Sunday, March 19, 2017

Food Poisoning, Part II

Thankfully, I am now recovered fully from the bout of food poisoning that I blogged about last week. I am not going to belabor this topic too much, but I feel there is one more side-note to this sorry saga. I knew pretty much immediately that I had eaten something that did not agree with me. I had a soup and salad and it was likely the soup that got me but the salad was the second thing I ate and even now, the thought of a Waldorf Salad skives me out. When I had food poisoning once before, we suspect it was a sandwich from Panera but it was cupcakes that skived me out then because it was the last thing I ate before all rumblings broke loose (you know what I mean).

Sometimes root issues manifest themselves to the second one in line. I may have a particularly bad day and I take it out on those closest to me. They are not the cause; they are simply the burden carrier. We know we can be transparent with them and sometimes they take the fall because they are just there in the aftermath. I know there are many times where I take my own baggage onto Deb (today is her birthday by the way) even though she is far from being the cause of my own frustration. My Waldorf salad was an innocent bystander of my contamination. A by-product of relationships is this diffusion of the stain of sin. I could be having the roughest of times but I know I have relationships that just seem to ease the problems.

Deb and I watched the movie "Fences" last night and Rose (Viola Davis) is a perfect example of this type of relationship.  Troy, (Denzel Washington) to whom she is married to is often despicable. He is always having bad days as he bemoans what he could have been and time and time again. Yet she is there for him even as he remains a despicable character. God has wired us for relationship even knowing we bear burdens of others.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Thank You Food Poisoning

I have been trying to lose weight. Last year, I put on six pounds that had never been there before after 10 years of being around the same weight range. Then the six pounds became ten pounds. Yikes! What happened? Age happened. I can't keep doing the same things I had been doing and expecting the same result. I have a particular affinity for sweets and lately latching onto Oreo cookies.

Last weekend we had dinner with some deer friends of ours at a nice, reputable restaurant. I ordered the seafood gumbo and a salad. After I ate the zippy, seafood gumbo, I did not feel quite right. I gutted it out so to speak. For the next five days, I extracted (my nice way of saying it) all of the stuff in my system. My weight chart (via Fitbit) shows the result. I dropped half of my excess weight and thus far I have kept it off.

It got me thinking about life. We can play around in the sandbox of life and if we draw close to God, He will put things into our life that rightsize us to him. Kind of like God introduces a little seafood gumbo and food poisoning into our life to get us back on track. God does not introduce temptation because that is for our bad, but He introduces trials for our good to get us back on track. James says that this is a welcome event and "we are to consider it joy when God puts us through trials". Why? It is "because the testing of our faith produces endurance" (James 1:3).

We have a number of friends going through various trials right now. My little food poisoning example is not to make light of the fact that trials are a burden. God says He will never allow any trial to be beyond what we can handle. The television preachers say that life is smooth and God wants us to be happy.  Wrong! God wants us to be holy. Holiness does not necessarily mean happiness - it means joyfulness and they are two different things and maybe the subject of a future blog.

I am hoping that my little bout with the gumbo will help level-set some new habits as half of my excess weight is now gone. Can I now take that as an opportunity to grow in my habits?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The 2:00 AM Friend

A 2:00 AM friend is someone you can call at anytime of the day or night and tell them anything. I first heard this term from Pat Morley at Man in the Mirror ministry.  Guys in particular are notorious for not having friends that we can be completely transparent with. When I was younger, I was always on my guard and very hesitant to open up my "broom closet" to anyone else. As I have gotten older, I have appreciated being honest and open with friends. It is vital that guys have close friends that are guys. While I am extremely open with my wife, there are certain things that only guys can relate to. I am sure the same thing applies to women.

One of my friends is a police officer and we were studying this particular topic. He has another similar category called the "DUI friend". He said when he is booking someone on a DUI charge, they have to have someone come to the police station to pick them up. He has seen people get out their phone and literally scroll through hundreds of names before saying they have no one they can call.  Who is your DUI friend? Do you have one? Who can you call and say I am in trouble due to my own stupidity.

Jesus Christ had twelve disciples but he had three 2 AM friends, Peter, James, and John. Keep in mind this is Jesus in His humanity. As God, He is fully present and with all who have faith in Him. But as a man, He maintained a close knit circle. They were with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet as friends, they failed Him at times. They fell asleep in the garden for example as Jesus bore His soul before the Father.

We just finished a retreat with couples that we have spent the better part of the past twenty years of life with. We laughed together, we worshiped together, we prayed together, we played stupid games together. All part of life. Many of those men, I would not hesitate to call at 2:00 AM. God has not wired us to be alone. We need community.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Laws Are For Our Good

Deb and I have returned from a couple of weeks where we were gone a lot. We were in Lima, Peru visiting my mother and stepfather who live there. It is our fifth time to Peru and it has been fascinating watching the changes over the past ten years. One of the things that does not appear to have changed a lot is the traffic laws. I would say that they appear to be "selectively enforceable" meaning that some laws appear to be enforced some of the time. As an example, stop signs seem to be optional. When I asked my stepfather about that a few years ago, that was his answer. He also said that if you stopped at a stop sign, you may be likely to get rammed into from behind because people don't expect you to stop at the stop sign. On the other hand, my stepfather got a ticket for an isolated occurrence where he was at a corner and he had taken his seat belt off to get something out of his pocket.

Government laws are designed for our own good; or we would like to believe they are. They are not perfect, but that is the intent. God's laws on the other hand are perfectly designed for our good. Take abstinence and sex outside of marriage for example. People will rationalize that it can't possibly be right. Actress Scarlett Johansson recently said “You have to choose a path. I think the idea of marriage is very romantic; it’s a beautiful idea and the practice of it can be a very beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person. I might be skewered for that, but I think it’s work. It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people — for everyone — the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing. It’s something I have a lot of respect for and have participated in, but I think it definitely goes against some instinct to look beyond.”

We sometimes think that God's laws are onerous and therefore not for our good. But they are. God has not designed a system to enable failure, but enable good. There are consequences of immoral behavior. On the other hand, perfect intimacy in the context of marriage is the most fulfilling thing possible. Note that we are unable to uphold God's laws perfectly. They are the gold standard, so to speak but we break them every day. That is why the Bible says that the law leads us to Jesus - "the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith" (Gal 3:24).

In Christ, we have a perfect sacrifice that positionally puts us in a right standard before God for eternity. But we still have this sticky wicket which theologians call sanctification. That is we are right before God positionally but we can still mess up. God's laws are still valid for right living. We can declare them invalid like Scarlett Johansson does, but that does not change things. It may make us feel better for a time as we continue to break God's laws, but they will not change the consequences of wrong behavior.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

From Nero to Trump - Keep on Praying

Wow, what a week! We have a new President, Donald J. Trump whether we like it or not. I do not blog on politics because I think politics and being a Christ follower are often confused in mainstream culture. Christians that blend the two are risking at best confusion, and at worst outright rejection. I do not want to take that risk. 

In the ancient east at the time of the writing of the New Testament, the Romans were in charge. There were good things such as a modern (for the time) system of roads and infrastructure. But the government was oppressive. It was a system that directly clashed with the beliefs of Christians. For example, Christians were considered "atheists" because they did not honor the Roman gods. They were asked to denounce Jesus Christ and honor the Roman gods and penalty to do so was immediate death.

In the midst of this, Paul says to "make entreaties, prayer, petitions, and thanksgivings for all those in charge" (1 Tim 2:1). I find this interesting that Paul writes this probably during the reign of the infamous Nero. Yes, that same Nero who made Christians human torches. Paul also says that we are "to be subject to governing authorities for all authority is established by God" (Romans 13:1). So while we may not like who is in charge, we are to support and uphold them. Paul even says we are to be thankful for them. Can you imagine Paul giving thanks for Nero?

Now roll that forward to democracy. There was no democracy at the time of Christ. I love that we live in a democracy. I am very thankful for the right for many thousands (including two of my own daughters) to gather in protest of this new President and to put him on notice that he represents the people. It is our right in this country to do so. Paul did the same thing when he appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen. He was taking advantage of the rights he had.

But at the same time, this does not invalidate what these verses say - in fact it supports them even more. If those who were directly persecuted were to pray and uphold their leaders, how much more are we in a democracy to pray and uphold our leaders. Paul actually gives the reason we are to do this when he says "so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Tim. 2:2). What he is saying is that regardless of who is in charge, my king is King Jesus and I am not going to confuse human leadership and government with God our Savior. All government whether Nero or Trump is God-ordained and we are still to uphold them.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hate Crimes

This week three black teens and one black juvenile were charged with the vicious torture and attack of an eighteen year old mentally disabled white man. The attackers posted their attack on social media with expletive taunts against Donald Trump and against white people. This same week, Dylann Roof entered the sentencing stage of his trial for killing nine black people at a historically black church. Roof showed no remorse in representing himself and even stated "there is nothing wrong with me psychologically". Both of these cases have been labeled "hate crimes" and have sparked renewed debate over this topic.

The FBI defines a hate crime as “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” The FBI goes on to say that hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s Civil Rights program, not only because of the devastating impact they have on families and communities, but also because groups that preach hatred and intolerance can plant the seed of terrorism here in our country.

This concept of hate crimes is fascinating to me because pretty much all crimes are borne into attitudes of the heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identifies the incipient reasons why we do what we do. Whereas the legalists of his day focused on the outward, Christ focused on the inward causes. In any outward action, you need to start working your way backwards. For example, murder is the supreme atrocity of taking another person's life, but murder moves backward to hate, hate moves back to resentment, resentment moves back to insecurity, and so on and so forth.

The cure for hate crimes is not to react to the outward crimes but to start at the root cause. The seemingly best of us are fully capable of committing the worst of crimes and recognizing that is the first step. Repentance has to start with recognition. But recognition doesn't do it by itself because we cannot cure the evils of our own heart. It has to move towards transformation and only supernatural transformation can change these deep seated attitudes of the heart. The gospel of Jesus Christ changes people - even the worst of us. It breaks down the dividing walls.

Jameel McGee, a black man was imprisoned by a white police officer, Andrew Collins who falsified a drug police report. He served four years in jail. Collins eventually admitted he falsified the report and served a year and a half in jail himself. McGee when he got out sought to "hurt Collins" when he got out. What happened - Collins apologized, McGee accepted the apology and today the two of them are close friends. The gospel does stuff like that.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2017 BE Goals

Last year, I got a Fitbit for Christmas and I set a goal of being more healthy and lose weight. But I gained 6 pounds. The Fitbit tells me I am exercising but it doesn't help me with my sweet addiction. Part of the problem with task-oriented goals is they address symptoms rather than problems. 

I bring up this concept of BE goals every new year. I first heard the concept of BE goals a number of years ago from Andy Stanley, a well-known pastor and author in Atlanta. BE goals are different as they are internal rather than external. Generally, they don't change from year to year and it is measured in progress rather than arrival. No one can say they nail BE goals every year. So here are my BE goals from last year and they are exactly the same for 2017.

Be Holy
It always starts with the most difficult one. Holiness is something only God can truly be yet we are reminded to be holy as God is holy. A difficult proposition but possible if the Christ is living through me.

Be Prayerful
Prayer is dialogue with the creator God. God has made that possible. God wants me to talk to Him the way a child talks to their father. How precious little time I truly spend in dialogue with God. The Holy Spirit is in me and helps me along in my weakness.

Be Patient
Yikes - this is a challenge for me. The man who tailgates people and loses his temper at every little thing. Patience is basically frustration when you are held back from expectations. It starts with improper expectations.

Be Mindful
Similar to patience, this is a awareness of others and my surroundings. Coming from the man who realizes things on the wall that have been there for years, this is a truly daunting challenge.

Be Supportive
This takes mindful to another level because it is a proactive reaction to being mindful. How can I be supportive of others in my work, community, relationships, etc.

Be Trusting
It is a danger to yourself to always be skeptical of others. I would rather be let down than be constantly skeptical of others. So many times I held off on sending that bad e-mail because I assumed the worst in people.

Be Accountable
Hardest thing for a man to be. We like living in our own cocoon and yet we have to be accountable to others. It is critical for men to have those relationships where we can be transparent and listen to brothers as they see areas of change needed in our lives.

Be a Friend
Deb and I were just talking about how much value we place on friendships as we have grown older. We have such a wonderful core group of friends and it is so important for me just to be a friend. I also want/need to develop new relationships.

Be Diligent
These words ring out in my head as Paul says to Timothy - "be diligent to present yourselves as one approved". It means we have to be proactive. This is one of Coveys 7 Habits.

Be Consistent
Finally, being consistent throughout the year is the path. It is January 1 and by God's grace by January 10, I won't have violated most of these already.