How’s Your Soul? – A Book Review

hows-your-soul“You can have millions in the bank, a Maserati in the driveway, and more Instagram followers than the pope, but unless your soul is healthy, you won’t be happy.” So Judah Smith writes within the first pages of “How’s Your Soul?” and then he spends the whole book talking through just what it means to take care of your soul.

As I dove into this book, I entered skeptically. I knew that Judah Smith had risen through the ranks to become one of the most popular hipster pastors of late. But was he for real? While I’ve read his book “Life Is…” the jury was still out in my mind as to where he stood. I’m fine with people writing encouraging and inspirational books, but I was wondering whether or not there was any depth to Smith. After all, there’s already one Joel Osteen in the world, I’d rather not see any more like him.

Judah Smith is the real deal. He’s funny. He’s quirky. He’s self-deprecating. He’s grounded. As much as he is all these things, he brings gospel truth, not compromising the message of the cross or the gospel and clearly laying out the essentials of the Christian faith. Smith writes with a winsomeness that allows for those who aren’t quite there yet in discovering who Jesus is. He’s not pushy or arrogant, but neither does he pull punches when it comes to the truth of the gospel. That won me over.

As Smith talks about the soul, he’s honest about the beginnings of our problems. He doesn’t shy away from the word “sin” and says, “…if we try to apply these…elements to our souls without dealing with the sin issue, it won’t work.” He’s also honest about the work that we do for ourselves and the work that God has done for us when he says, “Self-effort is noble and admirable, and it will carry you through some things; but a love birthed in self will never be strong enough for all things. We need a love that transcends human ability and experience.”

His words are reminiscent of Augustine’s words when he writes, “As our souls find themselves in God, our lives will find their purpose, place, and value in him as well.” We will not find rest in our souls until we find that rest in God alone. He speaks of living lives that are surrendered and surrounded. We surrender to God and surround ourselves with others with whom we can walk. Even if we don’t fully get it or fully believe, it’s important to belong as we enter the process.

I appreciated what Smith said about belonging before believing. Too often Christians can be guilty of asking people to clean themselves up and then coming to Jesus. Smith encourages us to seek ways to allow for people to belong first rather than getting all the behavior right. It is a journey, we belong, then we believe, and then we behave. To try to behave first without belonging and believing is not only counterintuitive, it’s contrary to what Jesus taught us.

“How’s Your Soul?” was a pleasant surprise to me. There is no deep theology here, but that’s not what Judah Smith is going for, he’s just reminding his reader of the importance of soul care for living. It’s a fast read with some worthwhile truth. Check it out!

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Who’s In Control Anyway?

Clinton, Trump pick up big winsLast night, as I sat in my chair listening to the news on the television in the other room, I opened my Bible to 1 Kings. The kingship of Israel was a tumultuous position. David was a man after God’s own heart despite his flaws. Solomon was the wisest man to live despite his affinity for foreign women. Rehoboam exploited his people and threatened to be more harsh than his father had been.

And on and on the story goes. While there were some bright spots here and there for Israel, there were far more duds.

And you know what? God was still in control. Just because the kings weren’t obedient didn’t change the fact that God was still there.

When he was writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul told them, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it by saying, “All governments are under God.”

The thing is, I don’t think that the Church has been doing a really good job in the past days of really believing this and living as if it was true. I think we’ve been driven by fear. I think we’ve believed that the president of a democracy has the power to somehow seize control of that democracy and make it a dictatorship.

It’s hard to think about evil rulers without considering King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When the Hebrew young men who were in exile refused to worship the image of gold that the king had set up, Nebuchadnezzar was furious and threatened to cast them in the fiery furnace.

I love the way that the young men responded to the king. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I think that their response is such a foreign one to the ears of so many of us who consider ourselves western evangelicals. God is for us, right? Who could possibly be against us? The United States is a Christian nation, right? God has shed his grace on us, right?

Jesus spoke often about how those of us who follow him would experience persecution. As many times as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve still failed to find the section that talks about how following Jesus sets me up for health, wealth, power, and comfortable living. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place, but I don’t think so.

I’ve not been thrilled coming into yesterday’s election. To be honest, I didn’t vote for either of the party nominations. In good conscience, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I’ve got friends who voted for both candidates, and I still consider them my friends today. I’m not judging them, I’m not angry with them, I still love them.

Yesterday was an election, and going into that election, I don’t think that the Church has done a very good job of exhibiting our confidence in a sovereign God. I think some of us have been led by fear. I think some of us have been led by anger. I think some of us have let our imaginations get the best of us after having read too many apocalypse novels.

I truly believe that this is just the beginning of a season of opportunity for all of those who believe in the sovereignty of God, all of those who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ. People will be looking at us to see how we respond, not so much when we agree with the powers and authorities over us, but more when we don’t agree. We’ve not always done a good job in the last eight years of modeling a Christ-like attitude in following our president, will we continue in that vein for the next four years?

If I could have gone back and lived yesterday again, I think I might have made a pin or sticker for myself that said, “I’m with Paul” because Paul’s words still ring true today, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” They were true back then and they still hold true today.

So, I’m going to do my best to let this be an opportunity for me to shine Christ in the midst of it all. I want my children to see that when I say that I believe in the sovereignty of God, that I mean it. I want my children to see that when their dad gets up and preaches about trusting in God, that he means it. I want my children to see that authority is still authority, regardless of whether I agree with that authority. While I won’t go against anything that God speaks against, I see this upcoming season ahead as a crucial time for the Church to be an example of what it really means to believe in the sovereignty of God.

#ImwithPaul

Home – A Book Review

home - fitzpatrickOver the past few years, there has been an overabundance of books and movies published and produced about heaven. If you walk into any Christian book store, you will see the shelves lined with these books and movies. Some of them have even gone on to garner more expansive attention. While I haven’t seen the movies and I’ve only read or perused a handful of the books, I’ve gotten the basic idea of the premise behind them, and that idea is rarely about meeting Jesus face to face. Instead, it seems that these books have focused instead on the fact that a) death isn’t the end and b) we’ll get to see our loved ones in heaven.

 

Those may not be the worst conclusions, but they certainly aren’t the best conclusions either. If heaven is simply about escaping hell and seeing the people we love, I think we’ve missed the point. Couple that with the fact that many of the conclusions in these books are based not upon the Bible but on a person’s own dreams or near-death experiences. There may be a place for fiction and dreaming, but we still need to rely on what God has given us in order to determine, to know what is to come. If our only basis of what we know about heaven comes from these books on movies, we may have the tendency to be driven by an emotionalism rather than something more concrete and reliable.

 

Into this landscape comes Elyse Pitzpatrick’s book “Home.”

 

There is a sense in all of us, writes Fitzpatrick, an unfulfilled desire and unmet need for home that cannot be fulfilled. No matter what we try to do to fill those desires, Fitzpatrick suggests that this desire in us is meant to create in believers a dissatisfaction that can only be filled by our real home, which is not the earth. She writes, “Perhaps one of the reasons why God chooses to leave us in this terribly broken world with its various disappointments is to create in our souls a certain dissatisfaction, an insatiable hunger for home.”

 

As Fitzpatrick weaves her way through “Home,” she continually relies on the Bible and the writings of theologians and others. She continually points back to the Bible to frame what we know and what we can expect. She acknowledges the discomfort of living in a world ravaged by sin but reminds the reader that God’s intention for creation was something so much more than that.

 

Fitzpatrick shares her own experiences as well as the experiences of others. As I read some of the accounts of her friends, my heart ached for them. There is no question that this world is not as it should be. But in the midst of it all, Fitzpatrick points to the hope that we should have as followers of Christ. While things are bleak, disheartening, and somewhat depressing at times, the ache we feel inside is for what is to come. She suggests that the more we let the thought of our true Home slip away, the more difficult it will be for us to hold on to hope.

 

The humility with which Fitzpatrick writes is a winsome quality of this book. She honestly confesses that her life has not been filled with many of the struggles of others. While she hasn’t been without difficulties, she acknowledges that things have been fairly good. She writes with a sense of comfort to point those whose experiences haven’t been quite as joyous and carefree to the hope of which she writes. Even when she’s done, she humbly concludes with these words, “All that we have been through in these pages filled with black lines, all the drawing, erasing, and redrawing I’ve done for you are at best pencil sketches by a woman in a dungeon, trying to sketch a world I’ve never seen, seeking to employ words I’m not skilled enough to arrange, trying to create for you something more than a child’s stick-figure drawing.”

 

For me, “Home” was a refreshing read. It was evident that Fitzpatrick had done her homework in scouring the Bible as well as the writings of those who have studied the idea of heaven in the past. While there were moments when I felt like she was lost in the prose, the material which she was writing is so necessary to remind us all of what is to come.

 

There are much more scholarly works written about heaven, some of which Fitzpatrick makes reference to within her book. “Home” is an easily accessible book that is helpful to point people towards what is to come, not based on emotions, feelings, dreams, and other things, but based on what God has given to us as a revelation of himself and what he is bringing to us. This book is worth the read, especially for those who might be struggling most with finding hope in the midst of the brokenness that they are experiencing in this world.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

You’re Going the Wrong Way

who can heal americaThere’s a scene in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” when John Candy and Steve Martin are driving in the wrong direction down the highway. They see a car across the way who is trying to signal to them and the driver yells to them, “You’re going the wrong way.” Candy and Martin think that the guy is drunk and don’t even consider that they actually might be driving down the highway in the wrong direction. Eventually, they crash and their car burns up, leaving them stranded with a shell of a car. I wonder what would have happened if they had simply heeded the advice of the man yelling at them to turn around.

As funny of a movie as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” is, this scene replayed in my mind as I’ve thought about the events of the last week, month, and even year. As more and more horrible things play out in the United States, I can’t help but wonder whether or not someone is yelling, “You’re going the wrong way” to us, and in our foolishness and pride, we dig our heels in a little deeper, we clench our fists a little tighter, and we keep pressing on, thinking that we’re not the ones who are wrong.

The other day, a news headline on CNN.com read, “Who can heal America?” I thought that it was a perfect question to which many will struggle to come up with an answer. I think plenty of people will have an answer, but I don’t think that any of the answers that they’ll provide will be right. After all, politicians have been “coming up with answers” for years and it’s not gotten us any further away from the dismay that we’ve experienced. In fact, one might argue that we’re worse off than we were before, but we continue to drive in the wrong direction, thinking that it surely can’t be us that’s wrong, it’s got to be someone else. There’s no way that we could be driving in the wrong direction, right?

There’s a very powerful passage in 1 Samuel 8 in the Old Testament. Samuel, the prophet and priest, has gotten old and his sons are wayward, and the people want an answer to their problems. So, they ask for a king. Why? They say, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” As Samuel talks with God, God tells him all of the things that a king will do to the people, a king will enslave the people, he will steal from them and oppress them, he will take their possessions and their children from them, and when they cry out to God, God will not answer them.

It seems that America has wanted to be just like everybody else. We want a king to lead us, we want a president who can fix this mess, but if we’re looking to find someone who can save us, who can fix this, who can heal America, we’re going the wrong way, we’re heading in the wrong direction. A president will only do what we’ve seen presidents do countless times in the past, but presidents will come and go, political leaders will rise and fall, but there is only One who will remain forever.

We’re going the wrong way and we’ve got to turn around, but I don’t think that finding the right president is the way to fix the problem. The problems need to be fixed in our hearts before we can try to fix them externally, after all, you can make things look nice and pretty on the outside all you want, but if you don’t fix what’s broken on the inside, then it’s just window dressing.

America doesn’t need the right president, America needs a change of heart. We need to stop the car and turn it around, but we’ve got to humble ourselves and first realize that we’re going in the wrong direction.

Grace

I’m two weeks into my sabbatical and I feel like so much has happened in that short amount of time. Some of my days have felt like two or three days combined into one. I’ve had some great conversations, some great experiences, some great rest.

My wife and I spent nearly four years in a place not too long after we got married. My wife had married an engineer and then I was called to be a pastor. It was a big shift for both of us. That call involved a move far away from our family and all that was familiar to us. I was green and inexperienced in the new world in which I found myself. I made mistakes, I spoke too quickly, I offended, I probably thought that I knew way more than I really did.

When things ended in that place, there was hurt, there was anger, there was confusion, there was uncertainty. We didn’t know for sure where we would end up, but God did. He opened the door for us to a new place. We left behind many great friends and I felt like I was leaving a bit of my heart there as well. We had made an investment and to leave it all behind was hard for me to do.

This past week, I spent some time with some of the people who were part of our experience there in that place. I’m not even sure what words to use to best describe the meaningfulness of that time. Healing. Growing. Learning. Moving on. Grace.

Grace.

It’s a word that came up in our conversations and a word that I continue to go back to. If we are truly growing in our faith journey and in our spiritual depth, grace should be something that naturally pours from us. We shouldn’t tout that we have grown up in the church and been Christians for 40 years and then fail to exhibit grace. We shouldn’t expect grace to be given to us and then refuse to extend it to others. Grace has been given to us and to whom much has been given, much is expected.

Grace.

I feel like I experienced an immersion of grace over the last week. As conversations took place and we shared, I felt that grace and I was so grateful for it.

I still have many weeks to go as I move through this sabbatical. It’s always hard to come hard out of the gates, it can easily set your expectations high for what else is to come. But I don’t think I should worry. Much of what I have experienced over the last week was not planned, at least by me, but I know that God orchestrated it, he made it happen, he gave me the privilege of experiencing it.

This is going to be a fun ride!

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Selfless Sacrifice

I’ve been thinking about sacrifice lately. It might be because I’ve been reading and preaching through the Book of Hebrews at my church. It also might be because of the selfless act of a friend of mine that I’ve witnessed.

I have a friend who is an outspoken follower of Jesus. I don’t say that as a derogatory thing at all. He is bold about his faith and he is an inspiration because his faith is not limited to words alone, he lives it out. He lives it out in a big way.

Not too long ago, my friend was thinking about how he could make a difference. Honestly, I think he’s been asking that question a lot. He and his family are always helping others out, serving other people, finding ways to show people the love of Christ. He’s not one to simply sit on the sidelines and wait for opportunities to come to him, he goes out and seeks those opportunities.

He was led back to a mutual friend of ours who had donated a kidney to a friend years ago and began to inquire about the possibility of doing the same thing. While he didn’t necessarily have a friend who needed his kidney, he knew that there were many people out there who were waiting for transplants. He wanted to make a difference.

When I got wind of his plan, I’m not sure what my first reaction was, well, other than grabbing my side and rubbing my abdomen as I thought about what I would do with one less organ rumbling around inside there. I do know that there were many words that came to my mind. Bravery. Selfless. Sacrifice.

Sacrifice.

It’s a word that we generally use when it comes to our veterans and members of our armed forces. They sacrifice themselves for our freedom. Their sacrifice is costly. They may lose life, they may lose limbs, they may lose a lot of things, but they consider it worth it for the benefit of others.

Selfless sacrifice.

I’m not sure whether or not it’s possible to have a sacrifice that isn’t selfless. Of course, the way that some people throw around words, I’m not always sure that we fully grasp exactly what a sacrifice is anyway.

Whenever I think about sacrifice, I am always drawn back to a familiar passage in 2 Samuel. David is king and he wants to build an altar to sacrifice to the Lord. So, he searches for a location and then consults the owner. The owner wants to give David the land but David refuses to take it for free. He says this in 2 Samuel 24:24, “But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Now, David was king, so he had plenty of money. I guess there might be an argument made that David really wasn’t making a sacrifice, but it’s his words that stand out to me. “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

Sacrifice is costly.

I went to see my friend in the hospital after his surgery. I was moved to tears at what he had done. I was moved to tears that his sole motivation was to give God glory in his sacrifice. I was moved to tears because I felt like my friend was more selfless and brave than I ever could be.

I don’t think that we are all called to make the same sacrifices. Frankly, I’m not sure that anyone would ever want my organs as a bunch of them aren’t really functioning well at the present time, but what else is it that I am called to give up, to sacrifice? If I give something up, am I doing it to get accolades and glory for myself or for my God?

Like I said, I know why my friend did what he did. It’s an incredible inspiration, example, and reminder to me that sacrifice is costly. It’s an incredible reminder to me to seek out ways to make a difference, just as my friend is doing. It’s an incredible reminder to me to strive and seek to be more selfless than I am.

As I readied myself to leave his room, I grabbed my friend’s hand and thanked him for being an inspiration. As I walked out of that room, I lifted up another prayer for my friend and his wife, but also for whoever would be the recipient of his sacrifice. Someone else would find new life because of what he was giving up. New physical life. I know that his prayer was that they would find new spiritual life as well, and that’s just what I prayed!

 

Watching As Spiritual Discipline

amelieMovies have always been important to me. I’m not sure when they became so important to me or how it happened, but as I have gotten older, I realize that they can be used for so many different things. We’ve watched movies together as a family for a family movie night, I’ve watched movies to unwind and distract me, I’ve watched movies to help me to laugh, and I’ve watched movies to provoke my mind and help me to think deeper thoughts.

It’s the last way that I’ve watched movies that has actually been a larger focus of mine over the years. When my wife and I were living in Connecticut, we were newly married and had a number of single friends. We would host movie discussion nights at our small little house. We had some fun times and great discussions as we worked our way through some interesting films.

Film is story. I know that there are people who don’t see much redemptive qualities about films, but I firmly believe that any medium that can be used to tell honest and profound stories is worthwhile. The stories aren’t always nice and neat, they are sometimes raw and unrefined, maybe even offensive, but isn’t that the way that life really is to us if we’re honest about it?

While I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to take a movie theology class. A lot of my friends scratched their heads at that one, but I explained it was about finding the God stories in movies. The class for me was a confirmation of things that I had thought all along, that people are searching for God, they don’t always find him or come to the right conclusion in their search, but there are lessons learned along the way.

To me, watching films can be a spiritual discipline. Yes, I read God’s Word as the primary source of knowledge and understanding of who he is, but movies are helpful, especially to understand perspectives that are not my own. I know the questions that I have, the things that dwell deep within me, but how about the questions and stirrings in others. In film, we feel those stirrings, we hear those questions, we see the struggles that are real in other people.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that this is the case with all films. It’s kind of hard to find the deeper meaning of life and the searching for God in “Dumb and Dumber” and other films whose sole purpose is to entertain. But many movies are so much more than just entertainment, they are stories of struggles that are not specific to the fictional characters within their frames, but allegorical depictions of real-life struggles that have been felt by writers, directors, producers, and others.

I still watch films for the entertainment value and to laugh, but I feel the need to watch films that stir my mind, that help me to contemplate who I am, who God is, and who I am as I am in relationship with him. When I look at films from that perspective, the act of watching becomes a spiritual discipline, something that helps me think deeper about myself, others, and God.

It might seem far off to some, and I get that, it’s not for everyone, but I think that it’s like so many things that we see in our culture, a tool. Tools are meant to be used and I’ve seen people use average and ordinary tools to do extraordinary things. Maybe average and ordinary films can be used to think extraordinary thoughts and to help us reflect deeper than we might without them.

Confess

confessI got a phone call from a friend the other day. He had been struggling and I guess he just needed someone to talk to. As I listened to him talk through his struggles and recounting the past weeks, I realized that he was confessing to me.

For a moment, I stopped and thought of the confessional booth in the Catholic church. The priest goes in one side while the confessor goes into the other side. The confessional booth seems shrouded in darkness and secrecy. It’s a secret place where sins can be confessed without fear or worry of listening ears or prying eyes.

My friend needed to tell someone else what had happened over the past few weeks. He needed to get it off his chest, to feel like he wasn’t the only one bearing the burden. He needed to know that despite his shortcomings and faults, he was still okay.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Despite our trust and faith in God, it can be difficult to simply read words on a page to understand and know that there is forgiveness and absolution for our sins. We want more, we want something tangible.

I think that’s why it’s so difficult for many of us to embrace the idea of grace. We feel like we should do something, that there needs to be an action, a punishment, a penalty, a payment that WE should be making. Instead, we can fail to see that the action, punishment, penalty, and payment have been made once for all. There is no need for additional payment, but there is a need for additional confession and repentance.

Confession is a mysterious thing to me. It’s something that we are called to do and when we do it, most of the time, we find ourselves feeling that burden lifted once we’ve confessed it. While 1 John 1 tells us about the need to confess to God, there is another aspect of confession that I think my friend subconsciously realized that James makes reference to in James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We are called to confess to one another.

In a perfect world and a perfect church, this would most likely not be a problem. Frankly, I think our social media culture has made this more ominous and challenging. Why should we confess our sins to one another when everyone else seems to have it all together? Why should we give someone the ammunition that they might need to exploit us, to abuse us, to question us, and to judge us?

Our hesitation to confess to one another has more to do with fear than anything else. We are afraid of what those confessions might turn in to when in the wrong hands. We are afraid that in our confessing, others won’t feel led to confess in kind.

What would it look like if we all followed the urging of James and confessed to one another? I’m not talking about the, “I kicked the dog on the way to work this morning” confessions, I’m talking about REAL confessions:

“I thought lustfully about someone today.”

“I saw my neighbor’s new car and I wanted it more than anything.”

“I found my fingers and my eyes wandering when I was on the computer last night and I ended up somewhere no one should go.”

“I found a way to make a little extra money at work but I know it’s not legal.”

The list could go on and on, but I wonder how often we utter those confessions to one another. How different would our lives look if we were to have the freedom to confess to one another? How intimately would we need to know someone for us to confess these things to them?

I don’t have the answers, but I was struck by the fact that a friend was willing to make himself vulnerable and lay his burdens down. I wonder when I’ll feel like it’s okay for me to do the same thing.

 

We Are the Change

we are the change

I’ll be honest, politics disgust me. I both admire and abhor politicians. I admire them for the willingness and boldness to step into a broken system while abhorring them for the same thing. Our political system has come to such a flawed and degraded state that it’s hard to believe that change can happen without a major overhaul and restructure.

Just look at the impending November election. Opinions are fully entrenched on both sides of the political fence. The only bipartisanship that exists is in the opinion of Donald Trump, the supposed GOP frontrunner and both Republican and Democratic loathing of him. The devolution of values and ideals has come to parallel many people’s approach in the sporting world, specifically in Baseball when people like “anyone but the Yankees” or college basketball when people root for “anyone but Duke.” People simply don’t want to see Trump as president and so would elect Clinton in an effort to keep Trump from the office or vice versa.

I’m not sure the last time that I watched a State of the Union address. To be honest, I think this is an area of growth for me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the sitting president, there is some respect that should be shown to the office despite personality or ideology. I’m learning in this area and need a lot of work, I can be honest about that.

President Obama’s valedictory SOTU address was no exception. In our fast-paced world of technology and information, it seems slightly unnecessary to watch for an hour what will be summarized and highlighted in a brief five or ten minutes the next morning.

As I read through the highlights of the SOTU address on my chosen news source (which is neither MSNBC or Fox News), I read a statement that President Obama made that stood out to me. He stated, “I believe in change because I believe in you!….we are the change we seek.” Those were interesting words, words that could easily inspire, but words that seem fundamentally flawed, at least to me in my own theology, ideology, and politicality.

Earlier that morning, before reading the highlights of the SOTU address, I met with my friend and accountability partner. We have been looking at 1 Kings and were talking through Solomon and some of his missteps in his reign as king of Israel. I made the comment that I was frustrated with myself for turning my mood and attitude on a dime. One moment I could be charged up, encouraged, and joyful and then I could move to an arrogant, impatient, and angry jerk. The repeated pattern had begun to frustrate and even disgust me.

As I talked it out, I couldn’t help but hear my own words, “I’m trying” and “I’m working” and realize that was one of the main problems. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change and reform a person, I know through my own life how changes have taken place and I know that the credit cannot be taken by me.

No matter how caring, giving, or altruistic one claims to be, at the heart of each and every one of us is lies selfishness. I know that many (if not all) will push back on me here, but I firmly believe that even in our altruism, we can be selfish in seeking out a feeling for ourselves. We can do good things and help people, but at the heart of those actions, if not for a motivation outside of ourselves, we are still being selfish.

I commend the President for his thoughts. I get what he is trying to say and think that he’s halfway there, but the problem becomes when we try to do things ourselves and think that we’re doing it in our own power and strength. I always find two things are true, 1) we’re better together, when we work with others and 2) we’re better with God who gives us the power, strength, wisdom, and know-how to move forward.

Yes, the change lies somewhere in us, we can’t seek for others to make that change happen if we aren’t willing to be part of it. There will be no president or elected official who will swoop in and save the day. Superman is a myth. Israel wanted a king, just like the other nations, and thought that it would help and solidify their place, but it turns out that God was right in the end, he was the one who was to be their king because humans are human, faulty, broken, selfish, and flawed.

We all need restoration. We all need redemption. We may be the change, but in order for us to be the change, we need to be changed first!