It’s Time to Grow Up!

Spoiled.jpg

“Quit judging me you dumb bitch.  You treat your kids like s–t yourself.”

If you can believe it, this was a recent Facebook post I read while trolling peoples not-so-private lives.  And yes, I’m sure you can believe it.  We can all believe it.  I mean really, which one of us doesn’t come across a post like this almost daily?  I have to say though, what was hard to believe is who they came from.  At least one of them would call themselves a Christian.  You know, a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a believer.  The sad truth is that the new social media culture has ushered in an avenue where people can drive their unabated thoughts relentlessly down the highway of intolerance without any immediate consequence. And yes, even those of us who call ourselves Christians weave webs of mayhem causing serious pain and division that can sadly scar people for years.

In the 2008 election cycle, I was an avid supporter of MY candidate.  I would defend, attack and argue why my guy was the one America needed most.  My diatribe of ideals would often send my foes into their own bursts of ideological indignation.  It was reminiscent of a classic McEnroe v Connors Wimbledon match.  The volleys went back and forth only to escalate into more hateful serves and an occasional net smash.  It was brutal beyond words.  So barbarous in fact, that I later went back and deleted almost every post.  I was embarrassed to say the least.

When is the last time you went back through your own social media feed and evaluated the content of your character?  What we write is a direct reflection of our character.  Do you find that your words are healing and encouraging, or do you see something different?  Perhaps you see something downright ugly.

Let me first encourage you by saying that you’re not alone.  We all fall into the traps of speaking (or writing in this instance) without first thinking it through.  Like I mentioned before, I’m not going to be the pot calling the kettle black.  I’m just as guilty as the next guy or gal that slays dragons in the name of philosophical superiority.  We are all sinners and say things we wished we never said.  But I want to take this one step further.  Jesus not only wants us to stop saying things that are unseemly, he’s looking for us to take radical steps in another direction.  Check this out…

27 But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”

Yes, I just went there.  Those verses are found in Luke 6:27-31 and straight out of the mouth of Jesus.  I would like to challenge you to read those five verses five times in a row.  But let His words sink in deeply. Allow what Jesus is trying to communicate hit at your very core.  Okay, now re-read it five times again and then come back.

Listen friends, this is a picture of what true spiritual maturity looks like.  It is certainly a very difficult pill to swallow.  I mean think about what Jesus is saying here.  He wants us to love our enemies.  He’s exhorting us to do something good to someone that hates us.  And think of the audacity of Jesus when he asks us to pray for someone that has hurt us.  This stuff is crazy!  And yet, this is the life of a true follower of Jesus; we think less of ourselves and far more about others.

I want you to take note that there is something far bigger going on here than simply how we respond to people on social media.  Facebook jabber is nothing more than a window into our character.  Matthew 15:18a makes it really simple, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart…”

Friends, what’s in your heart?  Do you find yourself blowing up in anger over something someone has said or done to you?  I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t experience hurt or that we’re not ever to be angry.  What I am trying to highlight are the very words of Jesus.  There is power in His Word.

When Jesus commands it, He equips us for it.

As Jesus leads us down the radical path of love and grace, he knows it won’t be an easy road.  He understands that his calling is one that is completely opposite of the world.  But He has also provided us the strength to carry out his mission to love others above ourselves.  What I have personally found is that when I respond in a loving manner to someone who has been hurtful, or even hateful, I am at total peace.  I can rest in those moments.  I don’t take it personal.  And as I respond with peace and restfulness, I am able to love someone that isn’t so lovable.  Call it crazy, but it works!

Recently, I helped someone who was struggling financially.  Moments later they turned around and hurt me.  The details aren’t important, but what was important is how I responded.  I prayed for them.  I prayed for me, asking God to help me love them even though they hurt me deeply.  And you know what else?  I gave them my shirt; meaning I helped them again.  It has been the most freeing thing to give from a position of love rather than respond from the standpoint of anger and hate.

You have a choice today.  You can continue to come back with hatred, bitterness, loathing, hostility, resentment and revenge, or you can counter the way Jesus would have.  He loved people that hated him.  He healed people that doubted him.  He saved people that hurled horrific insults at him.  And yes, he died for people that hung him on a cross.  In Jesus’ own words, are you willing to take up your own cross and die for those around you?  That’s what it takes friends, death.  Death to our selfishness and maligned will.  But life to those around us who are hurting.

Keep one last thing in mind, most people respond in hurtful ways because they themselves are hurting.  If you find yourself in emotional turmoil, Jesus (and his followers) are the answer. As you begin to deal with your pain, you will find your heart changing and your Facebook posts becoming different.  Most of all, you’ll find a freedom and rest that allows you to show Jesus to a damaged world.

Awaken the Sleeping Giant…

bible_prayer_coffee

I woke up yesterday morning, brewed a fresh hot cup of aromatic coffee and sat down in my quiet place to talk to the Almighty as I have done for the past 20 years of my life. At first it felt normal, quaint, even usual.  In that same moment something different was stirring.  As I uttered my first few words, I felt a sense of disappointment; a rendering in my soul that quietly whispered, “there’s something missing.”  My faith was seemingly taken to task.  Every part of my spirit was simultaneously crushed and yet filled with anxious hope all at the same time.  I was on to something.  God was moving deeply.  I didn’t quite know what it meant, but I craved for understanding.

Most of the time, I follow my very articulate prayer list to the tee.  It has served me well for two long decades, but somehow it looked old and dusty.  I stared at this long list of requests and thought, “Why?  Why am I doing this over and over and over.”  Of course I reasoned with myself.  “Because you care about people, you care about God.” That made sense, so I started in again with my prayers.  Prayers for my amazing wife, my struggling kids, my hurting family and my lost friends.  Prayers that can take quite some time to get through if I fervently seek out God.  All this is good, but like I said, something was missing.  Let me first make something very clear here…

There was absolutely nothing wrong with what I was praying, it was how I was praying that gave me great pause.

Discipline and routine are wonderfully needed.  It can take years before we realize how much we need a good sense of structure in our lives.  Most of the people I know that have significant struggles tend to be less disciplined.  I know this well because that was me for many years.  My point is that the very thing I was missing had nothing to do with my prayer structure but had everything to do with how I entered into God’s presence.

I love my kids and I know they love their dad.  I could never count the number of times they have come to me to ask for things.  When they approach me, it’s usually pretty straightforward.  My kids don’t mince words, they just come out and say it.

“Dad, can you give me twenty bucks so I can go to the mall with my friends?”

“Dad, can I take the car tonight?”

“Dad, I really want that new make-up, can you get it for me?”

They ask and I answer.  But I couldn’t imagine them coming to me, cowering in shame or fear, giving me those same requests.  It wouldn’t even feel right.

“Dad, my friends are going out and I’d like to have some cash on me.  Can I get twenty bucks from you?  You don’t have to give it to me if you don’t want to.  Just thought I’d ask.”

“Dad, I’d really like to use the car this afternoon.  I know it’s probably stupid to ask, so if you say no, I’ll totally understand.

“Dad, I’ve been looking at this make-up online and it’s pretty cool.  Man, I’d love to have it.  I know you probably think it’s too much for me, so don’t worry about it.

Can you see the difference?  The way my kids approach me is bold and real.  They just ask and tell me their heart.  They don’t mince words and give me an out, they just say what they want and leave it in my hands.  Certainly I can answer any way I want to, and even disappoint them from time to time, but that never changes the way they ask.  They simply come forward and talk to their dad.

How come I always qualify my prayers?  You know what I mean?  Have you ever done it yourself?  You know…

“God, would you help me with this? But, not my will, your will be done.”

It’s almost a fatalist view of prayer.  It isn’t bold.  It isn’t sharing the depth of what you desire.  And the truth is, it’s filled with fear.  Check out what’s written in 1 John 5:14-15,

“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.”

John writes that we should have complete confidence when we make our requests to God.  Don’t get me wrong here, God will not just give us anything we ask for.  But what I do see Him saying is, “Ask me with boldness.  Tell me your heart.  Don’t hold back and don’t be afraid.  Just ask.”  And if our hearts are aligned with His, our prayers, as bold as they can be, will be answered in ways that may surprise us.

I began to pray differently that morning.  I asked for things in a bold and fresh approach.  I left the whole, “thy will be done” stuff off the table.  It didn’t make it’s way into my conversation.  God knows his will prevails.  I don’t need to remind him.  What I do need to do is “…come boldly to the throne of our gracious God” as stated in Hebrews 4:16 and let him know my requests.

Friends, God isn’t a Genie in a lamp that we need to rub the right way in order for him to appear.  God is our Dad in heaven!  He is waiting for you and I to come to him with boldness in our time together.  Yes, routine is great, discipline is wonderful, but being fearless is even better.

If your prayer life has become dull like mine, take a fresh approach to God.  Love him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and then approach him with your requests.  He’s a big boy and can handle it.  Leave the decision making up to him, BUT BE BOLD!  I do not believe for one second you will regret it.  I’m beginning to think that when I ask for God’s will at the end of every prayer, what I’m actually professing is fear.  No more fear for me and no more fear for you.  Let’s go to God with boldness and be a fearless prayer warrior with a Dad that loves us more than we could ever imagine.

She was NOT Happy…

img_0916

The day could not have started off any better.  After sleeping in and preparing ourselves for a long journey, we were off to see the Emerald City, Seattle!  We hit the road around 9am and the Google map said, “ETA 11:57AM.”  We were excited to say the least.

Kris hadn’t been to Seattle for nearly 15 years.  I couldn’t believe it had been that long, but she was right!  I think Maddie was probably around 3 years old when we last made the trek.  In the excitement of the adventure, Kris decided she wanted to drive.  The beautiful forest was calling her name.  So we pulled over at a Starbucks, got a yummy, piping hot sugar-free vanilla latte and back on the road we went.

It wasn’t but a few miles when she looked in her rear view mirror and said… well, I won’t say what she said, but she said it!  And yes, the flickering red and blue lights reflected off the rear view mirror and into her squinty eyes.  Nailed for speeding!  It certainly wasn’t the end of the world for me (after all it wasn’t my ticket), but for her, I could see the tenseness in her face; the tight grip on the wheel.  It was pretty clear that her afternoon wasn’t going to end well.

As I looked over from time to time, I could see she was lost in thought.  I asked her a few times how she was doing, and of course she said, “I’m fine.”  But she wasn’t.  She was really bothered.  And that bothered me.  I really wanted her to let it go and have fun, but that wasn’t going to happen, at least not right now.

Isn’t that just life?  You’re having the time of your life, and then WHAM, it all comes crashing down.  The heart races, the face turns grimm and the soul feels crushed.  I felt for my girl and she definitely wasn’t in a good place.  It’s times like this when we realize how much we need to take a brake and chill out. It reminded me of Mark 6:32,

“So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”

Even Jesus knew there were times when they just needed to stop and rest.  So we decided to hit a Rest Stop.  Oh yeah, and I can take over the driving…

As we pulled in, I immediately noticed how calm it was.  It was a serene, comfortable place designed specifically for rest.  It actually gave Kris the breathing room to alleviate the negative thoughts from her mind.  She took a little walk toward the woods, and I puffed on a smooth-draw cigar.  It really was a much needed rest that got me thinking.

As much as we needed a rest stop, it wasn’t our final destination.

Sure, we all need to stop and rest for a while; reflect on life and get our priorities back in order, but we also need to keep moving forward.  Sometimes too long of a rest can be a trap.  Maybe you’ve found yourself in a familiar ambush…

  • Your financial situation has you against the ropes and you simply ignore the calls from the creditors (I’ve done this myself)
  • You just lost your job and every part of you gives up looking for another one. (done this too)
  • You’re married to Freddy Krueger or Mommy Dearest and you just want to sleep it all away. (Kris did this one with me!)

There is a healthy rest and a not-so-healthy rest.  One of them connects you to God which pushes you forward.  The other connects you to your flesh, which freezes you in your tracks.  Can you imagine if we had just stayed at the Rest Stop?

Certainly, the rest stop was peaceful, tranquil and comforting.  There was a restroom, fresh brewed coffee, plentiful snacks and gorgeous places to hang out.  But it wasn’t permanent.  It wasn’t our destination.  And that’s often what we do; we find a rest stop, but sadly, we make it our journeys end.

Look at what Jesus and the disciples did in Mark 6:32 immediately after they rested…

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”

Jesus received his rest and then went right back to work.  That’s a prescription for Godly success!

Friends, I write this to encourage you.  We all walk an often turbulent road, and God certainly calls us to rest in Him at times.  But that rest needs to be intentional.  It’s a rest where you get away in order to get back on track.  It’s a place where you meet God in order to move forward.  And that’s what we did…

After about 30 minutes of resting, we decided it was time to move forward.  We washed up, got in the car and off we went!  We laughed again.  We held hands in the car and we listened to photonic grungy-metal all the way to Seattle.  It ended up being an amazingly memorable day that ended oh-so sweet!

If I could just end with a short Bible verse that tells us exactly how to get back on the path that moves us forward.  It’s found in Proverbs 3:5-6.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Isn’t that amazing!  God only wants us to seek him out with all our hearts.  And when we do, our path forward becomes crystal clear.

What a mess!

stand-by-me

My heart is absolutely broken.  My wife Kris and I drove down to Brownsville, OR to see where the movie “Stand by Me” was shot.  We had a wonderful time playing in the treehouse where the boys played cards, ran down the gun-shot ridden back alley, and took a Kodak moment picture on the famous bridge where they entered the little town.  It was a surreal time, especially for my precious girl.  But it was on the drive home where I saw it…

“STOP SINNING.  COME TO JESUS.”

Yes, a glaringly obvious sign on the side of a church building.  It could have easily read, “Clean up your act, then you’ll be good enough to approach God.”  How sad is that!  And I’m sure the pastor and the church meant well by this exhortation.  I do not for a minute doubt their sincerity.  But there is something fatally flawed with that statement.

It’s kind of like saying…

  • Fix your car, then take it to the mechanic…
  • Turn on the light, then put a lightbulb in the socket…
  • Watch TV, and then turn it on…

Does that make any sense?  These are impossibilities.  You never fix your car and then take it to a mechanic.  Why?  Because a mechanic is only necessary when the car needs fixing.  And that’s where we come into play.  We (yes, you and me) are in need of a mechanic.  We are all very broken people with very real problems.  And yes, we need a mechanic, the Great Mechanic!

I’ve been attending Sandals Church for about 5 years now.  Their vision?  “Real with ourselves, God and others.”  It’s the vision of authenticity.  It’s about reaching out to real people struggling with a real life problems.  I think if Sandals Church was to put a sign up similar to the one above, it might read…

“STILL SINNING?  COME TO JESUS.”

Yes!  Because we are all still sinning.  We are all struggling with tragedies, let downs, anger, un-forgiveness, sin and a slew of other things that most people wear a mask for in order to avoid being outed.  And so, that mask is proudly displayed by the many parishioners that attend churches like the one I saw in Brownsville.  Unfortunately that only leads to fake Christianity.  I’m not about being fake, I’m about being real.

The fact of the matter is that no church in America, or the world for the matter, should ever put conditions on coming to Jesus.  Jesus never required anything but love from His followers.  They flocked to Him in droves!

I’ve sat and pondered the reason why so many people, in the tens of thousands, followed so closely to Jesus as he walked the streets of Jerusalem or traversed the shores of Galilee.  It’s so simple, He loved them just the way they are.  He never put conditions on his love.  The only people he challenged were the fake religious leaders that put conditions on people.  Here’s a modern day look at what the Pharisees did to people (Matthew 23)…

  • They walked around with a big bible in hand telling others how to live, but in secret spent little time living out what they preach.
  • Like modern day televangelists, they guilt you into giving sacrificially while they jet-set to their third house in Miami Beach.
  • They love to show everyone how much money they give to the church, yet they won’t life a finger to help someone in need.
  • They go around showing everyone how holy they are, but in private, their lives are riddled with all kinds of sinful behavior.

And that’s what I saw yesterday; conditions on approaching Jesus.

Maybe you’ve thought about Christianity and wondered what all the fuss is about.  If I could sum it all up in one word it would be FREEDOM.  Jesus came to give you and I freedom.

  • Freedom from religion
  • Freedom from a world that is constantly tearing at our soul, and…
  • Freedom from the plight of sin.

Here’s the truth, sin is something we all struggle with and Jesus is the answer.  Jesus is the freedom.  But His freedom looks very different from what many churches suggest.

Freedom in Jesus is when he said to the people following him, “Come to me all you who are tired, struggling, hurt, angry, frustrated and in a lot of pain, and I will give you a rest you could never imagine.”  This is my version of Matthew 11:28.  And my guess is that many of you could use some much needed rest.

Is that where you’re at today?  Do you need some rest?  May I suggest you find a church that allows you to be a complete mess.  Jesus would say to you today, “Just come to me how you are.  I will take you, mess and all!”  And if you do just that, you will find rest like you’ve never found before.

Please remember, Jesus is about restoring you, not slamming you for your faults.  He knows everything about you.  And you know what?  He loves you right where you’re at.

Faith isn’t always what is seems…

faith-leap

As many of you know, for me this past couple of weeks has been nothing short of grimm.  It’s been difficult, but it’s also been wonderful.  This morning I spent some time milling over something incredible that I believe God has shown me about my faith.

Just to recap my week, it started off with feeling so sick that I literally passed out.  It then moved to a family situation that struck me to my core as I realized how much I’ve failed as a father and husband.  My week then moved forward into a situation completely out of my control that cost me quite a bit financially.  And to cap it off, I found myself dealing with these crises by indulging in food and looking at things I shouldn’t have on my computer.  Yes, it’s been a very hard week.  But God was always there.  His faith demanded faith on my part.

Sandals Church had an annual staff retreat that allowed me to refocus my life and begin a new chapter of faith.  But faith has begun to change for me.  I’ve always defined faith to look something like this.

  • If I believe strong enough, God will come through…
  • If I stop doubting, God will begin to work in my situation…
  • If I have faith the size of a mustard seed, God will then move in a way that otherwise He wouldn’t have.

I’ve always viewed faith as something that is tied to the fact that if I believe hard enough, strong enough or just plain old enough, THEN God would decide to move on my behalf.  Have I ever been so wrong!  And maybe you’ve believed something similar.

As I prayed this morning, I was taken to a passage of scripture that most of us are probably familiar with.  And if you aren’t familiar with it, you may look at it and say, “See, we have to have faith in order for God to move.”  But there’s a flaw in that argument because God is continually moving in our lives.  He never stops.  He doesn’t sleep.  He is always working on our behalf because He loves us.

“But Jon, does that mean I don’t have to have faith in order for things to happen?”  NO!  It means that faith might have a radically different meaning than you and I might think.  Here is the verse that God brought me to.

James 1:6-8 “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

What an encouraging set of verses!  But something stuck out so hidden yet so obvious to me.  It’s found in the very last verse, “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” Faith isn’t simply about what God will do for us, faith is about what we will do in our situation.  And I’ll repeat it again, God is always at work, even when our faith is weak or non-existent.

Please know that I’m not saying we all just need to pull up our bootstraps and work really hard in order for God to work.  HE IS ALREADY WORKING.  What I am saying is that our unbelief drives our faith and our actions.  If I lack faith, it will drive everything I do.

I have a very close friend who is in a situation that he believes will never change.  I have told him time and time again that nothing is impossible with God and that his lack of faith is impacting his walk with God.  But, I continue to hear excuse after excuse…

  • The reason things won’t change is because…
  • I can’t see how this will work out because…
  • We really won’t be able to do this because…

Over and over I hear excuse after excuse why God won’t be able to work in his circumstances.  The truth of the matter is that his lack of faith has rendered him sterile and not the God he serves.

Friends, a lack in faith doesn’t put God on the back-burner.  A lack of faith doesn’t cause God to say, “Oh well, if you believed enough I’d be there for you.”  No, a lack of faith causes you and me to give up on our situation.  We actually begin to believe that things will never change or that we aren’t spiritual enough for God to work, causing us to halt our own walk in faith.

Want the real truth?  Not one of us has enough faith to make God move because He is already moving.  However, all of us can move with God in our circumstances.  The key here friend is that we move; and it always begins with where our minds are at.  If we don’t believe, if we don’t have faith, then we will be like a ship tossed around on the ocean.  If we wait around for God to do something, then we’ll be waiting for a really long time.  God is waiting for you and I to begin believing that He is already at work.  He is patiently asking us to begin putting one foot in front of the other and walk out our faith.

  • Are you ready to start walking out your faith?
  • Do you believe that God is already working in your circumstances?
  • Are you willing to look at faith as action on your part and not solely action on God’s part?

If you answered yes to these three simple questions, I believe you have the faith it takes to move mountains.  God is in the business of restoration, healing and changing circumstances for the better.  I think He might just be waiting for you to take the first step of faith.