A Coward’s Guide to Confrontation

Yesterday our boys were out of school and I stayed home with them all morning. They invited friends over, so we had nine boys running around the house most of the day. At 9:00 the man in charge of maintenance on our house – I’ll call him Bill –  showed up with his crew to install new doors to the room on our deck. I’d put Bill somewhere in his late-50’s or early-60’s. He’s got a deep, booming voice and tattoos on his forearms. He’s shaped like a construction worker: massive hands, broad shoulders, thick chest. He has the look of a guy who probably spent a lot of time on a submarine or driving trucks. A real man’s man. He and his crew started removing the old sliding glass doors and within an hour had new french doors up, awaiting a frame. They left to get framing supplies and when they returned I noticed something – Bill had a cigarette in his mouth.

Christina and I are not smokers. We are friends with people who smoke, and we love them despite knowing they’ll die young in a phlegmmy-coughing-fit. Nevertheless, non-smokers know that even 2nd-hand smoke lingers. It gets in your clothes and stays in the air long after the cigarette’s gone.

Not only are we not smokers, but our 4-year-old has a history of asthmatic-like symptoms and has been to the ER twice with inflamed airways. He used to receive breathing treatments twice a day, and cigarette smoke only makes breathing worse.

I had a decision to make. Our boys and their friends had all migrated to the room where the crew was working. I watched for a moment as Bill worked with the cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. I was on the fence about saying something because he was technically outside. But then, for a half-second, he stepped inside to check the door, cigarette still lit. So I made a decision.

hate confrontation. I’m not the alpha-male, my-way-or-the-highway type. I’m not an analytical thinker or quick on my feet. At barely six feet, I’m not exactly intimidating, and my look says more “mathlete” than “athlete.” I’ve forced myself to confront others only a handful of times, when there was absolutely no other choice. Those moments were tough and I was scared out of my mind, but I was always – ALWAYS – glad I did it.

Healthy confrontation is a must. We cannot survive without it. Imagine our world without healthy confrontation; it’s horrifying. But we fear confrontation because we don’t want to make things weird. We fear the other person’s response. We fear our own ability to stick to our guns. We fear that we ourselves lack credibility to make such an argument.

Fear.

Fear.

Fear.

So we say nothing. Our fear forces us to go on accepting what we do not like in order to avoid what we will not do. But that’s not a good trade. It’s never better to accept something bad because we’re afraid to make it good.

So, as one who is terrified of confrontation but brings myself to do it anyway, here are a few things my experience has taught me about good confrontation:

1) BE PREPARED – If possible, set an appointment to speak with the person. If you’re afraid they might know something’s up, great! Something is up. It’s better to be able to thoughtfully consider your words, and giving yourself a deadline by setting an appointment is a great way to force yourself to be prepared. Know exactly what you’re going to say, and stay on script.

2) HELP THEM FEEL SAFE – Avoid confronting people in front of others, especially their children, spouses, co-workers, bosses, etc. The person being confronted will already feel defensive, so the last thing you want to do is add embarrassment or shame by calling them out in front of people they care about.

3) CALL A SPADE A SPADE – I love this old southern phrase. It means have integrity when talking to others. If you need to confront someone because they offended you, don’t pretend the discussion is about how they offended “your friend.” Or, if a person is not performing well, don’t pretend you’re firing them because corporate is making you downsize. Have the integrity to call a spade a spade, or else the actual issue will never go away, and you’ll just need another excuse next time it comes up.

4) WORK TOWARD A SOLUTION – This one often gets lost because in our defensiveness we just want to win the fight. But when we’re only interested in winning, we miss out on finding healthy, sustainable solutions. Go into your confrontations ready to work toward a solution whether you win the fight or not. By doing so you’ll minimize the need for future confrontation and acknowledge that you value your relationship and want it to improve.

Now, my showdown with Bill…

I decided I didn’t have time to set an appointment with Bill or even pull him away from his crew. So, in violation of Point 1, I went to him and said, “Bill, would you mind not smoking? Our 4-year-old has asthmatic symptoms and cigarette smoke can inflame his airways.” Bill’s face went expressionless, and one of the guys on his crew stared at us, bug-eyed. I don’t think they’re used to hearing anyone “order” Bill around.

Bill took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “Those kids can’t be out here while we’re working.” Then went back to sawing the frame. He was obviously annoyed, but I was so glad I confronted him. Our 4-year-old’s health is more important to me than Bill’s approval, and that was the bottom line. We didn’t work toward a solution, but in the future I’m happy to let him smoke in his truck or out on the street. He’s the handy man our landlord has chosen to care for his house, so we’re going to deal with him whether we like it or not. But now he knows where I stand and will, hopefully, not smoke near our house. Sometimes a little confrontation is all a relationship needs to muscle through.

The Rhythm of Prayer

King Saul is a fascinating figure. He reigned as king over Israel for 42 years even though A) he was horrible at it, B) was corrupt, C) was full of pride, and D) was more than a little paranoid. He never asked to be king, or even considered the possibility. One day he went out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and when he came back he’d been anointed king of Israel. (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 9). His only credentials seem to be that he was a head taller than everybody and, apparently, easy on the eyes. But from the start it was clear his reign would not go well:

▪When he was inaugurated before the people, he hid from everyone “among the supplies.” (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 10:20-22).

▪He repeatedly disobeyed direct commands from God and the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 11-15).

▪After David killed Goliath, Saul did everything he could to kill David, a threat to his throne. (1 Samuel 18-31)

▪After driving out all the witches and fortune tellers from Israel, Saul went to a fortune teller at night so nobody would see him. (1 Samuel 28)

Eventually, when Saul’s sons were dead and all his men abandoned him in battle, he fell on his own sword and died so as not to be taken captive by an enemy army.

A shameful end to a shameful reign.

RED FLAGS

We see red flags from the beginning of the story of Saul. He was never going to be a successful king because his eyes, his heart, his mind, his spirit had no capacity for the spiritual realm. Saul lived in the physical world and governed like a person with no expectation that God might break through and do something miraculous. He trusted himself and what he could see, rather than God and the realm that is unseen.

You and I aren’t that different, are we? We lose sight of the unseen. We forget that we have limits while God is limitless.

Perhaps our biggest red flag that we’ve lost sight of God is the absence of prayer.

RHYTHM OF PRAYER

I’ve heard it said that the church’s dirty little secret is that we don’t pray. We do lots of good things, but we are mostly capable of doing them whether God is present or not. So our lives develop a rhythm of self-sufficiency. Church happens with or without God. Work happens with or without God. Families are raised with or without God. All this by we who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Eventually, without reminding ourselves of God’s ability and desire to break into the present realm, our world begins to look a certain way.

Prayer is an invitation into the realm where God lives and moves and has his being. Even the simplest prayer before a meal is an act of humility, acknowledging that God has, in fact, seen you, cared for you, and loved you. A lot of us give up praying because it feels like one more command us normal folks cannot keep. So most of us feel guilty for not praying and, in some cases, even fear God’s punishment.

But prayer is an invitation into “the ineffable,” the indescribable place where God’s supernatural power is the norm. Praying because we’re “commanded” to is fine, but eventually it becomes one more thing we’re capable of doing with or without God.

We also give up on prayer because we don’t always get what we ask for. But getting our requests is not the function of prayer. If it were, Jesus would have avoided the cross, Paul would have had his thorn taken from him, and psalmist after psalmist would have avoided the phrase, “How long, Lord!” Seriously, from what we read in scripture, you’re far more likely to not get what you want than you are to actually get it.

But that’s not what prayer is for.

Prayer is a rhythm. It’s a rhythm that keeps our minds, hearts, spirits, and souls centered in the unseen realm. Prayer reminds us that what we see is not all there is. When we create a rhythm of prayer for ourselves, we begin to see that ineffable realm more clearly. We’re not surprised when God shows up and does what God does. When we create a rhythm of prayer, the line between the natural and the supernatural fades. Prayer is the key to God’s world.

A SMALL RHYTHM

If you’ve lost (or never created) your rhythm for prayer, will you start this week? Make it simple; you don’t need to carve out five hours a day or get up at 3:00 in the morning or buy a prayer shawl or even keep a journal. Start small. Make a decision now to speak briefly to God once each day – at a meal, in the car, tucking in the kids. It’s like the bass line of a good song: subtle, simple, the foundation to something beautiful. As you feel your connection with the Other Realm intensify, expand your rhythm a little at a time, all the while opening your eyes to the realm of God.

Don’t do it because the Bible says to; do it because God invites you to see the world as he sees it. Don’t do it because you feel guilty; do it because you want to feel the presence of God. Don’t do it because you want to be a better Christian; do it because you want to experience a life that can only happen because God made it so.

The Rhythm of Baptism

About five months ago I wrote a recap of my sermon on baptism. It’s a subject I can’t seem to escape, so I updated the post a little, expanded a couple ideas, and decided to re-blog it today. 

Enjoy.

CREATION

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 1:2 says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

The first thing God created, according to the creation poem in Genesis 1, was light. But something existed before light – water. God never spoke water into existence. Yet in the very first verses of scripture, God’s Spirit is there with the water.

WATER AND SPIRIT AFTER THE FLOOD

Then in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 6-7, God destroys the earth with water. After a very grim description of the carnage brought by the flood, Genesis 8:1 says:

“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

That word wind is the same word as Spirit in Genesis 1:2, the Hebrew word ruach. When the world was first created, there was water and Spirit; when the world was created a second time after the flood, there was water and Spirit.

WATER AND SPIRIT IN THE GOSPELS

Fast-forward to Jesus sitting at the table with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that anyone who wishes to see the Kingdom of God must be “born again” (what a loaded phrase that has become!). Nicodemus protests: “How can I be born again when I’m a grown man? Can I enter into my mothers womb?” But Jesus tells him that if he really wants to see the Kingdom of God, he needs to be born of water and spirit.

Creation. The flood. Jesus.

In each story there are elements of both death and life; destruction and creation; chaos and order. And in each story there is water and there is Spirit.

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In my heritage in Churches of Christ, we’ve often been guilty of reducing baptism to one message: get baptized or go to hell. But surely there’s something more to baptism than that. Surely it meant something more to Jesus.

In the broader narrative of scripture, water is used for three purposes that, like a good Church of Christ preacher, I’ll explain using the letter P:

PRESENCE, PURIFICATION, PREPARATION

PRESENCE In the Hebrew scriptures, every time we see water, we see God. Again, consider creation and the flood, as well as Jesus’ baptism when God spoke from heaven. You should also read a really cool story in Ezekiel 47. Each time God’s presence is there with the water. So when we are baptized, we are drawn in to God’s presence.

PURIFICATION The Hebrew scriptures also teach that water is used for purification. The Law of Moses commanded the Israelites to wash with water when they were pronounced clean from infectious disease, or when they were about to eat, or when they entered the Temple to worship. Priests went through a rigorous washing ceremony before offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then again once the sacrifice was complete. And in the Christian scriptures, especially in Acts, we see baptism as a form of purification. Churches of Christ hold fast to Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

PREPARATION If a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, he had to do three things: 1) be circumcised, 2) seven days later be baptized, and 3) offer a sacrifice as an act of worship to God. Baptism purified the Gentile in order that their worship might be acceptable to God. Worship was the end, baptism the means. When Jesus was baptized, he was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. His baptism prepared him for that act of worship, and it also launched him into his earthly ministry. In the same way, it prepares us to be what Paul calls living sacrifices. 

…TO SEE AND ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Now, back to Jesus and Nicodemus. Baptism is about far more than simply punching a ticket to heaven or, said in another way, avoiding hell. Jesus said that to see the Kingdom of God we must be born of water and Spirit. This is no arbitrary command. It connects us with the rhythm of creation going all the way back to Genesis. Through baptism, we are drawn into the presence of God, purified of our sin, and prepared for a life of worship. Baptism is about entering into a newly-created life now, today, in this life. That life is called The Kingdom of God.

What, exactly, is the Kingdom of God? Jesus said it’s everywhere, it’s all around us, it’s among us, it’s within us (Luke 17:7). He also said it’s like a woman who lost a coin, swept her house until she found it, then called her neighbors over for a party because she found something so precious (Luke 15). It’s also like a man walking through a field who stumbles upon a treasure. He runs home, sells all his possessions, and buys the field (Matthew 13:44).

In other words, the Kingdom of God has no border, it has no definition. It is both here and now, and also in the age to come. It is spiritual and physical. It’s visible and invisible. It is in you, around you, above you, below you. More importantly, the Kingdom of God is worth everything you have. There’s nothing on earth greater than life in the Kingdom.

And we enter into this Kingdom through a mysterious act of worship called baptism – through water and Spirit – because, from the very beginning of time, those have been the ingredients for a true, God-breathed life. It’s not a ticket to heaven when you die, but rather welcoming heaven into your life here on earth – on earth as it is in heaven.

That’s baptism. And it’s way better than simply avoiding hell.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year 2015

“I’m going to get up early and take a picture of the sunrise,” I said to my wife on New Year’s Eve. I checked Dark Sky and sun-up would be 7:17 am so, to be safe, I set my alarm for 6:00. I would walk our dog, Gertie, down the street to the place where a new subdivision is being built and I have a clear view of the river through the trees to the east. As the sun peeked over the river, I’d snap a picture, spend a moment quietly pondering the year ahead. Say a prayer asking God’s blessing over what’s in store for us in 2015. Then head back and make breakfast for Christina and the boys.

When my alarm rang at 6:00, I turned it off, fell asleep, and didn’t get up till 8:00.

I really wanted that picture. Something about welcoming in the New Year at sunrise felt important, like it was something I needed to do. Because a new year brings new hope, new dreams, new possibilities for who we might become. Sunrise on New Year’s Day is when all that begins and I wanted to be there to see it. It’s when life seems free for the taking. On New Year’s Day we assume the best parts of us will emerge, and we’ll finally be that person we always wanted to be and do that thing we always wanted to do. “This is the year!” we tell ourselves.

But I didn’t take the picture. Before I ever woke up, I already failed the New Year. So what does that mean?

CAPABLE AND WILLING

Resolutions are interesting because they point to something we believe we’re already capable of achieving but, for whatever reason, never did . We can be skinny. We can be runners. We can be writers. We can be debt-free. We can be holy. We can get up to snap a picture of the New Year’s sun. We believe we’re capable. But being capable only matters when we’re also willing.

New Year’s Day brings a collective jumpstart for a willing humanity. This week gyms and workout centers across America will be flooded with people. Blogs will be updated for the first time since last summer (like the one you’re reading now). Churches will see new faces. Savings accounts will open. Joggers in brand new dri-fit clothes and colorful shoes will slam into one another while figuring out their Nike+ app. This will be the new normal for about a month, but by February all the hype will settle and we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled lives.

We’re a capable people, but our willingness needs work.

A NEW RHYTHM

It’s hard to start an entirely new routine. I’m a person who recoils at routine as though it were roadkill served up for dinner. The thought of doing the same thing at the same time in the same place every single day makes me claustrophobic. I have a routine of sorts because my job as a preacher requires it (I must have a sermon ready every Sunday). As a whole, though, routine is a four-letter word.

But it’s often a routine that breeds the necessary willingness to stick with what we set out to do on New Year’s Day. In routine we find rhythm, and rhythm is a very holy thing.

All life is set to rhythm. Time moves in rhythm around our clocks. There are rotating seasons and ebbing tides on a planet making its way across the same path in space year after year. There’s something about being caught up in a rhythm that sets us right with God, with creation, and with each other. Creation requires rhythm, and so do we. Without it our lives are chaotic.

Some people are really good at routines; I am not. Rhythm works for me where routine fails. Sure, it’s a bit of a semantics thing, but routine is about discipline while rhythm is about life. Perhaps our New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t be about our weight, fitness, or achievements. Perhaps they should be about our ability to persevere, to find rhythm, to re-make ourselves from the inside. If you’re interested in a “New You,” it’s going to require more than cosmetic touch ups and a few less pounds. A New You requires a new take on life, a new heart, a new rhythm. If the same Old You is trying to reach a goal, you’ll never make it. The Old You never did.

Instead of making New Years resolutions, what about creating an entirely new rhythm? What if you offer parts of each day to God in prayer and meditation; parts to friends and family in shared, selfless community; parts to your work so that you’re productive and contributing something to humanity as a whole; parts to creation so you’re living in a responsible way with what you wear, what you eat, what you consume, and how you enjoy all that God has made; and parts to yourself so that you’re healthy in mind, body, and spirit? Until we change our rhythm, our resolutions will never see February.

May God bless us as we enter into this new year with all its hope, anticipation, and joy. May we align ourselves more and more with the rhythm of God and creation. May our world find peace, and may 2015 be the year that life on earth becomes as it is heaven.

Biblical Persecution vs. American Persecution

I was initially disappointed to hear the news of Houston’s city attorney filing a subpoena for five pastors’ sermons. Houston was our home for five wonderful years. We love and miss the city. Not only that, but overall I’m a fan of Mayor Parker. I think she has been an exceptional mayor, so this news was troublesome. Based solely on the facts I’ve read online, I have tried to answer the following questions regarding the subpoena of the pastors’ sermons for myself: Is it Overreach? Yes. Is it Unconstitutional? I can only assume, though I claim to be no expert. Is it persecution? Hmmm… You know what, for the time being, let’s just say yes, this is persecution. As followers of Jesus, what’s our response? PERSECUTION 101 I’ve seen Christians on Facebook and Twitter quote from the United States Constitution, the Texas Bill of Rights, and even from America’s founding fathers. What I’ve yet to see is anyone cite the New Testament and its teaching on what we do when faced with persecution. Granted, I’m currently sensitive to this topic and at least one passage is fresh on my mind because I taught about it last Sunday in my series on Hebrews. The passage is from Hebrews chapter 10. In an effort to encourage his church to hold firm in their faith, the Preacher reminds them about “the good old days” and suggests they get back to how things used to be. He says:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

It’s difficult to teach from a passage like that one – one that reminded the Church of how wonderful it was to be truly persecuted – and then read this week’s comments from those who are aghast at a constitutional infraction. The way American Christians respond to suffering, persecution, and injustice is not consistent with the teachings of scripture. In fact, we’ve got it completely inverted. We have become notorious for looking away from racial, gender, and systemic injustices in society while vehemently defending perceived injustice against us. In scripture, God’s people are told to uphold justice and fight for the oppressed, yet are never told that we are the oppressed. Even in the Hebrew scriptures when the Israelites were captives and slaves, they were never told to see themselves as the victim. When they cried out, their cries were to God, not to Pharaoh, not to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Pilate. They believed God when he said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” The people were bound by simple commands, even in the face of persecution and slavery: love God and love your neighbor. Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. The same was true for the early Church in the New Testament: suffering and oppression and even death were part of the job. They were to be expected. We are never the victims. We are never the oppressed. We are “aliens and strangers” whose citizenship is in heaven. Author and theologian Simon Chan wrote in his book Spiritual Theology:

The cure for worldliness is seeing the world for what it really is: passing away.

Why should we fear those who can only kill the body when we follow the One who can heal the soul? What does it matter if we work much harder, go to prison more frequently, get flogged more severely, and are exposed to death again and again when the power of him who raised Christ from the dead lives also in us? The world and its desire pass away, and if God is for us, then who on earth could be against us? JESUS TAUGHT US HOW TO SUFFER More than anything else, don’t we follow a Savior who walked willingly to the cross, who showed us the way of love as the Suffering Servant, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, whose humble posture even won over a hardened Roman soldier who just hours before was flogging him and driving nails through his wrists and feet? We don’t win over the world through power, bombs, money, votes, litigation, or angry Facebook posts. We win over the world by humbly submitting ourselves as servants, even to the point of death. We win over a world that’s given up on us by being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. That’s the way Jesus carved out for us to follow. There are people suffering oppression – real oppression – around the world. There are Christians in the Middle East praying against all odds that ISIS won’t make it to their town, that a masked terrorist won’t knock on their door, that their children won’t be executed in the streets and their wives sold as sex slaves. There are followers of Jesus in Egypt still facing loss of their homes and even death. May we be mindful of them and their suffering, pray with them for peace, and take action when we’re able. And may we not belittle their suffering with cries of injustice in our country of wealth, safety, and comfort. ARE WE THE OPPRESSED OR THE OPPRESSORS? We must also acknowledge the suffering and oppression the Church inflicts and has inflicted on others. Gay teenagers make up one of the largest populations of homeless people in America. Some of them are homeless because they come from Christian homes and their parents refuse to live with a gay child. Historically, the Church has been guilty of excluding, ignoring, or even condemning those who: are divorced, are mixed-race couples, vote for the “wrong” candidate, cannot or do not dress appropriately, cannot or do not show personal responsibility, have been incarcerated, prostitute themselves, dance, drink alcohol, smoke, struggle with addiction, believe in evolution, have had an abortion, are mentally or physically disabled, suffer from depression, etc. etc. etc. May we repent of our own oppression forced upon others. May we repent of the injustices to which we daily turn a blind eye. May we recall those who have suffered before us and joyfully take our place in a long line of sufferers. If this is truly the beginning of the “Liberal-Gay-Media-Muslim-Obama-Democrat” take-down of the American Church as we know it (and I don’t believe it is), may we welcome the suffering and persecution with joy, just as the apostles did in Acts, just as Christians have done for centuries, and just as Jesus himself did when with the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame.     SINCE FINISHING THIS BLOG, I’VE COME ACROSS UPDATED INFORMATION. AS I STATED ABOVE, I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT FOR US AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TO SET A PRECEDENT FOR BEING QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. IT’S ALSO HELPFUL TO DO OUR RESEARCH. Here’s an exceptionally helpful article from Vox that details the specifics of the subpoena. The short of it is this: the subpoena’s are in regards to a suit filed by city pastors. They submitted the required number of signatures to have a ballot measure to repeal HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) that grants all people equal protection under the law. The city attorney, however, ruled the signatures were acquired illegally. So the pastors sued. The city attorney then subpoenaed, among other things, their sermons in order to find out if they explicitly told their churches what to say/do/sign in regards to the petitions, which would be illegal. The subpoena wording is now being revised to more specifically target the HERO repeal signatures, and not the HERO act itself or references to Mayor Parker.

Dadding

My wife reads and writes a lot of blogs for and about moms. I’d say moms definitely corner the parenting market in the blogosphere. There’s simply not much there for us dads.

So, this is for you, blog-reading and non-blog-reading Dads. I know many of you are probably reading this because your wife is making you. Still, I’m glad you’re here. I’ll keep my thoughts brief, provide lots of pictures, and give you a few words to say to your wife so she knows you really “got it.”

Here’s what I want to say:

You should take your kids camping.

I’m not a camping person. I go when I’m forced to. Last weekend I was forced to go camping because our 1st grader started Cub Scouts and it was the annual fall campout. It fell on the same weekend as our church’s Ladies Retreat, so my wife retreated with 30 women while I camped with our six boys and like 75 other scout families. Our boys are 3, 4, 6, 6, 8, and 11.

Together, we:

Set up this tent

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Made this fire (it really did catch, eventually)

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Heated up water for oatmeal, hot chocolate, and coffee on this camping stove

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Played with this turtle

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Won this rockin’ alien mask on a scavenger hunt

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Watched our 1st grader kill it in kickball

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While some of the others kept score

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and other cool stuff that wasn’t captured on camera.

It was a challenge camping with six kids, for sure. But – and I know everybody says this – if I can do it, so can you! I am not what you might call “nature savvy.”  I took most of our camping supplies out of the original packaging they came in when we got them two Christmases ago. I’m not very good at starting fires. I don’t own a single working flashlight. It took over half an hour to set up our tent. I didn’t have the ability, energy, or emotional stamina to add the rain fly, so instead I crawled in the tent, got on my knees, and begged God to hold back the rain for the night. It worked, too.

ENGAGE

Camping forces you to engage. And let’s be honest, sometimes we need someone or something to force us to engage our kids. It’s easy to consume ourselves with ourselves, or our work, or our sports, or our books, or our shows, or our projects, or our tee times, or our Fantasy Whatever. Anything but our kids.

But, seriously, does anything get your kids fired up more than when you play with them? Try this and see if I’m wrong: the next time your kids are in the middle of something they love (in our case it would be Minecraft or Pokemon cartoons) stand in the middle of the room and, as loud as you can, shout, “WRESTLEMANIA!” Then (gently) body slam the nearest kid. I’m not kidding, whatever they were doing will be dead to them and they will come alive because Dad wants to play. We only have boys, but I have to believe daughters love wrestling their dads just as much as sons. And if wrestling’s not their thing, buy some water balloons, get some face paint, take a hike, go eat ice cream, climb a tree, play with play dough, ride bikes, make a crazy video, build a fort and throw wadded-up socks at anyone who comes near it.

If you think this is only for young kids, try any of the above with your teenager and watch the kid come out. I hear people complain a lot about kids being disengaged, consumed with electronics, etc. I think a playful dad is the best way to bust them out of that rut.

Now, as promised, here are a few lines to say so your wife knows you got it:

1. Do you think I play enough with (insert child(s) name)?

2. Should we go camping some time?

3. Maybe I’ll take (insert child(s) name) shopping for fishing poles tomorrow (now’s your chance!!!!).

4. Was your dad playful?

Happy playing!

A Disturbing God

This week I preached the 2nd sermon in a new series in Hebrews. If you’re in the Little Rock area, you’re always welcome to join us at CrossWalk Family of God. Here’s the brief recap:

I have a friend who recently met Charles Barkley. And by “met” I mean he gave Chuck a high-five. Yet my friend was moved enough to post a picture of his hand on Facebook and recount the entire event, word for irrelevant word. The moment mattered not because of what was said, but because of the encounter itself. Barkley could have said, “Hey, drop dead, moron.” and my friend would tell the story with the same gusto. Meeting celebrities turns us into screaming, tweenage girls because for just a moment we matter, we’re seen, we’re known, we’re important.

In Hebrews, the Preacher says in chapter 1 that God tried to reveal himself to creation for thousands of years. He tried through the prophets, the Law, and by manifesting himself in various forms (clouds and burning bushes, for instance). But none of it worked. It was all just a shadow, a reflection, a copy of a copy of a copy.

Until Jesus.

The Preacher of Hebrews goes into a pretty lengthy teaching about angels in Hebrews 1:5-14. It’s bookended by the phrase, “To what angel did God ever say…?” In Hebrew culture, it was believed that angels were assigned to rule over certain nations (from Deuteronomy 32:8-9), while God himself ruled over Israel. So it was believed that angels had some authority – divine authority – and were of greater standing in the created order than humans.

Not only that, but angels were messengers. Think about Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who saw an angel as he entered the temple to make an offering. Think of the shepherds in the field who were told by an angel that the Messiah was born. Angels brought a message from God, but the Son brought God himself, and is therefore greater than the angels.

But that’s not really the main point. The main point is that by being the exact representation of God, the arrival of Jesus sent shockwaves throughout creation. You know how a pebble sends ripples across a still lake? Well Jesus wasn’t a pebble, he was a Mack truck. Everything was disturbed, everything turned on its head, and all creation moved toward eternity.

God’s encounter with creation through the incarnation of Jesus was disturbing for all people in all times. Life changed forever. Creation changed forever. The world received a new form of economics, ethics, politics, and religion. The world saw how to treat those of lower class, of different race, and of opposing religious beliefs. The world saw the value of the outcast and the authority of the powerless. Jesus threw the whole universe off-course.

And he’s still doing it in the hearts and lives of every person pursuing him.

Here’s what I want to say: Jesus will shatter your life. You simply cannot pursue Jesus and the life he offers without being permanently changed at the core of your being. Pursuing Jesus will slowly – and often painfully – strip away layer after layer of You until there’s only Him.

What would Jesus blow up in your world if you started pursuing him right now? Where are you comfortable? Where are you blind toward the suffering? What are you absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, unwilling to do or unwilling to go? There’s a good chance that’s exactly where he’ll call you. Because Jesus isn’t in the business of keeping us as we are; he’s in the business of disturbing everything in our world so that we’ll finally know the full expression of God. 

If you want to get a little crazy, hit your knees right now and ask God to come disturb your life. But, as Jesus warned, count the cost. Make sure you know what you’re asking. Because he probably isn’t going to disturb you by giving you a bunch of money and a big house and that job you always wanted. He’s probably going to send you the other way, down the ladder, and out into the margins. If you’re ready to see where God will take you, then go for it. But be ready for a wild ride.