Follow Me

confession boothA few weeks ago, I had more traffic than usual on my blog as I dove headfirst into the Brittany Maynard story. I am always fascinated by the stories that attract people’s attention, especially when there’s more to the story than a simple cursory glance. Stories that you have to pick up and roll through your fingers, glancing at every side as you try to determine just what it’s made of, those are the stories that attract me.

In the midst of my writing, a friend from high school reached out and gave me some insight on his impression of what I had written. I was intrigued at how he was reading it because it wasn’t exactly how I saw it, so I engaged him in a conversation. In the midst of the conversation, I learned more and more about myself and about my friend. I did my best to respond in a way that told him that I was sincerely seeking answers and not trying to proselytize or convert anyone to my own way of thinking. While there may be times to do that, a first conversation or post hardly seems the time for that.

As we dialogued back and forth, he complimented me in my reaction and approach towards the conversation. To say that I was relieved would probably be an understatement. As I shared my own convictions with him, I was saddened to hear about another conversation in social media that was taking place on the wall of a friend of his. There was lots of judgment, lots of insult hurling, lots of people stating opinions without entering into dialogue or seeking to understand another’s perspective.

Why do we do this over and over again? Why do we approach conversations as competitions that need to be “won” rather than experiences in which we can learn?

Honestly, I think that Christians are the worst at this. We somehow think that every conversation needs to end with everyone on the floor, praying the Sinner’s Prayer, and then singing Kum Ba Yah until Jesus returns. In our efforts to speak the truth we forget the “in love” part of it. In our efforts to show our convictions, we feel the need to always be right.

I’m not saying that we don’t hold to strong convictions, that seems to be a dying art in our “everything goes” culture. With relativism pressing in on every side, speaking in absolutes is unpopular, but I believe, necessary. But there’s a better way to do it, and hurling digital hand grenades is not the way to do it.

In talking to my friend, I realized what I had so many times before, people judge Jesus by how those who follow him act. It seems unfair, but it’s a fact of life. When we don’t hold to his teachings, we not only make ourselves look bad, but we make him look bad as well. When we tout our strong convictions and then consistently fail to live by them, we make it look like Jesus is the one who is wrong.

One thing that I love about the Apostle Paul is that he lived what he believed. He knew that it wasn’t popular, he knew that it was counter-cultural, but it didn’t stop him. The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. God has made the lofty things of this world to be low and made the low things to be lofty. Paul was confident enough in his convictions and how he lived them out that he was not afraid or ashamed to say, “Follow me.”

I was reminded of Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” when Miller talks about how he and some of his friends set up a confession booth in the middle of a hedonistic weekend celebration at a Portland college. His friend, Tony, says, “Here’s the catch…We are not actually going to accept confessions…We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”

I’m not perfect. I’ve done my fair share of misrepresenting Jesus to those who desperately need to know that he loves them. But I see that, I admit it, I’m making steps towards recovering, towards redemption, towards restoration.

As many times as I’ve read the Gospels, I don’t recall any story where someone got themselves all “cleaned up” and then went to meet Jesus. In fact, Jesus usually met them, doing what they were doing, wherever they were. They probably felt unprepared, insignificant, inadequate, but that’s how we should all feel in the presence of holiness and perfection. Jesus met them there, found them where they were, but didn’t leave them there.

When we meet people, they will judge Jesus by how we live. Most people aren’t opposed to convictions, they’re opposed to inconsistency. How are we doing in representing Jesus to the world? Is it time for us to set up confession booths in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our homes? Is it time for people to take our confessions of where we have fallen short, where we have failed to live up to the name by which we all must be saved?

We can’t live up to that name…..EVER, but that doesn’t mean we just give up trying. We try not because we think we can earn something, but because we are grateful for that amazing thing called grace that reaches out to us in our dirt, filth, pride, and aloneness and calls us “beloved” and calls us to live different, to be different. We are driven by gratitude, not guilt or obligation.

How about we confess that?

 

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Living and Dying

How_to_Die_in_OregonThe last 24 hours have been an incredible time of conversation and learning for me. It’s times like this that I look at our technological culture and marvel at the opportunities for individuals to grow through all of the mediums and media outlets that we have. Like any tools, they can be used for benefit or for harm. The choice of which way to use them is up to each individual, but I choose them to be used for my benefit and learning.

Yesterday, I posted some of my thoughts about Brittany Maynard and her decision to “die with dignity” as the law in Oregon permits one to do (you can read the post here). After reading my post, a friend suggested that I watch the documentary “How To Die In Oregon.” Another friend and I engaged on the topic through messages and helped me to see how I could have better communicated what I had said. I was grateful for both recommendations and conversations and I set about to find the documentary and watch it.

It was heartbreaking, it plucked the emotional heart strings of the viewer, invoking all kinds of emotions within me. I think that the filmmaker did a fairly good job trying to be as objective about the subject matter as possible. While I think there might have been better examples that could have been used for both sides of the argument, that’s simply speculation. Real life examples are what they are and I would guess that, although the law allows this in Oregon, that everyone takes advantage of it or is willing to have their specific case highlighted in a documentary. The film primarily followed a middle aged woman who was dying of liver cancer. She had the prescription filled for the medicine that she would take to die but would only do it when she felt that the disease had progressed to unbearable. The film gives a window into her world, her life beyond the expected date given to her by doctors, and it ends with her taking the medicine and passing peacefully, the scene only seen by the viewer watching silhouettes through the curtains of an outside window like a stalker.

It was an educational piece to see others, and to be honest, it made me relive my own experience with my mom and her last days with cancer. Anyone who has traveled the road through cancer diagnosis and treatment knows the roller coaster ride that it can be. After the ups and downs of treatment and hope in a possible surgery, my mom elected treatment to simply extend her life a little longer and try to have as much quality of life as possible. Her last few months may not be easily defined as “quality” but we were all grateful to have had her. The week before she died, she was taken to the hospital because in taking the solution for her upcoming CT Scan, she got sick. That was her last hospital visit. She went home on a Thursday with hospice care and was gone the following Tuesday. What we experienced in those six days was something I would never wish upon anyone. While there were sweet and tender moments, from the moment my mom began receiving morphine, she was hardly responsive. I was grateful that her last days of suffering were cut short.

As I wade through this difficult topic of end of life issues, I am learning more and more every day. Let me share some of what I have learned:

– Much can be learned when we actually take time to listen to each other and express ourselves in a calm and collected manner. I had some great interactions with people yesterday who helped me to see again the importance of words and how they are used. I saw how saying one thing can easily be misconstrued if I am not careful. It helped a communicator like me think harder about how I can sharpen up my communication skills. I can never stop learning.

– Things are rarely as black and white as the extremes of an ideological vantage point would make you believe, especially when you are calling the shots based upon speculation or the experiences of others. When the experiences are your own, it seems that all bets are off and the blacks and whites of extremism tend to blur a little bit.

– Convictions are only as strong as the testing that they have experienced. Let’s face it, we can speculate all we want about how we would react in a particular situation but until we are actually in the midst of it, it’s hard to know just how we might react. Convictions are important, but even more important is the testing of those convictions. If you have established and developed strong convictions, I think that it’s important to test those convictions to see how they hold up under scrutiny and challenge. If you haven’t had your convictions tested and tried, expect them to be flimsy and fragile under the weight of uncertainty and trial. They will not hold up well. Trials and tests are the foundation upon which we can build our convictions.

– I learned that a friend of mine’s co-worker is Brittany Maynard’s husband. I was amazed at how God had put her in such close proximity to him. She asked me to pray for him and his family. I have been and will continue to do so. I do not envy the decision that he and his late wife felt like they had to make. I do not envy the experiences that they had to endure. My heart breaks when I think about what could have been with them, in much the same way that my heart breaks when I think about what could have been had my mom lived as well.

So, all that being said, let me share my convictions:

– I believe that every life is of value, whether it was planned or unplanned, whether it seems unvaluable or not. I have seen parents of severely disabled children take such care of them and demonstrate Christ’s love to me and everyone around them as they selflessly care for these who may be considered the “least of these.” I have heard the stories of these parents who have been told by doctors that the life of their child is not valuable. I believe that we are created in the image of God and the value of a life is not easily defined by what people can or cannot do or by a specific quality of life. Quality of life is a very subjective term that can change as easily with a person’s geographical or financial status as it can a person’s mental status.

– I believe that there is hope beyond death. I believe that there is a God who created us and who loves us. I believe that his son, Jesus, came to live, die, and rise again so that those who profess faith in him might experience that same life, death, and resurrection. I believe in a hope that extends beyond what I can see, feel, and even think. I believe that all of creation was impacted by the sin of humanity and that it is not operating as it was originally intended. We see but a glimpse of God’s glorious creation and its purposes, one day we will see it in full.

– I believe that end of life issues are important to talk about, to think about, to discuss, and even to debate. I don’t like to think about the need for anyone to suffer. I also don’t know what kind of a slippery slope we might be creating by beginning to “play God.” While I see the desire and intention of people to avoid the agony of a prolonged end for themselves and their loved ones, I know how strong the human will is and how powerfully it can surpass all expectations or predictions.

– I believe that God is sovereign and that the timing of everything is in his hands. That’s why I get concerned about taking it upon ourselves to mess with that timing. I trust that God’s timing is perfect, even when I don’t understand it or like it. I might not know why his timing is as it is, but I trust him and I trust his heart.

Over these last few days I have felt deeply for a family who I don’t know personally. As I said, I have felt that I have had to relive some of my own experiences as I’ve read and thought about theirs. I hope and pray that Brittany and her family have a hope beyond this life. I believe that they made a choice that seemed best to them. While I can’t say that I agree with that choice, I also know that my disagreement comes as an innocent bystander who is looking on rather than experiencing the pain, anguish, and hurt that they have had to endure. My heart aches for what might have been between Brittany and her family had she lived.

While you might not agree with me, I hope you can at least hear the things that I have learned and the things which I call convictions. My hope and prayer is that we can come together over issues similar to this one, regardless of which ideology we hold to, in order to better learn from each other, to love each other, and to sharpen our own convictions.

Open or Closed

Over the last few years, I’ve had a number of things that have caused me to deepen my own faith.  Having grown up in the church with parents who encouraged a strong faith through their own lives, there have been times that I have strayed away, but not too far and not too long.  But how about people who don’t have any faith to speak of and who don’t seem to be very open to the idea?

I’ve always wondered what it was like to go through life without a strong faith, but I never experienced it.  I have friends who consider themselves atheists or agnostics and we get along fine.  While we have differing theological ideas, we’ve found commonalities in other areas.  I haven’t hesitated to share my own faith and they haven’t hesitated to share their disbelief.  I’ve even had them tell me that they respected my faith and the way that I lived my life.  I would consider most of these friends fairly open minded.

How about people who aren’t open?  How do I react to people who have no faith and aren’t open to the idea at all?

We’ve probably all had conversations with someone in our life who entered into that conversation with their mind made up.  Those conversations can be very frustrating, giving us the sense that we’re getting nowhere.  It ends up feeling more like a boxing match than it does a conversation.  How likely are we to want to engage in those conversations again once we’ve had them once?

It’s possible to have convictions and still remain open-minded, isn’t it?  When we have strong convictions, we can remain humble and open, exhibiting a willingness to learn from every situation.  We learn when we have to defend our beliefs and we learn when we hear how others defend their beliefs, but it’s amazing to me how many people don’t really want to learn at all.  They are content to believe what they believe with no willingness to learn or explore other possibilities.

I’ve found it pretty amazing that there are many people who consider themselves to be open minded who are really only open minded to the things that they believe.  On other words, they’ll be open minded as long as they agree, but if they disagree, forget about the open mindedness.

I have a lot of strong convictions, but I’ve done my best to listen to what other people have to say, after all, I never know what I might learn in the process.  While I might not find myself changing my views, it certainly helps me to understand people better and to learn a little bit more about where they’re coming from.

When we find ourselves so closed off to other ideas, I wonder if it’s fear that drives that.  What are we afraid of?  Are we afraid that our word will be rocked if we begin to diverge from our original thoughts and ideas?  The foundations that are the strongest can take the most abuse, they can weather the greatest storms.  How strong are our foundations?

Regardless of where you fall in terms of your faith, I would challenge and encourage you to keep your mind open.  That doesn’t mean that you believe everything that’s presented to you, but it does mean that you give things an educated look.  It doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily change your viewpoint, but you just never know what you might learn along the way.

Making a Statement

make_statementI grew up in a home that was fairly strict and could be classified as fundamental and evangelical, for those who understand those terms.  My parents were fairly strict about the things that we could watch, read, and listen to.  Those restrictions were a mixed blessing and at the same time, have caused me to me much more diverse in my watchings, readings, and listenings.

For the most part, my core beliefs remain intact.  The thing is, within Christian circles, there are people who hold to an orthodoxy of words and feel the need to explicitly state the things that they believe.  Over the centuries of church history, statements, creeds, and confessions were formed, many times in reaction to the heresies or wrong beliefs of the time.  The notion of creating statements of faith has stuck and if you go onto most church websites, you will most likely not have to search too far to find some kind of statement of beliefs.

Like I said, many of the statements in church history explicitly stated things to contrast them with some of the wrong beliefs at the time.  They were reactions to the time in which they were written.  Not much has changed and many of the boldest words in these statements are reserved for the things to which they stand diametrically opposed.

When I graduated from seminary, I had to write a statement of faith.  The statement is fifteen pages long.  That statement doesn’t make me a Christian.  In fact, I would dare say that it is possible that I could write such a statement simply by knowledge rather than because of a change of heart or some kind of life transformation that I had experienced.

Words are powerful, but sometimes actions trump them.  Statements are long lasting on paper or screens, but what supports those statements?  How do those statements gain support and clout?  Are they really any good if there are not supporting actions to back them up?

Everyone wants to make a statement.  Everyone wants to stand for something.  But how do we go about doing it?

Statements are good for the ability to concisely communicate the beliefs and values that we have, but how about the idea about making a statement with your life?  Isn’t that much more effective?  When we write things, we assent to them, when we live them, we show that we really believe them.

I wonder if sometimes, those of us who consider ourselves Christians or Christ followers, get more concerned about saying things correctly and forget that living things correctly is more important.  If we don’t live a statement of faith, how effective are we really being?

Everyone makes a statement.  What’s yours?

Beautiful

[In light of recent acts of indiscretion and exhibitions of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” coming out from female recording artists, I’ve sat and thought long and hard about my own daughter.  When she is old enough to understand, these are the things that I will share with her.]

My Sweet Little Princess:Beyonce-Katy-Perry-Miley-Cyrus

You are one of the most beautiful things that I have ever known.  As each day passes me by and I get to peer into your soul, I see the beauty shining through.  Your beauty outside is only accentuated by the beauty that comes from within.  I love to hear you laugh.  I love to see you smile.  I love it that you’re just big enough right now that I can envelop you when you curl up on my lap.  I love that I can make you feel safe.  Oh, that I could keep you this size forever and hold you in that protective embrace.

One day, you won’t fit on my lap, at least not so easily or in a way that doesn’t make everyone think that I’m pretty creepy.  One day, you will experience the world differently than I have.  One day, I will have to let you go to make decisions and choices on your own.  When that day comes, don’t forget that I will always be here.  Although you might not see me as often or talk to me as regularly, I will still be here when you reach out for me.

There will be people who will question your beauty.  They will try to convince you that things that you do or things that you wear tell much more about your beauty than who you really are deep down inside.  They will feed you lies about what you need to do to gain attention.  They will try to convince you that people who are drawn to your body are really drawn to your soul.  Or, worse yet, they will try to convince you that your body is more important than your soul.

You’ve already shown from a young age that you know what you want and you aren’t afraid to let the world know what that is.  I have always been a man of strong conviction.  Your mother has always been a woman of strong conviction.  We both come from families of strong conviction.  In due time, you will have strong convictions of your own.  If those convictions aren’t attractive or appealing to other people, then you probably would be better served seeking the company of others who appreciate them.  Always hold to your convictions.  Never let anyone tell you that they are unimportant, and never believe the lie that loosening those convictions will make you more appealing.  Those convictions will actually help to make you more appealing…..to the right people.

Don’t be afraid to dance, but don’t let someone try to tell you that dancing a certain way is the only way that you can be noticed.  Don’t be afraid to sing, but don’t let anyone try to tell you that singing a certain song is the only way that you can be noticed.  Don’t be afraid to invent a style all your own, and don’t let anyone convince you that a certain style is the only thing you need in order to be noticed, loved, or accepted.

Anyone who asks you to be anything other than who God made you to be is not worth your time.  You are a smart, beautiful, and gifted little girl who is growing into a smart, beautiful, and gifted young woman.  No one can take that away from you.  Don’t ever let anyone convince you that the gifts that you have been given in your mind and in your heart are not enough.  Don’t ever let anyone convince you that what you have on the outside trumps what lies on the inside.  Never forget the words of Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  Outward appearance is like a vapor, but your mind will long outlast any girlish charm.

Never, ever forget that your mom and I love you.  Remember that we love you for who you are.  Find someone who appreciates that about you, not someone who tries to make you something else.  Your mom and I have prayed every day for that person, don’t let your timing cloud your acceptance of God’s timing.

I know that it hasn’t always been easy to be my daughter.  I know that I haven’t always been the dad that I need to be.  I am grateful for grace that flows towards me, I pray that it just as easily flows away from me.  I hope that I have modeled the convictions of which I speak, not in word only, but more so in deed.  I hope that you will grow to be confident and self-assured, not in your own strength, but in the strength that God alone can give you.

Remember that I am always here for you.  When you fall, I will help you up.  When you run, I will be watching and waiting for you off in the distance.  When you rise above, I will cheer for you.  When you need an ear, I will do my best to simply listen with no strings attached.

I love you, and no matter how much smarter or older you get, you will always be my little girl.

With all of my heart,

Daddy

It’s My Prerogative

phil robertsonAnyone who has been spending any amount of time in front of a TV, computer, or radio in the last 48 hours has been unable to avoid hearing about Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Commander family and star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”  Due to him expressing his conservative Christian beliefs in an interview with GQ magazine, he has been suspended indefinitely from the show.

After the network’s decision, advocates and opponents of Robertson have voiced their opinions regarding their outrage at his comments or their support for him.  Facebook groups have been formed.  Petitions have been signed.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  And vitriol flows from every side.

Full disclosure: I have been a fan of Duck Dynasty.  The show amuses me.  I’ve read Phil Robertson’s book.  I admire the way that the Robertson family stands strong for their convictions and allow those convictions to impact their lives.  The Robertsons value each other, spending time with one another, working with one another, and doing their best to put family first.

The story as I see it is that Phil Robertson expressed his opinion and his employer was unhappy with that opinion.  So, his employer has put him on a leave of absence.  Somehow, this has surprised those who are supporters of Robertson and the values to which he holds.  But why is this such a surprise?  Isn’t that his employer’s prerogative to make such a decision?

What would happen if there was a Christian employer whose employee made comments with which they disagreed and they, in turn, suspended that employee?  Would that not also be the employer’s prerogative?

I know what people will say here, that the second case would never happen because that Christian employer would be brought up on charges of discrimination and would be forced to reinstate the employee.  Is that correct?  Is that what would happen?

Of course not, there’s no way that could be the case, right?  I mean, if the roles were reversed and a Christian employer were not allowed to suspend an employee for their comments with which he/she disagreed, than we would be looking at some form of inconsistency, right?  Is it possible that those who cry out for tolerance might need to reassess their tolerance when it’s discovered that it breaks down and they become intolerant over those with whom they disagree?

The dictionary definition of tolerance is, “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”  According to that definition, it would seem that shutting down the opinions of those with whom you disagree might actually be contradictory to the definition and actually mean the opposite, intolerance.

There is a breakdown somewhere.

I believe that people should hold to their convictions.  I believe that people should be able to express their opinions.  So, what happens when expressing your opinions and holding to convictions on one side is interpreted as tolerant, open-minded, and progressive while expressing your opinions and holding to convictions on the other side is interpreted as intolerant, unloving, bigoted, and deserving of being shut down?

Until we can come up with some adequate answers for these questions, answers with which both sides can agree, I think we are at an impasse.

What Are You Known For?

beliefs and behaviorEveryone has a gift.  Everyone has something that makes them stand out a little bit above the rest.  Sometimes, it might not be as visible as you might think.  Gifts manifest themselves in all different shapes and sizes, but they’re there.  How do we use them?

What is it about us that distinguishes us from other people?  When people meet us, what are their first impressions?  What are the things that they see in us that last long after we have walked away, long after the conversation or interaction has ended?  What are known for?

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about this in regards to followers of Christ.  Any time that things bubbled up on the public scene that Christ followers were opposed to, you would begin to hear the murmurings.  The murmurings would turn into full-fledged press releases, or at least, it seemed that way.  People began to know us more by what we were against rather than what we were for.

The challenge here is in an age when orthodoxy is being questioned at every turn, we feel that if we don’t stand up for what we believe and stand against that which seems contrary, we are condoning that which we don’t believe.  Is that the case?  If we take no action, does that mean we are agreeing with something?  Do we have to stand opposed to something to indicate that we believe the opposite or is a viable alternative to stand for the opposite with conviction and consistency?

Honestly, I think those last two words are the key in the conversation: conviction and consistency.  We can stand against things all that we want, but if we do not consistently stand for the opposite with conviction, will our argument really be convincing?  An innocuous example.  If I say that I am opposed to the cruel treatment of animals and picket and demonstrate against all who use animals for tests or subject them to harsh conditions and yet don’t do anything to show my own compassion towards animals, how good is my argument?

Our argument is much stronger when we actually can prove our convictions with consistent lives.  If all that I do is shout on a street corner against the sins that seem contrary to my own orthodoxy and then leave that corner and do nothing different in my life to live in opposition to those sins, how strong is my argument and example?

Again, the challenge is that not speaking out against what is contrary to our own belief system seems like support or apathy.  There are plenty of “banging gongs” out there who give great speeches and then live lives that fail to support their beliefs.  If we really stopped to work on our convictions and consistency, I wonder whether our message would be heard louder and more clearly.  I think that it would.

I want people to know what I believe because that’s the way that I lived my life.  I don’t want people to have to ask what I believe, I want it to be clear by what I do, what I say, and how I live.  If my convictions are coming through loud and clear in my actions, people will know what I stand for, they will know me for these things, and it would follow that I don’t support those things that stand in opposition to it.  So, how am I doing?  How are you doing?  Are you known more for what you are opposed to or what you stand for?