How Revenge is Like a Sriracha Quesarito

I hit the Taco Bell drive thru the other day. Why? Because of the Sriracha Quesarito of course! If you know me, then you know I like spicy food…even if my stomach doesn’t always like it.

As the cashier handed me my food, she cordially said, “Enjoy your meal!”

“You too!” I shouted back with a big smile and wave.

You too…really?

It wasn’t until about three blocks down the road I realized what I said. “You too?” She wasn’t eating, I was! You too…come on, brain.

I replayed that over and over again in my head for the next four hours. I almost went back to Taco Bell to explain myself. “I know you’re not eating right now…that ‘you too’ was for later…I’m not an idiot…really.”

Oh well. That’s not the first – or last – time I said something idiotic at a Taco Bell. And with that, I want you to think about this. Read more

Faith to Fail, part 3

Faith to Fail 3This is part 3 of a 3 part series on the topic of faith and failure. It was originally published on theChurct.at Glocal blog over at Glocal.theChurch.at You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Joseph’s life was full of fail. First, his brothers hated him and plotted his death after he told them about his dreams, dreams that God had given him. Then, he was sold into slavery. Though he was prosperous in the house of Potiphar, he was tempted by his master’s wife. He was faithful and resisted the temptation, but he was thrown in prison anyway. He made friends while in prison, but was quickly forgotten. Over and over again, Joseph’s life was showing a pattern of coming up short when it mattered most.

Then one day his friend remembered his uncanny ability to interpret strange dreams. And Pharaoh was having some pretty strange dreams. There were these seven fat cows eaten up by seven skinny cows. What could it mean? Joseph knew.

Joseph was finally able to use his God given gift of interpretation to his benefit. Pharaoh showed him favor and made him second in command over all of Egypt. And though the road was littered with constant falls, he was finally standing tall. So tall in fact that his own family would eventually bow down to him just like those dreams God had given him years earlier.

Now, when you look at Joseph’s life it’s pretty easy to pick out all the times he had enough faith to fail. He kept his head and increased his faith in God, knowing that obedience was the true mark of a follower.

So let’s say that you were writing a book on faith. You’ve reserved one or two sentences for each of the Old Testament saints. You get to Joseph. What would you write? That his faith led him to divine interpretation? That his faith was most magnified when he resisted temptation? That his faith finally led him to success in the end?

Well, if you’re the writer of Hebrews that actually was your job. And guess what he chose to write about when he got to Joseph:

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.

Hebrews 11:22

Wait, what? That’s it? His example of faith was that he believed God would make sure his bones were buried in the right place. Sure his confidence in the exodus was commendable, but trusting in his final resting place? That’s not too exciting.

But think about this. Looking over Joseph’s life the only constant was inconsistency. Just when everything was going great, the rug would be pulled out from under him. And that’s just the stories we see in Genesis. What about the things that happened after Genesis 50?

I wonder if his life kept going up and down like the roller coaster it had been. Maybe he had problems with his kids. Maybe there was some in-fighting amongst the Egyptians. Military reigns are full of backstabbing and coups and I bet Joseph was squarely in the middle of a couple of scandals while in power.

Joseph’s life was a constant back and forth between success and failure, failure and success. He would fall down and pull himself back up…just to be thrown down again. And if we’re honest, our lives look a lot like that too. But through it all, Joseph held onto one promise: That he would eventually end up right where God had promised him.

In fact, he held onto that promise so tightly that he gave careful instructions about his very bones. For Joseph, success wasn’t about how much food was stored up in the barns of Egypt or how high up he had risen in the ranks. Success for him was gauged by his final resting place in the promises of God.

None of us have been promised smooth sailing on this side of eternity. In fact, the examples we see in the Bible lead us to believe it’s going to get a little bumpy. “What we go through right now,” Paul wrote to the Romans, “is nothing compared to what we’ll see on the other side.”

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28

Paul is talking about our future resting place. He’s not guaranteeing success or perfection here on earth. He’s saying that when bad things happen don’t worry, you’ve got a spot reserved for you in eternal glory.

Joseph understood that. He knew how inconsistent and unpredictable life could be. So he looked forward to a time when he could finally be in God’s presence forever.

No matter what happens in this life, we can be sure that God’s got a plan for everyone of us. That plan is for us to be with him forever and ever. Along the way we’ll encounter all kinds of good things and bad, failures and successes. But each of us that love God and are called by him will end up in his rest forever.

Faith to Fail, part 2

Faith to Fail 2This is part 2 of a 3 part series on the topic of faith and failure. It was originally published on theChurct.at Glocal blog over at Glocal.theChurch.at. You can find part 1 here.

We took a step of faith…and fell flat on our faces. We followed God where he directed us and ended up debt-ridden and dejected. So we moved back to Oklahoma, licked our wounds, and tried to rebuild.

Starting out a marriage with over $21,000 in debt was never in the plans, but it happened. And it happened as a direct result of a step of faith. So the next step was to pay off all that debt and get back on track. I got a job (not in ministry) and we set a budget. I worked hard and month by month we started paying off debt in big chunks. In less than two years we had done it. We paid off all that debt!

Then one day, while I was talking with God, I told him, “It’s too bad that it happened this way.”

“What do you mean, Chris?”

“Well, here was this opportunity for you to do something miraculous and answer our prayers and pay off our debt. You could have gotten all the glory for this. But now when I tell people about this, I’ll tell them that God got me into debt and I got me out of it.”

“Really, Chris?”

“Well, that’s the way it happened, right?”

“Let me ask you this…who helped you get that good paying job?”

“Well, you did. I prayed and you answered that prayer.”

“And who was it that gave you favor so that you got raises and bonuses that went a long way to paying off that debt?”

“Well…you.”

“And who was it that gave you the skills and abilities you used at that job? Who was it that gave you breath in your lungs and strength in your bones to get out of bed each day and go to work?”

“That would be you, God.”

“Okay. Do you want to go back and rethink that whole idea that you did it and not me?”

And there you have it. That was a real conversation that I had with God. And it was one of the most honest conversations I’ve ever had with anyone. The truth is that God did intervene. The same God that led us to take a step of faith was the same God that watched as we failed. And he’s the same God that picked us up, dusted us off, and pointed us in a new direction.

One of my favorite verses is this one, a little verse I sort of stumbled onto in Colossians one day:

I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.

Colossians 1:29 (emphasis added)

The struggle is mine and the work is hard, but it’s Christ’s power and not mine that works within me. My faith is not in my own abilities or powers; it’s in Christ’s power within me. The same faith that is big enough to fail is big enough to get back up again. Why? Not because of success, but because of the source.

Too often we think that faith depends on success. If you have faith, it will be reflected in whether we win or lose, fail or succeed. Take a look at these verses:

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (and ensures that I won’t fail).

Philippians 4:13 (additional, incorrect words added by me)

 

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people (and God will ensure you don’t fail).

Colossians 3:23 (again, that’s not what it says)

Those phrases in parentheses are what a lot of people (myself included) read into those verses. The promise, we think, is that if we have enough faith, if we rely upon God, if we do it with enough passion and perseverance, then the outcome is guaranteed success.

But the truth is our faith is not founded on a positive prospect, but on the one who has called us, the one who has empowered us, and the one who holds us all together. In the book of Philippians Paul tackles this directly. He lists all these things that were great in his life: his education, his heritage, his relationships. Then he talks about the bad stuff that’s happened to him: loneliness, bankruptcy, failure. But he puts all of that stuff on one side of the faith ledger and this on the other:

Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

Philippians 3:8

It takes more faith to fail than it does to succeed. And it takes even greater faith to get back up again. The only way that’s possible is if our faith is grounded in Jesus Christ. The only way that’s possible is if our focus is knowing him.

We step out in faith every time because we are obedient to him. Whether we fail or succeed, it’s all about obedience. And when we get back up, dust ourselves off, and follow him again, it’s all because of him.

Faith to Fail, part 1

FailThis is part 1 of a 3 part series on the topic of faith and failure. It was originally published on theChurct.at Glocal blog over at Glocal.theChurch.at.

We give Peter a hard time, don’t we? But I’m not sure he deserves it. We paint him as hot-headed (John 18:10), prone to putting his foot in his mouth (Matthew 16:22-23), who denies his best friend Jesus (Luke 22:61-62). But he was also the chief disciple (Matthew 16:18-19), founding Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:5), and leader of the first church (Acts 2:14). Not such a bad resume.

One story in particular is used to give Peter a bad name. In Matthew 14 we see the disciples heading out across the lake while Jesus stayed behind to pray. In the middle of the night, while the sea was tossing back and forth, Jesus came walking on the water. Peter calls out to him, “If that’s you Jesus, call me out and I’ll walk to you.” Jesus says okay and out walks Peter. But he sees the waves and he gets afraid and he starts to sink. Jesus grabs him by the hand and pulls him back in the boat and says:

“You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?”

Matthew 14:31

The sermon I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again is that if your faith is little, then you’ll see the waves and waver, your knees will get shaky and your feet will get wet, then fear will overtake your faith. O ye of little faith!

But I think there’s a better sermon in this verse. Let me show you by telling you a little bit of my story.

When my wife and I were newlyweds and just graduated from college, we made a big step of faith and moved to Salt Lake City, UT to help out at a new church plant. We had friends and mentors there to encourage and support us. We had a new church that was exciting and dynamic. But we didn’t have jobs. And we didn’t have a lot of money. So, against our better judgment and everyone else’s advice, we racked up some debt. We didn’t use the plastic to buy fancy dinners or big screen TVs. No, we used our plastic to pay for things like rent and electric and groveries. But at the end of four years in Salt Lake City we had racked up over $21,000 in credit card debt. Not quite the way we wanted to start our marriage.

During that same time I took over as youth pastor at the church. I inherited a group of 7 teenagers. Through much effort and a lot of hard work, four years later we had grown the group to…8. Not the rousing success I had dreamed of while taking church ministry classes in my college days.

So, we eventually left Utah and move back to Oklahoma, dejected and debt-ridden. We had stepped out in faith believing that God would take care of us. And we ended up falling flat on our faces. It was like I was pulled through the gravel. I felt like Peter being admonished by Jesus. “O ye of little faith!”

But several months later, after I sorted through my negative ministry experience, I saw things differently. Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. But Jesus explains little faith elsewhere, too:

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

Matthew 17:20

Mustard seeds are about 1 mm in diameter. You don’t have to be an herbalist to know that’s little. So mountain moving faith is little, but I think faith to fail may be a little bit bigger.

Let me explain it this way. Let’s say you have a business opportunity that’s virtually guaranteed. You have an airtight business model, several financial backers, and a list of sure prospects just waiting for you to open your door. How much faith would it take to start that business?

Now let’s say that your business opportunity is a little less secure. Your friends give you a 50/50 chance of surviving, and other people in the field are trying to talk you out of it because several of them have gone bankrupt. Heck, let’s say that you’re guaranteed to fail. Now, how much faith would it take to start that business?

We think of Peter’s faith as little, but it was bigger than eleven other men in the boat. He had enough faith to take a step out onto the water. Every fiber of his mental being would lead him to believe that a man can’t walk on water. His physics-bound body was not created to tread on top of waves. He was guaranteed to fail.

But of all the people who have ever existed, we only have record of two men walking on water. One is Jesus, of course. But the other is Peter. He did something that no one else not named the Son of God did. He may have fallen flat and gotten wet, but at least he stepped out of the boat.

When we hear testimonies of people stepping out in faith it’s usually success stories. There are plenty of stories about the opposite, but we don’t give them a microphone. That’s probably because failures aren’t good motivators, sure. But when we hoop and holler over every success, are we giving a false sense of security?

Because of our preoccupation with success, I’m afraid we’ve put it in people’s minds that all they need to do is step out in faith and everything’s going to be shiny happy! We’ve elevated the expectation and given them a false faith. If we’re honest, the chances of failure are as great as success in a lot of what we do for God. But our obedience is not determined by the prospects of success. Our obedience is based on his word. We step out of faith – move from the boat to the water – because he tells us to.

And if we fail? Well, in the end it only matters that we were obedient. Obedience is the true measure of faith for the life lived following hard after Jesus. And it takes more faith to fail than it does to succeed.

Whatever Happened to Happiness?

“And then we go to the store and he asks for another toy,” she said, slicing another pizza fresh from the oven. We were at our friends’ house, all our kids playing – running through bedrooms, bathrooms, up and down stairs – five bodies in frenzied motion. My friend had just been talking about the large collection of Thomas the Train toys her youngest has.

“Of course I buy him one, even if it costs an extra $20.”

My first thought was, Isn’t that spoiling the kids? Then I realized I do the same thing. My son has more Legos than I ever dreamed of having myself. My daughter always asks for another stuffed animal when we’re out, and my wife – God bless her – gives in about half the time.

Aren’t we spoiling our kids? Will this madness ever end?!!!

I bet you’re thinking this is a post about how we shouldn’t give in to our kids’ every request for more and more toys, the latest techno fad, or an extra scoop of ice cream. Sorry to burst your bubble – it ain’t. It’s about being a parent – sometimes good parents and sometimes evil parents. But mostly this post is about being happy.

And with that I want you to think about this.

Whatever happened to happiness? Somewhere along the line it became a dirty word. In our zeal to preach contentment and denounce a “keeping up with the Joneses” materialism, we shoved happiness down the tubes. Worse than that, we made it part of the seven deadly sins. We assign it a seat next to the other works of the flesh.

But it isn’t. It’s far from that. Happiness is a holy endeavor. Let me explain.

Remember that conversation I talked about a few paragraphs ago? The one with the mother admitting she gives in to her kids wants and desires? Yeah, that one. Well, my first response was to shame her for spoiling her kids. Then I remembered a talk I had with my dad a couple years ago.

My dad and I love the St Louis Cardinals. Always have, always will. One summer he decided to splurge on tickets for us – right behind home plate. A dream come true! It was the best time at a game I’d ever had. Halfway through the game I looked up at the nosebleed section. You see, back in 1983 my parents took us to Busch Stadium to see the defending World Series champs. But we were so far up that I think we were closer to the moon than the Wizard of Ozzie.

“Remember when we came here twenty years ago?” I asked my dad.

“Yeah, those seats were terrible. I should have paid the extra money and gotten better seats.”

“That’s okay, dad,” I reassured him. “I know we didn’t have a lot of money back then. And I was content just to be here.”

“That’s not the point,” he replied. “I’ve realized that making moments and memories is more important than saving a few bucks.”

That conversation did something to me. I realized that buying a $20 toy or a $200 ticket won’t spoil my kids. We’re supposed to make memories, and if we do that well then…money well spent. And if the kid is happy, then job well done for this parent.

Now, I can already read your mind. “Chris, you’re crazy! You’re suggesting we spoil our kids! How does that teach them to be content and take care of their money???”

I’m not talking about teaching your kids to be content and take care of their money. You teach kids that by teaching them about…being content and taking care of their money. I’m talking about making your kids happy. And I know God wants us to be happy. Here…look!

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-11 (emphasis added)

Hey! We’re evil, right? But we still want our kids to be happy. How much more does our father in heaven want us to be happy.

16 “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:16-17 (emphasis added)

Everything that is good in your life – that makes you happy – comes from God. Why? Because he wants us to be happy. And if God wants us to be happy, why are we so intent on making God out to be someone who wants us to be sad.

There’s this idea that happiness and joy are two different things. Happiness comes from the root word for “happen,” meaning we’re only happy when good things happen to us. But joy is different. It’s rooted in a desire to just know God and accept anything that comes our way. But to suggest that God only wants us to have joy and not happiness would suggest that God doesn’t want good things to happen to us. And I don’t believe that.

Now, you may point to a passage in Philippians where Paul talks about being content. He is joyful no matter what – whether he has a lot of cash on hand or his wallet’s a little light. But Paul realizes that God is in control either way – and maybe especially when things are going good.

There’s one more verse I want you to look at. I’m just going to put the first part of it here.

3 “Blessed are the…”

Matthew 5:3

Told you I was only going to put part of it here. Jesus goes on in this chapter to list some people who don’t really sound blessed – poor, hungry, thirsty, persecuted. But Jesus calls them blessed. In fact, that word for “blessed” is the Greek word makarios. Anyone wanna guess another translation of that word? Go ahead, it’s not hard. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the title of this post.

HAPPY!

That’s right, makarios can also mean happy! Jesus says, “You guys should be so happy!” He doesn’t mean that they should delude themselves into thinking that they’re happy even when bad things are “happening” to them. He’s saying they should be happy because good things are happening to them. “You have mercy and righteousness and grace! You have the Kingdom of God! You’re going to inherit the earth, not heaven or some other planet – this earth and all the stuff in it. Surprise! It’s your lucky day!”

In that same sermon – the Sermon on the Mount – is where he talks about God the Father giving us good gifts. All we have to do is ask. And when some pastors, preachers, ministers, and teachers dare to suggest that Jesus wasn’t kidding, I see pundits and bloggers come out of the woodwork to say, “Yeah, but!”

Well, I’m just crazy enough to believe Jesus. I’m just crazy enough to think he wants me to be happy. So, I’m going to go ahead and keep believing that and guess what? That makes me happy.

 

I Hope Conan O’Brien Doesn’t Hate Me.

My grandfather loved Johnny Carson. Every time I visited, he would let me stay up late and watch the monologue. I never got the jokes. I was 10, why would I? But every night, the news would go off and Johnny would come on, swing that fake golf club, do a double take at Ed McMahon’s laugh, and then put on an hour of entertainment for my grandfather. Every time I think of Johnny Carson, I think of my grandfather.

I never liked Johnny that much. My guy was David Letterman, but only during his stay on “Late Night.” When he moved to CBS, a gangly redheaded comedian/writer took his spot. I was a senior in High School and was getting bored of Letterman by then, so I gave Conan a try. For the first few weeks he was pretty bad. But then he hit his sweet spot and skyrocketed to fame. It led him to the biggest job of his life – The Tonight Show! The same show that Johnny Carson made famous. He had made it!

He lasted 7 months.

NBC eventually begged Jay Leno to return. The internet was frothing mad at NBC, especially the droves of young fans who loved Conan. They took to the internet to display their anger and disappointment. But the anger did something strange: It transformed Conan. It led to a touring variety show across America and eventually Conan’s own show on TBS where he’s a star once again.

But it was something Conan said in his final Tonight Show that deeply affected me. Here’s a short clip:

And with that I want you to think about this.

I’m extremely opinionated. You don’t have to spend much time with me to figure that out. From food to sports to politics, I’ve got my own ideas about how things should be. And I used to express those ideas freely to anyone who would care to listen.

Then one day about a year ago I watched this clip again. I really listened. Conan’s words really cut me to the quick:

“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere.”

I stopped. I thought about it – my opinions, my debates, my politics. And I realized that I am cynical. And then it hit me – Conan O’Brien hates me!

And I don’t want Conan O’Brien to hate me.

So, I decided to completely stop. I quit posting anything political to social media. I tempered every conversation with enough grace that I could see multiple points of view, not just my own. I started listening to people that I disagreed with just to get their perspective on things. I did all that because I was being cynical and not only Conan, but I was starting to hate who I had become.

Politics is fine. Having an opinion is great. I recommend it for everyone. But when you let your opinion paint the way you see everyone and everything in the world, it becomes cynicism and it doesn’t lead to anything.

For me, a couple of things were working against me. First, I viewed my own personal opinions as the only right response to what was happening in the world. If you agreed with me, congratulations! You’re smart. If you disagreed with me, you’re the worst person in the world. And that’s just a horrible thing to think, isn’t it? But I did! For a long time I thought that way. And it took Conan to wake me up and realize how crappy I was being.

Second, I was so sensitive to my own personal opinion that I was easily offended. I took my ideas about how the world should be and put them on my arm and waited for someone to bump into them. When someone would say something disparaging about my opinions, I would let myself get hurt and then respond in anger, frustration, or victimization. I did this subconsciously, but I did it anyway.

Both of these ways are very negative behaviors. I was hurting myself, hurting others, and hurting my relationships. So I decided to stop. I stopped talking politics. I stopped only listening to people who I agreed with. I stopped thinking that anything I think is right and if you disagree you’re wrong. Some of the things I think are probably wrong. Don’t get all excited, I still think most of the things I think are right. Why else would I think them?

Since that time, I’ve noticed I’m much happier. I’ve also started to see other people’s cynicism…and it’s not pretty. Is that what I looked like? Dear God, I hope I don’t anymore. I’ll probably relapse once or twice. I’ve let a few things slip here and there. I’m not saying everyone should stop talking politics. I am saying that if you do – if you hold deep convictions and opinions about the world around you, please do some self-searching and see if you may be cynical. If you are, stop it! It doesn’t lead anywhere.

By the way, if you want to hear Conan’s entire farewell speech, here it is…

The Gospel According to Wham-O, part 3

This week I’ve been writing about Frisbees. You can find part one here and part two here. Frisbee flying takes keeping a balance between lift and drag. Too much force and it hooks past your target. Too little force and it comes up short.

Trying to figure out this thing called life is a lot like that. If we force decisions too much, we’ll overshoot our goal. Not enough work put in, though, and we’ll never hit the target. Lift and drag. And it’s really about us and God doing our own part in a nice balance.

This week’s posts are a little longer than I normally write. Part one sort of explained the big principle of Frisbee faith (or the Gospel According to Wham-O as I called it). Part two went into a little more detail about some Bible verses that (I think) have been misrepresented. Today, I want to wrap it all up with some examples of what I’m talking about, some personal stories about my own journey in figuring out how to fly with lift and drag in my life.

A year ago today we closed on the sale of our house in Broken Arrow, OK. It was a big deal, sort of the midpoint in this big adventure our family is on. We closed one chapter to open a new one. But that whole journey started months earlier, and represents a nice balance between what I was doing and what God did in our lives.

A couple years ago I experienced a moment of divine discontentment. I looked at my career – what I was doing and where I was going – and I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I did a lot of evaluating and talked to a lot of people about it. I also prayed and meditated on what I was supposed to do. I took a trip out of town with the family to sort of clear my head and really think about it. While away I had one of those “divine appointments” that we always talk about – where God puts somebody in your path who says something that hits just the right chord. It was while I was sitting at the dining room table of my old friend and mentor Dr. Oss that it just sort of clicked. What I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I had always intended to go onto grad school right after college, but as they say – life got in the way. And I’m glad it did! But in order to do the things I wanted to do now, I had to go back to school. I started looking at MDiv programs, both online and in residence. But the amount of hours in the programs (45+), the cost ($$$), and the fact that much of the coursework I had already done in my undergrad made me rethink it all. Then God reminded me of MSU in Springfield, MO. I had friends that got their masters degree there in religious studies. I looked at the coursework and cost, and it was much lighter on my schedule and budget. Plus, God was really stirring in me a passion to interact with those of different beliefs and faiths than mine. This may be the perfect opportunity.

So, about 18 months ago I started the application process. It was full of ups and downs. Yay, I got accepted! No, I didn’t get the graduate assistantship. Yay, I got a scholarship! No, it wasn’t that much. Through it all, I could tell that I was pushing a little and God was pulling a little. We were working together to make all of this happen.

I really felt that lift and drag when it came to selling our house, which Melisa and I decided to do on our own. And what an experience that was! We would sometimes go weeks without a call, then show the house three times in two days. My parents would ask, “What if you don’t sell the house? Are you still moving?” And we would try to push those negative thoughts out of our heads.

We prayed a lot, we advertised a lot, and in the end it only took one person looking at the house, really. I showed the house one Saturday afternoon to a young couple fresh out of college. Within the week, we had a signed contract.

After that – we were homeless! But I wasn’t too worried. I had done my part, and I was fully expecting God to do his part. We were working in balance here, remember. One day a friend of mine asked, “What are you going to do if you sell your house before you’re ready to move?” I told him that if I had to – gulp! – I’d move in with my parents for a few weeks. “Well, we actually own a house that’s empty,” he told me. “Why don’t you guys live there for a couple of months rent free?”

Wow! It was neat to see how pushing at just the right time got us out of our old house, but then letting up at the right time got us into a free house! Lift and drag. Push and pull. Not too much, not too little. Me working, God working, and the whole thing went spinning across the lawn – flat and straight.

Now we’re on this journey. We’re on top of that Frisbee sailing along. And it’s been a blast! Even when it’s tough (living in the middle of a journey is hard work!) it’s still great because we’re learning and we’re growing. Melisa and the kids were willing to uproot their whole lives so I could live out my dreams. But then again, Melisa ended up working at a great school after working really hard at getting the job and letting God direct her path to the perfect place. You find yourself working real hard at the networking game to make connections, then one day at your son’s preschool you meet someone who hands you a card and says, “Let’s do lunch.”

Lift and drag. Me and God, doing our own thing and making it all work. And I’m really looking forward to where this Frisbee will take us next!

The Gospel According to Wham-O, part 2

On Tuesday I wrote about Frisbees. Flying that flat disc across the lawn is tough. If you throw it too hard, it flies off to the right. If you throw it too light, it falls short off to the left. It takes a nice balance between lift and drag to make the Frisbee fly flat and straight.

If we want to live our lives in pursuit of God, there has to be a balance between lift and drag there too. We can’t push too hard – thinking it’s all up to us – or we could overshoot the goal. But it we don’t push hard enough – thinking it’s all up to God – then we’ll surely come up short. It takes that nice balance. Oh, and you have to keep spinning, too.

Now, on Tuesday we didn’t solve the debate between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom, but I hope I gave you some things to think about. Today, I want to give you an explanation and an example of what I’m talking about.

I’ve heard people say that God is in control of everything all the time. In fact, he’s even decided when we’re going to die! “God has numbered our days,” they say. “It’s in the Bible…somewhere.” Well, the Bible does say something like that, but I’m not sure it says what we think it says. Let’s take a look:

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:16

Okay, that sounds legit. There’s a book somewhere and God wrote down exactly how many days you would live. At the end of that time – like a kitchen timer going off – Bam! End of the line, you’re dead. But this Psalm is really talking about how God made us – in his perfect knowledge and wisdom. The poet comes up with this great line, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” In that act of personal creation, God put us together in just the right way to make us a masterpiece worthy of framing.

That’s a beautiful thought. But the point isn’t so much that God has planned out our future, as it is that he knows so much about us – he even knows how long we’ll live!

Take a look at a couple of other Psalms that talk about this same idea.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

Psalm 39:4

 

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Here the poet is asking God for help in numbering our own days. We actually play a role in figuring that out, deciding how long we’re going to live, and comparing that realization to how great big God is!

An all-knowing God would know exactly how long we’ll live. But, knowing beforehand isn’t the same as deciding beforehand. We still play a part in that whole thing. Just like the lift and drag of day-to-day decisions.

Take a look at another verse, this time a Proverb.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9

At first, this looks like there’s no balance – it’s all up to God. Sure, we can make plans in our own hearts. But God has the last say! HE is the one that establishes our steps. But I’ve got a bone to pick with the translators. Hear me out on this for a second.

The word for “but” is a little bitty Hebrew letter “v”. Most of the time, that little letter is translated “and.” Sure, there are times when a more subtle translation is called for. But let’s go ahead and put “and” back in that verse. Then let’s see what it says.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
and the Lord establishes their steps.

Okay. Go with me on this. Let’s say this is the way the original Proverber meant this little saying. We plan our course – through prayer, through wisdom, through counsel – and because we’ve put so much care into it, God establishes our steps. That makes sense to me. Lift and drag. Perfect balance. Frisbees flying nice and flat and straight.

This means that God actually honors and rewards us for being diligent about planning out our days. I kind of like that. Now, if you go with the preferred translation, the “but”, does the opposite of that make sense? Would God honor and reward someone for not making plans? Would God honor and reward someone for being lazy when it came to decision making? Would God go out of his way to establish the steps of someone just coasting through life, and then frustrate the work of those who make to-do lists, plan ahead, map out strategies in case of disaster?

I think not.

So, there you go. That’s me tackling millennia old Bible translations to prove a point.

And what’s that point? Too often I think we sit back and think God’s got it all under control so we better not do anything to mess up his plans. Other times we feel the weight of every decision and let anxiety rule the day. It’s not a “but,” it’s an “and.” We plan out our days AND God establishes our steps.

Well, I kept rambling and didn’t get around to an example. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you a story from one year ago about how I pushed hard enough and then watched God do some really amazing things.

The Gospel According to Wham-O

Flying a Frisbee is tough. Teaching a 7-year old to fly a Frisbee is even tougher. I found that out as I taught my daughter to fling that round piece of plastic through the air without hitting the tree next to her or winging the dog behind her. Sigh. Teaching a 7-year old anything is pretty tough.

Most of us learned to throw a Frisbee by throwing it. You sort of get the hang of it and figure it out as you go. My daughter? She’s a question-asker. She kept asking questions like, How does it work, Why does it fly, and Why does it keep going to the right? Answers like, Because you’re not throwing it hard enough, Because you’re throwing it too hard, and Because it just does all right, weren’t good enough for her.

So off to the internet we went!

We found a cool video that explains some of the science. And after watching the video…my daughter had more questions. But I had some answers I didn’t expect.

You see, flying a Frisbee is tough. Following God’s lead for our lives is even tougher. But they’re both pretty much the same.

And with that, I want you to think about this.

If you watched the video then you know the science of a Frisbee is pretty simple. Just fling it and it flies. It works off the same idea of an airplane wing – Lift and Drag. Lift pushes up on the front edge of the Frisbee, while drag pulls down on it. The lift and drag of a Frisbee have to be in a certain balance to work. Fling it too hard, and it lifts off to the right and then down into the ground. Fling it too soft, and it drags down to the left and lands a few feet in front of you.

Lift and Drag. Working together. Push too soft, and it won’t reach the destination. Push too hard, and it will over shoot the target.

Now, think of that Frisbee not as a piece of round plastic with a perfect little lip, but as important decisions you make in life. We all want to make good decisions in life, we all want to end up in a good place. And many of us believe that God plays a pivotal role in that. If you want to follow God’s lead, there’s a tension between God’s Sovereignty and our own Free Will. Lift and Drag.

“God’s got it all planned out.”

“It’s all up to me.”

An ages-old debate I don’t think we’ll settle here, but in thinking about that Frisbee I came up with some conclusions:

1. Both God and I Play Important Roles.

You can’t expect either lift or drag to do all the work on the Frisbee. You have to have both. Or it’s not a Frisbee, it’s just a plate.

My life is not completely determined by God. “Yeah, but the Bible says that God has numbered our days, right?” Well, read that again. Go find it – one of those places is in the Psalms – and see if it really means what you think it means. If it really is the case that God has numbered out our days, then nothing we do makes a difference. And I just can’t believe that. You may disagree, and that’s fine. Plenty of people have. But my decisions are important and are a big part of what happens to my life.

My life is not completely determined by me, either. I’d like to think that I’m 100% in control of my life. I decide when to get up in the morning, what to wear and what to eat that day, and how I’m going to spend my time. I decide what job I’m going to do, who I’m going to hang out with, and where I’m going to live. But I’ve lived on this earth long enough to see some things happen that were so completely outside of my intentions that I just shake my head and think, “Wow, God, you really put that all together, didn’t you?”

2. There’s a Balance Between Force and Freedom in My Decisions.

Think about that Frisbee flying through the air. If I push it too hard, it flies out of bounds. If I don’t push it hard enough, it falls short. Same thing with my life. If I follow too hard after one particular thing, I could overshoot the goal. If I don’t put enough effort in, I’ll come up short.

Just like lift and drag work together to get that Frisbee going, there’s both force and freedom I have to use in my life decisions. Sometimes I need to force a particular issue or event, other times I need to let the freedom of life take over. And that can be tricky. Flying a Frisbee is tough, remember. But you balance your life decisions with a bit of wisdom – and wisdom only comes through living life, and usually from making some mistakes. You learn to fly the Frisbee life by pushing a little hard here and letting up over there and eventually you sort of figure out that balance.

3. My Life Will Only Move Forward if I Keep Moving.

The science of the Frisbee is known as gyroscopic force. That’s a big word that means a spinning object will maintain a stable orientation as long as it keeps spinning. You get the right balance of lift and drag, you hit that sweet spot where the Frisbee flies straight and flat, and that bad boy will keep going until it stops spinning. There’s some more science to it, but that’s really all you need to know. If the Frisbee spins, it moves.

The best way to make sure you don’t move forward in life is to just stop. If you’re doing something, you’re going to move forward. Even if it’s not exactly what God has planned – as long as it’s not a self-destructive behavior – then it’s still okay because you’re moving, you’re doing, you’re gaining momentum.

“But I’m just waiting for God to tell me the next move.”

That’s fine. While you wait, keep moving.

“I don’t want to make a move without God.”

Don’t worry, he’s still there. While you move and work and do good stuff, he’s going to be watching and smiling. Trust me. God doesn’t get upset when we do good stuff.

So those are some of my thoughts from flinging a Frisbee around. Maybe you’ve had some similar thoughts, and maybe your ideas are a lot different than mine. That’s fine, I’d still like to hear them. And I hope you come back in a couple of days to read part two where I talk about an explanation and an example – why I don’t think God is completely in control, and why I think he’s more in control than I usually believe he is.

Until then, why don’t you head outside and play Frisbee with your kids. Trust me, you’ll have a great time…even if the Frisbee ends up in a tree.

Let’s Talk about Talks…Again.

On Tuesday I wrote about this whole idea of what a sermon is. I didn’t completely answer the question. I really just gave my ideas on how the words of ministers should lead people to see Jesus clearly. Sermons should be windows, not walls.

It occurred to me that this isn’t just for ministers. My good friend Tim Patrick once told me that we’re all preachers, we just preach different things. Paul called us “living epistles,” meaning that we all sort of share a message with those around us. What is the message? Paul was pretty clear the message was Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:10

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I think that’s pretty central to our “sermons.” We walk around and let people “read” them by seeing Jesus through us. And what do they see? It’s the death of Jesus. He laid down his life for us so that we could live.

That takes a lot of love. Especially to do it for people who didn’t want his help, didn’t care about him, or didn’t love him back.

That love is a great challenge for us as we try to be windows and not walls.

When people see you, can they see Jesus?