You Are Not a Lizard

If you were a lizard sunning yourself on a rock and you noted a shadow pass over you might decide to either freeze and hope you aren’t discovered, or break for the nearest crack hoping to escape the danger that flew above you. Such instant reactions serve lizards well, protecting them from danger of flying birds.  However when the shadow is a passing bicyclist on the trail or branch of a tree swaying in the wind, the lizard runs for nothing.

While this is an overly simplified explanation, perhaps this can be a helpful  and inform us about some of our own reactivity. In our brains we have the same center of control to protect us from danger. It isn’t a very refined system, in fact for us… it makes us jump when we see a bit of rope on the ground, thinking “snake”. It can make us react to a spot on the floor, thinking “spider”. We see shapes, rough outlines and react. For lizards, it saves lives. For us, it makes us feel foolish often.running

Unfortunately, it is a powerful “instinct”, and puts us in all kinds of trouble. Once we “react” we shutdown higher responses, like analytical thinking and just have a fear response. I’ve been thinking about how this impacts a number of things in our world.

In our political process there is little higher reasoning, in political debates information is passed in 2 minute sound bites. We hear “a shadow” pass over us and react. Certain phrases are dropped to tease that instinct and we are sprinting to the crack in the rock. We might hear “missing emails” or “gun control” or “abortion” or any number of other phrases and our instincts take over, without listening for finer details or clarification.

We do the same thing religiously. We hear phrases and our brains shutdown and instinct takes over. “Change agents” or “contemporary worship” or “transgendered” or “abortion” all sound bites that cause us to run to the crack in the rock where we think we will be safe. Our reasoning brain never gets the information because the lower brain takes over causing us to run or freeze.

So how do we get passed the instinct where we can reason together? Perhaps some ancient advise would be helpful for us… quick to hear, slow to sleep, slow to anger.  Slowing the process is crucial to the reasoning process. We have to wait out that initial reactivity and continue to listen. Discernment doesn’t take place with a sound bite and understanding is not a process that takes place without a second look at the origins of shadows.

So, be it politics, religion, or relationships between husband and wives… don’t react to the sound bites, the familiar phrases that make your blood boil. Maintain your cool, manage your fears and stay out of the cracks in the rocks. It doesn’t help you learn the finer points that allow you to make more informed decisions. It may not change your position, but at least you have the chance to understand the perspective of the opposing view.

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Pulling Our Heads from the Sand

I met with a friend yesterday. We have known each other for about 5 years. He lives in Pennsylvania and works with a church there. He is also someone who devotes a large portion of his life to addressing the threat of childhood sexual abuse in churches.

Jimmy Hinton and I have consulted with one another many times on the phone, each picking the other’s brain, trying to develop a way of convincing churches of the reality of the threat, describing the presence of sexual abuse in our churches.

Finally, yesterday Jimmy and I met face to face. I had recommended that he speak to the church and community in Hutchinson. After his presentation we fielded questions about the problem and what things can be done, not just to help victims, but also to notice potential perpetrators. It isn’t a topic that is frequently addressed in churches.ostrich

Paul addresses a portion of the problem in describing the descent of individuals into evil. 2 Timothy 3 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. These “imposters” are those who disguise themselves as Christians, but actively work to deceive others while they also deceive themselves. While the verse is not specifically identifying child molesters, it identifies their process.

When you consider that the statistics indicate 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual assault (CDC), the numbers become enormous.

Of those numbers 75% of those assaulted were victimized by someone they knew and trusted. The image of a creepy old man in a trench coat standing on the corner is inaccurate. The largest percentage are people the community trusts, preachers, elders, youth workers, boy scout leaders, teachers, uncles, brothers, aunts, sisters, and neighborhood baby sitters.

We have to be diligent, watchful, and appropriate. We don’t have to be hysterical, but we must arm ourselves with facts and hold each other accountable for good behavior. We have to bring the topic of sexual abuse in churches out of the darkness and into the light.

Teaching children to be aware, to trust their instincts of being uncomfortable and telling a trusted adult about it are the keys to keeping them safe.

Jesus warns that for those who would damage a little child, it would be far better for them that a mill stone be hung around their neck and they be cast into the sea. We need to take it as seriously as he does. May God save us from turning a blind eye to these potentials among us.

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Amazing Folks

I don’t have the patience to sit and watch the Olympics because I get frustrated by the number of commercials. Janet enjoys watching the gymnastics so that is usually what we see.

This year we saw a few Michael Phelps swimming races, Simone Biles win the all-around phelpsgymnastics and Katie Ledecky win the 800m freestyle. When athletes are as dominant as these people, it is breathtaking to watch. It is easy to describe them as naturally talented, and there is a measure of truth to that. However, listening to Simone Biles describe never going to high school football games, school dances, or any extra-curricular activities because she was in the gym practicing, one begins to get the idea of just how focused these “natural athletes” really are.

I don’t recommend such focus on recreation things to anyone, because it eliminates huge portions of important elements of life. Such tunnel vision can make the athlete the world’s greatest swimmer, the greatest gymnast in the world, or the best archery shot in the world… but then what?

If you got to pick, out of all of the things to be, what would it be? Boxer, baker, banjo player? You see, you have to pick. No one is the greatest swimmer that ever lived and the world’s greatest gymnast. Your focus must go in one place to achieve that level of performance. So where would you put your focus?

Jesus cautions us about distraction. What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what would a man give in exchange for his soul?

Becoming the most successful business person, the world’s greatest historian, or the best craftsman in the world, all require hours, days, months and years of dedication. Attempting to be the best, willingness to set everything else aside in the pursuit of the goal, requires us to step back and consider the implications.

Now, before it looks like I am condemning all Olympians to hell, let me pull back a bit. If one has balance in life, a solid spiritual foundation, it is possible to have success in secular areas of life. The danger of extremism is what I am cautioning about.

That an athlete makes a religious comment about thanking God for their win, after a competition does not make them necessarily religious or spiritual. In the same way that thanking mom after a victory doesn’t make an inconsiderate, selfish son a good child. Lifestyle must give support to the claim.

But the question remains, what would you choose to be the best at? Where is your focus? How does your life align with the profession of your lips?

Remember, one day our race will be over. Crowns will be awarded, and decisions reviewed. That day is coming, so how are you competing?

 

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Stop Gawking and Run

While I haven’t watched any of the events, the world seems to have their eyes on the Olympics in Rio. One of the controversies regarding the games this time around is the safety of the competitors. Not so much from terrorism, but as how inadequate the housing infrastructure is. They are having difficulty providing clean water, electricity, etc. Obviously, it is important to the Olympic Committee that those competing be safe and healthy, as well as to those responsible for sending the competitors to the games. For those who have spent a lifetime preparing for this Olympic event, they just want to compete.

Paul compares those who follow Jesus to those who compete in the games as well. He speaks of the athlete who is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The Hebrew writer tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us. You see, it is all about the race.

Sadly, Satan finds success among our people by shifting our focus to the surrounding circumstances rather than the race. Satan loves to distract, to avert your eyes. He is like that bunch behind the basketball goal, waving their arms and screaming while the ball player attempts to shoot a free throw.

We, while walking in the light of God through this world, can easily become distracted by political stability in the world. We worry about economies, terroristic activity, farm markets, gross national products, or the latest doings of the city council. We can become so consumed by the incidentals that we shift our focus from the race before us.

One of my favorite track and field events to watch is the pole vault. Can you imagine the man or woman competing, racing down the approach, pole in hand, while gawking into the stands to see who is watching? We know that is a ridiculous concept, but distractions are the things that result in failures.

If those who are competing in Rio are worried about lumpy mattresses, flat pillows or fresh bedding, they won’t perform well in their chosen event. They have to push the extraneous things from their minds and focus on the event before them.

The Hebrew writer prefaces his earlier statement with exactly that advice. Let us set aside every weight and the sin that so easily encompasses us… then run. We have to keep our focus, no matter the things that happen around us. It is the only way to successfully complete our course.

So, no more distractions with things that are temporal. Don’t let the day to day interfere with the eternal. Have a clearer, more focused vision so that you may have success. Second only to knowing what is right, the issue of focus is the most important element to success.

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Snake Oil is Still Snake Oil

One of the topics that keeps recurring in conversations is about the “state of the world.” snake oilSome are feeling very anxious about the upcoming elections because things are in such a mess. Others would like to hoard food, guns, ammunition and precious metals because “everything could implode any minute.”

I am not saying that the concerns are not valid. In fact, as things go, the economy is strained, hatred is flaunted, and extremist speech is the norm of the day. Does that mean we need to load up our belongings and head for some cave in Colorado?

What is the goal? Is it a utopian society where everyone prospers equally and no discouraging word is ever spoken? If so, I would remind you to reread Scripture.

Bible characters were never plucked from the affairs of this life and transported to a place where everyone played nice. Joseph was in prison and called upon to live faithfully. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the midst of political upheaval when they were carried away along with Daniel into captivity. It was then, in the captivity, that the story of their faithfulness took place. They didn’t live away from the crisis but in the midst of it.

Gideon wasn’t thrashing wheat in a winepress because times were calm and the crisis had abated. But being faithful before God doesn’t rely on good times.

People of faith, throughout history have not looked to political solutions for the answer to evil. Laws don’t erase hatred from individuals or a culture. If racial prejudice is to be remedied, it will not happen because a certain political party takes office. If abuse of power, misuse of the poor, or greed is to be driven out… it happens one heart at a time.

Does this mean that people of God should not stand against evil? By no means. But we don’t stand against evil by holding as a solution man’s remedy. Snake oil is still snake oil… bottled, politicized, and sold with catchy slogans off of soap boxes.

A few words that God also used in Scripture doesn’t make the core values of the messenger the Word of God. . It doesn’t matter if I am identifying the words, some television evangelist or some politician does it.

The solution, look to God for the answers. When you see hatred, express offense with kindness. When you sense injustice, be affronted and speak righteousness. When you see greed, offer kindness and generosity. The words of Jesus for living among the wolves was to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I wonder if they don’t apply to most of us in a world like ours.

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What Did He Promise?

This has been another chaotic week in the world. So many killed by a man driving a truck in Nice, France as well as a failed military coup in Turkey. We live in a world unstable and confused.

To a large degree, the influence of dishevel is distant from us in St John, KS. Few of us know people in Turkey and we don’t travel to France often. It can seem distant and like mere stories in a newspaper. We will not be standing over a grave or multiple graves and whispering prayers over the bodies of our children because of the senseless acts of others this week. Are there things we learn from it?

Jesus warned his followers that they would “hear of wars and rumors of wars but not to be alarmed, the end is not here.” (Matthew 24:6) Jesus was letting them know that his return to earth was not going to be like the destructive nature of mankind. Those things would continue in the world.

Being a Jesus follower does not shield us from evil that takes place in the world. We pray for protection, safety, and peace, which is fine; however we all recognize that wars, tornadoes, drunk drivers, and terminal illness impact both believers and unbelievers. Faith doesn’t place a bubble around us that keeps all evil away.

So what good is there to being a Jesus follower if he doesn’t fix everything? That is the question that has been asked over and over in history. It resulted in a distorted “gospel” that is preached by many telling others to follow Jesus and their poverty will be gone, their health will return, and there will only be good times ahead. It is known as the “health and wealth gospel” usually touted by leaders who live on estates and fly from place to place in private jets.

Jesus warned his followers that some would be rejected by family for following him. Others would lose lands and property. He described a follower’s life with words like “cross”, “persecution” and “dying”. His promise of overcoming the world was at the end of the age, or on his return.

The follower of Jesus learns in his or her life, not to pursue vengeance or aggression, because those are concepts that focus us on this world. Making all things right and good keeps our attention on a world that is destined to undergo a purification with fire, at the New Heaven and New Earth. Paul’s instruction is that we “set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, not on the things of this world.”

So our message to a world struggling with disorder and chaos is not “follow Jesus and everything will be wonderful.” It is not true that if Isis gave up Islam and followed the Bible, everything would be okay. Sin, corruption, and wickedness will still exist in this world and some people will create conflict.

It is true that if we trust in God, live by faith, the next life will be where all tears are wiped away. But it won’t be in this one. That just isn’t what God promised.

 

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I Need This Prayer

My morning prayers began with this: Help me this day to be patient, loving and compassionate with those who see the world so differently that they are driven toward violence and despair. Calm my soul that my first response might be to calmly listen, loadingsoothe and embrace rather than load my guns, rally my peers and erect more barriers within me. Help me to see through the emotional frustrations that bring about irrational behavior in the best of us, like the rest of us and see what drives the hurts and fears. Help me, like my Jesus, to pray and weep and pray again over peoples and cities who kill rather than listen, reject rather than accept righteous efforts, and so love what they have had that they reject good things sent from God simply because they don’t have a familiar sound. Drive from me, from my friends and from my enemies the fear, bigotry and selfishness that prevent us from standing arm in arm, side by side over the graves of those lost to violence while our minds race to justify our favorite positions, agendas, and slogans. Remove such things in me, O God, that I might point the way to Jesus for others. Don’t simply forgive me, but please I beg… Change me.

I know some of you pray with me in the prayers I post, so allow me to explain a bit about why this is such an important prayer.

Jesus prayed over the city of Jerusalem, begging that it see with a new lens the history of God’s efforts to change it. They rejected God’s loving embrace while killing prophets and rejecting those who brought God’s message of needed change.

Change is often something we fear. What will we be asked to give up? How will it impact the things that make us feel safe and comfortable? If we admit wrong here, doesn’t that open us up to be wrong in other places?

While wrestling with just those questions the religious leadership of Jerusalem announced that it just made more sense for “one man to die for the nation.” It was the only way they could see to maintain their place and position.

I watched, with you, the unfolding of senseless tragic murders this week. I am sure that those weeping over graves of loved ones slaughtered in the injustices of the week will take little comfort from political positioning, the colorful internet memes created to support one side or the other. The fact is that they will take no comfort from the messages from pulpits or gravestones by well-intended religious folks who hawk their own agendas wrapped in noble or religious overtones.

We are, as God’s people, more of a problem than the solution if we do not look to the change happening in us before others. As God’s people we remain broken, wrapped in old thoughts that we believe keep us safe. We must be bold to ask that God remove them.

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Making the Messy Choice

People make poor choices. Some of those choices limit their future options, others lead them down a path that will result in further difficulty.

What I find, from the sidelines, is that folks are not appreciative of those who make it their agenda to loudly proclaim the foolishness of those choices with a gleeful air of superiority. Comments like, get a job… if you quit smoking you would have another $500 per month… or…. Only an idiot would make a choice like that… does not tend to endear us to those who are struggling.

“Why would you marry someone like that?” Is seldom followed by the words, “I see what you mean, thank you for pointing it out.”

No more than a superficial reading of the Scriptures will show us that Jesus didn’t spend his time on the sidelines, wagging his head and talking under his breath. He didn’t cross to the other side of the street to avoid dealing with those in crisis.

He didn’t spend his time condemning those who were in wrecks, he helped them in the aftermath. His first reaction was not to judge, but to care.

Jesus didn’t sit on the sidelines with protest signs, or become the one who made huge sighs and eye rolls. No one felt he was such a good guy that he was unapproachable.

So how did he pull that off? Well, it seems that he cared about people. Not what they did, what their mistakes were, or even how many times they had done the same mistake. He cared about the impact of the choices on the individual.

The woman taken in adultery was forgiven, cared about, and urged to make better choices.  The woman at the well was seen as important, had her questions answered, and made to feel valuable.  The blind man went from being the product of sinful parents to being someone so special that God had a plan for him.

Being willing, able, and available to the wrecks around you can be frustrating. It means that you will have lots of situations that you aren’t sure what the answers are. Learning to love, care and point to God might seem too small to you, but it is great in the lives of the fallen.

You see, we don’t get to pick the family we are born into. Perhaps your parents taught you good values, great decision making skills, and even helped you get started. Or you might not have had any of that. You might have been raised in a family that believed everyone was out to get them. Perhaps you were taught from 3-4 years old to steal and cheat. Perhaps your family saw it as “survival”. Can you imagine the choices that come from those situations?

Breaking the cycle is difficult and only happens with your availability. It doesn’t happen when people are sent to incarceration and are taught “good values” from other inmates.

So, I urge you, put down your protest sign and get your mop bucket ready. It will be messy, but it is the only way that things improve.

 

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Curiosity of Children

Sometimes the questions of little ones are tiring. Hey Papa, why is the sky blue? Hey Papa, why do fire ants bite you? Hey Papa, why are some kids born boys and some are born girls?

I don’t go into great detail on all of them. Oft times it is merely the child’s way of making sure I am engaged with them still. But sometimes the questions can take you back, make you think about how carefully you would like to respond to things.

That intentionality in response to a question is when we are on our best game. For me, it is when my mind is signaled that this question has to do with how certain things are seen in the future. They are life shaper questions… they involve God and how he impacts the world.

During those times, I don’t just want to answer the question but I also want to accurately represent God’s character in the context of the question.

Papa, why does that man have a brown face? Four year olds aren’t very racist. That is an attitude that is taught, it isn’t naturally occurring. So, one thing important to me in a setting like that is not to convey racist overtones. Explaining about levels of melanin, the main determinant of skin pigment in darker skinned individuals is really probably a bit deeper than he was really trying to ask. So, how do I answer the question accurately, and also represent the nature and character of God while doing so?

I decided to talk about flowers, bugs and rocks. Have you ever noticed that when God made things, he made lots of different kinds of the same thing? Like how many colors of flowers can you think of? They are all flowers, but different in size and shape. The same is true of bugs. Why is one bug born a fly, the next one a spider, and then a lady bug? How many colors are there in bugs? Rocks are the same way, God made them in all kinds of colors so that when we look at them we can really like the differences. The same is true of people, lots of differences in the same people. Some are lady people, some are men people. Some people are tall, others are short, some are skinny while others are heavy. Some have brown hair and others have red hair… God likes and knew that we would like lots of differences in things that are the same. Does that make sense?

He got a bit of a faraway look in his eyes, I could see the wheels turning, sorting the bugsinformation, cataloging the value of both similarity and difference, seeing that God had a reason for difference and variety, knowing it was good and right. I was pretty pleased with myself as he finally formed his answer.

I think I would rather be a lady bug than a spider.

Sometimes talking to little children is frustrating. I think he may have a limited appreciation for the teleological argument for the existence of God, based on the complexity of design.

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There Is Some Hurt Out There

This morning the text message was, “Do you know a good marriage therapist in Houston Metro?” Friday the text was from Louisiana. Last week there was one from Tennessee, another from Arkansas and one from California. Sometimes it comes from preachers who feel they have done all they can do for a couple. Other times it is the couple themselves asking for someone who might help. I feel bad that there is so much misery in this world.

Relationships are complicated entities. They have a life that ebbs and flows, like living things. When folks get married they are just sure that everything is going to be great into the future, because they found the one that “makes them happy”.

My question is, “Do they know they signed up for that? To make you happy? That is a heavy load.”

You see, my view is a bit different. I think we sign up to share the journey. There will be times of happiness, sometimes incredible happiness. There will be times of frustration, times of sorrow, times of fullness, and times of emptiness. The relationship isn’t about protection from things becoming uncomfortable. Marriage is about sharing the load of every experience. It isn’t a sprint from good times to good times with a special ability to avoid anything tough, or overwhelming.

When I get the calls from around the country seeking someone to intervene, I am reminded of how many don’t understand that part of marriage.

Immature love, crushes, infatuation are based on the emotional feedback being experienced. If the dates are exciting, the times together adventurous enough, and the strokes to one’s ego frequent enough, then that must be love.

Alzheimer’s eventually doesn’t leave much room for stroking the partner’s ego. Debilitating strokes don’t offer much hope for “making me happy”. The impact of grief, death, job loss, illness, and accidents can all change the “happiness” factor.

I find the ability to sustain, endure, and thrive has much more to do with a shared understanding of the partnership than the ability of the partner to produce an emotion in you.

That doesn’t mean there will be no ability to produce positive emotions, but there is no guarantee of it. External factors are able to impact the immediate quality of the relationship. A grieving partner may not be capable of attending to the other’s emotions as well as when they are not grieving. But, when the experience is shared, seen through the lens of “us” rather than “you” or “me”, the language of relationship remains intact.

So today, take a moment to pray for those who are frustrated in their relationships. We should pray for their equally frustrated partner. Let us pray that each will notice the tattered strings of the fabric of the relationship and commit to hold on. May God knit their open hearts back together.

 

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