Monday, December 21, 2015

The Good Muslim

On one occasion a religious minded lawyer stood up to test the Teacher. “Sir,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit a life that never ends - life to its fullest?”

“What is written in the Teachings?” he replied. “How do you read them?”

He answered, “Well - it says to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Correct,” the Teacher replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to show that he was virtuous on his own merit, so he asked the Teacher, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Mentor replied: “A man was traveling from the northern part of the United States to the deep south.  At a rest stop along the way - he was attacked by thugs. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 

A prestigious pastor of a large congregation happened to be going down the same road and stopped at the rest stop.  When he saw the naked and destitute man, he drove away in a hurry. 

So too, a rich elder from a different well-to-do church (that was a major donor to political campaigns), when he came to the place and saw him, he drove off as well. 

But a dark skinned immigrant Muslim family, as they traveled, came where the man was - and when they saw him, they had compassion.  They went to him and bandaged up his wounds. Then put the man in their car, and travelled to a near city that was known for their proud patriotism, and helped him into the hospital. The next day the father paid the man’s medical bill in full.  Then he told the doctor - 'Look after him and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense that might accrue.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the thieves?”

The lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

The Teacher told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Am I right?

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9

Sometimes we sacrifice relationship in order to be “right.”

I don’t necessarily think we do it on purpose.  I think many times we just want to be heard.  We especially want to be understood.  But - being right is not the point of a relationship.  The older I get - the more I’m slowly (and I mean slowly!!) learning that relationships are about hearing the other person (listening) - and not being heard (talking).  It’s not about expression as much as it is about empathy.  

I’m horrible at this!  

Being right in a discussion or argument can often lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings.  I never feel good in a relationship after an argument - win or lose.  It’s difficult to connect with someone after that kind of disagreement.  Superiority (or inferiority) can be a cancer to true intimacy.  

To make it even more difficult - it’s impossible to have any type of relationship without conflict.  There are practical arguments (You said you’d do the dishes - and you didn’t) to arguments about ideology (glass half full) and theology (insert any statement about God here).  

We are all so different.  

The point of relationship is connection.  It’s to reach intimacy with another person.  I’m not necessarily describing romantic relationships (although they certainly apply) - but all relationships.  We want to connect - we don’t want to divide.

And yet - how often do we make a stance which sacrifices our friendships - our relationships?  I see many posts on social networks that are so divisive - and the person posting it has no clue.  There are just so many argumentative statements and positions being made - it’s a bit crazy (especially now that it's a political season).  There’s lot of superiority going around.  Arrogance is not attractive.

There's that famous warning to not discuss politics and religion in social gatherings - especially during Thanksgiving.  The reason being? - we tend to destroy relationships when arguments like these arise.  Our will to be "right" can create horrible relational conflict - and none of us are immune to its lure.  We want to be right no matter the cost.  This leads to many broken relationships in which we would rather avoid the other person than connect with them.  I know that I do this - and I do it more often than I'd like to admit.

With those we love, it can even be worse.  Sometimes we’re so ignorantly stubborn - it’s embarrassing.  Personally - I have an “insert foot in mouth” disease - and half the time - I don’t even know I have it.  ugh. 

A negative tendency of mine is to go on the defensive.  There have been many times when I have felt judged when there might have been a genuine concern.  I wasn’t listening - I was defending my stance or position.  I was right - gosh darn it!  And I totally lost...

This happens way too often.  

God has concern for His kids - us.  How often do I perceive that concern as judgment - or condemnation?  He speaks the truth - yet - I want to plead my case - give excuses - I want to fight!   So I avoid Him altogether.

When - all He wants to do is connect…

Have a good day…


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Thoughts from Flour Garden Bakery

We live in a world that is very earthy.  

I’m sitting in a coffee shop sipping on a vanilla latte.  I just ate some wild rice chicken soup and it was delicious, although I may have burnt my tongue - just a bit.  There are people all around the cafe engrossed in their own conversations or occupied with their computers and cell phones.  The chair I’m sitting on is hard and a bit uncomfortable.  And it’s a little more hot than I’d like it to be. 

And I type on this old computer.  My “S” key is missing.  Annoying.  Luckily, if I hit where the “S” key was - it still types the letter “S”.  This gives me another excuse to want to buy something new that I don’t really need.  

The Giant’s game is going on behind the window I’m writing on (gamecast) and I occasionally peak behind my typing to look at the score.  MadBum is killin’ it again.  

There are colors - and smells - sounds - hard surfaces - heartbeats - voices - coffee grinding - and so much more.  Outside the shop, people are in cars are going about their business - parking and driving away.

There are price tags everywhere in this shop.  Art hangs on the wall from local artists.  The floor is checkered black and white. Bohemian Rhapsody is the background music for this blog - now switching to the Beetles.    

It’s all so “real”.  I mean - what I’ve described is actually what is happening.  Right now.

And yet.

Two years from now - it’ll be a distant memory.  If a memory at all.  It’ll be as if this moment never happened (except for the evidence from this blog).

How many moments of life are like this?

And in the midst of the “realness” of this moment - there is an unseen reality that is almost impossible to detect.  It’s literally invisible to most.  And it seems so completely “unreal” in this moment of “realness”.  This actual moment in time.

God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy, goodness, and love permeate everything.  This moment (that will fade in memory) will become almost unreal in the future.  But the invisible grace of God that surrounds everything in this little coffee shop - will go on forever - long after I’m gone.  And that love and grace is everywhere!  

I guess - what I’m trying to say - is this:  The very real moments in life aren’t as tangible as we think they are.  They’re only tangible in that very moment we experience them - then they’re gone.  What is seemingly most real in our lives (the physical world) is gone moment by moment - slowly fading in our memories.  (I mean, to be honest - I can’t even remember what I did yesterday!)  

But what is seemingly the most unreal thing in our lives in the moment (spirit) is actually more real than the keys I’m currently typing on.   The Spirit is with us - in our past, present, and future - and into eternity. 

We tend to separate the two worlds.  Physical and spiritual.  The truth is - they can’t be separated.  God is in the earthy “now”.  He created it all.  He meant it to be the way it is.  He didn’t make a mistake.

Going further - you are not a mistake.  He meant for you to be you.  All the good, bad, and ugly.  He knows and sees it all.  And He’s not surprised.  He loves your whole person - all of you.  He’s not afraid of anything about you.  He’s not disgusted about any part of you.  He thinks you’re precious.  

His grace, forgiveness, mercy, goodness, and love really do permeate everything.  All the time.  

The fullness of an infinite God pouring His ridiculous love on us - at every moment of our day.  Even on ordinary days.  Earthy days

Even while eating wild rice chicken soup at a random coffee shop…

Have a great day!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

In the beginning....

I grew up as an atheist.  Well, actually, it was probably more like an agnostic – but atheist had such a stronger kick to it – especially when talking to Christians.  

My family didn’t like anything religious.  I was raised to “choose” my own way, but if I ever got too close to any one religion – especially Christianity – my mom would pull me back and warn me to not get brainwashed.  “Christian” was sort of a swear word in my family circle – on par with retard, fool, idiot, and @$$hole.

This turned out to be beneficial later on because I began to see Jesus as something different than his followers.  I never had any negativity towards Jesus as a person – just anything to do with religion.          

I was a military brat.  Well, sort of.  I was not like my brothers.  I came into the family late in the game (youngest son) and my dad retired when I was six or seven.  My oldest brother went to around 20 different school districts.  I went to one.  

We moved to California near the end of the 70’s.  We briefly lived in Oakland with my Aunt until we could move to our new place in the foothills.  This was right around the time of the Jim Jones scandal.  Jim Jones was a cult leader who murdered nearly a thousand people with cyanide laced kool aid.  This was all over the news when we moved away from the Bay Area and was my first impression of religion.  Religion scared the hell out of me.

My family didn’t really have much love for religion before I came into the picture.  My mom’s parents got in a divorce in the early 1940’s, which was sort of unheard of at the time.  My grandma was pretty much excommunicated from her family because of the “scandal” – she got married young and then got a divorce.  She came from a really uptight religious family and they condemned her behavior.  My mom told me a story once of staying with her aunt, and the whole time she was there, her aunt just badmouthed her mom.  Religion left a really bad taste in my her mouth.

My dad had a different experience.  His dad (my grandpa) was the son of a pastor (Great Grandpa).  He was a real fire and brimstone kind of preacher.  If you don’t know what that is – let’s just say that there are a lot of references to hell in the preaching.  It’s kind of a “scare you into heaven” type of theology, which still exists today (unfortunately).    

I think my grandpa wanted to be different from his dad, so he didn’t push religion onto his kids - not that I know of anyway.  My dad had an experience with Young Life as a teenager – which is a lot different than hellfire preaching - but other than that, he was left on his own.  

My parents met, got married, had a son, and my dad joined the military and they traveled the world.  They had three kids, besides me.  One of their sons (my brother) died of a brain tumor.  I never got to meet him, but I’d hear stories about him all the time.  His name was Jon.  His short life and the tragedy of his death was a shared experience for my family.  Many times I was the audience for their stories.  He battled with his disease for around two years and doctors and nurses did everything they could to keep him alive.  He lost the battle at age 7, the year before I was born.  My family was heartbroken.   

From what I’ve heard from my mom, religion did nothing to console my family.  In fact, one “Christian” told my mom and dad that they hadn’t prayed hard enough – they didn’t have enough faith – to save their son.  Basically, in a roundabout way, they were given the impression by religious people that my brother’s death was sort of their fault. This did a lot to reinforce the already negative feelings toward the church and God.  

So, then I came into the picture.  My first memories are of strawberry fields, baseball diamonds, and an apartment in Germany.  We moved to California when I was almost five, where my dad was stationed at Beale Air Force Base – the place he later retired.  We first stayed in the Bay Area for a very short period of time, and then moved to the foothills between Sacramento and Tahoe.  

I had a lot of mistrust towards religion.  One time, I remember getting suckered to go to a church on Sunday with my next door neighbor.  I was probably in fourth or fifth grade.  We got these little booklets and had to read out loud.  It reminded me of school – but on a Sunday!  The stories weren’t like the ones at school – they had crazy miracles and God talk.  It sounded kind of ridiculous to me.  

I was the type of kid that liked reality.  I never played with GI Joes because they weren’t real.  I’d rather act like I was a GI Joe and play war games in my back yard than play with stupid plastic little men and act like they were alive.  We’d build real forts and have home bases and make real bow and arrows.  I never understood how people liked playing with army dolls (no offense to those of you that did).  I just liked to play in reality.

It’s not that I didn’t love imagination.  I totally did!  Just within the boundaries of reality.  I remember in first grade, playing with toy cars at recess.  We would build race tracks in the dirt and drive the cars around the tracks.  My friends would hold onto their cars and would fly their car in an impossible way when they went off a jump.  It used to really annoy me because it wasn’t real.  Gravity wouldn’t allow that sort of thing.  I would stop playing when they’d do that. 

I did love cartoons.  However, I remember going to a theme park and being very disappointed when I saw the real life cartoon characters.  They weren’t “real” to me.  They weren’t like the cartoons.  They were impostors!

So you can imagine how I felt listening to people talk about miracles and God at Church.  Even at a young age, I remember wondering what they were trying to get me to do.  And some of the words that were used seemed to be in another language.  I didn’t understand most of it, and I was too intimidated to ask questions.  It all seemed so absurd to me. 

I went to Jr. High and High school in the mid 80’s and early 90’s.  My impression of religion didn’t get any better as I grew up.  The 80’s were known for tele-evangelists – preachers who used TV to get their message out.  The message was usually this: give money and your prayers will be answered.  What a joke!  Huge scandals broke over some very prominent preachers of the time.  There were money issues, sex scandals, and really bad haircuts.  Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker are two that come to mind.  I actually had a hard time understanding how people could be fooled by these scammers.  I mistrusted any “God” message that came through the TV.

I’m not gonna lie – I hated Christians growing up.  I thought they were judgmental uneducated self-righteous jerks. My first serious girlfriend in High School was a Catholic.  She seemed to live with a lot of guilt and never allowed me to have sex with her.  That made me angry at religion even more!  She begged me to go to church all the time.  My impression of Catholicism was not good.  One of my defenses against anything “Christian” was the troubles in Ireland.  Catholics and Protestant (Christians) – both in the name of Christ – kept murdering each other over the stupidest of reasons.  I didn’t see love from Christians – I saw war, murder, and scandal.  The pope didn’t help much either.  I thought Jesus was all about loving poor people, and yet, the pope would wear ornate costumes laced with gold.  I’d heard that the Catholic Church was one of the richest organizations on the planet.  It seemed to me that Jesus and the pope probably wouldn’t hang out – that was my impression anyway.

I went to my first “grown-up” church service (Catholic service) because of my girlfriend.  I was a love sick teenage boy, so I followed her anywhere.  It was awful.  It scared me to death.  The scariest part of the service was when everyone recited religious words in one loud communal voice.  Star Trek was a popular TV show at the time, and there was an alien race in which every member was connected through their minds called the Borg.  They would say as one, “We will assimilate you” to their enemies – pretty much everyone that was not a Borg.  Every unique race that they encountered would either become a Borg (assimilation), or they would be killed.  This reminded me of the Church (especially in regards to the Inquisition and Crusades).  

Sitting in that Catholic service, I felt like the congregation was saying “We will assimilate you!”  It made me think of brainwashing and cults.  It made me sad for those who were walking blindly into the manipulation from a small group of men.  It made me angry at the leaders who were controlling people from the pulpit.  I hated every minute of it.  

To me, religion was all about the control and manipulation of people to get money and power.  I didn’t want anything to do with it.

Yet another problem I had with religion is that it was so unimaginative.  The first “real” novels I read were Tolkien’s trilogy “Lord of the Rings” way back when I was in sixth grade.  The adventures of Frodo, Gandalf, and their unlikely band of friends blew my mind away!  There were ancient mythologies, dragons, magic, treasure, battles, and so much more.   There were other races besides men (elves, dwarves, hobbits) and there was a defining line between good and evil.  Everything seemed so exciting!  I devoured story after story from that point forward – reading most of the fantasy section in our local bookstore.  My imagination went wild. 

I actually attempted to read a King James Bible around my eighth grade year.  I started at the beginning and read the creation story.  It was lame, because I believed in evolution.  So I opened it up to a book somewhere in the middle of the Bible.  Not only did I not understand it – but what I read was BORING!  It seemed to repeat itself a lot, and there wasn’t much of a story.  Not like the other books I read anyway.  And the names were impossible to pronounce.  I just didn’t understand what the big deal was.  How could anyone believe any of this stuff? 

Christians hated a lot of things about me.  They hated my music, my imagination, and my friends – it seemed like they hated everything that I loved.  I think that’s part of the reason why I ended up hating them.  I always felt judged by them. They seemed to hate sex too, yet the scandals of the church always seemed to revolve around sex.  Hypocrite was a word I used a lot when talking about Christians.  Little did I know that it was it was Jesus who coined the term.

The big change factor for me was when I stopped looking at people and actually started looking at the person of Jesus.  I started to listen to His story.  I began to investigate Jesus apart from my perceptions of His people.  The first thing that intrigued me was His love and care for the poor.  He was always talking about them.  I noticed that the outcasts in society were always included.  In fact - there really were no outsiders.  He seemed to accept everyone.  I also noticed that He was often criticized by religious people - mainly by a group called the Pharisees.  He was actually condemned to death by the religious elite.  Religious people didn’t like Jesus - they actually hated Him.  This was good news to me. 

The love that He talked about was in stark contrast to what I saw Christians doing - at least the loud vocal group of Christians.  As I said before, I mostly saw hate, judgment, and scandal coming from that group.  I later came to find that there was a group of Christians that walked a lot like Jesus - but they tended to blend into the background of life, not hoarding the spotlight.  

I began to really have some serious questions about this guy named Jesus.  I started checking out the church - but got only more questions.  I’d hear words like - cross, lamb, sin, hell, salvation, sanctify, reconcile, heaven, atonement, holy, righteous - and want to run the other way.  These words were intimidating to me, and I didn’t really understand them.  I later came to find out that most people don’t understand them - even those that had been listening to church services for years! This actually put me at ease - but was a little disturbing at the same time.  

The word that kept holding onto me was love.  I couldn’t shake it.  I couldn’t escape it.  All other words seemed to bow down before that one.  It was the most non religious word - yet had everything to do with Jesus.  After many years, I began to understand that Jesus was the walking definition of love “the word became flesh and dwelt among us...” and this led me to investigate what all the fuss was with the cross - and all that other religious stuff.

I’ve spent years learning.  The first three or so years of helping out a Christian group - I still considered myself an atheist.  Especially deep down inside.  But I was intrigued by love.  My eyes slowly opened up - and my life really did change.  I found purpose.  I found contentment.  I found the love I had been seeking.  I found hope and joy.  

I had been so scared of religion that I almost missed God.  I was so intimidated by the “religious” sounding words, I almost missed the good news of scripture.  I guess that’s why I’m writing.  I want to make it a little easier for some of the “scary” and “intimidating” words to not be so scary and intimidating.  I just want to speak plainly.

The “Christian” language is hard to understand – the words are so difficult to grasp that many people just turn away.  What’s even worse is that many people act like they know what the words mean, but inside their heads, they have absolutely no clue as to their significance or meaning.

I want to help change that.  I truly believe that if people really get a good picture of some of the building bricks that help one get to know Christ – their eyes will open up and they’ll not only be amazed, but absolutely grateful.  So, this is my attempt.  

Incarnation.  Sin.  Atonement.  Lamb.  Cross.  Blood of Jesus. Trinity. Resurrection. In Christ.  These are some great concepts that cause quite a lot of confusion, especially for people that are completely new to Jesus.  If you’ve ever been confused by these words - maybe you should keep reading.  I'm going to try to tackle some of them, if possible.  That's not an easy task...  

I hope you stay on your search for God, because it’s good stuff.  It can actually be life changing.  With understanding comes enlightenment.  With enlightenment comes transformation.  With transformation comes the image of Christ - Love personified in you!

May God guide you as you seek Him - and may you not get distracted by the messed up people that point to His goodness - people like me.

I hope you will find Him!  He's waiting to be found...

Thanks for reading a tiny bit of my story.

Have a great day!


***published at an earlier date as 3 posts - condensed now into one...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It’s been a while.

My last blog post was over a year ago and I feel like I’ve learned so much since then.  It’s time to write again.  So - I’m making a second go.

I recently re-read many of my posts.  It’s a strange thing to do - reading the ghost of myself from years ago.  Some posts were written in a place of pain and confusion.  Some were discoveries in clarity.  Some were just practicing the discipline of writing.  I'm glad I wrote all of them.  I liked that there was always a bit of light in shining through each one.  A few blog posts were actually a bit inspiring.  I needed to re-hear those words I'd written years ago.  I had a few moments where I thought “man - I need to do that again” - or some such thought.  Very strange... 

I don’t even remember where I was when I wrote.  I mean - I remembered many of the ideas - but not that places or emotions that I was going through at the time.  There were some ideas that think differently now.  “Truth” was one such entry.  I don’t see “Truth” the same way as I did back then.  I still enjoy reading my thoughts about it though - those thoughts led me to where I am today, but that was definitely “in the journey” type of blog post.  Truth is much bigger and better than subjectivity vs. objectivity.  (Nerd alert!)

My favorite surprise was when I told stories.  Not that I’m a good storyteller or anything - but the story blogs were a bit more entertaining than the others (with a few exceptions).  A lot of the blog posts were just moments in time - and were simply enjoyable for that.  Total snapshots of my life.  

So - that’s why I’ve come back.   It’s time to start taking snapshots again.  

So here's the first one...  

Have a great day!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Holiness in Action!

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:23-24
Have you ever wondered what the Holiness of God looks like?  Well - in this scripture - it appears that "impure spirits" do - and they point directly at Jesus.  

Jesus is the Holy One of God - because, well, God is Holy and Jesus is Immanuel (God with us).  

There's tons of stories in the scriptures that talk about how Jesus interacts with people - messed up people - and how He loves them.  One of my favorites is almost right after the impure spirit calls Jesus out - it's a fascinating picture of God's Holiness in action.  It's also an image that kind of bucks the traditional view of how many people see God's Holiness:
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant.  He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.” Mark 1:40-42
The Holy One of God - touches (embraces) the unclean man - and the unclean man is made clean.  But - listen carefully - The HOLY ONE TOUCHES THE UNCLEAN.
If you've grown up within a traditional church gathering, this may be a difficult a picture for you to wrap your head around.  We're often taught the opposite about God from the pulpit.  Often in churches - Holiness and “sin” can’t be in the same place.  I’ve heard many preachers say, “Sin is separation from God.”  They’ll often point to the “holiness” of God as a reason why God is separate - Holiness and sin can’t be in the same place at the same time.
But what do you do with Jesus?  He doesn’t seem to fit into this model.  God (the Holy One) becomes a man.  Throughout His life - He consistently hangs out with sinners.  He's even kissed by Judas at the moment of betrayed!  You can’t really get closer than a kiss - and Judas' "sin" couldn't be any bigger.

Isn’t it like Jesus to break all the rules - and jump outside of the boxes we try to put Him in? 
God came near: “Emmanuel - God with Us.”  
Going further - the scriptures say:  
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:21
Think about that for a second.  God made Jesus to BE SIN - for us.  In other words - Jesus became SIN - our sin.  Let's put that in other words.  He became lust, anger, envy, malice, greed, etc.  And not just our sin - but the sins of the whole world - throughout all of time! 
Going even deeper - Jesus BECAME murder, thievery, molestation, rape, fighting, war, abandonment, depression, abuse, addiction, and on and on and on.
Jesus became sin - unclean.  
Hear what I’m trying to say:
JESUS IS CLOSER THAN WE EVER IMAGINED!  He is with us when we sin - He's not separate.  He became our sin - our worst!  He doesn't just see our sin - he became it!!!
The bible says - "the wages of sin is death..."
He had to die.  Jesus HAD to die.  He was sin, so He had to die.  
But - (how beautiful): although He died - God couldn't stay dead.  Christ is life!  And when He came out from the other side side of the grave (alive and clean!) He invited us into that brand new life - His life - a resurrection life - eternal life.  

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 

The leper pleaded, "if you are willing, You can make me clean."
Jesus replied with a resounding: "I AM WILLING - BE CLEAN!" - to the leper - and to us!
And - with that - we are clean.  WE ARE CLEAN!
God embraces us at our worst - while we are unclean (just like the leper).  God touched us - and becomes our worst - in order to ultimately set us free.  He absorbed our uncleanliness and He took it with Him to the cross.  ALL OF OUR SIN DIED AT THE CROSS!
I could go on and on - but - isn't that amazing - awesome?  Our sin is dead.  It is finished!  
Soooo - what’s Holiness look like?
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
May God’s Holiness be evident in us as we embrace those in our lives that are living at their “worst.”
Because - that's what Love does.




1.  Jesus isn't surprised by our "sin" or uncleanliness.
2.  Jesus isn't afraid of our sin - or uncleanliness.  
3.  Jesus has complete and total power over sin
4.  Jesus is closer to us than we realize - even when we hide in (or are in the midst of) our darkness.
5.  Jesus embraces us at our worst
6.  The consequence and power of sin died on the cross with Jesus
7.  Holiness in action is "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

And lastly -"Jesus" (in these above statements) can be switched with:  God.  Father.  Holy Spirit.  (i.e.  Jesus/God/Father/Holy Spirit isn't surprised by our "sin" or uncleanliness)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Embracing Suffering

“Pay me now, or pay me later!”

This was a common expression heard on the practice field when I played football back in my High School days.  I’d always hear it just about the time that I’d be ready to hurl whatever was left in my stomach from pure exhaustion.  My legs and arms burned like they were on fire and I could hardly think straight as I struggled to get back in line for the next drill.  The smell of newly cut grass was always so thick on those days as I deeply inhaled that sweet life giving oxygen just to stay conscious.  My forehead pounded from the pressure of my helmet while the heat from the summer sun made conditioning almost unbearable.  I was generally a mess.  The thought of actually playing a game was far from our minds as we practiced in those hot August summer afternoons.

Then I’d hear that phrase again - ringing in my ears.

“Pay me now - or pay me later!”

And my coach meant it.  If we tried to go easy, he’d know it.  He had a sort of 6th sense about those kinds of things.  If we didn’t give our all, we’d keep going - and going - and going.  We either gave 100% now, or we’d repeat the same drills until we did.  “Bear Crawls” were his favorite drill - hands in front, body up, legs moving forward - crawling across the field.  It was hell. 

In the beginning of the season, we’d always try to slack.  And - we’d always pay for it later.  The practice would stretch on and on until we pushed ourselves to the limit.  Our coach always knew when we were slacking.  It only took one of us to “take it easy” for the rest of us to feel the consequence of that player taking the drill off.  This was infuriating as a player because many of us understood that we had to give everything we had on every drill in order to move closer to completion.  So, if I gave 100%, and my buddy gave 80%, I’d have to repeat the drill because of HIS slacking.  

We all felt the consequence from one player slacking because we were a team - we were learning a teamwork principle: the whole team feels the consequence of an opponent’s score if one player takes a play off in a game.  Players that continually messed up were often harassed by their peers after practice, and this always seemed to change their attitude in the following practices.  

We payed a price at every practice.  And - to be honest - it was a price that some couldn’t pay.  Some would just flat out quit.  Others did as much as they could just to get by - but they wouldn't play on game-day because of their lack of effort throughout the week.  Things never fully worked out for those that slacked.  But some of us committed.  Some of us believed, even though we couldn't see what was waiting for us in the end.   

We payed a price - day in and day out - and for what seemed like forever.   None of us really understood why we were paying such a high price.  Our lives were filled with pain and exhaustion - day in and day out - and it became our new normal. It sucked.  There were times when I wanted to quit.  I hated practice…

until we started winning.

That year, we went 9-0-1.  We were undefeated champions - we had no losses.   

I think my coach’s statement was true.  “Pay me now - or pay me later!”  If we had slacked, or he had let us slack - our reward would not have been an undefeated season - let alone a championship.  Our temporary reprieve from hell during practice would have been our reward, and our lack of a championship would be the cost.    

We truly suffered in practice to win it all.  We went through hell in order to experience the joy of becoming undefeated champions.

We chose to suffer in the present in order to achieve a future glory that far eclipsed any pain we had gone through in those hot August summer days.  Looking back, the price we payed was well worth it.


When I think of all the great things that I’ve accomplished in my past, there’s always an element of suffering coupled with an element of reward.  When I learned to play guitar - I spent long hours of practice getting callouses on my fingers, building finger muscles that weren’t there, and listening over and over to music so that I might figure out how to imitate songs - all so I might be able to play that instrument with relative ease.  Today, I can pick up the guitar and learn almost any song pretty easily because of those long hours of practice.  The suffering of yesterday (practice) produced the reward of today (playing).

I could have chosen my “reward” years ago and not practiced - not endured the pain and frustration.  I could have chosen my “reward” early.  But - the suffering aspect would have come later by not being able to play whatever song I wanted to play today.  

I’m wondering if I’m making any sense.

In almost any endeavor I want to pursue - I can choose my reward or my suffering first.  If I want to get in shape - I can suffer through exercise.  Eventually - through hard work, I’ll reap the reward of good health.  Or, I can choose to be lazy now (present reward) and suffer later in a multitude of ways (future suffering).

“Pay me now, or pay me later”

This principle plays out in the scriptures too:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.(Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus paid a heavy price for a future glory (a glory that He shares with us!).   Suffering coupled with reward.  As someone once said, “The crown of thorns always proceeds the crown of glory.”  

The scriptures also point towards us participating with God in His suffering:  

“I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philipians 3:10

Participation in the suffering of Christ.  What a mystery…

There are many other scriptures along those same lines too.

Christ entered into suffering and endured it for a greater good - a greater reward.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  This isn’t a discussion about random suffering - like from a disease, poverty, earthquake, flood, or famine.  That’s a different topic and a whole other kind of suffering - I don’t have eyes to see all the “why”s behind that (although this principle might play out there as well…).

I think I’m more talking about discipline.  Discipline has an element of suffering that proceeds a future reward.

Lack of discipline has an element of reward that is followed by a future suffering.

The reward that follows suffering is always better than the reward a person gets from “taking a play off.”  Our championship was better than being lazy and losing games.

Having just coached a group of kids who hadn’t won a football game in 6 years, this principle was clearly displayed in front of me.  Our team went 1-9 this year.  You might think that is a bad year for a football team - but you’d be wrong.  We won our last game - and for some of these students - it their first game they had EVER won.  About halfway through the season, most of the players finally bought into the idea that hard work would pay off in the end.  They never gave up and slowly got better.

When I joined the team at the beginning of the season, on my second day coaching, we took the kids to our first scrimmage.  We got scored on 20 times!  And - we didn’t score once.  I literally thought, “what have I gotten myself into?”  

I’ve been a part of 5 different championship teams as a coach (out of 9 years coaching), and two as a player.  In all my years of playing and coaching - only three games stand out as exceptional.  One - as a player - we came back and won a game with 12 seconds left in the game against our biggest rival to remain undefeated.  Two, as an asst. coach in a championship game against an undefeated team that was ahead 32-6 at one point in the game where we won 39-38 from a field goal with 4 seconds left in a game.  And - this prior season - winning our first game with a goal line stand in the last minute of the game - our opposing team having a first down and goal on the 5 yard line.  

It’s funny, but the one win at the end of the season from a winless team was just as good as the championship wins in those prior seasons.  It’s partly because the kids continued to trust us through our practices.  They never gave up and worked as hard as any championship team before them.  Their attitudes literally changed throughout the year.  They paid a price - and it payed off.

"Pay me now, or pay me later!"

I think this principle plays out in a lot of areas in life (suffering that proceeds reward).  Here’s a few areas in life that I can think of off the top of my head:

School - getting a degree
Healthy living
Learning a language
Playing a Sport
Developing good relationships (serving and valuing others above self)
Walking with Jesus
Learning and understanding the Bible
Developing a new skill
Building a new positive habit
Stopping a bad habit
Loving people and loving God.

There’s a ton more, I’m sure.  But - I think ya get the idea.

“Pay me now, or pay me later.” 

It took me 20 years to understand what my coach was trying to say.  I think I'm only now starting to get it (even though I still have a hard time living it!)

May this principle sink in much more quickly for you!

Have a great day!


Friday, November 22, 2013

A New Kind of Mourning

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  Matthew 13:13


Horns blare.  Cheers explode.  Laughter erupts.  Smiles are seen all around.  Tears of joy fill the eyes of the crowd. 

The leader of the processional yells at the top of his lungs: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The bride waits in stunned amazement - awakened to a brand new life to come.  She witnesses the scene - the feelings of fear, amazement, and excitement combine to create a burgeoning joy inside of her heart that she’d never experienced prior to this moment.  And this wonderful moment seems to last an eternity.  She takes a deep breath and feels the blood coursing through her veins - every part of her body holds an almost hyper-sensitivity that allows her to really feel everything around her.  It’s as if she’d never lived until this very moment.  She feels so alive.  Tears of joy fill her eyes, and she isn’t even sure if she knows exactly why.  

“I didn’t think it’d be like this.” she thinks.  “This is beyond imagination.”

She reflects back to her prior life.  It seems that what she remembers of her past is just a dream - as if she was living in a dark fog until moments ago.  And there was a lot of darkness in those memories - and lots of confusion.  Of course, those moments were interspersed with wonderful moments of clarity and light.  But the darkness she remembers is so heavy in her memories because of the contrast to her surroundings in this very moment.  She begins to fear that her past will be her ruin.  She begins to fear that she’ll be rejected because of it.  She knows she is far from perfect.  And yet, this moment - it seems so perfect.  Her fear of rejection is like a memory brought on by a familiar smell or a favorite song.  She's fears rejection.

But as she looks around, she sees only light.  As she stands and waits, wonder and awe fill her soul - in spite of her fear.   

The Love of her life approaches.  She catches her first glimpse as He moves into view.  She sees Him!  All fear disappears from her mind at His first glance.  She knows He is good - her true love has arrived.  From that strangely familiar look in his eyes - she knows she’s completely accepted.  Perfect love casts out all fear - and she understands.  All of life’s fulfillment is here in her presence.

He has come to take her home.  It’s her time.  Her day.  The wedding party is about to begin…  


RIP Coach Fernandez.  May you enjoy the wedding banquet that is far better than anything I could ever put into words!!


Monday, August 19, 2013

I Have a Dream!

A good friend of mine had a crazy dream a few nights ago.  She swears it was more real than a dream - but what she witnessed would be impossible if it wasn’t a dream.  It was definitely of the spiritual nature:  evil trying to get her - and remembering Jesus - crying out to Him - then peace.  It made me think of dreams.

I’ve only had one or two dreams that seem to have a “message” behind them.  Most dreams are just crazy visions.  But, the one I remember vividly was one I had on a backpacking trip.  It was my first five day backpacking trip, and I forgot a pillow.  I sleep on my side, so this was a huge issue.  I literally got no sleep for two days.  I’d get 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, but nothing longer.  It was awful.  Finally, on the third night I passed out.

Here’s the dream.  I was on a long road in an African country.  I was sitting in the Pope mobile.  If you don’t know what that is - it’s a car that Pope’s rides in so he can wave to people as he drives by.  The glass is bullet proof and it’s a well armored car - and, you can stand up in it.  So, I’m sitting in the Pope mobile on a stool and there’s thousands of starving people reaching to get inside to where I’m sitting.  I’m holding a huge metal bowl (like a popcorn bowl) and it’s full of spaghetti (which happens to be my favorite food).  And I can’t stop eating in front of everyone.  As hard as I try, I keep shoving food down my face as starving people are banging the windows of the Pope mobile.  And tears are flooding down my cheeks because I can’t stop, even though I want to.  I want to give it away - this food in my hands - but I keep chowing down instead.  I look at dying people as we drive by - and I keep eating.  Then I woke up - in the middle of the forest.  haha.  Crazy.

Dreams are dreams, but this one had an element of reality - and it’s stayed with me ever since. 
I’ve been in this waiting period for a while now.  I don’t usually pray for specific things because I kind of think that’s a "genie in a bottle" type of view of God - which isn’t like Jesus at all.  But - I have been a bit restless.  So, I prayed one of “those” prayers.   I’m starting Young Life again, and have been back and forth on whether I want to coach football again.  Well, I know that I don’t really want to coach - haha - but, I also know coaching is a great tool as a leader for Young Life.  So, I prayed about it.  I did one of those timing prayers.  “If You want me to coach - give me a sign in the next week.  A specific sign.”  I never really believe these type of prayers work - but - God is active and listening.  I do believe that.  And - as I’ve said, I’m a bit restless.  So, I asked.  

It’s funny, I usually advise people not to pray in this manner.  I think it’s kind of a manipulation of the type of relationship God really wants - which is spending time with Him - even just noticing Him.  It’s not that I don’t think that God answers prayers like this, it’s that often these types of prayers come from a very selfish point of view.  God is always pushing us to value others above ourselves.  These types of prayers often put self above others.  But, I guess, when you’re clueless about your future, there’s nobody better to turn towards.

Last night - randomly - I got this message from an old football player that I coached.  He never went to Young Life, never went on any trips, nothing.  But - I did spend a lot of time with him at practice.  I literally hadn’t talked to him in years.  The timing of this message is crazy.  Here’s his note:

“I don't know if you remember me, I was the freshman in 2009 with a big blonde fro, often referred to as Big Bird, who became a starting right tackle his first year learning to play football. Either way, I just wanted to thank for you every day you were able to coach me my freshman year. I was going through a really tough time and without your humor, respect, and encouragement to aim high and see my potential, I might not have been able to finish the season. I didn't continue to play, but I never lost my dedication in whatever I did throughout high school, and now I'm going to UCLA (I applied for Neuroscience). After I finished the season I felt capable of anything high school had throw at me, and I couldn't have done it without you.”

Coincidence?  I sure want it to be - haha!

I find that I want to keep chowing on my spaghetti.  Sometimes I don’t want to follow God’s call because it’s uncomfortable, scary, new, and disruptive.  But.  I also admit that don’t know what’s best for me at all.  I’m clueless - but I know the One who isn’t.  So, I’m gonna step out.  Reluctantly.  haha.  And with a twinge of excitement as well.  

Do I trust that He is good - and do I trust Him with my life?  I want to.  haha.   jeez.

Ok - let’s see where He’s leading...

Have a great day!


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Writing in Protest

When I was a kid, I read a lot of books.  It wasn’t the cool thing to do, but I didn’t tell anyone about it.  I hid this aspect of my personality in order to fit in, but secretly at home (especially on stormy nights) I’d curl up on the couch or on my bed and read stories that took me away from my real life.  There were times when my imagination led me to impossible places with such amazing adventures, I'd literally not be able to put the book down until it was the next morning - on a school night.  But I did it anyway - and loved it!  Most stories made my real life pale in comparison.  And sometimes, my memory of the stories became as vivid as my actual memories of life.  It’s definitely weird how our minds work.  

I got this reading trait from my mom.  She would often read an entire book in one sitting - it was crazy.  It was almost like she had a super power: fast reading.  I never got close to as fast as her, but I did learn to read at a pretty good pace.  I would read a book, or so, a week.  I remember, by the end of my Senior year in High School, I had read nearly every single book in the Fantasy section of the bookstore.  I later moved to mystery - and then faith - but never stopped reading.  I’m so thankful for this trait!

When I was in Jr. High, my reading ability put me in the classes with the smart kids.  As sad as it is when I look back on it now - I was ashamed to be put into that group.  I don’t know where I got the idea that being smart is uncool, but at that fragile self-esteem building age, it totally was - well - at least for guys - it was.  I developed some really negative habits at that age because of how I saw the world.  One annoying trait was caring too much what others thought about me.  That, in itself, could be a whole topic, but I want to focus on something else.  There was another habit that formed that I still wrestle against today - and this fight - this continual battle - has always ended up hurting me in the long run.

I began to rebel against authority.  I mean, the rebellion has always been there - don’t get me wrong.  But, when it came to homework and being told what to do (I’m strictly talking about things that were actually beneficial to me) - I flat out rebelled.

College was easy.  Yet - it took forever for me to graduate.  I rebelled against the idea that society demanded a piece of paper (a certificate of completion - diploma) to get ahead in life.  I had a hard time seeing the point.  But "the point" didn't really matter - it just held me back when I should have excelled.  

Now I wish I could slap my younger self upside the head.  

Often, my attitude is the gun I use to shoot myself in the foot.
When I was in High School, teachers would assign books to read.  Many of the books were a quarter of the length of the books that I read everyday.  But, I wouldn’t read them.  It’s one thing to not read when you don’t like to read - but I loved reading!  Yet - when assigned a book - I wouldn’t read it.  Tell me to do something - I’ll end up doing the opposite.  Half the time, I don’t even know why.  It’s like it’s my natural reaction to authority.  This has caused confusion and frustration in many of my relationships - for sure.  

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot - but only for school.  Every day, there’s a wrestling match that goes on inside my head about completing my assignments.  I’ve gotten perfect marks (grades) on almost every assignment I’ve done at this school.  Perfect.  My only exception?  When I turn in my work late.  

I’ve taken seven classes so far.  Two A’s, four A-’s, and one B+.  The ONLY reason I got the A-’s and the B+ was late work.  I should be getting straight A's (A- are less than 4.0 at this college)  I turn my work in late because I’m in the midst of a mental wrestling match:  complete the assignment vs. I don’t want to/what’s the point?  Here’s the kicker - even on my late work, I’ve gotten perfect scores.  But - it gets docked because it’s late.  haha.  wow.  I’m my own worst enemy.

This might not seem like a big deal.  Those are good marks, for sure.  BUT - this has always been my pattern.  It was the same in High School and my undergraduate studies.  It’s the same today.  I fight authority.

I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t been writing lately - as far as this blog goes.  It’s often because I’m in this mental wrestling match about doing my homework and don’t even want to think about writing.  I only have 4 more classes - then I’m done.  Yet - this class I’m taking right now - wow.  My gun is pointed at my foot and the trigger is cocked.  haha. 

Rebelling against authority - it’s what got us into this mess in the first place.  God constantly wants what’s best for us - what’s beneficial - but we eat the fruit instead.  For me - many times it’s not the desire of X, Y, or Z that drives me away from God - it’s more that I want to be King.  I want to make my own decisions.  I want to be my own authority.  It’s how I’m wired - and it hurts me every time.  I even see the pattern, understand it - yet I still keep wrestling.

Jesus (King of kings and Lord of lords) was known as humble because He surrendered to the will of His Father - all the way to the cross.  “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8)  He was obedient in the little things as well as the big things.  He submitted to authority - even the authority of the government and the faith community when they were wrong! - because - ultimately - He knew that God was in control in the midst of it all.  He trusted God and because of His faith - we reap the benefit.  

But - in spite of His goodness - His finished work - I still do my homework in protest.   Haha.  Seems trivial in comparison to God's work.  But - the truth is - the little things really are the big things...    

I do, however, find hope for people like me in this parable:

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.  31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  “The first,” they answered.  (Matthew 21:28-31)

Alright - enough delay - off to do my homework - my late homework.  grrrrr.
Have a great day!