Way to go Daniel…

17 05 2010

Jeni, the boys, and I went to lunch with my brother Daniel and our friend Brent to one of the Chili’s restaurants around Atlanta yesterday. We had a great time watching Andrew throw anything within arms reach at anyone within throws reach. Brent and Caedmon played tic-tac-toe, Jackson colored on his menu, Toby ate continuously and we had a cheerful time. But, in a matter of moments everything changed. (insert dramatic, cliffhanger music here)

Caedmon had been his smiley self, prompting Brent to ask, “Is this the happiest kid in the world?” (or something like that). Anyway, towards the end of dinner Caedmon told us he had to go the bathroom and asked Daniel to watch his food for him. His concern is rooted in Andrew’s reaching and throwing habit. Daniel started playing with Caedmon and acting like he was going to eat Caedmon’s food. Laughter and squealing ensued as I wheeled Caedmon to the bathroom.

Continuing the game, Caedmon had me call Daniel from the bathroom and remind him not to eat his food. That sweet little, never hurt anyone, delight of a child was having such innocent fun with his trustworthy, loving uncle. As we walked through the restaurant back to our table Caedmon could be heard from a distance as he lost the battle to contain his enthusiasm. But, (insert another dose of dramatic music) when we arrived at the table Caedmon’s plate was gone! Daniel told Caedmon that he had eaten the rest of his food!

Caedmon’s face was robbed of its carefree joy and invaded by a foreign presence of heartache. He dropped his head down, laying his forehead across his right forearm, staring at the floor below. Daniel began asking, “Is he sad? Is he really sad?” All the while tears had begun racing each other to the floor to escape the sadness portrayed by Caedmon’s heartbroken countenance. He finally lifted his head to reveal his anguish and the groveling began.

Daniel quickly returned the plate of food that he had hidden and began pleading with the lamenting toddler, “I’m sorry Caedmon.” Thankfully Jeni had come prepared with some leftover chocolate cake and we were able to divert Caedmon’s attention to the imminent sweet relief. Crisis averted, lesson learned.

Caedmon’s distress came from a combination of  factors.

1) He really wanted his dinner.
2) The person he trusted appeared to have betrayed him.
3) He really, really wanted his dinner.

The  incident had me thinking about that second factor. Reliability, trustworthiness, shooting straight.

In our personal relationships it is always tough to tell whether or not someone is “shooting straight” with us. Do they have an ulterior motive? Are they simply dishonest? Or, do the know and tell the truth? The classic stereotype of this is found in the politician. But, that’s for another blog and another blogger.

I want to point out something about the God that loves me and you.

(I know that not everyone reading this is a theist, much less a Christian but can I encourage you to consider these words. You aren’t sitting in a church, no one is watching you or judging you. You have the freedom to reflect on these ideas and ask God to help you understand them… what do you have to lose?)

1) He is trustworthy. We can take God at his word.
2) He has “shot straight” with us. Now, we may not like what God has communicated to us through the Bible but we can agree that he didn’t mince words. Many people struggle with the idea that they are a sinner, but that’s what the Bible says. We wrestle with the idea that our goodness might not be enough to make God accept us, but that’s what the Bible says. So, what are we to do with this?

In my little parable about Caedmon and Daniel, the villain was Daniel because he made a false promise and when it proved false Caedmon was heartbroken. The promise Daniel made represents the lie that we are being fed in our culture. The lie that we are good enough for Heaven or that God is mean-spirited and evil because some go to Hell. Unfortunately, when our time comes if we have believed the lie we will find ourselves heartbroken beyond words as we stand before the Holy One.

God has stated His case plainly. No one is good enough for Heaven. Secondly, He is love. He doesn’t just love or have the capability to love… He is love. To not love is impossible for Him. Our not being good enough and His love collided just outside of Jerusalem about 2000 years ago when Jesus was crucified.

Our sin was placed onto Jesus, God incarnate, so that the payment for sin could be paid for everyone. From the beginning God knew of our condition and promised a rescue. Jesus is that rescue. We now have the benefit of history and hindsight to look back and embrace our rescuer. But many of us have believed the lie so we look back at the rescuer and find Him silly or dishonest. We have exchanged the truth for a lie.

How different would our lunch experience have been if it had gone like this…

“Caedmon, not only will I watch over your food but, if you believe me and trust me with this I will have chocolate cake waiting on you when you return. Do you believe me?” Caedmon would have replied, “Yeah!” and he would have instantly begun pointing towards the bathroom so that I would get him moving. His faith in Daniel being pure and knowing that he had to go in order for the cake to appear. While Caedmon was gone, Daniel cut a bronto-slab of cake and smothered Caedmon’s plate with it. It goes without saying that upon his return, Caedmon would have been thrilled, Daniel would have been thrilled, and cake would have been devoured.

You see, God has made that offer to you and to me. “If you will trust me with your life and believe me about Jesus then I will have eternal life for you when you get to me. Do you believe me?” Oh, that we would respond like Caedmon. But too many of us get distracted by the naysayers and the business of life and never accept God’s offer. Sad.

When the day comes and you find yourself being pushed up to God’s table will you have heartbroken tears or will you have cake?


“It Doesn’t Taste Good Without Raisins”

5 05 2010

Our son Jack-Jack was excited (OK, maybe not that excited but who’s counting) about eating Raisin Bran for breakfast this morning. First off, does anyone else know a 4-year-old who would choose Raisin Bran over Honeycombs? This is the kind of person who actually enjoyed Indiana Jones 4. (I still love ya Matt)

Anyway, as he neared the end of his foray into fiber he found the bowl filled with only milk and bran, to which he exclaimed “It doesn’t taste good without raisins.” Little did he know that his statement of the obvious would become fodder for this blog.
(The alliteration in the preceeding paragraph was Fantastic!)

The Bible tells us we need to be “speaking the truth in love,” which basically means, “If you are gonna give a kid his fiber, make sure you include the raisins!”

If you think of truth as the doctrine of the Bible, then loves becomes the raisins or that “spoonful of sugar.”

We tend to swing back and forth between two extremes. In one corner you have the “truth first Bible bashers” while in the other you find the” just love everybody and it will work itself out” group. As you might surmise, this is basically comparing eating a bowl of bran with eating a bowl of raisins. I don’t know which food represents which ideal, but I don’t want to eat either one of  ’em.

Without love our offering of truth becomes a “resounding gong,” according to the Bible. Basically, we becoming an annoying nuisance to society and to our circle of influence in particular. But, failing to offer truth, by buying into the lie that pointing out a person’s blind spots is unloving or judgemental is equally detrimental. The Bible tells us that we are supposed to address sin in peoples lives, contrast the God of the Bible with the false religion of the world, and present Jesus as the Christ including His death, burial and resurrection (offer truth); but not to the neglect of love.  (here are a few examples)

Here’s how I see it. The Bible teaches that we love because He first loved us. It also teaches that God is love, and that no greater  loves exists that someone who would lay down their life for a friend. All of those statements are statements of doctrine… or truth. The whole idea of love is rooted in Christian theology. Without a truly selfless heart our “love” is self-serving and shallow. It doesn’t really consider others as better than us (as the Bible teaches). This “love” serves the one acting and not the one receiving… it’s not true love.

It is borderline evil to observe someone killing themselves with their choices and choose to avoid addressing those choices with them. Basically, we are loving ourselves by avoiding the more difficult path of conflict and reconciliation. Authentic, Biblical love gets involved.

The love of Christianity looks with compassion on those who are struggling and willingly gets into their mess to help them out. That’s what Jesus did. He entered our mess, even allowed our mess to be thrown upon Him in order to lovingly offer the truth of His forgiveness. That guy rocks!

Let’s remember today that our world needs raisins and bran.

My dad used to always say, in an effort to manage the house with 6 selfish kids living in it, “If you see something that needs to be done, do it.” He was referring to folding laundry, turning off a light, or unloading a dish washer; but I would like to offer similar more relational advice. “If you see someone who needs their raisins or their bran… give it to them.”

Your world is riddled with folks who need love through encouragement or sympathy and equally full of folks who need love through a swift kick in the pants.” You can be that love. You should be that love. The most unloving thing we can do is… nothing.

Hopefully this little thought was an enjoyable bowl of cereal 🙂 Enjoy your breakfast!

A Matter of the Heart

24 04 2010

Installment 6  (and final installment) from my episode with the police…

When I was pulled over; it was justified because I broke the law. But, I didn’t mean to break the law. Does that matter? Sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no.”

For example, if you “break the law” of gravity it really doesn’t matter if you meant to… the consequence will be certain and painful. If you “break the law” of decorum by accidently spilling your water into the lap of someone at your table; you probably won’t be kicked out of the restaurant. On the other hand, if you get angry and willfully throw your water into the face of someone at your table; you may find yourself escorted to the street. In both cases the effect was the same, a wet table mate. But, the fundamental difference is in the intent of your heart.

As I have already illustrated; the intent of someones heart has no bearing if they break the laws of physics. And it is dependent on the particular law enforcer and their scope of authority as to whether or not the intent of our hearts will help  with our criminal offense. What about in the realm of morality? What about sin?

Does God view sin differently when we willfully disobey as contrasted to when we make honest mistakes?

I know I do. I get more angry at the habitual, unrepentant (insert error here) than I do at someone who might not know better. But does God? Does God view the mistake differently than open defiance? I don’t know that I have an answer specifically, but I have some inferences and observations.

(Quick aside, on the most fundamental level if a person were to never reject sin and trust Jesus work on the cross for their rescue then God will let them have their way. They will get the punishment that sin requires. On the other hand, when you trust Jesus you are believing that HE has received the punishment that sin deserved and you are made new. On that level God absolutely treats “open defiance” differently than humility. One represents rejecting Jesus and the other represents believing Him. But this blog isn’t addressing that specifically; I am referring to Earthly consequences in this blog, not eternal redemption).

First off, sin is sin and the “wages of sin is death.” No qualification about heart intent.

Secondly, while I cannot state absolutely that our heart’s bent in the midst of sin has bearing on our consequences. I can say absolutely that our heart’s bent in the wake of our sin has bearing on the direction of our life.

When David was confronted about his sin, his heart’s response was contrition and longing for holiness. (confronted) (contrition)

When the rich young ruler was confronted about his sin, his heart’s response was rigidity and longing for self. (sell it)

One man trusted our loving God and turned to Him. One man trusted in himself and turned away from God.

Might the consequences of a mistake be lesser than those of outright defiance… maybe?

Will the impact of that mistake be different based on your heart’s response when it comes to light… absolutely!

We are making mistakes in our lives that we aren’t even aware of.

Hurting people unknowingly.
Making errors we might have never thought twice about.

Happens all the time. So is the issue our intent when it occurs? I don’t think so. Do you think if you lost a loved one due to another’s honest mistake that you would feel less pain? Of course not.

But would you find forgiveness easier if you were looking at a broken person responsible for your pain vs. looking at a calloused one? I would like to think so. The key is a contrite heart.

David sinned in outright defiance, yet is known as a “man after God’s own heart.” The “rich young ruler” kept all the laws but was sinning in a way he didn’t realize, yet he “went away sad.” Their standing with God didn’t hang on their hearts bent in sin, it rested with their hearts bent in response sin.

I hope that I respond like David. What about you?

Flourescent Wisdom

23 04 2010

Installment 5 from my episode with the police… 

I really didn’t realize I had been driving through a school zone. I was thinking of other things, I guess. The morning I was pulled over my first thought was that it was a poorly marked school zone. I didn’t see any signs… there definitely weren’t any flashing lights. How do they expect us to follow the rules when they are so secretive about it all?!?! I didn’t say anything to the officer that morning, I figured I would just contest the issue in court or write a letter to the editor. Yeah, they picked the wrong guy to mess with… don’t they know I have a blog???

Well, on Thursday I took Caedmon to school and I was going to document exactly how the theoretical “school zone” was marked. The reality of the thorough signage hit me like the reality of gravity hits someone with a torn parachute.

I first noticed a larger than normal, flourescent green, diamond-shaped sign on the left side of the road. At the base of the sign, painted across the two lane road was a roughly 5 feet tall script in all caps stating “SCHOOL ZONE.” To make matters worse, the right side of the road had the twin brother of the sign on the left side of the road. I could see my case losing traction. About 100 feet up the road the city of Tallahassee had the audacity to place another set of twin signs on each side of the road. This time they were in the traditional yellow but had the added detail of basketball size flashing yellow lights laughing at me with each luminescent burst. I uhh… rest my case??

Have you been there? Have you ever found your self on the business end of some poor choice in your life and questioned why God hadn’t warned you? Maybe you were in a rough relationship, pregnant but not married, battling an addiction, in debt to your ears, or a junior at the university of Florida.

It is easy for us to have consequences doing their work in our life and sit in our misery angry at our friends or God for not warning us. But often times; if we take the time to reflect honestly we will see that the signs were there. Many times flourescent green ones with flashing lights warning us to be careful.

The boyfriend that got really angry watching football…
The teachers, pastors, parents, and doctors voices in your head telling you “where babies come from…”
Alcoholism in your family tree and the blackouts…
Awareness of the fact that the car payment would take over half your paycheck…
Suppressing your gag reflex the first time you looked in the mirror and saw yourself in orange and blue…

There were signs. We were just so blinded by our desires and pride that we ignored them. We have a tendency to reject life long friends, disregard obvious consequences, justify irrational behavior, etc. because we become so enamoured with our initial choice that we turn a deaf ear to wisdom and correction.

Oh, that we would reject arrogance.
Accept a level of ignorance.
Realize our immaturity.

What are we so afraid of? The worst case scenario is that we are wrong and we end up in a bad place. The best case scenario is that we trust the warning signs, make a wise choice and become less ignorant and more mature readying ourself to make a wise choice in the future. What would you rather have? Your violent boyfriend or wisdom?  Solo maternity or maturity? A few more beers or a few more years? Collection agencies or freedom? Tallahassee or Gainesville?

To quote the rockin’ poets, Tesla… “Signs, signs everywhere signs blockin’ up the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

You have the power within you to choose. Open your eyes and heart to the signs around you and choose wisely. I will do the same.

Shadow Boasting

22 04 2010

Installment 4 from my episode with the police…

I have been driving for 16 years and this was my fist speeding ticket. My wife, despite crying babies and crying herself  has never received mercy from a cop and received a ticket every time she was stopped. I have received mercy multiple times, just not this time. In our marriage I have proudly boasted to Jeni how proficient a driver I am and how careful I am implying that she was neither of those things because she had speeding tickets where I did not.

I boasted sincerely too.

It finally dawned on me, as a result of this ticket, that I was no better than she was. It is not as if I drive around ever mindful of the road signs and meticulously adjust my speeds accordingly. For a season in my life I did, but not recently. I let myself believe that the offense is to get caught, when the truth is that the offense is well… the offense.

If the speed limit is 35 and I drive 40 I am speeding regardless of if an officer pulls me over. Guilty.

I believe that many of us play the same game with God. We may be promiscuous but because no one is pregnant or STD’s haven’t been contracted we think we are living right. Interestingly enough, we will just as quickly ridicule the famous athlete who has multiple children via multiple women; selectively overlooking the fact that we are equally guilty. We will vent and wax moralistic about dishonest politicians while knowing full well that if our lives were as public as theirs we would prove as dishonest, if not more. We lie about our weight, age, and feelings. We say the politically correct thing even when we have to lie to do it. We lie about the reasons we are late, or when avoiding a difficult person. We lie like crazy… but often times we don’t get caught. So, we boast.

The Bible teaches us that we are all sinners, none of us is perfect. But this truth can make us uncomfortable, even if we are believers. We don’t like to be faced with our own imperfections. The idea of looking in the spiritual mirror and seeing our face covered with moral pimples is unsettling and we would rather not think about it. So, we boast in the shadows.

“I’m fine.”
“I’m a good person.”
“I’m not as bad as so-and-so.”

But deep down, we know. We know we are liars and that it’s wrong. We know that we covet and that it’s wrong. We know that we are judgemental and that it’s wrong. There is something in us that reminds us that it’s wrong even though we suppress it.

The Bible teaches that if will stop hiding and acknowledge our imperfection and inadequacy then God will forgive us and restore us through Jesus death on the cross. It’s the greatest story ever told. Perfection came down and died so that the imperfect can be redeemed. Once we stop boasting in the shadows and instead humbly walk into the light, then we can be free! Then we can boast in the Lord.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9

Fatal Thoughts

21 04 2010

Installment 3 from my episode with the police.

I was driving to Publix to buy a paper and eat breakfast with Andrew at the Country Kitchen. My original plan was actually to take my car and go the other direction to Wal*Mart. This is significant because there is no school zone on the way to Wal*Mart. So, had Andrew not been awake so early I might not have driven through the school zone, but without Andrew I would have been in my car which still is not registered in Florida. Even before that was the baseball game Saturday where the paper came to take pictures. Had they not taken the pictures and published them I would have no need of the early morning paper run. And on and on we go.

What are we to make of the contributing factors to our situation in life. An optimist might say, “good thing I had Andrew because it ensured that I had a properly registered car.” While a pessimist might say, “Oh that Andrew, he made me get a ticket.” A fatalist would say, “it was inevitable because I am powerless and my decisions are determined.” What is a Christian to say?

After 9/11 we heard stories of someone spilling coffee and being late for work which ended up keeping them from the WTC and saving their life. Maybe not that exact story, but similar accounts. People would then say, “God spared them” or “God was looking out for them.” This begs the question… What about the people who died? Was God not looking out for them, was he so preoccupied with saving some that he overlooked others?

These scenarios bring to mind the question of free-will vs. predestination. There are at least two levels to this question. On one level is the idea that God predestines some to be saved and others for damnation vs. every person has the free-will to choose or reject God. I will not be addressing that level here. The second level is that of our day-to-day lives. Do we get to make choices freely? Or are all of our steps and sneezes predestined. The 2nd option is that of fatalism. I am not aware of a “name” for the first option, but it is irrelevant. I would like to offer that we are looking at a false dichotomy and that the truth is found in a synthesis of the two. We have the capacity to choose freely and God determines our lives.

I believe that the Bible teaches that we absolutely have the free-will to make our daily choices while at the same time God is directing. It may sound paradoxical, but we must not limit God by our limited understanding. I am ill equipped to thoroughly address this issue but I would like to reccommend someone much better to listen to than me. Dr. Timothy J. Keller is the pastor of Reedeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of several books. He addresses this issue of the free-will vs. fatalism in one of his sermons on the book of proverbs titled, “Your plans, God’s plans.”

If you have ever pondered these issues or found yourself struggling with God about your situation in life I would like to strongly encourage you to listen to that sermon. It will be 40 minutes well spent.

Not enough mercy

20 04 2010

Installment two from my episode with the police…

I was guilty. I was driving 18 mph over the speed limit. I didn’t have my Florida registration in the car. When the officer saw me, I was not wearing my seat belt. Regardless of my intentions or past driving record, on that morning I was guilty as charged.

As I sat in the car waiting for the officer to check my record I found myself praying. I acknowledged that I was wrong, yet I also desired mercy. I didn’t want to be treated as my offenses deserved. Andrew was curious so I was trying to teach him that the police are not bad and that we want them to enforce the rules because it keeps people safe. At the same time, I didn’t want him to enforce the rules on me…

When he finally shared that he was overlooking the fact that I didn’t have my registration, wasn’t wearing my seat belt,  was speeding in a school zone, and was also reducing my offense from 18 mph to 6mph I should have been grateful. I wasn’t.

I expected a full pardon! So what that now I only owed $100+ when it could have been much more! He saw my flawless driving record, I told him it was an honest mistake. How dare he… hold me accountable for my offenses… ouch.

How dare me? What gives me the right to demand mercy, much less more mercy. The sentence itself is a paradox; because if I expect or demand it, it ceases to be mercy. What I am asking for is fairness based on my perspective. I surely didn’t want pure fairness because pure fairness would have me in serious trouble.

I find myself wrestling with God over this same issue… I tend to demand mercy. Sometimes a light will go on and I will realize that I messed up. As soon as I am aware that I made a mistake and I have acknowledged it, I expect all consequences to be removed and to be completely loosed. I am arrogant enough to believe that all I have to do is realize that God was right and then He is obligated to ignore my offense… to offer mercy.

I don’t parent that way. I don’t treat others that way. Ironically, more often than not God does treat me that way yet I shake my fist and believe that I deserve more mercy.

I deserved death, He provided life. I deserved estrangement, He provided relationship. I deserved captivity, He provided freedom.

Thanks be to God for His profound mercy and ridiculous grace.

Not enough mercy? How about, not enough gratefulness!