My Election Reflection [please please read]

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On Wednesday morning America woke to perhaps the greatest upset in political history.   Today, we have a deeply divided country that is venting and attacking one another on social media.   Honestly I am heart broken by what I see online, especially by those who claim the name of Jesus.   It seems silly to me that I even need to write this post. But in light of how Jesus followers are responding, I am compelled to give a brief election reflection that I pray will give us some perspective.

The morning after the election I sat my 3 amazing kids down before school [ages 12, 9, and 6]. I saw this as a critical moment to teach them how followers of Jesus are to respond.

Here’s what I said:

If you do not have anything good to say…

Today at school your friends are going to be saying all kinds of things about the election. Do not get caught up in it. Do not get pulled down to speaking negatively, making fun or saying mean things.

Remember if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all.

It is not about whether you agree or disagree, it is about honoring others with our words. We need to bite our tongue instead of using biting words. Social media is not the place to vent, emote or attack.  

Before you post take a deep breath, pray and ask: will this be helpful or harmful?

 

We are called to pray for our political leaders.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Funny side note: At this point my youngest raised his hand and ask, “How can we pray for people if were dead?” He thought persecuted meant that you were killed. So we clarified what it meant to be persecuted.

Now back to the main point, Jesus was absolutely clear:

We are to love those we consider an enemy and pray for those who are mistreating us.

The Apostle Paul commands us to pray for our political leaders. At that time he’s writing the church was under Roman oppression and persecution. And he is saying, pray for the leaders who are oppressing you. And so no matter how you feel about Mr. Trump, even if you would consider him an enemy, we are called to pray for him. I am praying that he has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. I’m praying that God gives him wisdom and discernment.

Even though our political leaders change; God never changes.

The good news is that God is still in control.

He is not surprised. He is not caught off guard. Nothing can thwart His plan. Though our president is changing and there is uncertainty in our nation, the true King is still enthroned and reigning. That morning I opened my Bible to Hebrews chapter 13 verse 8 where it says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Followers of Jesus should not be bent out of shape or freaking out.

Our hope is not in a government, a president or a political system.

Our hope is in Jesus.

And so yes our country is changing but God has not changed. We can face the future with confidence because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

We have an unshakable hope because we have an unchanging sovereign God.

 

It was now just about time for my kids to head off to school. But before they did, I ask each of them to pray for Mr. Trump and our country. We went around with each one of them praying starting with the youngest and then I closed out our time. How precious it was to hear my kids pray for our country and praying for Mr. Trump’s salvation.

My dear friends this is how we are called to respond in light of the recent election.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the shadow of shame

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As a college student going to school to study the Bible, I was struggling with pornography. Porn had a powerful hold over my life.  There was an internal war raging and guilt flowed through my veins.  I had tried countless times to be free of this addiction, yet time and time again I came crawling back to the altar of my computer.

Failure soon became my identity. It wasn’t that I failed but now I was a failure. Failure is who I am. I began to believe this is who I am and I will never change. I was broken, hiding—shame had become my companion.

Shame is powerful.

Shame says that you are what you did. It’s not that you failed or you made a mistake. Shame says you are a failure; you are a mistake. Shame finds its power in the silence, in the absence of community and our destructive self-talk.

In that college dorm room trying earnestly to pursue God, I was living in the shadow of shame. It tainted how I saw life. It tainted how I thought God saw me.

I remember one particularly dark moment of shame. Shame was whispering in my ear, you are a failure, you’ll never change, it is not worth going on. And an insidious thought ran through my head to end the misery, the world would be better without me. That really scared me.

The deep work of the Christian life is rejecting our perceived identity and embracing God’s imputed identity.  

This is spiritual formation. As a follower of Jesus, our identity is not based on what we have done or even what has been done to us. It is based solely on what Jesus has done for us. Our identity is not based on WHO we are but on WHOSE we are.

I remember the turning point for me. One night in my dorm room, I had a dream. The room was dark; the only light came from the blue hue of my laptop. Sitting at my desk looking at the computer was the 8 year-old version of me, scrawny, blonde, innocent boy.

My heart broke for that little boy. “Don’t look at that junk! Don’t get stuck!”

It was in that moment that I first saw how God saw me. He did not see a failure, He saw His kid that He loves. He was not made or angry. His heart broke for me.

The truth is, I am His kid. I do not live in the shadow of shame. I dwell in the shadow of the Son He loves. My identity is secure, fully loved, completely forgiven, absolutely delighted in by my heavenly Father. And that changes everything!  That was the beginning for me to experience freedom from my addiction.

There is this incredible Psalm that I memorized in college, Psalm 15. In it David asks, “Who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One of the things David says about those who live in the shadow of the almighty is that they, “speak truth in their heart.” I love that.

My friend Kevin Queen says, “If another person talked to you the way you talk to you, you’d file a restraining order. Replace those lies with truth.”

Pay attention to the self-talk. Is it true of what God says is true of you?

No matter what shame says, you do not have to live in the shadow of shame. You are God’s kid. He loves you more than you could ever know. He’s not down on you. You already dwell in the shadow of the Son He loves.

Start telling yourself the truth.

The one thing I want my kids to learn.

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A few weeks ago we were away as a family in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara has some of the most incredible restaurants and shopping around. People travel from all over the world to visit this scenic beach town.  And you cannot visit Santa Barbara without taking a stroll on the main strip, State Street.

My son and I were walking up State Street passing people carrying their high end shopping bags, looking picture perfect for their day out. And all of a sudden right in the middle of the sidewalk laid a homeless man, motionless, completely sprawled out. Just a few feet away, also in the middle of the sidewalk, sat his wheelchair.

If you took a closer look you would notice he was missing one of his legs, his pants partially pulled down revealed a badly used diaper and an odor emanated from him that was revolting.

It was a jarring sight that stopped my son and I in our tracks.

As we tried to figure out what to do and how to help, I couldn’t help but notice that nobody seemed to notice this man in the middle of the sidewalk. It was as if he was invisible. People literally just walked around him, some even stepped over him to get to their shopping destination.

How does no one notice?

How could people just keep going?

Why doesn’t anybody do something?

Could it be that people were uncomfortable with what they saw and so they just walked by trying to ignore it?

Maybe they felt the way I felt, overwhelmed by the pain before them and completely unequipped to help. What did I have to offer? What I could I do to help? But even so, I can’t just stand by and do nothing.

Or is it worse than that, could it be that they were not uncomfortable at all, that they just did not care?

All I know is there in the middle of the sidewalk lay a human being that other human beings just passed by and stepped over. On the ground lay a person made in the image of God. One who is deeply loved by God, who has intrinsic worth, yet stepped over like a worthless piece of trash.

Often times when we talk about our relationship with God it is completely disconnected from the grittiness life. It remains a spiritual exercise for the soul with no earthly impact around us. This was never how it was intended to be.

You were put here on this planet for more.

You put here on this planet for more than being upwardly mobile, retiring early, or achieving the American Dream. You were put on this planet to not only know God but to express his love to a hurting and broken world around you.

You were put on this planet to love those God puts in the middle of your path.

We have a God who loves with a reckless abandonment every person on this planet.

He is about bringing healing and wholeness.

He is about bringing beauty from ashes.

He is about bringing dead things back to life.

He’s about making us new.

He’s about restoration.

God is inviting us to be about what He is about.

The problem is we often feel exactly the way I felt when I came across the man in the middle of the sidewalk. “But I’m not equipped. I’m not trained.”

We often respond like Moses did before God at the burning bush. I think you have the wrong person. Isn’t there someone else? Why would you want to use me? I’m useless. I’m average. I’m broken. I’m not good enough. Maybe one day but not today.

 I love what Mother Teresa said,

“I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

It is not so much the usefulness of the tool but it is the tool in the right hands that makes it useful. You are a Daughter or Son of the King most High. You have been given incredible gifts and talents by God to bring Him glory. You are an image bearer of the Creator of the universe. And when you give yourself fully to him he will skillfully use you in the way that He has made you.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”    

[Galatians 5v14]

The more you were made for is to love others the way Jesus loved you.

This is the one thing I want to teach my kids.  The is the one thing I want them to learn and live out.   They were put on this planet for more than they could ever imagine and God wants to use them greater than they could ever dream.  We step into the more we were made for when we love those God brings along our path.  It is as simple and as difficult as that.

What does it look like for you to love those God puts in the middle of your path today?

A lion in the wild

Encounter_slide-01As a kid I loved lions. Still do. In fact my nickname as child was Ryan the Lion. I would let out a ferocious roar almost everywhere I went. I remember I was only allowed to trick-or-treat one year and my mom made me a lion costume. It was amazing! When we would go to the zoo as a family, the only place I wanted to go was the lion enclosure. Lions are beautiful, magnificent, powerful– the King of the Jungle.

I was at an attraction recently with my family that had a mountain lion behind the glass wall. The mountain lion was sleeping. One of my sons starts to bang on the glass wall. When I told him to stop and asked him what was he doing. His said, “Dad, I just wanted to see him do something.”


Much of the way we approach God is like a lion in the zoo. 

We want to see Him do something but observe safely behind the glass.

One of the primary reasons we do not encounter God, is we come to God on our own terms. We want to be in control.  We want to determine when, where and how. We want to get close enough to have a glimpse but not so close to have to adjust our lives.

It is our desire for control that keeps us from truly encountering God.

Yes we know that God is great. Of course He is all-powerful. We sing the songs and pray the prayers. All the while sitting behind a glass wall that protects us – so that we can see him but not fear him; see him but not be moved; see him but not respond.

When the Bible describes encountering God I get the impression that it is much more like coming across a lion in the wild. In fact some of the prophets would talk about God like a lion. Even Jesus is called the Lion of Judah in the book of Revelation.

A lion in the wild is unrestrained, untamed, and powerful. It is mighty, majestic, fierce and dangerous. In its presence you don’t just feel powerlessness, you are at its mercy and will. You do not impose your will upon him but you respond to his movements. You are exposed fully before Him.  You dare not bang or yell or ask it do a trick.  Encountering a lion in the wild, it is not the lion who must adjust. It is we who must adjust to the lion.

A true encounter with God is like coming across a lion in the wild.

It is impossible to encounter God and not be changed by Him, to not respond.

Everyone who truly encounters God is changed.

My kids and I are reading the Narnia books together. In it C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus as Aslan. One of my favorite parts in The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe is when Susan ask about Aslan and Mr Beaver responds:

Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Somewhere along the line we replace the glory of the risen King with Buddy Theology. Buddy Theology is the idea that Jesus is my Best Friend, my BFF. We have reduced the King, creator and sustainer of the universe to buddy. Yes it is true that Jesus has called us friend, but he is our sacred friend.

In the Gospel there is this great juxtaposition: Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. The King in all his glory is also the perfect spotless lamb. The Creator who would leave his throne to suffer and die at the hands of his creation.

Until we sit in the weight of God’s glory we will not rightly appreciate the worth of His grace.

 

When I am afraid [which is more often, than I care to admit]

“Fear is a useful servant but a harmful master.”

I don’t like to admit that I’m afraid. But the reality is that I am often afraid.  I’ve shared over the past year with our church my struggle with anxiety.  It doesn’t’ feel very manly to say, “I’m afraid.”  In fact it doesn’t seem very godly to say, “I am afraid.”  And I think for that reason far to many of us live secret lives of desperation.

The Bible talks a lot about fear.  In fact, the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  And this has been somewhat problematic for me. Especially in the last few years when nightly anxiety attacks started to become a common experience.

I think the problem lies in how I’ve always heard this command of God.  What I all too often hear is:  It’s wrong to be afraid.  You’re broken if you experience anxiety.  You don’t have enough faith if you’re afraid.  And so I spent many sleepless nights alone, hiding even from my wife my fear and anxiety.  What would she think about me or what would the church think about their supposedly fearless leader caused me to run into hiding with my anxiety and fears.

Recently, I had an experience that has deeply shaped how understand or view this command to not be afraid.  My family and I were on vacation together hanging out at the beach.  I love to surf, play volleyball and really do anything that involves the ocean and sand.  While at the beach we had a paddleboard and my daughter who is almost 10 years old wanted to go out with me.  I was so excited to share with her something that I love. And while she was on the beach she was excited too.

She put on a life vest and off we went into the wild blue yonder.  Actually we only went out about 20 or 30 yards out.  What started out as excitement soon turned into shear terror as she began to notice the depth of the ocean below, the size of the waves all around and the feeling of being completely out of control.

My daughter grabbed her knees and cried desperately for me to take her back to shore.  In that moment I had such compassion for her and my heart broke. I quietly and repeatedly let her know, “It’s ok, daddy’s with you. The waves aren’t as big as you think and the water isn’t as deep as it seems. I know it feels scary but your safe because I’m with you.”

We sat on that paddleboard in the midst of the beautiful yet terrifying ocean and I simply reminded her that she was ok because I was with her.

In that moment I so wished my daughter could see it from my perspective. If she went out there by herself she would have every reason to fear.  She could get swept out to sea or pummeled by waves.  But she was with her dad, who loves her, who would do whatever it took to take care of her and make sure she made it safely back to shore.

Her fear was bigger than what she was actually afraid of.  And that’s how fear works much of the time.  Fear itself expands, grows and consumes us until it’s way bigger than the thing we are actually afraid of.

It’s interesting that every command in the Bible about not being afraid is almost always coupled with the phrase; “For I am with you.”

These commands read so much differently when I hear them as the whisper of my Heavenly Father saying, “I’m with you, you don’t have to be afraid. I wish you could see it from my perspective.

In the midst of the rising waves and the ocean deep, the whisper of the Father can be heard, “I’m with you.”  He knows that waves of life seem so big and strong.  And the ocean of worries, feel far too deep and dark to traverse.  Even there, even now, He is with you.

When I am afraid I have to quiet my heart so I can once again hear the loving whisper of my Heavenly Father saying “I’m with you sweet child, so don’t let your heart fear. I know it feels big and scary but I am with you.”

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9