Uncivilized

“The worst thing that happened to you, that can happen to any fighter:  you got civilized.”  Mickey (Rocky 3)

“Radical!”  Growing up in the 1980’s, this was the goal.  To shake up and be one step ahead of the status quo (whatever it happened to be that week).  To be and do “rad” things was the end goal of….well, pretty much everything.  Like most tweens/teenagers, we were looking for our own way.  We saw our ideas as unique.  We embraced the wild side of Motley Crue and Public Enemy tunes.  Even as white kid I looked up to MLK, Jr. and at times, Malcolm X.  Whoever the authority figure was, we wanted to go the opposite direction and do it with attitude.  We wouldn’t be stopped.

Fast forward a few decades.  Nowadays “radical” is often a word used to describe terrorists or those you would never want to be associated with.  Pop culture has a manufactured and artificial sense to it.  We’re not getting young songwriters and poets coming up on their own and “making it”.  Instead we have talking heads placed in front of us to program the general population towards an agenda.  Major news networks are often so brazen in this delivery, it is more than obvious to anyone who has any sense of discernment.

“On the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac….” Don Henley

As we grow through our teenage years and into our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond, what happens to most of us?  I’ll tell you what happens.  We become civilized.  Instead of pushing and grinding towards the goals and passions that extend outside of ourselves, we get really, really comfortable.  Our sharp edges round out.  All those years of marketing take root under the illusion of “that” will bring satisfaction….and entwine us like serpents.  Our pursuits become purely self serving.  We embrace “safe” religion and comfortable “popular” churches with all of the amenities, where “everyone goes.”  We want to hear that Jesus loves us but want to ignore the fact that in that love, God wants to break us down and build us back into the long-suffering image of Jesus Himself, holy in all that He does.  When there are troubled kids (or adults) in the church, we might not outwardly shun them but we steer clear of acknowledging their presence.  “Those kids” aren’t good for our kids so we think that “they” shouldn’t be around our precious babies (sarcasm: on).   I believe that it’s this exact attitude and hypocrisy, more than anything else, turns people away from the church’s doors before they ever set foot inside.

This may be a surprise for some….Jesus was a radical.  I don’t mean he was left leaning or right leaning politically.  His message was filled with radical often times furious love for humanity.  Jesus was a fierce warrior and He battled with the devil himself (read about His temptations in the desert or during His passion).  John the Baptist was an outcast and a radical.  The apostle Paul was a radical.  The prophets that foretold His coming….all radicals.  If someone is looking for a safe, water colored religion….true Christ following, Christ emulating, Christianity would never fit that bill.  If you find yourself in a church like that…where it’s more self-help than Jesus….you need to find another church.  If you’re willing to offer prayers but not your resources (time, treasure and talents), you my friend, are missing the boat.  Now to be fair, I am writing this blog in a moment when frankly, I’m pretty disappointed with humanity.  It happens, right?  People let us down.  Let me explain….

I had almost 2,000 hits and 250+ post engagements on a petition to help a family in desperate need of financial help.  People offered prayers (which is important) but out of all of those post interactions….I can count on one hand, those that stepped out to do anything of any practical significance.  So many had the opportunity to be an answer to the very prayer they were praying…and didn’t follow through.  There are plenty of big talkers out there but where were they?  Maybe they were too busy arguing their theological points of why Calvinism is superior to Arminianism….  Soft, fatty, fast food faith….dead faith.  I’m calling out all of us that claim to be Christ followers!  If we’re not going to shine in those situations…if we are going to be passive, sit on the fence and wait for someone else to do it…what kind of disciples are we?  We need to repent.  We have become civilized in the worst possible way.  We should sit on the ground, throw dirt over our heads and tear our garments like Jewish leaders would do when they recognized how they had missed what God had set before them!

Jesus was radical in His love and compassion.  If we follow Him, it’s not an option, we follow His example.  We NEED to be and do the same.  When we see a need we don’t just offer our stinkin’ “thoughts and prayers” in a social media post.  We ACT in faith!  We LOVE in faith!  We RESPOND in faith!  If we sacrificially give in a time of need, won’t God provide for us?  Your answer to this question is a direct reflection on how big you think your God is.

“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”  Psalm 41:1 

“If there is among you a poor man of you brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.  You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.”  Portions of Deuteronomy 15

Strip away your “civilized” religion and once again embrace the “radical” part  of your faith….

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Revelation 2:4

Wake up, believers.  This is your call to step up.

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The Impact of a Grateful Heart

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Colossians 3:17

If I asked my readers by a show of hands, “How many of you are feeling beaten down, depressed and discouraged?”  I would be willing to bet that a vast majority would raise their hands.

This world can be a tough place, right?  Master marketers (or what I refer to as “cultural engineers”) sell us this illusion of how we could be truly living if we just had this or that.  Just like the carrot on the stick, we can see what we “need” but that elusive contentment is always just out of reach.  “If I just had a spouse….if I just had a different house….a different car….a dog….kids….job….”  The list noting the roots of our discontent can be a long one….

Today is my birthday.  Always a good day to take stock.  I tend to look at “macro” goals and dreams on my birthday.  The big picture.  Where are we heading?  How am I leading my family?  Am I allowing Jesus and His Spirit to make me more like Him and the person He needs me to be in this world?

As I sit here at Black Rock Coffee in Medford, Oregon reading all of the texts, emails, Facebook posts and listening to the voice mail messages, I find myself extremely grateful and content.  Some of the messages brought tears to my eyes (but don’t tell anyone….) as those close to me, reflect what they see in me with voices of affirmation.  I pause and think, maybe I’m on the right track here….and there is great satisfaction in that.

I am so grateful for the blessing of these relationships, coming from all aspects of my life.  Family, friends, fitness, ministry, music, travel, church, work…. This is my circle.  These are the people God has put in my path, to share chapters of life’s journey with and I am grateful for each soul.  Somehow God takes a flawed, broken and imperfect “ragamuffin” (to borrow a term from one of my favorite writers, Brennan Manning) like me and then uses me to encourage others and hopefully reflect His light and love to those around me.  What an honor!  If I pause long enough to really think about it, I’m actually floored….and it fills my heart with joy.  Over the course of this journey, I’ve had to learn to let go of a lot of what I thought was important in order to pursue what He has for me.  Call it “spiritual minimalism” in a way.  There is freedom in that…. in not “trying” so hard.  Goal oriented?  Yes, absolutely!  But the fruit of those goals being different than what the world is selling.  Pursuing contentment in God, His provision and often the simplicity of His blessings,… but we still need to take the time to see and take them in.  If we rush or are blinded by “busyness”, we’ll miss them.

To those that have blessed me by their words, laughter and presence, thank you so much!  YOU are a gift and for each of you, I am truly grateful.

As we all move forward, let’s continue to recognize and count our blessings.  Let’s encourage others, wherever they are.  Don’t be afraid to come alongside and ask others the tough questions, if that helps them get over the hump.  Keep pointing people towards Christ, the only One that lasting freedom and joy can be found in.  And pray.  Pray for yourselves, your family and the others God puts on your heart.  Lift them up, even when they don’t know you’re doing it!  Pray that the purpose of the enemy in their lives would be crushed and that God would break through the shadows that can easily blur our perspective.  Every day there is a war raging around us for the souls of humankind.  I believe that in the fight, one of the things the enemy can’t stand is the power of a grateful heart.  Move forward in that truth!

God bless, my friends.  Carpe diem!

Shifting Sands (A Holy Week Reflection)

“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing but someday you will.'”  John 13:7

A few days ago (Palm Sunday), we were reminded of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The adoring throngs of men, women and children laying their cloaks and palm branches before the donkey that carried Him into the capital city.  Cries of praise and hope echoed throughout the region.  All the while they shouted, “Hosanna (a word that translates as an appeal to God for deliverance) to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (see Matthew, chapter 21).  Four nights later, Jesus is betrayed by one of His own, arrested and set up by a multitude of false witnesses.  What followed in less than 24 hours was humiliation, unspeakable torture and ultimately, His last breath on a wooden cross.

I think we have to ask ourselves….what changed in those few days?

So here we sit….

The midweek point of Holy Week and I can’t help but reflect upon what must have been going on in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.  Jesus had been in the city a few days now.  Many of the people had welcomed Him as their Messiah….but not from their sins….instead they had hoped He would help overthrow the oppressive power of the Roman authorities. Looking back through the dusty pages of history, we can see how limited and shortsighted their expectations were. God had something much bigger in mind.

They had seen, or at the very least heard the news about Jesus healing the leper and the paralyzed man and how He had raised His dear friend Lazarus from the grave.  Surely He had the power to decimate the Romans with fire from Heaven itself…and they were ready!  So what happened with this particular expectation that they had placed on Jesus?  Nothing.  A few days later and there had been no overthrow.  They had not been “healed” of the disease they saw as the Roman government.  Unmet expectations….and rather than trust God, what do they do?  They turn on Him.  In their pride, they believe that they know better.

Before we judge them, I think that we need to take a look in the mirror for a minute.  How do we treat God after He responds to our heartfelt prayers in ways that are different from our expectations?  The job ends.  The cancer does not disappear.  The spouse leaves.  What do we do?

Just this week a friend sent me a text message asking for prayer for her friend.  She had just lost her fiance in a tragic accident (they were to be married in about six weeks).  He had gotten out of her car to walk home and somewhere between the car and his home, he was struck and killed by another vehicle….

Even as I write this I have to pause at the sheer, gut wrenching devastation of something like this.  She’s angry and bitter at God….and I understand.  There are no answers on this side of Heaven for what has happened.  Figuratively speaking, she is at the midpoint of her own “Holy Week” in the sense that her expectations and her reality are vastly different….and in this darkness the attacks of the enemy are relentless.  In a nutshell they amount to this….  “Curse God and die”, those spirits quietly cackle in her ear.  Seeds of rage and bitterness can easily take root in this soil.

As I continued texting my friend, my prayer for this poor woman is that she would ultimately fall back on God’s love for her, His good character and ultimately be reminded of the reality that no matter the terrible things that can happen to us in this sometimes brutal world….This. Is. Not. The. End. Of. The. Story.

We have a living Hope that is beyond the brokenness.  Beyond the darkness.  Beyond any and all of the tragic events (this is not meant to minimize any particular terrible event….they are absolutely crushing, so let me make sure and validate that right now).  Our Hope has a name.  His name is Jesus and He is the Messiah (on a personal level we have to allow Him to be just that in each of our lives).  This is the hope of the Gospel….of Easter.

Betrayal.  Torture.  Death.  But afterwards…..the stone of the tomb is rolled away!  Resurrection, a living Hope and a Helper that indwells us (see John 16:7).  The head of the serpent has been crushed and when we are in the midst of the shifting sands of unmet expectations, these are the realities that we need to reflect on and consciously, purposefully remind ourselves of.  If we see the “Holy Week” story all the way through, we can see how Jesus actually surpasses the expectations of those at Jersusalem’s gates all of those centuries ago.  Not to mention, He does so in ways that are often very different from how we might have first imagined.  This is the great love of God.

“Even when I hear nothing.  I rest in knowing that He hears me.”

“I am with you always.  Until the very end of time.” -Jesus

Walk in the light of this truth, my friend.  Happy Easter.

A Stirring

“You’re a quiet guy but there is a lot in there.”

I was recently visiting some of my old stomping grounds down in West Hollywood, California.  Back in the day during my brief stint in music school when I was nineteen (and intermittently throughout the years), I used to go the rock clubs on the Sunset Strip.  The Whiskey, The Roxy, Gazzari’s….On this particular night, I was hanging out at the famous “Rainbow Bar and Grill” with an old friend from grade school that I hadn’t seen in a number of years, who also happens to live a few blocks away from their front door.

It was fun and energizing to be back in the area.  With all of the same sights, smells and music playing in the background, it’s so easy to flashback to past moments in time.  As I sat there at the bar, enjoying a fresh IPA, I began to think back on who I used to be.  I’m not embarrassed to say that it’s now so easy to see how lost I was in so many ways.  I had a spiritual foundation but my “anchor” was never holding me in one place, as I bounced around spiritually from one place to the next (which I know is not uncommon for someone in their late teens/early 20’s).  In the midst of the conversations with my buddy that night, I would sometimes see my “old self” in my mind’s eye (almost like an outer body experience in a sense), sitting in that same place but 20+ years earlier.  I could see my past intentions and my priorities clearly.  How I talked, how I thought about others, about myself, about perceived social status….all have changed so much.  So much in fact, that if I could sit down with the young, long haired rocker version of myself, I would give him a hug, tell him that I love him and give him a good talking to…both about what to do and what not to do.  I actually feel a lot of compassion for my younger self.  I guess it would be the same compassion I would feel for anyone that I could tell was broken inside (whether they know it or not).  We’re all broken after all. Thank God for His redeeming grace.

For much of the night, I continued to have parallel conversations.  One with my friend, one with God.  In the midst of this back and forth flow, the following verse flashed through my mind….

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”  2 Corinthians 5:17

God’s reminder was like someone turning on the light in a dark room.  <click!>

Look how far I’ve taken you…and I’m not done with you yet.

As I felt that initial surge of encouragement, my friend turned to me and said the words at the top of this page….”You’re a quiet guy but there is a lot in there.”  I would say that is definitely an interesting comment to come out of the blue….and even more interesting when coupled with the timing.

God was once again getting my attention.

I was caught up in this….“there is a lot in there.”  He was right.  There is a lot in here.  There is a lot in all of us.

God continued the process….there is a lot “in there” that people need to hear.  Not stemming from my own ego as much as I believe what God wants to speak through each of His kids….coming from our own unique hearts, heartaches, victories and circumstances.  Our brokenness can speak BUT our redeemed brokenness can speak even more clearly….and bring healing in both ourselves and in others, as those thoughts that are spoken (or sung, or written) will connect with and in the lives of those that hear us.   I believe that this, in turn, encourages our “hearers” to become speakers (in time) and to do the same in the lives of others.

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” -Jesus speaking to His followers in Matthew 5:14

So find your voice.  Believe what you have to say is valuable, because it is.  Your life is your story and stories are meant to be shared and learned from (if you’re a verbal processor like I am, you may be surprised by how just much you may learn).

And this, my friend, is how the light spreads.

“Come and see what God has done….”  Psalm 66:5(a)

God bless.

Declaration of Dependence

“I have a great need for Christ:  I have a great Christ for my need.”  Charles Spurgeon

Tonight’s offering is a bit off the cuff.  I’ve been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on the culture around me for the past month or so.  What have I seen?  Well, we’re really, really into….ourselves.  Our wants, our feelings, our needs.  How do I get ahead?  How do I get more…more of what, we might not be sure….but nonetheless, we know we need more of it.

The culture has been taught since birth that we need to have high “self esteem” and at a very young age we’re often awarded not for achievement but simply for participating.  Entitlement has become a right and if someone doesn’t agree with our perspective it’s not good enough to respectfully agree to disagree (and realize that we may have something to learn from the other side of the fence).  Instead we feel the need to dehumanize the “opposition” by framing them in “less than” terms…Nazi’s, snowflakes, fundi’s, bigots, racists…all the while elevating our positions (whatever they are) as culturally superior.  Of course we could never be as “evil” as “them”….right?

We have exchanged the truth for a lie.  We have embraced an insidious form of pride that has blinded us to our true state before God.  Where is our reverence for Him?  Our “fear” of Him?  Jesus isn’t my “homeboy”….in His grace He has made me His friend (see John 15:15) but He’s also my God, my Creator, my Rescuer, my Redeemer and everything holy, good and pure.  Not to rain on anybody’s parade (actually yes, bring the storm) but He didn’t pay it all, in the manner that He did, just so that I could have a winking Jesus bobblehead on the dashboard of my car and that my “worship” be contained to 25 minutes of Christian pop/rock or hip hop covers on a Sunday morning….

Our worship is NOT the songs that we sing (….and I’m saying this as a worship leader).  At MOST those songs should be a mere reflection of how we desire to live from Sunday afternoon through the following Saturday night.  If, outside of that hour and a half on Sunday morning, our lives reflect nothing of Jesus and the life He calls us to live…we have a problem, my friend.  And you need to spend some time reflecting on that and asking God for clarity regarding what to do next and how to move forward in the right way….in His way.

This past election we’ve heard an awful lot about how to “make America great again” and I’m all for that.  But do you really want to know how to do that?  It’s not in celebrating our “pride.”  Let me be very clear here:  If we elevate ourselves in that manner God will humble us.  There is no one worthy of that throne in our hearts but God Himself.  If we take pride in anything, take pride in what Jesus has done on our behalf.  Take pride in the fact that we’re adopted sons and daughters of the Most High King.  We’re rescued and adopted heirs.  Saints only because of His grace, not because of anything we have done.  We don’t need to elevate ourselves.  We need to humble ourselves and then He will lift us up, in due time.  In the meantime, how are we loving others (especially those that we disagree with)?  How are we extending an olive branch and reflecting the love that God has so lavishly given us?  How are we using our resources, talents, finances and time?  What are we doing with the life that God has blessed us with?  The true nature of our spiritual condition is reflected and manifested in our physical, everyday lives.  

So, the true secret to making America great again?  I believe it begins here:

“If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus.  Ask Him to help you love like Him, encourage like Him, be wise like Him and be strong like Him.  You see, we aren’t called to be like other Christians….our calling is much higher.  We’re called to be like Christ!

So this fourth of July, while we celebrate our historical independence from tyranny, let’s also celebrate our complete and total dependence on God.  For we were once lost but now we are found.  We were once in a state of being slowly digested by spiritual darkness.  Now we’ve been rescued from the pit (both literally and figuratively).

If you would allow me, I’d like to pray for you….

Heavenly Father, thank you for each person that is reading this.  I put them in your care and ask that you would reveal Yourself to them in a way that is unmistakable.  Bless them with humble and soft hearts so that they would be able to follow the lead of Your Spirit.  Convict them in a way that would lead to repentance in areas of their lives where that needs to happen and break any dark strongholds or generational curses.  Fill them with a joy and hope that is beyond both circumstance and understanding.  Please bind up their wounds and brokenness like I know only You can do and give them a greater understanding of Your love for them and the life that You have blessed them with.  This is our declaration of dependence, Lord.  Guide us in every way and help each of us to, in turn, point others to You as well.  You are our great Hope, our Peace and the only One that can bring eternal significance to our time on this earth.  Thank you for what You are doing and going to do.  Let these requests rise as incense before your throne.  In Jesus’ name I pray….and all God’s people said…..Amen!

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32  

 

 

Breaking the Gray

“The first place we lose the battle is in our own thinking.  If you think it’s permanent then it’s permanent.  If you think you’ve reached your limits then you have.  If you think you’ll never get well then you won’t.  You have to change your thinking.  You need to see everything that’s holding you back.  Every obstacle, every limitation is only temporary.” 

Living in the Pacific Northwest you learn to expect the clouds.  Here we are on June 11th and this morning it was 46 degrees and overcast.  For a California native this took quite awhile to get acclimated to when we moved up here.  In fact, when we first moved here I distinctly remember searching the gray sky for little patches of blue just to remind myself that it was still up there, hidden behind the clouds.

Much like searching for patches of blue sky on a dreary afternoon to help lift our spirits, how much more important is it to search for God’s light and presence when we’re going through a storm of our own.  Here are a few tips that we can apply that can help us refocus our perspective:

  1.  This particular season of your life might be a surprise to you but it’s not a surprise to Him.  He wasn’t caught off guard like you may have been.  I heard a wise pastor say recently that if you reach this storm and you frantically say, “God help me, God help me, God help me,”  this isn’t necessarily faith but more of a panic attack.  Instead if we can exercise our faith by taking a deep breath, slowing our minds down and calmly saying, “God I know that I can’t do this alone and I need your help.  I don’t know how You’re going to do it but I’m looking forward to seeing what You are going to do!”
  2.  Remember that this season will not last forever.  In the whole scheme of eternity, this time of struggle is merely a breath.  The enemies’ attacks are often unrelenting during this time as he will try and take you out while you’re down.  Pray that God would crush the purposes of the enemy and that God’s purposes would be fulfilled as you make your way down this path.  Also look for God to show up through encouraging words from strangers/friends, during your time in the Word and during prayer.  Arm yourself with simple reminders like a “verse of the day” app on your phone and go to it throughout the day.  Keep the conversation with God flowing.
  3.  You are not abandoned.  God is a good Father and He is with you.  It may be a time of testing and you may not be able to discern His presence (the teacher is always quiet during a test) but He is always there.  There may also be ministering angels sent by Him to protect and strengthen you.  Continue to look up to Him and be on the lookout for those “patches of blue.”  Let them be reminders that beyond the gray clouds is a majestic, bright beautiful blue sky.  Even when we can’t see it, it is a constant.  It is always there.
  4.  Reach out to friends and family.  Don’t just text, IM or email.  This type of communication lacks the intimacy that you may need.  Some studies show that electronic communication may even make you feel more isolated and disconnected.  Call them on the phone and grab a beer or cup of coffee.  Plan a fun night out.  Break up the ordinary and surround yourself with positive people!
  5.  Break a sweat. Lift weights, learn martial arts or some sort of combat sport (boxing, jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga, etc.), go for a run, bike ride or swim.  Play basketball, do yard work or do a yoga style workout.  The important thing is to find something that you enjoy and get your heart rate up.  Get those endorphins flowing!  This may be very tough to start but once you finish you’ll be glad you did it.
  6.  Make a “to do” list.  Fill it with “micro” goals (ex. 20 minute jog before work) and “macro” goals (ex. read one chapter in the Bible every day that week). Plan your day/week in advance and crush those goals!  The list will help keep you dialed in and focused.
  7.  Stay positive and practice positive self talk.  Say to yourself, “This sucks but I know that it is not the end of my story and God will get me through it,” or “What the devil meant for evil, God will make something good from it.” (see Genesis 50:20)  Also remind yourself that your spiritual enemy is a defeated enemy and that he can only try and make your life miserable for a time.  With respect, you can tell him that he has no real power over you, that you belong to Jesus and that their time is short.  I always like to remind them of that.

Stay in the fight, my friend.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”   Romans 8:28