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Pain and Suffering

The following post is disjointed and semi incoherent. I have left it as such on purpose. Incoherence and abrupt changes in the narrative when retelling a personal story is a sign of trauma. I have recently had multiple friends go through severely traumatic events. I have left my musings in a format that is I intend as an embrace to their stories.

What do you do when faced with evil and suffering?

I typically remind myself that when Christ returns judgement day will come and the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.

But this answer begins to waver as I am faced with greater evil and suffering. The last year I have met those whose spouse cheated and left them, watched young people avoid the feelings after being abused and five women who had been raped. One of them was raped while I was in the act of praying for her.

The light of future justice becomes a dimmer and dimmer light in the face of growing darkness.

How do I continue to believe that God is good in light of allowing such evil? Evil that could have been avoided by a text and one other person joining an event. Such a simple solution.

I want to alleviate suffering. Because of this I have a habit of looking for people who are suffering to help them. I developed a habit of seeing more evil and bad than good in the world. I fail to see the blessings and good that God provides.

              These things I hold to be true.

              God allows people to choose for themselves.

              When people sin it is because they are carried away by their own lusts.

              God prevents us from sinning in many ways that we do not see.

              We never know the whole picture of how God is working in our lives.

              Pain and suffering is sometimes the only thing that turn us to Christ, and that will always be worth it.

              But I wonder, how do I know that turning to Christ is worth it? What do I see now?

David laments the success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous in the Psalms. He cries out to God in honesty as he looks at the suffering of the world. Why? Where are you?

              But he declares, “I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

              If I believe this I must look for it. I must be thankful for the good that the Lord does provide. The sun, the rain, health, friends, embraces, prayer, and recall to mind all the past times he has come through.

              I want to ‘do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly before the Lord my God’

              In response to seeing pain and suffering I want to do good. Treat others well.

              I must praise God that I have been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of showing others goodness.

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Loneliness 1

Loneliness. You are not alone in your loneliness. And yet you are alone. So very very alone.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Discord and other social media platforms allow us share and speak with friends and strangers. Cell phones, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Facebook video calls allow us to see and talk to loved ones with the push of a button. Personal vehicles allow us to see friends in person at distances that would have previously prevented friendships.

Lonely. I am still lonely. I went rock climbing with a friend. We got dinner afterwards. As soon as she left a massive wave of loneliness swept over me. I live with family. I have a great relationship with my family. Yet I am still lonely.

Loneliness is a negative emotion that tells us connection is missing or broken. A good connection requires presence (the act of being fully engaged with the other person), and common experience (doing something, understanding the other).

For six years I relied on texting and phone calls. My close friends were hours away and my work routinely prevented me from seeing them. But it left me wanting. I wanted to be with them and not where I was. Now, even when with my friends I imagine and hope to be somewhere else.

I got used to my phone as a placeholder for human connection. Checking my phone gave a tiny relief to my loneliness. My phone was a very bad coping mechanism. I found out later that checking our phones impulsively is due to the brain being trained to release dopamine by checking our phones.

              Even though I have consistent time with the my closest friends who are wonderful people I still have my bad habits. Silence in conversation? Pick up the phone. Think of something to say to someone else? Pick up the phone and text them. Can’t be funny myself? Grab my phone and find a TikTok.

              We can change our emotions by changing small actions. Find the one small action. The easiest one you know you can change. It doesn’t have to be a magic bullet, but one that is part of the change.

              Below is my train of thought that got me from loneliness to stop checking my phone.

              I am lonely because I am not fully connected. I am not fully connected because I am not fully attentive and engaged with my friends. I am not fully engaged and connected because I have the emotional desire to be or do something else. I want to be elsewhere and do other things because the cell phone gives the false impression that it will heal my loneliness by connecting me to someone else (the dopamine burst).

              When I go to my friends house I tell them, “I am struggling to focus on being here and not check my phone. I am going to put it on ‘do not disturb’ It will only ring if one of my favorite contacts calls. Other than that I am not going to check it. Please call me out if I do.”

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Processing vs Choosing

              I enjoy figuring out the internal world of emotions, feelings, and how the past affects what we choose today. It is like a giant puzzle. I love reading books on how our brain is developed and how counseling brings coherence to our stories and changes how our brain functions. I am just about always observing my own thought and emotional process.

              I lived with a gentleman that did none of this. It was rare that he would say something like, “you think I do this because of this?” Maybe three times in the entire two years I lived and worked with him. He just saw a behavior and changed it. If something made him mad he was mad. If he should not have been mad he realizes it and then doesn’t get mad again.

              No analyses. No working through emotions to find out reasons causes etc. No mulling over why there is angst, pain, or hurt. He just accepts, “yup. That sucks” and then in a few hours he will be over it. He is perfectly successful and takes care of his fiancé and his friends well.

              Typically this makes me uncomfortable. Most people I know that just decide to ‘change’ are really just ignoring issues. They don’t work through past pain and trauma and then their expectations and coping mechanisms affect me. I prefer my way. Or I did.

              I mull over the same experience for weeks. I try and find the root of the roots, root cause. If I just find the past experience and base motivation then, maybe, I can change my feelings. This is a good skill in that I can usually communicate how and why I feel what I feel. But it is not good when the same issue keeps coming up over and over again.

              Brain scans show that bringing coherence to past experiences changes how our brain functions. But if constant mulling over the past causes other bad behaviors, or delays change in behavior it can be bad.

              God does command constant self evaluation. We are commanded to do good. God tells us that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

              Sometimes does obedience take internal processing? Absolutely. Sometimes just choosing never seems to work. But other times we need to just let our feelings go, get over ourselves, and choose a different path. Choosing in this manner, like anything else, is a skill that must be practiced. But it is a good skill to have in the endeavor to live well and love well.

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To My Plant Friends

              I love my plant friends. Walk into their house and there are plants. Everywhere. I am not a plant person. I am bad at taking care of plants. I just can’t keep them alive. I give them too much sun. Too much water. I am also bad at taking care of people.

              Cameron would tell you this isn’t true. He recently told me I respond to him well. I listen, I only offer advice when asked. I care for him while respecting his autonomy.

              I am good for Cameron. He wants to grow in a way that fits my methodology and thought process. He likes the amount of light and water I naturally offer. But I cannot say I am good at taking care of people because ‘people’ includes those who don’t think like me. They need different levels of sun and water.

God has recently been using a young gal to humble me. Constantly. She doesn’t aspire to the same ‘level’ of growth. She doesn’t want to work through past demons. She just goes through life changing habits without overthinking. Sort of.

I try to push and influence her behavior. But it never works.

She does have episodes of growth. She sits me down and brings up difficult topics and clearly states what she feels, what she wants, and what she is working on.

It has always been after my absence. Not my presence. Won’t talk for three or four days and then a sudden blooming of analyzed feelings and desires. I am more of a hindrance than a help.

She is the plant lady.

She grows on her own.

Paul tells us in 1 Cor that one person plants and another waters, but it is God who makes them grow. I over water and force sunlight and get frustrated when leaves wilt or get burned. But it is not my place to expect or demand growth. My place is to be good and do good.

Plants don’t communicate the same way people do. They tell you in subtle ways when they need water and sun. If you overwater they may grow mold. If you give them too much sunlight, they get burnt. When do we water and sun plants?

When they ask for it. It may be nonverbal. They may be unconscious in a ditch in need of medical care. Or crying and motion for a hug. It may be like Cameron who asks directly and clearly.

When we aren’t asked; we do good and shine as little lights for Christ. The plants that like to grow in sunlight will grow. The ones that don’t, won’t.

If they need space. Give them space. God grows plants in the darkness and the desert as much as the sunlight and the rainforest. Thankfully even those that we over water God gives grace to grow despite us.

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Tik-Tok, Tuesday, and Love

         

I want a good marriage. But what does that mean?

               We are inundated with movies, tv shows, and tabloids that emphasize a hot steamy romance. It is fairly common knowledge that the chemicals underlying the passionate love dissipate between the 6 month and 2 year mark. Most towards the shorter end of that range.

               Country artist Jake Scott released a song, “Love is the Tuesdays” in 2018. The song runs counter to the image of blissful highs and lows and emphasizes daily moments. “It’s not just highs and lows, and champagne toast, I’ve come to know that love’s not only the best days, or the worst days, love is the Tuesdays” Jakes song calls attention to the steady enjoyment of life with another person.

               Everyone says this is what we want. The unexciting, healthy, committed, caring relationship. But do we really? I don’t think so.

               Tik-Tok is both a huge time waster but also an app that shares stories of the mundane. Unlike Instagram that trended towards the perfect photo, the road trip adventures, and highlights, Tik-Tok emphasizes the mundane. Is your hair a mess? Doesn’t matter. Room a mess? Who cares. Lighting terrible? Not a problem. What do people watch? Literally anything. It is just a bunch of boring people doing boring things.

Every part of life is to be enjoyed. Work to play, exploring the outdoors, and significant events. All things were given to us by God. All blessings are from him. Learning to enjoy those things is an important skill for relationships.

               Married couples on Tik-Tok are not shy showing off impressive spousal displays of affection. They are also not shy in putting arguments, frustrations, and partners foibles on camera. The husband rants about the wife leaving clothes all over and ends with giving her chicken nuggets. The wife complains that house work isn’t done or that she just doesn’t understand what he is thinking.

Are these cruel jabs? No. They are simple people expression genuine irritation underscored by a much deeper sense of love and belonging. Though much time may be wasted, at least Tik-Tok is counter cultural to our obsession with emotional bliss and Disney moments. Tik-Tok brings us back to Tuesday.

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Marriage is undefined, singles are lost, and pastors are the problem

In my last post I critiqued a lack of creativity and definition of a good marriage. My concern in defining marriage well is for the purposes of dating. Dating for the Christian is a process aimed at marriage. Marriage needs a clear definition for the single person to pursue.

Marriage and relationships are common issues for pastors to cover. So why is there still confusion? Pastors are the problem, but it is not really their fault. Most pastors writing books on dating went straight into the pastorate after college. They are in a bubble when it comes marriage, choosing a spouse, and the Kingdom of God.

I agree with the pastors, authors, and psychologists that claim a marriage needs a goal bigger than themselves. Gary Thomas in his book “Sacred Search” and “Sacred Marriage” (one of the few dating books I recommend) rightly claims that a kingdom minded view is the best view for the call upon our marriages. For those going into fulltime ministry the ‘Kingdom Call’ is easy to see in their marriages and provides an easy filter during the dating process. Those not going into full time ministry do not have such an easy structure.

Concerning the dating process, Church ministry itself the filter – there are general expectations on a minister and their spouse. The girl or boy that has the same mission will already be in church. It is a neat little ecosystem that is simple and strait forward.

Outside of church this becomes complicated. I want to run my own business. This means long 90-hour work weeks. I may be in Law school and starting at a new firm. Long work ours. My work may require traveling. I can’t volunteer at church. How will I find a spouse there? What is the common calling of spouses that are a lawyer and an engineer? An artist and a city worker?

Concerning marriages, the ministers’ job is clearly involved in advancing God’s Kingdom and doing his work. They can work 40 hours, feel accomplished and then relax in their own time. How does the career person serve God with minimal free time? When I worked for a Fortune 50 company, I had two free hours a day. A portion of that time involved meal prep, cleaning, and daily chores. How does my future spouse and I work on the Kingdom calling together when we have separate vocations?

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Relationship Skills

I had the opportunity to be friends with my ex, I’ll call Holly, and visit her over the weekend in LA. I sat behind her at the bar while she was doing dishes and cooking breakfast. She shared mixed feelings for a guy she was talking to over the last few weeks. Holly stopped, turned off the water, and turned around to look at me. I looked at her bright blue eyes.

“I shouldn’t be sharing this with you. It isn’t considerate of our relationship. I am sorry.” She said with all care and sincerity.

I muddled something incoherent in reply and looked out the window or something. She waited. I returned I contact and shrugged. Satisfied she changed the subject and returned to cooking.

I do not know anyone as adept at communication skills as she was. The more books I read on neuropsychology, communication, relationships, and emotional intelligence the more I am amazed at how she just does everything naturally. No research. No books. Just good well intentioned relating.

I have had a few dates with young girls who are very present and engaged. It isn’t a completely lost art, but it is definitely difficult to find. I think it is an affect of social media and cell phones. Eye contact has become increasingly difficult to manage. Many are so lost and disillusioned that they have difficulty ignoring themselves long enough to really listen and engage with another human being.

That is the goal. Learn the habits that lead our hearts to putting the other person first. Some of us naturally put the other first. Others need a lot of help with lots of practice. I lived genuinely selfless before others and developed a severe selfishness disorder. The last five years have been fighting to get it back. I still fail regularly.

A few months after this interaction I unfortunately didn’t think of Holly first. I put her in an uncomfortable situation because I couldn’t die to my own desires first.

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Celebrate our Independence

USA Independence Day is a celebration of America’s separation from Britain. Typically it is a celebration of freedom. Os Guiness claims in his book Last Call for Liberty, Great Britain considered themselves free. In contrast with the other European nations they were. The United States were the free of the free. We took liberty to the extreme.

Christians typically are ones to take pride in the freedom of the American experiment of freedom. Unfortunately, some go so far as to call our nation a Christian nation. Some critique of America and say it is, “post-Christian”. Either claim is a misuse of ‘Christian’.

A Christian is one who follows Christ. Nations do not follow Christ, people do. The misuse of the term degrades the word when we use the same one to identify ourselves.

Christians in America do have unique was to conduct themselves in the Christian life. As we celebrate our independence and celebrate freedom this ought to include thankfulness to God for giving us opportunities that we have. It is from God that we have the political challenges we face and it is from him that we have the significant freedom to live well.

What is the most Christian response to freedom? Diligent use of that freedom to do well, thankfulness to God for that freedom, and consistent prayer for those that are not as fortunate. It is in God’s good nature to shape nations and shape his people by those nations. As we celebrate our country let us also celebrate the many blessings it affords us in thankfulness to God.

Happy 4th of July!

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Secular and Sacred Pt. ii

The separation of secular and sacred is rooted in Gnostic Dualism. The belief that the perfect state of man and woman is spiritual. There is a perfect design or blueprint of a person. The only way to reach perfection is to shed the physical state and become a perfect spirit.

               This is not Biblical. God made us with a physical body. When Christ returns and makes a new heaven and earth, we will have physical bodies. Christ himself is raised from the dead in his physical body and ascended into heaven in his physical body. We will be like him in the resurrection. We are made to be physical.

In the creation narrative Adam and Eve were gifted the responsibility of tending the garden. The command to subdue the earth is prior to the fall (Gen 1:28). The narrative then moves into a detailed look at Adam and Eve. God commands Adam to tend the garden God made (Gen 2:15). The intent for responsibility and work is present before the curse.

The curse after disobedience extends from our calling to be stewards of the earth. Adam’s curse was to toil with the ground. His job and life endeavor did not change.

The law that God gave to the Israelites continues the theme of earthly importance. Contrary to several surrounding religions, God gave commands regarding food, building their houses, and even their waste hygiene. Other religions gods did not care about the ‘earthly’ and ‘mundane’, only the spiritual.

Our spiritual health is important. But the spiritual is present here. The laws given to the Israelites to separate them from the surrounding nations were specific regarding how they lived their physical life. The Israelites were commanded to be different in their daily lives.

Finally, as James tells us, “Show me your faith without your actions and I will show you my faith by my actions.” The actions that show our faith is every aspect of our lives. Job, free time, shows we watch and don’t watch all point to what we believe in.

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The Secular and Sacred

There are two great lies the church hands out freely. We are to love ourselves first and there is a separation between secular and sacred. The first is more widely held and defended. When I politely suggest that loving yourself first is not scriptural it is Christians who respond viscously. Those who do not profess Christ easily accept it. Christians are supposed to love others more than themselves. That is Christ like, is it not?

               More subtly is the separation of the secular and the sacred. The separation is not taught as much as implied. Sermons, books, conversations, bible studies, and tweets imply that the unseen spiritual world is of more importance. Church ministry, worship songs, winning souls for Christ, reading the Bible all have value. Everything else is just pointless filler.

               If you are working a secular job, it is good to tithe and not do wrong things in front of your coworkers and invite them to church. But your real life is the spiritual things you do around your job. You have the unfortunate position of only getting in a few hours of spiritual work. Blessed be the church ministries that get to do spiritual work 40 hours a week.

               Christ cares for conduct of all people, everywhere, in every action. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it well unto the Lord. If this means taking extra time to clean the runners in your sliding door unto the Lord, then do it well. If it means leaving that task undone to respond to a friend on Facebook, then do so to the Lord.

                 The separation degrades most of our life from diligent stewardship of God’s gifts into pointless tasks. Those not in full time ministry feel lost and without purpose. It strips lives of opportunities to serve and glorify God. Worship moves from all people, all places, everywhere to fifteen minutes on Sunday morning and listening to Phil Wickham in the car.

               Our crowns are created and shined on earth. They are shown in heaven. The next several posts I will be covering how to change our thinking to undo the separation of secular and sacred.

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Justice: Healing Wrong v2

I first published this post over a year ago. Given the current climate I believe it is good to republish with some edits.

The common view of justice is one of punishment. Someone does wrong and they receive a ‘just reward’ for their wrong deeds. This is, at best, an incomplete and warped view of justice compared to the biblical view.

Justice is: make something wrong, right. It is making something bent or crooked straight again. As all injustice and evil is a perversion of the just and good.

Punishment in and of itself does nothing to correct the root causes of pain and suffering. Punishment that focuses on restitution and correction of wrongs brings justice to its fullness in the area of law and government.  However, in the social sphere, we must also look at the root cause in the human condition.

The human heart which is shaped by the environment needs healing beyond punishment. Individuals need a relationship with someone who will mentor them, guide them, and show them goodness. From a relationship, individuals can really begin to change. More on the dichotomy of individual and civil justice later.

Next, justice as “making wrong right” expands justice to include active good. Some things in life are just broken. People will lose their jobs. Parents will fail. People die. Although facts of life they are also ills, like getting a cold. True justice reaches out and attempts to heal the sickness.

Justice feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, is a father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widows. It does the good that fills the void left by brokenness.

We are just when we assist a woman who is abuse in escaping that abuse. The abuse is part of our broken world. It is a wrong in this world and is evil. It must be made right.

We make her life more ‘right’ when we remove the abuse. Counseling can help make her internal world more right. For the right world is the one with goodness, gentleness, kindness, love, joy and all such good things.

The same can be said for feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those who have lost homes, consoling a loved one and any other action that causes a move towards what is right, good, and beautiful. A shattered ceramic in Japan is repaired with silver and gold along the cracks. The one that is made right is not without marks, but it has been made right again for its intended purpose and is beautiful.

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The Christian in Two Cities – Provide What You Cannot Keep

                The Christian lives in two cities. We are part of this world. It was built by God and is good. It is also the place where we get to live like Christ through trials. This is the only chance we get to be like Him in struggles and suffering.

                We also live for eternity with Christ. Our final hope is eternal. All the riches and opportunities of this world have no weight when compared to eternity. Neither do the sufferings or pain. No matter the consequences we are to do good and respond with good.

We are responsible travelers walking with a the message of the gospel in  a world that is not our own.

                Because of these two things the Christian should be both aloof and engaged in this world. We are to be aloof in that changing governments, policies, laws, wrongdoers, sinning, is expected and nothing to be concerned with. Christ is in control. So why get upset, bothered or worried? The only concern one should have is compassion and care for our loved ones that it affects.

                Love for those whom policy affects is the primary motive for being involved in politics. If a law prevents the Church from doing good that is an issue. For example: let us say that there is a ruling that no outside person is allowed in a prison to meet with or teach inmates. This would prevent Christians from helping them make connections to get back on their feet once freed and prevent an avenue for sharing the gospel. A petition or lobby to change this policy would be a good endeavor for the church.

However, even in the absence of being able to pass laws that make it easier to share the gospel, the church must be willing to fill the gap where needed. Even more importantly, regarding the removal of ‘free’ benefits from the government  for the those in need,  the church must step up and provide what they are asking the state to withhold.

More on this in the next post.

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Christians and Politics: Asking Questions?

Where is our hope? Where is our allegiance?

I do not believe the Christian Church in America has figured out how to live politically involved and serve Christ first. As I said to my mother the other day, I do not believe the best book on engaging politics as a Christian has been written yet. Nor do I believe that the church as a whole has ever truly ‘figured it out’.

                This is not an indictment against the church, but an example of Christ faithfulness to his people despite their flaws. Regardless of the church as a whole, or societies stereotype of the church, Christ remains faithful. This is true even in my own writings, thoughts, opinions, and life choices. I hope that I speak with the grace of truth and may contribute well to the conversation of, “How should we then live?”

                Generally, the Christian should be aloof in politics. That does not mean un-involved, it means involved with a disconnect of hope or belief in governing bodies. The Christian faith and call transcends cultural, political, or socio economic standings. Regardless of whether you live in South Africa, Communist China, the USSR or the USA your job is the same: Follow Christ. Be kind, put others before yourself, feed the homeless, take care of the widow, be a father to the fatherless.

                In the USA it doesn’t matter if the president is democratic, republican, or has purple skin: Follow Christ. The question is, what does following him look like in these contexts? In Africa one who is trained in Nursing may need to provide free medical services. The same nurse living in Orange County, CA may choose to not “work off the clock” especially for those who have insurance. A refusal to help in one case would be a failure to put others first. The failure to say no in another may be a foolish use of time.

                How do we discern what to do? That is the subject of my next several blog posts. But think on these questions:

                Am I afraid of the current political climate? If so, where does that leave my faith in Christ as King?

                What do I spend most of my time thinking about, talking about, or doing?

                Is the political position regarding a policy or leader going to help or hinder a life lived for others?                 Is my obsession with politics preventing me from seeing the good deeds that are set before me?

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The Church and Covid-19

              California has recently reclosed religious services. Churches are left with the option of defying ‘government’ orders and potentially blamed for the spread of Covid-19 and associated deaths or following orders and ceasing to be the church as we have known it. The Christian, and the church at large must decide when to disobey government orders and ignore all social opinions  in service of the Lord and when to submit to the government and be aware of the image of Christ (for the only stumbling block should be Christ and not us).

              The answer is simple. If church is simply an event to attend to receive teaching on scripture and enjoy a spiritual high in music, then quite honestly, there was never truly a compelling reason to value church in person above online lessons and worship music. If that is all church has been, then one should not go, and the church should not meet. We should live at peace and submit to the government.

But — if Church is a place where God works through his people, where God changes lives despite any flaws in the way we do worship in its emotional focus, the sermon in its disproportional length and emphases, and often marginal involvement in others’ lives; if communion is more than just remembrance like Thanksgiving and is something that the Holy Spirit shows up for; if it is the place that God calls all Christians to show up, fully present, in obedience to him just as much as feeding the homeless, doing good and avoiding sin; if going to church is where we obey the command to love one another and is the place through which we learn, focus, and fixate on this love for another – then, and only then we must… we absolutely must continue to meet regardless of the consequences.

              This church is worth showing up for even if the consequence is death.

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Average Joe

“There is no room here [the Christian life] for such contemporary ideas as the looking-glass self, and no consideration here for trivial contemporary obsessions such as one’s legacy” Os Guiness – Fools Talk      

Today I recount the story of the Christian called average Joe. He works as a routing and process engineer at a waste management company, is married to a wonderful girl Cindy and has three kids, Julie, Aaron, and Victor.

              In the future his grandkids call him ‘Pops’. His great grand kids know nothing about him, except the story of how he met his wife. He ran into her car on her way to a date. Her car was inoperable, so he gave her a ride. The man stood her up and Joe bought her dinner. They got married six months later. Aaron and Victors kids tell the story in jest and scold their deceased grandma as foolish for getting into cars with strangers. Julie tells the story in reference to God’s mysterious work and taking chances leads to a worthwhile life.

              Nothing else will be remembered of Joe. He did well at work and shared the gospel with several coworkers, four of whom eventually followed Christ. He stops to buy food for the homeless and plays with the children at church. When told he has done well for himself, he simply responds, “Well, my wife still loves me and all my kids are making wise choices. So, I guess I have.”

              He was saving money to take his wife on a surprise trip to Cancun. He loaned the money to someone in need at the church. They took the two-thousand dollars and left. He never told anyone. He lamented later that he hadn’t told his wife out of embarrassment rather than because he was turning the other cheek. In a later incident he was wronged much worse. No one knows but the offender, Joe’s best friend Greg, and the pastor who helped him through the situation. The incident died with them and I will not repeat it here.

              Joe struggled with pornography up until he was married. He had 4 relapses during his marriage. Each time he came forward to his close friends confessed and turned from his sin. He also struggled with a short tempter up until he was in his forties. The early death of his son changed his heart to always be compassionate.

              When his best friend, Greg, got terminal cancer he spent three nights a week for five months helping Greg’s family with needs. Joe cared for his parents in law as well when they were aging. He never got the big promotion due to these choices that took up his time.

He joined the water board on recommendation by his colleagues and helped secure more fair water policies for their town. NPR would eventually do a short documentary on the change, but his name was never mentioned.

              This is average Joe. He tried to be kind to whoever he met. He never failed to share the gospel when given the chance. He spoke almost every night with his wife regarding the good deeds laid before them. You will never read of him in a book. You will never see him on television.

When we get to heaven and we see everyone as they are, but just before we are healed of comparing others, we may notice that his crown is just a little larger, and his robes a little brighter than the pastors we see on television or book covers. Joe followed Christ in humility, he put others first, he did the good things that he came across, and he daily sought Christ for answers and forgiveness.

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Friendship and The Lord of the Rings

              I have been in 7 weddings as a groomsman or best man (I regret it not being 8 as I declined once to be a best man due to travel difficulties). The last three weddings I have been in I always give the same speech. Below is a piece of it.

              In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring we follow the characters Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as they are caught up in a journey to destroy the Ring of Power.

              Frodo is elected to take the Ring because of his relationship with Bilbo, the one who found the Ring and left it to him. Sam is found outside Frodo’s window when Gandalf is discussing with Frodo the journey and is tasked to go with him (though also with a full commitment of loyalty). The two of them run into Merry and Pippin stealing from farmer Maggots crop and are then caught up in the adventure as they are chased by the Nazgul.

              They sort of get caught up in this adventure by circumstance. JRR Tolkien tells a different story in the book. Frodo leaves the Shire with the ring under the guise of looking for Bilbo. Merry, Sam, and Pippin all choose to go. They all encounter the Nazgul together and find themselves at Brandyhall. Here Frodo had made up his mind to leave them and was figuring out how to tell them.

              Frodo is shocked to find they have ponies ready, everything packed and all are determined to go with. They knew he was leaving on some long journey. He is shocked again when they can tell him details of his journey about the ring he had kept hidden. His friends commend him that he had been careful. But they, being his close friends were with him and new him so well they saw all the little changes and hints that let them put it all together.

              Finally Merry speaks for all of them,

“It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you can keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo”

              The theme of friendship continues through the rest of the series. When I give a speech at weddings I add in bits bout a fellowship and “I can’t carry your burden but we can carry you” and so on and so forth with emotional things and strong analogies.

              But here we see a picture of friendship that we do not see very often anymore. Friends choose to give up their lives, their rest and good comfort, to help someone else in their specific journey. They knowingly face danger to help one carry a burden or finish a task. When I read the LOTR I don’t desire to be a Frodo, or Gandalf, or Aragorn – I wish to be a Merry, a Pippin, or a Sam.

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Compassion for Strangers

I was on my way to work from a coffee shop for the sole reason that I enjoy talking to strangers. On the way I observed a young man in a very disheveled appearance having a fit; flailing his arms, talking and yelling to himself. He continues this for about fifteen feet, spins in three circles, and falls down flat on grass. His arm or leg occasionally twitches and flails.

               I felt like I was looking into a mirror of my soul. I sympathize with the struggle he must have with his own mind. I don’t know if he is aware of a fight in his soul, whether he is friends or enemies with voices in his head or even voices from strangers around him.

I wonder if the strangers in my head would get along with the strangers in his. I may never know because unfortunately I drove past him without stopping. Perhaps by God’s grace I will see him on my return and we can have a conversation. Maybe it will be the two of us, maybe it will be four or five of us.

Most of my adult life I have struggled with depression. I am convinced that all forms of suffering trivial or severe serve to make us more like Christ. I have been trying to figure out for years how depression is making me more like Christ. Despite many conversations with friends I never could figure out a satisfying answer.

               I recently woke up in the middle of the night in a great deal of angst over something that in a few years will seem trivial. I couldn’t fall back asleep, gave up, and went about my day on two hours of sleep. This morning I felt a sudden onset of guilt and regret over past choices with enough emotional force to make my chest hurt.

              It is a struggle. I am aware that my emotions are out of line. I am routinely fighting with myself. I wonder if this man intensely feels this struggle. Does he feel as though he has demons and wants freedom? I wish I knew how to help. I realized that even if I had stopped I would not have had the slightest clue as how to be helpful.

(As a side note, according to Jesus we are not to worry about what we will say when taken in front of courts and kings and queens for the Holy Spirit will guide us. I assert that he will do the same for us when speaking to his lost children. I should have stopped).

              I enjoy talking to strangers. But I find that those who are most strange are not strangers. When asked who is our neighbor, Christ responds with a story about a person who chose to be a neighbor to a stranger. Now here This young man taught me something important about my struggle; compassion. How can he be anything but a neighbor to care for?

Good marriage and calling on marriage

              A good marriage is one that consistently puts the other first and chooses the couple unit. How well do you put the others needs first in communication, survival, emotional well being, etc.? This is a metric for all relationships. “and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

              The second portion I assert is choosing the couple unit. This is the wisdom part. Sometimes putting the other person ‘first’, I use human comparisons, may put the couple unit at risk. At times we will have to ask the other person to bend or put in more effort for the sake of the couple and the couples calling.

The constant call upon the married persons life is to choose and return to the other as a couple. This also helps decide on where time is spent in wisdom. We are called to love everyone. But time and resources are limited. After creating a marriage covenant we choose to love them first before others. They are the deciding factor (not their feelings but them as a person) in how our time is spent. All of this together is then subject to the purpose of the marriage before God.

The call on the couple is living out the Kingdom mandate. The terminology of ‘Kingdom mandate’ or ‘kingdom call’ is undermined by our separation of secular and sacred. The ministry to win souls and be in church is the sacred and eternal – everything else is temporary and secular. When this divorce within the Christian life takes hold of our psyche the only way a couple can be doing good for the Kingdom is in church ministry. Difficult to do when you already work a full time job. I argue the Kingdom call is supporting the other in whatever good work is before them in Christ. This may include activities together or encouragement for when they are apart. This is a broad simplification and is intentional. Live life well. The Christian walk is as simple as giving a cold cup of water to someone who is thirsty. So do good and enjoy what the Lord has given you.

Good Marriage

Secrets to a good marriage. Take a good marriage to great. Have a healthy marriage.

These phrases ooze out of book titles, sermons, and conversational pleasantries. They are as pleasant as losing your keys. What is a ‘good marriage’ vs a ‘bad one’. Can I get a tester at the hardware store? Is there a list of ten key items so that I can grade my relationship? This would be useful and absurd.

Yet, that is what we are looking for. A test to objectively critique a relationship. What measuring rod do you use for two human hearts? The modern desire for measurable knowledge turns a rod intended to measure into one used as abuse. Yet sparing the rod spoils the relationship.

Without any clear guidepost we won’t ever find what we are looking for. If we don’t know what a good marriage is we won’t ever be satisfied in one. We may find it. But we won’t know we have found it. “This is cool. … Better keep looking” the search never ends.

 “It is always in the last place I looked” Is true bey comical definition. I never found something and thought to myself, well, better keep looking under tables and around corners (except in the hunt for a spouse). Once you find it the quest is completed and there is satisfaction. But if you don’t know what that ‘it’ is, then the looking can never stop.

Not all who wander are lost. But some who wander are most definitely lost. If the destination is the goal, but you do not know the destination you are most assuredly lost when wandering. If you are enjoying the journey as the goal then you can wander to your hearts content and be satisfied. If you want a destination as the goal then the destination must be known.