You spent HOW MUCH?!?

butterfly-effectWhen our oldest child was five she was playing a Disney game on Facebook where you have to develop your own animal preserve (like Farmville, but with rain forests, savannahs, etc. – a pretty cool game, actually). I helped her log in at the living room computer during my lunch break and then left for work. My wife went about the business of the house. I came back from work to discover that our sweet daughter had spent $200 on game stuff! She thought it was “game money” and didn’t realize she had been charging our account!

Humanity never really changes, do we? Even as adults we have a tendency to forget that there are real world consequences to everything we say and do. There is no bubble, no consequence-free zone. Life is made up of multiple ripple effects from human behavior.

Everything we say and do creates a new ripple that extends to the community around us and, ultimately, the world. I don’t think we take that idea seriously. I know I don’t, and I think I’m normal, so I’m guessing you don’t either! It’s easy to say or do something and then completely forget about forever. But there is no bubble around us. Our behavior produces results.

The Bible talks about it in farming terms: sowing and reaping, planting and harvesting. The Apostle Paul writes:

Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.

Paul just took the Butterfly Effect to a whole new level. It’s not just about the earthly consequences of our actions. He tells us that there are spiritual and eternal consequences! This isn’t a unique concept in Christianity. Several places in the Bible God tells us that our relationship to him is helped or hindered by our relationships and behavior with others:

–          If you want forgiveness, forgive others.

–          If you’re at worship and remember that someone has something against you make it right with him before you get right with God

–          True religion is taking care of people who cannot take provide for themselves

–          A person who hates his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen

Starting to get the idea? It’s a divine Butterfly Effect. The little things we say and do in the here and now have consequences that carry far beyond the minutes that surround our behavior. So before you act pause to think about the consequences of your action. How will this action affect me? How will it affect others? Before you speak think about the possible ripple effect of your words. Will these words build people up or cut people down? If others heard that I was saying these things would it be beneficial or detrimental?

Fortunately for us, Facebook reversed the charges our darling daughter racked up. Real life isn’t always so gracious, and our behavior can hurt or heal, build or destroy. So be careful the next time you speak and act.

You never know how far the ripples go.

Self-Restraint and Social Media: Can You Shut Up?

Image courtesy of photoraidz / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photoraidz / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not every thought that pops into your head ought to come out of your mouth. I wish that statement was part of a social media class that people were required to take before being given a Twitter account, Facebook page, or any other medium available these days. It’s called discretion. Need to look it up? Discretion is the ability to be discreet or circumspect; the ability to decide responsibly. Doesn’t really sound like the internet, does it?

Social Media – giving every idiot a voice to his opinion since 2003. And they have LOUD voices. Almost everywhere you turn you run into people who say stupid things. They say hurtful things. They say hateful things. And because they have a computer or a phone they have a platform from which to launch their idiocy.

The Bible talks about the power of the tongue, about the damage we can inflict with mere words:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:3-10)

My mouth – not the biggest part of my body but still capable of so much damage. And from behind the safety of a computer monitor or smart phone we feel free to lash out at others. We feel free to disrespect, to slander, to be rude, to intentionally hurt, and to revel in our immorality.

So before you post stop and think.

–          Does this really need to be shared? ‘Cause it might not need to be shared. Just because you had a funny thought doesn’t mean it is appropriate for the world. Keep it to yourself.

–          Is the world made better because of sharing this? If you’re adding to the noise with verbal junk (hate, hurt, immorality…you know – idiocy) it’s not making things better. Keep it to yourself.

–          Is my intention to build others up or brighten someone’s day? I’ve seen too many people post with the intention of making others feel bad. Really?!? Do you have such a desperate need to feel good about yourself that you need to post things that make others feel worse? If you’re not building others up you’ve got no place posting. Keep it to yourself.

–          Is God honored in sharing this? I understand that you might not share my spiritual perspective. But this is my blog – which means my perspective wins here. What we say and do can reflect well or can reflect poorly on God. As a person of faith, do my words reflect well on my God? Is he honored in what I post? I admit that some posts are faith-neutral. I don’t think God receives much attention in my post about how much I love rhubarb pie and icecream. Still, you know what I mean. If your thoughts don’t honor God – Keep it to yourself.

I desire for people to rise above their basest nature and act with wisdom, decency, and discretion. I know that people will continue to spew their idiocy. It’s the nature of humanity to do so. But still…I hope…

Like James says: These things ought not to be so.

Don’t You Wish You Could Be a Better You?

Self-Improvement

My son is a pretty happy-go-lucky kid. He’s full of life and joy and is an all-around awesome three year old. Until it comes time for bath and he’s rather do something else. Then everything changes. Even in his sullenness he’s hilarious. I love how every trip to the bathtub becomes a scene from Dead Man Walking. He acts as though he’s walking to the end of all things instead of just walking to the bathroom.

One day I hope he will understand that making him take a bath was for his own good. Washing up, removing dirt and germs, and personal hygiene are important parts of general health maintenance. But it doesn’t feel that way to him. To him, we’re being mean parents for forcing him to get in the water and use…shudder…soap.

Truth be told we never really grow out of that attitude. There are areas in our life that God wants to clean up. It’s not that he’s a mean God who acts capriciously to amuse himself as we hang our heads and drag our feet. He has our best interest at heart and desires that we stay healthy and germ free (spiritually speaking). This is the kind of thing the writer is talking about in the biblical book of Hebrews:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” 

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Our natural human tendency is to get dirty. Just like my son likes to play outside and get incredibly sweaty, dirty, and a filthy mess, we do that with our lives. The choices we make, the habits and addictions we become entangled in, and indulging in our own selfish desires makes us dirty and messy people.

God’s intention to give us a bath is for our benefit. And, even though we may not care for bath time, it’s because he cares about us that he teaches us discipline and hygiene and we will see the benefit of it later on.

One last example and then I’ll be off my soapbox. When I was a kid I took piano lessons. I love music and my parents found a great piano teacher who helped me find my own style and voice. But I didn’t like to practice. And I grew to the point where I felt that I was “done” with the lessons. I didn’t want to endure the discipline of it all. Now, as an adult, I really wish that my parents had forced me to endure the discipline more. I wish I were a much better pianist than I am. Had I endured it back then I could reap the produce now.

Don’t buck when God tries to discipline you. He’s not trying to give you restrictive regulations because he’s mean. He’s trying to show you a better way of life so that, in the long run, you will be better off and reap the benefits of a spiritually disciplined life.

It’s time to throw off the sinful behavior that’s been holding you back. It’s time to understand his purpose and intent in holy living. He’s making me better; making me stronger; giving me discipline so that I will benefit and be healthy – so that I can become a better me.

Shirt Sleeves

Before coming to pastor in Central Illinois my family had been in Florida (about halfway between Orlando and Tampa). My kids had no real knowledge of what it was to live in a place that experiences real seasonal change. Last year my two year old spent the entire winter in long-sleeved shirts. That’s all he knew that winter. I vividly remember the day the weather turned warm and we brought out the warm-weather clothes. I put a short-sleeved shirt on him for the first time in his life (as far as his two year old memory knew). He spent five minutes tugging at his short sleeves, trying to pull them down like all of his other shirts. It was pure comedy.

Truth be told, we behave similarly as adults. We become so accustomed to our habits, patterns, and ruts that often we fail to see that there are other ways of doing things. There are other ways of behaving. There are other ways of living life. Our ruts become blinders that disallow us to see anything else. “Of course I can’t change. This is the way things have always been. This is the way things always will be.” At least that’s the lie we tell ourselves. And we thus give ourselves permission to stay stuck in the old ways of living life. This is the mindset that the Apostle Paul writes against in his letter to the Roman Church

“[A]re you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life…. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims…. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God….   Romans 6:3-14

There’s a new way of life that is made possible because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not the people we used to be, so it’s time to stop acting like the people we used to be. A few weeks ago we had the privilege to baptize 12 people after our Sunday worship service. Baptism is the epitome of the life-change made possible through Jesus. It is us declaring to the world: “I have given myself to Jesus and I will now walk his path – not my own.” Now each of those people needs to start living a changed life.

I frequently hear people talk (or see internet memes) about not judging people and that if Jesus loves and accepts without judging then so should we. But I don’t buy it. You know who we don’t judge? We don’t judge outsiders. We don’t judge non-believers. They don’t have the same belief system or value-set. How could we possibly judge them? But we do hold accountable people who profess faith in Jesus. We should not point fingers and say: “How bad you’ve been – you’re gonna burn.” We need to be helping guide others towards Christ and say: “This is the kind of behavior God expects from those who call themselves believers.”

I know what you’re thinking – you’re still picturing that meme that criticizes Christian snobs who judge others’ imperfections. But think about Jesus’ interactions with “sinners”. Did he criticize them for their ways? No, he did not. But look at what he DID do a couple of times. He said: “Go and stop sinning.”

An encounter with Jesus is not a clean slate to behave in devilish ways. An encounter with Jesus calls us to new life and a new way of behaving. I have told my church repeatedly (although not lately – maybe it’s time again) that EVERYONE is welcome in our church and will ALWAYS be welcome in our church. But…once you’re here we expect that you will be on God’s path for spiritual growth and maturity. Come as you are – and then let God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, affect real life change in you.

Have you had an encounter with the Living God? Then don’t keep living in the same ruts you’ve lived in for years. It’s time to break free from those habits and patterns and to begin living a new life characterized by godly growth and maturity.

Otherwise you’ll be tugging at your sleeves for the rest of your life….

Not As Random As You Think

People seem to love coincidences. A good coincidence will really tweak our brains. Sometimes we react wildly – “Oh, man! Can you believe that?!? No way!” It’s almost like a magic trick played on us by the cosmos.

optical illusionIt’s not a trick…it’s an ILLUSION!

I had an amazing encounter not too long ago. Our church was hosting an American Red Cross blood drive. After I had given my precious DNA to them and downed a can of juice, I was about to walk out when I saw a guy who attends my church sitting in the waiting area. I stopped to chat with him. I got to learn some things about him that I hadn’t know before, specifically that he is nearing the end of his paramedic studies and has the goal of eventually becoming a firefighter. I didn’t think too much of the conversation at the time. About an hour later my Twitter feed had a job posting from our hometown regarding an open position for a firefighter. I could not believe the coincidence! So of course I sent him the link to the job posting. Coincidence?

The notion of coincidence is troubled by two key factors: 1) the human freedom to act and behave however we see fit and 2) the biblical concept of an omniscient and omnipotent God.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is a story near the end of the book of Joshua (the leader of Israel after Moses). One time Joshua was talking to the people about their tendency to forget God and to return to the idols and false gods of the Egyptians. Joshua says, “Choose the path you’re going to take – follow Yahweh or follow those others. As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” While God has made the initial steps towards humanity, we have the chance to respond. How does this connect to coincidence? If we have the freedom to choose our paths, then our choices are going to come with consequences (good or bad). That means that human behavior is not random coincidence but a series of results from our choices and behavior.

But sometimes coincidences happen that have NO rational explanation. These are the things that really boggle and mystify us. This is where an omniscient and omnipotent God comes in. The Bible is clear that Yahweh is a God who cares about humanity and interacts in human history. He is not a far-removed deity who merely watches Earth like a little kid watches his ant farm. God chooses to direct the course of human history. This means that sometimes God puts people and situations in our lives for specific reasons. There is no such thing as coincidence. Either we are seeing the result of human behavior and choices or we are seeing the result of an active God steering the course of the world. In Hebrews 13 the writer states:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

You never know what is going to come down the path. The Bible says that our ways are not God’s ways, so we may never understand the big picture. What I do understand is that I need to seize every God-moment and look for his activity in my life and in the world. Sometimes we will face great coincidences. Sometimes we’ll face crummy ones. In the end it’s not about the amazing coincidences that we see in life – it’s about having the perspective that God is at work in the world.

The World in His Hands

Life is not as random as you think, and you never know when God is putting people and circumstances in your life for specific reasons. Don’t think “coincidence” – think, “This is a God thing!” Be open to his possibilities.

May I Ask Who’s Calling?

phone

I’ve picked up a pet peeve from my father. At least I think I got it from him. Let’s just say that it’s an annoyance we share. It really aggravates me when people call me and, as soon as I pick up the phone, launch into conversation without ever identifying themselves. I like people. I really do. But I find it impossible to memorize the voice of everyone I know. Actually, sometimes I even have trouble telling which of my brothers is calling me if he doesn’t identify himself.

But I don’t have any trouble identifying the voices of my wife or my parents. They are probably the three people I have spent the most time with and have the most intimate relationships with. In fact, I can hear my English professor mother’s voice correcting the previous sentence because I ended it with a preposition!

And that’s how intimate relationships work. Not only do you recognize the voice of the one talking to you but you get to the point where you can hear the other person’s voice commenting and talking to you without them even having to be around you.

Recently someone asked me how she could know the will of God for her life and how she could be sure that she was doing the right things to be in the will of God. I understand the difficulty of what she’s asking. Very few people I know have burning bush experience like Moses where God tells us unequivocally what he wants us to do. It seems that many of us have to go through life practicing discernment when it comes to God’s will. And sometimes it’s just plain tough to figure out.

We want the “Wizard of Oz” experience – Dorothy is given only one road to follow (the yellow brick one, of course). But I think the key is not in finding the one road God would have us take but in developing the intimate relationship with him that allows us to recognize his voice and to be able to hear his voice in our circumstances, know what he would say to us, even before he says it. This is the kind of relationship I envision the Apostle Paul is talking about in Romans 12:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The more we allow God to transform us, and the more we are like him and the less we are like the world, we are better able actually to recognize his voice and to know what he would say. But such intimacy only happens over time. Not just quality but quantity as well. Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Do you want to hear his voice and understand his direction? Have you put in the time and effort to build an intimate relationship with him?

Because when he calls, it’s not so great to stop him mid-sentence and ask, “May I ask who’s calling?”