you should know that you are not alone. It’s part of the human condition. There’s something in all of us that wants to just let go in some area. Sometimes it is harmful, sometimes it is personal. It’s not about whether or not our self-control affects anyone else or not (I’ve heard many alcoholics say, “It’s my life – leave me alone”). What it is really about is that God is characterized by self-control and wants the same for us.

So you can start your journey today. Recognize what it is in your life that you lose self-control to. Make a plan to beat it. Tell someone and allow him to hold you accountable. Find a sponsor. Get into a program. Join a Bible study group. Do something, but don’t just sit back and allow your life to be dominated by your lack. It’s not God’s best for your life. You could be so much more.

And maybe one day we can break Bubba from his app addiction.

 

How about you? Where do you need self-control? Where do you struggle?

Why Democrats Are Wrong (okay…Republicans, too)

United We Stand...
United We Stand…

We live in a highly polarized society. Sometimes it feels that moderates are seen as wishy-washy and that, if you were truly a believer in your cause, you ought to gravitate towards one extreme or the other. I have joked that being a true moderate is tough because the Right accuses you of selling out while the Left accuses you of not selling enough! But I believe that the best view is a moderate view – that extremism can lead us into dangerous waters. Please allow me to expound.

The Left/Liberal/Progressive/whatdowecallitthesedays? side is often seen as the side that cares about issues pertaining to social justice, people care, and advocacy.

The Right/Conservative/Fundamentalists/whatdowecallitthesedays? side is often seen as the side that cares about issues pertaining to piety, personal righteousness, and morality. The talking heads from both ends of the spectrum use these stereotypes to beat up their opponents. Left commentators talk about how uncaring Right politicians and leaders are. Right commentators talk about how the Left wants to destroy family values and morality and turn this nation into one giant Socialist commune.

I believe that there are positive elements to both sides (now would be an appropriate time to gasp and start writing your apologetic diatribe for the comments section). Not only are there positive elements to both sides, but I believe that God calls us to a more moderate position – the only real way forward.

In the New Testament, the letter of James tells us:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

BAM. There it is. There are two sides to this coin. James is both Liberal AND Conservative at the same time! Can it be?!? He tells us that pure religion is two-sided. Part one is the social justice element that the Left loves so much – take care of widows and orphans in their distress. With the Ancient Near East (ANE) workforce being what it was, if you were a widow or an orphan you were just plumb outta luck. You had a good chance of going without food, shelter, or any other basic necessity. It was the job of the religious faithful to care for these who could not care for themselves. If you extend that principle into our modern society we would probably do well to add other groups in there. While widows can join the workforce, are we seeking to take care of people who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised? Are we actively looking to care for those who are in a bad way? Who have no leg up in society? If not then all of our religion can be flushed down the pooper.

But on the other side of the coin James shows us his Conservative streak. Pure and faultless religion includes keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. There is an element of personal righteousness, morality, and character involved. Without it, our religion is junk and is worthless. All you Conservatives – give a cheer! Character counts. It doesn’t matter how many poor people you help, how many social programs you implement, or how much to create a Socialist environment that takes care of everyone and every little thing. Without righteousness and holiness is worthless.

So where does that leave us? I believe that it means that faithful Christians ought to examine their politics in light of the Bible. It means that those of us who lean Left need to remember that holiness matters. Those of us who lean Right need to remember that practically caring for people matters. It’s not one or the other. It’s BOTH AND.

If we actually lived this way we’d put a lot of the talking heads out of work. Their books, radio shows, and news programs thrive on dividing people to the extreme. But it’s not biblical, for we are called to both. So…you up for it? Will you put faith before politics and try to live BOTH AND? Let’s put some talking heads out of work. 😉

How about you? What experiences have you had with the Left, the Right, or trying to walk the Moderate middle?

Listen Up, Shut Up, and Calm Down

So is a grenade...
So is a grenade…

We may not live in the Wild West but sometimes we sure do act like it. We become gunslingers, looking to take down our enemy at high noon. Instead of six-shooters, though, we use words. Words have power.

With our words we can cut people down. With our words we can cripple another. With our words we can destroy a reputation or even cripple a business. Words have power. You may have found yourself on the wrong end of someone’s words  – what they say to you or about you is terrible and difficult, like looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum.

Perhaps you’ve already faced the destruction that comes from someone’s harsh and hurtful words and now you’re trying to recover as best you can. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

Too many fail to see how powerful their words are. The tongue can be an ugly thing. We throw around terms and phrases without thinking about the consequences of those power weapons. In the Army every warfighter has to qualify with their rifle. When we go to the range to shoot the instructors are clear to remind Soldiers that they have the responsibility to know where their targets are and what lies beyond. Every time a bullet comes out of the rifle the Soldier is responsible for what happens on the other end. What would happen if we started treating our words in a similar fashion? Stop speaking so quickly and think about your intended target and what happens beyond. Where do the words go? Who might the words hit? Human speech has an enormous capacity for harm or for good. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

The Bible has some practical advice on how we should behave when it comes to our mouths. Not merely some abstract thoughts here – concrete steps on what we can do to gain control of our mouths, to stop tearing people down, and to start building people up. It’s not difficult at all – just three things to remember:

~ Listen up, shut up, and calm down. I don’t know about you, but every time I’m told to “do something” there is a part of me that wants to rebel and do the exact opposite. I remember one time when my wife thought I was driving too fast and told me so. Rather than admit that I might be going a little too fast I punched the gas. Not smart, but that seems to be a human response. When God tells us to listen up, shut up, and calm down there’s part of us that wants to say, “WHAT?!? YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” Of course, the Bible doesn’t phrase it so coarsely. It says:

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Yeah, that’s much nicer. But the point is the same. We too often fly off at the handle and speak without listening, embracing rage and anger. I don’t want to beat a dead horse but we’ve seen just this thing happen in response to the Zimmerman/Martin issue. God says, “Listen first, speak second, and hold back on the anger.” But we’re doing just the opposite! An entire nation is quick to speak, slow to listen, and fanning the flames of rage and anger. In all fairness, it’s both sides of the fence that are behaving this way – not merely one party.

We forget that words have power. Racist words. Sexist words. Slander & Gossip. Manipulation. There are many ways that we use language to cut each other down. And we let our rage fuel our pet issues. But the Bible is clear that human anger may bring about vengeance or payback but it does not bring about divine justice. It doesn’t reflect the character of God nor does it accomplish that which God would regard as true righteousness.

It’s hard even to imagine our world filled with people who are listen first, take their time to respond, and stay calm. But it will never happen if we don’t start to imagine it. Imagine a world where people actually lived out watching what they said and using words wisely. This means we need use our words to build up and not tear down. Like a little spider or a hand grenade – the tongue isn’t so big, but is capable of great damage.

Be careful, little mouth, what you say….

How about you? How have you been hurt by words? How have you hurt others with your words?

My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

Family - Christmas 2012

I’m a White man married to a Black woman. Actually, she’s only 65% Black. She wanted a DNA test for our anniversary and, being the romantic that I am, I got it for her. So we know that 65% of her DNA traces itself to Sub-Saharan Africa.

But the DNA test also shows that 29.8% of her DNA traces back to European descent. It was a shock for her. She sat looking at the test results for minutes with her mouth agape, processing the information. When I asked her a question she stopped me and said, “Give me a minute – I’m having revelations here!” Nowhere in her personal sense of identity and self did she imagine that such a large chunk of her DNA was European. But the world in which we live doesn’t give a hoot. You see – she’ll always be Black here in America.

So here we are; a White man and a (partially) Black woman. And we had the audacity to bring children into the world. So what are they? Seriously – how would you classify them? They’re 65% European and 33% Black. Do you classify them as White kids or Black kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking You, the reader. How do you label them?

We choose not to label them. They’re just our kids. To them, skin color is merely a description of their outward appearance – right now it plays no part in their sense of ethnicity and heritage. They only know that Daddy’s side of the family is “peach” and Momma’s side of the family is (mostly) “Brown.” Descriptively, they see themselves more on the peach side than the brown side. If you were to listen in on my daughter talking about family you would hear her describe herself as “peach.” They don’t have any vested interest or history in skin tone and identity. But the rest of the world does.

I find it odd that parts of the world, even parts of our community in the good ol’ U.S. of A., label my kids based on their parents rather than on themselves. For a Thanksgiving project my daughter’s class colored paper Pilgrims. Everyone in the class got a peach pilgrim to color. Not my daughter. She was given a brown Pilgrim. There was no malice involved. There was an assumption made because my child has a brown parent. She was classified as brown. It tore her up, not because she has an aversion to brown skin but because she wanted a Pilgrim that she thought reflected herself – one that matched her own sense of identity. Even well-meaning people in our church have described our kids as brown, not realizing that they have a different self-image.

I will pause here to admit that I’m getting angry and choked up as I write this. These are my kids we’re talking about – my babies – and the idea of people making them feel “other than” tears my heart out and makes the protective parent in me LIVID.

I’m not writing this because I have a problem with brown-skinned people. I don’t have a problem if my kids decide they want to identify with my wife’s side of the family and their “brown” heritage. It’s part of who they are. One day they’ll understand that better and we can have open discussions about identity and ethnicity. I think that would be wonderful.

No, I’m writing this because it seems that our country recently has lost its ever-loving-mind when it comes to race relations. The Zimmerman/Martin incident in Florida only highlights already existing tensions.

The original incident, the trial & verdict, and the national response show that there is still a racial rift in this country. Recently, President Obama made a statement that was, in my opinion, an attempt show solidarity with a grieving Black community and to help enlighten an unknowing White community.

I have seen and heard a lot of outrage at the President’s remarks. I have seen some ugly behavior and some terrible words thrown around. In my opinion (and that’s what you get – remember…my blog) the President was not making any statement as to the guilt or innocence of Martin or Zimmerman. The heart of his message, as a Black man, was:

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Years of slavery and abuse, yielding to discrimination and abuse, yielding to a façade of equality, have given the Black community a unique filter through which it interprets events. It’s a filter that lends it a sense of identity and purpose. When White America waves a dismissive hand and says, “It’s not about race” we are saying that our interpretation of who you are and what things mean matters more than your interpretation of who you are and what things mean. It’s an exaggerated scale of what happened with my daughter’s Pilgrim. My lens is better than your lens.

It does no good to tell someone that the lens through which they see and interpret events is wrong. It’s their lens. You have your own. A better conversation is to say, “I want to understand your lens and paradigm and then want to share with you about my lens and paradigm.” It’s hard to do – we all believe that our own lens is the best lens, the only correct lens. But sometimes our lenses get smudged and dirty and could stand being wiped off. It’s the only way to move forward.

As it stands there is too much of an Us vs. Them attitude when it comes to race relations. We focus on the “other than” instead of focusing on the unifying and uniting elements. Here’s the thing – In God’s Kingdom, there is no such thing as “Us and Them.” We’re all part of the community of faith. It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, for our faith transcends ethnicity. This isn’t a concept limited to the New Testament. It’s also found in the Old Testament. God tells Israel:

You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells a story of how the Apostle Peter acted differently towards Gentile Christians than he did towards Jewish Christians. Paul called him out and Peter repented.

We’re in a situation today where many people seem to prefer to exercise their politics before their faith. White and Black alike play the “race card” on each other. Neither side is exempt or immune. We certainly fail to treat each other like equals with the same privileges. We certainly don’t love the “other” like we love ourselves.

It’s time to change. We don’t have to continue down this path. We can turn around. We can work to see things through the lens of the other and help the other to see through our lens. We can work on finding common ground. We can work on true equality – which really only seems to come from God (humanity has a grand ability to botch things up). We can love others the same as we love ourselves.

So be careful how you talk to people. Be careful how you talk about people. Words have power, and you can use them to build or destroy. I firmly believe that God would prefer us to build. So watch what you say. When you speak, say it in love. And whatever you do, watch how you treat my kids.

They don’t know they’re black.

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~ Reflections on Race from a Mixed-Race Couple

Living as an Underdog

underdogWhat do we call someone who is at a disadvantage and expected to lose? UNDERDOG! Underdogs are determined by outward appearances. Nothing about them says winner, and when you compare them to everyone else, it’s obvious that they don’t really stand a chance. One of the most famous underdog stories in the last few years was about a woman named Susan Boyle. Remember her?

She’s a little kooky. No one expects her to be a winner, and you can see it on their faces. Then she starts to sing, and the crowd goes wild! Well, there are spiritual underdogs, too. Sure, it’s easy to see the obvious spiritual winners: The Pope, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes. That’s what a spiritual winner looks like. God is obviously going to use and bless people like them. If we are really honest I think we all have areas and moments in life where we feel like underdogs. But Jesus comes along and, like he often does, shakes things up and offers up some shocking words about underdogs.

These verses come from a section of Jesus’ teaching commonly called “the beatitudes.” That’s an old-fashioned way for sayings how someone is “blessed” or “fortunate.” It’s hard to translate into modern English though. “Blessed” doesn’t quite cover it – it’s more like telling someone “congratulations” or “You are so fortunate!” When we understand this, a modern version of what Jesus is saying here could sound like this:

v.3 Congratulations when you’re at the end of your rope, when you’re a big fat zero and are on the verge of giving up hope! God welcomes you into His kingdom.

v. 4 Congratulations when you suffer loss and sorrow and there is no joy! God will comfort you.

v. 5 Congratulations when you are powerless with no chance of making anything of yourself! God is going to give you everything.

v. 6 Congratulations when the world is against you and there is no way to fight for what is right! God will give you justice in the end.

Do these seem like qualities of people we would envy? Is this person someone we would consider fortunate? When we see people like this we say, “Man, there’s just no chance. He’s toast – a loser. How could such a person be part of what God is doing?” But, Jesus radically changes our ideas of who and what is important in the kingdom of God. Let’s look at these a little more closely:

v.3 Congratulations when you’re at the end of your rope, when you’re a big fat zero and are on the verge of giving up hope! God welcomes you into His kingdom.

Has this been you? Is this you? Do you feel as though you’re at the end of your rope and on the verge of giving up? Do you need to be rescued from your life? When I was a college sophomore, I knew this really nice guy. Let’s just call him Joe. Joe was a quiet guy, intelligent, sense of humor, and seemed to have everything going for him.  You know that you might look like you have everything together but inside there is an area where you know that you are at the end of yourself. One afternoon after class I walked into his room and Joe is sitting on the bunk facing the door. As I stepped into the room he said, “I need to tell you something.” Then he pulls up his sleeves and I see dozens of cuts on his forearms, and he tells me that he cuts himself and that he needs help. He was at the end of his rope, feeling like a zero, and on the verge of giving up hope. But Jesus says, “You are important, you are invited to be in relationship with me!”

v. 4 Congratulations when you suffer loss and sorrow and there is no joy! God will comfort you.

Those who mourn are helpless to change their situation. We mourn because of a loss that has already happened and we can do nothing to alter it. Often times those who mourn are those who find no cause for joy. What we can do wait on God for comfort, and Jesus promises that comfort will come. Psalm 30 declares that sorrow may remain for a night but joy comes in the morning! Take comfort, for joy will come again. In God’s kingdom we find comfort because God is in control, God gets the last word! Life may be full of sorrow here, but the big picture belongs to Him. Then Jesus says:

v. 5 Congratulations when you are powerless with no chance of making anything of yourself! God is going to give you everything.

In the OT there are two major themes: the Exodus (when Moses led Israel out of Egypt) and the Exile (where Israel was conquered and carried off by other nations and waited to return to their homeland). Both themes are about slaves and captives receiving promised land where God brings about a reversal and gives life where there was only suffering and death. Jesus is talking about the same thing, people who are powerless on their own, at the mercy of the powerful people around them who control them. How often do we feel like we are at the mercy of others – we have little control or power into what is happening to us. In the game of chess, the front row of pieces are called pawns. They are the smallest, weakest pieces that have little value and are quickly sacrificed in order to save the bigger, more important pieces. Have you ever felt like a pawn in someone else’s game of chess? Yet Jesus says God does not see us that way. In His view, the powerless are now regarded as fortunate because they are going to receive what they have had coming to them all along. The main point is not that God is going to reward those who exhibit the virtue of meekness, but that when God rules, the weak and powerless will receive what God wants them to have. Similarly, Jesus finishes up these four beatitudes by saying:

v. 6 Congratulations when the world is against you and there is no way to fight for what is right! God will give you justice in the end.

Sometimes we are so powerless that we are not even able to stand up for justice. Injustice abounds in this world, in our lives and the lives of people around us. People need rescuing. A few years ago there was a story in the news about a Tampa mom whose husband was deployed in Afghanistan. She had been abusive to her teenagers for a while and finally something snapped and she shot and killed her two kids. Where is the justice for those children? They needed to be rescued. Too many of us need to be rescued from injustice.

Underdogs are determined by outward appearances. People who are have no hope. People who have no joy. People who have no power. People who fight against the world and never know justice. These are not the kind of people the world looks at and says, “Here’s a winner!” But the words of Jesus reflect Isaiah 61:1-8:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the LORD, to glorify Him.

Underdogs to the world, but Jesus speaks of a reversal of circumstances for those who are unfortunate. These are undesirable conditions that God will one day make right. There is a song by the band Third Day that talks about people who are living an underdog kind of life – broken and hurting people. And the simple answer for the underdog is this – “Cry Out to Jesus.”

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing, He’ll meet you wherever you are Cry out to Jesus, cry out to Jesus

Is this you? Are you an underdog today? Are you at the end of your rope? Do you feel like a big fat zero, or on the verge of giving up hope! Do you suffer loss and sorrow and have no joy! Are you powerless and at the mercy of other rulers and masters? Is the world is against you and you just can’t find justice? You are not alone. To all of us underdogs, Jesus says, “I welcome you to be with Me!” To the rest of you who feel on top of the world – look around. Jesus calls you to take care of the underdog. How will you help people find the rescue they need? As God has blessed you, now be a blessing to others.

 

Top 5 Areas of Marriage Conflict and How to Manage

Conflict

I teach a 9-week course on developing and maintaining healthy relationships. In the class we regularly do breakout groups of men and women to discuss a certain question or issue. In one of our classes we asked the men and women to split up and, as gender groups, identify their top 5 areas of marriage conflict. Like a couple other issues, both groups came up with the exact same list of conflict areas.

Any guess as to what they came up with?

In no particular order:

1.      In-laws. Not everyone is blessed with wonderful, supportive, and caring in-laws the way I am. Some people have real conflict with their in-laws – conflict that results in fights, hurtful words, and even hurtful actions. One of the problems in dealing with difficult in-laws is that there is only so much you can do when it comes to other people’s behavior. In fact, you can’t do anything about their behavior. But you and your spouse don’t have to do anything with their behavior. What you CAN do is work on your responses to their behavior.

The Bible tells us that the marriage relationship is the beginning of a new family unity. While there are still ties to the old family, we are told that the man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife and the two become one. Simply put, your spouse becomes an extension of you! Now extend the logic – if your parents have a problem with your spouse then you should see it as though they have a problem with you (and vice versa). We need to be supportive of our spouses and “have their backs” even if it means coming against our own parents. If we take the Bible seriously about the unity within the marriage bond, then taking our spouse’s side against family is imperative. Too many “support” until conflict with the family occurs, then we quickly throw our spouses under the bus. Don’t fall into that trap.

Get your partner’s back.

2.      Money Issues. Always a biggie, isn’t it? One word: BUDGET! It’s important for couples to sit down and work out a family budget together. Each one should have a voice and give input for what the budget should look like. This should happen every month. The more you do it together the easier it gets. Also, it is important that spouses do not keep financial secrets from each other. It’s not “my money” and “your money” but “our money.” Remember, the Bible prioritizes marriage as unity.

How we be united if we’re keeping parts of our lives from each other?

3.      The Ex. Yikes. It seems that many people have a lot of problems with an ex. I’ve seen exes do some pretty crummy things. I’ve seen exes intentionally goad the new partner, pushing buttons and being an all-around jerk. My advice? Treat exes like online trolls (people who search for ways to stir up trouble) – all you can do is ignore them. If you engage then you take the bait and get caught in the trap. There is no good way to deal with a troll. They can’t be reasoned with. You can’t convince them of logic or fact. So ignore and walk away.

On a relational level think of the ex in a similar way to the in-laws. The new marriage is what is important. You ought to be supporting your partner above your ex. That person is not part of the unity any more. There might be kids involved. There might be shared property involved. It doesn’t matter. Marital unity is what matters.

Get each other’s backs, and leave the ex out of it.

4.      Child Discipline. This one can bring up a lot of difficulties whether the kids are part of a two-parent household or if you’re in a blended family. The difficulty lies in the fact that we’re trying to get two adults to agree on the best course of action on how to raise and discipline other human beings. There’s no easy way to help to people come to agreement on the best way to raise kids. There are many different theories on the “best” ways. What I can say is that it’s possible for parents to find compromise. Each partner can up with a list of “non-negotiables” and a list of “preferables.” The preferable is where we strive to compromise (yes, that might mean giving in and letting your spouse win the day). This is not going to be a quick discussion, and there might be lots of give and take over the course of years of parenting. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and quit.  No matter what, even in disagreement, always show a united front before the kids.

Stick with it and work together.

5.      Score Keeping. This is sometimes called quid pro quo which means “this for that.” It really comes down to keeping a tally of who did what and using that tally to try to motivate our spouses to do something for us. Healthiest relationships don’t keep score (I did it this time – it’s your turn to do it now). In biblical marriages, each spouse seeks to serve the other no matter who did what or how many times he did it. If I really love my wife I should strive to meet her needs, whatever those needs may be. That means that sometimes I will be the one cleaning the bathroom several weeks in a row (even though I REALLY don’t like cleaning bathrooms). It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it. I will do my best to serve her. And she ought to have the same attitude towards meeting my needs and serving me. It’s mutual.

When this happens we can drop the score keeping and be confident in the fact that our spouses will do whatever they can to love and support us.

What do you think? Have you had personal experience in these areas of marital conflict? Would you add anything to the list?

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~ 8 Things Every Husband Needs to Do

No Cheap Sex

Husband and Wife
Husband and Wife

It seems that there is a general disregard for the power of marriage in our culture. With the divorce rate near 60% couples have a greater chance of splitting than they do going the distance. It absolutely breaks my heart when I see couples split. Of course there are a couple of legitimate reasons for couples splitting, but it’s still heartbreaking. God didn’t design us to be in temporary relationships. We were created to be part of a deep covenant; connected to our spouses in relationships that go far beyond any other relationship. But we don’t talk that way much. Certainly Hollywood doesn’t teach us about committed and enduring relationships. There must be a better way of doing things. I think God has set us up for success if we would just pay attention to what he tells us and learn to live it.

Here are five elements on the Bible’s perspective on the powerful bond we call marriage:

1. There’s no such thing as cheap sex. God says in the Old Testament, “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.” (Exodus 22:16) Wow! One night stands? No such-a-thing in God’s community. Can you imagine if we lived by this principle in our country? The bars would be empty every weekend. Your wingman wouldn’t be the guy who helps you land the girl – he would be the guy to remind you, “You take her home tonight you’re stuck with her EVERY night.” Cheap sex hurts people and does not breed lasting, intimate relationships. Cheap sex does not promote family and thus weakens the nation (I believe strong nations are built on strong families, but that’s a post for another day). Cheap sex is looking for the positive elements of relationship without the commitment and struggle all genuine relationships must endure. In short – it’s not God’s ideal.

2. Marriage is designed to be a lifelong commitment. The Apostle Paul writes, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wished….” (1 Corinthians 7:39) I do believe that Jesus and Paul do talk about some exceptions whereby they permit divorce, but God’s IDEAL is still clear – marriage is supposed to be an enduring commitment between a man and a woman.

3. Your spouse influences your life (whether or not you realize it!). I once read that we are a composite of the five people we spend the most time with. That’s simultaneously an interesting and scary thought. But the people we “do life” with end up being who we are like. It’s no wonder that the Bible cautions us to choosing spouses that will bring us closer to God rather than drive us away from God. “Shall we then…act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13:27). Or Paul: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers….” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Contrary to what some proclaim, these verses are not about racial purity. Even ancient Israel allowed foreigners to be part of the their community and God commanded justice towards them. No, the issue is about the gods that foreign people serve. People who serve different gods and have different spiritualities tend to pull us away from the One True God, Yahweh. This was Solomon’s downfall. The Bible actually doesn’t condemn his multiple wives. It condemns his choice of foreign women that led to worshipping false gods. The person we marry will end up influencing us, so choose wisely.

4. Marriage ought to be respected and honored and not taken too lightly. It’s a commitment and not something to fool around with. God tells us in the New Testament, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4) That certainly goes against the attitude of our day.

5. Marriage is not the same as merely cohabitating. Though there is no direct command regarding cohabitating, there is a story in the Gospel According to John in which Jesus encounters a women outside of a little town. She begins talking to him and tells Jesus that she has no husband. Jesus answers, “What you’ve said is true. You’ve had multiple husbands and the man you’re with now is not your husband. Yes, what you’ve said is true.” Jesus doesn’t see cohabitating on the same level as a committed, covenantal relationship established by marriage.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with an incredibly high ideal. God’s ways set the standard for us, and we have fallen short. We need a radical change in our perspective – we need to align our behavior with God’s ideals. It can start today. It can start with you. Are you married? Start looking at your marriage through the God’s perspective. Are you single? Start looking at your dates and relationships from God’s point of view. Do you have kids? Start teaching them what God’s ideal is so that they grow up grounded with a biblical foundation for what they desire in marriage. We can change our perspective. The question is – do we want to?

How about you? What do you think about God’s ideal for marriage?

Learning How to Forgive

Now more than ever it seems that forgiveness is an area in which we all need improvement. Sometimes people do things to us intentionally to hurt or wound us. Other times the offense is not intended but damages nonetheless. When we are hurt our response is often to hold on to the grievance. It fuels our anger and animosity towards others. We often forget that we have the same ability and inclination to wound others. It’s easier to forgive our own sin and failure than to forgive others who wound us. This was part of the point of Jesus telling us to “remove the plank from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.” We live in a “BUT THEY…” culture. Jesus says, “Forgive,” and we respond, “BUT THEY…!” We prefer the hurt over the healing and the forgiveness. We demand justice before we will even entertain the thought of forgiveness.

But the Bible doesn’t place any limitations or restrictions on forgiveness. There’s no tally we keep and, once we reach a certain point, refuse to extend forgiveness any more. Forgiveness is an attitude – something that can be extended even before the offender asks. It can be extended even if the offender NEVER asks. Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers, not because they deserved it, but because forgiveness is part of God’s character.

Real forgiveness, then, is what we ought to seek. Real forgiveness lets go of the right to get even or pursue justice and instead extends compassion and love. Real forgiveness is not deserved or earned – it is a gift from the one who is hurt to the one who does the hurting. The Apostle Paul writes: 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 (Romans 12:19). We can forgive and leave payment up to God. He frees us to love. Forgiveness fosters love. Refusing forgiveness fosters hate.

But we don’t forgive because it’s the nice thing to do. We forgive because it is God’s nature to forgive. As we seek to be faithful followers of Christ, we need to be letting his nature become our nature. Paul writes again, “Accept one another and forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Colossians 3:13). And again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness wasn’t earned. In fact, the Bible tells us that God showed us his love in that Christ died for us while we were sinners. We were broken and messed up and he chose to extend love and forgiveness.

It doesn’t end there. Extending or withholding forgiveness can affect our relationship with God. Jesus says, “If you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Tough words to live by, but I didn’t make them up. God calls us to live in forgiveness and reconciliation if we want to have a healthy and vibrant relationship with Him.

Ultimately, forgiveness brings freedom. It allows us to have healthy lives. It opens the door to reconciliation and makes for richer relationships. Our world is being torn apart by hate, hurt, and an unwillingness to forgive. As Christians we can set the example for the way God calls us to live – we can extend love and forgiveness, even when people don’t deserve it. It’s the only way forward.

How about you? Do you have any experience being forgiven by someone else even when you didn’t deserve it?