Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Man Who Would be God or the God Who Would be Man

The crime that Jesus was accused of was that he, being a mere man, represented to be God. Many people throughout history have been accused of like ambitions. But when push comes to shove, they can't back up the claim. The miracles and signs testified to the truth that Jesus spoke, yet few believed.

The harder truth is that this was God becoming a man. I find it harder and harder sometimes to wrap my head around this truth. I held my new granddaughter for the first time this week. This little girl can only do three things - eat, poop, and wail. The Lord, creator of the universe was a helpless baby like that. God incarnate walks the earth for three years living penniless and homeless.

The cross takes that even a step further. God takes the abject punishment of a slave, naked and laid bare hoisted up on a tree. Mid-day as Jesus utters His last breath, there is some inkling that He spoke the truth. The sky becomes black and the earth shook and bodies rose out of the tomb. But there is still a body up on the cross. The body is laid in a tomb heavily guarded.

Then the resurrection testifies to the claim. Jesus appears to more than 500 witnesses, many of whom are alive at the time of the writing. Christianity is the only religion that is based on a historical event. That is the God of the universe took on human flesh for the sole purpose of dying an ignominious death to bear the personal punishment that our sins deserve. Thanks be to God for that gift.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ushering in the Next Generation - I'm a Grandpa

It seems like just yesterday I was a kid running around E. 236th St. in Euclid, OH. Then I was finding salamanders in the back of our yard in Chagrin Falls. Then going on to high school in New Jersey and college in Indiana. Then I got married and had a kid thus feeling like I was a real adult with real responsibilities.

Yesterday was the start of the next phase of my life - I am a Grandpa! Our daughter welcomed our first grandchild into the world-yet another girl (we have three daughters). I still feel like that kid running around, but I am now another generation removed. Life is so fleeting.

The psalmist in Psalm 71 is filled with reflection. He wrestles with God abandoning him. He says "O God, do not be far from me; O my God, hasten to my help! But he reminds himself of God's goodness. He says, "O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I will still declare Your wondrous deeds".  And finally, the verses that rang to me yesterday "And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come."

The new generation comes along. The old generation passes on. The other day I quoted from a 90's movie and a millennial looked at me like I had four eyes. Time waits for no one. Yet God is so faithful to His children. The psalmist has that confidence and passes that confidence to you and me. He says God's righteousness reaches to the heavens. Remember, reflect.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Weekend Baptism Experience

Last weekend our church baptized 451 believers in Christ. It was called a spontaneous experience. Many people, for whatever reason have chosen not to go through the ordinance of baptism. Baptism is an outward profession of an inward change. You go down into the water and come up out of the water signifying your complete transformation. There are two ordinances of the church - baptism and communion. Baptism is not required for salvation, but as a testimony.

Pastor Joe went through a literal checklist of what it means to be a believer and then asked if you checked those things why shouldn't you be baptized. And by golly, many people went forward. I must admit I had initially mixed feelings about this process. It almost seemed too easy - no baptism class, no baptism testimony like many do. And then I though about what happened in the early church when people were baptized. There wasn't much documented about anything special you did other than just acknowledging a changed life. And that really is what it is all about - a testimony of a changed life. And seeing 451 people acknowledging a changed life is a powerful experience.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Living in a Low Trust Culture

We are all on edge and all on our guard. That is the downside of living in a low trust society. A while back, Stephen M.R. Covey (son of the more well known Stephen Covey) wrote a book called Business at the Speed of Trust. In it, he refers to a trust tax. A trust tax imposes a broader penalty of a tax in every relationship, every transaction, every communication, and every dimension of life. When I turn on the t.v. to watch a game and I see that every other ad is for a personal injury lawyer, I have to question whether we have truly disintegrated into a low trust society. When the default mode for relationships is suspicion, then we are living in a low trust society.

A lot of people don't realize the implications of the trust tax. The economics of it are that everything costs more. If there are chronic lawsuits, the cost of defending has to show up somewhere and it is reflected in the price of things. A number of years ago, my daughter was in a fender-bender type accident at the age of 17. My mail started filling up with requests to represent us for the "pain and suffering" my daughter experienced. There were no injuries, just car damage. Some letters implied we should invent injuries.

Do you assume people are at their best or at their worst? Have you ever questioned the motivation of people that ask you for help? I would rather be defrauded and assume the best in people than live with the constant suspicion of others. In Covey's book, he also refers to a trust dividend which is the benefit of living in a high trust society. You may be wronged and likely will be. But you will live a life free from constant suspicion and people may surprise you.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why Are Millenials Dying?

My day job is running a cool software company that transforms public data into actionable insight.  I write a weekly blog that analyzes issues around community health and postsecondary education. These past few weeks I have been writing about the alarming trends in the mortality or death rates. Last week I wrote on the causes of death that have spiked up in recent years which include external causes such as substance abuse and behavioral disorders. This week I wrote about the death rates among ages 15-44 which have spiked in recent years, and especially the 25-34 year old age group which has spiked 19% from 2014-2016 as noted in the following graph. There is an associated video blog on the topic.

As the parent of three millennials, I was staggered by this, but not totally surprised. Why is this generation in essence killing themselves over just a three or four year period?  My prayer is that these thoughts spur yours and cause you to reflect.
  • This generation is the first full social media generation. There are some really good things to like about social media. It has enabled me to reconnect with old friends for example. But it is not social and it has rapidly devolved into a platform for shouting my opinion. I believe it has ruined the ability to practice empathetic listening. We as a culture have rapidly lost the ability to listen to others. Terry Pluto wrote an excellent article where he deemed this the age of rage.
  • Millenials by and large that I talk to (I am also the parent of three of this generation) have a very strong interest in making the world a better place. But they are also the same generation that expects rapid results and they become impatient and frustrated when they can't effect change. Because millennials seem to be less interested in filling gaps with tangible things, this breeds a deep self-reflective cause of frustration. 
  • We as a culture simply no longer take time to reflect and meditate. Deb and I were just discussing this today. My phone cries for my attention. I get deeply busy, but I lose a little piece of cognitive awareness and self-reflection with each battle for my attention.  
  • But I believe the biggest reason by far is this generation is the first to believe that a personal, creator God has no interest in them and they have no interest in a personal, creator God. The most recent Pew study cites a large rise in "Unafilliated" rise in religious identification. They are the "None" generation as Andy Stanley calls them. 
It comes down to a set of foundational beliefs that occur in a critical order.
  • A belief in a personal God who created me and gave Himself up for me 
  • A priority in building into that same relationship
  • Because of the vertical relationship with a holy God, there comes a priority on horizontal personal relationships with others who are created in the same image. 
  • A focus on listening empathetically (something that I am working on). This is why Jesus said the first and foremost commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself". 
  • Putting a priority on anything that might drive a wedge in either of those relationships. For example, while I have an opinion on the events of our day, I try to stay away from anything that will alienate or drive a wedge in those relationships.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

99 Homes and the Moral Line

Recently watched the movie 99 Homes. This is a painful movie to watch and it is not the type of movie you would likely watch twice. Spoiler alert if you plan on watching the movie. The story-line is about a young unmarried father (Dennis Nash played by Andrew Garfield) who lives with his young son (9 something) and his mom in a house that gets repossessed. Nash then in turn, because he is so good at so many things and in desperate need of money, joins the real estate company of the slick man (Rick Carver played by Michael Shannon) who repossessed his house. Along the way, he continues to do shadier and shadier things. It was hard enough to evict people from their homes, but then there were the numerous ways they continued to stretch and then outright cheat the system.

At the very end there was a moral line that Nash could not cross. What was intriguing to me was his realization that the line simply carried too much human cost. His mother had moved out with his son and there was another family that would be forever damaged by his action. So he briefly crossed that moral line, confessed it, and the movie ends abruptly. We are left not knowing what happens after that and I think that was intentional.

I had two major takeaways from this movie. First, moral lines are like boundaries. When we keep moving them, the lines get easier and easier to cross and the size of the offense gets greater and greater. Exaggerating leads to small lies, which lead to bigger lies. When you get away with one, it seems easier to break bigger ones.

Second, there are always consequences. Early in the process, the offense was depersonalized. Nash was cheating the "system" or the "government". There are no faces. But as the lying and the moral line got further crossed, there was a personal toll. In fact, every moral offense has a personal toll even if it is just to yourself. That is the minimum. Then it works it's way outward. That is what happened in the movie. The lying and the cheating revealed itself over time and those closest bore the cost.

I have to catch myself in the moment when I am prone to even the smallest lie. I have to nip it in the bud.  It is so easy to start and so easy to continue going. I have even started to tell someone a lie or exaggeration and stopped confessing it on the spot. I do that not because I am so moral (because I am definitely not) or because these lies would hurt the other person, but because I know it will hurt me.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back... Moving Forward

It has been really cold here as it has in many places. The other day Deb was getting one of my heavier coats. She stuck her hand in the pocket and found this surprise.

Yes, it is a very rare find. It was the last playoff game that we attended by the Browns in 1994. Yes, playoffs and Browns rarely go in the same sentence. We would be happy just to win a game. But then I digress. It caused us to remember the game and the details of it. One little factoid - the Browns head coach that year was one Bill Belichik and the defensive coordinator was one Nick Saban (now longtime head coach at Alabama).

On the last day of the year, we love to look back. But then tomorrow, we start to look forward. We make our plans and New Year's resolutions. I have been fond of using something I called Be Goals which I have written about before. It is the concept of setting personal goals of internal change and transformation. But as I look into next year, I also want to be content in just living day to day. I want to approach each day with a fresh set of eyes and expectantly looking forward to just what God is doing that day. I also want to be thankful. How much God has indeed blessed me and how much I take for granted. I am talking about blessings of family, relationships, and most of all faith. God has indeed been good to me all year and I know, no matter what he is a God fully worthy of my trust.