Real Men

Fieryhalo

My brothers and a couple friends joke regularly about what “real men” are supposed to be like. This usually involves a lot of grunting, flexing, showing off one’s “guns” and tough talk. It’s pretty funny and I laugh right along with them but I like to think that REAL men are more than a superficial show of dominance and ego.

I originally posted the following highly-controversial note on facebook a couple years ago.  The long list of comments made afterwards by outraged young men of my acquaintance struck me again with what I had always questioned; do true gentlemen exist?! I believe they do but they are very rare.  As young people of any moral and spiritual depth, we can start to lose hope when Godly examples are non-existent or we have no high standard to look to or reach for.

I am SO proud of the guys I know that are “real…

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Passion Vs. Hype

I realize today is a tough day for a lot of people…

It’s the lovers holiday,

Valentine’s Day,

Single’s Awareness Day,

Market-to-saps Day, or whatever you happen to deem it.

I’ve heard it called just about every name in the book in the past several hours. There are very few people really DO feel loved.  Maybe you’re one of them. For people that don’t have anyone, THIS IS the pain of life… a day devoted to dredging up and throwing in one’s face the fact that love doesn’t exist for them… that there’s no one out there who would defend them or die for them like that of a passionate Romeo-and-Juliet romance.  Does it make sense to you then that more than half of teenagers growing up in the U.S. go through a “gothic” stage where they embrace death and hate the world?  I realize on a regular basis how blessed I’ve been to be surrounded by so much love in my circle of friends and family that I’ve never felt the weight of that hatred.

You know… sap isn’t usually genuine, hype is just hype but there is something to Valentine’s Day.  I’ve come to realize that life really IS all about passion and encouragement.  If I’m being completely honest with you about what matters most to me, I’d say life isn’t worth living if I can’t communicate the love of Jesus Christ to the people that surround me everyday.  This isn’t some weird, freako’s fake attempt at piety either; hundreds of experiences put it in my face every day that life is all about who you love and serve.

Plato put it well when he said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I’m blessed if I remember and live by this. Even in “Christian” circles, people struggle with unbelievable regret and feelings of emptiness and loneliness.  I think it’s easy to forget that, yeah, “crap happens” (as a friend’s bumper sticker said) and life can be really tough but we do have someone who was so completely and irrationally in-love with us that He died for us.  If that isn’t the fuel for a heart-wrenching, overpowering romance story, I don’t know what is. How much more should we show love because of the love we’ve been shown? It’s time to get over ourselves and our pity party this Valentine’s Day and fall in-love with LIFE.  Start serving and remember the love you’ve been shown instead of looking for meaningless paper affection that’s here today and thrown in the trash tomorrow.

Most people know about Jesus Christ… his story has become just that… another story.  But do we really understand how much it applies to our lives, how it becomes our lives?  In this case, the sappy, gooey, mushy feelings usually associated with love have no place (quite frankly, I think they never should).  The preferred color of every Valentine’s Day card, the color depictive of passion, blood, and romance is my favorite color – it’s all over this site. It reminds me of who I am and that the most precious, amazing man in the world gave his life for mine.

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Inedible

It bites… every time we see another church youth group crying out to Jesus Christ for his help at the altar and then, within the week, laughing until they’re crying at a movie where the name of Jesus Christ is trashed in front of millions of people.

It digs my heart out when I realize so many ‘Christian’ young people claim to be seeking innocence and purity and then parade to REGAL for a mental strip show of vicarious sexual experiences, gay orgies, expletives, and violence.  If we’re purposefully sucking up gratuitous hell without gagging on the vomit, how can we expect an ounce of heaven in our present or future existence? Or do we actually have a taste for the vomit? Either we’re cracked mentally or taking crack to think we can drink it all in without consequences.

In every form of health this principle applies: “you are what you eat.”   If we want a clean mind and heart, we take in anything clean and beautiful.  If we’re ingesting all the hot, new poop society pumps out of its vilest parts, our minds and hearts will rot in the toilet with the scum we keep going back for.  How can we drag that baggage to God and arrogantly assume he’s forgiving what we’re still living?  Salvation doesn’t work that way. If the world gives a movie an R rating and says it isn’t suitable for children under the age of 17, is it really suitable for those of us who want that child-like innocence necessary to “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3)? Whatever happened to setting our “minds on things above” like it talks about in Colossians 3:2 or not being “conformed to the customs and behaviors of this world but [being] transformed by the renewing of our minds”? (Romans 12:2)

I learned early in my life that I never forgot anything I’d see on a screen.  As a kid, not only could I quote through most of a Disney film after only having viewed it twice and remember every face and voice to the extent that I’d connect it to other movies or television shows, I also carry with me to this day horrific scenes I saw on a commercial when I was 5 years old and my grandpa didn’t change the channel.  Every Care Bear episode I’ve ever seen is carefully recorded in detail; each Darkwing Duck show I never missed has been stored.  These are a continual reminder to me that everything goes on the record, every word, act, picture, etc. I also realized my authorities didn’t always have the power or discernment to protect me; purity had to be MY choice and I have to keep choosing it or else I’m losing it. The older I get, the more I understand innocence is not passive weakness or blind naiveté; it is an aggressive stand or action to protect what’s sweet, clean, and beautiful.

My brother, Brent, likes to tell a story we used to read in our One-a-Day devotional book growing up. The story is about two children who went to their dad begging to see a film that all their friends had been talking about. The movie was a big budget production and had been dubbed “the best” in every area; no expense was spared.  Excitedly, the children reported that it boasted ground-breaking, new special effects, some of the most talented actors and actresses, and a world-renowned director who had also been responsible for the making of other movies they had loved. Of course, the reviews had been stellar too and everyone they knew had already gone to see the film at least twice, except for them. When their father asked about sex scenes and bad language in the movie, they explained that it only had one little sex scene and just a few minor swear words. They said they could handle it though; it would be totally worth it for all the other great stuff. There was only a little bit of junk. The father said he’d think about it.

The dad later brought a big plate piled high with freshly-baked brownies to his two children.  The steaming chocolate treat looked moist and delicious and smelled even better.  Before the kids could dig in, the father took a moment to tell them all about the incredible brownies he’d made. He’d made them no expense spared. He used the finest ingredients, the richest, imported Dutch cocoa, hand-milled flour, fresh eggs, and milk he’d picked up only just that morning. Not only that, the decadent brownies were made with his heartfelt devotion and love for his two, precious children. He went on to say that the brownies had only a little bit of dog poop in them… just a tiny bit of crap. He claimed they wouldn’t even taste it. “If either of you eat these brownies, you may go to that movie.”

Although I’ve heard that story countless times, this seemed an appropriate post for a retelling.  It’s an important reminder to us to think about what we’re allowing into our minds.  A healthy head and heart, like a fit physique, requires the discipline and commitment to exercise purity one can only get through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus took discipline to a new level when he said, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He’s claiming that you’re actually doing what you see in your own mind, even before you act. Essentially, “you are what you take in.” Taking a guy or girl in with a lusty look has the same calories as a sexual act.  Watching sex is the same as having it. Taking pleasure in watching a gruesome murder is just as fattening as doing it yourself.  Listening dispassionately while someone else trashes the name of Jesus Christ is like tasting the same expression on your own tongue and swallowing it down. We’ve got to wake up and smell the poison. We desperately need a diet change.

If we want or even hope to achieve a beautiful, pure mind, body, and heart devoted to Jesus Christ, it’s time to start shutting out the Hollywood crap more often.  Everyone might think it’s weird and radical to say “no” but we’ve swallowed enough excrement already to kill an entire generation, our generation.  Let’s rethink our food options and GET PICKY. It might take an aggressive act to go back to innocence but it’s the only way to go forward as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

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Serving God: For Me or For Him?

In 1965, The Rolling Stones sang a song that said, “I can’t get no satisfaction, though I try, and I try, and I try.” Depressing? Of course, they’re rock stars; they don’t have the fulfillment of living for a purpose or cause bigger than themselves. They live a morbid, selfish, shallow existence. So… Why is it, then, that believers in Jesus Christ, even those in ministry, deal with the same feelings of emptiness, loneliness, pain, and frustration?

That’s a good question.

As Christians, aren’t we supposed to be living satisfied lives brimming with joy and purpose? Isn’t this the Christian generation of Purpose Driven Life? What about Pentecostal prosperity and the pursuit of Your Best Life Now? We grow up in church, go to a Christian college, graduate with big dreams, find a lucrative job with a high-dollar salary, get married, have children, and teach Sunday school or get involved in other church ministries.  This should be enough.  So what’s wrong? Hello, Rolling Stones!… most of us aren’t satisfied either!

Here’s a simple question: Is Christianity as a religion, reasonable?  One would have to say yes under certain cultural conditions. It has its social benefits in this country.  It fills a need for understanding in the same way that all religions do. We have our traditions and our services and our faith, and these all help make the world a happier place in which to live. So, in this respect, serving God is reasonable.

However, what happens when, like in the book of Job, you lose everything? (I was reading Job today… so now you know where all this reflection came from) What about Christians who are persecuted for what they believe? How do you explain to a Christian friend why their son or daughter has a sexually transmitted disease or why they are dealing with bankruptcy or cancer when they have given of themselves for Christ’s sake? The answer has been around for a while but it doesn’t make it any easier to communicate.

Pleasing God does not mean your life will be free of trouble. In fact, far from it! If you choose to please God, it’s the tougher road. Peachy and Pollyanna perfect are descriptions sometimes associated with Christian life when, in fact, the opposite is often true. In her fiction book, Soulforge, Margaret Weis uses a description that could very aptly depict the Christian life: “You choose to go voluntarily into the fire. The blaze might well destroy you. But in surviving, every blow of the hammer will serve to shape your being. Every drop of water wrung from you will temper and strengthen your soul.” It’s called testing. (Like in I Corinthians 10:13) It gages your level of learning and can be passed (about as easily as a kidney stone sometimes). No one likes tests.

As a personal example, thinking about this has not been emotionally easy because my parents who have been in pastoral and evangelistic ministry since I was a child are dealing with overwhelming pain and frustration even as I write. Why? is a question they ask continually. If all we want to do is serve you, why would you allow us to go through all of this? Sometimes it’s an incredibly lonely place where no one seems to have any comprehension of what we’re going through. Sometimes all I can do is cry with my parents and try to be supportive. There have been moments when the pious programmed responses of brothers and sisters in Christ grate on me like fingernails on a chalk-board.  Yes, I have heard countless times the common Christian mantra that says living for Jesus makes life good and that you must be missing something if you are not feeling fulfilled. If you’re a Christian and you’re not feeling happy and fulfilled, don’t worry; that just means you’re human like the rest of us.

In Larry Crabb’s article, On the Occasion of a Friend’s Retreat into Sin, he says that a prevailing heresy in our evangelical culture is the idea “that living for Jesus reliably provides the soul with a depth of satisfaction that exceeds the satisfaction found in sin.” If this is, indeed, what Christians in this country live for, they won’t achieve it! Ultimately, in the case of my parents, I’ve realized that they’re not ministering with the intention or goal of fulfilling their own personal desires; if they were, they would have left ministry years ago. They serve out of faithfulness and a committed relationship to the Lord.  It has been an incredible example for me, my brothers, and sister.

According to Ted Dekker, in his book The Slumber of Christianity, “The incomparable great power we have as believers is tied up in hope; lose the hope and you lose the power.” This is where our answer lies. Our hope can’t be in doing everything according to “God’s will” because perfection in that area is humanly impossible; we can’t hope in ministry and accomplishing great things for God or we’ll be ripe candidates for burn-out; our hope has to originate from the unconditional, unfathomable, and deep love God has for us. Our roots need to be grounded in that relationship over all others. Yes, he’s the Creator of the Universe, the One whose words became reality, but He’s also my Daddy.

The relationship we can have with God today as opposed to the way things were in Job’s day are vastly different. We don’t have to make daily or weekly sacrifices for our sins but we do have to be willing to sacrifice our desires, our drive for fulfillment, and our preconceived notions concerning cushy Christian living. “In this world, you’re going to have trouble but take heart (hope!) because I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

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Reality

Reality is so much more than we can see. We think we’ve grasped it the more we see of life and how the world works, or how it doesn’t. Movies, music, scientific research, news, etc. all serve to get us on the same page with everyone else. Social knowledge or consensus of what’s real is just that: social knowledge and consensus. Get enough people to agree with you and provide semi-convincing evidence and we’ll believe anything. How is that reality?

Everything we think we can hold onto is about as fluid as water. Just a surface glance at our economy reaffirms that even our hard work and money won’t keep us afloat.  Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, said last week, “I want my life back.” Yeah, he used to go on weekend helicopter hops to Vail, CO for skiing and boat trips to the Caribbean; that was his normal life before the oil spill shook his seemingly unshakable existence.  We think his lifestyle was unrealistic and extravagant but, to most people around the world, so are we.  With our tenuous economy and jobless masses, we’re beginning to feel the security of our lifestyle slipping beneath our feet.  What are we without it?

LOST.

This could be depressing if we didn’t understand the Truth.  Even people who claim to know the Truth today are acting hopeless because, quite honestly, we don’t get it.  Jesus Christ is coming back.  This is the way it’s supposed to be before he shows up, remember? Tension is growing in the Middle East, a plague of locusts threatens to wipe out a year’s worth of Egyptian crops, more nuclear missiles are aimed at Tel Aviv than any other city in the world, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions…  I mean, c’mon!  This is reality.

Why do we say we serve Jesus (if we say we serve him)?  Is it just because it works for us?  Church people, Christian college students, and youth groups -not to mention the rest of the world- all have the same epidemic right now and you can see it in their eyes; it’s stealing our souls. The epidemic is APATHY.  We’re so full of ourselves and our desire to sit comfortably entertained on our “tight” budgets that we think we’re sacrificing if we give a little extra in the Sunday offering. But don’t you dare try to move us; our plans are still almighty. We’re in control here. Good stewardship becomes an excuse for our apathy. Forget sacrifice, forget loving until it hurts, forget holding up a high standard of purity, unity, or humility; forget crying because you realize so many people are going to hell. Have you ever cried watching the fighting in the Middle East?  How hardened have we gotten to suffering and sacrifice?

We don’t believe in anything we’re not feeling at the moment. How is that reality?

I’ve shared this message in front of thousands of people when I’m introducing songs at a concert. In those venues people really appreciate passion whether or not it spurs active repentance later. (“Preach it sista!”) Interpersonally, however, my Christian friends from college tell me outright that they think I’m crazy.  As the faculty advisor of my college newspaper once told me, “we don’t need zealots here.”  The prevailing thought seems to be more and more, “Can’t we just have fun? I don’t care how you live your life; just leave me alone.”

I like to illustrate it like this: If I was standing by the side of the road next to a sign that said “Bridge out ahead,” I wouldn’t let you pass without doing everything in my power to stop you from killing yourself. You might scream out your window at me that I don’t really know what the sign says or that I’m being judgmental of your driving or that you have the right to drive wherever you want. Even still, if I really care about you, I’ll keep trying to get you to turn around. I’ll keep pointing to the sign. This is my only purpose in writing.  It’s my purpose in living. Why would I waste my time doing anything else?  I won’t coddle you but I would gladly die for you. Sounds crazy and ridiculous but, yeah, I love you that much and yeah, this kind of love is more real and solid than social consensus and comfortably controlled budgets.

“My inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

Don’t let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.

There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.”

Proverbs 23:16-18

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The Marriage Question

To be married or not to be married? That is the question.  It’s a question I receive several times a week these days, usually when someone is referring to my single status or another recommendation for a perfect match… “He’s cute, single, and works in finance in Copenhagen! You two would be perfect together!” (yes, someone actually did say this!) Why do people think I need to be married now? These conversations end quickly if I can help it.  The subject seems to ignite interest in others but, am I wrong for believing a manhunt is a waste of time?

“Mah-wage… that blessed awaingement… that dweam within a dweam…” as it’s called in the Princess Bride. Not to throw a huge, wet blanket on the romantic idealist but it’s hardly the blissful, romantic enterprise movies portray or that we might imagine it to be. To put it pragmatically, it’s a facilitator of life, a potentially powerful partnership, and an important calling for some but not a prerequisite for happiness or fulfillment. Sometimes, in fact, it has the opposite effect and one can find themselves committed to an existence of pain and regret.

I learn a lot at weddings and from my parents (I LOVE weddings). Sometimes I see weddings turn into, what appears at the moment, to be a happy marriage.  Several brides have confided to me their struggles since the Big Day but continue to see their relationships through eyes of faithfulness.  My parents say that marriage is “one of those things worth working for.” More often than not, however, I’ve seen magical, white, fairytale weddings turn into tragic divorces in less than 3 years.  Sometimes this was because one or both partners were feeling lonely and discovered unmet expectations and more loneliness in marriage; sometimes it was because one or both partners felt pressure from family, friends, their university culture or other social circles to move into the next phase of life when they weren’t emotionally ready; most commonly, however, physical attraction has been the hinge-pin of the unsuccessful ones.  These marriages came undone with the first slammed door.

There’s no question we would have fewer divorces if we had more objective assessments 1012303_208880282594771_1067233989_nof why we’re choosing to marry.  Idealism is hardly helpful when we’re making a decision that will last the rest of our lives and, yet, the mindless feelings and lusty infatuation of what we mistakenly call “love,” drives our logic. This shouldn’t be. You’re marrying the girl because she’s HOT? That’s a rock-solid foundation.

My family has begun to discuss this subject more often the older my siblings and I have grown to be and the ending statement is always the same: “we will all know when it’s the right one.” I have my doubts on this. I’d prefer an arranged marriage to the terrible task of orchestrating it myself or hunting for a person with every character quality necessary to achieve that kind of consensus. I like what Paul says in I Corinthians 7 about marriage. Yes, it’s another kind of lifestyle but shouldn’t be any more or less satisfying to us. Dating websites? Why would anyone want to subject themselves to that? What good would it do for us to maneuver, plan, scheme, or put our effort and time into seeking something that’s supposed to be a natural outgrowth of a complete, fulfilled life? Winning another person’s love shouldn’t be a goal; it should be a by-product – icing on the cake.

All perspectives considered I’ve come to the conclusion that the best idea is to simply wait without investing any concern in the matter of whether or not marriage is a part of life. It’s too complicated a question and should be left in the care of a God who knows everything about us.  As my mother said before she was married, “God’s just going to have to plop him in my lap.” Otherwise, it’s a completely pointless waste of time and thought.  You can feel free to disagree with me but I believe this to be the best, most rational alternative to the feverish, rollercoaster ride of relationship hunting.

If we serve a God who’s already given us direction for our lives, why go searching for fulfillment elsewhere? Why be so anxious to quit the phase of life He has us in now? Do we have so little ambition for accomplishing greater good with our lives that we can’t imagine any grander calling than marriage; how small and self-centered is our world?  Life is about more than this! If we care about anyone’s happiness besides our own, our time is well-spent ministering to the needs of people who have no one, serving God faithfully and joyfully in the sphere of influence He has already given us, not trying to push for an answer to the distracting, unnecessary marriage question.

One final word to the critical analysts:

“Not looking” should never mean “not open.” Actually quite the opposite. The point of this post is to advocate satisfaction with one’s current stage of life (in light of what God can do with one’s productive singleness) and a pragmatic, logical approach to a usually emotion-based decision.

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Do We Need to Grow Up?

Legos, coloring books, and creative play were my happiest childhood memories. Life used to be simpler.  We all used to be simpler. Friendships were made in minutes because everyone needed to talk about birthdays, favorite colors, and food.  Smiles were as easy as breathing and Grandparents were superheroes. There were no bills, deadlines, or complicated relationships and it only took five minutes to get ready for the day.

A few short years later, life changed for all of us. After a childish or naïve action, we were told to “grow up.” So we did grow up and not just physically.  We thought it was a rite of passage… it’s what we are all supposed to do, right? So it begins with sexy and violent media, biting comments, and bad relationships hijacking any pure thoughts, forcing us to toughen up. Reality hits sooner than we expect and we doubt every dream and question every authority.  For many, the expectations of family, friends, and peers suck the simple life down the drain and a child is left naked in the bathtub, feeling dirty and let down. After innocence is beaten out of you that way, trust doesn’t come easily anymore because no one wants to get hurt.

Life is hard but we still want relationships, don’t we? We need them. So we maintain friends and family but we stuff cushions between ourselves and everyone else. The internet, cyber dating, iTech and a rapidly growing personal media market help keep us in control. We’re in-touch without too much.

According to 2011 Pew Research, over 75% of people ages 12-17 in the U.S. have a cell phone. 88% of that number text many times a day. At Cedarville University in 2010, a student research sample showed that one out of every three freshmen students sent over 100 texts a day, 3,000 texts a month, and 36,000 texts a year.  As Communication Age aficionados in the 12 to 35 years of age range, we text as much as we talk and refer back to our most difficult conversations by recalling our chat history.  We have more potential to be insecure face-to-face but disclose our deepest secrets to the world via Facebook.

Even researchers have taken an interest in how this effects our relationships. “We’re texting at a distance,” said Psychologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’re using inanimate objects to convince ourselves that even when we’re alone, we feel together. And then when we’re with each other, we put ourselves in situations where we feel alone — constantly on our mobile devices.” (see article here) So what if our young adult life is chronicled in hundreds of online photo album archives, blogs, sms, and YouTube video channels? Sure, it’s recorded for posterity but does anyone care? Everyone knows our status but nobody knows our hearts.  We discover that growing up makes life more complex but less complete.

Please tell me again… why do I need to grow up?  Clearly, normal in this case isn’t always better. The Bible says we’re supposed to “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1).  That means getting smarter but not because we’re digging through trash for the education: “be wise about what’s good and innocent about evil” (Romans 16:18). Jesus put it even more strongly when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Therefore, the saying “less is more” rings true. If we have all the intelligence of a full grown adult and none of the simple, trusting relationships that make life worth living, what good is achieved? Going back to the beginning, in this case, (being “reborn” a “new creation” [2 Cor. 5:17]) is the only way to go forward.

I Corinthians 1:27 sums it up well. “God chose the simple things of the world to confound the wise.”

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